Posts Tagged ‘drama’

SUE'S COVERI was initially surprised when I heard that two of my talented online friends, Bee and Mark, were to collaborate on a novel, as I knew them both to be strong-willed with very definite opinions about almost everything. However, as I watched the partnership and the characters develop, I realised the adversaries they were writing actually benefitted from their occasional confrontations and the result is a very different and satisfying thriller with two strong voices. I am proud to have had a small input as a beta reader and look forward to the sequel and the thrills and spills I know will be forthcoming, both on and off the page!

Now that Kill Them Twice is published and the dust has settled, I thought it would be fun to hear their candid answers to some questions about the experience.

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Q – How did the collaboration come about and have either of you done anything similar before?

Bee – Mark and I have critiqued and edited each other’s work for quite some time. We have very similar opinions on what makes a book really work. When I sent him the two opening chapters of Kill Them Twice – first person voice of the protagonist and third person voice of the antagonist – I mentioned how although I thought I’d made a pretty good fist of the latter I’d found it hard going. Alice, aka Halo, may be a killer with an unusual moral code but she is great fun to write and at that time fun was what I was looking for. When Mark said he’d be interested in taking on the evil angst of Shard I was keen to give it a go. In the past I have co-authored non-fiction and biographies but collaborating on a novel is very different.

Mark – I’m a strong believer in learning from constructive criticism and have benefited from both online and face-to-face critique groups over the past few years. Bee impressed me with her incisive approach and I knew she could flat out write. Her suggestion that I might pick up the voice of Shard in Kill Them Twice sufficiently flattered me into taking the bait. I’d never co-written a novel before.

Q How exactly did the process of co-authoring work?

Bee – You can’t write a novel by committee. The Kill Them Twice concept and characters were mine so I steered the ship. Obviously as we progressed there was much discussion about exactly where we were going and in general we arrived at mutually acceptable decisions. We began by taking it in turns to write our chapters but this proved to be a frustratingly slow process so instead we established what needed to be covered, wrote simultaneously and then cleared up any overlaps or gaps before moving on.

Mark – It was an interesting experience for me to play Elizabeth Swann to Bee’s Jack Sparrow as she captained the plot through the Seven Seas. I’m used to being at the helm and I’ve had a problem with authority figures throughout my half-century. Also I’m a “pantser” and don’t like to work to a well-defined plot line as I find it can stymie creativity. Our ping-pong of chapter by chapter edits was very enlightening. It soon reached an equilibrium where we could each anticipate the parts the other would have problems with, and sometimes we set a booby trap or two just to test each other. Bee has a small network of high quality beta readers and they were drip-fed each chapter too, resulting in a work-in-progress so shiny we could see our faces in it. John Goldsmith was one of those beta readers and his review of Kill Them Twice reflects the high level of enthusiasm that we enjoyed in the process.

Q – Did it go smoothly?

Bee – No, not all the time. Expecting it to would have been unrealistic. I think I can safely say there were times when we wanted to kill each other. Twice.

Mark – Yes, it went very smoothly all the time. Whatever Bee says, I’m the one who should be believed. Okay, the truth. We actually became our characters, Halo and Shard. Bee attempted to snipe at me from a safe distance. I was always trying to lure her into the danger zone for deadly hand-to-hand combat (or at least an arm wrestle). It was particularly difficult in chapters where my impulsive creativity had gone beyond the brief and pushed the good ship Kill Them Twice off-course. Bee was the one holding the map and I only managed the occasional glance at it, in-between me – I mean, Shard – brutally murdering his victims. So I did tend to digress and sometimes had to be escorted back into charted territory. But we’re both still alive, which is something I suppose.

Q – What were the positives and negatives of your collaboration?

Bee – Overall it was a positive experience so I’ll get the few negatives out of the way first. I write full time and have no children. Mark has a ‘proper’ job in senior management plus two school-age children. I failed to accurately factor in the extent to which these commitments would impact on the time available for our project. I rather think he did too. I knew from the outset exactly the tone I wanted for the book but it took some time to convey this to Mark resulting – at least early on – in me regularly bouncing his chapters back to him which, not surprisingly, didn’t always go down well. So for me the downside was frustratingly slow progress and achieving a shared vision.

