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Former Anglia TV presenter Christine Webber on writing

'I feel my day is not complete if I don’t write,' says Christine Webber <i>(Image: archive)</i>
'I feel my day is not complete if I don’t write,' says Christine Webber (Image: archive)

If you are a fan of Christine Webber’s novels, the prospect of a new one is a delight. If you haven’t yet become a fan… you will. Lynne Mortimer talks to the Suffolk author and newspaper columnist about her new book, Watching from the Wings

Nicholas is yawning now. 'We have to stop, Katya darling.'

My name is Katharine, but the play we’re performing currently is Anastasia, and he’s gone all Russian on me, which is rather sweet. 'Come here, angel.' He gives me that huge smile which lights up his entire face. 'I’m going to thank you in traditional fashion! Honestly, I don’t know how I’d have got through these last weeks without you. What a thoroughly marvellous girl you are. Now, take off that skirt and let me get at you...’

(excerpt from chapter 1 of Watching from the Wings)

If you want to know what happens next – and I certainly did – then bag yourself a copy of Christine Webber’s recently published novel, Watching from the Wings. If you haven’t yet caught up with her previous four books, then you can line them up for a summer of great reading.

The first chapters of this theatre-based, latest novel are set in the early eighties and draw on the author’s own experiences of performing in summer season at Southwold. Pre-dating the late Jill Freud’s years at the helm, Christine was there in the earlier years when Joan Shore was company director.

Great British Life: Christine Webber's amazingly positive outlook on life pervades her novels. Photo: archiveChristine Webber's amazingly positive outlook on life pervades her novels. Photo: archive

'Joan’s husband, Sam,' remembers Christine, smiling, 'was a don in metallurgy at Cambridge. Each summer they would decamp to Southwold, bringing with them Billy the cat, who loved taking up residence in the theatre. Sam wore a dinner jacket every night at the theatre – with white plimsolls – and was a great character.' The plays were performed in St Edmund’s Hall and the sets were built against the back wall of the building, which meant actors would have to exit into the neighbouring graveyard.

'At the end of the run in Southwold we would take two of the shows and do a fortnight at the end of the pier in Cromer. From the stage, you could hear the waves lashing against the pier.' Are there parallels between the young actress Christine and her heroine, Katherine? Here and there true-life and fiction overlap a little.

'In 1974-5 I was that girl,' says Christine. 'Virtually everything that happens during summer theatre in the book really happened to me or someone else in the company.' This includes some of Katharine’s trademark clumsiness, such as when she pulls over an on-stage cabinet during the show. Christine also reveals that, like Katharine, she was very quick at learning her lines and would help out slower learners by running their lines with them.

Great British Life: Christine (left) with fellow Anglia TV presenter Helen McDermott chatting to Lynne Mortimer (right) in 2014. Photo: archiveChristine (left) with fellow Anglia TV presenter Helen McDermott chatting to Lynne Mortimer (right) in 2014. Photo: archive

If you haven’t quite placed where you know Christine from, she was a top news presenter on Anglia Television in the 1980s. Her on-screen personality is just as warm off-screen. In recent years, when many might say they are 'retired', Christine has become a popular author, a stage interviewer (her evenings with Royal Ballet star and Suffolk man Gary Avis MBE have delighted audiences in the county) and the host of Suffolk Dog Day. The former agony aunt and qualified psychotherapist also writes a weekly wellbeing column for the East Anglian Daily Times.

Christine plays the piano, sings – she's a member of Eye Bach Choir – dances and has genes to die for, managing to look many years younger than her given age. Having known her for a while, I can attest it is not only good genes that make her glow, it is also her amazingly positive outlook on life… something that pervades her novels. When I tried (unsuccessfully) to argue that one of the characters in Watching from the Wings is a 'baddie', she would have none of it and reminded me of the sad back story that had wrought his future.

Her fictional world is inhabited by colourful, funny, affectionate, sometimes infuriating, and intriguing people, and I think she loves them all… although her heroine, Katharine, is the one readers will be rooting for, because, hugely talented, caring and eager-to-please, she makes (readers will think) the wrong decision. Christine doesn’t wholly agree.

Great British Life: Christine (left) with fellow Anglia TV presenter Helen McDermott chatting to Lynne Mortimer (right) in 2014. Photo: archiveChristine (left) with fellow Anglia TV presenter Helen McDermott chatting to Lynne Mortimer (right) in 2014. Photo: archive

'Deep down, Katie knows she’s making a mistake, but at the same time she feels a sense of comfort. We all reach out for something familiar. You’re watching someone in a relationship and you’re thinking "don’t do that", but there’s nothing you can do.

'In my 20 years as a therapist in Harley Street, I saw people who didn’t have high self-esteem feel validated because there was someone who needed them so much – they were needing to be needed.'

Christine’s character, Katharine – variously known as Katya, Kit-Kat, Katie and Kate – is the daughter of theatrical dame Moira, whose glittering presence pushes Katie into the shadows. Not that Katie lacks admirers – but who will she end up with? No spoilers here.

A few years ago Christine Webber returned to East Anglia from Brighton, following the death of her husband, Dr David Delvin, a respected psycho-sexual therapist who combined academic rigour with a light touch when writing about sexual matters for a woman’s magazine. He was a pioneer of medical journalism and in Christine he had both a soul mate and a writing partner. Together, they penned The Big O (about orgasm) and many magazine articles.

Great British Life: Helping to launch the Surviving Winter Campaign with Tim Holder from Suffolk Community Foundation. Photo: archiveHelping to launch the Surviving Winter Campaign with Tim Holder from Suffolk Community Foundation. Photo: archive

I do not mention this gratuitously, because Christine’s work as a therapist is apparent in the confident and engaging way she writes about her characters’ sexual encounters. Over the years, many of us will undoubtedly have been either driven to hilarity or total disbelief by descriptions of sex in popular fiction. Christine has the art of saying not too much; just enough and making it believable. She has become, indeed, a prolific and very fine writer of fiction.

'I really enjoy writing. I feel my day is not complete if I don’t write. The moment I send the book off to my editor, Helen Baggott, feels almost like a bereavement.' I wonder out loud if Christine is already assembling the characters for her next book? She laughs and admits to having a few ideas. So that’s a yes, then.

Watching from the Wings, by Christine Webber, is available from bookshops and online.



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