It is probably not a question that would spring immediately to the mind of the casual reader, but one of the biggest challenges I had to face when creating and developing the dynamic of the gang of eight was to what extent it functioned as a net and not as a spider's web.
Let me put that another way. With Paul as the focal character, at the centre of everything that takes place, the story is inevitably structured in such a way that without him there would a gaping hole at the centre, and nothing would make very much sense. Like a spider's web, in which every strand leads inevitably to the spider in the middle and the whole thing is constructed around it with the spider being the only rationale for the web's existence.
A piece of netting, on tbe other hand, comprises a series of interlocking strands with none conspicuously more important than any other. Cut a strand or two away and a net becomes a damaged net, but remains a net all the same. With a stitch or two it can be repaired, and can continue to do its work as it did before.
If this all sounds a bit hypothetical, consider the relationships between the various members of the gang – for the early part of the book at least. Choose any member of the gang and he or she is connected more closely to certain other members than to others, whether by blood or by affection. Jim is Debbie's boyfriend, Paul's best friend and Colin's brother. Colin's girlfriend is Beverley, whose brother is Steve, while Debbie's closest friend is Alison. Only when we get to Tina do we depart from this general rule.
OUTSIDER OR SPIDER?
Unlike the others Tina is introduced into The Best Year Of Our Lives as Paul's enemy, and by association Jim's too. With no peacemaker to heal the rift, one is left to assume that its duration had been considerable. Only with the break-up between Paul and his erstwhile pal Alan Webb is the ground laid for a reconciliation with Tina.
With no sibling in the gang, no best friend and no partner Tina is ostensibly the outsider, but as her relationship with Paul becomes tentatively closer that fact is not always obvious. The reader is invited to anticipate the day when Tina and Paul will draw inexorably nearer but fate can be unkind, and the cult of self certainly no less so.
Tina was a difficult character for me to get entirely right. I'm not sure I managed to do so. But far from being the outsider she for me was actually much closer to being the spider than a mere link in the net. She was ever there in Paul's thoughts; in his calculations and his aspirations, in his ideas and his dreams. None of it would have happened without her.