The Book of Kells

Book of Kells

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This is my only collaboration, though it was published under my name.  I am still ashamed of this misjudgment, which was largely mine, as I did not bother to argue the point of it being the work of Sharon Devlin and myself before submitting it.  I assumed that the book would stand by itself, and that her name would be obvious and automatic.  Instead I was told by Bantam that they would not publish a collaboration because such didn’t make money.  Had I been older I would have thought to say that KELLS wasn’t the book I owed Bantam, and that I would sell it to another publisher and deliver them the book I owed next year.  But both Sharon and I needed the money and I was unaware of my rights, so she was denied credit for a book that is at least half hers.

I think the entire plot structure was hers, to begin with.  She was my authority in Irish history of the time and of the language, although I have learned some of that since.  All the over-the-top unique quality of this book is Sharon’s.  Every single typed word is mine, as I don’t believe she could then type.

I remember long, sweating days when Sharon marched up and down the room orating passages to me as I wrote down what was dictated.  I remember the countless times I stopped her to ask “Is that a comma there?  Was it a sentence?” only to be told – explosively – “This is POETRY!” I would wait a beat and say “I still have to know if there is a comma there.”

Of the ugly crone who becomes, unexpectedly, a beautiful goddess, I can say that the crone was entirely mine, while the goddess was Sharon’s.  The naughty language in Dublin, (very realistic Dublin naughty language,) was also Sharon’s.  John Thornburn’s migraines – mine.  And so it went, pieces back and forth.  The nature of a collaboration, I guess.  I have never done another, as I haven’t had the opportunity.  Though they are a lot of work, I believe collaborations can fill in the missing pieces in each writer’s imagination and make the finished work better.

I did get a few irate letters concerning the language, as I had not used those particular words before.  One person reminded me that Agatha Christie never found it necessary to use such words.  What could I say in response to that?

I worried terribly that the medieval Irish might be criticized, or the history.  Not one steaming letter came regarding such matters.  But I got a letter from the mother of Stan Rogers, the songwriter, telling me that I had attributed one of her son’s songs as traditional.  That felt terrible.  Terrible.  But she also told me that she had read the book and stayed up all night with it, so I shouldn’t feel too bad. She forgave me.

Her son had died a few years before in a plane crash.  So although I loved my new Canadian friend, I still do feel very bad about ignoring her bright comet of a son.

Writing about time-travel, I have to say, is the trickiest thing. If one uses it too much there is a danger of destroying the dramatic tension.  Or the history of the universe. After one trial, I think perhaps it should be left to the Doctor Who Squad, who have been brought up on this.  Writing time-travel is almost as hard as collaborating.

Oh – one more thing about Kells.  I read a review of the book in which the reviewer felt cheated that the real, original Book of Kells only comes into the last half of the book.  She was quite miffed about it.  I have to wonder what this reviewer  thinks of To Kill a Mockingbird.

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