Left Brain, Right Brain, Write Brain!
15 June 2023
Sarah Ferguson and Marguerite Kaye Discuss What Makes a Good Collaborwriting Team
In the first of our series by speakers at the RNA Conference 2023, we have Sarah Ferguson and Marguerite Kay, who have worked together on two books so far.
Marguerite: So, we’re hosting a session at the RNA in August. Are you looking forward to it?
Sarah: Very much. It’s a great opportunity for us to share our experience of collaborwriting.
Marguerite: Our own particular term for co-authoring. We should try to explain what we mean by it.
Sarah: I think first of all though, it’s important to say that it has been, and continues to be, a journey of discovery. It’s not a prescriptive process, and our approach has changed over the two books we’ve written together so far. The finished book was the end destination, but what really mattered to both of us from the very beginning was that we enjoyed every aspect of the adventure.
Marguerite: I couldn’t agree more. We’re such an unlikely team in so many ways, two people from such very different walks of life. That was the one thing we were both absolutely certain about when we first met too, that we had to get on – really get on, I mean, because we wanted to enjoy the writing process, whatever it turned out to be.
Sarah: We hadn’t a clue what it would be then, and I loved that! We didn’t want to follow any rule book or discover what others did, we wanted to work it out for ourselves. I think ours is a unique way of writing together, and it’s still evolving too, as we learn more from each other and about each other.
Marguerite: And we’re not afraid to explore alternative solutions if something isn’t working. Or to experiment with new ways of working too. Organic, is my word for it, but I prefer yours, which is innovative. I think it’s also very supportive. Adaptable.
Sarah: And flexible? In the way we work, which is by necessity a mix of telephone conversations, get togethers, emails and WhatsApps. We use them all, but crucially, when there’s a tricky issue needing resolved, that’s when we always pick up the phone and talk until we come up with an answer.
Marguerite: Which we always do, in the end. Someone asked me once, who has the final say, and I said, the person who is right. That sounds obvious, but to get to that point means you both have to speak your mind, knowing it won’t be taken the wrong way.
Sarah: Oh, absolutely. Honesty, trust, understanding, these are such big concepts, but they’re fundamental to how we work, and yet it didn’t come easily at first, for either of us. I remember how difficult it was for me in the early days to work up the courage to disagree with you on technical matters. Speak your mind, you told me, you can’t offend me, but that’s not an easy thing to do when you’ve spent your life trying not to offend anyone.
Marguerite: It is vital though, isn’t it, because another thing we share, that I think every writer will relate to, is the passion to make your book the best it can be, without compromise, and you can’t do that if one person has more of a say than the other. It’s not that we never disagree, because of course we do, but when we do, we talk it through.
Sarah: And it’s the talking through that leads us to the right decision for us. That’s not compromise, that’s about listening to each other, and valuing each other’s opinions. Which brings me on to another really fundamental requirement of a successful collaborwriting partnership – knowing each other’s strengths and weaknesses, and learning to use them in a complementary way. My Libran left brain, your Libran right brain.
Marguerite: I love that, it describes us perfectly, and it’s something that for me makes our journey so rewarding, the way we learn from each other. The sum is greater than the parts – you know?
Sarah: I think I’d add another vital ingredient though, and that’s mutual respect. Ours is a partnership of equals, with very different ways of thinking, of describing scenes, of imagining characters and stories. Collaborwriting is about finding a way to merge the two, and create something better.
Marguerite: And when our editor doesn’t like the result, or think it can be improved, collaborwriting is about having a shoulder to cry on, someone to share a martini or a glass of wine with. And also having someone to help pick you up, dust you down…
Sarah: …and start over again! We’re in it together. That’s what is most important for me. We’re a team.
Marguerite: That’s it in a nutshell, but I’m sure the attendees will have lots more questions about the detail.
Sarah: Bring it on! I am very proud of what we have achieved and am more than happy to share our experience with them.
Marguerite: I couldn’t have put it better myself! Having said that, could I perhaps suggest changing…
Thank you so much for this insightful look into the inner workings of your partnership. You can catch Sarah Ferguson and Marguerite Kaye’s talk at the RNA Conference on Saturday, August 12 between 3-4pm on Stream 2.