I have such a fantastic Q & A for you all today!!
The wonderful writer, psychotherapist, psychological consultant, ex agony aunt, ex news presenter and avid reader Christine Webber joins me in this fascinating interview.
As I was preparing it for today I was thinking to myself…what have I been doing with my life!!
To find out all about this charming lady and her very intriguing life, please do continue to read….
Christine, we crossed paths online over a love of books and Munster Rugby!! But before we get into all that I’d love to find out a bit more about you, starting with your singing career!! You are a trained opera singer, is that correct?
Yes, but we are talking about the sixties here!
The training at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama was wonderful, and what I learned about music then has greatly enhanced my life ever since. But I came to realise that I was not good enough to have the career I wanted. In fact one of my singing professors said to me: ‘Miss Webber, your voice is OK, but your legs are very much better!’ I expect he’d have been sacked for that nowadays, but I took the hint and went into light music, and also dabbled in acting.
I had some success, but to be honest, I was not a huge asset to the theatrical profession.
Following on from your career on the stage, you went into television presenting. How was that transition from stage to screen. How difficult is it as a news presenter to relay some of the horrors of news to people?
It took me three years of doing auditions up and down the country, and writing begging letters, before I got my first job in television in 1977 as an in-vision announcer for a station in the south of England. A year later I was offered a similar position at Anglia TV, based in the wonderful city of Norwich, which I was overjoyed to accept. And before long I was transferred from announcing to presenting the nightly news/magazine programme. That was the real start of much better things. I had found something that people thought I was good at! It was such a relief that I stayed for 12 years.
Of course it was just regional news – covering nine counties of England – and before the days of satellite links and all the technology we have today, those tea time programmes contained loads of features and not much news at all. But this was right up my street. I had a regular medical slot. And I also presented an occasional series on adoption, and I was involved in on air fundraising for all sorts of causes including the lifeboats, guide dogs and cancer scanners.
And over the years, I must have interviewed anyone and everyone who was doing something interesting in East Anglia. The most important interview was one with Prince Philip, which, sadly, I was far too terrified to enjoy.
There were of course some tragic news stories to cover. One I remember particularly was a child abduction. For some reason, I was absolutely positive that the little girl would be found alive. But she was murdered and her body was discovered one day while we were on air and it fell to me to break the news to the viewers. I think that was the only time that I struggled to hold my emotions in check – which is probably why I remember it with utter clarity so many decades on.
In the early 1990s you wrote your first novel In Honour Bound. What inspired you to become a writer and what is the premise of the novel?
That novel – surprise, surprise – was all about a television presenter! It came out in 1987 when I was still working for Anglia.
I’d always wanted to write, and around then, I was thinking it was time I got on with it. So, I went to a wonderful all-day conference on fiction writing run by Cosmopolitan magazine. The line-up of speakers was amazing; it included Angela Carter, Maya Angelou, Margaret Drabble and Clare Boylan. It’s hard to believe that three of those authors are now dead.
This conference really inspired me. And following on from that, Cosmopolitan ran a novel-writing competition in conjunction with the publisher Century Hutchinson. So I wrote my book and entered it. I would love to tell you that I won – but I didn’t. However, the publisher did offer me a contract and that’s how In Honour Bound came to be.
Christine you are a multi-talented lady!! You trained as a psychotherapist, after featuring as an agony aunt for various publications. Please share with us all a little about those years… You are the first ‘agony aunt’ I have met so I am very intrigued to hear more….
Becoming an agony aunt was – like lots of things in life – a bit of an accident. My husband, Dr David Delvin, whom I’d married in 1988, was established as a medical and advice columnist. He wrote for so many papers, I’ve no idea how he managed to fit it all in. Anyway, through his contacts, I heard that the agony aunt on one of the UK’s tabloids was leaving for another publication so I wrote a sample column, sent it to the editor and suddenly found myself doing the job!
I had recently left Anglia TV to pursue a writing rather than broadcasting career and this fitted in very nicely. Though funnily enough, as I became known as an agony aunt this led to quite a lot of televison work too.
I’ve written for a wide range of publications, including Best magazine, Woman, TV Times, TV Quick, Dare, BBC Parenting, Full House … but not all at the same time of course.
One thing people always ask agony aunts is: ‘Do you make the questions up?’ My answer to that is ‘mostly no’. But there was one exception. I was given a job on The Scotsman. I was thrilled to be a part of such a long-standing, traditional and well-loved newspaper. But my brief was to write a column which would ‘put the Caledonian male in touch with his feelings.’ As it turned out, the Caledonian male wasn’t too keen on getting in touch with his feelings – and only about half a dozen men wrote to me over a 12 month period! So quite a lot of creative writing went into that column.
As you have mentioned, I also trained as a psychotherapist. That really came about because I felt I would do a better job as an agony aunt if I had some psychological training. Extending my ‘portfolio’ to take on this specialty was one of the best things I ever did. I found it intriguing. I enjoyed seeing patients and trying to help them, and my writing career definitely benefited from the credibility I gained from having those qualifications.
