Q+A with Charity Norman

I’m delighted to be a part of author Charity Norman’s blog tour to promote her new novel The New Woman. I read The Son-in-Law a while back and loved it. I wholeheartedly recommend it for anyone looking for a lively bookclub meeting. It’s the kind of book that lures you into a false sense of security; your opinions fully-formed and then – slowly, slowly – turns your certainty on its head. Review here

The New Woman doesn’t disappoint. Luke Livingstone comes home from work one day to inform his loving wife Eilish he’s been living a lie. He is actually a woman trapped in a man’s body. What follows this shocking revelation is a tender and tentatively-told story of a family coming to terms with a life-changing revelation. Charity has done an excellent job of depicting Luke’s turmoil; not to mention poor stunned Eilish’s poignant reaction.

Given the hubbub in the media of late following Caitlyn Jenner’s announcement, it’s a great time for The New Woman to hit the shelves. If, like me, you have little knowledge of transgender issues, this novel offers some good insights. By that I mean the deeper emotional stuff, not just the physical stuff. (On this note there’s a fantastic scene when Luke processes his reaction to his wife giving birth.) Sure it’s not everyone’s story – and it will have its critics in the transgender community; but it is a story, and isn’t that how it starts? Even articulating a narrative that can offer some identity is progress. There’s a pun in here about history, herstory, and now transtory surely.

Naturally, I had a few questions. Here Charity humours me… 

Bruce Jenner crossing the finish line and Caitlyn Jenner on the cover of Vanity Fair

Q: Which passage/scene did you struggle with the most when writing The New Woman?

That would be the scene when Luke first comes out to Eilish, after he’s been walking all night. It’s a vital moment, and changes his life; but so difficult to get right. The thing is, if you imagine a man saying I am a woman it can sound comical – I know it shouldn’t, but people have the urge to laugh, even if it’s nervous laughter. I desperately didn’t want the reader to be smirking as they read it. And Luke’s character resisted telling Eilish! I struggled to get him to say the words at all. As for her … well, how the heck do you react when your husband of thirty years tells you he’s been lying all along, and he feels he should have been born a woman? It was a big challenge to make this scene ring true and believable and capture the long, stunned silences without ruining the flow of the dialogue.

Q: How did you resolve that difficulty? Was there a moment or action that helped?

A: I spent an entire winter’s day working in a café in a village called National Park, which lies at the foot of magical Mount Ruapehu in New Zealand. Imagine wooden houses and mountain streams. The café is the buffet of a tiny station but they only have about two trains a day. My eldest son was a snowboard instructor at the time, living in National Park and teaching on the mountain. I’d gone to stay with him for a few days. It was freezing in his lodge, but the café had a lovely wood-burning stove and comfy seats and I wasn’t moving! The young waiter was very kind, tip-toeing around and bringing me endless coffee. I typed, deleted, typed, sat staring into space, tore my hair out, swore, and typed again. I began in the morning, and the sun had long gone down by the time the scene began to feel right.   

Q: What approach did you take to researching the transgender community?

A: While volunteering on a telephone crisis line I spoke to a number of transgender people, some of them regular callers whose stories inspired me. I also read every book I could find on the subject. I read blogs, articles, poems – lots of them. But most of all I’m indebted to the support of a friend who is a transgender woman. She was always ready to answer my questions, no matter how crass, and to help me to understand the emotional life of a person who feels they’ve been born into the wrong body. I am so grateful to her for her honesty and insight. 

            Tragically, in the time I was researching and writing, several trans people were in the news because they’d been murdered or taken their own lives. I thought I knew a lot about this subject before I began, but there was so much more to learn. It was many months before I felt I could begin to walk in Lucia’s shoes.

Q: How have your own family/close friends responded to the topic?

A: With the most amazing enthusiasm and support. They could see I was passionate about this and got right behind me – always ready with calm words or cups of tea when I was gibbering. Bless ‘em.

 You can follow Charity on Twitter @CharityNorman1 

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