Befriended: Pip Harry on Rowing, Friendships, and Passion

befriended friendship feature reading blog

(Woo! We have an actual feature icon thanks to our buddy, Alex, who also is responsible for our site design.)

We’re back with another BEFRIENDED chit-chat with one of my favorite Australian authors, Pip Harry. She’s responsible for writing two books I’ve loved/devoured/wanted to kiss and hug, Head of the River and I’ll Tell You Mine.

When I finished HotR this summer, I couldn’t stop thinking about it. The scenes were so incredibly vivid and it was so apparent that Pip was writing from first-hand rowing experience. (Note: I think Pip is pretty bad ass for having gone through such rigorous training and lived to talk about it!) One thing I also loved seeing was Leni, a very introverted, focused girl, open up to new friendships and realizing the competition was about more than winning. I really wanted to talk to Pip about her experiences and how those transformed Head of the River.

Thank you so much to Pip for being so candid and open, and for writing such an impeccable story I can’t wait to share with my friends.



Head of the River by Pip Harry
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Summary (from Goodreads): It’s the most elite school sporting event in the country. Nine rowers, 2000 gruelling metres and one chance for glory in the ultimate team sport. Sit forward … ROW. 

Tall, gifted and the offspring of Olympians, superstar siblings Leni and Cristian Popescu are set to row Harley Grammar to victory in the Head of the River. 
With six months until the big race, the twins can’t lose. Or can they? 

When Cristian is seduced by the easy route of performance-enhancing drugs, and Leni is suffocated with self-doubt, their bright futures start to fade. Juggling family, high expectations, study, break-ups, new relationships and wild parties, the pressure starts to build. 

As the final moments tick down to the big race, who’ll make it to the start line? And who’ll plummet from grace?

Before you began training for the Head of the River competition, how would you describe your personality?

Before I started rowing and training for the Head of the River I was a heavily chlorinated swimmer. My attitude to training and competing was entirely selfish – how fast could I go? How much could I take off my time? I had friends in my squads, but nothing like the buddies I would make in the boat.

Pip-Harry-as-a-Teenage-RowerHow were you changed by the women you rowed with and what Big Life Lessons did you take away from your experience?

The girls and women I rowed with and coached were all so different (shapes, sizes, personalities!) but we all had to learn how to blend those differences into one cohesive, powerful machine. I learnt that a bad day on the water for them was a bad day for me. It sounds corny as hell, but rowing made me appreciate working as a team and the true bonding nature of team sports. I was inspired by the coaches who believed in me and led by example and were so wise and generous with their time. I was changed by my crewmates who showed strength, desire and determination. I was changed by the competition, which was cruel and unforgiving, but also joyous and exhilarating.

I learnt so many life lessons in the boat – how to work as a smaller cog in a bigger wheel, which has helped me enormously in life and work. I learnt to quietly endure pain and suffering in the boat (think rain, cold, blister, endless drills) which has given me more grit and determination (particularly in my writing career) I learnt that even the best team can lose on the day. You need good preparation but also a sprinkle of luck and fair winds. If you want to be a contender, you’ve got to roll with the losses, get up and have another crack.

Were you more like Leni, who had a lot to learn relationally, or were you more like Cris, who lacked passion for the sport and did it to please his parents?

As a rower I was equal parts Leni and Cris. Which is why the book was so fun to write! Like Leni I was a high achiever. I rowed in a state crew at nationals, getting there on hard work, obsession and all the A type personality traits that Leni has. At times this made me incredible hard to be around. I used to get frustrated at anyone who couldn’t keep up, I preferred to row like a bull at a gate all the time (no easy strokes) and I was very strict and tough on myself. I struggled to hold down romantic relationships in my late teens and early 20s because I put myself and my training first and I was completely inflexible. On the other hand, I also had a Cris streak (who doesn’t right?) I struggled to keep my weight down because I love, love sweets and junk foods. I’m also sometimes very seduced by sleep ins and can easily be talked into skipping training. I’m quite lazy at times and at high school, my teachers despaired at the lack of effort I made with subjects that didn’t interest me or I found difficult.

Pip-Harry-Teenage-RowerHow long has it been since you were a Head of the River competitor, and what are your relationships like today with the women you rowed with?

