Saturday, 25 April 2009

Book Packaging - Creative Collaboration or Artistic Cop-out? Meg Harper

New term at my youth theatre, new term at college and new term for the school where I’m working as writer in residence – hence the tardiness of this post! It’s one of those, ‘If I get to the end of next week and I’m sane it’ll be a bonus!’ phases! I’ve even had to take the plunge and do the supermarket shopping on-line! But more interestingly (I hope!), it’s made me think about collaboration – the creative sort.
My youth theatre is a devising company. Twice a year, each of the five groups performs a brand new piece of theatre which they have created in collaboration with each other and with me. When I opened the company and lacked confidence, we often used a story as a starting point. I would decide which scenes were essential and possible and the young people’s input was in creating each scene from the brief I gave. There is, however, a shortage of stories to suit casts of around 16 people, all needing maximum time on stage. Hence, I have broken out of my straitjacket and now we usually devise ‘from scratch’. Three plays are well and truly off the starting blocks already, one a complex but very funny (we hope!) who-dun-nit set in a mountain holiday resort, another a picaresque tale in which two girls are thrown off a train, have to find their way home and encounter real and surreal adventures on the way (there’s a sub-plot here about an escaped convict whose story keeps crossing theirs) and the third looks set to become a complicated twist on the Cinderella theme with Cinders a down-trodden barista in a city café – I just love that he’s going to be saved by his Hairy Godfather!
Meanwhile, as writer in residence, I spent a happy day of the holidays meshing together 25 variations on the opening of the class novel so that everyone has a contribution somewhere and far more of the children’s words are included than mine! Even happier was the time spent reading it back to them. They insisted on a second reading so that that they could stick up their hands when they recognised their bit! We have negotiated plots and settings and characters and are ready to roll.
All joyful, joyful stuff – and all collaborative.
Which makes me think about book packagers and the way I have tended to sneer at their process. Teams create the briefs and teams of authors write them up. And I have tended to think that this isn’t ‘proper’ in some way – that because the story doesn’t come from some sizzling inspiration burning out from some enlightened soul, it’s a kind of cheating. A sort of artistic cop-out. Well, shame on me. Actually, of course, it’s team work. And teams get results – as we can see in any and every context, including my own ‘other’ work. Obviously, some writers are zinging with wonderful stories and it is blissful that they want to share them with us. And, of course, some book packaged books are dire in the extreme. But it strikes me that the basic concept is a good one. I am stunned by the ideas that my young collaborators come up with and the process of jig-sawing them together is mind-bending fun for all of us. So surely this should hold true for book packagers’ creative teams too? But does it?
So….book packaging – creative collaboration or artistic cop-out? Your thoughts, please!


Rackstraw Press said...

I recommend a series called The Big Empty, by J. B. Stephens. Four books, three authors. Superb.

I've also had to revise my feelings about tie ins: I was locked into a response to tie ins of the 1970s and 1980s which were novelizations--I've come to think of them as precursor-video machines. The new kind, actual spin offs and innovative ideas, are exactly as original (and varied in quality) as any other kind of fiction which works with the rules of *this* universe.


Katherine Langrish said...

What a brilliant post, Meg - I love the sound of your creative team and their activities. If only there were more of this kind of thing in schools. How great for them to learn the benefits of collaboration in such a dynamic way.

On a separate note, I hope you don't mind me posting today (Sunday) as I am rushing out early tomorrow.

Meg Harper said...

Ah - something I hadn't thought of - thanks, Farah!

I had posted some photos of my YT kids with this blog but Anne has asked me to remove them so I have done. However, just in case you were worried, I do have written permission for their use to promote the YT both on the web and in our publications.