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