About the author:
Words from Sophie Green
Friendships always seem like they should come easily. You meet someone, you have the same interests, you hang out a bit and you keep hanging out. Weeks turn into months then years and, lo, you have a longstanding friendship.
Of course, anyone who has had a long friendship knows that this isn’t the case – friendships need to be tended as much as any relationship, and it is always worth remembering that the people you most think you should be able to take for granted are the ones you absolutely must not. Just because you’ve had a friend for years doesn’t mean you’ll always have them, and it doesn’t mean they’ll always have you. And that’s just for the friendships you’ve had since young years. Making new friends once you’re settled in adult life can sometimes seem impossible.
I didn’t learn how to be a friend because I’ve had those long friendships since childhood. I was a bookish child, and academically inclined, and that sort of thing really wasn’t encouraged – by other children, or by the school system (although that’s a discussion for another time). My mother did me a great kindness in my teenage years when she told me that I wasn’t going to make friends until I was at university. And she was right – although the friend I made at that time of life wasn’t actually at university. I met her at work – at the bookshop where I spent two and a half days a week during semester and five days a week during holidays.
We had books in common, of course, and we both loved music. We’d go to see bands together at various pubs in Sydney, and we’d talk about those bands in between; music and books were our way of telling each other about ourselves, and finding a common language.
It is a testament to both of us, I think, and to the careful maintenance we’ve put into the friendship that a few weeks ago we went to see live music in a small venue in Sydney. This time it wasn’t Aussie indie rock; it was two country music artists, because Australian country music brings me particular joy and, to my delight, on that night it brought her joy too.
We’ve known each other for over twenty-five years – in that time there has been tragedy and sorrow, as well as wonder, in both of our lives – and the interests we first had in common are not the reason we’re still friends but they’re the fabric of our friendship. And the fabric of my life would be so utterly different without her that I can’t even begin to imagine what colour or texture it would be. Nor do I want to.
I have made other friends since, but I learnt how to be a friend from Isabelle. She has two sisters and I have sometimes wondered if that hasn’t given her skills that I fundamentally lacked from my childhood. I had a brother, and I knew how to be friends with him. Other girls were a mystery and, quite often, they were a torture. But she has never tortured me – or anyone else, for that matter. The open heart I encountered all those years ago is still open, for all the risks that brings in this big, bruising world.
While there are many influences on the stories I write, and no character is based on any one person, I don’t think it would be possible for me to write about friendships formed between women if I had not been fortunate to make such a friendship myself at the time I did and in the way I did.
It’s nice to have a brace of friends but we don’t really need that many people. Or maybe we don’t need many people if we only know people like my friend. I don’t know if there’s a mathematical equation that says one Isabelle is worth ten acquaintances, but I do know that one friendship set the foundation for those that came after, and for the stories that have flowed since, about women reading books on a dusty cattle station, and swimming in the ocean off Shelly Bay.