The last crew I coached through to the Head of the River was in 1998. They were a quad scull of funny and talented 14-15 year old schoolgirls who rowed the A final and came second by a fingernail. Heartbreaking! They dissolved after that race, and I did too. We had to pick ourselves up and realise we were 2nd fasted in the entire state, and that was pretty bloody fantastic! Also, who really cared in the end? We had just had four months of laughs, fun and learning. And they had gone from virtual strangers to close friends. That’s what it’s all about. The last time I was in the boat myself was around 2005 in a veteran’s crew (aged over 27 years) I had my biggest success and won five gold medals at the Australian Masters Games. I loved rowing with those older women, because they were more settled in themselves, understood it wasn’t life or death (it was just a race) and they had better wine, food and accommodation during away regattas!

I’m still in contact with some of the women I rowed with when I was a teenager and they are in the acknowledgments page of the book. Yesterday I got an email from Lucy, who I rowed with when I was 16-18 years old. She invited me to her 40th birthday celebrations and said her husband would pay for my interstate flight as part of his present to her – that might tell you how much we value each other’s friendship all these years later! Another rowing friend, Ingrid, sat with me in a café here in Sydney and gave me ideas for certain racing scenes in Head of the River. Another friend, Kate, was my running and training buddy and even though we are now busy mums, we still meet up every few years to talk about those crazy days on the river. Others I’ve lost touch with, but they hold a marker in my heart. I will never forget anyone I rowed with.


Thank you so very much to Pip for sharing her experiences with us and the awesome teenage photographs of herself!
Friends, please, please pick up a copy of Head of the River.

Need more convincing? Read my review of Head of the River!

Befriended: Discussing Sibling Friendships with Kasie West

When a book is infused with a strong helping of sibling relationships and parental involvement, I’m sold. Those are two strong bonuses for me because they add a layer of realism to the story. But Kasie West took my love a step further by making the four siblings in On the Fence the closest, most tight-knit group I’ve read about in a long, long time. I immediately reached out to Kasie to ask her if she would discuss big families and close siblings with us for our Befriended feature. Kasie has four children which equates lots of personal experience to draw from. Please allow me to introduce Kasie West, author of On the Fence, in bookstores as of July 1st.  — M.


kasie west on the fence

I grew up in a large, very close-knit family. I have two brothers and two sisters. Even though a lot of times we fought and screamed and tattled on each other, we always laughed and played and loved each other more. We were loud and rowdy. We ate dinner around the table every night. Because there were seven of us, and money was tight, we actually had a picnic table as our dinner table. So often times we could pile twelve people on those benches, between us and our cousins or friends. Elbowroom was nonexistent but conversation was abundant. I know I am truly blessed to have a family as close as ours and brothers and sisters who I consider friends.

So writing Charlie and her three brothers in ON THE FENCE came really naturally to me. It was probably the easiest family relationship I’ve written in any of my books. I’ve been so happy to see that readers have enjoyed this dynamic between Charlie and her brothers. I think siblings are the first friends we have. Through them we learn about fighting and making up, about being selfish and selfless, about not always seeing things the same way as someone else but loving that person regardless. They’re the first people we whisper late into the night with. My sister and I had bunk beds for a lot of our childhood and I still remember staring at the slats above me and talking to her way past our bedtime. Siblings can truly be the first best friends we ever have and that friendship can last a lifetime. I love mine dearly.

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Book Recommendations from Kasie With Strong Sibling Relationships:



Thank you so much for stopping by Rather Be Reading, Kasie!

Friends, I cannot encourage you enough to buy On the Fence. You won’t regret it!

Befriended with Corey Ann Haydu: Dedicated to Friendship

I’m so thrilled to share our second BEFRIENDED piece. I became an instant fan of Corey Ann Haydu’s when I read her debut OCD LOVE STORY last summer. Today (!!) her second book LIFE BY COMMITTEE hits bookstores everywhere and I am happy to say that I cannot choose a favorite between the two — I love them equally and oh-so-much.

Corey Ann Haydu Life By Committee

Today, we’re taking a slightly different approach to celebrating her book release. A few weeks ago I saw Corey tweet about the dedication in LBC:

To my cherished friend Honora, who is brave enough to share her secrets, and kind enough to listen to mine.

I don’t know about you but I’m pretty curious (a.k.a. nosy) when it comes to dedications and when she explained this was about her best friend and I knew Magan and I were talking about getting this feature started… it felt like fate. So because of all of that, I’m chatting with not only Corey about her new book, friendships, accepting your imperfections but also the subject of her dedication — Honora.

