As an animal-mad kid, I {Debra Tidball} would have loved the Pet Sitters series of junior fiction books! Each book features a new adventure for friends Cassie and Lina as they pet sit a different animal each book, all with a magical twist. The constant is Gus, the mischievous and imperious cat, who can talk to the girls – but only when they are together. Some of the books are also on audio. Find out about the series here. The latest book is the newly released Pet Sitters: Billy Goat Boogie about a goat with rhythm in his hooves. It’s a really fun concept, and I’m fascinated by how Penny Reeve and Cecily Anne Paterson co-wrote the books, as Ella Shine. How did they do that?? Fortunately, Cecily is on the blog today to tell us!! Over to her:

Would you collaborate on writing a children’s book?

When Penny Reeve and I decided to write a junior fiction series together, we had no experience with collaborative writing. In fact, we both embodied those old tropes about writers: mildly introverted, needs everyone to get out of the house, cannot kill her darlings. We had no idea whether creating and wordsmithing stories as a team would be a good or terrible experience. But we shared the same strong desire – to give five to eight-year-olds excellent quality chapter books. (Also, being perfectly honest, we were probably both a bit lonely as writers and working together sounded like fun and giggles.)

The verdict
Six Pet Sitters stories and many lunches, cups of tea, and Facebook messages later, we’re glad we are co-authors. We strongly recommend collaborative writing… with some caveats.

Cherish the other person’s talents
Begin – and continue – with respect and admiration for your partner’s abilities. Not only is Penny a lyrical, beautiful creator, but she also knows so much about writing for young children. She’s fantastic at administrative detail (not my area of strength) and we connect over a slightly darkish sense of humour, which helps when we’re writing dialogue for a highly grumpy, talking cat.

Be clear about your goals
‘Let’s write books together, that would be fantastic!’ is an open-ended statement. Be more specific, and ideally, put away the wine. What type of books, and how many? Talk about the timeframe, the process and the end results. Getting on the same page right from the start is crucial. (Writer pun alert.) When you both agree, make it official with a contract or a Memorandum of Understanding.

Discover your best way to communicate
On any given day or night, I can guarantee that the Messenger chat between myself and Penny will be going strong. Some writing partnerships won’t be chatty, others will never stop. We’ve tried a few different methods of communication including emails for things we need to refer to, Slack chat, and text, but Messenger is tried and true and we always end up there. We have both learned to communicate clearly and directly without getting offended. Happily, Penny has learned to tolerate my terse answers to her questions on the days I’m at my part-time job. (Yes. Nope. Ha ha, definitely not.)

There are a million ways to write collaboratively: find your favourite.
Penny and I are both at the ‘planner’ end of the pants-plan spectrum, so we began by clearly drawing a boundary around the series and creating a firm structure for the stories. We also created detailed descriptions for our three main protagonists, the location, and some secondary characters. The story planning involves us throwing three million ideas into the ether, distilling the best ones and then creating a chapter outline. This works best if we’re face to face. The writing happens separately… but I’ll tell you about that next.

The ‘sum of the parts’, etc
One of us begins by writing the first chapter based on the story plan. She sends it to the other one, who edits the first chapter (I want to say brutally, but that sounds worse than it is) and writes the second chapter. She sends it back, and the process continues. Write, edit, write more, edit more, and so on and so forth. By the time we get to our tenth and final chapter, each person has adjusted and added to the story five times.

But we’re not finished yet. We look over it individually and send more edits. Then we meet on zoom at least twice. First, to make sure we’ve included all the series catchphrases, and to ensure our vocabulary works for the age-group. We’ll leave the story for a period, and then meet again for the second time to read aloud, adjusting for flow and rhythm.

Both Penny and I have quite different writing styles. But by the time we finish a Pet Sitters draft, the story doesn’t sound like either one of us wrote it. The combination of our creative ideas, our individual writing and our edits creates a unique ‘Ella Shine’ voice. In this collaboration, the whole really is greater than the sum of the parts.


Your turn?
Penny and I have found working together as Ella Shine on the Pet Sitters series to be a very enjoyable, creative endeavour. Have you tried writing collaborative with someone? What tips would you add to the above? We wish you as much collaborative happiness as we have had.

Article by Cecily Anne Paterson.

Thanks for that great insight into your collaborative process, Cecily, and I wish you and the books every success! Read on for more about Cecily and a bit about me:

Award-winning author Cecily Anne Paterson is co-author of the Pet Sitters series and an author in her own right. She has written nine Middle Grade and YA novels, published through independent and traditional publishing. Three books in her Kangaroo Valley School Series are listed in the NSW Premier’s Reading Challenge. Four of her novels have won or been listed for awards, including Lola in the Middle, winner of the Forevability Awards 2023, and Invisible, featuring a Hard of Hearing protagonist, which was a semi-finalist in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel (ABNA) Awards 2014. Cecily is a marketing and communications specialist and has worked as a freelance writer and book editor. She lives in Sydney with her family.

Find Cecily Anne Paterson at www.cecilypaterson.com.

Find Penny Reeve at www.pennyreeve.com, and the Pet Sitter series at www.puddledogpress.com.

Information about the illustrator, Lisa Flanagan, can be found at Lisa Flanagan Illustrator.

Debra Tidball is a Sydney-based internationally published, award-winning author of picture books, short stories, poems and plays for children. With social work and children’s literature qualifications, Debra is a children’s book enthusiast with a particular passion for picture books and the profound way they can touch children’s lives. Find her at www.debratidball.com



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