From the best to the worst, to the most magical collaborations to the most underhandedly devious, here are 7 co-authored books that you ought to read (or know to avoid!)
A 1990 book, co-written by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman, in which the Antichrist is a scabby-kneed scamp in middle England and Armageddon is going to happen whether he wants it or not. Teaming Pratchett, the comedy Discworld author, and Gaiman, the creator of the Sandman comics, (each blockbuster genre-writers in their own rights) the Good Omens partnership is a collaboration dream team.
Good Omens features a fairly hefty ensemble cast of characters including the Antichrist and his gang, the last witch in England, the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse and the angel and demon charged with bringing about Armageddon. This cast allowed Pratchett and Gaiman to divide the work up easily. Apparently, Pratchett wrote most of the Antichrist stuff and Gaiman concentrated on other elements. However, quite understandably, they each took control one another’s characters and, before the end, there were whole sections which neither could honestly lay total claim to.
Funny stuff, especially the sections with Aziraphale (the angel) and Crowley (the demon), Good Omens is eminently re-readable. But you probably already know that.
Written in 2010 by Jeff Strand, F Paul Wilson, Blake Crouch and Joe Konrath, Draculas is a horror novel that takes collaboration to a new level with four collaborators, each handling an equal part of the narrative. Put simply, the plot involves an outbreak of vampirism at an isolated US hospital. The vampires of the story are not the pasty, fey creatures of the Anne Rice novels or the Twiglet Saga. These vampires are ravenous zombies-with-fangs, chomping their way through all wards. There are no sacred cows in this story and, for certain people (myself included), that just adds to the humour. The vampire clown and his balloon animals was a personal favourite.
The key to the success of this collaboration was the single isolated location and four mini-casts who can find their own perils and adventures within the given set. Certain characters, heroic and villainous, weave through all sections of the narrative, turning a portmanteau story into something more cohesive. It all comes together in the end, an intense horror ride powered by four fertile imaginations.
I could talk about this or indeed any other Nicci French novel. Why? Well, because all Nicci French novels stay within certain boundaries. Contemporary British (often suburban) setting? Tick. Woman in jeopardy? Tick. Murder, death and betrayal? Tick.
Nicci French is actually husband and wife team Sean French and Nicci Gerrard. They have quite openly set out to write crime fiction of a certain type. Their work does not try to place itself specifically in any one time or place but focuses rather on character and interactions of the villains and victims of their stories.
Their working style involves them writing alternating chapters and then editing and rewriting one another’s work. This method allows them to write a full length novel far quicker than the solo writer, turning out sixteen novels in as many years.
Written in 2004, Lion Boy is a children’s novel simply bursting with creative ideas. It follows the adventures of Charlie Ashanti, a boy who can talk to cats, as he races across a curiously old-fashioned modern day Europe in pursuit of his kidnapped parents. It’s a story of dark conspiracies, backstreet bohemia or the baroque and the spectacular.
Zizou Corder is in reality a mother and daughter partnership between journalist Louisa Young and her daughter Isabel Adomakoh Young who, at the time of writing Lion Boy, was barely into double digits age-wise (she’ll be twenty this year). It’s hard to imagine how much actual writing input a ten year old can have on a 70,000 word novel but the storyline has the mark of the kind of wish-fulfilment and fantasising that any child might indulge in.
Other collaborations have used as similar approach with one person providing the ideas, the other doing the writing duties. However, this usually happens when a well-known author, perhaps entering their twilight years, relies on a younger ‘carefully selected’ collaborator to bring their ideas to fruition. Nothing so cynical with Zizou (which, incidentally, is the name of the family’s pet lizard).
I will admit I have never read this book but perhaps you can forgive me. This is perhaps the original example of a deliberately awful collaboration.
The story goes that, disappointed by the low brow and uncritical works that passed for literature in late sixties American, journalist Mike McGrady set out to prove that any kind of erotic trash could be a success. He engaged a team of twenty-four journalists to write a work that was worthless, incoherent, inconsistent and chock full of purposeless sex. Each contributor wrote a chapter apiece with little concern for what had gone on before and what would follow later.
The book was a commercial success. Did this prove McGrady’s point? It’s hard to say because the hoax was revealed not that long after initial publication. It’s appeal is possibly akin to that of a car crash; we can all rubberneck at the carnage but no one can really say it’s a good thing.
Another deliberately diabolical collaboration but this one written with a different purpose. Back in the days when the distinction between vanity publishers, traditional publishers and legitimate print on demand companies was perhaps blurrier than it is today, James D McDonald took exception to PublishAmerica’s claims to be a traditional publisher when it seemed to have an undiscerning attitude to what works it accepted and whose money it took.
Determined to prove that PublishAmerica would publish any old tat, as long as someone else was paying, McDonald gathered together a band of SF and fantasy authors to write the biggest pile of poo ever committed to the page. The flaws in their book were astonishing and included:
- Characters who spontaneously changed gender or died and then reappeared without reason.
- Separate chapters that were word for word copies of one another
- Two separate chapters written by two independent authors from the same given synopsis.
- Two chapter 12s
- No chapter 21
- A chapter of computer generated gibberish using words from the previous 33 chapters.
The awful concoction was presented to PublishAmerica who did indeed accept without any suggested edits. The team had made their point and actually stopped before going through with the deal. However, what does amaze me is that the book is now available to buy for real, it’s cruddy credentials made clear to all.
You’ve not read Circ. Not yet. Circ is the novel which Pigeon Park Press with be launching in November this year. Circ came out of the exciting Ten To One project, in which ten authors (Simon Fairbanks, Maria Mankin, Yasmin Ali, Jason Holloway, Livia Akstein Vioto, Luke Beddow, Danielle Rose Bentley, William Thirsk-Gaskill, Sue Barsby, Giselle Thompson) all wrote a single novel together.
Each novelist handled the chapters relating to a specific character, telling a piece of the story from that’s character’s perspective. As the novel progressed, a combination of judging panel and public vote “evicted” the novelists from the writing process, one at a time.
Read interviews with all of the writers elsewhere on this blog.