Corey Ann Haydu Life By Committee Best Friend Chat

Bicoastal best friends answering all the questions on a blog run by long distance best friends. It doesn’t get any better than that.


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Corey, it must be incredibly difficult to narrow down the dedication page. Was it something about Life By Committee that made you think about Honora? Or was it always what you wanted the dedication of your second book to be?

Corey: I definitely didn’t know while I was writing the book who I was going to dedicate it to. I think that’s something that comes after, when I have a sense of the themes and the heart of the story. I was at my apartment, chatting online with Honora when I realized the book was for her. LBC is about the scariest parts of yourself and the things that are difficult to talk about and the vulnerable places that you need to share and want to share and also desperately don’t want to share. My friendship with Honora is really special in the sense that it is a space where we’re both safe to be imperfect, I think. And to share hard, big things.

The book is also about compassion and bravery and strength, and those are all things Honora possesses in huge quantities.

Honora, how COOL is it that your super good friend is a published writer (and possibly the best tweeter I know)? I know Corey surprised you with an advanced copy and that’s when you saw your name in it for the first time. What did you think? 

Honora: It is VERY cool and I’m so proud of her and I should probably sign up for Twitter right now.  Let’s see, Corey told me she was sending a present with something special inside.  When I opened her book to the dedication page I was blown away. It was an amazing feeling, very special.  I felt so honored and it sincerely touched my heart.  A big smile inside.  I’m blushing now.

Corey Ann Haydu + Honora: Best Friend Chat at Rather Be Reading BlogWhat is it about your friendship that just clicks?

Corey: Honora and I have a lot in common, sort of on the inside. A lot of the things we’ve struggled with in ourselves and in our lives have been very similar, and we process relationships and fears and the world around us in really similar ways. And I think our friendship has been a LOT about acceptance. I always think of this one day, when Honora and I were living together in our early 20s. We’d recently graduated and my world was sort of falling apart—I had some Big Stuff happening in my family life and on top of that someone had stolen my wallet and the two guys I was half-dating weren’t calling me. I was a mess. The Big Stuff in my family was overwhelming and I wasn’t really processing very well. And I did something wacky with the dishwasher—maybe Honora will remember what? Like I think I maybe ran the dishwasher without dishes in it and then was shocked that no dishes had been cleaned? Anyway. I realized what I’d done, and I started laughing. And Honora was in the next room and came in to see what was up. And I could not stop laughing. And the laughing turned sort of crazy and manic and out of control and I couldn’t even explain what was so funny. And the laughing got so big and emotional that it turned into crying, and then sobbing. Like, this moment of hysteria and massive release in the midst of a terrible time in my life. And I was on the kitchen floor laughing and sobbing and in this state of total vulnerability and craziness, and Honora sat on the floor and laughed and cried with me. She just got it. That’s what our friendship is like.

Honora: I’m laughing to myself trying to think about what it was Corey did!  All I know is it was something pretty un- Corey like.  Nothing bad, but like she said, she was caught in a lapse of logic and then confused about it, which I get.  Sort of deer in the headlight, “what is going on with my reality?  Yikes, it is affecting me.  Am I going to laugh or cry?  I’m doing both! Ahh! Release, releasing is good.”

I feel like Corey gets me on so many levels and we do process things very similarly. When sharing tough stuff with her I feel safe, not alone, and accepted.  Truly accepted. I can meet her where I’m at- no editing needed and she’s so darn quick on the uptake!  And then we do share a humor…I’m laughing just thinking about laughing with her- she has a great laugh. I trust her completely.

Can you tell us a little bit about how you met?

Corey: We met within the first few days of orientation our freshmen year of college at NYU. Honora lived on the floor below me. She cracked me up—she had a great spirit. We were in Studio together at Tisch, which is the arts school at NYU. This meant we spent 8 hours a day three times a week with 12 other people in basically the most emotionally and physically vulnerable states you could ever imagine. It’s a really hardcore way to make friends—but MAN do you get to know each other. We also lived together for maybe four years.

Honora: I think when Corey mentions that I cracked her up…it was my particular, lets say, joie de vivre as recent Midwestern transplant to the East Coast.  I was very excited to be “out and about.”  (I still am).  And in studio, we just clicked.  I recognized a solid, interested, hardworking gal.  Pretty cool, looking back, how simple it was to connect with her.

What’s one thing about Corey that her readers should know?

