Writing in Partnership: David and Catherine MacPhail

For me, White Feather is a story about what war does to people. Set during the immediate aftermath of the armistice in 1918, every single character in the book has suffered and is suffering still.

Crowds of people are cheering the soldiers as they return home. A grief-stricken boy called Tony watches them. He has little to celebrate. His older brother Charlie died not as a hero but as a coward - shot at dawn. Tony refuses to believe that his brother was a traitor, and sets out to find the truth.

Mum and I often talked about writing something together. This story came about one morning in early 2016, sitting around Mum’s breakfast table. We started talking about important anniversaries that were coming up in the next few years, which we could tie our book in with.

This brought us swiftly onto the hundredth anniversary of the armistice. We talked of how dreadful it must have been for everyone involved to have come through 4 years of relentless war and suffering. How would people have felt as the guns fell silent? How did it compare with that feeling of confidence that many people had going into the war in 1914? That patriotic, almost jingoistic call to arms must have seemed a long way off. We talked about the soldiers who came home, and about those who didn’t. And I was particularly interested in the soldiers who’d been shot at dawn for cowardice. We talked about class too. Would class have protected you in some way from the effects of the war? These questions were what inspired us to create White Feather.

Within about half an hour, in a burst of creative energy we had effectively written the entire story. I am pleased to say that it remains largely unchanged now that it has been published.

Top tips for writing in partnership

  • You might think it would be challenging to work in partnership with another writer, not least your own Mum. In our case, it wasn’t. It was certainly different, but it was also enjoyable.
  • Working with another writer requires generosity, give and take.
  • You need to take all the important decisions before starting work, and keep communicating as you go. You’re not writing on your own now, you’re a team, so you need to be in accord on key aspects of the work, such as tone, setting and character development.
  • Learn from each other. I always say you never stop learning as a writer. Mum’s writing was really good on this story, and I learnt so much from her.

For the most part, we each wrote different scenes and chapters individually, and then we swapped them over and re-wrote them. It made for fast and frenetic work! Our end result was unique. Something that wasn’t quite Mum’s style, and not quite my own, but most certainly ours - Macphail and Macphail.