'Love You Madly': a balancing act between authors and best friends

Daisy Jones and Lucinda Hooley talk to Charlotte Bauer about writing a novel not only with a childhood friend but long-distance, via letters and email

24 August 2022 - 12:19 By Charlotte Bauer
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A thoroughly modern romance with a sly wink at what Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility might look like if genteel young ladies crashed motorbikes, smoked a million cigarettes and took their suitors to bed. Daisy Jones and Lucinda Hooley talk to Charlotte Bauer about the joys and perils of youth, self-publishing and BFFs.

Charlotte Bauer: Love You Madly is about so many things we can all relate to — loss, loyalty, betrayal, forgiveness, self-discovery ... not forgetting the misread signs and misplaced passions essential to all the best love stories. Take us back to how the story began and how the plot thickened.

Lucinda Hooley: We’d always dreamed of writing fiction, but non-fictional writing careers and families had been the focus of decades. Daisy put the idea out there, to write romantic comedy, because that’s the genre we adore.

CB: You’ve been friends forever and the novel was in part based on the letters — handwritten and duly preserved — you wrote to each other during a formative time in your adult lives when you inhabited very different worlds. Did you have an inkling you might want to do something with the letters one day?

Daisy Jones: Yes, we wanted to share some of the writing. But it was so personal! Then I remembered Bridget Jones’s Diary, which is loosely based on Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. The plot of Sense and Sensibility had the stories of not one but two girls in it. And it meant we could avoid writing about our actual selves (and almost everyone we knew).

CB: Your main characters — sisters Mare (rash) and Mielie (rational) Ashford — not only resemble the Dashwood sisters in Sense and Sensibility, but bear similarities to you as authors of Love You Madly. Did Mare and Mielie chime with your real-life personalities and experiences at the time?

LH: In real life I’m the youngest of three sisters, not the eldest. But Mielie’s experiences and feelings are very much rooted in my own, from that time — specifically waitressing, trying to become an actress in London, and dealing with long-distance love (and infidelity).

DJ: It was obvious who should take which storyline. Though Elinor and Marianne are particularly rational and rash in relation to each other. It’s part of a family dynamic. At home, Marianne is the girlish, heart-on-sleeve romantic and Elinor tries to predict and control. In new relationships, they find they have to dig deeper.

CB: You also co-wrote Love You Madly long-distance, mostly via email. Did it in any way feel like a continuation of your youthful correspondence?

LH: Corresponding frequently again was like getting back on a very familiar bicycle and speeding downhill. You just had to hold on tight.

DJ: That was part of the joy of it. We agreed on what plot points we had to cover, letter by letter, and we’d send each other one letter a week. The whole of the first draft was in letter form.

CB: Collaborating on a project — never mind a novel, never mind with a best friend — is a potentially risky business. How did you divvy up the labour and did you always agree about everything?

LH: The things that drive me craziest about Daisy’s creative process, which is completely different from mine, are what extended me most. It was 'important to recognise' — haha, it was blindingly obvious — early on, what different styles and ways of working we were bringing to the party. And it was mostly a party, but also quite a balancing act. We challenged each other the whole time, and none of it would have been possible without pantechnicons of respect plus a shared sense of humour. Plus genuine love.

DJ: I wrote reams and Lucinda focused on telling the bloody story. She kept us on track and she’s a brilliant editor. In all honesty, it probably helped that we were living in different provinces. If we’d been writing together I would have wasted time being chatty and Lucinda might have become strict and I would have sulked while she cleared away the tea things.

CB: The narrative is often hilarious yet you manage to make us care about your characters in more serious ways too: treading a line between funny and heartfelt ain’t easy. Was this something you had to consider during the writing?

LH: We were aiming for tears and laughter in equal measure, all along. They’re mutually intensifying. We did end up chopping a lot of the 'heartfelt' from earlier drafts, but it was necessary to get it on the page in the first instance, and in the end it helped us to make things funnier.

CB: After a publishing deal fell through you decided to go ahead and self-publish, an increasingly popular way for authors to skip the middleman and engage directly with their audience. Would you recommend it?

DJ: Sure. Don’t be wanting and wishing forever. Choose freedom. But pay an editor. Pay a cover designer. Stump up for decent paper. And be prepared for a lot of admin. Know there are competitions you’ll be barred from entering. But also know it’s possible to produce a book any publisher would be proud of, to sell more than they would, and to pocket all the profits.

CB: Self-publishing also meant you had to do all the marketing yourselves which, going by the media coverage the book has had plus a coveted slot at this year's Franschhoek Literary Festival, you’ve done brilliantly. What did you learn and would you do it again?

DJ: Social media is a big deal, obviously. It’s a good idea to pay a young person to do it. They know their way around. And don’t be shy to contact media folks and festival organisers. You’re promoting your book, not yourself.

CB: Speaking of which, would you write another book together? Please?

LH: As Mare writes to Johnny: “I’ll think about it. I am thinking about it. I’m seriously thinking about it.”

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