Must say, I’m missing virtual Totleigh Barton. I think we all are: Darren, Rose, Jean and Nancy. The last few weeks me and three of the other Jerwood/Arvon mentees (a.k.a novelists and playwrights Jessica, Sarah and Yvonne) have been experimenting with Google Drive to see what we could create through a collaborative exercise. It has been a great deal of fun and frisson, especially with two or more of us logged on at the same time, watching the other person writing in real time and seeing the little cursor dithering, reflecting, then taking off…
It is much the same as working on a regular Word document, except there are multiple authors, and as such, anybody can amend and delete what is written, but also steer the narrative off in a sudden, new direction. You can add comments as you normally would with a regular track change function and exchange ideas about the direction of the piece in the margin….maybe things you’ve thought about but don’t quite dare do without mutual consent.
The piece started with Chris – the whizz with all things digital, and who is advising us on virtual presence in real life – suggested that, in light of our week at Totleigh in February, a few characters roll up at the house: maybe Jean Rhys, Raymond Chandler, Nancy Mitford, Emily Davison. Well, not all of them made it in the end, but there were other visitors. It was hard to schedule times when we could all log on but over two or three weeks the piece – a mix of prose, dialogue and poetry (with a few images and even a YouTube video embedded) – evolved quite unexpectedly. It was exciting and liberating just writing together without any real cares for the end result, but just enjoying the group process. As the characters developed they each vied for space and took up space in the house, a kind of virtual Big Brother.
In the end, because we are all busy with our own writing (and feeling guilty), we decided to wrap things up. We agreed to all ‘meet’ last Sunday evening but, when we got there, to our horror, the document was infested with alien visitors, probably bugs, like Anonymous Bird and Anonymous Dog. We salvaged the operation by quickly creating a new document, pasting the lot in, and letting things run their course down in Devon with all four of us inside the house.
What did we end up with? Well, 47 pages, including quite a bit of lying about in the dark in sheds and larders touching each other’s dirty hair, a couple of famous authors plastered on gin, all the china smashed leaving us with nothing to eat our dinner off, threats, theft, confessions, bragging, one-up-womanship, swearing, violence, and a giant caterpillar with a penchant for Justin Bieber. Not sure we’ll do anything with it, but it was liberating and nerve-wracking and camp and silly and sad while it lasted.