Those of you who are regular readers will know that I love a good book and now and again I write reviews. These are not always fiction; in fact, my most recent review was ‘The Secret Lives of Adults’, written by psychologist Allison Keating.
This book, ‘It’s Who We Are’, is fiction and is written by Christine Webber, who has led a varied and extremely interesting life. She was a news presenter in the ’80s and ’90s and then went on to train as a psychotherapist, which led her to combine writing and broadcasting with a clinical practice in Harley Street. As well as all that, she was an agony aunt and columnist and a writer of self-help books.
But she decided to abandon all of this to return to writing fiction in 2016 (she had a published novel 29 years earlier). This resulted in ‘Who’d Have Thought It’, a romantic comedy about the changes and challenges we encounter in mid-life.
I have just read her third novel ‘It’s Who We Are’ and loved it. First of all, I was familiar with the characters. Why, I even feel I know some of them. It is so refreshing to read a novel about men and women in mid-life, to whom you can relate, who are dealing with work, upheaval, marriage break-ups, family secrets.
Throw Brexit into the mix and the chaos and fear that it brings and you have a story that is highly topical and relevant.
Part of the novel is set in Ireland (Christine’s husband was Irish and they spent a lot of time in Kerry and at one stage thought of relocating to Ireland) and two of the characters have Irish mothers, so there is a lovely Irish connection. Below you can see Christine and her husband at a Leinster rugby match.
The novel is about loneliness, betrayal, enlightenment, but most importantly about friendship and second chances. Just because you are in your 50s, it does not mean that you cannot start again, make new friends and find love.
Two of the hashtags I use on my Instagram account are ‘notdeadyet’ and ‘nevertooold’ and they could be applied to Christine’s characters.
I will give nothing else away!
I read It’s Who We Are in two days when I was recovering from sinusitis and it was difficult to put down…in other words, a real page turner. I am looking forward to her next book.
I connected with Christine and sent her some questions. She is a wonderful interviewee.
Do you follow a schedule for writing or do you only write when you feel inspired?
Hilda, I really wish I were one of those writers who is at work by six in the morning, in a beautiful converted shed set in gorgeous gardens, with perfect coffee brewing and a jolly dog asleep at my feet. Alas, I am not. I do write a lot. But in the past two years, my schedule – such as it ever was – went right out of the window because my husband became very ill and then died. Unlike a lot of authors though, I’m lucky in that I no longer have to work 9 till 5 doing something I hate. And when I’m not writing, the chances are I am still broadcasting in some way, or doing an audio record, or at meetings to do with the charities I support. So, currently, writing is a bit spasmodic. Particularly right now – as in four days I am leaving the house that has been home for 19 years. And am in chaos! Then I’m going into temporary accommodation for a while, so the schedule is unlikely to improve for a few months. But one day …
What is the easiest aspect of writing a novel…and the hardest?
If there is an easy bit, I’ve yet to find it! But what I enjoy most is editing. The first draft is hard usually – although it can be full of surprises when your characters take over and change the story! But going over and over the manuscript, changing a word here, avoiding a repetition there, reading it out loud, cutting it down, altering punctuation so that the rhythm of a sentence feels better … all of that, I just love. The trouble is, I never feel I have completed it. And were it not for the fact that I do want to see the books in print, I would probably be sitting here editing, quite happily, with no books on shelves to show for it!
How important is a good cover and title and how did you come up with both.
Do not believe the old saying ‘You can’t judge a book by its cover’. That is exactly how people judge it. At least initially. I like working with a designer who finds ideal stock images and creates something new and special and lovely with them. I now take charge of the whole process myself as, after thirty years or being conventionally published, I go the ‘indie’ route with my fiction. And I have loved the covers I’ve had created for me. They have evolved after much discussion with the designer in every case. It’s really important for me that the finished book is a delightful product and something that a reader will love to own. Of course, masses of people, including me, read ebooks. But it’s still vital to get your paperback as beautiful as you can make it. As for titles, I always start with a working title. And that always alters. It’s Who We Are used to be called Ever More With Me. And my earlier novel, a romantic comedy, which ended up being titled Who’d Have Thought It? began life as The Swofty Diaries (SWOFTY, by the way, is the acronym for Single Women Over Fifty.
If you could have been the original author of any book…which book would it be.
I have given this a lot of thought. And I’ve decided on Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfeild. This, along with The Railway Children, was a real favourite as a child. Those two books, incidentally were ‘old’ then, having been published in 1936 and 1906 respectively!
Sometimes, even now, when I feel in need of some comforting nostalgia, I read Ballet Shoes again. I have no interest myself in writing children’s books, but to write something that generations of youngsters have absolutely loved, must be hugely satisfying. I am taking Ballet Shoes with me to my little temporary holiday-let in Norfolk, where I will be till I get into my new home. I think it will introduce a sense of normality into a slightly strange situation.
Where do you write?
Alas, my study, which is where I have written for the past nineteen years, has become a complete tip – full of packing cases. I wish I’d taken a picture of it before I tore it apart! But I have sent you an image of our consulting room/library. This is a lovely room. Both my husband and I practised in there – I as a psychotherapist and he as a sexual medicine doctor. But we also used it as a place where we could sit quietly to read, and to work out tricky bits of our current manuscripts away from the computer screen (which can hurt your eyes and give you a headache after a while). David, my husband, was a very successful writer of some 35 medical and sexual health books. But before he died, he wrote a novel. And one of my next projects will be to get that edited and published.
If the book was being made into a movie, who would you pick to play your main characters?
Could I have Fiona Shaw as Wendy, please? I adore her. Have you been watching the series ‘Killing Eve’? It was fabulous, and she was the most fabulous thing in it.
Other good people in my star cast would be: Daniel Day-Lewis, John Hannah, Roger Allam and Jenny Agutter. One can dream!
Who is your favourite character? Why?
To tell you the truth, I love all five of my main characters. I had, at one point, thought of killing off one of the men, but I liked him too much. I think on balance probably my absolute favourite is Wendy – probably because I understand her world of television, as I’ve worked in that industry myself.
What do you like to do in your free time?
My great passion is ballet. I started taking classes at 63! Bit late, I’m afraid, but I am still doing it. I do Pilates and a bit of yoga too to balance things out. I like walking – particularly along extensive sandy beaches. Inch beach, which features in the book, is a real favourite. I obviously like reading, but don’t do enough of it. I enjoy detective dramas on TV, which absorb and distract me. I love going to the theatre and to the ballet, and to concerts.
Next novel….what is it about?
It has a working title of Now, Who Will Massage My Back. It won’t be called that! It is about four mid-life women who become friends against the odds. I think one will be a widow, and another will be a character who makes an appearance from an earlier book. I think that’s all I can say at the moment. One thing is certain; it will celebrate mid-life! That’s my thing.
I hope you enjoyed learning more about Christine; I know I did. Now go read her book! Most major bookshops stock it and if you have a Kindle, you can also find it on AMAZON.