1. What can you tell us about your new book The Family Gift?
I will never, ever be able to make an elevator pitch – the ones where you pitch a fabulous idea in a lift to some Hollywood mogul as I am hopeless at summing up my novels! I have verbal issues….words just keep flowing out of my mouth. But that said, The Family Gift is about lovely Freya who looks as if she has it all. She’s got two beautiful children – one not her birth child but the birth child of her husband after little Lexi’s mum pushed off years ago – a fabulous job, and a wonderful husband. She’s a TV chef and is a tall, blonde Amazon, who is hopeless with clothes. The hopeless with clothes bit is very me – but I am a short, much-help-from-hairdresser blonde and honestly, I do wish I could cook! Having it all means doing it all and when dinner time rolls around, I’m the one if the kitchen staring into the fridge wondering if I can give them all pasta again…..
The thing is, Freya’s life is not perfect. She has had a very traumatic experience, is relying on sleeping tablets, and then, Lexi’s birth mum comes back into the picture after fourteen years away. Add to this some tough times for Freya’s family – her sister is struggling with infertility – and the story’s ripe for everything to go very wrong.
2. Please tell us about your inspiration for the book.
I wanted to write a first person book and this, my twentieth, is the first one I’ve done. It flowed really naturally, possibly because of the presence of Mildred, who was a big inspiration. You see, Mildred is Freya’s critical inner voice and I have a critical inner voice, so I thought I’d write about it and it’s utterly glorious how many people have told me that they have one too! I thought it was just me who had this grumpy inner person telling me I have to stop eating chocolate biscuits or I won’t fit into my jeans! So the notion of the vision of how we present ourselves to the world and how we actually are in the world was my inspiration.
3. How did you spend your lockdown?
I certainly panicked. I was taking care of two older people with health issues, so was neurotic about going to the shops. The procedure of wiping down all the groceries. In the beginning, when you couldn’t get hand sanitiser for love nor money, I made my own with aloe vera gel and surgical spirit and while it kills germs, it’s murder on the hands. But I was squirting it on me like nobody’s business. I reread old and comforting books, I tried to crochet (which I love doing but had bought fluffy wool to make granny squares and this was a mistake. Any crafter will giggle at the thought of a teeny bamboo crochet hook and a pile of fluffy wool) but I couldn’t concentrate. I also worked on my new novel although some days, I felt so stressed, I simply couldn’t. I think lockdown has been very hard on people’s mental health and I loved when I was out that people would ask each other how they were doing. There was a lovely sense of community.
4. Why is this book the perfect autumn read?
Gosh! My Mildred is telling me it’s bad to boast!!!! I hope it’s a good autumn read because it covers both light and tougher subjects but with humour all through it, and the sense of family and female friendship at its core. Also, you have to find out if Lexi’s annoying mom, who likes to think she’s twenty-five instead of forty and is the ‘body’ of a new brand of fake tan, gets her comeuppance.
5. You have been praised for shining a light on issues like insecurity- so is this something you suffer from or have in the past?
At the age of fifty-four, I am getting better with the insecurity but I have always suffered from it. To be frank, when I meet people chock full of confidence, I want to sit and stare and ask how they do it? I wonder if it is a particularly female thing – or perhaps I am being too general. But women are often told how to behave and it lingers. It can colour your life. The great thing about being older is that I am more confident, do my best to always help other women – we must be there for each other – and know that it’s Ok not to be perfect or normal. I tell my sons that ‘normal’ is a setting on the dryer.
6. What's your advice for someone who has a nagging inner critic like Freya does?
What I do now is imagine if you would stay friends with anyone who spoke to you the way the inner critic does? You would dump them (possibly with difficulty) but you would. So I try not to listen any more. I say ‘I am enough.’
7. Family is at the heart of this book, how important is family to you?
Family is everything. I’m always being asked things like ‘who would you have at a dinner party’ and I always say my family. My two sons, who are twins and now seventeen, are my utter joy and I have been blessed with such a beautiful family. My mum, brother and sister and I are very close. I know not everyone has this gift so I cherish it.
8. What is next for you?
I’ve just finished my twenty-first novel!!!!!!! I have not, however, crocheted anything….. oops. But I will. Honestly. I just like having the wool around. I’m thrilled with the new book which is out next spring and next, I have to tidy the house!!!!! It looks like James Bond has been through it searching for something…… which sounds like fun!!!!
THE FAMILY GIFT by Cathy Kelly is published by Orion Fiction in paperback on 15 October 2020, http://bit.ly/CKFamilyGift
'I adore animals. Anything really, except really creepy things – I mean, cockroaches are hardly animals, are they? And there is a spider in Mozambique that would make you faint. I’m glad I didn’t know that when I visited there! No, when I say animals, I mean dogs, cats, hamsters (I was once godmother to a hamster called Herman), horses, cows. We have three beautiful Jack Russell dogs.'