The Way We Work: Garth Nix and Sean Williams
Fresh from his appearance at Melbourne Reading Matters conference, Garth Nix joins his co-author on the Troubletwisters series, Sean Williams, for a piece on their working relationship.
One of the great things about collaborating is breaking up what can sometimes seem an insurmountable task (i.e. writing a novel) into manageable chunks and then divvying up those chunks so no one person has to do everything.
Every novel is different, but there are three common hurdles every author must get over in order to produce something readable. They are: starting, not giving up halfway, and rewriting. Our collaboration gets over these hurdles the following ways:
- Garth writes the first chapter.
- Sean writes the rest of the first draft.
- Garth rewrites the draft.
That’s it, in essence. But of course, it’s not entirely that simple. Collaboration isn’t half the work of writing a novel for half the money. It’s actually about seventy-five percent for half the money. There’s a whole list of things that we must decide together.
These include higher-level stuff like discussing contracts and tours and deadlines. Most importantly it includes actually planning the book, which entails a great deal of discussion, much of it conducted in airport terminals, taxis, and conventions, since we often attend the same events, even if we’re not officially appearing together.
We outline each book in detail together before writing a single word, and always (well, usually) consult each other before making any dramatic changes to the plot. Being occasionally surprised is one of the core delights of collaborating. The rewriting stage actually entails the manuscript bouncing backwards and forwards many times, until both of us are happy. By the time it’s gone through editing and proofreading, we genuinely have no idea who wrote what line - a sure sign that the collaboration has worked.
Because we live in different cities (Garth in Sydney and Sean in Adelaide) we don’t often meet in person during the editing or writing phases. This suits us because we have separate careers of our own. We focus on the solo careers when the collaboration is with the other person. So, for instance, while Sean is working on the first draft of a new Troubletwisters novel, Garth might be working on the last installment of his Old Kingdom series. Similarly, while Garth is rewriting Troubletwisters, Sean might be working on Twinmaker. Were we to exchange chapters or partial drafts on a more regular basis, this would become much more difficult.
Also, it helps the collaboration that we both have ongoing investments in our solo careers. Troubletwisters is something we love doing and feel passionate about and totally committed to. But it’s not the bedrock on which the castle of our self-esteem stands. That makes it easier to concede if we ever disagree on anything, which happens rarely. We’re professionals, we enjoy working together, and we like the way the story is going. Arguing about the small stuff could ruin everything.
Apart from being pretty easy to get along with (important when on a long tour), several other key factors help us work successfully as a collaborative team. We like similar kinds of story and agree on the story we want to tell together, but we also bring different skills to the table at different stages during the process. We’re good communicators in real life, not just on the page. We’ve been friends a long time, and have in fact been talking about collaborating almost as long as we’ve been friends, so we’re having fun while trying to tell the best possible stories we can.
The Mystery of the Golden Card, book 3 of the Troubletwisters series, published by Allen & Unwin, is available now at $14.99. The first book in the series, which is suitable for 9+ readers, is available at the special price of $9.99. Read our review here.
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