Collaborative Work

Myth | Woman (The Black
Light Engine Room Press, 2021)

Myth | Woman is a poetic study in observation. Here, Barnes and Walker interrogate the beauty and bastardisation of women in myth. The anatomy of both language and body have been examined through these poems, to document how mer-women’s edges have been curved – alongside our own.


Hierarchy of Needs – A Retelling (V. Press, 2020)

Hierarchy of Needs (a retelling) is a call-and-response poetry pamphlet written in collaboration with poet and writer Charley Barnes.

This book is a poetic re-imagining of Abraham Maslow’s original (1943) hierarchy of needs pyramid. The pamphlet first considers the needs of the natural world around us, before exploring what a revised structure may look like for humans in the present day.

Feature: In Praise of Collaboration

Claire Walker:

Writing, by its very nature, can be a solitary activity. This can be what makes it so enjoyable – the space to let your imagination go in whatever direction it pleases. The flip side, though, is that it can be a lonely endeavour. What if you’re desperate to share with someone your discovery that merfolk appear in Noah’s Ark? Or, how about if you need to brainstorm the most effective way to present sunflower lore in poem-form? Sometimes, you need a writing partner to phone and say ‘so I’ve been reading this article and I’ve got this idea…’

I’ve been lucky enough to work with Charley Barnes on two collaborations. Our first co-authored pamphlet, Hierarchy of Needs: A Retelling, began after a chat in our local library café about the possibility of working on a book together. We chatted at length about what this might look like, and what subjects we’d be interested in exploring together. It turns out that -happily! – we have a lot of writing interests and instincts in common, and after a discussion that began with Attachment Theory and ended with plant lore, we hit upon the idea of re-imagining Maslow’s 1943 theory. We decided upon a call-and-response way of working and, as I’d had the seed of an idea for a ‘starter’ poem, I drafted the first piece for the book, nervously sending it to Charley for her feedback. I remember the excitement I felt when she emailed back her ‘response’ poem, and the joy of then using that piece to write my own response. The collaboration felt very natural throughout and, after placing the pamphlet with our publisher, it was also a source of reassurance and encouragement to have the support of a collaborator during the editing process – and very special to have someone to share the ‘we did this!’ celebration with on publication day. We’re very lucky to have been able to repeat all of this process (and associated emotions!) with a second pamphlet, Myth | Woman.

We’re now busily planning our next project. We’ve decided to branch out into a hybrid poetry/prose book, and are moving away from a purely call-and-response format into something more character-led. We even have field trips planned! Initial research has been exciting, and has confirmed without doubt that yes, indeed, sometimes you really, definitely, do need a writing partner to phone and say ‘so I’ve been reading this article and I’ve got this idea…’

Charley Barnes:

Imagine this: You read something in a book – it can be poetry or prose, drama or hybrid. Whatever the line, it sticks with you. You carry it around for days upon days and idly think, ‘God, that’s a good line,’ whenever your mind wanders back to it.

Now imagine being able to call the author and say, ‘This is brilliant, you know, truly brilliant.’

Now, imagine being able to write back.

For both Hierarchy of Needs: A Retelling and now Myth | Woman, that’s how it’s felt to work with Claire. She gifted me with polished and flavoursome boiled sweets and in return I wrote back about the hard candy crack of her descriptions. Both of our collaborative projects have helped me to grow as a writer, with descriptions, ideas and even interests spreading into areas I mightn’t have found on my own. It’s a joy, really, to have someone say, ‘But this is how I see it…’ and to have the time to sit and explore that view, and respond accordingly with your own language, structure, voice. Still, voice is an interesting area of conversation, too, in my experience of collaborating because there have been times, in both books that we’ve published, where Claire and I have looked back and said, ‘I honestly can’t remember who wrote that.’

Claire and I have – or had – very different styles of writing when we first came together. I think that may have even been part of the appeal; to see what one might loan from or to the other. We’ve upheld those separate styles in our own independent writings. But when we collaborate something genuinely special happens: we borrow words; share perspectives; split ideas down the centre and scrape out pearls that neither of us had considered the existence of before.

Note: If you’re sensing a see theme, that’ll be Myth | Woman talking.

Of course, with every writing project there are lows. There are the moments of, ‘I just don’t know that this is any good.’ Collaborating has meant that these, too, have been shared though. When one has doubts, the other becomes the voice of reason. Fortunately, Claire and I have even managed to tag team this part of writing; when one begins to sink, the other becomes an airbelt.

Two projects, both now published, have given Claire and I a confidence in our work – as writers and collaborators. The overwhelming response to Myth | Woman so far has been a help along the way, too, giving us exactly the boost we need to catapult us it into our next project – which we are, of course, already planning…