Before Ada was born, Rob and Ellie spent six months in England, then travelled around Europe for a while. In England, Rob worked but Ellie didn’t. I remember worrying about her being lonely without colleagues and family and friends.
“It was lonely, but I love my own company, oh my gosh, I’m awesome,” she says laughing.
“I’m an introvert anyway, so I was quite happy. I got into my little routines.”
These included going to a run-down abbey and taking close-up photographs in its rambling gardens.
I remember being startled by their beauty: a droplet of water suspended in space, a spider’s perfect web, a lady-bird preparing for flight.
My sister-in law, who was thinking of her too, sent an orchid through the local florist. Ellie says she put it on her window sill and gave it a name.
“We also had a really awful black spider that sat outside the window. I talked to that too.”
“It was a strange time.”
* * *
One thing Ellie wants to change about herself, is the way she lets fear—not only of failure, but of mediocrity too—stop her from taking risks. Taking her photography to the next level is one of them.
“Other people go out and do it and they win an award or sell a book because they actually did it.
“I really, really want to try and actually do something without letting that fear get in the way. And then if it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work, but just giving myself the chance to do something instead of just holding back all the time; that’s what I’d change.”
* * *
There’s this dream Ellie had as a kid that she’s always remembered.
It was an amazing, very vivid, “almost spiritual” dream.
She was behind a rock on a beach with golden light shining down on her, and she could hear operatic singing. It might have been angels.
“I’ve always remembered it, and I remembered waking up the next morning and describing it to mum, and she said, ‘try and draw it’. I can’t draw for shit so it looked really bad, but I still remember that dream.”
Rob and Ellie recently showed Ada “The Little Mermaid” for the first time.
“There was a rock on the beach and it was just like my dream rock, and I went, ‘Oh my God, that’s my dream rock!’ but you know, the other elements weren’t there.
“Then this big golden light shone down and I’m like, ‘That’s just like the light from my dream!’ but the music wasn’t there.
“We kept watching the movie and about half an hour later, this operatic angel singing music starts up—‘Yes! The music from my dream!’
“Obviously I’d watched ‘The Little Mermaid’ and the elements of it had come together in this dream that I thought was this immense powerful thing, and it was just a Disney movie, and I did not know until twenty-five years later.
“It stuck with me, this incredibly powerful thing,” she says.
“And it was ‘The Little Mermaid’.”
Soon after I started this project, I realised the stakes were higher than I’d first thought.
In one sense I had nothing to lose but time—I wasn’t writing for a degree or a wage, and I wasn’t paying my subjects.
I was, however, writing my friends—twelve funny, strange, beautiful souls—and once they’d given me their stories, I couldn’t bear the thought I might not do them justice.
I was also delving into painful experiences I’m definitely not qualified to deal with. And when the silence was long, and I didn’t know quite what to say—well, I asked another question.
You might think these people are not representative of the general population, and perhaps they’re not. All are from a similar socio-economic demographic and are in their thirties, most are married and many are Christians, all are connected to the same small, wondrous island—and to me—and all let me record our conversation.
In another sense, they could have been any combination of my friends, or yours, of any age, from any place. All of us have more stories than we could ever tell; all of us are caught up in this wonderful terrible thing called life; all of us are characters.
As I wrote, I was struck by how impossible it is to plan or predict your future, how easy it is to fall in love, how hard it is to make sense of it all. I started thinking about how we’re all stronger and more fragile than we realise, and I kept coming back to the idea that it’s a broken world, but we don’t have to be alone in it. I think those were some of the most beautiful words I was given.
I want to close by thanking the friends who read my early drafts, and the twelve who said yes. I know you a little better now, and love you even more; I hope readers love you too. Thank you for your time, your honesty and your friendship.