‘Mirren Jones’ is a unique partnership of writers Marion Duffy (left) and Elaine Atkins (right).
Did your partnership form and grow through the collaboration as writers or did your published work evolve as a result of your friendship?
A bit of both! In 1999, we had co-authored two books of non-fiction, published by Radcliffe Medical Press (‘Facilitating Groups in Primary Care’, and ‘Facilitating Organisational Change in Primary Care’), while employed by The University of Dundee. That activity, along with several years of co-tutoring and joint research and consultancy, developed our working relationship and eventually led to our being friends as well as boss and junior!
Our fiction writing partnership – and ongoing friendship – is something newer and different, as we are no longer in a formal work situation. We’ve been writing and working together for 16 years in total and are still great friends, despite now living 500 miles…
‘You’ll know her by her brown wavy hair, healthy tanned face and of course she’ll be wearing lipstick.’
Those were the instructions my Western Isles friend Jean gave to her neighbour who was collecting me from the ferry in Stornoway last week. I’d met the girl once before two years ago and she was supposed to recognise me by that description (and she did!).
It made me think about how we describe characters and what we might consider important. Jean might well have said, ‘She’s middle aged, a bit overweight and has ten-to-two feet.’
When Jones and I were serving our creative writing apprenticeship working together and apart on our debut novel ‘Eight of Cups,’ we had not only to create characters in our respective heads but also communicate with each other so that we shared a common perception and sense of who each of these people were.
As a result of that process we developed a very useful ‘Character Descriptor Sheet’ which I’ll be sharing at the Mirren Jones workshop, ‘Is There a Novel in You’ in Blairgowrie, Perthshire on 12th October, as part of the Bookmark Blair book festival. It’s a light hearted interactive event designed to generate ideas for stories, work up characters and share tips and tricks. For example, we always select and allocate an astrological sign to each of our characters. Research around typical characteristics of each star sign can help us to enrich character descriptions and their actions.
The theme for this year’s Blairgowrie Book Festival, Bookmark Blair, is PLACE.
‘A strong sense of place is important for transporting your readers to the world of your story. A well-crafted sense of place is often said to be like another character in the story, adding depth and a unique atmosphere’. Fiona Thackeray.
I’m looking forward to attending Fiona Thackeray’s writing workshop on the Saturday morning 11th October, as I am well aware that my powers of description nowhere near match my ability to write dialogue. In her writing, my co-author Jones is far more accomplished and focused on the external world than I am and we have had to learn to shift our natural writing styles to become more similar, and allow the story to become more internally coherent.
Having recently returned from The Isle of Lewis where Eight of Cups was conceived and progressed, I am reminded of how important place can be to mood, action and intention. In the Outer Hebrides, the weather and the landscape reduce man’s presence to something far less significant than is normally experienced. It is a place of big skies, racing clouds, beautiful rainbows, swirling and powerful winds, stunning beaches, bleak and silent moors and an ever-changing environment in which any action must take place.