Judy’s novel new life
For years, Judy Finnigan was half of one of TV’s best-known presenting partnerships, and now she is making her name as an author. She told Rachel Banham about her debut novel, Eloise, and why she loves Norfolk and Suffolk.
Her personal assistant had a deeper voice than most, but he was very efficient. “Judy’s PA,” says Richard Madeley as he answers the phone. And, in the course of our interview, it seems that he’s not joking. Judy Finnigan had been travelling across the country to promote her new book, and it’s clear that her husband’s support is invaluable.
Eloise is a supernatural thriller. It went straight into the Sunday Times Best Seller list. The novel is set in Cornwall, where Judy is speaking from today, and the county plays a great part in it.
“One of the most important characters in the novel is in fact Cornwall itself,” Judy says. “The whole thing is set in Cornwall – partly because Cornwall is very strange and mysterious and ancient. It was cut off for so long, and you can believe that things like spirits are down here. It just does seem very mystical.”
The book tells the story of Cathy, who is devastated after her best friend Eloise dies from breast cancer. Cathy begins to have disturbing dreams that imply Eloise’s death was not all it seems.
She decides to explore Eloise’s mysterious past, putting herself in danger as she finds herself drawn ever deeper into her friend’s great – and tragic – secret. Judy explains that she had always wanted to write a book, but had never had the time.
“The daily television stuff is all-consuming time-wise and energy-wise because it wasn’t just that we appeared on telly every day we were executive producers too – we were deeply involved in the whole editorial process,” she says.
“We finished one show and we were immediately starting creating and writing the next. What with that, and with having a family myself, there was no time to sit down and properly concentrate on writing a novel because I realised that I really needed to devote myself to it and I couldn’t do that until I stopped doing the daily telly.
“So when we did, about two years ago, I thought right I’ve got hundreds of notes I’ve been scribbling for years, mostly in Cornwall, just jottings in notebooks and bits of paper all over the place. And I thought ‘ok, I’m going to sit down now and see if I can pull it all together and turn it into a proper book and we’ll just see’.”
Last year, Judy visited Jarrold in Norwich and appeared at the Way With Words literary festival at Southwold to promote the book. She says she was ‘delighted’ to be back in the area, as East Anglia is close to her heart.
Judy was Anglia Television’s first female news reporter when she joined in 1974, which she describes as a ‘fantastic experience’. She lived near Tombland in Norwich and her twin boys were born at the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital.
“The whole Anglia Television news patch is enormous. As reporters it was a great way of learning our craft,” she says. “We would set our story up in the newsroom first thing in the morning and line up the interviewees and then I’d get in the crew car and we’d drive for miles.
“It was the best training, the best learning curve for being on television and learning how to communicate and write scripts and everything that there could have been.
“I just remember it as being incredibly hard work, but incredibly satisfying. It was a great time in my life.” Richard’s mum lives in Norfolk and Judy’s brother and sister-in-law live in Suffolk, so the couple are regular visitors to the area.
“We like going over to Lavenham and having lunch and stuff like that – that’s really good fun,” Judy says. “I just love wandering around Norwich. I just love all the churches and the cobbled streets. I’m very fond of the whole area.
“When my kids were very tiny, I didn’t drive then… so I used to have to walk everywhere. If you’re lucky enough to live in the centre of Norwich you can walk everywhere, to all the shops quite easily. It was a great place to live.”
Richard and Judy presented the TV programme This Morning for 13 years until 2001, when they left ITV to present the show Richard and Judy on Channel 4. Richard has continued to appear on radio and on TV – most recently in the documentary Madeley Meets The Squatters.
Meanwhile Judy, who is contracted to write at least one more book, says she doesn’t miss working in TV at all. “I’d just done it for so long,” she says. “It was daily and it was very time consuming, and thoroughly enjoyable while I was doing it.
“I’ve been really, really lucky. Frankly I just don’t want to do that any more. I feel I’ve done it and I’m just happy to kind of step back and be able to relax a bit more and do other things – like writing.”
Eloise, by Judy Finnigan, is published by Sphere. For more details, visit: www.littlebrown.co.uk
Why the book club is thriving
The Richard and Judy Book Club, through which the couple recommend books that they have read, was launched in one of their Channel 4 programmes. It continues today exclusively with WH Smith.
Richard and Judy Book Club titles have sold in excess of 10 million and generated more than £60 million in book sales.
Judy says: “It’s gone incredibly well. We’re both delighted and slightly surprised because we really thought that, because it wasn’t being talked about on the television any more, because it’s online and in store, we didn’t know how well it would work, but it’s gone fantastically well.
“We spend an awful lot of time reading.”
The emotion that led Judy to write her novel was inspired by her friendship with TV presenter Caron Keating, who died of breast cancer in 2004. Judy says: “She had a house in Cornwall as well and we both used to spend an awful lot of time in Cornwall together with the kids.
“We were all very close really and it was a very poignant time. Although we first met Caron in London it’s really with Cornwall that we remember her most vividly.
“As I was wandering around Cornwall missing Caron so much, it struck me that maybe that kind of passion for motherhood, if you like, is so strong that… what if a woman who died in similar circumstances… felt she was so worried about the children she had been forced to leave behind that she could communicate from beyond the grave with someone, with just one person, in a desperate attempt to save her children.
“And that’s what gave me the idea for the story. But that was only the emotion. The actual story, of Eloise and Cathy and all the rest of it, is complete fiction.”