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Virtual Book Club: Meet Christine Webber

Book Launch Special!

Today, I’m delighted to welcome Christine Webber to Virtual Book Club, an interview series in which I put questions to authors about the books they’d like to persuade your club to read. If you want to pose a question of your own, you’ll have the opportunity to do so at the end. (There’s also a giveaway, but more on that later.)

Christine 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 starting a small practice in Harley Street, which she still has.

Christine has written twelve non-fiction books including How to Mend a Broken Heart and Get the Happiness Habit. But finally, she has returned to her original love of writing fiction with Who’d Have Thought It?  

Q: Who’d Have Thought It? is out today so, firstly, congratulations. What is it that you feel makes it particularly suitable for book clubs?

Women in mid-life are probably the country’s keenest readers. At least that’s how it seems to me. And they have formed brilliant book clubs throughout the UK. Mid-life women are fascinating. Given that my novel is all about the turbulent existence of mid-life women I am hopeful that this book will appeal to them.

Q: We already know that you’ve made your living by writing, but perhaps you’d tell us how you came to be a writer.

Funnily enough, even after writing for thirty years, I still hesitate to say ‘I am a writer’. It seems so grand somehow. I wrote a play when I was nine. The school put it on, and I appeared in it. So, I think it was probably a vehicle for doing what my parents called ‘showing off’. But it was gratifying and exciting. From the age of eighteen, I trained as a musician and professional singer, and there was no writing in those years or in the ones that followed in which I scratched a living in light music, acting and so on. But in 1986, when I had been a news presenter for Anglia TV for about seven years, I wrote a novel for a competition run by Cosmopolitan magazine and Century Hutchinson. I didn’t win. But someone at CH read it and decided to publish it the following year. So that was the start. In my television days, I also wrote most of my own scripts so I suppose you could say I was writing during all those years too.

Q: Is your day job a distraction or does it add another element to your fiction?

Bit of both, I think. My day job is complicated these days in that no two days are the same. I have three components to what I do – writing, broadcasting and psychotherapy.

Obviously, the occasional paid work I get via publishers/magazines is important – but it does divert me from fiction! I write regularly for the health supplement of The Spectator and for Europe’s biggest health website, Netdoctor. Also, I am currently acting as psychological coach for the next Katie Piper book, which involves quite a bit of work. Additionally, I have a small psychotherapy practice in Harley Street which takes some time.  Having explored the hopes, fears, insecurities and options of mid-life women in my 2010 guide for female baby boomers, Too Young to Get Old, I thought it would be an absorbing challenge to fictionalise what I had learned. In many ways, everything I do influences my fiction.

Q: The protagonist in Who’d Have Though It? is a doctor called Annie Templeton. What five words best describe her?

I would describe her as: decent, fair, helpful, funny and loyal.

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Click here to look inside or buy

A year after discovering that her husband no longer loves her, Dr Annie Templeton wakes up with a sudden relish for singledom. However, she soon realises that being single in your fifties is very different from being single in your twenties.

How, she wonders, do people of my age – with careers, adult children doing unwise things with unwise people, parents going gaga, and friends falling ill, or in or out of love – ever have the time and energy to find a new partner?

Who’d Have Thought It? is a romantic comedy, which will make you laugh and cry – often at the same time.

***

Q: Where is the book set and how did you decide on its setting (or settings, as is the case here)?

It just seemed to set itself in Cambridgeshire. I lived there myself from 1991 to 1999 but I have created an imaginary village for Annie to live in, and it’s an amalgam of several areas I know. However, there are real places in the book – Addenbrooke’s hospital, for example. Then several chapters are set in Southwold in Suffolk, which is a town I’ve loved since appearing in their summer repertory company in 1974 and 1975. Many of the locations there, such as The Swan Hotel and the lovely café by the children’s boating lake, do exist in real life. Then Annie visits Brighton, and also she’s often in London. She has lunch in The Corinthia hotel, for example, which is something I love when I can afford it! And there are a few days in Biarritz, and the prologue takes place in Venice. All the locations are familiar to me. I find that quite important. I know some writers access Google Maps and haven’t necessarily been to places they write about, but I don’t think I’d feel confident about that.

Q: Do you find yourself returning to any recurring themes within your writing and, if so, are you any closer to finding an answer? Or, put more simply, what is the question that keeps you writing?

I am really interested in ‘triumph’. I rarely cry at sad moments on the news or in films – though I have been known to – but when someone achieves something, I dissolve. My husband always knows when this is going to happen and quietly passes me one of his proper handkerchiefs! So I weep when people win races, when performers get to the end of a gruelling evening in opera, plays or ballet, when someone walks again after being injured, when people find love in real life or in films or books … You get the picture. In fact I am awash much of most days! So I think in essence I really want to write about how people overcome difficulties. Much of my self-help career has obviously taken that route and I can see it leaping out of the pages of this novel as well. And I bet the next one will follow a similar theme.

