My guest today is Sue Featherstone who writes in partnership with fellow author Susan Pape. Together they write “witty, smart chick lit with attitude”. Sue is here to tell us about writing partnerships, and how she and Susan make their very different writing styles work for them.
Let me tell you a secret: despite sharing a byline on the covers of all five of our books, Susan and I don’t actually write together.
We don’t sit in the same office, in the same building or even in the same city.
We tried it once – we were deep in structural re-writes and thought it might help the creative process – but, my goodness, it was an AWFUL experience.
Writing partnerships can work, even if you have different styles!
Remember the fable of the tortoise and the hare? Well, Susan is the hare and I’m the tortoise. Get Susan on the starting blocks and she’ll be off the mark and heading for the winning line before I’ve even pulled on my running plimsolls.
Words simply pour out of her finger tips, zip through the keyboard and straight onto the screen.
It gives her work an immediacy and urgency that I greatly admire.
Me? I type, I ponder, I delete and re-write. Take the third sentence of this feature as an example. I originally wrote: ‘We tried it once.’ Then I had a little think and re-wrote it as: ‘We did try it once.’ Another think and it became: We did try it once.’ No, that wasn’t right either – so back to the beginning. ‘We tried it once.’
And won’t be doing it again.
While Susan’s fingers flew across the keyboard, her screen filling with words and sentences and whole paragraphs, mine just got slower and slower…until, thankfully, it was time for lunch and we spent the rest of the afternoon, gossiping rather than writing.
Turns out Susan found me as distracting as I found her and that we both work best in our own creative hubs – thirty miles apart.
How writing partnerships can work from a distance
It works for us because all three novels in our Friends series are told from the viewpoint of our two main two characters, thirty-something best friends Teri Meyer and Lee Harper – I write Lee’s PoV chapters and Susan is in charge of Teri – so, it’s perfectly possible for us to write semi-independently.
Obviously, we talk to each other – a lot. When we’re up against a deadline we’ll speak on the phone two or three times a day and emails are always zinging back and forth.
And we meet up regularly – I don’t know who invented working lunches, but we adore them.
Sometimes we get together at Susan’s house, sometimes at mine but, more often, halfway between the two, in the centre of Leeds where we have a couple of preferred rendezvouses. Usually Harvey Nicks if we think we deserve a treat, or, if we’re doing some heavy duty plotting and planning, The Tiled Hall café at Leeds Art Gallery.
Then we separate and work on the ideas we’ve discussed.
Pantsers or Plotters?
When we first started writing novels we were more inclined to be pantsers than plotters. We’d have a rough story outline but were happy to allow our characters to go off-piste – although we always reserved the right to pull them back on track if they went too far in the wrong direction.
However, over time, we’ve become less tolerant of off-piste antics and work to a much more detailed synopsis, which, I think, has helped our novels become tighter and pacier.
Of course, our characters still like to lob a few bombshells and we don’t always know exactly where they’re going to land…
For instance, in our newest work in progress, which follows sisters, Izzy and Mirrie, as they try to unravel the mystery of what has happened to their missing parents, Susan ‘knew’ that in the opening chapter Izzy – the character she’s writing – would receive a letter that’d take her breath away.
Susan hadn’t got a clue what was in the letter – just that Izzy had to open it and that in some way it related to her lost mum and dad.
I love it when this happens – it’s like getting an unexpected, and delicious, present.
How is this going to impact on my character, Mirrie? And Italian grandmother Nonna? I’ve got so many ideas…
It’s what makes writing with Susan so much fun.
About Sue Featherstone
Sue Featherstone is a former journalist and public relations practitioner turned academic.
Her career started in local newspapers before switching to PR to become internal communications manager with a large utility company.
She completed a degree in English Literature as a mature student and subsequently moved into higher education, teaching journalism to undergraduate students at Sheffield Hallam University.
At the beginning of 2017, Sue left Sheffield Hallam to focus on her writing.
Together with her friend and writing partner Susan Pape, she has written two successful journalism text books – Newspaper Journalism: A Practical Introduction; and Feature Writing: A Practical Introduction.
Their first novel, A Falling Friend, was published by Lakewater Press in 2016 and a sequel A Forsaken Friend is published on March 21, 2018. The final book in their Friends trilogy, A Forgiven Friend, will follow next year.
Sue and Susan write about books at https://bookloversbooklist.com/
Sue is on twitter @SueF_Writer