Writing can be a lonely business so having someone equally involved and enthusiastic about the project is a big plus. When we hit problems with issues such as plot holes and logistics two minds were definitely better than one, and the resulting brainstorming often provided new and exciting ways forward. Then there were the lovely moments when Mark’s chapter arrived and he’d introduced a great new angle to the plot or insight into his character.

Finally, being a lazy person it’s much less daunting only having to write half a book!

Mark – The biggest negative for me was that I only had a limited amount of creative writing energy, and Kill Them Twice absorbed all that for a considerable time. Bee didn’t always appreciate or accept the constraints of my day job and family life, and I wasn’t going to compromise on the many hours that I invest in my beloved karate (as it keeps me sane). I didn’t produce any other writing under my pen name for the duration and I neglected the readership I had built. It was a struggle initially to find the Shard voice that Bee was looking for and some of that early back and forth on edits was quite excruciating. Writing to someone else’s prescription can be a strange experience. Sometimes several days are invested in a chapter only for it to end up rejected. Other times a few furious hours’ work can hit the spot first time.

On the positive side, the entire experience has greatly improved the standard of my writing. Before Kill Them Twice I was snuggled down in my comfort zone of quirky first person narrative with a constant vein of dark humour. That’s not everyone’s cup of tea and my earlier novels are always going to be niche. The deep third person of Shard and his humourless take on life and death have helped me broaden my range. I now feel much more confident about writing for a commercial audience.

Q – Would you do it again?

Bee – Had that question been posed as I wrote the closing sentences of Kill Them Twice my reply would have referenced when hell freezes over, but time has dimmed the memory of the pain and I’m left with pride and pleasure in what we achieved. Rather like childbirth.

The Author Collaboration Agreement for Vanquish, the next in the series due to be published in 2016, does however include clauses forbidding us to ever meet in person again and for all disputes to be settled by virtual arm-wrestling. I can take him. I can.

Mark – As an old hand at karate I’m used to pain. I thrive on it. So yes to doing it again. Writing Vanquish is different from Kill Them Twice in that both plot and writing are collaborative this time. That may lead to fewer or more disputes, I don’t know, but the result will be another great read. I won’t be drawn on the arm-wrestling except that it’s futile to describe an unreachable goal. Rock paper scissors would be a better method of conflict resolution.

Kill Them Twice is available at the following outlets:

Amazon

Barnes & Noble

Google Play

iTunes

Kobo

Bee Eveleigh-Bell’s work has been published internationally and in several languages. She is based in South West France.
 
Mark Turner lives in rural Ireland. His short stories have been published in a number of anthologies and he has penned full-length works of fiction and non-fiction.

listen_with_mother2-229x300Some of you (though perhaps not very many) will remember this introduction to Listen with Mother on the BBC Light Programme back in the 1950s. Listening to stories on the radio, at bedtime and in the classroom, was (and probably still is) an introduction to literature long before we read it for ourselves. We learned how to sit still and focus; how to imagine ourselves in another world; how to suspend our disbelief.

I can still remember the frustration I felt looking at a storybook and being unable to decipher the letters. So each night, when my father read me the latest installment of Rupert Bear in the Daily Express, I insisted on studying the words so that I could match them to what he was saying. Soon I could tell if he was trying to cut corners and read the short verse instead of the much longer prose! These experiences translated into an insatiable appetite for fiction, long and short. But for reading, not writing. That came much later.

Although I speak the words aloud when I write (and often suggest to writers whose work I am critiquing that they do this to check the dialogue, sentence structure and clarity) the idea of reading to an audience was unthinkable for many years. All my life I have shied away from public speaking (which rather scuppered my early political ambitions) and always insisted in being on the production side of school plays because, although I knew how a role should be played, nerves would have strangled the words before they ever came near to being spoken.

