On Friday when I posted my review of Circ I mentioned that I was planning on attending an event about it today.
Separated by a Common Language was all about the process of writing a collaborative piece and the sorts of barriers that you would have to overcome to do so, including cultural barriers (and the writers were international). It was designed to be accessible to someone who hadn’t read Circ, so having read Circ is not really a requirement to understand this post either.
It was an interesting session to attend. It was interesting to see how the writers had experienced the process, and got me thinking about sides which I hadn’t considered. Plus it reminded me of parts of the novel that maybe I should have mentioned in my review (just goes to show that maybe I should start writing notes when I finish a book). I am going to add these bits splattered about
I’m going to give a little information about Circ and the process so things can be understood, no spoilers!
Circ was written by ten different authors, each author wrote a different character and characters were gradually voted off ‘X-Factor style’.as such it was a competition, although the contestants did have to work together at least to an extent, because the story had to work and the characters had to interact with each other.
One author in particular spoke about how sometimes these interactions meant that a character getting voted out could be as much of a bother to an author who was still in the process as for the author who had actually been voted out. He gave the example of his own character (which makes sense). His character was a teenager who worked in a shop and didn’t attend school, pretending to be older than school age. Another of the characters was a social worker so the author could see lots of interactions happening between his character and the social worker, which of course couldn’t be fulfilled once the social worker was out of the picture. He still had ways he could take the story, but this was a big chunk of what he could have done.
Another author (the author who won, as it happens) talked about what he had done to guard against this problem. He said that he had tried to make it so that his character had connections with lots of other characters, so when one character ‘gets lost’ he had plenty of other characters to follow. Plus his character had his own loner related storyline. Not a surprise he won really, he had his finger in lots of pies, plenty of storylines for readers to want to discover the end of. One of the characters he had an early interaction with was actually a character I wished we could see more of, she seemed to have lots of back story which I really would have liked to find out about. Let’s say she was my type of character, the type I like to read about.
The author who wrote the gangster character had a different approach to staying in the game. He decided to make all his character’s scenes as exciting as he could, in his first scene he killed someone by poking a pencil in their eye. That worked pretty well too. The gangster was one of the last characters to go.
The author who wrote the gangster was also the only person on the panel who didn’t live in the UK (he wasn’t the only author who didn’t live in the UK but not all the authors were there) so he gave the best varied cultural insight. It seemed that his only real ‘problem’ was that he would use words and phases that British people wouldn’t use, and his character was meant to be British. He had to change other aspects of his character too, to make him more British. He wanted him to have gone to Sandhurst, but he was black, so him having gone to Sandhurst was very unlikely. Him living in Skegness (where the book is set) was also somewhat unlikely, but that was too major to change. I actually really liked the gangster character, especially his interactions with the clown (the winning character). He was funny. He somehow seemed more funny when the author read an extract.
I feel this post is getting too long, but I wanted to comment on one more thing. I asked about how the writers managed to make things so cohesive, seeing as they all had their own backgrounds and styles. I found it interesting that they could tell the differences in styles, where I couldn’t. Maybe that was just to do with the familiarity with each other’s work. It’s a bit like how I could tell that The Cuckoo’s Calling was written by J.K Rowling, because I am so familiar with and expected her style. They said they did occasionally need a push in the right direction when writing each other’s characters, because a writer will know more about their characters than what you can read, or what a description can really show. It’s part of the reason that they really needed to work together.