Rarely are books co-written. I am not sure why this is since some of the best books I have ever read were by the two co-authors: Larry Collins & Dominique Lapierre. They wrote historical books like Is Paris Burning, O Jerusalem, and Freedom at Midnight. All are highly memorable book about real events. They were my inspiration for co-writing our book.
As explained in my first blog, David and I met at the South Polesium conference in Scotland. There we discussed the idea of co-writing a book about heroic age decision making. Once we were back in our home locations (David in Calif and me in London), we collaborated only by phone, email, and skype.
We started by focusing on: target audience, tone, themes and chapter titles. Though we barely knew each other, and had lived very different lives, we found we were in complete agreement. We wanted the book to be fun to read and to introduce the wonderful heroic age stories to new people — people who may have heard the name Shackleton or Scott but would have no real knowledge of who did what. We agreed we wanted the book to be highly memorable — a compelling read with few footnotes. We shared a belief that a fast flowing story would mean we’d sometimes break the rules of grammar — using contractions, hyphens, sentence fragments and other effects — to create a page-turner, not an academic treatise.
The book had to 100% historically accurate and to avoid any Huntsford-isms (this will be explained in a future blog). We spent several months discussing all of this while debating the outline and table of contents. We alternated between using Word and Excel. Excel proved valuable for defining each chapter title, key story, theme, and ultimately which of us “owned” the chapter, and which edit version we were on.
In the early stages, we each wrote test chapters and realized how different our writing styles were. Mine was more free-flowing and lighter on historical content; Dave’s were historically rich with a wonderful turn of phrase, but sometimes too detailed. We figured this was a positive since we could edit each others chapters. Dave could add a historical richness to mine and I could add a free flow style to his.
Once the table of contents was agreed, we divided the chapters between based on our expertise and knowledge. We constantly traded chapters by email, while occasionally struggling to maintain version control. This was due to being 8 time zones apart as we found we’d each be editing the same version. We could have avoided this by using Google Docs, but both of us felt more comfortable with Word. Version control by Excel became even more critical.
We were fortunate to find excellent editors who were occasionally scathing in their criticism of sentences, paragraphs, sections and even chapters,. This compelled us to work harder to get the right stories and messages in the book. We learned a lot in the process. We also found we were totally united in our belief about the tone of the book, and therefore were often in agreement against one or more corrections by our editors because it caused the tone to be lost.
There were a few compelling moments in the writing. One was when our book designer, by luck, stumbled upon the historic Scott photograph for the front cover and developed the design we have today. We fell in love with the design as soon as we saw it. To later discover the rich history and current debate about who took the picture and how many people are pushing the sledge, added to the value of the cover.
We had lots of discussions about the title of the book, and that may also become the topic of another blog.
It has been a fun and educational process, and a wonderful collaborative effort. Each chapter has been through so many edits by each of us, six Antarctic historians and our editors, it is sometimes easy for us to forget who is the original “owner” of the chapter. Hopefully we have achieved a blend of writing styles.
Dave and I are currently discussing future book topics, and welcome any suggestions you might have.