How to co-author a book


16 February 2022
Husband and wife scriptwriting team Olivia Poulet and Laurence Dobiesz describe the process of collaboration on their novel
How to co-author a book Images

How did the idea for the story of 12 Hours to Say I Love You come about?

It all came about in quite an unconventional way. Our wonderful editor, Sherise Hobbs, heard our play ‘#blessed’ on Radio 4, and approached us about developing the characters’ voices for a book. We wanted to pursue Pippa and Steve’s love story, but hadn’t even considered that we might be able to write a novel until she coached and coaxed us into that hitherto unknown realm.

Content continues after advertisements

Who did what in 12 Hours to Say I Love You?

We began by plotting out Pippa and Steve's history, carefully and chronologically, whilst fleshing out their network of friends and family, eventually deciding which life events would serve the plot best. Olivia would sometimes take a first pass over the Pippa chapters and Larry would do the same for Steve. Then we would swap, read and edit each other’s. The hospital chapters, however, were written side by side — two laptops, one pot of coffee and much joyful word wrangling.

Why did you choose the 12-hour framework?

So much can happen in 12 hours, and so little. Particularly in a hospital setting, where time can take on its own convoluted meaning. In the novel, a decade-long relationship is laid bare within that time. The framework also provided structure and pace. It gave us momentum as we knew we needed to tell their story by the 12th hour.

How did you create Pippa and Steve? Did you take a character each?

The characters of Pippa and Steve, their experiences, were sewn together with magpied moments from our own lives, from friends and family, stories we’ve read, and our imaginations. A character gathers its flesh and heartbeat from so many different sources. It’s a wonderful and satisfying task creating rounded human beings in the stories you write.

What’s it like, working with your other half?

As with all great tasks, working with your other half is sometimes the best experience in the world and, at other times, supremely stressful. Their opinion matters more than anyone else’s, so when your writing is flying and you are dancing to the same tune, the process is magical. When you lock horns or feel tired or fractious, however, it’s tough because there is nowhere to run away to!  But fundamentally it’s been an exceptional process for us. We feel very lucky.

What are the best parts of writing collaboratively?

The best part of collaboration is the shared highs. The moments a chapter or character falls into place, when a sentence just hits the mark and you feel that the story is really taking shape. The highs are that much higher when you have someone to share the view with.

What do you lock horns about?

Occasionally we would disagree about the odd line or cultural reference, e.g. ‘What type of Lynx would he be wearing in 1999? Would they really say that?’ But fortunately, a novel takes time, years in fact and by the third or fourth rewrite you find yourself becoming far less precious, less wedded to a line or an idea. We ended up just handing it over to the other person with a ‘please just make it funnier or at least make that make sense!’

How is writing a novel together different from writing a script?

Writing a novel is different to writing a script as a novel is fundamentally scene setting. We realised that whilst a script is largely dialogue and as few stage directions as possible, a novel is quite the opposite. Though in this book, we celebrated the dialogue, deciding we would corner the market in the ‘scrovel’. We love good dialogue in books, so we’re hoping other people do too!

What have you learned about yourselves as writers doing this book?

Olivia: Well, I have learnt that I love a deadline!  I always did but writing a novel, really highlighted this for me. When I was younger, I wanted a t-shirt called ‘structure makes you happy’ – in my case it really does! I can flail around in words for weeks and never settle on any, unless someone is giving me a kick as to when it has to be done and stopped being tinkered with!

Laurence: Neither of us saw it coming, nor did we ever quite believe in ourselves as authors. But now, after many months and drafts, here we are with a book! It goes to show, if you can quieten your inner critic for long enough, and find flow, it can lead you to unexpected places.

And what have you learned about each other as a couple?

Olivia:  I’ve learnt that Larry is a brilliant problem solver. Always finding solutions when we felt stuck in a rut. New angles, new approaches. Also that we have an identical ability to find humour in the otherwise unbearable - I think this is a very lucky gift both as a writer and as a human being.

Laurence: Olivia has a wonderful sense of driving things forward. When I found I couldn’t write, it was because I was questioning myself, but she encouraged me to get my head down and just write something, anything, which often unlocked the door.


12 Hours to Say I Love You by Olivia Poulet and Laurence Dobiesz is published in hardback, priced £16.99 (Headline Review)


How do you sell a book to Netflix? Find out how author and screenwriter Sarah Anderson's novel was adapted for TV.


Content continues after advertisements