One of the big challenges in the way that Barbara and I write together is that it is episodic. Because we live in different parts of the world, we physically manage to get together only two or three times a year. This makes writing a slow process, but also a very intermittent one. When we do get together, the challenge is always to pick up where we left off.
This is not simply a matter of remembering the writing, or even remembering the place in the overall argument of a book. It’s mostly about getting back into our writing process. Every time we meet we have to re-establish our way of being together and talking together. We have to adjust for whatever circumstances we find ourselves in.
When we are in a half-way apartment in Singapore or Malaysia, we have limited access to books, and often pretty unsatisfactory writing arrangements – no printer, small desk, inadequate office chairs. However we have loads of time and we can manage the distractions from work or family. At each of our homes we are always better equipped. We both have big desks, at least one proper chair, good printers and all of the notebooks and pens that we could want. In Nottingham I have a huge library at home, so it’s easy for us to rifle through shelves to find things that we want to refer to. On the other hand, Barbara always has a cleaner desk so it is much easier to pile things up and not have them get lost in other projects.
Time at either of our homes tends to be more precious than when we are away too, and so we have to be better organised. In Nottingham I find it more difficult to avoid going into work and dealing with the constant flow of documents, queries and tasks. In Melbourne Barbara does Nanna work once a week, something she loves and doesn’t want to stop doing just because I’m in town. We both understand each other’s home demands and adjust accordingly. I’m usually the one who gets most anxious about non-writing activities as I tend to have a bit of a schedule in my head about what needs to get done when. Barbara is generally more relaxed about things taking as long as they take.
A crucial part of our de-interrupting, managing-the-gap ritual revolves around food and eating. We confess that we both have an addiction to diet cola – but we allow ourselves only one a day. It is however always the first thing that we make sure we have on hand wherever and whenever we are writing. No writing without cola. And when we are away, we plan our forays into restaurant territory very carefully. Will it be noodle soup today or a curry? Fortunately we have pretty similar tastes and often order the same things from menus. (We finish each other’s sentences too.) When we are at either of our homes, we make regular trips to supermarkets to ensure that we have good supplies of yoghurt and green vegies. This week Barbara has discovered elderflower yoghurt while Pat has gone overboard for kale at both lunch and dinner.
These material writing accompaniments might seem pretty silly, but they are integral to the way that we are together. Perhaps they are the equivalent of the golfer’s lucky rabbit or the tennis player’s lucky socks. I don’t think that we could regain our co-writing practice as quickly if we didn’t do them. While we have to be flexible about desks and books, we are consistent about consumption!