I’m delighted to welcome Jo Platt to Linda’s Book Bag today as part of the launch celebrations for her latest novel It Was You. It Was You was published by Canelo on 31st October 2016 and is available for purchase in e-book here.
Today Jo is telling us all about friendship which is at the heart of It Was You.
It Was You
When life falls apart, friendship will keep you together
Alice Waites has been happily single for almost two years.
But when her close friends in The Short Book Group gently question her current distinct lack of interest in men, she accepts that maybe it is time to deal with the past and open herself up to new possibilities.
Oh yes, the time has come to go dating again.
However, things soon unravel for Alice as she uncovers the secret heartache and hopes of those around her. And her most surprising discovery is the life-changing truth which she has kept hidden, even from herself…
A Guest Post by Jo Platt
Friendship, and what makes someone a good friend, isn’t the easiest of topics to dissect. Not only are generalisations difficult to apply – because we are not, thank goodness, all drawn to the same kind of people – the whole subject is also a bit of a moving target for us as individuals too.
If you’d asked me when I was six years old, what qualities I looked for in a friend, I would have answered, ‘A Raleigh Chopper, a bag of Quavers and a willingness to share.’ By the time I hit my late teens, I had deepened a little and whilst transportation, namely access to a car, was admittedly still quite high on my friendship wish list, it was at least now sitting alongside ‘kindness to others’ and ‘a listening ear’. Entering the workplace after university, further shaped and broadened my view of friendship. Suddenly, integrity ie ‘not selling me down the river in order to get promoted’ shot up the rankings in terms of who I most wanted to spend my wine bar evenings with. And as I stumbled into my thirties and motherhood, a shared approach to parenting, coupled with empathy over sleep deprivation and painful boobs, gained in importance.
So what follows is a very personal snapshot of my middle-aged take on friendship, homing-in on just a few of the qualities which, as I career towards fifty, I value most in my friends.
I’m going kick things off with a very grateful nod towards the tolerance and inclusivity of my friends. I love that they choose to embrace and celebrate not only our similarities, but also our differences. And, most importantly of all, that they are completely non-judgmental over my sorry lack of culinary skills.
And my friends are laid-back about a lot more than my inability to cook. I don’t mean they couldn’t care less because, in fact, they couldn’t care more. But they are very busy people – midwives, carers, small-business owners – and, as such, they retain a sense of proportion and they don’t sweat the small things. They are a day-to-day reality check for me.
I can’t think of one close friend whom I could describe as lacking in patience, so it’s clearly a character trait to which I am drawn. It’s an enormously calming quality and has proved particularly important when friends are explaining issues which I have a need to grasp, but in which I have little or no interest. One of my most patient friends, for example, is determined that I should know how to operate, and appreciate the benefits of, my home network. He talks me through it, slowly and in depth, whenever the need arises, and despite my repeated failure to retain the information, or to feel the love, he never loses his rag.
I rate honesty, as you might expect, as an essential constituent of all my friendships. But I’m not in denial about the degree to which it is required. I do not want total, unedited honesty about absolutely everything. And my longstanding friends understand that. For example, they will tell me I look better in the over-the-knee dress than the mini skirt. But they’ll make the choice an issue of fabric, or colour, rather than crushing me with references to my orange peel thighs and Pilsbury Doughboy knees.
And finally, communication is, without doubt, key to my closest friendships and a factor perhaps best illustrated by the friends who were the inspiration for both of my novels – my book group. They are the intelligent, discerning readers I always kept in mind when writing my first novel, Reading Upside Down, and they are the reason It Was You centres on a book group. However, unlike the small book group of six in It Was You, seventeen of us make up the Bristol group. It’s an unwieldy number but, as I said earlier, we’re fans of inclusivity and we didn’t want to turn anyone away. We used to have a gong, which we passed around and banged loudly whenever we wanted to make a point. But everyone got tired of having to put down their wine to pick up the gong, so now we just shout a lot, often starting our literary observations with waving arms and the word ‘Oi!’. And what has made the book group such a happy and successful one for over seven years, and what has helped to keep us together as an eclectic, and perhaps even unlikely, group of friends for even longer, is a shared and equal determination not only to be heard but, more importantly, to listen. And that, together with tolerance, equanimity, patience and honesty is, for me, at this moment in time, what friendship is all about*.
*Footnote: Plus an across-the-board willingness to share knickers when I forgot to pack any underwear for a mums’ weekend away (Exmoor 2014). Thank you, ladies.
About Jo Platt
Jo Platt was born in Liverpool in 1968 and, via the extremely winding route of rural Wiltshire, London, Seattle and St Albans, is now settled, with a husband and two children, in Bristol.
After studying English at King’s College London, her first paid employment was as a besuited office worker in a large City institution. After ten years in the City, Jo escaped into motherhood and part-time employment, first as an assistant teacher in a Seattle pre-school and, more latterly, as a Bristol-based secretary.
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