Nicola Vincent-Abnett

Nicola Vincent-Abnett
"Savant" for Solaris, Wild's End, Further Associates of Sherlock Holms, more Wild's End

Sunday 31 January 2016

Collaborating with the Husband, and a Pat on the Back

It’s a funny thing, collaborating with the husband, and something I’m asked about often.

The husband has some status. He’s pretty well-known, even celebrated in some small corners of the publishing world. People know who he is. People should know who he is, because he’s damned good at what he does.

The husband has been responsible for hundreds, probably thousands of comics, and dozens of novels. I don’t know how many short stories he’s written, and now he’s making a name for himself in the games industry, too. He’s written audio dramas, and even a movie. His work has been optioned for film and tv. Dan’s version of the Guardians of the Galaxy was the basis of James Gunn’s blockbusting movie.

I’m one of the husband’s biggest fans, and there are lots of reasons for that, not the least of which is that I’m the one person who gets to watch him work.

He and I have very different processes and, separately, we produce very different types of work, but, from time to time, when we want to, for fun, and sometimes to keep the work rolling along, Dan and I collaborate. There have been a number of novels, and other things, too. Right now, we’re working on narrative for a big computer game, which I’m sure you’ll all get to hear about in due course.

Collaboration comes in many forms.

Much of my input has been incidental, small, simply part of our day to day lives. We talk and we share. He discusses ideas with me, and I give him my take on things. Of course I leak into his process. I might have given him a set-up, named a character, added a theme, offered a sub-plot, even given a political insight… It happens naturally. I’m simply one of his many resources. Is that collaboration? I don’t know, perhaps it is, in its broadest sense. Writers take inspiration from all over. I see no reason to take credit for another’s work when my contribution was half of a conversation, a thought process, being a sounding board.

Dan is successful, and it is partly due to his success that I am able to collaborate with him, it is partly due to his success that I am able to work, too. So, sometimes, we work together on projects for which I am also credited.

The things we do separately are different, and our processes are different. There are things that he can do brilliantly that I wouldn’t try for, and there are things that I love to do that he would never choose to attempt. When we come together, the things we produce are a third thing, something different from the things I produce on my own, and different again from the things that he makes, solo. That’s part of the wonder of it.

So we collaborate. If you want to know about the process, it goes something like this: We talk… We talk quite a lot about ideas, and from the talking we evolve a plot. All of this is done together.

The ideas thing is fine; we can both talk ideas until the cows come home. Plot, I struggle with more. I prefer not to plot, because I like what comes before in the writing to inform what comes afterwards. When I begin a solo project, I start with nothing more than a theme or a basic idea, and I allow it to grow in the writing. Sometimes the process moves me away from my original idea, sometimes not, but I enjoy the freedom. I like the mental process to be part of the writing process, for those two things to unfold together. The husband is used to doing a lot of the thinking first, and plotting quite extensively. This, of course, is a bi-product of the commissioning process. Publishers like to know what they’re getting. I speculate more and write for myself first to deliver a manuscript that I hope might one day sell.

Once we have a plot, I begin to write. Dan reads, comments and edits until he wants to take over or until I want him to, and we go back and forth. The more he likes what I’m doing, the longer I write. When the book is done, I do all the final edits. We are equals when it comes to the practicalities of the job. Sometimes, I do more of the day to day work; it just depends how the project happens to be running. There is no sense that it is an unequal partnership.

Dan carries all the weight in this writing relationship when it comes to status, and that’s true when it comes to reviews, too. I get a co-credit, of course, but reviews of our collaborations rarely include my name in the text. I’ve seen great reviews highlighting tracts of prose that I’ve written, but with the reviewer attaching the husband’s name. It doesn’t matter, just so long as the reviewer likes the product. It’s bound to happen. Why wouldn’t they see me as a make-weight? They know the husband can write; he has a track record. They don’t know me. They could put both our names in the text, but that would take time and effort, and they’ve all got limited word counts for their reviews. 

There’s no way for a reviewer to know who contributed what to a collaboration, so, if they use a name, they’re bound to pick the husband’s. So be it.

If I sound put out by this, I don’t mean to.
Wild's End: The Enemy Within #5

I say that, because this is all a preamble to a celebration of a comic book called Wild's End.

The first six part series of Wild's End ran last year. It was published by Boom! and written by Dan with art by the incomparable Ian Culbard. I love the comic. The elevator pitch for the first arc was War of the Worlds meets the Wind in the Willows, and I think it’s extraordinary. I was very glad that a lot of other people thought that it was extraordinary too, and, as a result, the series has been collected into a trade paperback Wild's End: First Light , and the second six part series, Wild's End: The Enemy Within was commissioned. The last episode will be out next month.

Each issue of the comic book has several additional pages at the end, which we call back-matter; others refer to this stuff as bonus material. Ian uses some of this space to draw beautiful maps of the countryside where the story takes place, and, in the beginning, Dan did some things with newspaper cuttings and whatnot. At some point, and I don't remember when, he came to me and asked if I’d help him out by filling these extra pages with stuff that interested me about the characters in this story and the situations they faced.

I loved Wild's End, and I loved what Dan and Ian were doing with the story. It was all there on the page, so I jumped at the chance to contribute.

