Writer, speaker, and Ctrl Alt Delete host Emma Gannon is releasing her first novel on July 23. Olive follows the story of a highly successful editor-in-chief at online magazine .dot. The novel's eponymous lead is a woman with options. Too many options. And, at 33, she's beginning to doubt whether she chose the right ones. As her friends drift off in different directions, towards marriage and motherhood, Olive is left wondering what exactly she wants out of life. Below is an excerpt from the highly anticipated new novel.
Excerpt from Olive, exclusive to Bustle
Seated in Cecily’s kitchen, I slurp at my hot chocolate, having eaten all the miniature marshmallows that were floating on top in record time. Suddenly, now feels as good a time as any to broach the break-up.
"Talking of new beginnings..." I say, with marshmallows still in my mouth.
"Oh yeah?" Cec asks, excitedly.
"Oh, it’s not a good thing..."
"Oh right, sorry."
"I don’t really even want to say it, to be honest."
"Jacob and I broke up."
"Huh?" Cec can’t hear as her noisy kettle is making a weird sound and I guess I did have my mouth slightly full.
"Jacob. And me. We... we split up," I say, more loudly this time.
"No?" Cec’s eyes widen in shock.
"Oh god, I don’t want to stress you out; you’re with child." I fold my arms on the table then and hang my head.
"Ol! You’re not stressing me out. When, what, why? When did this happen?"
"Oh, really recently," I lie. "I didn’t tell you because, well, I wasn’t sure if it was definitely over. I mean it definitely is now. Haven’t heard a peep for weeks."
"Weeks? And you didn’t tell me?" She looks genuinely hurt.
"Sorry, I just... It didn’t feel like something I could say over a message, and I didn’t want to be annoying when you’ve been busy preparing for the baby."
"Oh fucking hell, Ol. Having a baby doesn’t mean I will forget that everyone else exists."
"What happened?" she says, handing me a piece of homemade cake.
"We just realised that... we want different things."
"Do you want to talk about it?"
I look down at my mug. Cec’s Siamese cat Harvey wraps his tail around my leg, as if he knows I need comforting.
I take a breath. "Well, I guess we just had one last bad argument that seemed to be the final blow. The last available opportunity to get all those feelings off our chests, but we both know there was no coming back from that. He accused me of having no emotions, using the people closest to me for story ideas to pitch to the magazine. He would often joke that – when something really terrible or really great happened – he could see the cogs of my brain turning immediately to come up with a headline or caption."
"Woah, yes, that is harsh."
"Do you think I do that? Mine people for their stories, for .dot?"
"Not really. Not in a malicious way, anyway. You write what you know."
"Exactly. He complained a lot about how I was never truly 'in the moment' or 'living my life.' He started sounding like a Buddhist monk and it really started to piss me off."
"It does sound a bit smug."
"Very smug! Like, mate, you’re not a bloody guru."
"Olive, was there anything else?" she asks gently. "I mean, it sounds like a disagreement, but not something to throw away nine happy years for. Is there something else going on between you two?"
"Well... actually, yes."
"He’s ready to have kids," I say bluntly.
"Ok," she says. "And do you know when you might be?"
"I don’t know," I say. "I try and close my eyes and imagine myself as a mother but, for whatever reason, I just can’t."
"Each to their own, Ol. I remember when we used to chat about the big 'baby' question. We both weren’t sure for a long time."
"But then most people move on and decide to do it. I mean, look at you. Can I ask – how did you know, that you and Chris were ready to have a baby?"
"Hmm, well, I always sort of knew deep down, I think. I thought I’d be a much older mum, though, because I wanted to be a partner in my firm before I did the baby thing. But my body sort of took over and I started obsessing over the idea, I guess. Sometime around the end of last year, I woke up one morning and it was like my body wanted it. Craved it like sugar. Like I didn’t have a choice. It was weird; I was as surprised as you, honestly. Then, you know, it just happened quite quickly." Cecily laughs, and runs her hands over her bump.
"Wow. I just feel like everyone’s always so surprised when I say I don’t think I want kids. Like they’re sad for me."
"Babe, it’s your life. I’m proud of you for staying true to yourself even though you must be hurting right now."
"Thank you." I hug her. I miss her, even though she’s right here.
:Oh Ol. Let’s put on a film and get the blankets out." Cec waddles over to her big wooden cabinet and gets out cosy things like candles, hand cream, room scents and extra cushions. Time to nest. Each moment we have alone together now is a ticking time-bomb before the baby comes. The minute she has him, nothing else will matter. She says it will, but it won’t. I’ve already experienced it with Bea: our friendship suffered massively when she had her first baby. We didn’t speak to her or see her for six months, maybe even a year. None of us anticipated how much of a shift it would cause. It was like losing a family member – and in some ways perhaps that triggers me. Cec will have a new love, a deeper love. And that’s the way it should be. But it won’t be the same between us after that. I hug into her closely on the sofa that evening and, when I go to leave later, I linger by the front door awkwardly.
"The next time I see you, you’ll be... a mum!" I say.
"I know, eeeeek! Love you. So nice to see you, Ol." She smiles and hugs me before waving me off – she’s a ball of excitement.
I walk down the street to Barons Court Tube station with tears prickling in my eyes. I’m so happy for Cec, she’ll be a brilliant mum, I know she will. But I can’t help feeling that her moving forwards is just a reminder that I’m only moving back.
I sit on the Tube and get my notepad out, and start writing before my brain even feels connected to my hand. My old drinking buddy, Cec. My wild friend. The one who would always dance on the tables and never wanted to go home. Now, she stays in all the time, she’s pregnant and burns scented candles. But she seems to like her new life, the choices she’s made. So, what do I really want? Perhaps there is a different future out there that I’m taking for granted. I stare into the distance and struggle to re-focus, the baby/no baby dilemma rearing its head.
Pros for having a baby:
- I’d get invited to stuff more – such as, but not limited to, mother’s meetings, children’s birthday parties, picnics in the park etc.
- I would feel part of the gang and not like a total gooseberry (see point one)
- I would feel this ‘different kind of love’ that people always talk about
- I would feel more ‘normal’ in my life choices and wouldn’t have to make up fake life milestones to my old school teachers when I see them
- I know what my future would look like ‘on paper’ – and I would feel part of a bigger family unit
- I could find a way back to Jacob. Maybe
Cons for having a baby:
- NO SLEEP!! (I LOVE SLEEP)
- I would be constantly unsure if I truly did actually want the baby – like is it peer pressure? Wouldn’t that be an awful reason to have a baby?
- Life would be sort of ruined (my bank balance would struggle A LOT)
- I would feel trapped in general and I wouldn’t be able to put myself first or make spontaneous travel plans
- Long, stressful, screamy airport visits and flights
- I could regret it and be one of those anonymous mums on Mumsnet pulling her hair out and saying she wants to give it back
I look down at the list. Six pros, six cons. Oh. Crap. Maybe I’m ‘on the fence’. Am I on the fence?