Courtesy of Laura Tansley and Micaela Maftei
This is the third of four fortnightly guest blogs by collaborative authors Micaela Maftei, based in Victoria, British Columbia, and Laura Tansley, based in Glasgow, UK. Both writers completed Creative Writing PhDs at the University of Glasgow, where they met. They have gone on to co-author short stories and continue to do so from opposite sides of the Atlantic, with their forthcoming short story collection soon to be published by Vagabond Voices. They are truly contemporary transatlantic literary women. Read on to find out more about their process!
The particular and shared time, space and place of collaborative writing
Many writers, deliberately or not, consciously or not, write what they know, and write of where they know – this is often especially true when a writer leaves a place and subsequently sees it from a new vantage point. For all that we believe our co-written work features a voice that is distinct from our individual voices, when we each sit with a piece, the triggers and images that come to mind are often influenced by the myriad experiences, memories and associations that come from our personal past.
In The Razor’s Edge, Somerset Maugham writes that “men and women are not only themselves; they are also the region in which they are born, the city apartment or farm where they learned to walk, the games they played as children, the old wives tales they overheard, the food they ate, the schools they attended, the sports they followed, the poets they read…these are things that you can’t come to know by hearsay”. If the self is a great mix of ingredients, many rooted in early life, it’s a certainty that as co-authors what we imagine as we create a story, and the associations connected with it, will not always, and perhaps will never, be exactly the same.
What we imagine in our minds when we write (the places and people and images that we, with or without awareness, have in mind when we create the fictional), is not necessarily something we share with each other as part of our creative process. But it becomes apparent when we consider our understandings of these stories that we often have very different spaces in mind as we write. The geography of the sleepover setting in ‘The Reach of a Root’ is both specifically an old friend’s house from Toronto, and simultaneously a second cousin’s from Malvern. And even when the space we imagine is similar, the ways in which it’s encountered can be different. In ‘A Change is as Good as a Rest’, when the character Jess tries on underwear in a pretentious clothing store, one of us imagined the wooden-panelled cubicles of mid-Twenties experiences of the Buchanan Street Urban Outfitters, while the other mentally returned to hundreds of teenaged trips to the Urban Outfitters next to Toronto’s Eaton Centre. Even ubiquity has contextual specificity. These differences don’t seem to affect a reading of the story because the stories retain a narrative and spatial logic, but what these examples highlight is that despite our creation of a third voice, and even though we would agree that we know and can relate to each other very well, having developed an understanding of what we think and imagine and how we each see the world around us, that even in collaboration, the worlds we create as writers can remain specific, precise, fixed in the past and often, therefore, unknowable.
Our shared experiences are sure to influence our process, although it’s impossible to know at this stage, or perhaps ever, to what extent they have impacted on our work. The spaces we shared in Glasgow (a flat, a PhD cohort, friends and trips around Scotland), may have played a significant part in terms of our compulsion to explore collaborative writing, and perhaps influence and inform the third voice we produce in our co-written short stories. And these four years together will remain incredibly significant to us, but in the course of our respective tenures as writers, these experiences represent an increasingly small amount of time and a more and more distant part of our shared history. As we come to the end of one creative project together, the prospect of a new endeavour emerges, as does the question of how our writing will develop together when we now spend so much time apart. One of us will shortly join the other in parenthood, and we wonder if this experience will bring new opportunities to explore what we share, and what separates us.
What we do have are creative touchstones; a growing mixtape of stories we have shared with each other when either of us comes across something that might be pertinent to our collaborations, or just in general as part of our shared interest in craft. These include, amongst others, ‘An Abduction’ by Tessa Hadley, ‘Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been’ by Joyce Carol Oates, Rebecca Miller’s Personal Velocity and recently, the impossible to ignore (for a hot second) ‘Cat Person’ by Kristen Roupenian. These pieces swim around us as we write, informing us and bringing us closer to an understanding of what we hope to achieve in our writing together; even while we know that how one of us sees a story – as in how we visualize the events, but also how we understand its significance and meaning – will almost certainly never fully match the other’s. The same is true for our own collaborative writing. But we hope this conflict gives our writing a striated edge that at times tessellates and at others makes for an uncomfortable fit, highlighting the contradictory and conflicting experiences of women’s experiences, as well as drawing attention to our collaborative craft, which feels both singular and plural, thrilling and unnerving, routine and constantly developing.
By Laura Tansley and Micaela Maftei