Thanks so much for stopping by Fanny!
Remember that With a Friend Like you was released yesterday in paper back so make sure you grab yourself a copy!
Believable and interesting characters are the lifeblood of any novel, but where do they come from and how do you make them convincing? It’s a difficult question to answer because every novelist does it their own way.
Perhaps the best way to explain where mine come from is by looking at how I wrote my fourth novel, With a Friend Like You.
When I start out, I usually know what I want to write about, but not who. Before I even start thinking about the characters, I know the central theme, have a very rough idea of the shape of the novel and some of the key scenes that might take place along the way. Then comes the fun part.
In the case of With a Friend Like You, I wanted to write about female friendship, a subject that I find fascinating and think plays an important part in many of our lives. My question was: Can a broken friendship ever be fully repaired? In the first instance, I had to think of something terrible enough to make two old friends who knew (or thought they knew) everything about one another fall out.
Once I had that (no plot spoilers!), I was free to start imagining the sort of women this might happen to. I never base characters on people I know – that way terrible danger lies! However, I might take something someone’s said or done, or an aspect of someone’s personality then build a totally different personality around it.
I wanted Beth and Megan to be quite different from one another because I thought some humour would arise from that clash. So I made Beth a high-flying family lawyer because I liked the idea that she was managing other people’s marriages while having a hard time managing her own. She likes order and control. Her home is organized and stylish. Meanwhile Megan is her opposite. Like Beth,
she’s married with two children, but she’s a primary school teacher and very relaxed about her family’s chaotic lifestyle.
To flesh out their characters, I spent some time with a deputy primary head teacher and a family lawyer. Megan and Beth are definitely not anything like them, but they gave me some useful stories and ideas that I could weave into the plot to make my characters more convincing.
Before I began writing I made up as detailed a biography as I could for each woman, their background, their likes and dislikes. Not that I used everything I dreamed up, but it meant that I began to know them more intimately and understand what made them tick. Then I did the same (though more briefly) for their family members. That’s also when I gave them names. As I wrote, they each became more and more real to me, and more plot ideas began to pop up, until at last I was ready to start on the novel itself.
As I progressed, so the characters continued developing until they were almost (but not quite!) running the show. Things happened between them that I hadn’t entirely planned for, and things were said that I wasn’t always expecting.
Despite this, it was important that I didn’t lose control of Megan or Beth and their families. I had to ensure they were in balance with the idea behind the novel. As their feud got increasingly out of hand, I had to hang on to the reins and guide them to the conclusion I had planned for them.
Fanny Blake’s novel With a Friend Like You (Orion) is out now.
I reviewed this book back in September, when I received the hardback. Here was my review:
Beth is the organised professional lawyer with a pristine household with Jon her husband and two daughters Ella and Amy. Ella is not unlike her mother, organised, controlled, knows what she wants out of life and Amy is the complete opposite.
Megan is almost the opposite of Beth; she has a more laid back attitude to life, is a teacher in a primary school married to Pete and has a daughter Hannah and a son Jake. Megan we learn was friends with both Jon and Pete (Pete she eventually marries) who are also best friends long before Beth arrived on the scene but once she became part of the group Megan and Beth became instant friends.
The two women and their families have been very close for a number of years, holidaying together, sharing trials and tribulations, being there for each other in times of stress, each leaning on the other for support. They have a deep understanding of each other intuitively knowing what the other would think or do in a given situation so we are told.
Their easy going relationship suddenly is thrown into chaos when Ella finds she is pregnant and after initially refusing to name the father she eventually drops the bomb. This is bad enough but when Beth finds out that Ella has confided in Megan before she told her mother everything spirals out of control and the friendship of the two women and families is put to the test. Not being able to forgive Megan for not telling her Beth is also hell bent on convincing Ella to have an abortion so that she does not ruin her life.
Fanny Blake takes the reader on a journey through the friendship of both the women, their husbands and children on how this situation affects them all. It is well written and has some good emotive passages. I don't know that I particularly found this book to be funny as such, it was realistic and relevant but not laugh out loud funny as the blurb suggested it might be so that was a little disappointing. I was frustrated that after the initial news of Ella being pregnant nothing significant happened really until around page 256 when another secret is revealed that adds to the drama.
I liked Megan, I thought that Beth however was too wrapped up in herself, it appeared that whatever happened or was said she took personally and it became all about Beth when in fact it shouldn't have been. I felt sorry for Jon who she seemed to neglect, his feelings were not really considered by her she felt that everyone should be considering her feelings above all others which made her appear shallow and self-centered. She seemed to be a control freak and when this was taken away from her she couldn't cope with others taking charge of their lives. She exaggerated every situation blowing it out of all context and I felt that she made trouble and problems where they didn't really exist. I felt so sorry for her patient husband Jon forever trying to pacify her and make her see sense all the elements that she practiced for her clients as a lawyer but she failed to have in her toolbox for herself.
Megan appealed much more to me as a character; she was warm, loving, a bit scatty and easy going. Yes I could understand how she was caught in the middle and collateral damage in the crossfire and I really wanted her to tell Beth to 'get a life' and stop being such a pain in the arse but she was much too nice. And what about Pete? Megan certainly deserved better in my opinion, always away and when he was home he came across as a bit of a drunk and unconcerned in anything happening around him. Poor Megan.
Two women so close who profess to know each other so well, would have I am sure ironed out their differences sooner that these two did. Megan should have known that Beth would react badly to Ella telling her of her pregnancy first and therefore should have refused to keep such a secret from her dearest friend, so this didn't really ring true for me. In turn Beth knowing how easy going Megan was really wouldn't have felt that she couldn't have discussed this with her without turning the whole thing into a battle ground so again given the background of such closeness it didn't work for me.
Why couldn't Ella feel she could confide in her mother? This was never made clear at all. Ella although meant to be driven and focused on her career and future, a sensible logical woman appeared to fall at the first hurdle. It did come across that Ella was spoiled and indulged and perhaps that's why she behaved as she did. She came across as rather cold towards Beth and doting on Jon presumably this added to Beth's behavior in the book.
I felt that the story could have been so much shorter, it was very repetitive in parts and quite predictable in others; there were a couple of curve balls and it was well written which in my opinion saved it.
All in all this didn't really have enough happening in it to keep me sufficiently interested, in fact I felt that Beth was so miserable and self-centered that I really got past the point of caring whether it all turned out well for the two families. I thought Megan and Pete would be better off without the friendship and Megan certainly deserved a better friend and a better deal.
I did struggle to finish this book but it was mainly due to Beth being such a pain and making me feel that I wasn't engaged with her enough to care about whether she stayed friends with Megan, whether the birth of her first grandchild made her relationship with her daughter any better, or whether the long suffering Jon gave up and went to live in a hippy commune somewhere with the lovable Megan - which actually would have made a better ending! Not really believable enough for me I'm afraid. I can only give this one 3.5 stars (rounded up to 4 for Amazon and Goodreads) and that's due to a couple of good twists and liking Megan.
I would like to thank the publisher for sending this in exchange for an honest review.