Honora:  Good question!  Maybe that she got a C in one of our classes together.  It was a “mask” class where we danced around to tribal music and were supposed to intuit the energy of the mask (often without seeing the face of it) and create story and then admire how magical it was that the archetypes played their “correct” roles. (Disclaimer: It was a pretty fun class).

Anyhow, the teacher thought Corey should get a C because she showed up on time to every class so clearly she was “too perfect” and needed to learn a lesson.  It was CRAZY!  I’m so glad I showed up late and hungover at least once!  It just goes to show how people can “type you” and put all their mess onto you, meanwhile Corey is a real person-hard stuff and all- and a “C” isn’t helpful in the least.  It was pretty rotten of him.

Tab’s friends in Life By Committee ditch her when she gets cute and starts wanting to talk about boys and caring about clothes. Ugh. This made me feel for her SO much because abandonment like this stays with you forever. Did either of you face a similar issue with friends? Would you have approached the situation like Tab did?

Corey: I had a very similar experience to Tabby. I based little bits and pieces of her life on my time in high school. I had a really close group of awesome friends all through middle school, and early on in high school they decided they were disappointed in who I was becoming as a person. They very publicly let me know. It was devastating. I didn’t really recover until I was in college and able to start over and make new friends. In high school, I coped by having boyfriends. But especially at that age they are no substitute for friends. So I don’t recommend that!

Honora:  I think I lucked out on that end.  In terms of abandonment, third grade stands out as the hardest year with friendships.  It was when those “friendship necklaces” were introduced to us…where you and your BEST friend each have a half of the heart on a chain and together you complete the heart and you are BEST friends.  Which is great except that there are three other people you want to be your best friend and you thought that you were their best friend even though you got the necklace with this other girl who seems like a “good” best friend and they asked someone else to be THEIR best friend which emotionally crushed you…it was VERY stressful. I do remember feeling excluded and abandoned at times that year, people started forming clubs and cliques.  Most all that cleared up by 4th grade, thank goodness.  As I think about it, third grade was the first time I remember feeling that pang of sadness, maybe shame?  That was awful!

It’s no surprise that friendship struggles are a focus in YA books. These relationships define so much of who you are. But these moments often parallel how tough it is to be a friend and find trusted friends as an adult too. What lesson have you learned about adult friendships that surprised you most?

Corey: I’ve learned some friendships aren’t meant to last. It’s sad, but some people you are meant to be very, very close with for short periods of time, but not forever. And other people, like Honora, are meant to be in your life forever. And you probably don’t know which is which until you’ve put in like a decade. And that’s okay! A friendship can still be wonderful and meaningful even if it fades after a few years.

Also I have learned about BOUNDARIES! Those are really important. You should have them in all your relationships.

Honora:  I moved to Los Angeles about 4 years ago and it was hard to figure out how to nurture my friendships appropriately, since so many friends are out of state.  In the past year I’ve relaxed a bit I knowing that I don’t have to worry about “managing” things and it’s ok not to talk to everyone all the time.  Some friendships will fade into FB “likes” and some will grow or stay more intimate.  I’m super grateful for the internet and gchat.  I guess I’m surprised with how powerful technology has been in communication with friends who are long distance.  I know people talk a lot about how it’s perhaps less intimate, which I get, but in my experience, friendship and intimacy have translated pretty well across state lines via technology, etc. Uh oh- I should probably watch Her immediately.

Honora, were you nervous to read Life By Committee? (Sidenote: I was totally nervous to read it just as a “twitter” friend of Corey’s. What if I don’t like it????) What was your greatest takeaway of the book?

Honora: I guess there was an element of nervousness, because I loved her last book, OCD Love Story so much and I wanted to enjoy this one just as much.  Once I realized that there was a cozy coffee shop in this book I knew it was going to be ok.  And it was great. Personally my greatest take away is the feeling I get while reading it.  I feel a particular sense of safety…it’s weird…like while reading it, I know I can handle the uncomfortable and get excited and witness stressful stuff but in the end it will be ok.  I find so much comfort in Tabitha’s humanity.

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Befriended: Talking Friendship with Author Emery Lord

We’re best friends, Estelle and I. We live miles and miles apart, but there’s seldom been a day in our three year friendship that we haven’t talked about something. Our friendship is the platform from which Rather Be Reading was created. Because of that, we’ve been really wanting to focus on friendship more. Something positive and uplifting. We both find friendship to be such an incredibly important aspect of the books we read. They can often make or break a book. There’s the good, the bad, the ups, the downs… and through all of that, you need a best friend. Someone to hold your hand as you wade through the craziness of life.

