How to co-author a book (and have a holiday and keep fit)

When we (husband Graeme Simsion and I) do author talks about our joint book, Two Steps Forward, one of the most common questions is: How did you do it? One friend (four times divorced) was completely mystified we hadn’t killed each other. It’s certainly unusual for fiction to have more than one author (there are a few in the crime genre, most noticeably Nikki French, also a husband and wife team). When we wrote TSF our original idea had been to have a his and hers—separate books, same story, different point of views (POV). So we planned together and then went off and wrote it separately.

Unfortunately our publisher thought this was a really bad idea, and the next step was putting what we’d written into one manuscript as alternating chapters, male-female POV’s. Not as hard as you might imagine—except you have a 160,000 word manuscript that needs to be halved…

So now we are writing the sequel, Two Steps South we learnt from our mistakes and only have to write half a book each. Not a job for pantsers (those that write by the “seat of their pants” and let the story evolve). I guess we could write a chapter, hand over and see where it went but if we did it like that…well that four time divorced friend might have a point. So before we went on the walk on which it is set (The Chemin d’Assise and Via Francigena from Cluny,France to Rome,Italy), we planned. I of course couldn’t help myself and had to start to write (to Graeme’s annoyance…) but then when we were thrown out of Europe (well, I didn’t get a Visa extension so we left before finishing the walk and thus the pubdate now 2021 instead of 2020) we planned in earnest (meaning some rewriting of course). Screen writers cards all over the floor of our Moroccan Riad. A bit like that card game where you have to match cards only then you also have to put them in order.

As we planned and talked and wrote the characters started jumping off the page—we’d met them all in the first book, but in the case of two, only briefly, and another two, they needed to have grown up. The Camino itself also declared itself as a major character—anyone who has walked a long pilgrimage will know this—and in ways we hadn’t predicted until we walked it. Themes emerged, again some we didn’t know were there until our characters told us.

On the walk I’d managed to get a quarter of my chapters written, and after five weeks in Morocco, my first draft done—Graeme at end of second act turning point and now closing in on the end. And still plenty of shopping done and Moroccan food eaten!

Now back home and with a crazy schedule, Graeme (schedule a little less crazy) we can write (he feels obliged to edit mine as he goes and reminds me as he does that I really do a vomit draft…and Hemingway was right about first drafts being shit…I ignore it…it really wasn’t that bad…).

And we end up with two walks later this year—first finish the Chemin d’Assise from Aulla to Assisi, then later in the year, the Via Francigena from Aulla to Rome. Why two? Well we started following the Tau-dove which goes to Assisi and I feel the need to follow it and finish what we started (and okay, I want the credential…). But our characters have told us WTF…the VF is way faster to Rome so we need to do what they walk! It also sounds a great walk…

Bon Chemin and Buon Cammino!


About annebuist

Anne Buist is the Chair of Women’s Mental Health at the University of Melbourne and has 30 clinical and research experience in perinatal psychiatry. She works with Protective Services and the legal system in cases of abuse, kidnapping, infanticide and murder. Medea’s Curse is her first mainstream psychological thriller. Professor Buist is married to novelist Graeme Simsion and has two children.
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