Vicky Grut and Kathy Page: Writer friends with the long view

Last month, we were delighted to feature Vicky Grut’s post on the literary friendship between Beryl Bainbridge and Bernice Rubens. Today, to mark the occasion of Vicky’s debut short story collection, Live Show, Drink Included, we bring you a guest post by Vicky and her own friend Kathy Page, author of the recently published novel Dear Evelyn.

Vicky Grut (©Bill Williams)

Vicky: We met in 1984. You came to see my degree show at Goldsmiths. I remember the person who introduced us telling my then boyfriend that you were ‘a proper writer’, which suggests I was tinkering with the idea of writing even then, though I was making video documentaries at the time. You published your first book. You learned to drive and moved away to Norwich and the UEA course with Malcolm Bradbury and Rose Tremain. We lost touch. About ten years later I found a copy of Frankie Styne and the Silver Man in a bookshop. I still have it. I wrote to you care of Methuen and discovered that you were living just minutes away from me in south London. By then I had started writing seriously. You invited me to join your writers’ group and soon afterwards I began to get my stories published. But I was quite awe-struck by you and all your achievements – I still am. Eleven books!

Kathy-Page-main-picutre-HR
Kathy Page (©Billie Woods)

Kathy: We write quite differently and I like that. I’m always interested to read what you are working on and delighted that the book is finally coming out. As I soon discovered once you joined the group, you’re a very sensitive reader, and articulate too. Also, you talk with your hands…  I’ve always appreciated your very nuanced response to my work in progress, and the way you’ll read something at short notice. Over the years I think we have become more and more attuned to each other’s concerns, aims and voices, which is mainly a very good thing, though I do think that in a way it does perhaps sometimes make it harder to see each other’s work as a stranger will.

Vicky: It was 1993 when we reconnected. Bill and I were living in a one-bedroom flat with our first child. We were desperate to move to a bigger place but everything in our price range was so cramped and ugly. One day Bill came back saying he’d seen a beautiful Edwardian flat in X road. ‘But that’s where Kathy lives!’ I said. There are more than a hundred flats in this road, but the one he’d found turned out to be right next door to yours. We moved in 1994 and we’re still living here. When Becki was born, you and Richard moved to a bigger place. In 2001 you emigrated to Canada.

Kathy: I really enjoyed us being neighbours in the nineties. The living room and kitchen areas of our maisonettes looked in on each other, and early on in that period when I was pretty unhappy I used to glimpse and overhear you and your family and feel inspired by you all getting along so well. I really think it helped me to have the vision and courage to finally ditch my unhappy relationship and find a better one. And then as a result you later got to overhear my moaning and groaning when I was in labour with my daughter.

Vicky: I was so impressed by the way you took charge of your life. You decided to choose happiness. I remember your first-date nerves when you started going out with Richard. Now you have two grown-up children.

Kathy: I was a bit worried when I handed my writing classes over to you. I was exhausted and had been doing too much teaching and I felt that perhaps it was a bit of a poisoned chalice. But I think you are a natural teacher, and it worked out well, and paved the way for us to have the opportunity to teach together later on. And here we are, seventeen years after I left the country, with our books coming out within weeks of each other! I’m very glad that we kept in touch (thank goodness for email) and that we’ve been able to see each other fairly regularly too.

Vicky: I’ve learned so much from our friendship. In the early days it was about the craft of writing itself, but also about publishing. I’ve watched your work go through a creative renaissance since you started working with indie publishers like Biblioasis and And Other Stories. Without them you wouldn’t have published those two wonderful collections of stories, both nominated for the Giller Prize. Your example encouraged me to gather my own short fiction together and to approach Holland Park Press.

Kathy: I like that ours is not just a writing friendship. We help each other through the ups and downs of the writing life and we share our stories and worries about our kids, husbands and work.

Vicky: And we have the long view. We know the road that each of us has travelled and we can check in with one another about what’s important.

 

Kathy Page’s eighth novel, Dear Evelyn, was published on 6 September 2018 by And Other Stories in the UK and  Biblioasis in Canada, and is forthcoming in Germany. You can find out more about her work at  http://www.kathypage.info/

 

Vicky Grut’s first book Live Show, Drink Included: Collected Stories is published by Holland Park Press on 5 October 2018. You can follow her on Twitter @VickyGrut. Her website is: www.vickygrut.com

 

 

Edited by Clêr Lewis. Clêr has an MA in creative writing from Goldsmiths, University of London, and is  working on her first novel.

 

 

 

 

Louise Doughty and Jacqui Lofthouse: Tortoises Rather Than Hares

A Class Act

Jacqui: I first met Louise twenty years ago, at the University of East Anglia, on a photo shoot for the Sunday Telegraph. We had both studied there, for our MA in Creative Writing under Malcolm Bradbury, but in different years.

Class Act
Jacqui Lofthouse (middle in black) and Louise Doughty (behind her to the left in polka dots).

