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Co-authoring: a novel idea

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Exeposé Books talks to Exeter student Charlotte Robson about the novel she co-authored, St. Mallory’s Forever.

st-mallory-72dpiEB: Why a book about St. Mallorys?

CR: The idea for the books actually came from our publisher, Mark! When he found out I went to boarding school, he suggested we all work together on a Young Adult novel set in that environment. There’s not been a lot of contemporary boarding school stories since St Clare’s and Malory Towers, and we thought it would be a great opportunity to fill the gap – and tell the world what boarding school’s really like in this day and age, while still paying homage to ‘the oldies’, as it were. The school’s name, as you can probably tell, is a conglomeration of theirs!

EB: Did you read similar books when you were younger?

CR: I was about 13 when I first picked up the Malory Towers books. I was just about to go off to boarding school for the first time, and I needed something a bit more heartening than Tom Brown’s School Days to convince me I wasn’t going to my doom! I never got around to St Clare’s, sadly, but Mark tells me they’re rather good.

EB: Was there anything that particularly inspired you?

CR: It was mainly other books of this type that inspired us. Neither Miriam nor myself are massively familiar with St Trinian’s, apart from the new film, and I have to admit I bear a bit of a grudge against it and Wild Child for propagating some of the more ridiculous myths about modern boarding schools. Although my year group did get together in the Upper Fourth to film our own version of the St Trinian’s movie… but that’s another story.

EB: What exactly is Saffina Desforges and how did you become a part of it?

CR: “Saffina Desforges” is the joint nom de plume of Mark and his co-author, Sarah. It was the name they used when they first published their massively successful crime novels, and they’ve made something of a brand of it since then. St Mall’s was their first joint foray into lighter YA novels – with our help, of course!

We first met Mark (who calls himself “the back end of the Saffina Desforges pantomime horse”, fun fact) when we started writing blog posts for him. He found Miriam via her own blog first, and she, in turn, introduced him to me. Inevitably, we all got to chatting about writing and reading and such – Mark teased us half to death about how young we were, and how we’d missed out on all the great classics from being born a couple of decades too late. Things rather hit the fan – or, I should say, the page – after that!

EB: What was it like co-authoring a book?

The novel is loosely based on Enid Blyton's Malory Towers and St. Clare's series.
The novel is loosely based on Enid Blyton’s Malory Towers and St. Clare’s series.

CR: Miriam and I had collaborated informally once or twice before we started the project, so we both knew, vaguely, how it was done. Still, it was a bit of a challenge trying to get three people in on it! There certainly weren’t any arguments though – it was mostly just a bit of a palaver on the communication level! Three-way emails make startled spaghetti look organised, I tell thee.

Mostly, though, the multiple inputs were a great boon to the story. We didn’t start out with any kind of plan or structure, so it was really easy just to bounce ideas off each other and know there were always other pens – or typing fingers – on hand to pick up if we were falling off the wagon a bit.

EB: Do you think it would have been easier to write as a solo project?

CR: Cripes, no! There’s no way St Mall’s could have existed at all if it were left to one of us. There are a lot of elements in the story that are dependent on us working in our individual expertise. Miriam and Mark have never been to a boarding school, she and I were complete newbies to the ins and outs of the actual publishing, and Mark and I have the musical knowledge of duck-billed platypi.

EB: Have you written before?

CR: Oh yes. I write novels – big fat ones with overcomplicated plots and disappearing characters, maybe the occasional cyborg or dragon if you squint hard enough. Altogether I’ve written about five complete novels (let’s not talk about the half-dozen half-formed abominations lurking in my WIP folder…) since I started writing for proper at about thirteen.

Of the two of us ‘newbies’, though, Miriam is the more prolific author by far – she’s written and rewritten multiple drafts of several of her novels. She likes inflicting them on me in their second or third drafts and making me cry. Suffice to say, I exact my revenge in kind.

EB: What would you compare the book to?

CR: I’d not be inclined to directly compare it to anything much. Perhaps it bears a resemblance to Ally Carter’s Gallagher Girls books, what with the modern setting, humour, and the girls’ tendencies to snoop about in suspicious matters. Of course, there’s the obligatory homage to the old boarding school books too, but we set out on the novel with the intent on making it a bit of something new, and overall I think we made quite a good job of it!

EB: Are you going to pursue writing as a career?

CR: That’s the plan, certainly. I’m trying to get myself into editing and possibly submitting one of my more recent solo novels for publication sometime in the future, but if full-time authorship doesn’t work out for me, I’d want to work in editing, or perhaps being a literary agent. I’d still be scribbling, too, of course, but I wouldn’t quit my day job.

EB: What advice do you have for budding student writers?

CR: Write. Revise. Drink copious amounts of sugary drinks. Write some more. First drafts suck, second drafts less so, and make sure you have a trusty friend on hand to hand it over to when you’re sick of chasing commas at three o’clock in the morning.

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