A story of mid-life
PUBLISHED: 09:44 22 January 2018 | UPDATED: 09:44 22 January 2018
Former Anglia TV presenter Christine Webber, brings us her new novel It's Who We Are, a tale of five people, long separated childhood friends, whose lives are destined to change forever.
Former Anglia Television presenter, agony aunt, now psychotherapist and author, Christine Webber talks as she writes, frankly and with an easy good humour that makes it impossible not to like her − even though she occasionally gives her characters a bit of a rough time.
When It’s Who We Are arrived in the post, I wondered what they’d be getting up to this time. There was a very sexy interlude or two in her previous novel, Who’d Have Thought It? Sex, after all, is one of Christine’s specialities, academically speaking – in her professional counselling practice it’s the sort of thing people talk about.
In this book, people do have sex but not, as it were, on the page. We read more about the tentative overtures and the warm aftermaths than we do about the bit in between. But where we may lose a little romping, we find true romance.
Unlike the previous novel which had a woman left lonely in mid-life at its heart, this story has five main characters, two women and three men, all fifty-somethings. Christine has been living with them in her imagination for quite some time. She knows what sort of people they are; what they like; what they are thinking, and how they behave – well outside the confines of her 340-page novel. She clearly likes them all – so much so that one of them who had been destined for a tragic end, was given a last-minute reprieve.
“When you come to write with equal weight of five characters, it is a very different technique. I gave each of them their own chapter to start with... and then I gave them all another chapter.”
It is worth it because, by the time the clever plot begins to unfold, the reader already knows them and cares about them.
Once again, Christine has contrived to bring us a cracking read but one that won’t make your head hurt. Written with all the good grammar that an old pedant like me demands, the book is intelligent, tinged with humour, and thought-provoking without the need for a dictionary to hand.
There is widow, Araminta (where did the name come from? “I think I must have seen it somewhere and liked it,” says Christine); Wendy, who finally walks away from her philandering husband; Green Party prospective candidate Philip, whose wife doesn’t like him and he doesn’t like her back; Michael, a Roman Catholic priest in a Norfolk parish and Julian, gay but unattached, who sings professionally and takes ballet lessons.
I happen to know that Christine loves ballet and is a fine singer and so I suggest she might be closest to Julian’s character but although, she says: “I’m still doing ballet like Julian,” she says her characters have lives of their own.
One way or another, each of her cast of lovelorn mid-lifers is conflicted but they share childhood friendships and have Norfolk in common. Christine, who now lives on the south coast, knows and loves East Anglia too. She spent a happy 12 years at Anglia Television, leaving in 1990. Prior to that she had been an actor and appeared in the famed Summer Theatre at Southwold.
Her characters often eat out (there are keen foodies among them) and all the London and Norfolk hostelries mentioned are real restaurants and cafes... It occurs to me that they will all now be able to rush out and buy the book and then write “as featured in Christine Webber’s novel” on their publicity material.
The action also takes in Ireland and this is the only fictional location, an amalgam, says Christine, of the west coast towns and villages she has visited. “I do know Ireland – my husband (Dr David Delvin, author, advice-columnist and sexologist) is Irish. I have had wonderful holidays in Ireland, on the west coast, and feel I know it very well.” Then Christine adds, surprisingly: “I support Munster Rugby Club.”
“The whole thing is people discovering about themselves and their families. (In my work) I remember one person who found out that their parents had never been married. There are so many secrets in families.”
When we last spoke, about Who’d have Thought It? Christine had already been halfway through writing this novel. She told me then, back in June 2016: “It will find people linked in a way they didn’t expect.”
But there turned out to be two other surprises that even Christine hadn’t expected to find their way into her story - Brexit and President Trump.
As both of these unforeseen events installed themselves into the national psyche, she found them impossible to ignore. “I thought, ‘this is going to be a different book, now’.”
“At one point, Julian (the singer) has a major row with his mother about (Brexit). I think that’s being replicated all over the country. We are a country divided now.”
Without making any comparisons, she reflects on the way Charles Dickens wove news and world events into his novels. “It never occurred to me I might do that but when something monumental happens...” she trails off and says, decisively: “2016 was a peculiar and dramatic year.”
With two books published within two years, might we be witnessing the start of a prolific writing career?
“I have the idea for the next book. Three women of a certain age who are very, very different characters...” she says, a hint of dreaminess in her voice.
Watch this space.
• It’s Who We Are, out this week, is published by On Call and is available in bookshops across East Anglia, rrp £7.99
An extract from It’s Who We Are:
“I put down the teapot to answer the phone. At the other end, Mum is full of a story in today’s Eastern Daily Press about Philip Baldry becoming a Green Party candidate.
I hear myself making a harrumphing sound which I realise confirms I’m now officially old. Young people don’t harrumph, do they?
‘He always was an odious little prick,’ I growl when she draws breath.
‘Julian! You and he used to be such pals.’
‘A very long time ago.’
‘I never understood what went wrong.’
‘I don’t remember myself now.’ This is a lie because I recall precisely why I ended our friendship.”