Voice Of A Generation: The Joys Of Collaboration

One of the interesting things about St Mallory’s Forever! is obviously the way it’s been written. Oh, don’t get me wrong, we’re not trying to sell it just because it was written by a whole bunch of different people. We like the plot too. But even if indie publishing is making collaboration more common, we still think that with St Mall’s, we’ve done something a bit unusual.

For a start, Charley and I are both teenagers. Perhaps working together might have been a normal thing to do, maybe under one name, but the very fact that we are working with Saffina Desforges as well makes us unusual. Why? Well, they’re best-selling e-book authors. Since when did they hang around with 15-year-olds? (As I was when we started, though I’ll be 17 before it’s published.)

That brings us to Saffina Desforges. The writing partnership have already released one YA book, but they’re primarily crime writers, at least so far. And that was a historical novel.

Now, given that neither of them are teenagers, neither of them are currently studying at either a boarding school or a London state school, and Mark actually lives in West Africa so, if anything, is even more behind on the ‘lingo’ than most others his age, there’s a fundamental problem with writing a book narrated by three teenage girls in a boarding school: you’re going to sound like an idiot if you use vocabulary that’s out of date.

This has happened a couple of times. In editing, Charley and I have picked up on phrases like ‘totties’ which, to be frank, I have never heard in my entire life. In consulting a dictionary (okay, my parents, but my dad reads dictionaries for fun so it’s basically the same thing), I discovered it to be a word that fell out of usage some time ago, and was always primarily upper class. Not really surprising that I hadn’t come across it, is it?

There are also words which have changed their meaning. For example, “fag”, used in the context of boarding school novels to talk about a younger student forced to run errands for older students. Obviously, these days it’s got a whole bunch of connotations, from the harmless slang term for a cigarette to the derogatory name for someone who’s gay, which wasn’t exactly what Mark was trying to say.

Plus, there’s the education system itself, which has changed rapidly in the last few years. While my mum has always kept up to date because she works in a school, my dad still gets muddled about what year is which and how old I am and things. What hope do they have without us? To sound like realistic teenagers is hard enough when it’s in normal first person, and this thing is written as blog posts, where voice is absolutely imperative. I daresay Mark and Saffi could have pulled it off, but it would have been incredibly difficult.

And that’s where you need superstars like Charley and I. Here to make teenagers sound like teenagers despite being ridiculous pretentious with our own language most of the time and supplementing curse words with Latin/Elvish/Esperanto/Anglo-Saxon ones instead (delete as appropriate for the two of us).

Yet Charley and I couldn’t have written St Mallory’s without the others. For a start, we couldn’t do the publishing side, or the cover design, or any of the logistics. But, to be quite frank, neither of us have enough experience writing (a) mysteries and (b) collaborating. We’ve done a few joke collaborations in the past, but nothing ever got finished.

Therefore, this is truly a collaborative effort. None of us could do it without the others, for all different reasons, and we wouldn’t want to! I’m fairly sure I had a point to this post that wasn’t quite so sickeningly adorable, but alas — it’s gone. I’ll have to leave you with the fluff and rainbows for now.

— M

(I’m hoping to create and upload a video promo for St Mallory’s Forever! this evening, and while I cannot guarantee it will be up today, hopefully it will. It would be great if a few of you could share it; I’ll be linking to it here as soon as it’s live.)

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Typerventilating Imminent

Mark sent me an email this morning with the subject line “St. Mallory’s Forever! is imminent. Time to get serious.” Talk about not freaking out your co-writers when they wake up – I read it on my phone while still in bed and promptly killed predictive text trying to reply when the only thing I could manage to say was asdfalskdjf;wakjsdfalsdkf, affectionately known as keyboard smashing or ‘typerventilating’.

You see, St Mallory’s Forever! ought to be coming out this month. Although things often do not go according to plan, we were hoping for the 22nd as our official publication date, which just happens to be my seventeenth birthday. We’re working on the final draft, tweaking and proof reading and making minor alterations (and I am sitting here confused by Mark’s formatting gibberish given that to send things to Kindle, I usually just run them through Calibre and they come out as shiny, fully functional .mobi files with contents pages… but hey).

Mark sent me promo images to use and if you’re reading this in an email, you may want to click through to see the new design of the blog,  which utilises some of them.

And I’m freaking out.

Even though one of my New Year’s resolutions was not to chicken out of taking steps towards publication (which includes investigating the best course to take with my novel Watching), the idea of something I wrote being out there for everybody to read is terrifying. I’m sitting here going, “What if they hate it? What if they never buy anything I write ever again?”

