Kate Walker is talking to the Pink Heart Society about friends, and one very special friend in particular.
I suppose it was inevitable. I knew it was coming anyway. I knew that I had a PHS blog post coming
up for this week – the first week in July – and that Ali would send me the date for my post to go up. I also knew that in that first week in July there was one date that stood out like a sore thumb, one date I couldn’t avoid even if I wanted to. One date that was special – one date I couldn’t avoid remembering – but one that was one I was going to find specially hard this year.
But then July 2nd is a Thursday and the notes for posting to the blog for the PHS say ‘this is the day when writers discuss what they do when they’re away from the keyboard. . . Basically, it’s all about you.’
And what, after family, could be more important in a writer’s life than my topic today.
Because Thursday July 2nd is the date of one of my dearest friends’ birthday. But this year it’s also the first date I’ve had to celebrate it on my own. Because last year my dear friend Pat just made it to her birthday – five days later she died after a courageous and strong fight with breast cancer.
This week is also the anniversary of the day we met. 35 years ago, in the middle of the first week of Wimbledon, there was a ring at my doorbell and a tall, slim blonde woman came into my life. We both had 3 year old boys at playschool. We were both keen to join the ‘Meet A Mum’ group to get to know new people, make new friends. Pat was the first to arrive, we shared a discussion about John Lloyd playing at Wimbledon, and by the time anyone else turned up we were friends for life. A life that wasn’t quite as long as we had hoped it would be, but one that filled with the special things that come from having real friends.
We shared our sons’ growing up. We introduced our husbands and found they became friends too; we supported each other through the loss of parents. We walked a succession of dogs – Sam, Danny, Kirstie, and the silent Jack who is now helping her widower by being a silent shadow at his heels wherever he goes. We talked about anything and everything under the sun. We didn’t always agree – a vital part of true friendship is having different opinions and it not mattering at all. We trusting each other completely.
And that trust was important when she was the only person I shared my dreams of being a writer with - other than the Babe Magnet. She read, not my first attempt, that was too bad for me to share with anyone, but the second - ‘Garrett of Stoneroyd’. That version was rough and unfinished, and it really wasn’t her thing (there’s that ability to disagree and not mind)/ But when she gave it back to me all she said was ‘don’t give up.’ And I didn’t. And Garrett of Stoneroyd became Broken Silence which, if anyone’s read it, is dedicated ‘To Pat who was there at the beginning.’
There are other books I could have included her in the dedication. A Question of Honour because we sat over coffee and I suddenly talked out the whole story and she listened and said ‘Write it.’ And lots of people have asked me about the dedication in Olivero’s Outrageous Proposal . There’s Pat again. She listened when a book wasn’t going well. She happily cancelled coffee/lunch/dog walking if the writing was working and I needed the time and concentration.
Writers need those sorts of friends. We spend so much time at our desk, focussing on fictional characters, that we can start to get word crazy and live in our imaginary worlds. Friends keep us in the real world. They show us how other women live – the ones who don’t have to deal with those voices in their heads all the time. They can help us just by listening to the discussion of a difficult knot in a plot, or put in an important question ‘Why?’ to remind us that we have to convince the reader not just ourselves.
Sadly Pat is no longer here to do that.
But I’m lucky – my career as a writer has led me to meet friends I would never have expected. Friends who are fellow writers – from Australia, America – romance conferences are great way to meet people who share my love of stories and characters and words.
The courses I teach have brought such unexpected bonuses in the students who start out as one of a group, a face in the audience, and then come to be real friends. Friends who I’m so happy to see again and again – and some of them have made the journey from student to published author which means that I get to meet them at authors’ events instead of as students.
Even the organisers of the writing weekends/courses I run have become such friend too. Anne and Gerry Hobbs who run Writers’ Holidays have become almost like family, and the same thing has happened with Lois who runs the Relax and Write Courses. Other tutors there are so much a part of the event that it’s like a family reunion when we all get together.
I even met another of my oldest friends through books too - though in my past job as a librarian not as a writer - and after years of long distance friendship from Dubai and then Spain, now she and her husband are planning on come home to UK so I hope to see much more of her.
Summer is the time for romance writers to get together – the Conferences, RNA, RWA or Romance Writers of Australia – all great ways of renewing old friendships and making new ones. Or if you’re not attending as any published author then the courses/weekend/Writers’ Holidays are wonderful ways to meet up and make new friends.
Because writers need friends. We need that time away from the keyboard, the long talks over coffee or a bottle (or two) of wine. The laughter, the questions, the understandings and the disagreements. They’re all an important way of learning so much more about others so that the characters we write about ring true even if they’re not directly taken from our own personalities.
Thursday will be a difficult day for me. The first when I won’t be able to share that special birthday lunch with Pat, the first time in so many years I haven’t had to look for that special gift for
a special person. But I will still celebrate the 35 years I knew her. I’ll still hear that ‘Write it!’ in my head when I wonder if a plot will work. And at the same time I’ll celebrate all the wonderful friendships my life and my writing have brought me. And I’ll look forward to reunions at the courses and workshops – unfortunately I won’t be able to make the conferences this year.
Far or near, these friendships - you all know who you are – are so valuable and they enhance my life.
As I wrote in the dedication to Olivero's Outrageous Proposal:
Good friends are like stars. . . You don’t always see them, but you know they are there.
To all my valued friends – thank you for the important part you play in my life.
And to everyone with female friends, let them know how much they mean to you - and please - ask them to make sure they check their breasts regularly to keep themselves as safe as possible.
So, as I can’t find a gift for Pat this year, I’d like to share the celebration of her special day with you. Do you have a friend you’d like to nominate for a little gift to mark today?
Tell me about your friend and why you’d like to let her know how much she means to you – and I’ll get Charlie to pick out a name so that I can send a signed copy of Olivero’s Outrageous Proposal to her in your name.
My latest romance is Olivero's Outrageous Proposal published in April in Harlequin Presents and Mills & Boon Modern Romance. Coming next is Destined For The Desert King which is published in December this year.
Then there's the 12 Point Guide to Writing Romance, the newest edition of which is available on Kindle or a revised and updated paperback edition now available on Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com