We are delighted to welcome award-winning novelist, Jill Dawson, to our third and final salon in this series. Jill will be helping us to come up with strategies for improving diversity in the literary world.
Jill Dawson is the author of nine novels and winner of an Eric Gregory Award for poetry. Fred and Edie, her third novel, published in 2001, was shortlisted for the Orange and Whitbread prizes and voted ‘one of fifty essential novels by a living author’. The Great Lover, about the poet Rupert Brooke, was a best-seller and Richard and Judy book-club choice. Her seventh novel, Lucky Bunny, won a Fiction Uncovered award. The Tell-Tale Heart was nominated for the Folio Prize. Her latest, about the writer Patricia Highsmith, is The Crime Writer, to be published 2016. In addition Jill is a tutor of creative writing, credited with bringing many new writers to publication through the one to one mentoring scheme she set up, Gold Dust (www.gold-dust.org.uk).
Please join Jill and us this coming Thursday for drinks, snacks and fruitful conversation.
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.
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.