It’s a moody photograph (the photographer told us ‘don’t smile, you’ll look stupid’) but the actual mood was celebratory. Louise was wearing a sleeveless polka dot dress and had a brilliant suntan. She looked very stylish and cool. We were both excited about the publication of our first novels. Louise’s was already out and mine was about to appear. I still couldn’t quite believe that I was about to be published by Hamish Hamilton and was mixing with other published authors.

Louise: Jacqui struck me immediately as enviably calm and serene.  We swapped notes on being students on the UEA MA and how neither of us felt regarded as the stars of our year – we laughed about that, and about how we were tortoises rather than hares.

The Polymath and the Will of Steel

Jacqui: Louise has been more focussed than me over the years, in terms of her writing, whereas I’ve been more distracted by entrepreneurial ventures, such as setting up my business coaching writers, but also by other art forms, returning to my love of drama and even having an interlude training to be a drama teacher. Right now, for example, I’m developing the business, finishing a second draft of a play, in discussion with a filmmaker and attending screen acting classes. Louise is focusing on her latest novel full-time. Some of this relates to financial decisions, but I think it’s also about our character types. She has a will of steel and I can’t stop myself diversifying.

Louise: Jacqui is more of a polymath than me: she’s much more plugged in to social media, has trained as a coach and run her own business.  I’ve focused very much on the novels and although that’s paid off to a certain extent I think her life is more interesting and varied than mine.

The Unrest Cure

Jacqui: One dinner that particularly stays with me was the night when I told Louise I was planning to train as a secondary school drama teacher. In the end, it was only a two year interlude, but it felt hard breaking the news that I was going to do something so different and apparently out of character. I was ready for a change, what Saki calls the ‘unrest cure’. I wanted to give something back to young people, to be more ‘out in the world’ but I remember, at that time, also feeling somewhat jaded with the literary world and saying ‘but what would you do?’ I don’t think Louise had an answer but I imagine she was thinking ‘I’d rather starve in my garret than do something as crazy as that!’ But she was gracious enough not to try to hold me back from something that I so clearly wanted to do. Those two years, in fact, served to remind me how vital writing is in my life; how impossible it is for me to do without it.

Girl Novelists’ Dry Martini Club

Louise: At one point, just for a laugh, we formed something called the Girl Novelists’ Dry Martini Club.  There were five of us and an agreement that whenever one of us signed a book deal, we would all go out for martinis.  It started out as just an in-joke between a group of friends but it got picked up by the media – I think I mentioned it on Radio 4’s Midweek – and the next thing we knew it was mentioned in articles and we received letters from women asking if they could join.  I thought it was a hoot when the Club made it into Jacqui’s satirical novel The Modigliani Girl.  Almost every aspect of writing and the writing world gets satirised in that book.

Silent 3

Jacqui: Louise introduced me to the novelist Charles Palliser at a reading we did together. I was awestruck because an old beau of mine had bought me a copy of Charles’ novel The Quincunx so it was clearly the book to have! Meeting Charles, who had real literary kudos, made me feel incredibly grown up, but more importantly, he is now a genuine friend, whose devotion to writing and books never fails to inspire. In turn, Charles introduced me to a number of other writers and we still meet for an annual dinner each January at Louise’s home and talk about the year we’ve had, sharing the ups and downs of the writing life – and indeed, of life beyond writing.

Louise: This writing group is Silent 3 (don’t ask me why it’s called that, no idea), which was set up by Robert Irwin, a renowned Arabic scholar who also writes science fiction. The group used to be very large and meet in a pub in central London once a month but has shrunk to a hard-core now and every January we all have dinner at my house and review our writing years – another member brings the food and I do the long table etc.

Louise Doughty and Jacqui Lofthouse
Louise Doughty and Jacqui Lofthouse

Rollercoaster

Louise: When I look back over the twenty years I’ve been publishing, it strikes me just how essential my writing friends have been: my other close writing buddy is the novelist Jill Dawson, but along with her and Jacqui there is a wider circle of writing friends, mostly women but not exclusively, who I feel I have really grown up with.  Those friends are incredibly important, partly because you know each other’s personal and domestic lives as well, but also because you know that the successes are hard-fought for and well-earned and the disappointments often arbitrary.  A writer’s life is such a rollercoaster of success and disappointment that it’s invaluable having friends that will understand and support you whatever part of the ride you are on.  Friends are far more important, at the end of the day, than finding an agent or a publisher.

Louise Doughty is the author of seven novels including Apple Tree Yard and Whatever You Love, which was shortlisted for the Costa Novel Award and longlisted for the Orange Prize for Fiction. She is also a critic and cultural commentator and broadcasts regularly for the BBC.

Jacqui Lofthouse is the author of four novels including Bluethroat Morning and The Modigliani Girl. She runs a mentoring and literary consultancy service for writers The Writing Coach.