• Helen Lederer

We love commitment - Kathleen Whyman shares how not to be clean, while writing

Helen Led here – what a treat to know Kathleen started writing at ten AND SENT IT OFF!! I got George Harrison autograph aged ten, but Kathleen was ahead of the game! YESS.


Kathleen Whyman, on the 2020 Unpublished Novel shortlist with Second Wife Syndrome


When did you first hear about the CWIP Prize and was your entry specifically written for it or were you working on it already?

I’m a member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association, which is a brilliant organisation full of supportive, vibrant, talented authors, not old ladies smelling of moth balls and wearing feather boas, as I’d initially thought it might be. (Must admit, I’m a bit disappointed about the lack of feather boas.) The members share details of events and competitions, one of them being CWIP.

Kathleen (centre in the floral dress) with RNA friends

My first novel was doing the rounds with publishers and I’d started a new one – Second Wife Syndrome – but it was going slowly.


By deciding to enter CWIP, I gave myself permission to prioritise my writing. I forced myself to ignore non-essential jobs (we don’t eat off the floor, so cleaning it quickly fell under the non-essential category) and wrote during every available moment.


I typed the words The End at 4.21am on the day the book was due in. I didn’t even have time to proofread it before submitting. Apologies to the judges for any typos. And to my family for having to live in squalor.


Tell us a little bit about yourself and how long you’ve been writing?

I was born in Braintree on the 14th August 19… oh, sorry, you said a little bit.


I love having a laugh with my friends, who are all witty, wonderful women that I couldn’t be without; drinking cocktails and/or cava (not prosecco – too sweet); watching my husband James play in his band; and hanging out with my daughters Eve and Elena, when they’re being nice to me. They’re 11 and 14, so that’s not often. (Only joking, girls.*)


I wrote my first book, The Ghost of Cripple Creek, when I was 10. It filled two exercise books, although quite a lot of that space was devoted to illustrations. I submitted it to a publisher, who sent me a letter saying that it wasn’t right for them, but that I should keep writing. They didn’t return the book though (I’m still upset about this), so I was unable to enter it into CWIP’s graphic novel category. Probably for the best.


*I’m not joking.


Have you ever started a novel and then abandoned it?

Several during my teens and twenties. I wrote a novel when I was pregnant with Eve (not being able to go out drinking meant that I had much more time on my hands than I was used to), about the pros and cons of being pregnant. The main con being not able to go out drinking. I finished the novel, but wisely abandoned it.

Did you write poetry as an angsty teenager?

I wrote a song, which I guess is a poem. Not sure why, as I’m even worse at singing than I am at drawing. I was singing in the kitchen the other day and my daughter asked why I was making such a strange noise.


Can you describe what your novel’s about in two sentences?

Second Wife Syndrome is about the challenges that come with blended families. For Marie, the main challenge is that her husband’s first wife won’t let her meet their children. There are several hilarious subplots, so there are other things going on too.

What made you write your book? Where did the idea or impulse behind it come from?

Several of my friends are in blended families and it’s becoming increasingly common, so I thought it was a topic people could relate to. Hopefully by mentioning James’ band, I won’t have to find out first hand.

Did you set out to write a funny book? Where does the humour come from in your book?

I find it very hard to write without humour. (Readers of this blog post may disagree.) I think I’d describe my style as chatty banter. (Or annoying.)

Can you read funny books when you’re writing your own? Who do you enjoy reading?

I love books that make me laugh. Unfortunately the only time I get to read is in bed and I’m too tired then. So I listen to audiobooks instead while I’m exercising/cooking/doing housework.


I’ve just finished Helen Lederer’s Losing It. It’s hilarious! I burst out laughing while cycling past an elderly couple and they looked very concerned. (Helen – I know you don’t get involved with judging. If you did, I would totally be saying it to increase my chances.)


Have you ever read anyone else’s bad review and felt slightly chuffed?

No. If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all. (Eve and Elena – take note.)


Can you tell us about your writing routine?

I’d like to be a pantser because that sounds spontaneous and fun, but I’m actually a planner. I need to know where I’m going. Before starting a novel, I write a brief description of what needs to happen at each point in the story. I don’t know how it’s going to happen though. That comes to me as I write, which is the fun bit.

Kathleen's vibrant lockdown writing space

Where do you write?

When we’re not in lockdown I write at my local library. It’s the best way of ensuring I don’t get distracted by jobs at home. Plus I feel it’s important to support libraries. They’re an endangered species and if we don’t use them, we’ll lose them.


At home, I write in what used to be my youngest daughter’s bedroom, but is now a study/dumping ground for things. I’ve put my own pictures up, but haven’t redecorated or even taken the bunting down. I claim that this is for sentimental reasons, but really it’s because I can’t be arsed.

You can’t find the right words to make a sentence chime: do you (a) swear? (b) cry? or (c) eat? - if (c), what item of food?

(c) I nibble on Hotel Chocolat’s 100% dark chocolate puddles. Because they don’t contain sugar, I’ve convinced myself that these are so healthy they’re practically one of my five-a-day. Unfortunately they’ve not been available online during lockdown. This has resulted in (a) swearing and (b) crying.

What difference has being shortlisted for the CWIP prize made to you? What would you say to anyone thinking of entering next year?

I’m still on a high from being shortlisted. It’s given me confidence that I’m not wasting hours and hours writing and that maybe, if I’m very lucky, this could be my job, rather than something I reward myself with when I’ve done the boring jobs.


If you’re contemplating entering next year – do it! Not only because there’s absolutely no reason why you wouldn’t be long- or shortlisted too, but because it’s important to support this fantastic opportunity we’ve been given. Helen Lederer and her fantastic team work so hard to make this happen. The support and encouragement I’ve received have been as much of a boon as the nomination itself. I feel truly honoured to be a part of CWIP. So, don’t just think about entering, do it, and hopefully you’ll become a part of it too.

ME AGAIN - I love you Kathleen for being a CWIPster and for writing a song. We have a CWIP song and will reveal it soon. Your thoughts on this will be of HUGE value.


A very Happy Publication week from me and everyone at CWIP! Kathleen's first novel, Wife Support System, is published by Hera Books on Wednesday and you can pre-order it here:


Kathleen Whyman is an NCTJ-trained journalist and writes for magazines, including Writers’ Forum.


She has always aspired to be a novelist but got side-tracked. She took the Faber Academy course and was mentored by author Jill Dawson through Gold Dust. She attended the Writers’ Workshop Festival of Writing in York where she won the competition for Superb Blurb.


Kathleen is a member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association and on the New Writers Scheme.

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