Hence the new feature we’re rolling out right now: Befriended.

We’re beginning with one of our very favorite new authors, Emery Lord. We’ve both read Emery’s debut novel, Open Road Summer and fallen madly in love with her incredible writing. (Admittedly, we’ve also watched her awesome author intro video and want to be her BFF, too). Reagan and Dee have this outstanding friendship with years and years of history and love between them. We asked Emery to talk to us a little bit about her personal best friend and in the vein of our themed gift-packs, to create gifts to and from Dee and Reagan. It’s an understatement to say I love how this came out and how much I adore what Emery wrote about her best friend. (Fact: I teared up reading it.)

A big, huge THANK YOU to Emery for helping us introduce our new friendship feature, Befriended. Without further ado, please welcome Emery to Rather Be Reading…


My BFF and I met at church when we were in fourth grade. We were in all the same activities our entire lives and have so many similarities, but we’re different in a lot of ways too. Even little things. I’m a basic-nail polish kind of gal, and she’s great at, like, nail art and Jamberry nails. She went to a small private college for Music Ed; I went to a larger public school for Communications and English. She lives in the suburbs near our hometown; I live in a more urban setting a couple of hours away. She got married in the winter surrounded by cranberry reds and creams, in a strapless dress with her hair up. I got married in the spring, surrounded by peony pinks and tuxedo blacks, in a dress with sheer sleeves and my hair down. I wore her veil.

I wrote about to very different BFFs in Open Road Summer because I wanted to show that you don’t have to have everything in common to be best friends. You just have to show up, emotionally. Everyone understands a relationship like marriage…that I chose my husband to be my family. But my best friend is someone I chose to be my family too. It’s a sisterhood of choice, and it doesn’t matter how far apart we are or how many differing choices we make. What we have in common is 20 years together and so much love and loyalty that we can fill the miles between us. That’s truly all we’ve ever needed.

– – –
From Dee to Reagan
dee to reagan gifts for open road summer by emery lord
  • Arrow Necklace: This is a necklace Dee lets Reagan borrow in Open Road Summer. I think she’d get her one of her very own, since Reagan loves it–and probably write her a cheesy card tying in lyrics to Kacey Musgraves’ song Follow Your Arrow  😉  (which I love).
  • Photo Cube Printer: Reagan’s a photographer, so she’d love this for iPhone photos taken on the go.
  • Vintage 1971 Canon 35mm Camera: Dee’s an antiquer, so she’d absolutely snag this vintage camera for Reagan.
  • Ferris Wheel Photo Frames: Dee would get this both as a way for Reagan to display photos and to tease her a little about Matt Finch and a Ferris Wheel  😉
  • Boots: Reagan loooves shoes and these boots are totally her style.
  • New York Book: Dee is super supportive of Reagan’s ultimate goal of attending NYU. She’d absolutely gift Reagan with NYC-related things to share in her excitement about that.
– – –
From Reagan to Dee

reagan to dee open road summer gift pack by emery lord

  • Bestie iPhone Cases: Reagan would totally get these infinity BFF phone cases for herself and Dee, since they’re in a long-distance friendship/on the phone so much of the time. But, since Reagan would be using the phone case too, she’d pick something a little less frilly  😉
  • Decorative Pillow: Something for Dee’s tour bus or new apartment–Reagan’s sense of humor and something to make Dee laugh.
  • Tennessee Necklace: To remind Dee of home.
  • Floral Weekender: So not Reagan’s personal style, but definitely Dee’s. I think Reagan would get this for Dee to remind her she’s only one packed bag away from a weekend trip home.
  • Every Day Journal: One of the things Dee struggles with is how quickly life seems to be moving–by the time one thing happens, she can barely process it before the next big thing happens. Reagan would buy this one-line-a-day journal to help her remember each day without spending too much time memorializing instead of living–something she’s big on  🙂
  • Dolly Parton Quote: Dolly is one of Dee’s heroes, and Reagan would want to remind Dee that even Dolly has seen herself through the rain!


Thank you so incredibly much to Emery Lord for stopping by RBR 
to help us kick of BEFRIENDED. Friends, please, please read Open Road Summer
as soon as you possibly can. And stay tuned for more friendship-related posts!

Add OPEN ROAD SUMMER to Goodreads | Buy on Amazon | Buy from Barnes & Noble | My Review of ORS