Ann Widdecombe chats to World of Books.com about her writing, her life and her dancing!
[soundcloud width=”100%” height=”81″ params=”” url=”http://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/24481789″]
Interviewer: Okay. So, can you describe the average day in the life of Ann Widdecombe?
Ann: There is no average day.
Ann: Because I’m retired and I’m doing a whole series of things, so I do things for television. I write books, obviously. Some days I just walk on the moors. So there is, no longer, any such thing as an average day.
Interviewer: Oh, well, that’s nice really. Quite relaxing at times, I’m sure, from your busy lifestyle. Okay. So, as far as we know from our research, you didn’t begin writing until 2000. Is that true?
Ann: No, all you know from your research is that I was first published in 2000, which is very, very different.
Interviewer: Oh, okay. When did you start writing then?
Ann: I wrote from childhood. I was a scribbler in my youth. Then, indeed, life got too busy and there were several decades when I didn’t write. But it isn’t true that I started completely in 2000.
Interviewer: Okay. Did you find it easy, the process, when you first started writing for publication?
Ann: Because I’ve always enjoyed it, it comes moderately easily. Yes.
Interviewer: Okay. So you always sort of had a notebook with you, when you were younger and stuff.
Ann: Well, when I was younger, I used to write. I wouldn’t say I carted a notebook around with me, but one of my hobbies was, if I came home form work and I had a free evening, I would sit down and write.
Interviewer: Oh, okay. Great. So, do you have any three pieces of advice for any aspiring writers?
Ann: Well, the first thing is get on and write it. There’s no good waiting for the muse to appear. You do just actually have to sit down and write and write and write. So that is the first piece of advice.
The second piece of advice is the first time you do it, finish the book completely. I did that. I didn’t want to send in three chapters for an agent to have a look at. I wanted to do the whole book, be completely satisfied with the whole book, and then market it.
Interviewer: And do you feel that affected the way it was marketed or the reaction that you got?
Ann: I think it was successful because it was a complete work. People were able to read it through from start to the finish, rather than just trying to say it’s potential in this chapter.
Interviewer: Yeah and you were afraid to have the ending the way you wanted it, rather than being . . .
Ann: Oh, I would never, I’ve never yet been told how to end a book, and I don’t know how it’s going to end when I start writing it.
Interviewer: Oh, right. That was actually one of my questions.
Ann: So no, there’s no way I would write to order, absolutely not.
Interviewer: Okay. Well, my next question was actually do you have sort of a point in your head, how much the story you made up before you start writing?
Ann: You always think you know a reasonable amount, but the characters take on a life of their own and they can sometime turn around and take you completely by surprise.
Interviewer: Has that happened in any particular . . .
Ann: That’s happened in three of the four books.
Interviewer: Oh, right. Okay. I wanted to ask a little bit about “An Act of Brotherhood,” that’s the final one of your series. In the interview, we’re going to sort of talk about what happens in the previous two with Catherine and with Klaus* (see end note), is it?
Interviewer: So what can we expect without giving too much away?
Ann: Well, “An Act of Brotherhood,” which will not be the next book out by the way.
Interviewer: Oh, will it not?
Ann: No, I’m writing my autobiography at the moment.
Ann: But “An Act of Brotherhood,” which will be within the next three books, goes back to before the Second World War. So Catherine isn’t there at all. It’s looking at Klaus and his friendship with an Englishman, Harry Rochester [SP] he’s called, before the Second World War.
Interviewer: Okay. So a lot of tensions then still.
Ann: Oh, yes. Yeah, yeah, yeah. That completes the trilogy, because the trilogy was during the war, after the war, and before the war.
Interviewer: Okay, that’s excellent. Right. You’ve also played the role of an agony aunt over the years, and your column in The Guardian and Ann Widdecombe To The Rescue. So, what do you feel, how do you feel you’ve drawn from your life experiences?
Ann: Oh, look, I haven’t. Being an agony aunt was never a desperately serious psychological enterprise. I mean when I did it for The Guardian, the column, for heaven’s sake, was called Buck Up. It was about taking charge of your own problems, and Ann Widdecombe To The Rescue was largely trying to sort out disputes within families.
