Female Friendships

Last week a friend with whom I’d lost contact called me, and as soon as I heard her voice, so familiar and welcome, the years fell away. We talked and talked, and my mood’s been buoyant ever since. We met 30 years ago in a three week residential writing workshop. We seemed such opposites, but maybe that’s what we so loved about each other. Over the years we’ve seen each other only occasionally, as we lived several states apart, and now even farther apart. L took a different career path, moving into photography, and now film making, but we still meet on common ground discussing our creative processes, and, of course, sharing our ups and downs, as women do. And we’re so proud of each other.

I’ve also been working on a paper in honor of a good friend who’s been an enormous help to me with her expertise in 14th century fashion. I’ll be presenting it next week in a session in her honor during the Medieval Congress at Western Michigan University. For the paper I’ve reviewed 9 years of email correspondence plus her notes on my manuscripts—what a treat. What laughs! Again, a mutual admiration shines through.

And there’s been a flurry of media chatter about female friendships because of the new cable series Girls—for instance, the NYT’s “The Spirit of Sisterhood Is in the Air and on the Air” (23 April).

Serendipity. I’ve begun a novel about four women bonded together to solve a mystery—Lucie Wilton, Bess Merchet, Alisoun Ffulford and Magda Digby (working title, A Woman’s Worth). At the outset they don’t all consider themselves friends, though they’re all bonded to Lucie. And even there, the dynamic between Lucie and Alisoun has often been edgy, with Lucie as the employer and maternal figure against whose real and imagined criticisms Alisoun chafes. As I explore aspects of all four that haven’t been obvious or overt in earlier books—how they approach cooperation, what stories and aspects of themselves they expose to each other—their relationships will change and grow. By the end of the novel, I hope we’ll all see them differently, more clearly.

I once sent Owen off to Wales to deepen his character by revealing more about his childhood and his current feelings regarding being a Welshman who’s spent his adult life in the service of the English king and an English archbishop, and married to a woman of English and French descent. Earlier in the series I’d revealed more about his martial past by reconnecting him with some of the men he’d led in battle. Lucie had her own revelatory crises while Owen was in Wales, but this, four women cooperating, this feels like the ultimate reveal-all for Lucie. And Bess, Alisoun and Magda.

So what’s different about a woman’s behavior when she’s alone with her female friends? Thinking about my friendships, we don’t hesitate to stand up for each other, we’re proud of each others’ accomplishments, we’re honest when it’s clear our friend wants the truth, we laugh a lot, we’re comfortable with being silly, or with tears. The deeper our friendship, the blunter we trust we can be. But a lot of this can be true of friendships with men as well. It’s difficult to describe the difference, isn’t it? There’s an ease, a relaxation, a knowing. Still exploring this.

I’d love to hear your thoughts.

5 Comments on “Female Friendships

  1. Candace,

    I’ve just come across your blog. I discovered your Owen Archer series several years ago and loved them. Last June I was finally able to travel to the UK. I was on a Globus tour and was thrilled to be stopping in York. Unfortunately, we arrived late in the afternoon, were taken by our guide to the Minster, and had very little time in the Minster before the evening service started. I looked in vain for the John Thoresby’s tomb, but alas couldn’t find it in the short time I had. I was able to find the Guild Hall, but not much else before dark. SIGH! I did find two book stores, but they looked at me like I was speaking in something other than English when I asked for the last two Owen Archer books. I guess I expected them to be in the window. I did find them on Amazon UK, which is where I will probably look for your books in the future.

    I am intrigued by the prospect of A Woman’s Worth. You are absolutely right that women are different when with their female friends. I went to the UK with my female friends. I think I did experience it differently than I would have with my husband (God love him!) 🙂 My female friends understand me in ways that he may never. Women are more intuitive for one thing. We are honest with each other. I cannot ask my husband what he calls the “damned if he does, damned if he doesn’t” questions, but my female friends will answer them honestly. And I have never laughed as much as I do with my girlfriends. Especially after some potent cider in an English pub! What wonderful medicine! I can’t wait to go again — without the tour guide!

    Love to hear from you!

    Sandra Rudd

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  2. Love your books…reading Fire in the Flint just now…fascinating to watch the change in the women in your books from demure obedient housewives to feisty, independent minded women ready to fight their corner. Love the idea of A Womans Worth…I have to admit to a real soft spot for Alisoun. Thank you for the huge amount of enjoyment you have given me and please keep up the good work.

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    • Thank you! I, too, have a soft spot for Alisoun, and since A Vigil of Spies I’ve felt her nudging me to explore how her experience at Bishopthorpe might shift something within. After all, only a woman with a strong spirit would choose Magda Digby as her role model.

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