Circ – An author’s reflections – Maria Mankin

We at Pigeon Park Press are very excited about the upcoming novel, Circ, written by ten different authors as part of the Ten To One project. You can get your own tickets for the launch (and claim a free e-book on the night!) by going to http://www.birmingham-box.co.uk/event/circ-can-ten-people-write-one-novel/ 

Between now and the launch on 28th November, we will be blogging interviews with all the authors plus some additional guest blogs and bonus material from the novel.

Today, Maria Mankin reflects on the experience of being an author in the Ten To One project…

I often wished, during the months we were working on Circ, that we could turn a camera on the controlled chaotic experiment that was Ten to One. It seemed impossible otherwise to properly share what went on behind the scenes. The idea of throwing ten writers together to create a single, cohesive novel sounded insane when summed up in a conversational sound bite, especially given that the competitive element of it occasionally threatened to overbalanced the real heart of the project.

 

 

 

What was pleasantly surprising though, was that when we dug into the topic, most people I discussed the project with were far less interested in the competition than they were in the practicalities. I could be at my husband’s Christmas party or a wedding reception or a family reunion, and as soon as I mentioned that I was part of this collaborative experience, somebody would insist I lead them through, step by step, exactly how we performed the incredible feat of writing a novel together.

 

 

 

 

The process seemed to be especially fascinating to non-writers. Engineers, chefs, scientists, music teachers, insurance brokers – all had great patience when it came to understanding the technicalities of the exercise. In a way, Ten to One seemed to help demystify writing for people who didn’t consider themselves creative. What does it look like to be a writer? How is the work quantified and organized? Is it really possible to collaborate with complete strangers living halfway around the world?

 

When I told them about all the forms we filled out, and how structured each step of the process had to be to ensure we ended up with a diverse cast of characters who could fit into a single novel, there was a general brightening. Spreadsheets are familiar. Timelines are translatable. Writing is not a complete mystery, but rather, a compilation of charts and lists with purposeful structure.

 

And it is. What this project has taught me about being a better writer is that high-level organization can erupt into something magical. The more constraints we had, the deeper we went to define ourselves, and the sharper our work got. We created ten different worlds and then wrote only the best, most necessary parts of each into this book.

 

For months, we had a dizzying number of files being updated in our Dropbox folder and inbox. I wrote thousand word biographies of Nell that were messaged to other writers on Facebook because the pages I’d produced and shared already didn’t cover every situation we collectively came up with. I also had my own cache of notes and sketches – ideas about my character, but also about each of the others since I knew we could cross paths eventually. We had worksheets about plots and subplots to keep up with, in addition to photographs of Skegness to study and match to Google maps, and interviews with other writers that we needed to read in order to figure out how to work well together.

 

This was all outside of the specific work we did for each chapter. For that, we had several rounds of ideas thrown out and dissected before Iain shaped them into a coherent whole. In California, between three and eight hours removed in time zone from the rest of the team, I would often wake up on Saturday morning to entire discussion chains that hadn’t existed the night before. The original idea might well have been presented, argued, and scrapped before dawn on the west coast.

 

The end result of these multicolored discussions (visually, the simplest way to identify ideas by other writers was to use a rainbow of colored fonts) was a document with a brief paragraph summary each writer needed to adhere to. Those three or four sentences were the results of at least a week’s worth of discourse amongst the wider team (built on the work of many months previous), which would then turn into concisely worded sections of a larger chapter.

 

It was such a technical process that it would be easy to presume creativity was stifled. In reality, working within those boundaries was what made this project possible. The scope was so massive, and the writers so diverse that without structure, the book would have been a disaster. Instead, it ended up becoming something beautiful and odd, much like the circus that inspired its name.

The Ten To One launch event is on 28th November 2014 (7pm – 8:30pm) at the Library of Birmingham. Tickets are available from their website: http://www.birmingham-box.co.uk/event/circ-can-ten-people-write-one-novel/?tab=6#unit-production-dates . Keep up to date with Ten To One by liking the Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/TenToOneNovel

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