Interviewer: Did you have to try and maintain . . .
Ann: You just have some common sense, that’s all.
Interviewer: Did you try and remain objective, or did you just sort of put your opinion in there anyway?
Ann: Well, I mean, you have to remain objective to the extent that if you go charging in firmly on one side, you’ll never get the others to understand. But what it is, is a negotiation. So even if you have already decided and even if it’s quite clear which side your own, the whole point is a negotiation.
I mean, for example, one family wouldn’t let their child have a mouse. Now, when I probed this, I thought, oh well, they probably just don’t like mice. But when I probed this, the child was 11. It was because when he was seven he’d been given a pet and he neglected it, and the parents had to look after it. I said, “Yeah, but that was four years ago.”
Interviewer: Yeah. So he’d grown up a bit.
Ann: So we have to forget what happened years ago. So in the end, I proposed a trial because the family had pets anyway. That the little boy should take over complete charge of the pets, unaided by anybody else in the family, and if he could do that for a month unaided and without having to be nagged and reminded, then he was ready to care for a pet.
Interviewer: And how did that work out?
Ann: That did work out. He got his mouse.
Interviewer: Oh, excellent. Okay, right. So do you feel that you’ve got two identities as a writer, as a prominent public figure with your columns that you write giving your opinions and things, and then as like a creative person, directing readers into a whole other world where it’s fictional . . .
Ann: Well, everybody is multifaceted. There’s no such thing as having any one aspect to your interests and your character and all the rest of it. Everybody is multifaceted. But I don’t actually look upon my novels merely as fiction. Yes, they are fiction, but they’re all exploring human dilemmas which occur in real life.
Interviewer: Yeah, and they certainly did back in the years you’re writing in as well for a lot of your books. Okay, right. So, this is an easy one. You obviously adore animals. We can tell that from the work you do for charity and stuff. You’ve also been a firm voter against fox hunting. So do you have a favourite animal and why?
Ann: My favourite animal is the cat.
Interviewer: Oh, okay.
Ann: Please, no, let’s rephrase that. My favourite domestic animal is the cat, largely because cats are very independent.
Interviewer: They certainly are.
Ann: Dogs can be a very serious tie. You know you can’t just go out all day if you’ve got a dog. A cat doesn’t care a tuppence as long as it can get in, sit by the auger, and you’ll come home and feed it at an appropriate hour. It doesn’t mind. But dogs are much more dependent. So I love cats. Of course, they’re all furry and purry and they’re wonderful.
As far as wild creatures go, I think I like the bear.
Interviewer: The bear? Okay. Any reason or just . . .
Ann: Well, they look so endearing. Of course, they’re not. If you got anywhere near them, they can do terrible things to you. But they do look so endearing. I went to see some bears recently on a zoo farm, and they were just marvellous.
Interviewer: Okay, great. So you’re fan of Winnie the Pooh.
Ann: I’m certainly a fan of Winnie the Pooh.
Interviewer: And Paddington?
Ann: And Paddington and Rupert.
Interviewer: Excellent. Okay. So “Dancing On Ice”? Got to bring that one up.
Ann: No, I didn’t dance on ice. “Strictly Come Dancing.”
Interviewer: Oh, sorry. “Strictly Come Dancing,” wrong way round. You always brought a smile to our face because you always seem to be smiling and enjoying it.
Ann: I was thoroughly enjoying it.
Interviewer: So were you surprised at how long you stayed in the competition? What did you learn?
Ann: Yes, I was. I really was, because when we started, I said I’d only be in there three or four weeks. Of course, because you’re paid no matter how long you last, I said to everybody, “Oh, this is wonderful. I’m going to be there for three or four weeks, and then I should be paid for doing nothing.” And of course, when I was still in there, after 10 weeks, and there were only 12 weeks of the competition, I thought I’m going to get to the final. What am I going to do if I get to the final?
Interviewer: It’s brilliant. You always seem to be loving it.
Ann: I loved it. I loved every single minute of it. I don’t have any bad memories of “Strictly.”
Interviewer: Have you been dancing since?
