I’ve just finished reading The Floating Admiral, kindly leant to me by the lovely Erin Halliday. It’s a strange wee novel written by not one, but rather ten co-authors. In 1931 a mysterious organisation called “The Detection Club” formed in England. It was comprised of Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers, G.K.Chesterton and a bunch of their contemporary crime fiction writers who sadly haven’t translated quite as well across the century. “The Detection Club” existed to hold its disparate members accountable to the aim of producing quality, innovative and accurate crime writing. They soon struck upon the idea of writing a collaborative novel. The Floating Admiral is no crime classic. It’s pedantic, overly detailed and at times, difficult to follow as ten different voices attempt to articulate the same handful of characters. However, it is striking in its concept; the notion that ten powerful literary voices would want to share the stage with one another and, in doing so, draw attention away from the individual and towards the crime fiction writing community.
Other artistic genres are built upon the principles of creative collaboration: dancers rarely dance without music, orchestras cannot function unless they function as a group of co-creating individuals, dramatists and film makers rely upon a whole community of artists to realise their projects. Rarely do writers get the opportunity to collaborate with anyone. Whilst this solitary position is not without its appeal, (having, in the midst of the creative process, to deal with no ego other than one’s own, no input or critical voice), sometimes it’s dreadfully lonely.
Tonight I wish I was a drummer or an actor or a guy with a stick stirring a whole room of musicians into some kind of corporate choreography. I’ve left the pub early when the conversation was just getting started and there were choice anecdotes about to be told. I’ve walked home to an empty house and made a pot of coffee, put some quiet music on the stereo and I’m going to spend the rest of the evening, as I do five nights out of seven, crunching my way through 1,000 made up words. It would be nice to write while someone danced out my words or drew pictures, furtively on an easel in the corner of my study. It would be nice to have a live soundtrack with violins but writing doesn’t work that way.
Like the good folks of “The Detection Club” I covet the opportunity to collaborate. I know that creating in community can be an awkward and frustrating practice. I suspect that as much as you gain, you lose a little of yourself in the process. However, in this season as I contemplate new projects and new opportunities, I am also looking for ways to intentionally collide with others both within the writing community and in other art forms. Even I get tired with words from time to time and wonder if there might be other means of telling stories.