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Friendship by the Book: An Interview with Allison Winn Scotch

Published: July 21, 2010 | Last Updated: January 24, 2023 By | Reply Continue Reading

Allison Winn Scotch‘s novel, The One That I Want (2010), is an engaging summer beach read that makes you think about the friendships you have and those that have drifted apart.

The main character, Tilly Farmer, is a 30-something high school guidance counselor who marries her high-school sweetheart, and still lives and works in the same small town where she grew up. As the story unfolds, we learn how Tillie’s past has affected her current relationships. With the help of an old friend and a dash of clairvoyance, Tilly begins to re-examine the choices she’s made.

I asked Allison, my friend and colleague, about her latest book, her characters and her own friendships. Also check out my previous interview with Allison soon after the release of her last NYT bestseller, Time of My Life.


Two of the characters that figure prominently in The One That I Want are Tilly Farmer’s friends, Susannah and Ashley. Both friends support Tilly during some tough moments in her life. What role have your own friendships played in developing these characters?


Well, Susannah is a compilation of a few of my closest friends – not in terms of personality or what she goes through, but the understanding of that unconditional support that they offer. That, in your lowest of moments, that she’ll show up with a bottle of wine or answer that phone call in the middle of the night or get you out of the house if that’s what’s called for. I’m someone who can probably count her really true honest-to-god best friends on one hand, but those women are like sisters to me, and so that’s more than enough. And that’s what Susannah is for Tilly.

As far as Ashley, she was a reflection of some of the friends I’ve outgrown (or who outgrew me). I think we all have those friends too: girls you were blood sisters with until, say, you hit puberty or went to college or even grew out of in your twenties, and you still look back on them fondly, but now maybe don’t have so much in common with anymore.

In Ashley and Tilly’s case, they find a way to forge new bonds, but their relationship isn’t based strictly on the past, and I think this is important if you’re going to renew a friendship like this. It’s all well and good to sit around and laugh over high school, but an honest friendship needs more than that. Eventually, Ashley and Tilly discover their new common ground.


At the start of the story, Ashley feels more like a frenemy than a friend. What happens to Tilly’s friendship with Ashley over time?


A few things. For one, Ashley is the person who literally sparks Tilly’s “clarity,” which Tilly initially resents and blames Ashley for. But because of this, they start interacting more, and when Tilly really starts to unravel, she realizes she needs someone in her corner, and surprisingly, she wants that person to be Ashley, who is having plenty of problems of her own. And in watching her cope with these problems, Tilly discovers she has a begrudging admiration for Ashley’s tenacity. Sometimes – and I’ve experienced this in my own life – the people you expect to have your back aren’t there for you in the way you anticipate, while other people step up and offer support in ways you wouldn’t have imagined. That’s what happens exactly with Tilly and Ashley – the support and growth and learning goes both ways.


Because Tilly has remained in the town where she grew up, her friendships have remained fairly constant. Do you think that is a good or bad thing?


For me, I’m not sure that it would be a good thing, but I know that there are plenty of people for whom it is. What’s interesting for me, in terms of assessing my friends and friendship groups, is that many of my truly dear friends are women I’ve met it my adult life, women who share commonalities with my life now and that’s why we’ve become close. I also have a very tight core group of friends from college, and those women are invaluable to me too – that shared history is important but, at least with the ones I’ve stayed close with, we also still grown up together and share some similarities in our adult life.

So again, this is just for me, but my friendships are almost similar to romantic relationships in the sense of it’s important to me that they not just be about nostalgia but are current and in-the-moment and pertinent to what’s happening now, around us, in our thirties. Which isn’t to take anything away from childhood friendships or staying close to the friends you grew up with. AT ALL. I think that’s admirable too – and it’s really what works for each individual. Only that now, at 37, what works for me is that many of my dearest friends are women I’ve known since my mid-twenties, not necessarily earlier.


You use the term “friendship fidelity” in the book? What does that mean to you?


For me, this gets back to your first question: that underlying understanding that through thick and thin, Susanna would be there for Tilly. And I feel the same way about some of my own friends – there is very little I wouldn’t do for them. At the same time, many of my friendships have their own rhythms and tides: sometimes, I may literally go two months without connecting with my best friend, but there is no doubt that when either one of us picked up the phone and truly needed the other, that we’d be there.

I feel like the strongest friendships – at least in my life – are those that don’t need daily reassurance. It’s enough for me (and my friends) to know that somewhere out there, someone has my back, and that when that times comes – whether I just want to crack up for 20 minutes on the phone or am really embroiled in a true crisis – that woman will be there for me, hands down. I’m pretty grateful to know that I have the security of this and to have these women in my life.

Friendship by the Book is an occasional series of posts on The Friendship Blog about books that offer
friendship lessons.

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