Today I am delighted to welcome a new guest to the blog.
Zoe Wheddon, author of Jane Austen's Best Friend, talks to us about friendship. Welcome Zoe and thank you for writing such a beautiful post for this, your first visit.
You Got A Friend in Me
‘If you wanna be my lover, you gotta get with my friends’ sang the Spice Girls, words that believe it or not could have been written by Jane Austen, (had she been a songstress and born a few hundred years later.) During my research for Jane Austen’s Best Friend: The Life and Influence of Martha Lloyd I discovered that friendship really did mean everything to Jane. She had a very small circle of friends and was close as close could be to her elder sister Cassandra, but the friend that she schemed to be with, the family that she chose for herself, as they say – was a woman called Martha Lloyd.
Ten years older than her they at first seemed an unlikely pairing when it came to being best friends. But kindred spirits they were. To the point that when Jane received a proposal of marriage from a very charming suitor (with all the right connections and an Estate in the Hampshire countryside to boot) after initially accepting him, one long fretful night later, in which she faced losing herself, her literary dreams and any real say over her day-to-day decisions, she broke off the engagement. Jane knew in her heart what she wanted (what she really really wanted I can hear some of you singing at the back!) and that was to be free to follow her creative impulses, with her best friend Martha and her sister Cassandra nearby. She was simply not prepared to give any of that up.
As well as being the theme of my book, friendship turned out to be at the heart of my own writing journey. In fact, everything began with the hand of friendship offered by Catherine Curzon, an author, who contacted me after reading my blog, saying that she wanted to ‘pay it forward’ and would I like to write something to pass on to her publisher? I did and a long way down the road later I was offered the chance to publish my book with Pen and Sword. I still remember that when the email came 9 months after I had sent something off, I thought it was a phishing scam and it took my grown-up kids to reassure me that no, this was not an IT hoax but a bonefide blessing.
From thereon in friendships began to spring up all around me; the kind publishing team held my hand throughout the process of writing a first draft, editing, proofreading, and finally printing and publishing. I could never have imagined that so many people would have helped me and with such joyful hearts. Authors like our lovely Heidi, were so kind to me behind the scenes, encouraging me and believing in me and responding to my cries for help and reassurance.
Many of these new friends I have still never met in person but have only ever conversed with over the internet or on the phone. One of these, Karrie Elizabeth and I met on Instagram. Karrie paints the most gorgeous pictures of houses, cottages, shops and pubs near to where she lives. She has an incredible and curious talent for conjuring up luscious watercolours on the screen. I had followed her for a while and loved the romantic qualities of her style. One day we got to chatting, I explained my vision for the cover of the book and asked her if she would be able to create an illustration for me? We set up a Pinterest page together and had lots of fun collecting and collating different images and I sent her the scruffiest, vaguest, scrawl of a sketch showing her how I envisaged the jacket front cover. What Karrie created was the most beautiful and eye-catching illustration, it literally took my breath away and I will treasure it forever. I now have it on everything – a paint by numbers, my screen saver on my phone, on a pair of earrings! She even made me bookmarks. I am absolutely in love with it. It is exactly what I had imagined, only infinitely better in her skilled and creative hands.
Other People along the way kindly gave me permission to use pictures, drew me images, created me a family tree graphic and gave me their time to simply chat or to show me around a part of Martha’s world. Since publication others have talked about my book, posted about it online and said wonderful things about it, people from all around the world have attended my virtual launch party or come along to an online talk and showed up with such kindness and interest. All these friendly gestures have just blown me away. I had not been expecting that when I sat down to try and make an idea that I had had come to life. Nor could I have imagined my dreams of support from my literary heroes, best-selling authors such as Lucy Worsley, Paula Byrne, Rose Servitova and Natalie Jenner coming true; that they would even read my book let alone say such magical things about it too.
But when all is said and done, I think the best friends to me during the whole book birthing process were the people who surrounded me in my everyday life. My work colleagues who smiling, patiently asked how my book was going, my friends who asked after it and my family, who supported me, wrote me encouraging notes to stick on my desk, made me coffee after coffee that I often left to go cold, left me alone to think and to write without making me feel guilty, and sat as study buddies in the early mornings, even on holiday.
What I truly learnt is that when it comes to our creative dreams or our desires, we have to be our own best friend. We have to actively refuse to listen to that negative voice in our heads and not let it talk us out of something we deep down really want to try. The best friend to my book, in the end was me. I knew I wanted, more than anything, to tell Martha’s story and to share it with the world. I wrote myself notes, I created a little routine to help me settle down to write, I lit my favourite wood crackling fire scented candle and added postcards of Jane and even her wallpaper to the sides of my desk as little atmosphere settlers. I made schedules and day after day I sat in the chair and just did it. I told myself not to worry about how good the writing was and instead I asked myself ‘what if you can?’
There were many emotions to deal with swirling around like the weather, sometimes I typed through storms inside me; sometimes I felt like I was dancing on air, with the sun at my back and light breezes ruffling my hair. When I finally sent off the completed first draft of the manuscript, I literally shook like a willow tree both during and after pressing send. For a full half an hour my teeth were chattering and my tummy was doing cartwheels. But when sometime later I sat at the bench in Jane and Martha’s garden at Jane Austen’s House, Chawton, where Jane wrote and rewrote her own novels, I felt the warm calming inner peace of a summer’s day enfold me. I imagined Jane and Martha sitting beside me, holding my hands, as we smiled at each other. That day, I knew it to be true, just as the Spice Girls claimed, ‘Friendship never ends’ or as Jane Austen put it ‘Friendship is certainly the finest balm.’
Instagram – Zoe_Wheddon
Website – www.zoewheddon.co.uk
Twitter – @ZoeWheddon
Facebook – @authorzoewheddon