Hello! Today it’s the turn of author Christine Webber to answer my questions about writing, inspiration, and desert island character choices. Christine’s new novel, It’s Who We Are, is published on 16th January, 2018.
Tell us a little about your writing to date.
My writing career began, in the mid-eighties, when I was a news presenter for Anglia Television. I suppose I have always scribbled a bit, but I began to get a real writing ‘itch’ so I went to a wonderful day-long conference for aspiring authors run by Cosmopolitan. The speakers were out of this world, and included Maya Angelou, Angela Carter, Margaret Drabble and Clare Boylan. Sad, isn’t it, that three of those writers have gone, far too soon, to the great reading room in the sky? Anyway, I came away feeling really inspired. And as the magazine then ran a competition to find the best, first novel, I got my act together and wrote one. The resulting book, In Honour Bound, did not win the competition but the publisher Century Hutchinson who judged the entries, liked it sufficiently to offer me a contract and it was published in the autumn of 1987.
But then I left television news and became an agony aunt on various newspapers and magazines. I also trained as a psychotherapist and started a private practice in Harley Street. Then, I began getting work on TV as an ‘expert’ rather than a presenter. And I was commissioned to write a dozen non-fiction books over the years. These include: Get the Happiness Habit, How to Mend a Broken Heart and Too Young to Get Old. Somehow 29 years went by ’til one day I decided it was ‘now or never’ to get back to writing fiction. And I wrote Who’d Have Thought It? But by now I had no contacts in fiction publishing – and so I decided to go indie with that book and subsequent novels
Where does your inspiration for your novels come from?
That first book was all about a television presenter trying to find the right man. As such, it was definitely something I was living at the time! But my 2016 novel, Who’d Have Thought It?, arose out of a television interview I did with BBC Breakfast one morning. They asked me in to talk about the growing numbers of 50-plus women who were single. It seemed that the Department for Work and Pensions had identified this as a trend and given such people an acronym – SWOFTIES (Single women over 50). On the way home I started wondering what it would be like to be suddenly single when you had thought you were settled for life. And how one might start dating again, and possibly have sex with someone new, while dealing with demented parents and adult children who were going off the rails. And the story just came to me. My new novel, It’s Who We Are, is again about mid-life. The big family secret that occurs in this book certainly never happened to me, but I do remember finding out things about my late parents as I cleared their house, and I know a number of people whose whole lives were changed by what they discovered in that situation. But the turbulent backdrop to the novel is entirely influenced by Brexit and the uncertainty we all feel irrespective of how we voted in the referendum.
You’ve had a very varied career – what was it that made you return to writing fiction after 29 years?
I was 70 earlier this year and I think anticipating that milestone was great motivation!
Personal writing choice: pen or keyboard?
How do you know when your novel is finished?
I think it perhaps never is – quite. But I tend to call a halt after four edits by Helen Baggott, whom many of your readers will know is a brilliant editor and proof reader. Mind you, I tend to have a panic and change something after I have sent the typeset version to Clays, the printers. They are very patient!
What is the best part of being an author?
You are never bored. There is always a book on the go and the idea of another one bubbling up. And of course you never retire.
And the worst?
I’m struggling to think of something.
Who are your writing heroes?
Shakespeare – because I am obviously very interested in mental health and how people think, and his grasp of the human psyche is totally amazing. Modern day writers I absolutely love are: Kate Atkinson, the late Helen Dunmore, Robert Harris, William Boyd, John le Carré, Elizabeth Buchan and Julian Barnes. But I also really enjoy good books by indie authors. And that list is growing all the time. I started with Jane Davis, Maggie Christensen, Anne Stormont and Carol Cooper but there are plenty more really good indie authors waiting for me on my Kindle.
If you had to be stranded on a desert island with three fictional characters, who would you choose, and why?
The Admirable Crichton. I have never read the play by J M Barrie, but I must have seen the 1957 film with Kenneth More in the titular role at least half a dozen times. A rich family have to abandon their yacht in a storm at sea and end up on a tropical island. They have no idea how to cope, but their butler, Crichton, is in his element and ends up as the boss until they are rescued. So, I think I would like to be on an island with him as he would keep me alive!
Elizabeth Bennett from Pride and Prejudice. I am sure we would have some interesting conversations.
George Smiley – John le Carré’s best-loved character. I have always wondered if I might have made a half-decent spy. Probably not! But it would be fantastic to learn all about espionage from the master.
I am going to re-issue my 1987 novel and hope to bring that out by the summer. Then I am starting a new novel about three mid-life women from very different backgrounds, who meet by chance and form an unlikely alliance.
Thank you very much for taking the time to answer these questions, Christine. I love the fact you can’t think of any downsides to being a writer!
Christine Webber originally trained as an opera singer but had to re-think her career plans when her voice professor told her: ‘Your voice is OK, but your legs are very much better!’
Musical theatre beckoned. There was some success. But not much.
In 1979, she became a news presenter for Anglia TV. At last she had found something she enjoyed that other people thought she was good at. It was such a happy relief that she stayed for 12 years. Towards the end of that period, In Honour Bound, her first novel, was published.
After leaving Anglia Television, she became an agony aunt for various publications including TV Times, Best, Dare and BBC Parenting. And she wrote a relationship advice column for The Scotsman and one for Woman, called Sexplanations. She also regularly broadcast advice on Trisha, The Good Sex Guide …Late and from the BBC’s Breakfast sofa.
During her ‘problem page’ years, she decided to train as a psychotherapist. This led to her having a practice in Harley Street.
Christine has written twelve non-fiction books including How to Mend a Broken Heart and Too Young to Get Old. She has also ghosted and consulted on several celebrity books. But her intention was always to find time to return to writing fiction. In 2016, she published a novel about romance in mid-life called Who’d Have Thought It? This new novel also explores what it is to be fifty-something (or older) in today’s turbulent world.