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Make Friends, Make Friends, Never Ever Break Friends

Jessica reflects on friendships which have been a key theme in her Whitsborough Bay trilogy

It’s been over a week since the Brexit decision was announced. Don’t worry. This isn’t a political post, but it was the reaction to Brexit which prompted it. On the Friday morning, I woke up to a Facebook newsfeed full of predominantly negative reactions to the news. Family against family. Friends against friends. And there were several comments from those whose opinions differed including the phrase, ‘I hope we won’t fall out over this…’ Yet some people have. Friendships have been massively tested and some sadly won’t overcome the passionate differences in opinion.

Which got me thinking about friends I’ve had who are no longer in my life and why that is.

When I was in primary school, I had a best friend called Briony, but she moved to Norfolk when we were about eight. I was also really close to a girl called Nicola who lived at the top of our street. But her family moved away too. Claire became my best friend after that and I was thrilled when we were put in the same form class when we started at senior school. The problem with that was that it discouraged me from trying to make other friends and Claire obviously felt the same because, when we heard that we were going to be in the same form for the next two years, she turned to me and said, ‘I don’t want to sit next to you next year. I want to sit next to Vicky.’ Ouch!

I could write reams about friendships that have come and gone: lives going in different directions, living in different parts of the country (or even world), no longer working for the same company, relationship break-ups resulting in friends divided, and so on. But I want to talk instead about one specific friendship.

“We won’t always be friends,” Emma told after we met about twenty years ago. “Friendships come and go when your circumstances change and there’s no point trying to stay in touch.” I laughed and thought that this was such a strange thing to say. Of course we’d stay friends!

Sadly, she was right.

We’d met on an adventure weekend organised through our work’s sports & social club. I lived in Birmingham and she lived in Cambridge but we regularly met up on work sports & social weekends, and a bit group of us often got together in between, usually for parties at my house as I was pretty central to where everyone lived around the country.

Then I left the company which meant no more sports & social events for me. We stayed in touch via phone because Emma had a long train commute and would get bored and phone everyone she knew. It seemed at first that a change of company wasn’t going to disrupt things. Then the phone calls became less frequent and I started to wonder if her prediction was going to come true. I hoped not.

I needed to go to Cambridge with work so I phoned Emma well in advance to see if I could stay over. I left several phone messages and sent texts (in a time before social media) but got no answer. I reluctantly rang her at work just in case she’d changed her mobile and not told me. The person who answered the phone, after tracking Emma down, came back on the line and said, “Emma’s in a meeting, but she says she knows what you want, and she’s not interested. Please don’t call again.” And that was that. Friendship over and a valuable lesson learned.

Ever since then, friendships have fascinated me. When I started writing Searching for Steven, I knew my protagonist, Sarah, was going to have two best friends. The purpose was for them to offer contradictory opinions about the situation in which Sarah found herself. I wanted them to be friends from different points in Sarah’s life I made Elise her best friend since primary school and Clare from her university days. I also wanted them to hate each other. However, as the series developed and the three women were tested in different situations, I wanted the dynamics of the friendship to change with Elise and Clare becoming closer and Sarah finding herself on the outside. In my eyes, this was as important a part of the story as the romances.

I was in the very fortunate position of being offered two publishing deals. They were very different propositions and I was actively in discussion with the publishers who’d made the first offer before the second came through. The publisher hadn’t seen the second and third book, so the three-book deal was made on the strength of book one alone. The offer was on the table, but they asked for a synopsis of the rest of the series and suddenly alarm bells started ringing because, when I told them that I had a friendship theme as well as the romance, they weren’t too keen. They preferred not to have secondary themes and, because my books were a bit longer than they normally went for, they’d prefer that I cut out the friendship theme in order to cut words. Eek! That wasn’t the story I wanted to write. So when the second publishing deal came in and they didn’t want to remove my secondary theme, I went with them instead.

Friendship will remain an important part of my future books too. My fifth full-length novel includes a major friendship betrayal and my sixth one will involve a secret which two friends have kept hidden for years. I haven’t written them yet, though! I just know what they’re about. The friendship in book four is a little different because it’s actually between mother and daughter. I’m really looking forward to exploring that one.

Have a great week and, if you haven’t been in touch with some of your friends for a while, why not pick up the phone or send them an email?


Jessica xx

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