Sharing the Knocks and Knockouts: Emily Bullock & Ann Morgan

Emily Bullock & Ann Morgan
Emily Bullock & Ann Morgan

In this month’s guest blog, long-time writer friends Emily Bullock and Ann Morgan take up the June challenge to send each other a book with a dedication inside.

Emily Bullock

Ann and I first met on the interview day for UEA’s Creative Writing MA… So she tells me, and over the years I’ve come to think of her memory as my own. We were then lucky enough to be in the same writing workshop. Was I first drawn to the person or the pen? I no longer recall that either. But I do know that I liked both a great deal. Ann spent some nights on my airbed, which sealed the new friendship, and all these years later we are still friends.

The book I have chosen for Ann was inspired by her Year of Reading the World. Through this project, she came across a writer who didn’t get to read a novel until she was a teenager. The anecdote stayed in my mind because Ann is such a good storyteller. The first novel this writer got to read also seems the right selection for Ann because of her adventures in reading a book from every country, and the writing journey we have both been on, which will finally result in our debut books coming out next year.

In the words of all the best DJs – Ann Morgan, this one’s for you: Around the World in Eighty Days by Jules Verne.

Around the World in Eighty Days
Image used with the kind permission of Penguin Pocket Classics

And my dedication:

‘What had he brought back from this long and weary journey?’

The airbed has deflated but we go on: friends and writers. I feel fortunate to have you as a travelling companion.

Ann Morgan

Emily’s right: we did meet at the interview day for our master’s. I can even remember the book she was reading – Salt: A World History by Mark Kulansky.

If it seems a bit freaky that I can recall so much, it’s no doubt testament to how well we got on. Almost from the word go, we were chatting easily and seemed to understand each other’s take on books and writing. The friendship was particularly important for me as I was commuting from London to study on the course in Norwich – hence the airbed (in case you were wondering).

Ten years on, we remain great friends. We’ve seen each other change, grow, struggle and succeed, and it’s lovely that our debut books, The Longest Fight and Reading the World: Postcards from my Bookshelf, will be coming out at roughly the same time in 2015.

In recognition of this, I’ve chosen a novel that links together our projects: Seconds Out by Martín Kohan.

Seconds-Out
Image used with the kind permission of Serpent’s Tail

It’s the book I read from Argentina during my Year of Reading the World and centres on boxing, which is the subject of Emily’s novel. The story also seems appropriate because I think both of us would agree that the journey to publication has been a bit like a battle on occasions. As a result, my dedication reads:

‘It has felt like the longest fight at times, but it’s been great to share the knocks and knockouts with you. Here’s to the next bout.’

 

Emily Bullock’s novel The Longest Fight will be published by Myriad Editions in spring 2015.

Ann Morgan’s non-fiction book Reading the World: Postcards from my Bookshelf will be published by Harvill Secker, also in spring 2015.

We Speak the Same Language: Julie Sarkissian & Haley Tanner

When Laura MacDougall of Hodder & Stoughton contacted us about the friendship between one of her authors, Julie Sarkissian, and fellow US novelist, Haley Tanner, we were keen to learn more. So, we interviewed them for this month’s guest post.

Julie (left) with Haley (right)
Julie (left) with Haley (right)

Something Rhymed: What were your first impressions of each other and how did you become friends?

Haley: The first time I saw Julie I wanted to become her friend instantly.  It was the first week of the MFA program we did together and during these awful get-to-know you exercises where everyone tried as hard as possible to impress everyone else with their apathy and pretension – in the middle of all that she was a shining beacon of honesty and ease and genuine enthusiasm.  Then we had our first workshop together and the story she brought to the table was just beautiful and strange and so impressive – I still remember lines from that first story – and I thought she’d never be my friend – she just seemed so brilliant – and way too cool for me.  I think she must have done the first inviting-out-to-drinks – I don’t remember – but I’m pretty shy about those things so I bet it was her.  The first time we went out together I could not believe that this gorgeous intense-genius person was so down-to-earth, so real and wonderful and so human.

Julie: A few of us students were standing around after some kind of orientation and I remember thinking Haley was very hip, was totally beautiful and very charming and engaging. We later found ourselves in class together but we didn’t talk outside class until the day her writing was workshopped for the first time. I was blown away by her talent. I went up to her after class and said, your writing is amazing, I have this feeling we speak the same language, let’s go get a drink. So we went to a bar that us MFA kids would go to after class and we stayed up talking long into the night. After that, we took all our classes together and, after we graduated, we saw each other almost as much as we had in school.

