A few years ago, Barry Cunningham (Chicken House Publishing) asked me if I’d be interested in writing a book with Oli. He explained that Oli had a book idea, a plot, burning inside him, yet struggled to write it down due to his dyslexia. Writing can be a fairly solitary experience, so the idea of co-writing has always appealed to me, and after a meeting with Oli at his Blue Zoo studio in London, we set about writing Antigua de Fortune of the High Seas. I live in Northumberland, Oli in London, so as you can imagine, we never worked together in person, but in some ways, I think this helped solidify our different roles in the process.
I like to think Oli and I were quite a neat fit, because we overlapped in some ways — we’re both open to ideas, share a silly sense of humour, and love children’s stories, yet we each brought something unique to the table. As an animator, Oli is particularly visual in his thinking and has a keen eye (ear) for dialogue. Whereas I love words, the rhythm and weight of sentences, the flow of paragraphs, and the shape of chapters. These different focuses meant that our lens was shifted slightly by the other person, hopefully resulting in a fuller, more rounded story.
So, the nitty gritty of the writing process. Though the storytelling was a joint process, I did the writing, that is, putting the words down on the page. Then, I’d email a chunk through to Oli, sometimes a chapter at a time, sometimes several chapters which hung together to produce a single-story beat, for discussion. We’d send emails, chat on the phone, use comments in google doc, and then I’d make changes and resend to Oli. It was an iterative, circular process of writing and rewriting which was immensely fun — normally when I talk excitedly about my works in progress, even my nearest and dearest glaze over after twenty minutes, but when you have a co-author, this never happens.
In terms of character development, we behaved very much like loving parents, helping them grow as they moved through their adventure. It was great to write a book and have somebody know and care as deeply for the characters as I did, somebody as interested in how they might act, think or speak in any given situation, and the impact this may have on those around them. It was also great to have someone hating the villain as much as I did, indeed, I hope Oli doesn’t mind when I say that he excelled when it came to making the antagonist particularly villainous, and this is perhaps another good example of how his animation background — where heroes tend to be all good, and villains tend to be all bad — balanced out my background as a Psychologist, where I tend to see the shades of grey.
Unsurprisingly, the first draft took a lot longer to produce in this way but received far fewer edits from the Chicken House Team than I’d usually expect — testament to the amount of work and thought which had gone into the early stages.
Was it all smooth running? Certainly, from my perspective, it was. We never argued or fell out, or even disagreed. Sometimes I’d reel Oli in about the sheer volume of ideas and action points he wanted, as something which may take a minute to show in animation terms takes far longer to play out on the page. I think he got a bit sick of me mentioning the word count! And likewise, Oli would pull me up on the character’s dialogue sounding too similar, or the occasional geordie word popping out of a pirate’s mouth (waye aye me hearties!)
I think it helped that neither Oli or I have particularly big egos, certainly, we don’t take offense if the other person thinks something needs changing. In fact, I would go as far as to say that this is the biggest prerequisite to writing successfully with someone else — viewing criticism as something positive to make things better rather than a personal attack. And let’s face it, as writers, we probably have this skill in bucket-loads already, or we would have been weeded out as soon as we received our first set of comments on our first piece of writing, be them from a family member, a writing circle, or an editor.
Like I said, writing is generally a solitary business, so if you’re like me, a nerdy extrovert, co-writing may well be for you. I am of course biased, but the finished product is better for it, and the journey is a grand voyage indeed.
ANTIGUA DE FORTUNE OF THE HIGH SEAS by Anna Rainbow and Oli Hyatt is out now, published by Chicken House.
(c) Anna Rainbow
About Antigua de Fortune of the High Seas:
A magical, thrilling pirate adventure: fun, fantastical and totally unputdownable!
Tiggy has always had the ocean in her blood – and lately, she’s been dreaming of mermaids – but she’s a high-born girl on the Isle of Fortune, forced to wear dresses, attend balls and (worst of all) comb her wild curls. But then the Pirate King strikes, wielding deadly turquoise magic, and Tiggy’s younger brother is stolen – along with every boy on the island. Tiggy knows it is time to claim her destiny, take to the high seas and rescue the boys of Fortune …
Order your copy online here.