I started writing the novel almost by accident a few years ago on a sunny day. I was rushed off my feet with work, but I wrote these lines on my lunch break: ‘I could tell you about Sylvie, but you wouldn’t believe me.’ Though writing evolves, and things change as we write, that line stayed the same. I knew I had something to say about a girl who may never tell people about herself, so I kept writing. I didn’t know what I was getting into at the time. I had really hoped it would be a short story.
I found I knew lots of things about this girl though. I knew she was quiet. I knew she was shy, and there was more to it than the people around her could see. I had to peel back the layers of the outsider and look at why a girl may not fit in. Friendship was a key theme in it. I wanted to catch a moment when girls are deciding who they will be in life and how friendships can play a key role in that process. It’s funny, it’s not something I read about as much about as I’d expect. Fiction often focuses on other relationships, but I was interested in female friendship. I wanted to give the subject as much consideration as the importance we place on any other type of relationship.
Other things in the book came as a surprise to me, the distillery setting just came out one day and felt right straight away. The sense of morality on the island, and the quiet longing of some of the women there all developed. It seemed like such a pretty place, a more innocent time of the 50s there’s a tendency to now idealise. Yet scratching the surface, I found it far from ideal for the women there. Within such a small community, gossip is rife, assumptions are made about women and sexuality. I found the women struggle with some of the same issues as their daughters. They are torn between being true to themselves and societal expectations.
In one way or another, I found the characters were all trying to deal with expectations of femininity in different ways. Sometimes finding joy in it, sometimes not. Some of the women make domestic work almost an art form and find comfort in that. Others long for something else. Both are valid. What surprised me the most, was looking up when I finished the book and noticing how little had changed in society. I’d been working on it for a few years and assumed the story was locked to a certain time when women were treated differently. Yet all around me, all over the world, a discussion was being had, more loudly than when I started. Women were still being judged, people were still talking about what women wear and a shaming culture was strong. That’s not something I expected, it’s something I wanted to think we’d left in the past, I was wrong.
Something Like Breathing is now available for purchase online and in stores.
Learn more about Angela Readman.