Writer Michael Pedersen talks about making book friends ahead of his visit to Waterstones Nottingham

“I see it very much as a love letter to friendship,” says Michael Pedersen when I ask him to describe his new book. young friends, published by Faber last month. “To friends here, there and elsewhere, the friends we don’t see nearly enough, the friendships that have somehow expired from our social orbit, and to those who have left this world in a more temporal sense.”

Speaking ahead of his event at Nottingham’s Waterstones, he muses that his new work is “a love letter, a paean, a kind of poetic song of friendship”. To all the male friendships that shaped him, but to one friend in particular – his closest friend Scott Hutchison, whom he lost in 2018 shortly after their trip to the Scottish Highlands.

Written in Curfew Tower (Cushendall, Ireland), the book began as journal entries, an extended brainstorming session for his new collection of poetry. But soon, fueled by grief and a desire to reflect on his recently deceased friend, it became a project in its own right, morphing into a book about male friendships, looking back at the relationships that shaped him and defined the ways he relates others and the world. “When I was thinking about the parts of me that I would be missing if I wasn’t friends with Scott, I turned the microscope to where parts of me came from,” he says, “and to a large extent they’re from all these friendships .

“I think there’s something very special about spending time honoring your friends,” adds Michael. “We carry our friendships with us for so long and spend our time reflecting nostalgically on friends who shaped our lives when we were very young. And I just don’t think there’s enough space in literature, especially when it comes to celebrating those groundbreaking incredible friendships. So hopefully this book is a gentle, romantic call to action to see friendships from that perspective.”

I just don’t think there’s enough space in literature, especially when it comes to celebrating those groundbreaking incredible friendships

Told from a specifically male perspective (hence the title young friends), the book also charts the difficulties of making male friends, particularly as a self-described sensitive boy growing up in working-class Edinburgh. “I grew up with an older sister and no male siblings,” he tells me, “and I was jealous of female friendships. I saw her as more sentient. They hugged, had sleepovers and crossed their arms and I saw this friendship that I wanted to bring into my world. But I screwed up quite a lot because I was too emotionally expressive for these young male friendships, and so a lot of my earlier thoughts about friendships stem from that place, an early male emotional frustration.”

But despite the bumpy road of navigating male friendships, they became some of the most formative experiences of Michael’s life, as the book expresses, tracing his friendships from high school to the present day — harking on to characters like Daniel, Rowley, and Sparrow in the process the way, all of which had an indelible influence on the author. He also wants to celebrate those with whom he no longer speaks, because “they were these beautiful fleeting trips, each one was like a long vacation with this person. Just because we didn’t progress to being lifelong friends doesn’t mean they were failures.”

I hadn’t intended to mourn anyone and I wasn’t able to write poetry the way I used to

written in prose, young friends consists of perfectly poetic sentences, as one would expect from the author of collections oyster (2017) and play with me (2013), and I ask Michael how much his work as a poet has influenced his writing here. “I started writing the book quite by accident,” he admits. “I had no intention of mourning anyone, and I was no longer able to write poetry the way I used to. So I wrote this big piece of prose to turn it into poetry, almost like a research paper on friendship. I always thought they were packets turned into poetry because that was all I had ever written and the fact that it went on as a book surprised me.”

The result of this process is a book that has been described by many as poetic prose, containing the richness of a poem but the narrative of a story. Michael jokes that each line is like an actor acting out to be a poem, continuing with the metaphor and repeating, “It was really a dress rehearsal for a poetry collection, but then the dress rehearsal became a whole thing of its own. It became a stubborn opponent.” The change of direction is forcing the work to be more vulnerable, he adds. “The next step in poetry would be to add some metaphors, take away some of the more direct phrases and turn them into something less specific and more thoughtful. So it would have come with a lot more masks if I had written it in poetry. This is full of real diary entries.”

a beautiful work, young friends deeply honors the friendship between Michael and Scott, along with all the other “friends” that preceded that friendship. Hoping to open up a wider discussion, Michael says he’s already had positive response from readers who have wanted to share their friendship stories. At the end of this interview, he comments: “I didn’t want to write a book that people couldn’t project their lives into. I was hoping that every friend I spoke about would make people think of a friend they had. So I’m glad it felt active and collaborative and that the book started the conversation I wanted to start. That shows me that it has value in that sense.”

Michael Pedersen arrives at the Waterstones in Nottingham on Tuesday 9 August. His book Boy Friends is available in most bookstores or from Faber

@ScribePedersen

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