A Chat with Catharine Withanay



Those of you who have been following my blog for a while will know that I believe that hiring a great cover designer is some of the best money that you will spend in your self-publishing venture.  Andrew Brown of Design for Writers did an absolutely fantastic job of putting together the cover for Diary of a Penguin-napper and I’m always getting compliments on it.  You can read more about how the cover came about here. I love following Andrew’s page on Facebook to see what new designs he is coming up with.  Earlier this month, a really striking Eric Carle-eque design popped up on his page and I was inspired to click on it and learn a little more.

In the Share of the Mulberry Tree: A year in Zambia is a memoir work by Catharine Withenay.  (Yep – say that name out loud.  It cracks me up every time!) Organising her 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.  In the Shade of the Mulberry Tree is a heartwarming and thought provoking tale about her first year living abroad. Catharine chronicles her family’s adventures as they settle into a new culture far from home. Nothing is as simple as it should be, 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 place home?

As if all of that doesn’t sound interesting enough already, Catharine never sounds like she has a dull moment.  She has variously worked as a waitress, shop assistant, general office employee, church lay worker and accountant before taking up a career as the wife of a doctor. In her spare time she enjoys playing the cello, watching cricket, preaching and winning at board games, but not all at once. She was born and brought up in Yorkshire, educated in Scotland and has also lived in Cambridge and London. Her husband’s career took her to Lusaka, Zambia for two years, but she ended up staying for four. She currently lives near Manchester (which she fully recognises to be The Wrong Side of the Pennines).  I was lucky enough to be able to talk to her about her new book, In the Shade of the Mulberry Tree.


So, what three words best describe your book?

In style: heart-warming, thought-provoking, memoir

In content: culture-shock, self-discovery, travel

In alliteration: motherhood, mosquitoes and malnutrition


Can you give us your best one sentence pitch to convince readers to give your book a try?

Moving to Africa with two young children was not what Catharine had planned to do with her life, but following her husband to Zambia she contends with poverty and potholes, motherhood and mosquitoes, and is variously rescued by goats, nuts, lavender and Sherry: could this place ever be called home?


What’s your:

Favourite chapter? The day no-one remembered

Peculiarly, this makes me cry every time I read it (and in the editing process I have read it all many times!) and so I’ll never be able to read it aloud, but that is probably also why I think it is powerful and has a lot of resonance with others.

Favourite scene?

Much more difficult to choose! Probably going to the hairdressers, although climbing the mululu tree with my father is a close second. Or visiting Daniel’s house, or the grandmother in Gwembe, or the Victoria Falls. Not very decisive, am I? As memoir, they all hold great memories for me and it is hard to pick anything.


Why did you decide to write this book?

Living in Zambia was an amazing experience. When we returned to the UK my daughter was just starting school, so I had all day, every day, to myself. We were living in a new location, where I didn’t know anyone in particular, and so there was nothing for me to do. It seemed natural to try to write about what I’d experienced, especially as so many friends and family were interested to know. With the help of a WEA creative writing group I got some support and much needed criticism, which honed my writing. It still might have floundered but for a friend who told me to write 500 words a day. Instead I wrote 1000 and had the first draft finished within a few months!


What is your all -time favourite book?

Perhaps I should say something weighty, or erudite, or adult, but I’ve chosen Winnie the Pooh (and House at Pooh Corner) by AA Milne. Every time I read these stories I marvel at how he captured the innocence of childhood, and the truths about animals or parents. After all, what Rabbit wouldn’t have all his friends and relations with him? What mother (Kanga) wouldn’t be worried about her children (Roo) and give them medicine? What child wouldn’t be scared of a Heffalump, or build their friend a house, or go on an expedition to the North Pole?


Fill in the blanks:

I’m really awesome at ___. 

I asked around to get an answer to this. My son said, “Being a mummy”; my daughter said, “Maths”; and I’m not prepared to repeat what my husband said. I think I’m a bit of a jack-of-all-trades, but I do bake some amazing choc chip cookies!

I’m really embarrassed to admit that ___. 

I’m afraid of toilets.

Quite frankly, I can’t stand it when others _____. 

choose to wear ear-rings that create a great big hole in their earlobe. I know everyone has their own ideas of what is stylish or fashionable, but this turns my stomach and I have to look away.

If I could be best friends with any book character it would be___.

This is a toughie! I’ve chosen Professor McGonagall, from the Harry Potter series of books. In all honesty, it’s probably because I’d like to meet Dame Maggie Smith who plays her in the films, but my children laugh at my Scottish accent when I try to impersonate her. I think the Professor is someone who would always stand up for what is right, and stand by her friends and family. I hope I’d do the same – and I’d certainly like a best friend who would do that for me.

I’m currently loving reading _____ (name a book) 

The Saturday Big Tent Wedding Party, part of the No1 Ladies Detective Agency series by Alexander McCall Smith. I love the way he portrays the African way of life – the colour, the dust, the gentle flow of days, the time spent drinking red bush tea. I have read the whole series so far, entranced by the characters and immersed in this fictional Botswanan life. It is not heavy reading, but it always brings a smile to my face.


You can catch more of Catharine over at her website http://catharinewithenay.com/ or on Twitter @c_withenay and copies of her beautiful book In the Share of the Mulberry Tree are available as an e-book on Smashwords and a paperback on Amazon.


Catharine has generously provided Frankly Books with an e-book copy of her book to giveaway to one lucky reader!  Enter now via Rafflecopter below (with entries closing 1 April 2013!)
a Rafflecopter giveaway


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