Writing by talking

Occasionally I get requests for interviews and get books sent through to review. I’m delighted to have Altar of Blood by Anthony Riches, which I’ll have to review very soon. But before that, I managed to get a blog post from a rather remarkable writing duo, AJ MacKenzie. They are the husband and wife team of Marilyn Livingstone and Morgen Witzel. They are both successful non-fiction writers, but this is their first book written together. As you can see, there is a good justification for having them involved in my blog. They know Dartmoor!

I look forward to reading their book and getting a review up here soon.


Screenshot 2016-04-22 13.26.51

It’s probably the most frequently asked question we hear, from other writers as well as readers: how do we work together? It’s a fair question, and not an entirely easy one to answer. We’ve been writing together off and on for nearly forty years and no two projects have ever been the same. It seems to be an evolving process. It probably always will be.

In an interview before their film Hail Caesar was premiered, the brothers Joel and Ethan Coen were asked how they write together. ‘Basically’, said Joel, ‘it’s a conversation.’ We understood at once. That is exactly how we write: we talk to each other.

We play a kind of verbal ping-pong: one of us puts out an idea, the other considers it, reshapes it and bats it back, the first person does the same, and on it goes. Gradually, plot fleshes out, characters take shape and form and develop voices of their own, landscapes are developed and populated. It’s partly a process of creation, but there is a good deal of evolution going on as well.

Sometimes we sit down formally and discuss what we’re going to do. Our sitting room is always a good place to start. We live in a crumbling old cob house with rather shabby furniture, a fire, and usually a couple of kittens beating the daylights out of each other in a corner somewhere; a good place to work. We sit in comfy chairs opposite each other and talk, although Marilyn tends to wander about a bit when she gets excited by an idea.

The hour before dinner is another good time to get things done; we talk while preparing food, with a glass of wine to hand and the television going in the background, completely unheeded while we try to work out how Reverend Hardcastle and Mrs Chaytor are going to solve a knotty problem.

We don’t just work at home, though. We’re lucky to live in place with plenty of beautiful landscapes to inspire us. We’ve done some of our best work walking on the beach at Widemouth Bay, or out in the fresh air on Dartmoor (there is a lot of air on Dartmoor, and all of it is extremely fresh). Sometimes we talk while travelling. We worked out the general plot outline for one of the Romney Marsh mysteries while driving from Poole to Exeter late one night – largely as a means of keeping ourselves awake!

Of course, at some point the talking has to stop and we have to sit and write all this down. By and large, though, if we’ve talked enough about a story, the writing becomes the easy bit. We’ve done the hard work; the rest is detail.

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3 Responses to “Writing by talking”
  1. Jack Eason says:

    Reblogged this on Have We Had Help? and commented:
    More from Michael :)


  2. Lindsey Russell says:

    Been following your tweets so know about your Ridgie’s mishap, Love the photo – the eyes say it all – she’s got you sussed as a soft touch.


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