How We Met: Esther Freud & Alexandra Pringle
'I gave her a kiss and suddenly thought, "I hope she doesn't think I'm a mad lesbian"'
Sunday 27 March 2011
Esther Freud, 47
An award-winning novelist, Freud is best known for her semi-autobiographical novel 'Hideous Kinky', which was made into a film starring Kate Winslet. She lives in north London with her husband and three children
The day I met Alexandra was a very important moment in my life. It was in February 1991 and my new agent had arranged a meeting with someone from the publisher Hamish Hamilton, for my first novel. Alexandra, who was the editorial director there, swept in out of the snow with her beautiful hair tied up in a bun, looking staggeringly romantic. She told me she'd love to publish it and I remember thinking, I love you already.
After a few years, she left publishing to become a literary agent – and she became my agent, which was heavenly, as I could now call her about anything at all.
Our friendship was officially established when she joined Bloomsbury in 1999. I remained with Hamish Hamilton as my publisher, but we stayed in touch and met up as friends, and whenever I had an issue with my work, such as with my third novel, Gaglow, I'd get in touch. I remember her saying, "I'm so sorry, I can't bear to say this, but I don't feel this strand of the story works." It was a relief to hear someone being honest.
About 11 years ago, her marriage was coming to an end when we were both living in Hampstead. She was feeling so sad, while I felt so overwhelmed by my affection for her, I put my arm around her and gave her a kiss on the cheek, before suddenly thinking, I hope she doesn't think I'm a mad lesbian or something.
We've been to many festivals together. For one in Morocco a few years ago, we spent three days in a hotel, talking and talking, and I thought, "I don't know why I'm not being published by such a good friend." So I moved to Bloomsbury.
We both love shopping and we've spent a lot of time sloping off to look at bedspreads, parasols, slippers, earrings. We have scarily similar tastes. We drove down to Suffolk together once when we both had places there, and I remember going to a little town with her and splitting up to have a look round; I went into a junk shop and saw a wonderful, embroidered stool. I went away to think about it, and on my way back to buy it, I bumped into her, walking back down the road with it; I couldn't believe it.
Alexandra Pringle, 58
The editor-in-chief of Bloomsbury Publishing, Pringle looks after authors including Donna Tart, William Boyd and Esther Freud. She lives in London with her new husband
I fell in love with Esther's first book as soon as I started reading it. I really connected with it, as my mum's from Morocco [where the book is set] and at the time I had a five-year-old daughter, too. It was snowing when I was supposed to meet her, so I got to her agent's late, in a swirl of snow. I'd already lost my heart to her novel and here was this lovely young woman sitting there with enormous green eyes and an intense look on her face; there was an instant attraction and I felt like I already knew a piece of her past.
At the end of the meeting I had to go rescue my car, as I'd dumped it a few miles away and Esther said, "I'll drive you." She got into her beat-up car and drove through the thick snow with such aplomb, it was really dashing.
I was so nervous for her when the first reviews started coming out for [her 1992 debut] Hideous Kinky. I wasn't sure if they would see the beauty of her writing as I did, but I needn't have worried and I was so proud when she was named one of Granta's 20 best young British novelists.
In some ways I'm her most enthusiastic reader; she has a wonderfully funny eye on the world that appeals to me – though there was one historical novel she sent me some chapters of, and I had problems with them. I felt like a murderer telling her it didn't work.
When I left my home in Hampstead during my divorce, 11 years ago, it was the hardest thing to deal with, but Esther gave me a set of her keys and said, "If you need a bed for night, come any time." She was offering sanctuary and it was a fantastic gesture of friendship.
I had a place near hers in Southwold in Suffolk, so we would go to the beach with our children and chat while they messed around. Her son Albie adored my son Daniel, so he was always going over to cuddle him, which felt really special.
Some of our loveliest times have been going away to literary festivals; to Jaipur, Mumbai, Marrakesh. We love the souks, but Esther is a lousy bargainer. She is much sweeter than me and wants to give as much money as she can to the person who's selling, while I'm saying, "No! I know I can get a much better price." I love the drama of haggling.
I've watched her grow up, meet her husband and start a family, so I have a slightly maternal feeling towards Esther. My kid's all grown up now, and I feel that when hers have too, we'll have all these years to have a life together.
Esther Freud's new novel, 'Lucky Break' (Bloomsbury, £11.99), is out on 4 April
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