I’d like to take you back to 10th June 2016, which was one of the happiest days of my life.
To be honest, I’d had a pretty charmed existence for about three decades – which never ceased to amaze me because, before that, my love life had been a mess and I’d been slow to recognise where my strengths lay in the workplace.
But now I could look back on a career in television news in the ’80s and ’90s as well as my subsequent training as a psychotherapist, which led to me combining writing and broadcasting with a clinical practice in Harley Street. I had been an agony aunt and columnist for a wide range of UK national publications and on TV, and I’d turned out over a dozen books for Century, Arrow, Hodder and Piatkus. And on top of that, I’d been married for twenty-eight years to David Delvin, a medical journalist and doctor who was a delightfully romantic man with a wickedly anarchic sense of humour.
I’d written a novel – my first book – while still a news presenter. But my changing career had prevented me from penning more fiction because I was commissioned regularly to write self-help books and what publishers like to call, ‘inspirational guides’. However, the 10th June 2016 was notable in that it saw the publication of my second novel, Who’d Have Thought It?, after a fiction-break of twenty-nine years!
Wanting to return to fiction when all my publishing contacts and agents were in the non-fiction world hadn’t been easy. In truth, everyone in the business was sublimely uninterested in this woman in her late sixties, as I was then, wishing to change genres. ‘Stick to what you do well, Christine,’ they advised.
But I was bored with what I ‘did well’. And I wanted to write a novel all about mid-life people.
So, I decided to go the indie route, which became the obvious choice once I’d learned about a fantastic woman and marvellous writer called Orna Ross. She had founded an organisation called The Alliance of Independent Authors, and joining it was the best professional decision I ever made. Before long, through them, I’d found an editor, a typesetter, a cover designer, and a printer – which meant that all I had to do was write the book!
I was, then, having a very exciting time in June 2016 and had already begun my next novel – another story about the ups and downs and crazy turmoil that is mid-life today.
The only cloud on the horizon was the small matter of the European Referendum, but with the world becoming more dangerous, and the challenges of population movement and climate change ever more worrying, there was no way the great British public would vote anything other than Remain. Was there?
We know now that nothing is certain. And on June 24th, a mere fortnight after my gloriously happy day, I woke to discover that the world had tilted on its axis.
I was so distressed that I lost half a stone in a week – but for the very first time, that was no consolation! Shortly afterwards, my husband became very ill, and by the end of 2016 we both knew that it would be his final illness.
Suddenly, the book I was working on seemed to belong to a different era – one of hope, joy and, some might say, naivety. But in the strangely dystopic universe I found myself in, I wanted to explore different aspects of life – for starters, the importance of identity and how we need an increasing number of in-depth and sustaining friendships as we age.
I also became aware that individuals who were as devastated by Brexit as I was, were uncovering their Irish or German or Spanish roots and applying for passports from those countries, in order to remain European citizens. And, as Lovely Husband was Irish, we talked about relocating to the west of Ireland, though it became apparent quite quickly that he was too poorly to do it.
So, we stayed in Brighton and I started It’s Who We Are again, and though it’s still a tale laced with humour and optimism – at its heart there’s a new awareness that we’re living in weirdly uncertain and unpredictable times. Furthermore, the fall-out from the referendum became central to the plot. I wasn’t sure that was wise, but I felt compelled to do it.
Then, I decided to give two of my characters Irish mothers – one of whom owned and ran a fabulous hotel similar to Parknasilla which, to my mind, is utter paradise! And I created a market town, not unlike Kenmare, and gave it the best possible independent bookshop my imaginings could conjure up. So, step by step, my novel became a very different book from the one I’d envisaged originally. But I really loved writing it.
Meanwhile the characters began to take over, as all writers know they can, and they struggled with the concept of who they were, particularly when they encountered a medical mystery that threw all their identities into question. And then, they resolved their issues in ways I hadn’t anticipated.
As ever, I dedicated the book to my husband and I’m very grateful that it was printed before he died and that I was able to sign it and put a copy into his hands, knowing that I would never again be able to repeat that particular experience. But I was very lucky because, despite his deteriorating condition, we talked about everything, including my future. We agreed that I would continue to visit and love Ireland – and never stop supporting Munster Rugby! And David said that he hoped I would carry on writing. I will, of course. Even though I’ve lost my chief supporter, my muse, my reliable guide to commas and my bringer of jollity and endless cups of tea, life goes on. And writing is what makes sense of it all.
(c) Christine Webber
About It’s Who We Are:
Five friends in their fifties find themselves dealing with unforeseen upheaval as they uncover long-hidden and devastating family secrets. Meanwhile, the world around them seems to be spinning out of control. This is a novel about friendship, kindness and identity – and about how vital it is to reach for what enhances rather than depletes you.
Order your copy online here.