It takes two to tango

We’ve been asked several times now what it’s like to write with another person. And not just to write, but to write steamy sex scenes. How do we do it? What’s it like to share such intimate prose with another? Do we always agree?

As both halves of Vina Jackson come from a racey romance or erotic writing background, we’re accustomed to exploring what our characters do behind closed doors in more detail than the average writer, so we took the saucy content of the EIGHTY DAYS series in our collaborative stride with barely a blush.

However, we did find it necessary to keep our voices down in the cafes and restaurants where we plotted the novels, to avoid offending neighbouring patrons who might not have been aware that our discussions of lascivious love affairs and tawdry love triangles were fictional!

The method was simple. We each chose a character to write, one of us as Summer and the other as Dominik, and then wrote chapter over chapter in alternating voices.

Initially when we were just experimenting with the idea and hadn’t yet been signed by a literary agent or won a publishing deal with Orion, we had a little more time up our sleeves so this was simple enough. One of us would work while the other would play, waiting to begin the next chapter, fully informed of the previous plot points and character development.

Once we were under deadline though, and with other work commitments to complete as well, we realised that we’d have to double our pace, bite the bullet, and write our chapters consecutively.

This meant that we needed to work more closely together in terms of plotting each section, to make sure that we were moving (creatively) in the same direction, and we were soon exchanging anywhere between twenty to fifty emails per day (making going back to check a past conversation close to impossible!)

However, our muses being as they are – stubborn, fickle creatures, predisposed to encouraging Character A to do X when the outline says she should do Y – meant that nine times out of ten we were collaboratively dancing in the dark, one of us working on a character or a plot point in Chapter 8, the other doing the same in Chapter 9, and hoping that the two would entwine perfectly.

Remarkably, that was the case in almost every exchange of chapters, bar the odd minor adjustment.

We would then edit each other’s work, checking that our writing partner had moved ‘our character’ along the way that we imagined they should, and correcting each other’s repetitions or making changes to improve the flow, and occasionally writing a paragraph for the other when one of us was stuck or more of an expert on the local geography of our setting, or the best way to tie up a lover.

We also swapped a chapter in two out of three volumes to keep our writing fresh and our reader’s guessing, so at some point during both EIGHTY DAYS YELLOW and BLUE, Summer has written as Dominik, and Dominik as Summer.

Whether we started in sync or we became that way is difficult to say, but by the time that we came back to our finished work to complete final edits and proof reading, neither of us was entirely certain which sections the other had written.

We hope that our audience enjoys reading Summer and Dominik’s adventures as much as we enjoyed writing them.

The first volume EIGHTY DAYS YELLOW was published in early August, and its sequels EIGHTY DAYS BLUE and EIGHTY DAYS RED are out in September and October. At the time of writing, EIGHTY DAYS YELLOW is no 6 on the Sunday Times bestseller list and has sold translation in ten countries as well as the US.

Is yellow the new grey?

We are delighted to be here on Victoria’s blog, (thank you for taking the time to read and review EIGHTY DAYS Victoria), and thought that this might be the place to answer some of the questions that have popped up in reviews here and there, in relation to the series.

Firstly, why did we choose to write in both the first and third person?

Each chapter of YELLOW, BLUE and RED alternates between Summer in the first person, and Dominik in the third person. We chose to include both our heroine and our hero’s point of view, because we thought it would make a pleasant change for readers to see both sides of the story. How often do you get to see both the male and the female perspective of their romance unfolding? We felt that being two writers as Vina Jackson, we were in a unique position to do this and to do it well. Where one writer might be caught up favouring one side or the other, we had a writer fighting each protagonist’s corner.

We wrote the heroine, Summer, in the first person, and the hero, Dominik in third, as a way to give Summer more power, through the structure of the text. We really wanted a feisty, independent heroine who is confident and feels good about herself, and these qualities can be difficult to convey in a BDSM scenario where a character is submissive.

But, it’s not all about the ladies. On the other side of the coin, we wanted to write a male character with real depth, not just a hero who is wealthy, handsome, and dominant in a way that makes our heroine swoon, and that’s it.

The psychology of submission is often explored in BDSM romance, with the – more often than not – submissive heroine at the fore, and the motivations of the hero less important than the fact he has a helipad in his mansion. We wanted to explain a little further why a hero would feel the desire to tie his lover up in knots, how his desire evolved, and how it felt for him to explore things that might be considered immoral or even abusive by many.

We also thought, and early readers agreed, that the alternating chapters helped to increase the suspense, as we were able to end each chapter on a cliff hanger and keep the reader guessing what would happen next to our hero and heroine, or what the point of view of one would be regarding the actions of the other in the previous chapter.

Writing in our chosen structure began easily enough, and other than the initial surprise when a reader reaches chapter two and realises that a new character is narrating, we hope it’s not too confusing, though later in the book we did need to include some sections of Summer and other minor characters in the third person, in order to bring them into the plot at the right time. However, this gave us a chance to explore our characters even further, by showing how Summer appeared in the mind’s of other characters, not just Dominik.

Why the title? Is Yellow the new Grey?

We’ve heard it all, on this one. Tweeters have asked if the colours relate to jaundice or even watersports! We are happy to confirm that neither is included in the text.

Initially we had a completely different title in mind, but our Publisher wanted something different – ideally something catchy, and easily marketable in the hashtag age of Twitter where everything is abbreviated – so we brainstormed until we found a title that everyone loved, ensuring that shops and supermarkets supported the books.

