Welcome to Wonderful Women, my regular interview series with the fabulous ladies who inspire me…
This week I’m speaking to Annelisa Christensen, author of the fabulous book The Popish Midwife – a book about high-treason, prejudice and betrayal based on real-life events in the 17th Century.
Annelisa studied psychology at University before going on to on to run a clothes design and manufacturing business in London with her childhood friend. This was interrupted by bringing up the four children she adores, even though they’re now grown up, demanding taxi rides and eating a lot.
From the time the youngest child was three, Annelisa raised the children as a single mother. This became more complicated when first one child became a school refuser, then two others showed the irrational behaviours of severe and disabling OCD. For several years, care of her children took up most of her waking hours, and many of her sleeping ones too.
One form of escape, the most effective one and an old favourite, was writing, which Annelisa threw herself into whenever she had a chance. It kept her sane. It also produced some great novels, the first of which has recently been published.
Describe a typical day for you?
On week days, I’m a lab technician. I open my phone the moment I wake and try to catch up with my social media before grabbing a bite to eat on-route to work. At 7.45 I drop off my two sons to their workplace and then drive a few miles further to school. There, I’m full-on superwoman – preparing and delivering lessons teachers have ordered or forgotten to order, reading minds, fixing electrical equipment, making up special equipment for particular practicals and generally rushing around until I leave.
In the afternoon, I do a further catch up with social media, walk the dog, write a thousand words on my next novel, edit my son’s (or other) book, cook dinner, squeeze in some research and, if I haven’t fallen asleep at my laptop, read a little of whatever novel I’m into at the time.
On weekends, it’s all about book promotion, blogging and spending some valuable time with the (now grown-up) kids!
What do you feel are your biggest achievements?
Until this last year, I would have claimed my biggest achievement as bringing up four decent human beings on my own. Yes, bringing them up was an achievement in itself, but the fact that they are now good, kind, wonderful adults fills me with warm fuzziness.
For many years, my role was more than a mother: I was also therapist – CBT (Cognitive Behaviour Therapy) and psychotherapist – counsellor, carer and teacher to them night and day, ready to deal with irrational behaviours and fears, take them to the many meetings with professionals and fight their cause when help was slow to come. Through patience (lots of patience!) and continuous feedback, I helped both children tackle and beat the illness, one to the extent he’s now completely free from OCD behaviour (and writing a book on his experiences) and the other so she can live a normal life. I call that a major achievement.
This year I’ve notched another mark on my goal post. Much to my delight, after years researching and writing the story of Elizabeth Cellier, a seventeenth century midwife I so greatly admired, my novel The Popish Midwife was published by The Conrad Press.
What’s in your handbag/ satchel?
You had to ask!
I never carry a handbag anymore. It was never big enough. If all the spaces were taken out of the atoms on Earth, the mass would be about the size of a teaspoonful of sugar. If all the spaces were taken out of the atoms of my galaxy-covered backpack, it would probably take up one of those sugar granules!
So, here’s what I’m currently lugging around everywhere: general iPad/iPhone charger (size of a small book), mini-speaker, phone charger plug and cable, ipad, two eye-glasses cases (one empty), emergency make up kit, travel toothbrush & toothpaste, brush & comb, purse, box of business cards, reporter’s notepad for ideas (sometimes an A4 notepad too), nail clippers (ever-ready to tidy a broken nail at work), sewing kit, about 10 pens, highlighter, pencil, nuts/cereal bar for snack, small bottle of water, old fashioned paper diary, driving licence, earphones, paracetamol (for those bad days), two packs of tissues, spare pair of knickers disguised in a vitamin tablet tube, two lighters (even though I gave up smoking eleven years ago) bag clips, writer’s magazine (forever unread, but occasionally swapped for a newer model).
What are your ambitions in life?
Book-wise: when researching The Popish Midwife, I came across several other seventeenth century midwives. Elizabeth Cellier was a particularly inspirational woman, I totally fell in love with, but each was a strong woman whose tale I want to bring to life for the modern reader. Perhaps because of their unique position of being in one of the few trades women could actually be self-sufficient back then, or maybe because they were given more leeway than other women, having access to places other women were banned (e.g. coffee houses) and from the palace to the market place or prison, they are a fascinating group who seem to have simultaneously elicited both respect and derision. I’m hooked on their stories. I also want to publish the magical realism series harbouring on my laptop for the last decade (all six/seven books of which are in different states of completion). I love audiobooks, so I’d love to turn all the books into audiobooks too.
Life-wise: I’d love to find a place with lots of spare bedrooms and open my house up to writers from around the world who want a place to stay in England, maybe when they are on tour, or maybe for a writing break.
What do you wish you’d known at the start of your career you now know?
I wish I’d understood the idea of ‘little and often’. It was only when I did my first NaNoWriMo I learned that if you only focus on going through the motion every day, however bad the writing that comes out (that’s what editing’s for later) then you’ll be closer at the end than the start and it will get done. I learned that, whatever job you’re doing, it isn’t worth procrastinating because you’re not sure how well you can do it, or even if you’ll come up with the ideas… if you don’t sit down to do the work, nothing will ever be written and that book, or other job, will simply bug you and bug you about your failure.
What advice do you know now, you wish you had pre-kids?
Start early. Don’t wait because you think you haven’t the experience or time. When I was younger, I wanted to be an author, but I ‘played’ with writing. I would do half a story here, a description there. I didn’t believe I knew enough to actually write a novel, so I didn’t. I didn’t believe I had the time to write a novel, so I didn’t find it.
What I didn’t realise was that, once the kids came along, life would become filled with them and their needs for the next twenty years. Yes, I still wrote, mostly poetry that could be written in a relatively short time, but I never was quite able to apply myself.
It wasn’t until the last few years, when telling Elizabeth Cellier’s story became an obsession, that I realised you don’t have to be experienced (you can research) and you don’t have to have the time (you make it, wherever you can – before work, during lunch breaks, sitting on your bed with the laptop before you sleep… any which time you can squeeze it in).
Where do you see yourself in 5 years’ time?
I hope to have gained a reputation for writing well-written and engrossing seventeenth century midwife tales by then and to have a following of readers who love the way I bring these wonderful women of the past to life. I also plan to have started publishing the magical realism series under a pen name.
What advice would you give a budding author?
Apart from what I said before, about getting on and doing it, finding the time, replacing experience with research, I’d say to take yourself seriously as a writer. That means, to recognise that this is something you want to do, and bring it forward from ‘one day’ to now. Now is the best time to do anything.
Finally, happiness is…
Whether it’s the love of family, friends, or a partner, or whether it’s the love of an activity (e.g writing) or job … if it fulfils you and gives you a sense of satisfaction and achievement, then that is happiness.
Appreciating the love and everything you have in your life, instead of always searching for more. But, if there’s something more you want, don’t wait for it to come to you. Go for it! You’ll appreciate it more when you get it.
A good book, glass of red wine and a few hours peace.
Photo by Paul Barsby.