Northwrite — collaborative fiction

I’m happy to be up at Northwrite today, discussing collaborative fiction with Jane Prinsep, Myra King, Anita Chapman, Beate Sigriddaughter, Claire King and Chris Nedahl.

The discussion follows on from a collaborative story started by Michelle Elvy in 2012. Hopping continents from writer to writer, the initial story branched into eight separate versions which can be read here (along with a beautiful mother-daughter collaboration called ‘Two Cups of Tea’).

It’s good to see; to me, collaborative storytelling feels intuitively right, harking back to oral tradition, gatherings and camp fires at which hunters and gatherers might share their days. Or as Beate Sigriddaughter puts so warmly and eloquently,

 … collaboration drives home to me that we’re all in this together and that we all belong …

I found the process interesting, too. Instead of writing a piece, editing, and ensuring its quality before release, we had to write and pass it on unfinished to the next writer. This loss of control over the final version took a moment to accept. As Claire King points out, it’s possible to end up with a story that a sole contributor would not have written or wanted to see published in its final form.

Does it matter? Does the richness of many voices compensate for any plot glitches or seams in collaborative stories?

To me, while the stories may not be polished, they’re vibrant and reflect our trust and belonging, and for this it was worth relinquishing a bit of control.

My thanks to Michelle Elvy for setting this up, for the enjoyment, for the publication… for all of it, really.


  1. claire king says:

    Ooh lovely to see that discussion up there (and here). When I read my comment of the context of other writers’, it seemed to imply that I wasn’t happy with the story we ended up with, which wasn’t the case at all.

    But the process did get me thinking about the work that we publish, and how careful we are to edit it thoroughly before publishing, whereas with these pieces there was no overall edit.

    It may be that editing is on my mind, as that’s what I’ve spent most of this year doing, and I do like to go back over something several times to ensure the start of a story is always going to lead to the end, whether you know it or not. To foreshadow and to leave a trail of breadcrumbs.

    I would have liked to have sat in a room with all the authors and pulled those strands through our story. I think it would have been fun, and even more collaborative than just a handover of the baton at the seams.

    • t upchurch says:

      Agree; I found it a real leap out of my comfort zone, to go from careful pre-release editing to handing over (permanently) to another writer mid-flow, but it brought people together and we created something fun and spontaneous.

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