SOPHIE GRENHAM talks to author CHRISTINE WEBBER about her media career, BREXIT and MATURE APPEAL …
English writer Christine Webber has enjoyed a self-coined portfolio career. The course of her working life has been an impressive chain of progression; from entertaining audiences on the British stage, to television presenting and print journalism, to psychotherapy and corporate work, and more recently – fiction.
Christine originally trained as a classical singer at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. While a long career in showbiz wasn’t for her, she appeared on the West End and as Principal Boy in pantomimes up and down the country.
Her smile lit up television screens for over twelve years as the leading news presenter for Anglia TV, before transitioning into print journalism in 1990. It wasn’t long before Christine became an agony aunt for numerous publications. She subsequently trained as a psychotherapist, first at Regent’s College London and later at Goldsmiths.
Christine’s debut novel, In Honour Bound was published in 1987. It would be twenty-nine years before she would write more fiction, but in the interim she published over twelve popular works of non-fiction, including Too Young To Get Old (2010). Christine’s third novel, It’s Who We Are (2017), is her most poignant to date. Building on her interest in stories about mid-life, her new book is about a diverse group of connected characters in their fifties, each with a personal struggle. Meanwhile, the threat of Brexit looms and the world appears to have come off its axis. The reader is taken on an exciting journey with the magnetic motley crew from London to the west coast of Ireland, in their search for identity and belonging in a chaotic new world.
Elly Griffiths has said of the book – ‘A marvellous range of characters, all drawn with both sharpness and humanity. A thoroughly compelling story from a very accomplished writer.’
Christine Webber lives in Brighton, England. Her Irish husband, Dr David Delvin, recently passed away after a long illness. Our thoughts are with Christine and their family during this difficult time.
It’s Who We Are (€9.00, paperback) is published by On Call and available from Amazon.co.uk.
I live in a village called Rottingdean, where we have a number of independent shops. There’s a great deli/greengrocer. A proper bakers. And a fashion emporium owned and run by a young Turkish woman who is a real talent. She began by doing sewing and alterations, but was so wildly successful that she moved into larger premises and started designing her own clothes and handbags. She also sells my books. I love her flair and initiative.
I grew up in south London. I must have been a rather odd child because I was always aware that I was just marking time till I could be a grown up and take charge of my destiny. As a consequence, I have no nostalgia about my upbringing. I love London itself, by the way, and went to music college there which was brilliant. But the suburbs were terribly dull when I was small. I wanted a completely different life. And I was determined to have it! My mother was a Scot and so we had holidays in Scotland which I adored. I hated coming back home afterwards.
My study is at the back of our house, and it opens out onto a rather overgrown terrace. I have a standing desk. I can’t pretend I never sit down, but working on my feet has definitely been great in terms of back-health and general fitness.
There’s an old chaise longue along the back wall. In my head, I recline there for half an hour every afternoon and read books. In reality, this never happens, and it’s always covered by papers, journals and CD cases. There are windows on two sides of the room and the two remaining walls are crowded with pictures, noticeboards and a large Irish Rugby calendar. My husband, David Delvin, was Irish and I’m a huge fan of the national team. Also, in the room are two aged plants which keep almost dying, but somehow don’t. There are also loads of photographs of David and my various step-grandchildren. It’s a great room – and I know how lucky I am to have it as so many writers have to pen their books on a corner of the kitchen table.
The other day, I was dusting a bookshelf at home and a couple of bookmarks from Woulfe’s in Listowel fell out of the collections of Irish stories I’d bought there. Now, that was a lovely shop. Then there’s a great bookshop I’ve yet to visit but follow on Facebook and Twitter called Print Point. It’s on the Isle of Bute which I used to travel to by Clyde ferry most summers when I was small. I also love the Holt Bookshop in Norfolk, which is just fabulous. Also, Woodbridge Emporium in Suffolk and, here in Brighton, the Kemptown Bookshop. Indie bookshops are wondrous places. I conjured one up in my recent novel. It’s entirely imaginary, but I made it perfect and in my mind it’s real and I want to go there! It’s situated in a fictional market town in Kerry.
On her nightstand
There are loads because I’m not reading much at present. My wonderful husband was seriously ill for over a year and he died on the 9th March – and as anyone in that situation knows, at such times your head is all over the place, and also you have so much to organise and sort out – and your focus is almost entirely on this one, dearly loved person. But the four books I really want to tackle once I can, are: A Legacy of Spies by John le Carré. Munich by Robert Harris, Three Things About Elsie by Joanna Cannon and These Fragile Things by Jane Davis, who is a fellow ‘indie’ author and a really wonderful writer.
The west coast of Ireland does it for me. Dingle. Inch Beach. Glenbeigh. Glengarriff. Valentia Island. It’s all magic. And when time and finances permit, I’ll be returning to my favourite hotel in the world, which is Parknasilla.
When I was a television news presenter, I interviewed hundreds of people – Prince Philip, Jilly Cooper, the cellist Julian Lloyd Webber, Danny la Rue, Cardinal Basil Hume, Peter Skellern, Sir Anthony Quayle… But also I made programmes about children who were up for adoption. That was very special. And I made films about truly extraordinary individuals who were raising huge amounts for charity, or trying to get justice for their disabled relatives. The world is full of good people who are really doing their best. We should never forget that.
Let me take you back to an evening in January 2016. The then Irish ambassador to Great Britain, Daniel Mulhall, hosted a very convivial party for the Journalists’ Society at the London embassy. But things got serious when he made a speech – and explained to all the press gathered in the room, just how awful it would be if Britain left the EU.
“We don’t want you to go,” he said. I looked around various people I knew, and grinned. Of course we weren’t going to leave the EU. It was unthinkable. We would have the referendum, so David Cameron could appease the right of his party, but who would quit Europe and go it alone when the world was becoming more dangerous by the day? No one in their right mind.
A couple of months later, I began writing my novel It’s Who We Are, but once the worst happened and we this side of the water – in our infinite madness – had voted ‘out’, I realised that the book was going to have to be very different and that I simply could not write a contemporary story without it reflecting the division and – among people like me – utter despair in the country. Quite apart from anything else, masses of people I knew started applying for Irish passports. So, where I had intended to have one character with an Irish mother in my novel, suddenly another character got given an Irish parent. And two of my protagonists who had their own companies, became fixated on how on earth they would survive outside the EU. It was always going to be a story about the turbulence of mid-life, and the secrets that are laid bare when ageing parents die. But it became a book about change, identity and reaching for what enhances rather than depletes you.
On mature appeal
I came to believe that novels where the main characters were vibrant, innovative, full of zest for life and over fifty were in short supply. Frankly, if I never read another psychological thriller about an anguished woman in her thirties it will be far too soon! I write about mid-life with my psychotherapist’s hat on too – mostly about ageing well and healthily, and also about sex and relationships in mid-life. It’s Who We Are then is about energetic, interesting, kind people in mid-life who are facing all sorts of challenges but who are capable of surmounting them because of the people they are, and the friends that they have. Readers tell me it’s a life-enhancing novel, which is good because that’s the sort of stuff I like to write.
On what’s next
Guess what? Another book about people well past the first flush of youth!
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