Ciara Doorley was Emma Hannigan’s editor for nine years. The author passed away before the publishing house was able to give feedback on her final novel, ‘The Gift of Friends’. Here, Ciara writes the letter she was never able to send.
Emma rang the office late 2017 to say that she was putting the finishing touches to her 2019 novel The Gift of Friends- giving it a final read before she sent it in. I knew that she had been in a lot of pain for the past few months and I couldn’t believe that, with everything going on, she had completed her new book.
But that was Emma. She delivered ahead of deadlines, she edited in quick-smart time and trusted us with ‘the business’ side of things. Emma always, modestly, attributed her successes to her book team but, of course, she was the star. Her popularity and bestselling success was down to her huge talent, warmth, sense of fun, humour, imagination, and joy for life, all of which she brought to every page of her 14 books.
During the course of our conversation however, Emma went on to say that she might not be able to do the book signing tour that had been arranged for the reissue of her memoir All to Live For. I knew that this would be a blow for her.
As much as Emma loved the writing process and the escape it gave her from her illness, she relished the signing tours: that one time of the year where writers emerge from their writing dens to meet the booksellers. And on every signing tour, Emma went all out.
Freshly-baked brownies and treats for the booksellers, and props wherever she could manage it: a ‘wedding’ car adorned in ribbon for The Wedding Promise, and then there was the signing tour for her best seller Driving Home for Christmas. Nobody did Christmas like Emma — it was her favourite time of the year — and the signing tour was the perfect excuse for her to revel in the sparkle: flashing, battery-operated earrings, Christmas bobble hairbands and extra-special home-baked treats.
She loved being a writer and never once took anything for granted. When Headline came on board to co-publish Emma in the UK, they felt the full Emma Hannigan force — no request was too big or too small for her. They fell in love with her as much as we had done here.
So when Emma told me that she might not be able to visit the shops that autumn, that’s when I knew that this time was different. I tried to explain on the phone that it didn’t matter that she wouldn’t make it around this time, we had the publication of Letters to My Daughters coming up in early 2018 and everyone knew that she was going through a hard time, but I could hear the upset in her voice.
She hated letting people down and she was frustrated that the illness she had fought against for so long was affecting her life in this way. In all the years I knew her, cancer never once got in the way of Emma Hannigan living her life. She refused to let it.
Emma didn’t get a chance to do her signing for Letters to My Daughters, which was published in February 2018, just weeks before she passed away, but she had been working away, creating another spellbinding book,
The Gift of Friends, for her readers. I didn’t get to send Emma editorial notes for The Gift of Friends as she was too ill. So Emma, I’m really pleased to share with you my thoughts below:
Dear Emma, What can I say about The Gift of Friends? I think it’s my favourite of yours yet. Do I always say that? If I do, it’s because every time you send in a new book, I’m blown away and this time is no different. Emma, I’ve been working with you for eight years now and each time you deliver a new script, I ask myself: ‘How has she done it this time?’ How has she created yet another book where, from the very first page, I find myself completely immersed in this new world and in the fate of all of the characters?
I don’t know where you come up with such storylines or characters, but you’ve outdone yourself here again. Pearl, so strong and from the beginning we’re rooting for her to stand up to the awful Seth. Nancy, what a life she has lived. She’s the glue that holds the whole of Kingfisher Road together and I loved her. Her relationship with all of the other women feels so genuine and heartfelt. Maia, who is my favourite, is pure Emma Hannigan — sparkly and sparky and not afraid to speak her mind, but vulnerable with it all and possessed of a steely determination and a fierce love for her children and the people around her. I’m also harbouring a secret crush on Freddie — is that weird!?
I’ll own it! Danielle, what I loved most about her was her relationship with her mum — complicated as mother/daughter relationships often are. And then we have Betsy, with her immediate and encompassing love for her grandson. It’s all so well done Emma, as is the journey we see all of these characters go through during the course of the book. You write women as they are: strong, flawed, vulnerable, messy, complicated, and as tough as boots when it comes to protecting those they love, but The Gift of Friends in particular is a celebration of friendship. I need these women in my life!
There is something so optimistic about The Gift of Friends and through the ups and downs of these women, I am always reassured that the nasty characters will get their just deserts and that loyalty, love and friendship will prevail. This book is a ray of sunshine, Emma, and brightened up my days so much — I was only sorry that I had to finish it. And Kingfisher Road — can I live there please?
So, on to the business, though there are some comments suggesting small changes in the script, I loved this entire book and most of the edits concern tightening here and there — very small stuff. The only slight suggestion I would have is to spin out the ending a little more so that we’re don’t know what’s going to happen just for a little while longer.
But maybe that’s just because I never wanted it to end — and I know your readers are going to feel exactly the same way. It takes talent and grit to carve out a career as a writer. Emma, we know you have grit — if flying to London in the middle of your last round of chemo to go on the Lorraine show doesn’t prove that, nothing will — but along with this grit, you have, of course, masses and masses of talent for writing books and characters people can relate to, and you’ve outdone yourself with The Gift of Friends.
When I think back to working with you for the first time on Talk to the Headscarf and now here we are eight years, number one bestsellers, copious amounts of brownies, trips to London, book awards, chats, and stories later and you have delivered The Gift of Friends, which is a true gift. I loved every single word of it and your readers will as well.
It’s been a few years since you won the RNA Award for The Secrets We Share- maybe it’s the year for The Gift of Friends? But actually, we don’t need any award to tell us what an amazing writer you are, Emma — and a massive congratulations on another spelling-binding, engrossing, wonderful book. Here’s to making this another Number One.
The Gift of Friends sparkles and shines, just like its author. Nobody in the world deserves it more than you do.
Also, on another note, I’m really happy to say that baby Alice was born in May. I hope you don’t mind, but we picked Emma for her second name. And when she asks about it, I’ll be so proud to say that she was named after an inspiring, amazing, award-winning, bestselling author whose books sit proudly on my bookshelves. I’ll also be able to tell her that I was lucky enough to work with this talented author who became a friend and who knew the importance of living every day with love, and who knew with complete certainty that there can never, ever be too much pink sparkle in our lives.
Thank you for allowing us to be a part of your writing life, Emma. Love and light, from your publishing family at Hachette.
The Gift of Friends is out now