Sunday, November 20, 2005

I've just read John B Ford's collection, The Evil Entwines; it features a story we wrote a while back called The Man with the Haunted Eyes. It got me thinking about the fascinating business of story collaboration. The first time I ever did it was back in the late '90's. At my first ever FantasyCon, in Birmingham, I met D.F. Lewis for the first time. He had already done a number of collaborations and asked if I wanted to work with him. Naturally, I was keen to give it a go.
As it happened, I had a 2k word story that had started well, but had a poor ending. So I cut it in half and sent Des the first thousand words. It became a 3,500k word story called Disaffected Blood, and was published in Unhinged Magazine back in 2000. A second collaboration, Even Dogs Could Talk, appeared in Roadworks - Tales From the Hard Road a few months later; then a third, What Dreams May Come, appeared in a magazine called Redsine.
There were others --- To the Daemon - We Give Breath, with John B. Ford (Evil Eye, 2001); The Hurricane of Nightmares, with Paul Bradshaw (to be published in a future issue of Terror Tales); No Red Worms, with Sarah Crabtree (which appeared in a booklet jokingly called Zara - The Text Files); and one called David Bluestocking, which I wrote with Sarah Crabtree and John B. Ford.
Collaborating is a simple matter these days; you just write a section and e-mail it on; but when I first did it (with Des and John) back in the '90's, we had to rely on the GPO. So you wrote a section, posted it off, and then waited for the return post to see where your partner had taken it. Then, of course (if you had started the collaboration) you had to type up his contribution before taking up the thread. Then it was back in an envelope. Yes, the internet does have its benefits.
But it's a funny old business, collaborating. Sometimes it can work spectacularly well. Mick Sims and Len Maynard are a good team, as are Steve Lockley and Paul Lewis. But obviously, it doesn't always work. My favourite story in The Evil Entwines is The Cairn, which John wrote with Paul Finch. Together, they have crafted a dark, and absorbing tale of the supernatural. Less successful is The Winged Menace, written with D.F. Lewis, in which two completely different writing styles clash jarringly. If a co-writer can go with Des's style, you'll get a decent story. Unfortunately, and with all due respect, The Winged Menace is a bit of a mess. So, it's a bit of a rough-with-the-smooth affair, but generally worth the effort.
The main problem is that you are reluctant to edit your partner's contribution, but it has to be done. What Dreams May Come had several rejections before I realized that it had to be drastically pared down. I butchered it, and finally got it published. I learned a long time ago that a story is not your baby; it is a piece of meat, and will only be palatable when you have hacked off all the lean and cut out all the gristle; collaborations have to be regarded in the same way, only more so. It is all a matter of getting the narrative to flow, and this doesn't always happen when two or more people are working on a single story. So yes, it is always going to be a hit and miss affair, but it is often an interesting - and occasionally, rewarding - experience.
I'm pleased to say that the quality of The Evil Entwines (great title, that) is generally quite high, and with writers like Ramsay Campbell, Simon Clark, Tim Lebbon, Sims and Maynard, Derek M. Fox, Gary Greenwood and Thomas Ligotti involved, John could hardly go wrong. A knockout piece of artwork by Loretta Mansell completes the package nicely.

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