Saturday, 16 March 2013

The PINK SOFA Welcomes Catharine Withenay

Catharine Withenay


Catharine Withenay is a recent Twitter friend. We linked up when she used a conversation I was having with someone else as the basis of a very clever blog post. So when The PINK SOFA heard that her memoirs of her life in Zambia: In The Shade Of The Mulberry Tree was to be published, an invitation was soon winging its way. In honour of Catharine's visit, there is chikanda, nshima and sadza on the coffee table for everybody to try. Don't know what it is? As Catharine, she'll tell you all about it. So, without further ado, it's over to my guest:

''How wonderful to sit on your squishy PINK SOFA! ... all I need is glorious sunshine and I'm sorted for the day. A sofa was something that I missed when we first arrived in Zambia. It was about four months before we got one. Until then we had some cheap plastic garden chairs that slid over the concrete floor and one uncomfortable wooden chair with a foam cushion that might have well not existed. Somehow I still managed to breastfeed my daughter in that time.

So let me tell you a little about why and what I write. Moving to Zambia in 2003 was a life-changing experience. I never wanted to go, but my husband is a paediatrician, had done a Diploma in Hygeine and Tropical Medicine and the PhD was his next step. At the time we moved, my son was 2.5 years old, my daughter just over 7 months. I was petrified as to what would happen!

I ended up staying there four years and when I got back to the UK my book almost wrote itself. By then the children were at school and since I was living in a new part of the UK (new to me) I had no friends and plenty of time to write. So why so long to publish? Well, partly because writing isn't simply sitting in front of a computer screen and typing. The first draft is easy, the difficult bit is editing. After trying a few agents, I decided to self-publish.

Memoir is a difficult genre to sell to agents and publishers. It is neither fact nor fiction and in general their memoir budget is taken up by celebrities. (Boring. They all end up in Oxfam Book shops.) But I find other people's lives are interesting: even seemingly 'normal' lives have a tale to tell. My life is not really different from thousands of others, bringing up children and trailing their spouses where the jobs go. But, in fairness, most people don't find themselves trying to emigrate having lost their passports ...

Catharine's memoirs of Zambia
Zambia offered so many challenges to the naive expat! The currency needed dividing by 7,500 in order for me to understand it in UK £ sterling. I had to employ a maid (I'd never employed anyone before but it would have been very strange for the white lady not to have one). I had to develop a skill in bartering, which I'm not sure I ever mastered! All together I had a very steep learning curve, much of which I share in the book.

My husband's medical research was into malnutrition and the immune system. Malnutrition is a big issue in developing countries, as there are many people with little or no money and who scrape around for food. Throw in the spectre of HIV/AIDS which is ravaging sub-Saharan Africa and there are many many children who have slim chances in life. I met and worked with international aid workers and it is shocking to know that so many children remain without food and education. I was delighted to witness a rural project that tried to deal with both: feeding lunch to every child that came to school. Unsurprisingly, their education, health and weight improved!''

In the Shade of the Mulberry Tree : Organising a husband, toddler and babe in arms, three suitcases, two rucksacks, a pram and a travel cot onto a plane ready for a new life in Zambia is complicated enough. Given Catharine's fear of malaria and tropical diseases and the anxieties of moving beyond the reach of friends and family, she wonders how she was persuaded to move at all. The, just as they approach the airport, it appears that they don't have their passports.

In her debut book, Catharine chronicles her first year living abroad as an expat wife. Nothing is simple, from buying furniture to getting a haircut. As she copes with motherhood and the injustices of poverty and healthcare in Zambia, she wonders: could she ever come to call this pace home?

In the Shade Of The Mulberry Tree is available on Amazon.co.uk/Amazon.com

Follow Catherine on : Twitter @c_withenay,  www.facebook.com/CatharineWithenayWriter, www.catharinewithenay.com

Whoah - what an amazing adventure! Thanks Catharine, the PINK SOFA has really enjoyed hearing about your book ... and is looking forward to trying the Zambian food. Tuck in people... Catharine will be staying around to chat.

27 comments:

  1. Such experiences merit a book! Absorbing interview. Thank you, both! :)

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  2. Nice to meet you Catharine...Thoroughly enjoyed being privy to your chat with Carol! Your book sounds fascinating not only for the major issues it covers relating to a developing country but also for the complexities of your struggle with the minutiae of every day living such as with currency and hair cuts! This is definitely one for my reading list!!...Oh...and glad you survived the 'squishy Pink Sofa'...best you don't know why it's so squishy...:)

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    1. Oh no! Now I feel all itchy and squirmy and uncomfortable. *wriggles awkwardly*
      Delighted you wish to read the book. I faced a lot of ordinary things in an extraordinary fashion.

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  3. Catherine, I am getting your book without a doubt. I already feel kinship with you! I did much the same thing in the early 80's in South Africa, so I know what a challenge Africa can be with very small children too. I also wrote about it. Can't wait to read yours!

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    1. Val, I'd love to sit and chat with you about that too! Hope it brings back some happy memories.

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  4. What an adventure for a young mom. The UK must seem mundane after that. And the interview is a good tidbit to whet the appetite of any would-be readers. Well done you two.

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    1. I don't think anything with children can be mundane. (But yes, I do secretly long to be back there...mainly for the sunshine!)

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  5. Your book sounds very interesting. I enjoyed the interview.

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  6. S many personal stories afe only of interest to the person who experiences them.... even though they think tey're absorbing! Yours is the opposite... an absorbing story that is personal. Well done.
    Another great chat on the Pink Sofa.
    Oh, and Catherine, congratulations on another first.... Carol didn't get a word in edgeways! Probably too busy of finishing off the nibbles!
    Nice jo, both!

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    1. Richard, that is an achievement in itself! Possibly a greater challenge than taking the family to Africa ;-)
      Thank you for your lovely comments!

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  7. I love the bright colors on the cover of this book. It sounds like a great story and I am curious to know about the author's year living abroad. Thanks for sharing!
    ~Jess

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    1. Thank you! The cover still makes me squeal with delight when I see it!

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  8. Hi Catharine, great interview!

    Is there a sequel planned about readjusting to the 'jungle' of UK life again? I imagine it must have been strange for your children especially, remembering nothing but Zambia.

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    1. I've only written about Year 1...! You are right, though. It was strange to readjust and I hadn't realised what a strong accent my son had picked up. A few years at school here has knocked it out of him, which is a shame.

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  9. I am very much looking forward to reading your memoir!

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    1. Thank you! It was certainly an interesting period in my life!!

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  11. Glad you decided to write about your adventure in Zambia- it's the challenges that make us who we are after all!

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  12. Hi Catharine, you sound like a really brave lady. I would have been too scared to go Interesting what you were saying about memoirs and agents. They seem to want trilogies and celebrities these days. Good luck with your book.

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  13. Thank you all for your kind comments. It was a challenge living in Zambia, that's for sure, as is publishing my memoir about it! I hope you enjoy reading it and sharing in my memories.
    :-)

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  14. Sorry Carol i left a comment on twitter but forgot to do it here, god what an adventure Catherine had the UK must seems so dull. Also i must say the cover of the book is really lovely x

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    1. Thank you - got your twitter comment too!

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  15. The challenge that you and your family took on, Catharine, sounds fascinating and very worthwhile. Let's hope that people will eventually get bored with the trivia of celebrity lives. Sounds like a very good read and (once again) a very striking and original cover. Best of luck!

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