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Five on Novel Island: tips for writing collaboratively

Author and adult educator Anne Hamilton shares her tips for writing a novel in collaboration

Last updated: 19 May 2022

It's not often that one author is made up of five different writers, but that's how it was with Gill Merton. Gill is the collective pen name of Elizabeth Nallon, Coreen Connell, Simon Bramwell, Sheila Corrigan and Anne Hamilton, Gilmerton Community Centre's long-running creative writing group, who came together to write a novel, Entitled, as a team.

It all began with a short story by Sheila Corrigan, one of 'the five'. Back then, the group wasn't thinking of a novel, but it did decide to expand on the premise of a young nanny who decides she is entitled to become the mother of the children in her care. . .

One published novel later, what five things have they learned?

'It's not you, it's us' – letting go of our egos

We're five very different writers (and people!) so creating a cohesive story, rather than a series of clearly-individual scenes would always be a challenge. We're not strangers to each other, we have already produced an anthology and a collaborative audio play, so have begun to learn the hard, hard lesson of not getting attached to 'our' characters or scenes, and being willing to kill our darlings for the bigger picture.

Working by commitment not committee

Discussions did go round in circles, we duplicated, disagreed, dithered; it would have been too easy to fall into a round-robin experience. Mutual respect, a lot of laughs and only seeing each other once a week – less through lockdown – probably helped us achieve our aims. Having a particular group member to oversee the development, editing and maintain one voice (our group tutor, in our case) and having chapters narrated by different characters, has given us the best of both worlds.

Money does talk (quietly) and finding funding

As the idea grew, we realised a novella, then a novel, was in sight. And when you have a novel, you publish it, right? To do this, we sought funding from the National Lottery Awards for All scheme, which supports community initiatives – and we were successful. With an outcome defined and being trusted with 'public' money, we gathered momentum, when otherwise we might, despite our creative intentions, have flagged.

When a prefect should be perfect

The best idea, the best writing, the best editing, the best production – the novel should always be more than good enough, but 'perfection' is a strong word. If there's one thing all of us underestimated, it's proofreading. One, two, three. . . six, ten, versions later, niggling errors glare out like neon lights. We've done our best. (And we'll never be as judgemental about traditionally published books again!)

Faith, hope and love

Entitled is a project, the first time we've ever tried anything like this. Three years on, we have proved it's possible to publish a novel. We have a certain amount of talent as writers, we have a basic skill-set, but most of all we've pushed on with collective delight and determination. We've always had faith in the project, we've never lost hope we'd achieve our vision – and, warts and all, we still love the novel.

Book cover for Entited, painting of a boat on a sandy beach

Entitled was launched at Gilmerton Community Centre on Wednesdays 18 May. All welcome. Books are available from Amazon UK in paperback and eBook.

New writers – at any stage – are always welcome. Contact the community centre reception for more information.