So it was with great trepidation that I agreed to read my prize-winning flash fiction Mother’s Pride at a flash slam on National Flash Fiction Day in Oxford two years ago. The closer the date drew, the more nervous I became and every day I had to force myself not to pull out. But my husband came along for support, there were a couple of faces I knew from the internet, and everyone was very friendly. They were also, I realised with relief, at least as nervous as me. So I sank a glass of red wine and got the job done, and it was fine – even quite good! I can’t tell you how proud I felt when other experienced readers told me they would never have known it was my first time.

My second public reading wasn’t such a success. It was at the first meeting of Southville Writers, in a Bristol pub, and the background noise made it impossible for me to tell whether I was speaking loudly enough. Turns out I wasn’t! No one had any idea what my story was about until they read it afterwards.

My third venture was last Saturday in the Bristol Foyles, at an event organised by Southville Writers and Bristol Women Writers, where a mixture of poetry and prose was read over a five hour period. It was great to hear poetry read by the poet not in that monotonous, dreary way it is so often presented (think of Roger McGough on Poetry Please). This was real and vibrant and the writers knew exactly how to get the best out of it. I learned some valuable lessons about pacing, expression and delivery during those few readings, which I was able to use a short time later.

There were long breaks in between sections for chat and I had fun catching up with a couple of regular live performers I had met before, whose names (Pauline Masurel and Kevlin Henney) invariably crop up on shortlists and as winners of short fiction competitions. By the time my name was called I wasn’t too jittery, despite the large coffee. It went well, although I had a last-minute panic over differentiating between three separate voices, even though I’d practised and practised. I more or less pulled it off without stumbling and this time I knew everyone could hear because I had a microphone!

Again, the feeling of achievement was immense and I am now looking forward to my next performance – a reading of my 300-word story, Care – at the launch of the Worcestershire LitFest Flash Fiction 2014 Anthology in November, with much less fear. I’m hoping it gets easier every time, but I have a feeling I’ll always be grateful for a swift glass of wine beforehand.

As a listening experience, I can’t recommend live readings too highly. I find that hearing the words the way the author intended gives an extra depth to the story or poem and recreates that feeling of being immersed in another world that Listen with Mother gave us. In an age when it is all too easy to skim the surface of experience on social media, electronic games, film and television, this is a real treat. Please, if you see an event near you, do go along and support the writers. I guarantee you’ll be glad you did!

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If you have any tips or tricks for live performance, I’d be very glad to hear them. Please leave a comment below.

 

Last week I heard about a new e-publishing venture via Sue Moorcroft’s website. Alfie Dog Limited is aiming to launch a range of short stories ‘to download and read at your leisure’ on May 16th, which coincidentally is National Flash Fiction Day. Since Reality TV was accepted a couple of weeks ago, I now have eight stories published on the Ether App, so I thought it might be a good idea to put some eggs in another basket, it being Easter and all. I submitted two stories that don’t fit easily into any genre, ‘Footprints’ and ‘Never Too Late’, and both have been accepted. The company seems to have an efficient system in place and I am encouraged by their professional approach. I wish the venture every success!

I have got my finger out over the last couple of weeks and sent eight pieces of flash fiction out to various competitions. Most are 500 words, but one, at the Lancashire Hub, is set at a challenging 165. Please wish me luck.

The other news is that I have now seen and commented on two drafts of the screenplay for The Beast Next Door. The process of turning thought and narrative into actions is fascinating and the techniques I’m learning should be good for my writing in general. I feel very fortunate that my opinion is being sought at each stage and that my suggestions have been incorporated without a clash of egos. I am also lucky that the director who originally approached me for permission sees it very much as I do. There are still plenty of opportunities for pitfalls, but the screenwriter is enthusiastic and his own short film, Meet Me on the Hill, has been going down well at festivals, so right now I have a good feeling about it. Touching wood as I type!

I’ll let you know how it goes…

Have a very happy Easter break, everyone!