Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

It Takes Two

Share |

For most of my books I’ve been the sole author. But I was also the ghost writer on one, and I’ve written two books (Everything But the Kitchen Sink and A History of Just About Everything) with Frieda Wishinsky — we’re now working on a third. (Perhaps we’ll have to make sure it has the word “Everything” in the middle of the title so we can create a trilogy!)

I’m not sure how other writing duos work, but Frieda and I often say that we work together by NOT working together. We create an outline for the book together, with lots of backing and forthing, but once the editor approves the outline, we split up the writing and work completely separately.

Luckily for us, we’ve found it easy to divide our manuscripts. Our first book, Everything But the Kitchen Sink had ten chapters, so we decided we’d write five each. I’m interested in science and math, while Frieda is more interested in social studies, so we chose our chapters easily.

Same with A History of Just About Everything. The two of us went through the list of — gulp — 180 pieces in the book, and with each item, one of us would say, “I’ll write that,” or “That sounds like one of yours.” (I tried not to say that too often to Frieda. Really. Really.)

Does this way of co-authoring work? Well, as I said, we’re now working our third book together. Co-authoring makes me feel as if I’m diversifying, and I think that’s always a good thing. It also has allowed me to create books I don’t think I could do by myself. Can you imagine researching and writing 180 separate articles for just one book?

More importantly, by working on these books, I feel as if I’ve made a friend, always a definite plus! Also, when we’re celebrating or commiserating together over our book, we truly understand how the other feels.

Frieda and I always read over each other’s manuscript to make sure there are no overlaps, but we don’t edit one other. To me this makes sense: I don’t think I should suggest a lot of re-writing to Frieda, for instance, since the book’s editor might not like the direction I’ve recommended.

I think a big reason Frieda likes to write with me is that I bake fantastic cookies for her. Here’s her favourite recipe, from my book Chock Full of Chocolate:

Triple Chocolate Chip Cookies
1 cup (250 mL) margarine
3/4 cup (175 mL) brown sugar
1/2 cup (125 mL) white sugar
1 egg
1 tsp. (5 mL) vanilla
1-2/3 cup (400 mL) all-purpose flour
1/3 cup (75 mL) cocoa
1 tsp. (5 mL) baking soda
1/2 tsp. (2 mL) salt
1 cup (250 mL) chopped pecans
1 cup (250 mL) semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 cup (250 mL) white chocolate chips
Cream margarine and sugars in large bowl until well combined. Beat in egg and vanilla until smooth. Sift flour, cocoa, baking soda and salt onto mixture and blend well. Stir in nuts and chocolate chips.
Drop dough by spoonfuls onto baking sheets. Bake at 375°F for 10 minutes, or until set. Cool slightly on baking sheets, then remove from sheets to cooling racks and cool completely. Makes about 4 dozen cookies.

And Another Thing …

It was on this date in 1971 that Kate Aitken died at age 80. Today she’s almost forgotten but she was her era’s Martha Stewart. When she broadcast on the radio in the 1940s and 1950s, she had 3 million listeners, or about one-quarter of all Canadians.

“Mrs. A.” talked to listeners about childcare, etiquette and recipes. But she also interviewed such famous people as Prime Minister Lester Pearson, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, King George VI — and even Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler!

When I think of Kate Aitken, I remember a recent rebroadcast I heard in which she gives instructions for using red and green Jello to transform stale fruitcake into a fabulous “Stop-and-Go” dessert. “You stop just long enough to pick up your spoon,” she exclaimed, “and you go until the last crumb is eaten!” Go to listen for yourself if you don’t believe me.

Mmmm … got any fruitcake around?

Thanks for reading.


It was a joy working with you, Liz. Fun to brainstorm, commiserate and eat cookies. (You make the best) Yes! We should brand "everything" into all our books. We cover a lot of material. (And I write this while working on our third book)

A very interesting read on working together! It sounds like it's a recipe for success in any number of professional - and personal - partnerships. And thank you for your reminder about Kate Aitken. I'll put in a plug for my own institution here: Library and Archives Canada holds Kate Aitken's papers (and some photographs and sound recordings as well)- well worth looking at if you're in Ottawa any time.

Thanks for the insight into co-authoring, Liz. It is challenging enough to get a book published on one's own, as you pointed out yesterday. So when two tango, I suppose it is double the trouble, double the fun? And that's a good thing, at least when it comes to working with Frieda. By the way, I too will work for cookies! Thanks also for the link to CBC archives and Kate Aiken. Came across her interview with Farley and Fran Mowat from 1949. Treasures abound!

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

Elizabeth MacLeod

Award-winning author Elizabeth MacLeod has written over 50 books for children. Her most recent book, Bones Never Lie: How Forensics Helps Solve History’s Mysteries, was published by Annick Press.

Go to Elizabeth MacLeod’s Author Page