Interview by Ceri Wheeldon
I caught up with Christine Webber, on the inspiration behind her latest book, It’s Who We Are, and the life issues it explores for women over 50.
- When did you start to write?
As a child, I was always writing stories. I also wrote plays – usually with a good part in them for me! One of these – which owed much to the plot of the Nutcracker Ballet – was called ‘Midnight in the Nursery’ and it was put on in my junior school. Quite a proud moment.
- What have been the challenges for you?
My first book was a novel, published by Century Hutchinson in 1987. At the time of writing it, I was a television news presenter at Anglia Television. I had intended carrying on writing fiction but in 1990, I opted to leave my day job to become a print journalist specialising in health. This led to me becoming an agony aunt on various publications including Best, The Scotsman and TV Times. And then I trained as a psychotherapist and, as a result, kept being commissioned to write non-fiction books. All this was great but at the back of my mind, I always wanted to return to writing fiction and by the time I did, I had no contacts in that side of the publishing industry. That was a big challenge, so I turned my attention to indie publishing for my novels, and I’m glad I did.
- What is the title of your latest book?
It’s called It’s Who We Are. As you might guess, it’s about identity and about people being the sort of individuals they really want to be.
- What was the inspiration behind your latest book?
After finishing Who’d Have Thought It? – a romantic comedy – which came out in 2016, I found I’d enjoyed writing about the quality of mid-life friendships so much in that book that I decided to return to the theme in my next novel, and to make friendship, rather than romance, the key feature of the plot. Female baby boomers – who tend to be both my readers and my inspiration – have a very different social life from that of their mothers at our age. Most of us have had long term careers and have wonderful friends from all the different jobs that we’ve had – friends that may well be scattered around the country and beyond. Our mothers tended to have a smaller social circle comprising sisters, people who lived nearby and so on. As a generation, those of us born in the wake of the second world war have been blessed in a great many ways and one of those is in the quality of our friendships, which are often more important to us than family relationships. I think this is fascinating, and I want to keep writing about it. It’s important too. As a medical journalist, I’ve researched the benefits of a strong social network, and I now know that individuals who have one, tend to live longer, and healthier. The fact is that loneliness is as bad for us as smoking. So, friendships are not just lovely to have, they are vital to our well-being.
- What can you share with us about the plot – without spoiling the ending!
This is a story about five people aged between 53 and 60. They are all at a crossroads in their lives and are experiencing unprecedented challenge and change. At the same time, they are – like the rest of us – dealing with Brexit and Trump and all the uncertainty of our age. As the book progresses, they become firm friends. But then they uncover a medical secret that threatens to turn their lives upside down.
- Who are the key characters – and how do you hope readers over 50 will relate to them?
There are five main characters. They all have ‘equal billing’ as it were. And the story weaves around all of them. The book begins with a short prologue which describes the events of one stormy day in October 2016. In it we meet:
Wendy Lawrence – formerly a TV news director at ITN, and now owner of a thriving media company
Michael Chapman – a long-term Catholic priest with doubts about his vocation
Philip Baldry – CEO of an agricultural machinery corporation and would-be Green politician
Julian Wilson – a gay and larger than life character and freelance classical singer,
Araminta Allsop – a therapist, recently widowed.
I think that people of all ages can relate to their situations but obviously the main readership is going to be readers of 50 plus and they will identify with the stuff my characters are having to deal with – including adult children doing inexplicable things and elderly parents needing lots of support.
- What do like the most about the characters you have created?
In a nutshell, I think they are likeable people. I think this is important because I’m sure I am not alone in putting aside books where the characters are so horrid I couldn’t care less about them. Ditto television drama and west end plays. I feel that life is uncertain and bleak enough without reading books and watching dramas where everyone is irredeemably awful! I also like my protagonists because they are not giving up on life but rising to challenges and surmounting them, and not letting their ages get in the way of positive decisions and opportunities. For example, in a slightly mad moment, one of my characters buys an independent bookshop to save it from closure. How cool is that? If I had the money, I’d do that too! A lot of readers have told me that they find the book inspiring and upbeat. I could not be more pleased about that, because that’s exactly what I want to impart to anyone who reads my books.
- Are there any key issues you wanted to draw attention to?
Many of us have cleared out a house of an ill or dead parent or other elderly relative. When you talk to people who have been through this experience it’s amazing how often they have uncovered family secrets. That was one of my starting points.
- What do want readers to take away having the read the book?
I want people to feel that age is not a bar to achieving ambitions and following your dreams.
- What’s next for you – will there be a sequel with the same characters?
Funnily enough, a lot of readers asked me that after I wrote Who’d Have Thought It? And quite a number of them have asked me again now they have read It’s Who We Are. At the moment, I have no plans to resurrect any of them. But a great friend set me thinking when he selected a relatively minor character in It’s Who We Are – she is Nora, an energetic 80-something who owns a gorgeous hotel in the west of Ireland. He said: ‘why not have her feature in a small way in someone else’s story?’ So that may be a way forward. I do love my characters. People say they seem totally real to them, and that they wish they could meet them and become friends! That is such a compliment.
What 3 tips would you offer women looking to write their first book?
- Do it, don’t just talk about it. Set aside some time every day, even if it’s just half an hour. You need to write often so that it becomes a habit you won’t break.
- Get active on social media and follow and join groups of writers and aspiring authors.
- Join the Alliance of Independent Authors. I owe so much to this marvellous organisation because I learned how to go indie with them, and found my designer, editor, printer and typesetter through them. Take a look at their website: https://www.allianceindependentauthors.org/