My life in ten objects: Catherine Isaac, author
Sunday Times bestselling author Catherine Isaac has been working with Hope and Homes for Children while researching her new novel, The World At My Feet. The book is partly set in Romania, in a state-run orphanage, uncovered in the aftermath of the revolution in 1989.
One thing that really struck Catherine during interviews with survivors of Ceaușescu’s cruel network of children’s institutions, was how they were forced to share dormitories, beds, clothes, toys and even toothbrushes. Personal possessions were an unknown concept—still a sad trait in many orphanages across the world today.
We often take for granted the personal possessions that surround us. Yet often, these are the things that let us know we truly belong. They can be simple objects that are used practically and daily; sentimental trinkets which are hidden away in our attics; or expensive objects which are displayed proudly on our mantlepieces. Whatever the precious possession, we tend to treasure them because they stand for something important, take us back to a particular time in our lives or remind us of family and loved ones. As she prepares for the launch of The World At My Feet, Catherine has been talking to us about the objects that tell the story of her life.
We often take for granted the personal possessions that surround us. Yet often, these are the things that let us know we truly belong.
1. Teddy bear
This Winnie The Pooh belonged to my eldest son. It was the first thing I bought after I found out I was pregnant. I remember it sitting in his cot, in his newly painted room, as I eagerly awaited his arrival. He’s now 15 and towers over me at 6ft 1in—something that’s happened in the blink of an eye. But I still recall how much all three of my boys loved their teddy bears. It’s heartbreaking to think how many children in orphanages around the world, don’t have a simple toy to cuddle—and in many cases not even a toothbrush or a piece of clothing to call their own.
2. My notebook
This is where ideas and research for a book are first committed to paper, including those I wrote while working with the team at Hope and Homes for Children for The World At My Feet. The novel is partly set in a Romanian orphanage in 1989, but it also explores the issue of how vulnerable children are looked after in the country today. Although fictional, it’s vitally important to me that the context of my stories is accurate, which was why I was so grateful for the help and information I received from Hope and Homes for Children.
3. You Me Everything
This is the American edition of a book that changed everything for me, career-wise. I’d been an author for a decade—writing under the pseudonym ‘Jane Costello’—before I wrote You Me Everything. It represented a change in writing style and it’s about a woman who travels to France with her ten year-old son to see his estranged father, after learning that her own mother has a genetic condition. This was my first book written as Catherine Isaac and made some wonderful things happen for me. It’s now translated into 24 languages and a movie is in development by Lionsgate.
4. The Tale of Mrs Tiggy-Winkle
I was an avid reader from an early age and this Beatrix Potter book was a favourite. It was my mother who introduced me to reading. She’d been confined to a wheelchair after a serious car accident, so when I was little we were both effectively housebound as my dad was at work during the day. While we couldn’t go to the shops or park, we were always busy, painting pictures, baking cakes and reading.
5. Tennis racquet
I took up tennis for the first time this year towards the end of lockdown. At the age of 46, I’m under no illusions that I have a future Wimbledon career ahead of me, but I still love it! I play with friends, as well as my husband and sons. It’s become a real family affair.
6. Wedding album
We all keep so many photos on our phones or online these days, but nothing beats a proper photo album. My husband Mark and I got married in 2015 and all three of my boys were with us. According to my then seven year-old, it was the “best day of his life”! I couldn’t have agreed more.
I love travelling. I was a newspaper journalist before I became an author, which meant I was lucky enough to visit a lot of places across the world. Unfortunately, my passport hasn’t been dusted off in a while due to the pandemic, but I’m looking forward to the day I get to use it again.
Most of us hate technology but this is one piece of equipment I couldn’t live without. I taught myself to touch type when I was a teenager and it has proved to be one of the most useful skills I’ve ever learnt. I love being able to write anywhere—in coffee shops, on trains, or simply at my writing desk at home.
9. Lake District map
I live in Liverpool, but we spend a lot of time in the Lake District as a family. My ideal weekend would involve lots of fresh air, mountains, lakes and walking… followed by some nice food in front of a crackling fire. Bliss.
10. School scarf
My start to secondary school was miserable. I was bullied and ended up leaving after a year. Fortunately, I moved to the most wonderful school, where I thrived. I have a group of friends from there that I’m still close to; some I see every week, others have moved to Spain or Singapore. But we all stay make a point of getting together for one weekend every year. I feel very lucky to have such lovely women in my life.
“It’s heartbreaking to think how many children in orphanages around the world, don’t have a simple toy to cuddle—and in many cases not even a toothbrush or a piece of clothing to call their own.”
The World at My Feet will be published in March 2021 by Simon & Schuster. This article originally featured in the Winter 2020 edition of our supporter magazine, Hope.
Missing family this Christmas is tough. For a child in an orphanage, it’s even tougher.
Donate now to give more children the safety of home, and the warmth of family, like never before.