Of course, it’s collaborative, which means not only do we all share the credit, but we all take the blame. Reading it through, it doesn’t sound like me, or Charley, and I haven’t read enough Saffina Desforges to know if it sounds much like them but I’m willing to bet it doesn’t. It’s not my usual genre or style. My characters are normally bitter, twisted and often non-human, a far cry from the excitable teenage girls of St Mallory’s.

Yet I see things that I know I wrote, even if they’re not my usual style.

Okay. So it’s mine. And it’s Charley’s and Mark’s and Saffi’s.

But soon it will be yours. It’ll be coming out as an e-book first, instantly to Kindle and Nook although Mark warns me it might take a little longer for it to filter through to other platforms. Then, in February, we’re hoping to have it available as print on demand. I had no idea the print book would be coming so soon, but apparently it is.

That’s also freaking me out.

Before, I was like, “Okay, people at my school might know about it and maybe read it, but I won’t know. Ha ha.” And now I’m like, “People at my school might read it and I WILL BE ABLE TO SEE.” And they will judge me on it, even if they don’t say so. They will think that is what all my writing is like even though it’s not. Yes, I’m proud of St Mallory’s, but the idea of putting my name to … well, anything right now, is terrifying.

*deep breaths*

I’m fine. I’m fine.

After a year in which I don’t think I really achieved a lot outside of finishing my GCSEs, suddenly things are happening very fast. St Mallory’s Forever! has gone from what still seemed slightly like a far-distant possibility to a very real thing. It’s happening. It’s happening soon.

asdfa;lskdfjas;dflkjsdfa;sdlkfjaeil;lksdjfa

— M

ThunderMallorys Are Go!

Title shamelessly stolen from Miriam’s email tagline? Yes.

Singing the theme tune in my head? Yes.

Couldn’t sleep last night for excitement of telling all of you this? Yes.

It’s official – the first draft of St Mallory’s Forever! is finished! Finito! Completa! Done!

Words cannot tell how incredibly exciting this feels. There have been plenty of ups and downs and periods of absolutely nothing happening; exams, concerts, university application, ballet, moving house . . . the cosmos seemed to be conspiring against us. Just a little bit.

Nevertheless, Draft The First is finally completed. We’ll keep you posted on the progress of edits et cetera. Who knows, we might even get around to a release date eventually 😉

~ Charley R

Piecing It Together

By now you should know that if there’s an update on the St Mall’s blog, it means we’ve found the document after a long hiatus, were guilt-tripped into working on it, and now want to share this with the world.

The funniest thing about collaborative writing is that long before you’re anywhere near finishing the book, it’s difficult to tell who wrote what – especially when many chapters were written following brainstorming sessions in which all parties contributed ideas, and also because we all go back and edit each other’s chapters anyway.

Recently I realised there was no single document that contained the whole of St Mallory’s Forever! so far. We had a ‘final version’ of the first eleven chapters, plus a ‘working document’ containing most of the book (around 30k) as it stood in February of this year. And then we had a ‘chapters’ file which had an additional 15,000 words. These needed lining up.

It took some hunting until I found the most up-to-date version of all chapters that currently exist, but when I did I sat down and started to piece them together (Charley had the latest chapters to review at the time). I also took the opportunity to match up the formatting. Weirdly, not only did we have different fonts, margins, formats (indents versus line breaks; line spacing), and general appearance in the different files, we also had different formatting within the documents themselves.

I quickly put that to rights. (It’s now all in Cambria. I like Cambria.) I also made the chapter titles ‘headers’ so that we can easily skip from one to the next.

In the process I found several chapters that I really couldn’t attribute to any of us – lines I could swear I’d written surrounded by ones of which I had no memory. Either it’s doing a Good Omens and writing itself when we’re not looking, or we’re really getting this collaboration down pat and you won’t be able to tell who wrote what.

What does this mean and why do you care?

You probably don’t. I just thought you might like an update after so long. Piecing the parts of the book together not only removes any excuse we have for discrepancies (we can now look things up), but it also helps us work out how long it is and how much more needs to be written, or how quickly we need to wind it up.

If you weren’t keeping count up there, it’s about 45,000 words long, which is 5k short of a NaNoWriMo-length novel – and we’ve been working on it for nearly a year and a half. It probably won’t be a hugely long novel. My own solo works are about 90-100k each, and this is more likely to be 55-60k, if I’m reading the signs correctly. At the rate we’ve been working for the last year, you’ll be here until the apocalypse waiting for it, but we’re going to really push through the next few weeks.

