MEET THE AUTHORS – DENIS KNIGHT & CRISTY BURNE
Science fiction and fantasy author Denis Knight is a computer programmer who grew up geeking out about the works of J.R.R. Tolkien, Terry Pratchett and Douglas Adams. He has also worked as a technical writer, a delivery boy, a tutor, and, for one glorious summer, a tour guide on Rottnest Island.
Cristy Burne has worked as a science communicator for nearly 20 years across Australia, Japan, Switzerland, the UK, US, South Africa and beyond. She has performed in a science circus, worked as a garbage analyst, and was a reporter at CERN when they turned on the Large Hadron Collider. Her books include To The Lighthouse, Off The Track, Beneath the Trees, and a non-fiction book, Zeroes and Ones. In 2020, she told the story of the inventor of spray-on skin in Aussie STEM Stars: Fiona Wood.
Denis and Cristy decided to collaborate on a book and the result is a hilarious new series featuring the adventures of a girl named Wednesday Weeks. Today Alphabet Soup is super excited to have Denis and Cristy visiting to tell us about co-writing Book 1 in their series – Wednesday Weeks and the Tower of Shadows.
From the publisher:
Wednesday Weeks never wanted to be a sorcerer’s apprentice. She’d rather study science than magic. But when her cloak-wearing, staff-wielding grandpa is captured by a power-hungry goblin king, Wednesday must find a way to embrace her magical heritage and rescue him from the dreaded Tower of Shadows.
One book, two authors. What was it like trying to write a book using two brains?
DENIS: Writing a book with two brains! I love that. It’s actually a great way to describe it. Although sometimes it feels like we only have half a brain between us. Ouch! Cristy just kicked me under the table.
CRISTY: Only because you kicked me first! It was actually really exciting, writing with Denis, because I could never predict what he would write, and I was always literally laughing out loud to discover what Wednesday and Alfie had been up to while I was away.
DENIS: Right. It was a lot of fun. But it was challenging, too – in a good way. When you’re working on your own, you can let yourself get away with stuff. But when you’re writing with a partner, you can’t do that any more. You have to level up.
How did you come up with/agree on the name for your main character?
CRISTY: Denis came up with the concept of Wednesday Weeks, a reluctant sorcerer’s apprentice, and in that very first chapter, he invented many of our favourite characters and names: Wednesday Weeks, Alfie, Mrs Glock … and of course, Abraham Mordecai Weeks (otherwise known as Grandpa).
DENIS: That’s true. Although, Wednesday’s character started out as something quite different from where she ended up. Cristy doesn’t know this, but my first idea was for a space bounty hunter named Serenity Weeks.
CRISTY: A what? Pardon?
DENIS: Then she was going to be a paranormal investigator named Wednesday Weeks. Wednesday’s character and voice started to develop when I wrote some short scenes where she and Alfie were searching for Bigfoot and the Loch Ness monster. Then the reluctant sorcerer’s apprentice idea popped into my head, and that was kind of the final piece of the puzzle.
CRISTY: More like the first piece of the puzzle. From there, we started writing. At first, it was literally a game. Denis wrote Chapter 1, and after reading this chapter, I wrote Chapter 2, and then Denis wrote Chapter 3. And we just trusted the story to evolve.
DENIS: I think the lesson here is to give yourself the time and space to play with an idea and see what develops. Also, that space bounty hunters are awesome. What do you think of the name Serenity Jones?
CRISTY: … I hope you’re not asking me?
How did you know/agree when Book 1 was finished and ready to submit?
DENIS: We wrote our first super-quick, super-short draft of Book 1 in early 2018.
CRISTY: That first draft was only around 25,000 words long, but it was enough for us to get to know Wednesday and her world, and to know we wanted to write more.
DENIS: We had the first ten pages critiqued by a publisher in June 2018, and she gave us some really good feedback.
CRISTY: Over the next year, we both worked on other projects, but we kept coming back to Wednesday.
DENIS: We rewrote the opening chapters based on the publisher’s feedback, and we fleshed out the middle section, adding in the Sword of Reckoning and the laundry kraken. In June 2019 we had the opening chapters critiqued again by a different publisher, and she loved it. So that’s when we knew it was ready to submit.
CRISTY: Later, as we worked with Hachette to progress the manuscript through the various editing stages, we had three different editors all offering their advice, and there were thousands of new notes on each fresh edit that we completed. Getting the story just right was a whole lot of work!
Do you have any ‘Must Do’ or ‘Must Not Do’ tips for young writers who might like to collaborate on a story?
CRISTY: Respect for the other author’s creative brain is really important. A big part of the game we play as we write each Wednesday Weeks book is to take up the reins from where the other author has left off, and to then drive the adventure where we think it needs to go.
DENIS: Be open to your partner’s ideas, and have fun.
CRISTY: Another Hot Tip is to trust. As you write, remember that you teamed up with this other creator for a reason, and although smooshing two brains into one story can be difficult, the results will be worth it.
DENIS: Also, don’t expect it to be brilliant right away. It won’t be! But if you keep working on it, you’ll get there.
Can you tell us a bit about what you’re writing next?
CRISTY: We’ve just finished putting the finishing touches on Book 2 of the Wednesday Weeks series.
DENIS: It’s called Wednesday Weeks and the Crown of Destiny and it’s out in September 2021.
CRISTY: We love it because it has all our favourite characters, plus more page-time for Adaline, our punk faery-friend from the laundry.
DENIS: There’s also some advanced magic for Wednesday to tackle, a hippo-bugamus, a giant pinball machine of death, a visit to outer space and, of course, some snarky Bruce-jokes.
CRISTY: And don’t forget a whole lot of dirty-rotten evil-doing from Gorgomoth.
DENIS: Right. Oh, and also, Grandpa gets turned into a frog for a while.
Wednesday Weeks and the Tower of Shadows is out now! Ask for it at your favourite bookshop or local library.
Visit Denis Knight’s website for more about him and his books
Visit Cristy Burne’s website for more about her and her books