I'll make no secret about this - two of my favourite people that I've encountered since starting writing are E.M. Swift-Hook and Jane Jago. You'll be hard pushed to find two people more supportive and helpful of fellow authors. So it's a pleasure for me to get to chat to them about their work - particularly in this instance the Dai & Julia Mysteries, a series of alternate history stories set in a Britain where two detectives wrestle with crimes in a world where the Roman Empire never faded.
The latest book is out today - and E.M. (or Eleanor) and Jane join me to talk about the process of working together and how the series came to be.
Hi there, and welcome to Altered Instinct. The two of you have quite a long-established partnership now when it comes to writing together – how did it come about? Who suggested it and how did you go from there?
Eleanor: As I recall I was the one who mooted the idea. But I can’t quite recall what motivated me doing so. We tried a collaboration around two characters, each of us writing one and with minimal initial planning.
Jane: Yes. It’s all Eleanor’s fault. She says: ‘Wanna write a thing together?’ Me: “That’s a fine idea. But. What?”
How does the partnership work – do you outline together and then alternate with writing? Or divide up characters? What’s the dynamic?
Eleanor: Nowadays, one or the other of us will have a core concept for a story, then we put that in a Google Docs file and both add in ideas, and comment on each other’s thoughts until we get a decent skeleton we both think works. The actual writing is divided with one of us writing Dai and one of us Julia, but we both have full input to try and avoid any inconsistencies.
Jane: That’s about the size of it. But what Eleanor hasn’t mentioned is the squabbles. Or the amount of beer that is necessary. Or how much bullying she has to do to keep me on track. I’m a natural pantser so the necessity to plot a collaborative effort is unnatural but good for me. In the finished books, I do indeed write only one character but if I told you which one, I would have to send you to the arena armed only with your teeth and a loofah
How did you decide on Dai and Julia?
Eleanor: We wanted to write an alternate history short story for this upcoming anthology of alternate history stories we were keen to submit to. Our first attempt was more revisiting a ‘what if’ moment in history, but that didn’t really work so we came up with the idea of an ancient empire still running in the modern day.
Jane: The first novella was indeed intended as a short story. But it grew. And even then it was a surprise to us when it became part of a series. I guess we decided on Dai and Julia because they gave us the scope to write something with a twist in its tail.
I do like it when a concept outgrows its origin! What do you most enjoy about the process of writing together?
Eleanor: It’s fun! Sharing ideas with someone who is just as invested in the plot and characters as oneself is a really good feeling.
Jane: Writing is fun. But collaboration adds a whole new layer of giggles, frustrations, support, and story fuel. Oh. And she is a good little soul, which helps.
And what’s the biggest hurdle?
Eleanor: For me it’s making my brain run in the right track to get the story written. But that is how I am with all my writing. Having a co-author is an extra help and incentive with that though.
Jane: Getting my best/worst flights of fantasy past teacher….
The Dai and Julia books are pretty heavily researched – who’s the addict among you for getting everything just right?
Eleanor: Um, I think I’m the more fussy one there.
Jane: That is the truth. Teacher is very strict about research. I tend to rely on my over-educated brain. And the seat of my pants.
What’s been your favourite moment of writing and publishing together?
Eleanor: I think it was - and is - the awareness that Dai and Julia really do seem to be something people enjoy reading.
Jane: It’s all good. But it will be hard to find a moment to surpass the feeling of achievement when we completed the first novella. That was a rush.
And what has been your favourite part of the stories so far?
Eleanor: Gosh, um - pass. I think most of the stories have really cool moments in them and it’s really hard to pull one out as being the coolest.
Jane: I’m always most invested in the story we’re currently writing. Although I did enjoy Aelwen learning a swear word.
So what’s next for the dynamic duo? (Either Dai and Julia or your good selves!)
Eleanor: Dai and Julia will continue to face ongoing trials and tribulations as long as our mutual creativity endures. For myself, I have to finish writing the last Fortune’s Fools novel and round off that series.
Jane: Next for Dai and Julia? I think we have two more novellas in the pipeline. Plus a handful of short stories. Next for me? I intend to remain as outrageously silly as ever.
The pair's latest release, Dying On The Streets is available at GETBOOK.AT/DOTS - go check it out!
Oh, and for readers wanting to know more, there will be a follow-up blog soon, with Dai & Julia themselves joining us to talk about life in modern Roman Britain!