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From Reading to Writing Together

Meet the book club friends who wrote two novels together and had them snapped up by the world’s largest publisher. Could your book club actually write a book? This is the task a group of book club friends set themselves a few years ago while on a weekend away in the Blue Mountains. After discussing Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment (and downing a few vodkas to celebrate the Russian theme), they wondered out loud if such a thing was possible. They were well-read, they reasoned, had good ideas, how hard could it be? They grabbed pens and paper, came up with a rough plot and characters and set the wheels in motion for what has become a rollicking ride into the publishing world.

Four years later, their novel, The Painted Sky, was finished and immediately snapped up in a three-book option by Penguin Random House, the biggest publisher in the world. Their publisher told the five they had read the manuscript over a weekend and “couldn’t put it down”. They also couldn’t believe it was written by five people “because it had such a strong and seamless voice”. The book was also the subject of a bidding war in Germany before being bought by giant publisher Ullstein.

The book hit the shelves in 2015 under the pen-name Alice Campion and the five “Alices”, Jenny Crocker, a communications manager, Maddy Oliver, a workshop convenor, Jane Richards, a journalist at The Sydney Morning Herald, Jane St Vincent Welch, a documentary film editor and Denise Tart, a marriage celebrant have been busy collaborating ever since. A second book, The Shifting Light, a sequel, written by four of the Alices was published in February last year.

“None of us had had fiction published, so our success has taken us by surprise. It’s the stuff of fairytales,” said Denise.

So how did they do it? Their system involved each of the Campions writing a "scene" before bringing it back to the group to be workshopped. Then a different Campion would take it home for more work, so no one scene was written by just one person. The first book took them over three years to write, however, Penguin Random House gave them a deadline of only 12 months to produce the sequel. "We had to up the regime so that we religiously met twice a week," Denise Tart said of their second novel. "By now we had developed our systems, the first time around we were just rolling along having a great time. When it all got a bit unwieldy, we had to reel it in."

Since the books’ publication, the Sydney-based Alices have given talks about this incredible journey they’ve be on and run sessions on collaborative writing at the Sydney Writers' Festival, Writers Victoria (Wheeler Centre), NSW Writers Centre, Society of Women Writers (NSW), Japan Writers Conference, the inaugural St Albans Writers Festival, the Jugiong Writers’ Festival and many libraries and events across Sydney, Central West NSW and right down the eastern seaboard to Geelong.

And now, you can catch the four Alice Campions when they share the highs, the lows and the hilarious moments at Rutherford Library, Arthur Street, Rutherford on Friday, 3 August 6pm to 8pm - bookings through www.maitlandlibrary.com.au/events; or at Speers Point Library on Saturday 4 August 10am to 11am - bookings through www.eventbrite.com.au

Meanwhile, you can find out more about the women behind this world-first commercial collaboration at Alice Campion’s Wikipedia page or by watching their five-minute video on YouTube.

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