A Life in Words – Bianca Nogrady on collaborative writing

The traditional image of a writer is an eccentric eking out a lone living on a typewriter in the attic (fingerless mittens optional but encouraged). Indeed, for many aspiring artists labouring in office jobs, the lack of constant human contact and interference is a perk of the job.

But for some writers, and particularly writers of non-fiction, it’s a more social affair. When freelance science journalist Bianca Nogrady was offered to a chance to collaborate to collaborate with James Bradfield Moody (Executive Director, Development at CSIRO and a regular panellist on the ABC television show ‘The New Inventors’) on a concept for a new book, the Sixth Wave, did having two writers double the fun or the trouble?

What was your initial reaction when James suggested collaborating?

I was flattered that he thought so highly of me as a journalist! Then, once my ego settled down, I became very excited about the whole idea of the book. It’s a positive, exciting look at the next 30 years of humanity, which makes such a refreshing change from all the doom-and-gloom.

How did it work in practice?

We had a few face-to-face and over-the-phone brainstorms to work out the structure of the book. Then, with each chapter, James would map out the skeleton – sometimes it was a loose sketch, other times he would write out the entire chapter – then he would pass it to me.

I would research, interview and ‘sprinkle fairy dust’ – turn it into something that I like to think is readable, understandable and entertaining. Each chapter would go back and forward several times with each of us tweaking, reworking, adding and editing, before it was finished.

What was the biggest advantage of collaborating? And the biggest argument?

I believe everyone has a book in them, but I’m yet to find mine, so it was great to have someone else come to me with their idea, particularly someone as intelligent and full of good ideas as James is. We both brought so much to the table, and complemented each other’s skill sets and knowledge base. We had the same vision for the book so it was rare for us to disagree on something and when we did, we were always able to negotiate a compromise.

And while I like to think of myself as having some degree of fame and notoriety, James’ celebrity and networks far eclipse mine. He has contacts I can only dream of, which opened some very impressive doors, not the least of which those at Random House Australia.

The only significant downside is that instead of one person trying to meet a deadline, there are two, so things inevitably take longer than you think they will!

The Sixth Wave is your first book. Would you do another the same way?

I would definitely do this again. I think we were lucky in that we worked well together and found our working groove fairly quickly. We both knew our strengths and were happy to play to those rather than either of us trying to dominate the process.

And what advice would you give people on making co-operative writing work?

You have to get on with the person you’re working with! It might sound obvious, but I don’t think The Sixth Wave would have worked nearly as well if James and I had personality clashes.

Work out what you each can bring to the table in terms of skills and strengths. I’m a science journalist, not an economist or innovation theorist, so while I was confident to research and write about the science and technology, and confident in my skills as a writer, I was very happy to defer to James’ expertise when it came to the big picture, the economics, the theory etc.

Have a clear action plan and timeline. We worked chapter by chapter, which suited us, but we did end up with a last minute panic (that lasted about 3 months!). I remember one night where I was so stressed about getting it done that I ended up on the computer at 2am in the morning research carbon trading schemes. At the time my bub Nina was waking up every 1-2 hrs at night so I figured there wasn’t much point in lying in bed freaking out and waiting for her to wake up.

My other advice would be don’t try to conduct interviews with a baby around. I had one horrendous phone interview with a bloke in the UK, while Nina was doing her 100 decibel Bon Scott imitation from her cot in the next room. Does wonders for the concentration.

Finally, what advice would you give aspiring non-fiction writers?

I write about science because I find it fascinating, and I like to think that makes me a better writer, researcher and interviewer. I would say write about something that interests you, or find something interesting in what you write about. It’s very well to want to be a writer, but for me the more important question is ‘what do you want to write about?’.

Bianca Nogrady is a freelance science journalist and broadcaster who has written for publications such as Scientific American, The Australian and the Australian Broadcasting Corporation science and health websites. Bianca lives in the Blue Mountains with her husband and daughter.

Throughout modern history, the tide of innovation and progress has ebbed and flowed but a clear pattern exists – five waves of innovation, beginning with the Industrial Revolution, have each transformed society, economies and industry. The fifth wave was dominated by information and communications technology but a new, brighter star is emerging. The sixth wave of innovation will be about resources – natural resources, human resources and information. THE SIXTH WAVE is a business book, a motivational book, a bold prediction and a roadmap to the future, for anyone interested in understanding how the next wave of innovation will change our lives, and how to succeed in a resource-limited world.

Published by

Sadhbh Warren

Sadhbh Warren is a freelance writer and proud booklover. Her name is pronounced Sive - like five – an Irish name, easier to say than spell! She lives in Sydney, writing travel and humour articles, and is always on the lookout for a great new book.