Q: Speaking of which, are you already working on ‘the next one’?

I am about half way into a new novel. It too is about mid-life – but has five equally important characters. The story revolves around the idea that there may be a link between them that they’ve never suspected.

Q: Zadie Smith says ‘It’s an unfortunate thing, but it turns out that the perfect state of mind to edit your own novel is two years after it’s published, ten minutes before you go onstage at a literary festival. At that moment every redundant phrase, each show-off, pointless metaphor, all the pieces of deadwood, stupidity, vanity and tedium are distressingly obvious to you.’ Is reading your own work aloud part of your editing process? If not, how do you go about it?

How true this is! I have put off re-reading my novel now the paperback is out, because I know there will be something actually wrong and probably also loads of material that I should have done better or differently. I do read aloud to pick up errors. I think that helps. Also, just before the book went to the printers, I read it on my Kindle for the first time. I found a few tiny mistakes that way that had somehow been overlooked during endless reading by me and three reads by my brilliant editor and proof reader. I do much of my fiction reading on trains, on a Kindle, so it was a good thing to read my own book this way because with the font size I choose, the pages are not overly full of text. I will definitely do this earlier in the process next time.

Q: What were the key factors that influenced your decision to publish independently?

It’s been people: people like you, Jane! And my friend, Dr Carol Cooper, whom I’ve known for decades. Like me, as a medical journalist, she’d produced a string of ‘advice’ books. Then about two years ago, she sent me the manuscript of her first novel, One Night at the Jacaranda. It was well-written and riveting. I loved it. And I was impressed and inspired by her decision to abandon conventional publishing for her fiction and to take the indie route. At that time, I was some way into Who’d Have Thought It? and had started sounding out various publishers I’d worked for in the self-help market. Not surprisingly, they weren’t very interested in hearing that I planned to write a novel, and so the idea of joining a growing number of established authors in the indie world became increasingly appealing.

Q: Having had experience of both traditional and indie publishing, how do you think the two compare?

Well, in many ways, they are similar – you write a book and you hope it sells. But the huge and welcome difference is all about the control that you have when you go ‘indie’. Some of my conventionally published books, for example, have come out with covers that I really didn’t like much. I often had a choice – but it was usually a choice of just three that had all been put together by someone in-house – and sometimes I didn’t like any of them. Also, I have never been involved before in choosing a font, or the quality of the paper. And the editing process has generally been one that has given me little pleasure in the past. In fact, it’s often felt like a chore. When you are in charge of the whole project, it’s all so different. I had no idea I would like all this stuff so much. But I do. It’s been a wonderful aspect of the whole process. Of course I am taking the financial risk. But even that doesn’t feel too bad. To be honest, I have found that it costs less than I think publishers would lead us to believe! 

Q: You talk about the financial risk. Which professional services won’t you skimp on?

I really fell on my feet with both my editor/proof reader, Helen Baggott, and my jacket designer, Jane Dixon-Smith – both of whom I learned about via ALLi. Also, through ALLi I found ebook partnership, and Clays, the printers. Actually, I’ve known Clays for years and have had many books printed by them. But had it not been for ALLi, it wouldn’t have occurred to me that such a traditional firm might have ventured into the indie publishing market. They’ve been wonderful – and they introduced me to the BORN group, for typesetting, who’ve been marvellous. At the moment, I cannot imagine producing another book without the help of all these experts.

Q: Do you feel there is more of a sense of community with self-publishing than there is with traditional publishing?

Definitely. I am so pleased that I joined the Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi). I have never previously met such a marvellous bunch of bright, spirited, interesting and innovative people. And on top of that they are so helpful. Genuinely supportive. I have been quite overwhelmed by that. 

Q: How do you divide your time between writing and marketing?

At the moment, my time is consumed by marketing. I am fortunate as a broadcaster that I know so many people at local radio stations. And I have had some great interviews which I hope will help to sell the book. But I feel my writing is really on the backburner right now, and that needs to change. On the other hand if you don’t tell people about your book, then writing it is a bit of a waste of time! So, my balance in this respect is completely awry at present, but hopefully some order will be restored soon. I am a novice in the indie world and am just finding my way …

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Q: And for your own reading, do have any particular favourite authors or genres of fiction?

I do! Helen Dunmore, Iris Murdoch, Patrick Gale, Kate Atkinson, John Le Carré.  

Over the past ten years, I’ve developed a passion for espionage. Why? No idea – except that a small part of me yearns to be a spy. But I guess it’s too late now.

Q: Where can we find out more about you and your work?

My website is www.christinewebber.com And my twitter name is @1chriswebber.

I have one paperback copy of Who’d Have Thought It? to send to the first person who leaves a comment. Sorry, but this offer applies to UK readers only. 

Remember, if you enjoyed this post please share it. If there’s anything else you’d like to ask Christine please leave a comment.  

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And if you’re an author and would like to appear on Virtual Book Club, please fill in a contact form.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 




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