Friendship at the core of my life

My father used to say: “Family you can’t choose, but friends you can”, which was his way of saying he had a thorough dislike of family and he always distanced himself from all family related matters during his life. It goes without saying that his strange view on blood ties has also had an impact on his offspring. I felt as if my father – consciously or unconsciously – drove a wedge between relatives every time they tried to connect at some level. And he was very good at that. My mother maintained normal relations with her English family and took us to visit them, without my father of course. But true to his philosophy my father maintained some life-long relationships with his friends. There were reasons for his strange, unhealthy behaviour and they form the leitmotiv of my thriller Prior To You. My paternal grandparents collaborated with the Nazis during world war two and my dad was an only child…

So my father taught me this lesson: friends count more than family. It was not until I became a mother that it struck home to me how strong and everlasting blood ties really are. But I was never close to my father and regret having listened to him. After I left home in 1974, I hardly ever saw him again. He died 19 December 2001 and it has taken me ten years to recover from what was a very complex mourning process. Grief for a dead parent is normal but grief mixed with anger, fear and hatred is poisonous. With hindsight, I should have tried harder to stay in touch with him when he was still around. It would have saved me a lot of undoing of tangled ties afterwards but I honestly would not have known how to do that. And it would have demanded an effort from his side, too. I learnt my lesson, though, and am very thankful I retraced my footsteps away from the estranged relationship I had with my mother so I can now care for her during her dementia and say a proper ‘goodbye’ to her.

Friends? Who, what are friends?

One of the best friends I’ve ever had has just died and we buried him in Kalmar, Sweden on 2 March. When I was writing my farewell speech about him, I pondered our friendship and friendships in general.

This is the part of my speech where I describe our first acquaintance:
There are very few people you come across in your life, of whom you instantly know you will become friends. To me Rolf was one of those people. Our friendship started off with a nice anecdote. All the international colleagues were in the same hotel in Szczecin, Poland in 1998 and I saw the hotel had a sauna so after a long day of meetings I asked if anyone else would be interested in making use of the facility, but only Rolf said ‘yes’ with his usual enthusiasm. We decided to make a go for it no matter what other people thought. I think they thought we were mad! But we felt so much at ease with each other despite the fact we had just met, that in our bathing suits we chatted and laughed and relaxed after all the hard work.

Perhaps friendship – which is a form of love – cannot be explained or rationalised, as at its core it is an emotion, a bond you feel, a connection between people larger than themselves. But I can say why friendship is crucial to folks like me with weak family ties. When you can trust and love a friend it feels as if Sir Walter Raleigh has thrown his coat over a muddy puddle so Elizabeth I doesn’t get dirty feet. You feel revered, listened to, related.
Friendship has none of the frenzy of romantic love, with all that pining for the beloved when you’re not together. In its purest form meeting up with a friend is rejoicing in the happening every time you see each other but when you each go your own way again there is no pain, no lacking. Friendship is a safe haven, a happy knowing that somewhere on this earth there is another special person of whom you think with great fondness, with whom you have shared and will share again many blissful moments. Hopefully!

My aim here isn’t to define friendship as every friendship is unique and everyone has his/her own ideas about it. All I want to say is that now I’ve lost one of my dearest friends, his death has made absolutely clear to me how much a friendship can mean and how great an inspiration it can be. I hope that from now on I will cherish my real friends even more than I already did and it doesn’t matter there aren’t that many!


To commemorate a great friend, this is what I will do:
Some 6 or 7 years ago Rolf and I had the idea to write a book about Öland in Sweden, where he had a summer house.  In the middle of the island of Öland on the Stora Alvaret stands a ruin, a reminder that at some point in time humans lived there, which is strange as the land is a barren steppe and far away from the village. During our walks on the Alvar, I had all sorts of romantic ideas about the daughter of the vicar of Smedby eloping with some rogue and I seriously discussed writing a book about this ruin and its inhabitants.

Rolf was – as usual – very enthusiastic about it. He searched the archives for me to learn more about the history of the place because all the documents were in Swedish and I can’t read the language. I still have all Rolf’s notes about the trade route that existed across the Alvar at the end of the 19th century. It passed the former house, which had been a kind of resting place for travellers. Other priorities prevented me from getting around to writing the book but the book Daughter of the Alvar  will now be written and it will be dedicated to my dear friend, who kindled my love for Öland and Swedish folktales.

So I’m searching for a cottage to rent there this summer and start writing the rough draft on location.

If you’re interested in the magical place, read this:


7 Responses to “Friendship at the core of my life”

  1. What a lovely post, Hannah. I’ve really enjoyed reading this. And your forthcoming book sounds great. If the photos are anything to go by, the setting alone will make it a real pleasure!

  2. Jean says:

    Beautiful post, Hannah. xx

  3. Kate Rigby says:

    What a lovely tribute to your dear friend, Rolf and friendship everywhere, Hannah

  4. The family versus friends theme reaches like artery versus vein. I think people have to decide about that in daily life. Lovely memories of Rolf and I hope you can enjoy them in Oland.

  5. Mike Church says:

    You write so beautifully and so graphically, Hannah. I’m sorry for your loss xxx

  6. Sandie Zand says:

    Yes, I echo what the others say – a lovely post.

    I agree with all you say on friendships… though also I understand your father’s view, that friends are chosen, family is not (my dad’s of the same opinion!), but the issue of friendship/family – what they are, where freedom and responsibility fit, etc. – goes way beyond black and white choices and is far too huge a discussion to fit into this box.

    I too am sorry to hear of the death of a good friend. The book idea sounds a wonderfully fitting tribute to that friendship.


  7. Adam T says:

    I was his student in Kalmar in 2001. I had a rare honour to be invited to his house and had a dinner with his family. Rolf had a lovely personality, he radiated happiness to everyone; he really influenced me as a person and formed my attitude to life. Wonderful person. I am so grateful I could meet him in an early stage of my life.


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