December 2012


Charity Norman took a break from being a barrister to be with her children and write her debut novel Freeing Grace. She was born in Uganda, brought up in England and now lives in New Zealand. Her latest novel is After the Fall (aka Second Chances).

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  1. 1. Tell us about After the Fall.

    It’s the story of a family who emigrate to New Zealand, hoping to escape their problems in the UK and begin a new life. At first they find the country idyllic, but gradually they realise that something is terribly wrong in their world. When five-year-old Finn mysteriously falls from a balcony and is airlifted to the intensive care unit, his mother - Martha - faces some desperate choices.

  2. 2. How did your own experiences moving to New Zealand help with writing the story?

    Tremendously. It is difficult to understand the enormity of emigration until you’ve tried it. There were all sorts of practical experiences I was able to tap into but more than that, it made life easier as a writer to be able to draw on first-hand knowledge of the emotional effects that such a move can have upon a family. It’s a rollercoaster ride between euphoria and blimey-what-have-we-done?

  3. 3. Do you have much else in common with Martha?

    She’s no domestic goddess and neither am I! People tell me that they recognise some of her attitudes in me, and I suspect her sense of humour has much in common with mine. But she is her own person; she is not me.

  4. 4. What was the biggest culture shock from living in NZ?

    We cut and pasted ourselves into a beautiful, very rural corner of New Zealand. There was no broadband, no listening to the BBC online. The pioneering spirit was strong – my youngest and I went along to the OngaOnga playcentre, peopled by friendly but scarily competent women; they really did swap recipes for homemade window cleaning fluid. It felt lonely sometimes. I think the biggest single jolt was when I asked where could I buy my daughter’s school uniform and was directed to the shop that sold patterns and fabric. That had me hyperventilating!

  5. 5. Why did you take a break from law?

    I was a barrister for about fourteen years, and had my three children during the last seven of those. I loved my job but it was all-consuming. My husband Tim was a full-time house husband and a brilliant, very warm one. One day it dawned on us that the children really barely knew me (they remember a “posh woman in black, who ran in and out of the house yelling!”). That wasn’t what either of us wanted, so we decided to try a role reversal.

  6. 6. How did your experiences in law affect the stories you write?

    I met hundreds of people, each with their unique story, often at times of great stress in their lives. I learned something each time. I have always been fascinated by what motivates people – what are they really feeling; how did they come to be in the dock, or in mediation, or the family court? I found myself intrigued by the way in which perfectly rational folk can demonise one another. With good communication, even the most intractable problems can be solved. That belief feeds into my writing.

  7. 7. When you switched roles with your house husband, did you find it easy to adjust?

    To begin with I was demob happy. We weren’t a tidy or well-organised family but at last I had time for hours of reading aloud and talking and being together. It felt fantastic to know that I didn’t have to stay up half the night to read a brief, or front up before His Honour Judge Velociraptor in court the next morning. I had time for swimming expeditions to the river with the children, or packing up a picnic to head for the bush, and we had so much fun. However, when my youngest started school I needed more to do. I missed the camaraderie and stimulation of my old life, and accepted that I will never be a marvellous cook or green-fingered gardener. That was when writing came to my rescue.

  8. 8. How do you fit writing into your family routine?

    The school days seem so short! I write when they’re at school and I write late at night, often until the early hours. Tim still does a tremendous amount of family care, and when I am truly desperate I head for a friend’s cottage in the middle of nowhere. There’s no internet and no phone coverage, and I can achieve more in a few days than I can in weeks at home.

  9. 9. I read you did a lot of rewriting for Freeing Grace. Was that the case with After the Fall as well?

    Far, far less. In fact I was astonished at how different the process felt. I still believe that lots of editing and rewriting is essential, though. The delete button is the most-used on my laptop.

  10. 10. Your books involve suspense and slow reveals. How much plotting do you do before you begin writing?

    Freeing Grace grew organically over a long period of time. I had several ideas but the plot gradually revealed itself, even to me. After the Fall and my next book, The Son-in-Law, were more carefully sketched out before I began; I’d submitted synopses for both to my publisher. Even so, the details changed as the characters became real. Sometimes, when you come to it, you realise that the character just isn’t going to play ball and do what you thought they’d do – so it’s a continual process.

  11. 11. Your stories have very vivid settings. Do you take copious notes or is it all from memory?

    Thank you! It’s from my memory. Places, sounds and scents mean a lot to me and I tend to be always thinking about how to describe them. I do very occasionally take notes, if I am somewhere that I’m writing about at the time. Then – almost invariably – I lose my notebook!

  12. 12. What are you working on now?

    I am about to begin the revision process for my third book, The Son-in-Law. In fact I need to have the work done in a bit of a hurry, so today I am off to that isolated cottage I mentioned. I am packing the coffee machine! I will have nobody to talk to but the sheep, and nobody will be able to wander in and ask where I put their socks. Bliss.

  13. 13. Is it true you are related to Virginia Woolf?

    Yes, she’s a distant cousin. Her aunt, the Victorian photographer Julia Margaret Cameron, is my several-times great grandmother. We share French and even Bengalese ancestors.

  14. 14. What do you have planned for the summer holidays?

    We’re all over-excited because my brother and his family will be visiting for five days – it’s their first time in New Zealand. Then in January we’re heading off to explore Vanuatu. I know, I know, it’s hurricane season!

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