Mal Peet’s Beck, a book finished posthumously by another author

6 July 2022
Beck, by Mal Peet and Meg Rosoff, book cover

When late British author Mal Peet died in March 2015, his final novel, Beck, remained unfinished.

In a phone call Peet made to friend and American born, London based writer, Meg Rosoff, shortly before his death, he expressed a desire to finish writing Beck, but didn’t think he’d be able to. At that point Rosoff offered to step in.

At the time of their conversation, Rosoff knew nothing about the novel, or how much progress Peet had made. But this posthumous collaboration paid off. Beck was well received. In August 2016, the Sunday Times named Beck their Book of the Week, describing it as “powerful, shocking, uplifting, funny and beautifully written.”

But this is not the first time one person’s novel has been finished by another, because of death or incapacitation. Realising illness would prevent him finishing works in The Wheel of Time series of fantasy books, late American author Robert Jordan, prepared extensive notes, allowing Brandon Sanderson to conclude the fifteen book series.

British writer Siobhan Dowd died in 2007, before A Monster Calls, which she was working on at the time of her death, was finished, a task that Patrick Ness took on.

In some cases though the quantity of notes written by a deceased author have been enough for another to create books from scratch. The works of British author J. R. R. Tolkien are a case in point. After Tolkien’s death in 1973, his son Christopher wrote a number of Tolkien novels including, The Silmarillion and The Fall of Númenor.

Despite the success some have enjoyed, taking over another author’s part-finished manuscript remains a process fraught with difficulty. How exactly can one writer step into the shoes of another? How do the creative visions of two artistic people align? And perhaps, most crucially, how does one author assume the voice of another?

It was a question Rosoff grappled with, when picking up Beck where Peet left off. But the solution soon came to her: “the answer, I discovered, is not to.” It seems then, if an author is sufficiently in synch with the person whose work they are continuing, a book finished posthumously by another author can do well.

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