I’m about to drive into Edinburgh to record a four-way interview about the Dark Angels collective novel Keeping Mum for the BBC World Service. It’s Thursday evening and today is publication day.
According to the information sheet from the friendly PR agency who fixed this for us (take a bow Lief Schneider and Schneider Bartosch), Business Matters, the daily programme in question, has an astonishing 100 million listeners worldwide, including 1 million in the UK and 5 million in the US. Unofficial figures maybe, but even so it’s exposure of the kind one can only dream of. I’ll post a link to the iPlayer once our interview has been broadcast.
Something exciting is happening with this book. People are picking it up as a curiosity – can 15 writers really create a readable work of fiction? – only to find themselves sucked in and whirled along by the darkly comic story. These are some of the comments we’ve had so far: ‘Some wonderfully loathsome characters, as well as some fiendishly good writing.’ ‘Just finished reading it and enjoyed every page.’ ‘What fun, a very entertaining read and so cleverly done.’
Later this summer I’m going to the Sigtuna Book Festival, just outside Stockholm, to talk about the book. My conversations with the organisers so far have all turned on the question of how it was possible to get 15 writers to collaborate in this way. Three of the writers, including Julian Stubbs, founder of both the Cloud-based creative agency UPThereEverywhere and the book festival in question, happen to live and work in Scandinavia, so I hope that we’ll be able to get them along to the session to help answer the question.
I believe the Dark Angels ethos has a lot to do with it. All our courses feature collaborative exercises, while the general spirit of commensality (see A Few Kind Words, April 25) encourages sharing and the finding of common ground. There’s also the fact that people who come on the courses work in the business world and are more accustomed to the idea of subordinating their creative egos to a common purpose than writers who spend their time working on solo projects (which is not to suggest that these writers can’t collaborate; just that they may be less used to it).
One of my co-authors, Andy Milligan, made this observation in his blog a few days ago: ‘Writing in a team convinced me that in the future, people will see this as the end of a self-serving period in history. The fittest will adapt to collaboration. The big-ego Lone Rangers will choke on the Cloud. Only the collaborative will survive to tell the tale of the digital sharing revolution.’
This echoes a conversation I had with my mischief-making friend Gillian (see last week’s post) who described some of the leaders she’s come across in her time as ‘stupid, arrogant and blinkered people who lead by virtue of their positions, not because they have any followers’. This conjured a vision of a leader (one of Andy’s Lone Rangers, perhaps) striding out into some vast emptiness somewhere, head high, chest puffed out, gaze fixed on the horizon – and not a single soul behind him.
Another co-author, Claire Bodanis, also the project manager without whom the book wouldn’t have happened at all, reminds us that the collaboration extended beyond the authors to the many subscribers who crowd-funded the project through publishers Unbound.
Collaboration at its most basic means acknowledging that we are all humans and deserving of one another’s respect. To be serious about writing, and the insight into one’s own values it can bring, is to recognise that as a first principle. Even though the writer’s life is often solitary it can, paradoxically, equip one very well to collaborate. Keeping Mum is living proof of that – and a ripping good read to boot.