When you tell people you’re writing a novel with your sister, the first thing people generally ask is: How?
And, because you want to be taken seriously and not sound like a mother-of-four who copes with the insanity of her life through the ingestion of vast amounts of alcohol, you don’t say “by drinking lots of wine together until a plot takes shape.” Cheers.
You talk instead about the careful chapter and character planning – all true.
You touch on the method – each writing one of the main characters in alternating point-of-view chapters – again, true.
You explain the assiduous editing and re-editing to make sure the story is continuous and there are no major crossed wires. Like one of the secondary characters being called a totally different name by each of you (glad we picked that one up).
But there is so much more to the how.
There are the late night conversations after you’ve read your sister’s latest chapter and laughed so hard you wet your pants. (Four kids remember, it doesn’t take much. Hang on while I squeeze out a few quick rounds of pelvic floor exercises.)
There are the times you take the agreed plot down some wild tangents and totally surprise each other. Mostly because, somehow, it works.
And there are the beautiful moments when you call your sister up with a crazy new idea and she says: “You know what? I was thinking exactly that too.”
For me, the best thing about writing a book with my sister was that it was like having a conversation with her. The tangents. The funny anecdotes. Somehow dragging yourselves back to the point. And putting the world to rights. Just like women do.
The second thing people ask is: are you mad? AKA: I would kill my sister if I had to work that closely with her.
Our mother (God rest her pessimistic soul) was a fan of this question. She feared her beloved daughters would end up at loggerheads.
But what she (and maybe we) didn’t realise when we started this journey is that maybe we were exactly different enough, and exactly alike enough, to make this mad idea work.
Different enough to give our two crazy heroines some spit and spice.
Alike enough to laugh at the same things, want the same things, have the same work ethic. Be big enough to admit when something wasn’t working. Be honest enough to say when something mattered and had to stay.
So Mum, wherever you are, you didn’t need to be afraid. Because all of that – the humour, the work ethic, the honesty – it all came from you.
So here’s to sisters. And to the mothers who make them. Now that deserves a cheers.