The Challenge of Co-Writing a Novel by Martin Bolton (GUEST POST)

First of all I would like to thank Bob Milne for reviewing my first fantasy novel, The Best Weapon, and then for having me as a guest on his blog.

I have always loved reading fantasy fiction. Authors like Joe Abercrombie and Scott Lynch build such vivid and fascinating worlds. Robert E Howard inspired me to create heroes. Bernard Cornwell made me want to bring characters to life and tell a really good story. The mixture of vibrant cities and towns, outlandish characters and gritty realism painted such pictures in my mind. I think it is that picture-painting that I try to achieve in my own writing. I suppose it is escapism – a chance to forget about reality for a while and explore another world.

I hadn't considered writing a full-length novel of my own until I met my co-writer, David Pilling at the Tate Library and Archive, where we both worked. I had been writing short pieces of nonsense for the amusement of my friends and David encouraged me to turn it into a blog. So I created Kerrier District News, a spoof news website set in Cornwall (where I was born). David had been writing short fantasy stories for some time and we eventually decided to write a novel together.

We had no idea how to co-write a book, so we sat down with some scrap paper and a few decent ales and hammered out a plot involving two main protagonists. The idea was that we could write one each. The two characters, we decided, would be born on opposite sides of a world and inexorably drawn to one another for reasons we had yet to come up with. Once we had agreed on this basic premise, we drank more ale and ranted at each other until we managed to form a coherent plot. We came up with the idea of the Lords of Hell, the Celestial Sphere and the physical world (the World Apparent). So the scene was set. I came up with Naiyar, a member of a savage jungle tribe in the south. David created Fulk, a young knight in the cold north. And The Best Weapon was born.

The story is based on the make-up of the World Apparent – the idea that gods and demons are manifestations of man's virtues and vices, making them potentially vulnerable to whatever ancient, more tangible and terrible things might exist out there in the cosmos. The Lords of Hell are hunted by one such malevolent force, and their last desperate attempt to escape is to place two children in the physical world. Their plan is to watch them grow, tweaking fate to bring them together where they will use them as conduits to escape into the World Apparent. So Fulk and Naiyar, two half-demon brothers, are born on opposite sides of the world to different mothers and in completely different cultures. As they come of age, they become aware that they are not like other people. The world slides into war and chaos around them, they learn more about themselves and are faced with a choice - fulfil their destiny, or try to thwart their creators' plan.

I put a lot of myself in to the character called Naiyar, drawing on my own experiences in life and applying to his situation, so there is part of me in the book. Naiyar realises he has powers and has to learn to control them, while at the same time dealing with the deepest loss a human (or at least his human side) can suffer. This is in parallel with my own struggle to control my rage following the needless deaths of two of my brothers at a young age. Hopefully that gives him a realistic or believable character.

Despite, or maybe because of, that writing The Best Weapon was a lot of fun. Co-writing a book means you always have someone to bounce ideas off, and we spent many hours in the pub discussing the plot and coming with new sub-plots and characters. Since then we have written Sorrow together, which is released by Musa Publishing, who also published The Best Weapon, as a monthly serial. Although Sorrow is a sequel, we wanted to try and write books that can be read on their own, as well as part of a longer saga. If there was ever one thing that turned me off reading a fantasy novel, it was the knowledge that I would probably have to read five or six books. We plan to write more novels set in the World Apparent. There will likely be a third book, making The Best Weapon and Sorrow into a trilogy, then other stand-alone novels. We still have a lot of the world to create and many more ideas to explore.

So far writing has been a more fulfilling experience than I could have imagined. It is hard work getting noticed in a genre as big as fantasy, and one with so many talented writers, but the rewards are priceless. We have been lucky enough not to receive a bad review yet, and long may that continue, but I'm told everyone gets one eventually. Hopefully I am strong enough to take it on the chin and carry on. If I had any advice for new authors it would be to believe in yourself and don't let anyone tell you you're not good enough. Practise and you'll get better. Edit thoroughly and you'll iron out the kinks. Read as much as you can and learn from the authors who inspire you. Do all of these things and don't give up, because one day someone will turn around and say “I just read your book and I really enjoyed it” and that is a very good feeling indeed.




Martin Bolton was born in Cornwall in 1979 and now lives and works in Bristol.

Previously he concentrated on his artwork and writing small pieces of nonsense for the amusement of his friends, before deciding to do some serious creative writing. His first published work, a full length novel co-written with David Pilling, The Best Weapon, is available from Musa Publishing. The sequel, Sorrow, is also available as a monthly serial.

His work is inspired by authors such as Robert E Howard, Joe Abercrombie, Bernard Cornwell and Iain M. Banks.


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    I do have some questions for you if you do not mind.
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  2. I really enjoyed your story of how the collaboration between you and Pilling began. A friend of mine and I are currently co-writing a work of fiction together. It is inspiring to here that the two of you pulled it off so well.

  3. Thanks for your comments Marcus, I am so glad my post has inspired you. I would be interested to hear about what you're co-writing, will you be posting updates on your blog?

  4. Thanks for your comments Marcus, I am so glad my post has inspired you. I would be interested to hear about what you're co-writing, will you be posting updates on your blog?

    By the way, I am showing up as Scrumptious Fandango as my Wordpress ID doesn't seem to want to post. Why my google ID is Scrumptious Fandango is a long story...


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