Yeah, that Christmas 2011 deadline really didn’t happen, did it? But we’re hoping to get this draft completely finished asap, and then it’ll just be edits and rewrites and hopefully it won’t be too long before you see the completed book.

This entire post could be summarised like this: St Mallory’s is still a thing that exists. It’s just been sleeping for a long time. Now it’s waking up, in the hiatus before NaNoWriMo starts.

Stay tuned. We’re getting there.

— M

What counts as ‘too many’ with pop culture references?

Good morning, readers! In case you’ve forgotten who I am, as it’s been that long since we last had any posts here, I’m Miriam. I’m the one who isn’t at boarding school – the Londoner 🙂 I’ve just escaped from exams, am working my way through a bunch of shows that I’m playing or dancing in, and redecorating my room. Nevertheless, I caved to Charley’s nagging this morning, sat down at my desk, and did some work on St Mallory’s Forever this morning. And then remembered we had a blog.

We’re good at this whole blogging thing here, I swear.

So, onto the actual post, which is what you want to read, rather than listening to me ramble on about nothing.

Generally, when writing, I steer clear of pop culture references. There are exceptions (my wonderfully hardcore Welsh character, Bronwyn, gets compared to Gwen Cooper on more than one occasion), but I tend to avoid it. It dates the book. It makes it clear when it was written and if it’s still around in twenty years’ time, that’s not always a good thing.

But I guess with e-books it’s different. After all, you can always update them in a year’s time, or two years’, to accommodate that sort of thing, can’t you?

My conclusion when it comes to St Mallory’s, therefore: you can never have too many references.

I don’t know who was responsible for the first Sherlock Holmes references but after that sprouted in the middle of an early chapter, several more followed, some more obvious than others. We’ve had a Doctor Who marathon and a dalek alarm clock. Miss Marple has been mentioned, as has Saruman’s bad singing and the peak of Caradhras.

Oh, and Yoda’s backside, but we don’t talk about that.

We had an absolutely brilliant (though I say so myself) Star Trek related pun for a chapter title. Okay, so the others haven’t seen that yet, as I only just sent it to Charley, but I thought it was brilliant. It took me, like, five minutes to think of it. In fact, I think it was a stroke of genius. My magnum opus. I will be remembered for that chapter title. Except that no one will know I wrote it as opposed to, say, Charley or Mark or Saffi. *sigh* But it was good. Honest.

Not to mention the fact that one of our major characters’ names is a hidden reference in itself, and if anyone picks up on it, I will like them a lot and will send them virtual cookies. But not real cookies, because I have no money to pay the postage. Sorry.

But Miriam, how can we pick up on it when we haven’t read St Mallory’s yet? Um, yeah, we’re working on the whole finishing-the-book thing. Honest.

Keep your eyes peeled for announcements. I think we’re getting there with the plot and we’ll be tying up loose ends before too long!

— M

From Somewhere Beneath the Textbooks…

Hello everyone!

Yes, yes, I know it’s been months since either Miriam or I posted here – very very naughty of us, we know. We would love to post more, but unfortunately we are inhibited by one thing (or many things, depends how you view it.)

Exams.

Miriam is currently tackling GCSEs, while I am a year ahead getting chewed on by my AS Levels. Both of us are currently on Study Leave, doing battle with a variety of ideas that we’re supposed to know but swear we never studied. For me it’s Descartes, Polkinghorne and Anselm, and for Miriam it’s incomprehensible Physics-related squigglies that supposedly explain the behavior of various whizzy-bouncy particle thingies.

Subsequently, St Mallory’s Forever! has been somewhat neglected. It is currently sitting in my email Inbox, glaring at me malevolently and threatening to maim my brain cells the moment it comes within range.

And, with any luck, it will have its opportunity as of Thursday, when all but one of my exams will be over. The moment we get the rough draft finished – and we get out of school for the summer – we both have every intention of editing at the speed of light, shoving it through the formatters, and getting it into your hands as soon as we can.

In the meantime … a little more patience, please. Not much, just a bit. We promise.

If you feel the urge to hunt us down and persecute us further, you can find both our personal blogs here:

Miriam Joy

Charley Robson

Live long and prosper, readers. We promise to be back soon.

Jolly Hockey Sticks! – The Truth about Boarding School

Boarding school (definition): an education centre, usually in the form of an old manor house or castle, where students live all year round. Most of their time is taken up with practical jokes, driving the matron batty and chasing each other around lacrosse pitches. Common phraseology from the students inclues “rather” “awfully” and “jolly”.

Alright, who let you lot at the Enid Blyton?