The colours are actually in homage to the movies, the sexually groundbreaking I AM CURIOUS Swedish films as well as the Kieslowski trilogy.

As far as the similarities to FIFTY SHADES goes, in terms of the marketing, well, that was inevitable. We’d be lying if we didn’t admit that we hope to benefit from the success of Anastasia Steele and her Christian Grey, and the huge appetite for steamy reading that the FIFTY trilogy left in it’s wake.

However, we can firmly say that it’s not a ‘rip-off’. Neither half of Vina Jackson has read the EL James novels. Initially, we just didn’t have the time, as we were too busy writing. But then we decided not to read the trilogy, at least until we had finished writing EIGHTY DAYS so that we could not be accused of copy-catting. You can’t copy what you haven’t read.

We’re very proud of EIGHTY DAYS, and also delighted that EL James has paved the way for erotic fiction.

But there’s not enough romance..

We’re sorry to hear that a few of our readers feel this way, including you Victoria! But rest assured, the romance heats up in BLUE, and RED.

We felt that the recent fervour for erotica created an opportunity to write a series that was more than a romantic and sexy love story. We wanted to write a story that explored a part of life so often ignored in mainstream fiction – our characters’ erotic selves and how their sexualities affect other parts of their lives.

So it’s true, that like in life, both our hero and our heroine have sexual experiences that are less than positive or don’t go as they’d hoped. But along with that, with the help of each other, and the growing love (yes, it is a love story) between them, they are able to explore a range of adventurous, sexy scenes within a romantic backdrop.

It is a trilogy, and we didn’t want to play all of our cards up front, so both Summer and Dominik, along with the romance between them, develop further in the next two volumes.

Thanks for having us Victoria, and we hope that you enjoy the soon to be released EIGHTY DAYS BLUE and EIGHTY DAYS RED.


The fully-formed birth of Vina Jackson

As I write, EIGHTY DAYS YELLOW by Vina Jackson is no 6 on the Sunday Times bestseller list and has been in the top ten for the last three weeks.

But if a computer hadn’t engineered for two total strangers to sit quite by chance on opposite seats on a train from London to the provinces, John Grisham’s new novel might be no 6 instead and, worse, Vina Jackson would not exist at all!

Fate certainly moves in mysterious ways.

Vina Jackson is actually two writers, writing together under a pseudonym.  Yet until a few months ago we had never even met.

It all began when one of us was invited to attend a literary festival outside London, while the other decided to attend at short notice and purchased a ticket, on the recommendation of a friend.

So, on a very early Saturday morning as winter was turning into spring, both of us arrived at Euston station, with tickets booked online, only to find a train which was at best barely 10% full and our allocated seats facing each other while the rest of the carriage barely housed half a dozen other travellers. Any of us could have moved elsewhere in the carriage to enjoy more privacy, but then this is Britain and we all probably felt it would be rude to do so.

For hours we all sat together, respectively reading, daydreaming, listening to music on iPods or eating, saying not a word to one another only to discover, several hours afterwards at the literary festival while drinking the welcoming coffee, that the three of us that had all been grouped together by the bookings computer were attending the same event… and had all taken separate taxis from the station.

Several weeks later one of us contacted the other for some professional advice and thus two strangers who had met by chance on a train began emailing regularly.

We were both writers with a penchant for racey romance, and in passing one of us mentioned an unusual story about an antique violin that they’d read in a newspaper. Perverse minds think alike and we both thought there was a stub of an idea for a novel there, ready to be written. And then we moved on to other matters, stories to write, lives to live, other things to do.

A few months passed and the idea to write a novel together  kept bubbling away so we decided to meet up at London’s Groucho Club and later exchanged ideas and suggestions over meals in Chinatown.  And it was then that we agreed to write four opening chapters, in alternate voices, and to then send it to a literary agent to see if there was anything there to interest a publisher.

We came up with the character of the violin player busking in the Tube and the university professor who is captivated by her playing and we improvised some way they could meet. Thus Summer and Dominik were born. And so was Vina Jackson. Along with a proposal and several sample chapters for two novels, featuring their adventures in the world of sex and BDSM.

The literary agent Sarah Such loved the material and signed us up, submitting to London publishing houses within a few days. And overnight the first offers began coming in. As the level of interest grew, so did the size of the offers as well as the suggestion that it could even make a trilogy. So Vina Jackson agreed to write a third volume, and soon a six-figure deal was done with the wonderful folk at Orion.

By then, of course, the collected works of E.L. James were weaving their magic on the bestseller lists and Orion suggested we could maybe write all three books in 3 months. Vina didn’t protest too much and agreed, to ensure the trilogy would be published within weeks of delivery of the respective manuscripts, and catch the zeitgeist.

The first volume EIGHTY DAYS YELLOW was published in early August, and its sequels EIGHTY DAYS BLUE and EIGHTY DAYS RED are out in September and October. It will soon be published in the USA by Open Road Media and so far has sold translation rights in ten territories, including Germany, France, Italy and Japan.

It was never meant to rival Fifty Shades of Grey, as neither of us have even read it! But we did want to write a strong erotic romance, with believable characters and non-stop action, which we hope is well-written and entertaining. And that you enjoy reading the EIGHTY DAYS trilogy.

Meanwhile beware who you sit opposite next time you take a train.  You may end up writing a racey romance trilogy with a complete stranger…