Something Rhymed: What qualities or interests do you share and in what ways do you differ?

Julie: Haley’s an adventurer and I’m a creature of habit. I’ve worked in the same restaurant for ten years, had the same therapist for seven years, had the same boyfriend/now husband for nine years. In that amount of time Haley has travelled the world many times over. We are both pretty extroverted, we both love a good in-depth, no holds barred heart-to-heart. Needless to say we both love to read and love to talk about books.

Haley: Oh my goodness! There isn’t anything I wouldn’t like to do with Julie by my side. We both procrastinate by baking or cooking or cleaning when we should be writing. Julie was the first writer I met who would admit that there were many times that we’d rather do anything – anything AT ALL, than write. What ways do we differ? Julie is far more social than I am. She’s a real girl’s girl – she has this incredible ability to create an amazing space where women can be supportive of each other and let go and have real fun.  I remember Julie throwing an all-girls holiday party, cranking Mariah Carey’s ‘All I Want For Christmas’ and getting everyone to dance around the room. I think Julie should be held up as an example that being an incredible literary genius does not mean that you cannot throw a great dinner party, kick off your heels, and dance around the room.

Julie is an amazing friend, and she’s an amazing friend to a long list of very lucky people. I’m sort of a homebody – Julie has always drawn me out of my shell, and taught me, by example, how to be a better friend.

Julie (left) & Haley (right)
Julie (left) & Haley (right)

Something Rhymed: Can you tell us about the role of writing in your friendship?

Haley: Julie is the only person on the planet with whom I can share some of my darkest writing troubles – she’s so unguarded, I can tell her anything. Julie helped me write my first query letter to an agent – and she forced me to send it. I wouldn’t have a career without her encouragement.  I still have all of Julie’s handwritten edits on the early versions of the manuscript for my first novel – those pages are the only edited rough-draft relics I’ve saved – if only for her handwriting and genius.

Recently we’ve been talking about motherhood – it’s an entirely new world we’re both entering.  It’s essential to survival to have someone by your side who knows who you were before you were a mom.  For me, writing has taken on an entirely new importance – it’s a way to spend time in my mind – to reclaim some of the territory lost to the baby and the breastfeeding and the sleep struggles.  I think that having a friend who is also exploring this alien land can keep you from losing your mind.

Julie: Haley is one of the only people whom I am very, very close with that I feel can empathize with the struggles of writing, publishing, the disappointments, the jealousies, the confusion. I rely on her to validate many of my ambivalent, painful feelings about writing and being a writer that are hard to express to other friends. Our friendship is so much more than just about writing, but we first connected over writing and confiding in each other about writing was the basis of a deep intimacy.

Something Rhymed: Have the two of you ever experienced any feelings of literary rivalry and, if so, how did you find a way to manage them?

Julie: When Haley sold her novel and I was still editing mine with my agent I was definitely jealous. I wanted so badly to have what she had. But I think the word rivalry implies one person desiring to be superior and that I have not necessarily experienced. Haley was the first person to read my novel and vice versa, so we were invested in each other’s novels from the very beginning.

Haley: I have never, never, felt any sort of rivalry with Julie – and no envy.  I truly love her, and I’ve only felt true happiness at her success.   I think there’s a very pervasive and damaging idea floating out in the universe that writing – or any art – is a zero-sum game – that someone else’s success is your loss. That’s ridiculous and harmful – and it sabotages real, supportive, loving relationships.  Throughout all of the early struggles I always believed that one day Julie and I would be lucky enough to do interviews like this – to talk about our books and our lives together.

Julie Sarkissian’s novel, Dear Lucy, is published by Hodder & Stoughton

Haley Tanner’s novel, The Adventures Of Vaclav The Magnificent And His Lovely Assistant Lena, is published by Cornerstone.

By the time we met, I felt as though I already knew her: Kadija ‘George’ Sesay and Dorothea Smartt

Our April guest bloggers are poets Kadija ‘George’ Sesay and Dorothea Smartt. They’ve shared with us their conversation about their first impressions of each other…

Kadija George

 

Kadija
The first time I met Dorothea, she was a figment, yet a fixture of Centerprise, a community centre in East London, that housed a community publishing project. In 1995, I became the Black Literature Development Worker, a newly created post that replaced Dorothea’s role in the publishing project, which she ran with Bernadette Halpin. There wasn’t anything I could do that wasn’t compared to Dorothea!