Strange, really, that here in the UK – where we have a relatively large concentration of boarding schools, relative to some other countries – there are so many bizarre myths persisting about boarding schools. To be fair, I only started boarding five years ago and, before that, the only experience of boarding school that I had was the stories my Dad used to tell me about his boyhood – most of them concerning evil teachers, playing rugby in “sandpaper shorts” and the truly stomach-churning school dinners.

So, lovely charitable person that I am, I’m going to make my first post to this blog by dispelling some of the mystery and letting you in on what really goes on at boarding schools like St Mallory’s.

Now, let’s get started shall we?

Myth Number One: All boarding schools are out in the countryside.

False – though many are indeed set out of towns, many more are very much within cities and towns themselves – my own school is a prime example, we’re a massive landmark in the village, and the much older boys’ school is spread out over the place so much you can hardly tell where it starts and stops!

Myth Number Two: Only rich people go to boarding school.

False, false and false again! This is one of the myths that really irks me, simply because of the bad impression it often gives people of us. While most boarding schools are independent, and thus have high fees, there are plenty of scholarships and bursaries to be had – and it’s a tooth-and-nail battle to get them too, I tell you! Some of my friends’ parents have had to take out loans to pay for the fees, while plenty more have chip-ins from the extended family to take the bite off. Forces brats like me are also in abundance, as half of our fees are paid by the M.O.D as compensation for dragging us all around the planet and, subsequently, making a wonderful mess of our primary school level education.

Myth Number Three: Everybody sleeps in communal dorms.

Not exactly false, but probably not true in the sense you’re imagining. Though dorm layout varies from school to school, you can be absolutely sure that, nowadays, all those stories about twelve girls living in one room with only a bed, a curtain and a chest of drawers to themselves is a big fat lie. We do get some privacy, and even in relatively small schools like mine, communal dorms only have about five or six occupants maximum. Cubicles on corridors, like those you’ll see in St Mallory’s, are also a popular method of squishing as many sardines … sorry, I mean students, into a smaller space, while at the same time preventing us re-enacting Lord of the Flies after a particularly stressful weekend.

Myth Number Four: Everyone plays lacrosse.

A bit of a generalisation, this. True, lacrosse is a popular sport at several boarding schools, there are a good many that don’t play it, and certainly not everyone participates. I know because I’m one of the lucky few that don’t *coughI’mhopelesscough*. And it’s not all we play either – tell that to our hockey, polo, netball, archery, cross-country, swimming, squash and tennis teams!

Myth Number Five: “Girls’ school” is an alternative word for nunnery.

Bahahahaha, I think not! True, while interacting with members of the opposite gender is a little more difficult in a single-sex school, there are plenty of opportunities for interaction. Some schools, like mine, have both a boys’ and girls’ school in close proximity, and even those that don’t usually have weekly or bi-weekly discos or some other form of outing that allows for a little socialising.

Myth Number Six: Younger girls are made to do duties for the older ones.

Tom Brown’s School Days strikes again! Hehe, don’t worry all, this practice – known as “fagging” at the time – died a death several decades ago. On the matter of duties though, there tends to be some sort of setup regarding jobs for different year groups. Of course, this varies from school to school, but in the majority, the Sixth Form (years 12 and 13, to all you normal people) have duties that may include: prep (homework) supervision, putting everyone to bed in the evenings, supervising activities, taking registers at breakfast, organising house events … you get the idea. Oh, and yes, we do have prefects. I know because I am one! 😛

Myth Number Seven: It’s all midnight feasts and pranks!

LIES! LIES I TELL YOU! Though, for once, it’s a lie I wish was true. Forget raiding the pantry at midnight to celebrate a birthday – we’d be put on detention for a week if we were caught out of bed at that hour – we hardly have time for cake eating! Boarding school schedules usually involve a longer day than day schools, as we don’t have parents complaining that they have to come so late to pick us up and they feel they need to “keep us entertained”. We all work our butts off just as much as everyone else, and we don’t find it any easier than the next student. We’ll tease the teachers on occasion, and I will confess to once being involved in a plot involving a whoopie cushion, but all those ingenious wangles like inflatable jackets, popping coins and imprints of “Allo” on the French mistress’ bottom are, regrettably, mere fiction.

Phew! That’s all I’ve got for now – my poor brain still hasn’t quite got over the fever that’s been persecuting me this past week. I hope I’ve covered some good bases up there, but if there’s anything you feel I’ve missed, feel free to drop a comment with your question and I’ll do my best to answer it to your satisfaction.

In the meantime, farewell all, live long and prosper!

– Charley