How Two Teens Collaborated with Saffina Desforges To Publish Their First Novel

If you’re familiar with my blog, then you know I love to encourage teen writers. But let me tell you a secret: I learn from them. Truthfully. That’s why I invite them over here every Friday. When I was at FB last week (I was only there for five minutes. I promise.) I saw that Miriam Joy was going to release a book she co-authored, I wanted to know more about how it happened. Seriously, how do you write and publish a book with two other writers? I needed to know, but I wanted to encourage her too. She’s multi-talented, witty and an inspiration to adults and teens.

Please welcome Miriam and be HER FAN, share her story.

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Ahoy there! I’m Miriam Joy, and you may remember me from a post a few weeks ago about writing when everyone tells you it’s pointless and you need to get a real job. I’m currently putting the finishing touches on my plans to turn writing into a real job, and Michelle was kind enough to let me answer some questions about the book I’ve written collaboratively with Saffina Desforges and Charley Robson.

When will the book be released?

Well, to be quite honest, we’re not entirely sure. While we’re aiming for the 22nd of January (a date I chose because it’s my birthday and come on, being a published author = great 17th birthday present), due to internet glitches and other hold-ups we can never be certain, so we’re hedging our bets and saying ‘the end of January’. If all goes well. Mark, one of the writers on the project and also the publisher, lives in West Africa, so he gets internet issues quite a lot. That’s one of the reasons it’s taken so long… but more on that in a minute.

What is the title of the book?

It’s called St Mallory’s Forever! and it’s a YA mystery novel set in an English boarding school for girls. You might describe it as a modern-day Enid Blyton novel, and that’s kind of where it started.

How did you meet the other writers you collaborated with?

Mark, who forms one half (the ‘quiet half’, he says) of the Saffina Desforges writing partnership, has always been a big fan of boarding school stories and wanted to write one himself, but without inside information he’d never be able to make it sound realistic. Then, in 2011, I commented on Mark’s blog. After following my comment and reading my blog, he invited me to guest post, and soon discovered I had a friend, Charley, who was a genuine real-life boarding school student. Fairly promptly he contacted us to ask if we’d like to collaborate.

Of course, we said yes. Saffina Desforges are bestsellers—it was an offer we couldn’t refuse!

Charley and I met online on a writing site, Protagonize, in 2009, and had collaborated a few times, but only on half-hearted joke stories and never something we finished. We had also never met. Charley was at boarding school in Dorset, I lived at home in SE London, and it hadn’t been practical. However, in November 2012 we finally managed to meet in real life: she came to stay with me for a weekend, which was a very weird and absolutely hilarious experience. We’ve yet to meet Mark and Saffi in real life, but we hope it won’t be too long until we do.

Did you plot through SKYPE or emails?

Charley and I wrote most of the first draft between us, although Mark contributed some, by hammering out a couple of chapters, emailing them to the other, and then editing and commenting and rewriting and changing and continuing on whatever the other had written, which was an interesting experience and resulted in a few continuity errors. But hey, that’s what editing is for.

How did you plot together?

In terms of plotting, we basically talked at each other in emails (or on Skype, though that tended to be less productive) and then I compiled it all into a document which I called, “This is my PLOTTING face,” and sent to all the others. I’m fairly sure we didn’t stick to it, though. I’m not even sure where it went.

Nothing was solely written by one of us. Though there are parts I can identify as mine, they interweave with parts written by the others, and I know that we’ll all have edited every paragraph. What’s more, I’m fairly sure some of it wrote itself, because no one is willing to confess to it.

Would you recommend writing a book to other authors?

Writing with the others was actually a really fun experience, because if I got stuck I just sent it to them to write. It’s a little nerve-wracking at first. I’m a complete control freak, and having to relinquish the direction of the plot to other people, when I’m used to having total control over what happens, was difficult. I quickly got used to it and accepted that it was never going to go in a predictable direction. We’ve got plans for it to be the first in a series, and I’m sure as we repeat the process we’ll get better at it, and faster too.

How long did it take you to write the novel?

It took us about 14 months to produce the first draft because we had so many other commitments. Charley and I are both still at school—I had GCSEs and she had AS Levels, both in the summer, so we had to prioritise them. Plus, I have to admit that I always prioritised my solo writing, despite that having gone nowhere in terms of publishing as of yet.

Publishing! I have a question to answer on that! J Well, St Mallory’s Forever! will be published through Mark Williams international Digital Publishing (MWiDP), a small indie press. Interestingly, the Mark Williams there is also Mark of Saffina Desforges, i.e. our co-writer, so I’m really unsure whether it counts as self-publishing or indie publishing. Can collaborative writing ever be ‘self’ publishing? Something to discuss.

Who did the cover art?