I was totally unaware of the scale of the books you have written. 12 non-fiction books to date!! What is the core subject dealt with in these books and can you explain what influenced you to write them
In the 90s, having published my first novel, my plan was to write more fiction.
But what happened was that – as a result of becoming known as an agony aunt and then training as a psychotherapist – I was approached to write non-fiction books, usually of the self-help variety.
And so a new career channel opened up. I wrote quite a lot on sex, and also about happiness, self-esteem and heart break.
Then in 2010, I changed direction and wrote Too Young to Get Old which was a guide on how to age well for female baby boomers.
On a completely different topic I have to ask you about rugby. Once, you said to me that Ronan O’ Gara (Ex Irish International and Munster player) would be your specialist subject on Mastermind!! Where does this passion for rugby, and particularly Munster rugby, stem from?
My husband is mad about rugby. So when we got together, I started going to international games with him and watching the sport on TV. You know how it is when you’re so in love you can’t bear to spend time apart!
Much to my amazement, I became totally hooked on it.
And as he is Irish, and I too have generous amounts of Celtic blood in my veins, I suppose it was natural that I was drawn to the sort of rugby that the Celtic teams play. And somehow I became more and more of a fan of Irish rugby, not just the national team, but also Munster rugby. They are so great. I’ve even got a Munster jersey which I put on when I’m watching them!
And indeed the wondrous Ronan O’Gara is my all-time hero.
No one else comes close. It’s just not the same since he retired!
Back to books!! Your recent novel Who’d Have Thought It? Is a return to fiction and is a romantic comedy dealing with mid-life and the challenges faced by many women. Can you share with us all a little about it?
Having written Too Young to Get Old, I had become really fascinated by how totally different women are in mid-life today, compared with how their mothers and grandmothers had been at the same age.
Vast numbers of women past the first flush of youth were telling me how busy they were, how unsettled, how they had expected to have time to themselves post 50 but were frantic with careers, grown up children needing support and ageing parents requiring more and more help too. I really wanted to turn all this into a novel.
Then one day I was asked to go on BBC Breakfast to talk about the fashion for mid-life women to walk away from dull marriages and to throw themselves into a rather racy single life.
It appeared that the Department for Work and Pensions had become so worried about this trend – because such women were not saving for their old age – that they had coined an acronym, SWOFTIES – meaning Single Women Over Fifty.
So I did the programme and commented as well as I could about why women were acting in this way.
But as soon as I got home, I realised I had got the basis for my novel. I had always intended to get back to writing fiction and this seemed like the right vehicle.
So, it’s all about a doctor of 55 who finds herself unexpectedly single again. However, the action really begins a year after her marriage ends, and is all about starting dating again against the backdrop of the complexity of mid- life. It’s a romantic comedy – and I love the fact that many of my readers have told me that it made them laugh out loud.
That’s what we all need at the moment!
Purchase Link ~ Who’d Have Thought It?
I know you are an avid reader so I’m sure you won’t mind sharing with us a few of your favourite authors. Are there any that particularly inspire you?
I am inspired constantly. One of the great things is that I draw inspiration from all the other authors on Book Connectors and other writers’ sites; I try to keep pace with their titles and their careers. I often read books by authors I ‘meet’ on social media.
Recently, I’ve enjoyed novels by two writers – Jane Davis and Isabel Costello – whom I have met that way. And without Facebook and Twitter I might never have read those books, or loads of others that have been excellent.
I have masses of favourites – but the authors I cherish most are Helen Dunmore, Patrick Gale, Kate Atkinson, Robert Harris, Ian McEwan and Hilary Boyd.
What are you reading at the moment?
I’m just about to embark on Archangel by Robert Harris. I recently finished his Conclave which was such an immensely satisfying book. I didn’t want it to end. I am always reading War and Peace but keep getting muddled and have to start again!
And I am a few pages into John Le Carré’s autobiography The Pigeon Tunnel. I have read nearly all his fiction, so I think learning more about the man will be quite compelling – though maybe he’s not actually going to reveal real, personal truths at all. You never know with him.
I think I must have been a spy in a previous existence because I just love fiction about espionage.
What ‘s next for Christine Webber? Have you another book on the way?
One of the things I do is to act as psychological consultant on Katie Piper’s books. And she is writing one at the moment, so I am on-hand for her. That will go on for a few months.
I’m also seriously thinking of re-issuing my first novel as I have got the rights back from the original publisher. My plan is to write a foreword explaining that it first came out in 1987 and pretty well to leave the text alone – though I suspect I won’t be able to resist some editing!
Then my big project, a new novel, will come out later this year.
I am sticking with mid-life and older people – and all the turbulence that accompanies our ageing process – but this time, I have five main characters, all of whom are facing great upheaval in their lives. And because of the referendum result of last June, I’ve set the book between the summers of 2016 and 2017 so that my characters are dealing with massive challenges in their own lives at the same time as we are living through the absolute sea-change of the UK negotiating its way out of the EU.
Quite a bit of the book is set in Ireland by the way – and you will probably guess why.
Thank you so much Christine for stopping by today with this fantastic chat. I’m in awe of all you do!!
To find out more about Christine you can check out http://www.christinewebber.com/
Also you will find Christine at @1chriswebber