Are you going to run workshops (like Dorothea)? Are you going to set up performance poetry evenings (like Dorothea)? Can you publish our poems in books (like Dorothea)?

Who was this Dorothea person I had to compete against?

In the meantime I took home the Word Up! Women’s Café anthology that Dorothea had edited, and realised why this woman was so missed by those she’d worked with. This was a classic anthology of women’s performance poetry in London, published in the mid-Nineties. There was nothing else like it.

DSafro byRT IMG_7860

Dorothea
I can’t remember when I first heard about Kadija. I had heard of her before I met her because she was working at Centerprise where I had worked, at one of the most enjoyable and rewarding jobs that I had had, up until that time.

Although I left Centerprise under a cloud I was glad to see there was someone taking up the reins. One of my main regrets was that I always felt I should have published more Black people. At the point when I left, we had our publishing resources removed so when she brought out Calabash, a newspaper for writers of African and Caribbean descent, I thought: oh good, she is getting around that, by putting out a resource in newspaper format.

Kadija
By the time I met Dorothea, I felt as though I already knew her – I can’t even remember the exact time, except I published one of her poems in my first anthology, Burning Words, Flaming Images for which she says, till this day, it is the only poem she has published that she has ever been paid for, so I’m proud of that.

Dorothea
I remember reading at the launch event for the book at Centerprise. I still have the photo of Jacob Ross, Bernardine Evaristo, Courttia Newland, Chris Abani… It could very well have been the first time we met in person.

Around that time, Kadija organised the first Writer’s Hotspot in The Gambia in 1996. When she asked me to go a second time to be one of the tutors, I couldn’t believe it. I went again and shadowed Kadija.

She pointed me out and said, ‘On the next trip, she’s the Boss Lady.’ It gave me a lot of confidence that she selected me.

Kadija
I knew Dorothea had a good reputation so there was mutual respect on both sides.

Dorothea
And here was someone who liked travelling as well. I believed in Kadija and what she was doing. I knew that whatever she did was gonna get done!

Kadija ‘George’ Sesay is the publisher of SABLE LitMag. Her poetry collection Irki was published by Peepal Tree Press.

Dorothea Smartt’s third poetry collection Reader I married him and other strange goings on will be published by in 2014.

They are currently co-directors of the Inscribe programme for professional development for writers of African and Asian descent, based at Peepal Tree Press.

Rachel Connor and Antonia Honeywell: ‘a collaboration to be treasured’

In this month’s guest blog, long-time writer friends Rachel Connor and Antonia Honeywell take up the March challenge to send each other mementoes of their friendship…

Rachel

Antonia and I were connected even before we met: we were paired, in advance of the MA in Novel Writing at Manchester University, to submit work in the same workshop.

From the beginning, friendship and work have been intertwined.  For nearly a decade we’ve spent happy hours talking of books and our children; of our ambitions, hopes and passions.  There’s a geographical distance (I live in the north; Antonia in the south of England) but we snatch time together in person where we can.

When the MA ended, Antonia and I took turns to submit work by email, which was printed off by the other and returned with comments.  This loop of regular submission and feedback has sustained us ever since.

The pressures of work or childcare have sometimes interrupted the pattern but the firm foundation of a working relationship will always be there.  We are, for each other, cheerleader, editor and critical friend.

Antonia's gift for Rachel
Antonia’s gift for Rachel

When I received the beautiful locket Antonia sent me I was immensely touched.  It symbolises space – the space we have afforded each other and the space for development of our creative work.

When I opened it, I was surprised to see that it contains a tiny rose, to represent growth.  I’m not sure whether she thought of it, but the rose is a crucial image in a novel I’m working on right now (which is based on Charles Rennie Mackintosh).  Consciously or subconsciously, she must have picked up on that.

I do miss Antonia’s actual presence but I know that we’ve carved out an emotional and creative space in which we can both grow.  It’s a friendship and a collaboration to be treasured – just like the locket, in fact, which now takes pride of place on the bookshelves next to my writing desk.

Antonia

It’s possible that the early hours of the morning aren’t the best time to write, but on top of four small children, we have chronic illness in the house, a head teacher being an arse, and a cellar pump that keeps failing. Yet here I am, writing.

From the first days of our friendship, Rachel’s faith in my work has given me permission to write even, and especially, when life has conspired to make it impossible. Others know us as mothers, teachers, wives and workers, but to each other, we are writers first.