The cover art was done by a wonderful designer called Xtine, with some input from Charley and me during the process. If I recall, I was picky over the font for the title—I’m rather a typography nerd. I then designed the St Mall’s blog around the cover design.

How did you edit it?

The editing, as I’ve mentioned, was very much a collaborative effort. Because we each read and changed each other’s work, the ‘first’ draft was really a third or fourth. For the final draft, Mark did most of the editing and produced some new material, which Charley and I looked over and commented on (although they were often just Star Trek- / Welsh mythology-related observations, and probably not all that helpful).

How did you choose the title?

I don’t know where the title came from, in truth. I think it was Mark’s idea.

What did you parents think about this?

My parents were actually quite dubious about it initially, especially as the most well-known Saffina Desforges book is described on Amazon as a ‘controversial psycho-sexual crime thriller’, but mum eventually came around when I convinced her that one didn’t have to be a creepy paedophile to write about them (else I’d be a mass-murdering fairy or something). Charley, on the other hand, had to break it to her family that she actually wrote in the first place, having been doing so for several years.

Are your parents supportive of your writing career?

My parents are fairly supportive of the whole thing, though they feel I shouldn’t prioritise it over my schoolwork. That’s the primary barrier I have with writing. I’d love to pursue agents, do big promo events, and generally spend my life working on it, but unfortunately I have school. And exams. And homework. It sucks. As a result, I’ve got pretty good at writing a lot in a lunchbreak; it’s probably my most productive time, though not usually as inspired as when I’ve got more time to think.

How fast do you writer?

I type very quickly, so if I know what I’m doing I can write a thousand words in around ten minutes. My record for National Novel Writing Month is 50,000 words in three and a half days… which I do not recommend. But St. Mall’s took us a lot longer, which hopefully means it’s better.

What’s your favorite movie or book?

The last few questions are about me, really, not the book, so I’ll skim over them more quickly. I’m not as interesting. Though I don’t have a favourite film, I love superhero movies like The Avengers, and I’m keen on most sci-fi and fantasy classics, too. You’ll notice that if you read St Mall’s, which has so many geek culture references—Charley’s as much a nerd as I am. I lost count after the first few chapters.

(I have to admit that I also watched St Trinian’s a couple of times during the writing process. Call it research. DEFENDERS OF ANARCHY!)

My taste in books basically reflects my film taste: sci-fi and fantasy primarily, but I’ll branch out occasionally. I love anything based on mythology, especially Celtic aspects like the sidhe (fairies). That’s what I write about most of the time when I’m working on solo projects.

So there you have it: the book and me in a post!

If you’d like to watch the YouTube video about the book see below:

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  1. Great post/interview Michelle and well done Miriam! You are quite correct about how enlightening it is to learn from teen/young writers, it has been a wonderful experience to work with Miriam and Charley and allowed both myself and Mark to indulge our less-mature sides!

    We hope you all enjoy St. Mall’s as much as we have enjoyed writing/editing it and watch out for these two, you’ll be hearing a lot more from them in the future, I’m sure! 😉

    Saffi (the loud half)

    • Hi Saffi!
      I’d LOVE to interview you regarding this endeavor. Would you be up for it?

  2. Interesting and intriguing blog. This collaborative team (& its individual members) have a great writing future in front of them–congratulations & encore!

  3. Cathryn Leigh says:

    Okay so I really don’t have much to say except to quietly sqeal in excitement. I’ve been hearing about this project since Charley and Miriam were first able to spill the beans and my Kindle has been imaptiently waiting for them to publish it so I can put it on there!

    Go get em girls! (and boy, can’t forget Mark, he he he)

    :} Cathryn

  4. Wow! 17 and soon to be published. Wow. Congratulations! That is an amazing feat.

  5. Wow this is so cool! 😀 I’ve been writing stories since I was six and I’m twelve (almost thirteen) now. I recently finished editing one of my latest fantasy stories and am working on finding an agent! The only problem is my query letter. They’re so hard to write! Does anyone have any suggestions for me?

    • Hi Kate!
      Send me your query, and I’ll try to help.
      Are you a magic violinist too or is that a part of your story?
      Also, if you’re up for it we can tweak your query and I can post it on FAN FRIDAY and invite other authors to take a look at it and give their opinions. What do you think?

      • Hi Michelle!
        I just sent you an e-mail with the query attached! I’m so excited!
        Well, my friend Ronald actually thought up the name for my e-mail and my blog. I love magic and fantasy and I play the violin so The Magic Violinist was born!
        Thanks again!

      • That would be a cool story idea, though. 😉


  1. […]… 6 hours ago […]

  2. […] you’ll get to meet our lovely publishers and experience their awesomeness firsthand!   Random Writing Rants were also very kind to step up, and the equally wonderful Miriam has done a wicked post for them […]

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