Ann: Oh, no, no. There’s the odd charity dance with Antoine or Craig, but not serious dancing. Well, I did the tour. I did the five weeks “Strictly” tour. I danced with Craig.
Interviewer: When you were younger, you lived in Singapore for three years. Sorry, we’re just changing tact a bit. On your website, you say you still keep in touch with people there.
Ann: Yes, I do.
Interviewer: What sort of particular memories do you have of that time?
Ann: Well, I have very strong memories. My Chinese amah is now over 100.
Interviewer: And your amah was your nanny out there, is that right?
Ann: Yeah, for want of a better expression, a nanny. She was an old lady when I last saw her. I haven’t seen her now for some years, but she is now over 100.
Interviewer: Good grief.
Ann: But she was in prime fettle when I last saw her, and she is still living with the family. So she must be okay.
Interviewer: Okay, that’s fitting. Also, have you travelled a lot with your work?
Ann: Not necessarily with work, but I do like to travel. I’m not obsessive. I don’t have to go abroad every year. I’m not one of those. But when I do go travelling, I like to do something unusual. So for example, I went to the Arctic and saw a polar bear and things like that. I’ve been down the Danube. I’ve been and done a safari in Africa. So I do like to vary it tremendously. I’m not one of those who always goes back to the same place, and I’m not one of those who absolutely has to go away every year or feel deprived. But when I do go, then I like to see things.
Interviewer: Okay. Our final question, I don’t know if you’ve looked at our blog or our site?
Ann: No, I haven’t. Sorry about that.
Interviewer: That’s okay. We usually bring it back to sort of World of Books and what we’re trying to do as a company. Basically, we source a lot of our books from charity shops so we can support their cause, but also re-home books so that helps environmental concerns.
Ann: Absolutely brilliant.
Interviewer: So it’s all good. So in the midst of modern society, where you’ve got digital media, you’ve got Kindles, what is your opinion on the physical book?
Ann: I think nothing actually beats a real book. Nothing. Sitting down in one’s library by a roaring fire with a glass of whiskey and a Kindle? No, no, no.
Interviewer: Not quite the same.
Ann: I am a fan of Kindles, because the very fact that you can carry a library around with you is a wonderful thing. So I don’t in any way dismiss the Kindle. But there is no, no replacement for a proper book.
Interviewer: Okay, that’s great. That’s exactly the answer we were looking for. So thank you for chatting to us today, Ann.
*(End note): In An Act of Treachery, we meet the French Catherine Dessin who is living in Paris during World War II, during the occupation. Catherine falls for a Klaus, an Oxford educated German officer. In the sequel to this story, An Act of Peace (published in 2005), Klaus and Catherine’s son Klaus-Pierre has to struggle to find his place in a damaged and bitter post-war Europe. The stories provide a touching and eye-opening insight into how people survived throughout the horrific years of World War II. Ann is currently working on the third and final book in the series, An Act of Brotherhood.
Ann Noreen Widdecombe (Politician, public figure and writer), the youngest of two children, was born in Bath on 4th October 1947 to James Murray, a civil servant for the Ministry of Defence, and Rita Plummer. When she was 5, Ann’s father moved the family to Singapore, where they lived for the next 3 years (it took 3 weeks to get there by boat! World of Books will never take a plane for granted again!). On her return to England, Ann attended Bath Convent Prep School and finally settled at Bath Convent Senior School. Ann finished her studies at Birmingham University with a Latin degree, following this up by reading Philosophy, Politics and Economics at Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford. Since leaving university, as a British Conservative party politician, Ann’s political career has seen her hold various roles, including the Shadow Home Secretary (1999-2001), the Shadow Secretary of State for Health (1998-1999), the Minister of State for Prisons (1995-1997) a Privy Councillor and a Member of Parliament for Maidstone and the Weald (1987-2010). Although she retired from politics in the 2010 general election, Ann is still often in the public eye, working closely with charities, taking part in reality TV shows, being a guest speaker on numerous television and radio shows, and finally, as a novelist (having been writing since 2000). Ann now lives in Haytor, on Dartmoor, in Devon.