One of the nice things about doing festivals, as opposed to other readings and events, is that you actually bump into not just other authors (I have lots of authorly friends, but mostly writing for the same kind of readers as I do myself) but other kinds of authors. This time, it was the Hay Festival, and I found myself sharing a car back to Hereford Station with Paul Stewart and Chris Ridell. They write The Edge Chronicles and other children's fantasy together, and we started talking about what it's like writing as a team. Scriptwriters often do it, in writing sitcoms it's almost obligatory, and of course anything which is illustrated may well have two parties to its creation. In adult fiction it's less common, though the well-established crimewriter Nicci French is of course actually a husband and wife team.
It's not just that it would be nice to have the company when doing festivals and events, though it would. (At the Swindon festival I watched Ruthie Culver with envy, not just because she has a jazz singing voice I'd die for, and a fascinating way with poetry, but because she gets to travel with her band. Sure, they have a lot of clobber, what with the double bass and all, but it would be worth it not to be alone.) Writing as a team is also a more integral kind of not-being-alone.
Paul and Chris and I were talking about editors, and they said that they've rarely had to change anything at the editorial stage: by the time it gets to Random House it's pretty much ready to fly. That's surely partly because they're hugely experienced, but it suddenly occurred to me that to write in a pair is to have your trusted reader – writing-circle-mate, husband, agent, editor – permanently available, and vice versa. I'm one of the people who thinks that neither Lennon nor McCartney every wrote as well on their own as they did together. "Someone to bounce ideas off" is the usual idea, but what does that consist of, really? If you can find a voice which you can both write easily and well, then it's almost as if your Inner Reader, whose training is such an important part of learning to be a writer, has stepped outside you, and become independent flesh and blood. And in turn you become their Inner Reader.
I'm not suggesting that we should all work this way; generally speaking fiction writers are temperamentally suited to working alone (we'd soon go mad if we weren't), perhaps because fiction is mostly consumed alone, and not all of us would be able to adapt. And if, as I sometimes think, it's the filtering of craft through an individual consciousness which makes it become art, then it's conceptually quite hard to imagine how that would work if it was two conciousnesses. In other words, perhaps team writing works better at the end of the spectrum where craft is all, so that readers (or viewers) can rely on a book to do exactly what it says on the tin. I'm a confirmed non-talker about the work-in-progress, partly because I don't know what to do with feedback, or even passing comments, until I know what the book is. But writing as a team wouldn't be like an editor coming in, seeing product not process, commenting from outside the novel: you'd both be living inside it. Then, how wonderful to have someone who you could ask, 'Should they run away, or should they do battle?' and know that they might say, 'Neither, those are both terrible clichés. How about them flying to the moon?'