At the moment I am reading Second Chances, the second novel of Charity Norman, about a family who embark on a brand new life in New Zealand – not unlike Charity.
Charity was kind enough to talk with us a little about her writing and her life, and not too much about the book which is a good thing because I’m still in the early stages.
What prompted you to start writing?
I was born in Uganda, but when I was a small child my parents came back to England. My father became a vicar in Yorkshire, not far from the moors. I had a wildly overactive imagination and like to believe I was the reincarnation of Emily Bronte, another Yorkshire vicar’s daughter. I read all the Bronte sisters’ books, and reveled in the romance and tragedy of their story. I used to wander soulfully around the moors, picking harebells and making up dreadful poetry. When I grew up I decided I needed a ‘proper’ career and became a barrister, but I never stopped thinking of myself as a writer.
Can you share a little with us about your journey to publication?
That was a long, nail-biting journey! I spent several years writing my first novel; however, when it was finished I put it into a drawer and began to write my second – Freeing Grace. The first draft took another two years, and then I sent it to an agent in London who had been recommended to me. The day she said she’d take me on was utterly, wonderfully magical, though I had no idea how much uncertainty still lay ahead. Freeing Grace was rewritten many times before finally my agent sent it out. It was worth it, though – once it was sent out Allen and Unwin picked it up, swiftly followed by a publisher in France. I’m still buzzing, three years on!
You moved from England to New Zealand in 2002, can you tell us a little about why such a major change, and why New Zealand?
Ah. Well, my husband, Tim, is a New Zealander. We met in the Sahara desert, where he was the oil-spattered mechanic on an overland lorry travelling from London to Cape Town. We travelled together for a long time but eventually married, lived in the UK, and had three children in very quick succession. I was working; Tim was house husband. I used to leave before the children were up and if I was lucky I’d be home in time to read bedtime stories.
After some years it dawned on us that they barely knew me. So we decided on a role reversal – I’d stay at home and follow my dream to write novels, and Tim would go back to work. Since we were no longer tied to the English legal system, it made sense to come out to beautiful New Zealand. One week I was in Newcastle Crown Court, the next I was shepherding toddlers at the Ongaonga playcentre. It was a major change, for sure, and it wasn’t always easy; but we don’t regret it.
Second Chances is your second novel, due for release in early July, can you tell us a little about the book?
It’s about an English family who emigrate to a remote corner of Hawke’s Bay in New Zealand. At first everything seems idyllic, but then things begin to go horribly wrong. The story begins as one of the five-year-old twins has fallen off a balcony and is critically injured. It seems that Martha, his mother, knows a lot more about the accident than she’s telling.
Where did the inspiration for the book come from?
I wanted to write about emigration. It struck me that while it can be liberating it’s sometimes a painful process. There were other issues too that I was keen to explore – but I can’t go into detail without giving the plot away! Let’s just say that I wanted to show how even apparently stable families can harbour appalling, destructive secrets.
Both you and your lead character Martha have started new lives on the other side of the world, do you share any other similarities?
Well, she’s no domestic goddess! I can relate to that. She has one bossy sister, and I have three. She fancies Johnny Depp. She juggles work and family, and I know how that feels. On the other hand, she is her own person. She isn’t me.
What do you like to do in your spare time?
I do Lifeline crisis telephone counselling. I sing in the Napier Cathedral choir – I have no idea how that happened! I walk by the sea and go to a gym far less often than I should. I play the piano very badly. I read. I look vaguely at the mess in my house and think I should be doing something about it.
Many writers are also avid readers, are you one of them and what are you reading at the moment?
I am, though there are never enough hours in the day. At the moment I’m reading The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy. It’s set in Kerala, India, and it’s captivating.
Are you working on something new that you can tell us a little bit about?
I’m just finishing the first draft of a third novel. It’s about Joseph, a man who killed his wife and was imprisoned for manslaughter. Now he’s been released, and wants to see his children. Can his family forgive him – and can he forgive himself?
What does being a woman mean to you?
That’s an interesting question. I see myself as human being first, woman second – though I do have an embarrassingly large collection of shoes! Gender hasn’t been very relevant in my life. For example, as a woman in what was then a male-dominated profession, I found plenty of men ready to gossip and be mates in the barrister’s coffee bar, no strings attached. I think I’ve been lucky, though, in that I have a husband who was prepared to take on traditionally a feminine role and bring up the children.
Thank you for taking the time out to speak to us Charity!
No, thank you so much for asking me!