Of the twelve issues of Wild's End that the guys have produced, I’ve written back matter for nine of them, three for the first series and all of the second series. Each month, I sit down to think about what I might do, I run a few ideas past the husband, and I get started. At no point has he told me what to do or interfered with my process. He’s let me run with it, and I’ve enjoyed every moment.

These are small jobs of work, less than a couple of thousand words long, and never more than an afternoon’s work, but they’ve given me immense pleasure.

Fawkes from Wild's End
Back matter isn’t new, it regularly appears in comic books in various forms. It is seldom commented on by reviewers. 

I was surprised and delighted when reviews of Wild's End began to include comments about the back matter that I’d written. I was thrilled when my name began to appear in those reviews. Then, something extraordinary happened,  and it was so extraordinary, and so trippy and it gave me such a huge confidence boost that I’m going to copy it here in all its glory. This review came out on my birthday, and it was written by Matt Carter for Project Nerd.

Wild’s End: Enemy Within #4 of 6 (Boom! Studios)
created by Dan Abnett and I.N.J. Culbard; written by Dan Abnett; illustrated and lettered by I.N.J. Culbard; additional material by Nik Abnett

While Dan Abnett’s plot is engaging, his characters endearingly compelling—little Alfie shines in this issue—and Culbard’s illustrative work is some of the best you’ll find anywhere, it’s Nik Abnett’s supplemental material that really ties this series together, making this issue quite a moving read.
Major Helena Upton’s letter to her father is a beautifully written demonstration of feminist defiance inspired by prisoner Susan Peardew’s antagonistic strength during her interrogation back in issue #2. In the letter, Upton identifies as a compassionate woman, daughter, soldier, and rebel—her life is a constant tightrope walk and she’s been suddenly inspired by this seemingly powerless, meek woman who “did not just stand up for the truth…she made a powerful, arrogant man cower before her.” It’s an insurmountable power that comes from a place of total conviction.
This book has been a team effort from the start, but my hat goes off to you for this issue, Mrs. Abnett—the writer and artist are certainly very talented and I love their work, but this one is all you.

I adore the husband, and I admire what he does and how he does it. I wouldn’t have it any other way. I write too. I’m never going to be him, but, you know what? I have no ambition to be him; one of us per family is plenty. As a writer, I live somewhere in the depths of a long shadow, and I know that there are worse places to be, but when someone gets a torch and shines a light on me, it’s lovely to bask in that glow for a moment or two. 

The first review came out on my birthday and it was enough. Then, a month later there was a second review, and I got to bask all over again.

Wild’s End #5 of 6 (Boom! Studios)
created by Dan Abnett and I.N.J. Culbard; written by Dan Abnett; illustrated and lettered by I.N.J. Culbard; additional material by Nik Abnett

Another stellar issue from the Abnett’s and Mr. Culbard. As this series approaches its final issue, we’ve hit the third act in a highly entertaining, character-driven sci-fi/action story that has been a pleasure to read. The dialogue is peppered with dry, English humor—I’m pretty sure the intended accents of Coggles and Fawksie have only gotten more exaggerated as the story has gotten more intense—and the script has plenty of action, but it’s the on-page chemistry of the characters that really sells this book for me.
I haven’t had a minute to confirm it, but I suspect that there’s an underlying narrative to Nik Abnett’s backup material that will become clear in the final issue. When we all figure it out, we’re going to feel like a bunch of dummies for not getting it sooner. Contrasting with last month’s emotionally moving feminist creed from Major Helena Upton, Abnett gives us some perspective from the subject of Upton’s letter—Susan Peardew, who’s using her writing as a way to simply keep hanging on. It’s a heartbreaking vision of a character who was presented as the portrait of stoicism in last month’s backup, proving that how we are perceived is truly a matter of perspective. I wasn’t the only one who praised Mrs. Abnett’s work last month, and I doubt I’ll be alone in my appreciation this month. Great work, ma’am.

Ceej at Big Comic Page also liked my work. He reviewed issue five of Wilds End, and had this to say, among other good things:

One thing I haven’t touched upon much in my previous reviews is the wonderful ‘bonus material’ that Abnett includes with every issue.  Too busy gushing about the main story, I guess.  While the standard has been consistently high thus far with newspaper articles, diaries and the like, in this particular issue it works even better, taking the form of Susan Peardew’s journal as she seeks outside assistance along with Mr Minks.  With both characters absent from the main story here, this adds some much-needed additional flavor to the issue, allowing us to check in with two of our heroes without having to sacrifice or distract from the main narrative.  Terrific stuff.

I was particularly gratified when the husband left a comment, pointing out that I was actually responsible for the back matter, and agreeing that he and Ian thought it was wonderful, too.

Ceej responded:

Always a pleasure, Dan. I hadn’t realised that about the bonus material, but thanks for the heads up. Great work, Nik!

The second series of Wild's End is about to end, and all the writing is done. I hope the readers and reviewers like the final episode when it hits the racks in February. I shall miss writing the back matter… I already do, but I plan to take this experience forward with me. 

A lot of writers take a great deal of rejection throughout their careers, and I'm no exception to that rule. When I do something right it might be recognised without my name being associated with it, and that's OK, too. But, when they come, recognition and praise are great motivators; they’re no substitutes for hard work, but a little confidence boost never hurt anyone, and I need it as much as any writer does.

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