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.

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My Box of Memories

Pears soap, Emma Claire’s recent trinket gift has a special place in my family history too. It was the choice of my father’s own Grandma and, because of the childhood memories he associated with it, a favourite of his too.

Consequently, at least in the early years, it was the only soap we used at home. On receiving this broken sliver of amber, I found myself immediately transported by its familiar stickiness and herb-like scent to long-ago bath times at Eastfield Crescent, sitting in the tub with my little sister, our singing voices competing with the noise of the electric fan.

Emma Claire, this trinket that stands both for Bam-Bam and the ghost of your novel in its earlier forms, has now been safely shut away in my own memory box. It’s been a discovery, though perhaps not an entirely surprising one, to learn that this tendency to memorialise our pasts is just another thing we share in common.

But, in keeping with the last of our February posts, I’m keener now to acknowledge the differences between us too. I’ve stored away a petalled pink and green ballet headdress, a tiny scented satin bag from Japan that (even after eighteen years) still somehow keeps its perfume, and – having grown up in a non-religious household – there are no equivalents to your christening bracelets.

The trinket I have removed to make way for your soap, Em, is the inner-most part of a Russian Doll.

Gift for EmmaI have fractured memories of playing with its outer casings as a child, painted wooden shells that split apart to reveal the series of dolls inside them. I don’t know what happened to those exterior pieces. Did they get cracked, or lost over time? Did my mother pass the doll to a friend without realising its heart was missing?

At some stage, anyway, I must have found this solitary little doll, the only part that couldn’t be broken into two, and decided I wanted to save it.

Some of its varnish has come away and the red and green of the painted clothing has faded to nothing in places. But I feel certain that someone who can see the brighter amber in a broken bar of Pears soap will overlook the many scuff marks, and be able to enjoy this small memento of her friend from a time many years before she knew her.