When novelist, Sarah Butler, and screen writer, Tessa Nicholson, posted up pictures of their beautiful letters on Twitter, we were delighted to discover that they were following Something Rhymed and joining us in dedicating 2014 to friendship. Since each chapter of Sarah’s début novel, Ten Things I’ve Learnt About Love, begins with a list, we asked them to share the lists they wrote in response to February’s challenge in this month’s guest blog.
We met, aged 19, at University: both reading English, both slightly overawed by the academia of Cambridge. We were friends from the off – easy in each other’s company, interested in each other’s lives, encouraging of each other’s dreams.
Fifteen years on, we are still firm friends, and now we are both writers. Something Rhymed’s letter writing activity for January helped us to forge another, written aspect of our friendship – which has been especially delightful now that we live in different cities.
Following the example of Ten Things I’ve Learnt About Love, we decided to write a list of ten things we admire about each other.
Ten Things I admire about Tessa
Sarah: It felt like a treat to take the time to really think about what makes Tessa such a great person and friend. As I wrote, certain words jumped out at me: wise, fun, generous, honest, so I decided to make a simple list which emphasised these words. I thought about which colours I associate with Tessa, which, it turns out, are muted pinks, greens and greys, so I used these colours for each key word, using images of tree bark, flowers, leaves and stone. The list’s title is ‘cut out’ of a photo of the college at Cambridge where we first met.
Tessa: Reading Sar’s list made me realise how lucky I am to have her as a friend. It is very fitting that this exercise was Sar’s suggestion – from our early days at university I was struck by her discipline and work ethic. Living beside her from the day we were able to choose rooms, I strove to work as hard and as productively as she did – and definitely failed. Today she continues to inspire me – doggedly carving a name for herself among the literati! Am so proud of her. And of our friendship. Her list felt like a big reassuring hug and an encouraging hand on my back pushing me up the hill.
Ten Things I Admire About Sarah
Tessa: There are many things to admire in Sar, so I had to be selective when putting it down on paper. First of all, I thought I would write my list by hand – but my writing is messy and difficult to read. So then I had what I thought was a better idea, to cut the letters out of the paper (the Guardian and Grazia Magazine to be precise). I now have a lot of respect for kidnappers because ransom notes really take forever. I berated a lot of journalists during the process but am now up to date on current affairs and Victoria Beckham’s rise from Spice Girl to haute couture.
Sarah: I want a wall-sized version of Tessa’s list in my office! It’s funny – I was half-hoping Tess would handwrite the list because I love her handwriting so much, but I love the ransom note – beautiful, colourful, quirky, just like her. I was touched by all of it, but especially number 3: ‘you make me feel at home’ – which links so beautifully to Maya Angelou’s essay ‘Home’ in Letter to my Daughter.
Sarah Butler’s novel, Ten Things I’ve Learnt About Love, was first published by Picador in 2013 and is just out in paperback.
Tessa Nicholson writes for PORT Magazine and the culture-vulture digital site Nowness.
We’d love to hear about the things you admire in your friend. And if, like Tessa and Sarah, you’d like to send us a picture of your response to February’s challenge, then please email it to firstname.lastname@example.org or post it on Twitter along with #SomethingRhymed.
We’re on the look out for famous female writer pals to feature next month, so do let us know who you’d like to see profiled.
6 thoughts on “Ten Things Sarah Butler and Tessa Nicholson Love About Each Other”
I think this is a nice idea for a gift for holidays, friends, whenever, where ever. It feels like this should be a trend! Thanks for the share 🙂
We’re really glad this idea spoke to you, Lani. As you may have seen if you read our earlier posts too, Emma Claire and I decided to use the lists we compiled this month to create a collection of ‘books’ and a poem. But what I like about Tessa and Sarah’s responses to the challenge is that they make a case for the value of lists themselves.
Thinking about list making, and how effective it can be as a literary form in its own right, reminded me of the Japanese text The Pillow of Sei Shonagon – one of my all-time favourites. It’s a book I have returned to often, and Sei Shonagon’s many evocative and witty lists are one of its definite highlights.
We recently had a couple more recommendations of author friends that we could consider profiling on Something Rhymed.
Penny got in touch to tell us about the friendship between George Eliot and Barbara Bodichon, 19th century champion of women’s rights and education, and the author of several pamphlets, including Women and Work (1857), which spoke in favour of paid work for women.
Susan Lanigan wrote to us about Vera Brittain and Winifred Holtby, a duo who quite a number of you have mentioned to us, either via this website or on Twitter. Emma Claire and I have long been interested in the supportive relationship of these two writers and so we have been enjoying doing further research into this pair.
Do please keep those suggestions coming in. We look forward to hearing more of your ideas.