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Seven Rules For Staying Married When Writing With Your Husband

Seven Rules For Staying Married When Writing With Your Husband

Collette Lyons and Paul Vlitos have been married for thirteen years and writing novels together as Ellery Lloyd for nearly six of those. Here, Collette shares how they manage to write together and stay together…

Don’t put both your names on the cover: OK so this is less of a rule than it was when we signed the deal for our debut novel, People Like Her, thanks to a handful of big-name fiction collaborators (Jodi Picoult, James Patterson and Colleen Hoover to name a few) but back then the received wisdom was that it made your novel look like non-fiction. So how did we splice our names? We couldn’t agree, so in the end, we went with something entirely made-up – we were told long first names sound good with short surnames, and we wanted a unisex name. Ellery Lloyd just sounded good to us – and also, Ellery Queen was a pseudonym for a pair of mystery writers, so it felt fitting.

Don’t write in the same room: I am incredibly distractable and immensely irritable, both of us are extremely loud typers, and if Paul writes something funny he laughs at his own jokes. It’s just better for the harmony of the household if we don’t write in the same room! But because we work in Google Docs we can see what the other one is up to even if we’re on different floors of the house. So sometimes we do make the trip up or down the stairs to complain about a favourite paragraph getting a haircut.

But do plot together: The couple that plots together…has a first draft that broadly makes sense. Often, we will get excited about a new idea and race off at a hundred miles an hour. Then we will find we are 20,000 words in, and have no real clue where it’s going. This is actually really useful though, as those 20,000 words have given us in insight into who the characters are – all of our novels are in multiple voices, and we write one or two of those each. At that point, we put the book down and spend quite a while ironing out a really solid chapter plan – we know where each chapter starts and ends, and what within it moves the plot along. Of course, things will change in successive edits, but it we didn’t have a really solid road map, we would get very lost indeed.

Don’t be precious about edits: They say kill your darlings, don’t they? Well we merrily kill each other’s. Both of us has a background in giving constructive feedback on other peoples’ work – Paul is Professor of English and Creative Writing at the University of Greenwich, I was an editor for newspapers and magazines – and so we know how the process works and aren’t precious as we know the ultimate aim is to make the book as good as it can be.

Don’t let your six-year-old know where the Post-Its are: We have a wall of Post-It notes in our study, with characters and plotlines for the book we’re working on. Our daughter sometimes sneaks in when we aren’t looking and replaces them with drawings of hearts or unicorns. Very sweet of course, but not entirely helpful…

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Do write about what fascinates you: All of our novels have been very different – the first was set in the world of Instagram influencer mums, the second in celebrity private members’ clubs, the third, The Final Act of Juliette Willoughby, the art world – but the thread linking them is that we want to draw the curtain back on a world that perhaps appears glamorous, but has a dark side. And we pick those worlds based on what really interests us. With The Final Act of Juliette Willoughby, the central thread – artist Juliette Willoughby’s tragic story, and the great lost masterpiece she created, which holds the key to interwoven mysteries which span from 1938 Paris to 1990s Cambridge to present-day Dubai – was inspired by my love of the female Surrealist artists working in the 1920s and 1930s and an interest in Egyptology.

Do keep secrets: We have been in the incredibly lucky position of having been both a Reese Witherspoon Book Club pick for our second novel, The Club, and a Richard and Judy pick for our debut, People Like Her. You have to keep both of those things a firm secret until the day they’re announced which I think would have made me burst if it was just me – so at least we were able to have a glass of champagne together when we found out the news, even if we did have to stay schtum for months to literally everyone else we know. There is another secret which we hope we will be able to let people in on soon!

The Final Act of Juliette Willoughby by Ellery Lloyd is published by Macmillan on 20 June 2024

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