Rachel's gift to Antonia
Rachel’s gift to Antonia

The little book Rachel sent me symbolises what brought us together, what sustains our friendship and what is produced by it. No Anne Sharp could have been prouder of Jane Austen than I was of Rachel when Sisterwives was published: it felt like a great triumph not only for Rachel, but for the dedication with which we both carved out the time for our regular exchanges of work.

Those exchanges have ebbed and flowed with the vicissitudes of our other lives, but our writing relationship has always been one in which the words ‘I told you so’ hold no negative connotations.

We don’t meet in person very often, but every meeting is an oasis. The next will be on Rachel’s birthday this summer. The last time I was able to celebrate Rachel’s birthday with her in person, too long ago, I confided the seed of the idea that would become The Ship. This time, The Ship will be on the verge of publication.

It began with two women who wanted to write. The rose in the locket is a symbol of the wonders that can happen, when dreams are given a little space.

Rachel Connor’s novel Sisterwives was published by Crocus Books in 2011. Her radio play The Cloistered Soul will be broadcast on Radio 4 on 29th May this year.

Antonia Honeywell’s novel The Ship will be published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson in January 2015.

 Remember

We’re still searching for more famous female writer pals to feature in the upcoming months, so do let us know if there’s a pair you’d like to see profiled.

You can do this by leaving a reply to any of the posts on the site, or Tweeting us at @EmilyMidorikawa or @emmacsweeney.

You can keep up with Something Rhymed by following us via email, by clicking the button on the right of the screen.

Ten Things Sarah Butler and Tessa Nicholson Love About Each Other

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.

Sarah on Tess

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

Tess on Sarah

TessaThere 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.

Remember:

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 somethingrhymed@gmail.com 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.

Jill Dawson and Kathryn Heyman: competition and correspondence

When Kathryn Heyman read our profile of the rivalrous friendship between Kathryn Mansfield and Virginia Woolf, she told us about the role of envy in her long-distance friendship with fellow novelist, Jill Dawson. So we decided this week to feature a guest blog from them.

Jill Dawson and Kathryn Heyman
Jill Dawson and Kathryn Heyman

You either want to kill your competitors or become their friends. We chose friendship. But perhaps it’s slightly disingenuous to present it that way: when we feel that competitive spirit, it’s partly because we are attracted to the very qualities which we have – or aspire to have – ourselves.

Like Woolf, who wanted to be a better writer because she believed Mansfield had set a high standard, when one of us is successful it spurs the other on. We have allowed ourselves to be truthful about the role envy plays in our friendship because envy, after all, is a way of discovering what it is that we want.

Because we are in the same field, there are inevitably times of difficulty, of one achieving something the other wants. Award shortlists, film deals, new book deals, invitations to international events: we are, in some ways, competitors, at least if we chose to believe that there is not enough to go around. Both of us would say that we would prefer to be the one winning the Booker Prize in a given year, for instance – but if the other won it the same year, that would be a pretty neat next best thing.

We live on opposite sides of the world now, which causes us some pain. But we talk to each other every week. Our conversations are about writing, gossip, lipstick, what to wear to events, children, husbands, our works-in-progress. We’ve been alongside each other for each of our novels – thirteen between us – and know the stages of writing. ‘I thought it was going so well,’ one of us will say, ‘but now it all seems so flat. I can’t hold it together, it’s going to collapse.’ ‘Yes,’ the other will say. ‘You always say that at precisely this stage, just before you discover something wonderful; remember the last book? And the one before that?’

We write to each other regularly too. Like Woolf and Mansfield, we discuss our novels-in-progress, money matters, the books we are reading, our mutual friends. At one point, the notion of the ideal reader cropped up in our correspondence, the person who we really write for, the one who is capable of understanding the depth and intelligence of our work. And we realised then that we’ve found in each other our ideal reader – the one writer in the world for whom we would value ourselves as a reader as much as a writer. We are extraordinarily blessed that the competitor we most fervently admire is also the friend who we adore.

Kathryn Heyman’s fifth novel, Floodline, was published by Allen and Unwin in 2013.

Jill Dawson’s eighth novel, The Tell-tale Heart, will be published by Sceptre in 2014.

This post is adapted from a longer article by Kathryn Heyman, originally published in Vogue in 2008.

Remember: 

We’d love to hear about the letters you’ve exchanged, or perhaps you would like to share some reflections on the role of envy in your friendship.

We’re still on the look out for famous female writer pals, so do keep them coming too.