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Putting Authors in the Picture #20: Charity Norman

Liz Robinson

By Liz Robinson on 4th May 2020

Charity Norman is one of my favourite authors, each novel is completely different, yet her undeniable touch can be felt as she has the ability to reach into dark, complicated places and help you to touch them. She can build tension with the most fluid eloquence and knows how to tell an absolutely cracking story. Her latest book The Secrets of Strangers is a truly fabulous read and has been chosen as a LoveReading Star Book, book of the month, and a Liz Robinson pick of the month. Charity has chosen some wonderfully expressive photos, personally I always think that a dogeared book is a much read and loved friend. The views from the writing cabin are stunning, and the photo that sums up her author journey really speaks to me!

Charity Norman was born in Uganda and brought up in successive draughty vicarages in Yorkshire and Birmingham. After several years' travel she became a barrister, specialising in crime and family law in the northeast of England. Also a mediator and telephone crisis line listener, she's passionate about the power of communication to slice through the knots. In 2002, realising that her three children had barely met her, she took a break from the law and moved with her family to New Zealand. Her first novel, Freeing Grace, was published in 2010. After the Fall was a Richard and Judy Book Club choice and World Book Night title. The New Woman was a wonderfully moving read, while See You in September, her last book, was one of our LoveReading books of the month, and shortlisted for Best Crime Novel in the 2018 Ngaio Marsh Awards for Crime Fiction. The Secrets of Strangers is her sixth novel and has been selected for the BBC2 Book Club on the 18th May.

You can find Charity on Facebook and Twitter:

CharityNormanAuthor

@CharityNorman1

The book that made you first want to become an author. 

Watership Down was an obsession for me as a child. I clearly remember my realisation, at the age of eight, that reading is true magic - I could open up this book and it was a portal to another world, to adventure and friendship. All I wanted to do was to write stories like that. One Christmas when I was ten, my brother Paul queued in the rain to buy this copy and have it signed for me by Richard Adams himself. It was the most precious Christmas present ever, even though I already had three copies. I know it looks dogeared and I’m sorry – but over more than four decades it has been read, reread, dropped in the bath, jammed into school bags, suitcases and under pillows, and travelled on a container ship to New Zealand. I read this one to my own children one winter, all of us sitting by the woodburning stove. 

Favourite reading or writing spot. 

Writing from home can be a nightmare. So many distractions. When I’m really desperate to make progress I arrange things at home so that I can run away. Kind friends lend me their cliff-top cottage at the end of a long gravel track, off the grid for power and water, no phone, no Internet, no manmade sound whatsoever: just bleating sheep, thundering of waves, hissing of cicadas. The night sky is dazzling, and from my pillow I can watch sunrise on the Pacific. Days pass without a human voice or sign of human life, except the odd container ship creeping along the horizon. I always take plenty of coffee and dig in for total isolation. I achieve more in a week here than I would in a month at home. 

A booky photo that makes you really smile. 

This is Lego. He’s curled up beside me right now, while I’m typing – warm and purring, like a puddle of soft fur. Man and boy, Lego the ragdoll cat has made it his personal vocation in life to park himself right on top of my keyboard whenever I need to work. I wouldn’t have it any other way. 

A location that has inspired you.

The Rotorua lakes of New Zealand are hauntingly lovely: steeped in Maori legend, alive with geothermal activity - steam and bubbling mud, hot pools and earth tremors. In the mid 1800s, Mount Tarawera erupted catastrophically. Half of it was hurled into the air; villages and landscape were buried in the pyroclastic flow, in rocks and mud and ash. At least a hundred and twenty people died. Survivors watching the eruption saw the stars go out and thought they were witnessing the end of the world. So when it came to writing a story about a doomsday cult, I knew exactly where I wanted to set it: on the shores of Tarawera, among all that beauty and peace, in the shadow of a volcano. 

The photo that best sums up your author journey. 

In 2002 my husband and I made the decision to cut and paste ourselves and our three small children into rural New Zealand. He’d been a full-time house father and we thought we’d try a role reversal: he would work, I’d be a stay-at-home mum for a while. Also, I announced optimistically, I would write books. If I’d the slightest idea how difficult that would be – how many thousands of hours of work, how many rewrites, how many false dawns – I might not have given up my day job! This photo is of the children cheerfully hurling themselves into the ice-cold depths of a Mexican cenote. This is typical of them and reminds me of myself at the start of my author journey. A wild leap of faith!  

Your most memorable book event. 

It’s tricky to choose, because I love book events and have met some absolute heroes such as Val McDermid. But I think I’ll go for this one. My fourth book, The New Woman, was a Radio 2 Book Club choice when Simon Mayo was still at the helm. I visited the studio for the Book Club slot during Drivetime with Simon and the crew. They were real pros who made their job look easy. It was a lot of fun, and an honour to join them. 

If you enjoyed this why not check out our other 'Putting Authors/Illustrators in the Picture' Features?

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