Women Together – Guest, Kristina Cooper
Written by Radio Maria England on 08/06/2021
Women Together, with guest Kristina Cooper
Genevieve and Diane are pleased to welcome Kristina Cooper back to Season 2 of Women Together. This time, she is in the “Guest Seat” sharing with us her book, The Little Witch Who Wanted to Be Good. Just now learning about Kristina? Well, she shared with us a little more about herself as well as more about her book. Keep reading below! And to listen to this episode of Women Together, Click on the Listen button!
An introduction to Kristina:
I am the eldest of five children with a Swedish mother and an English father. I have been writing plays and stories since I was small. I used to make up stories and tell them to my brothers and sisters at night-time before we went to sleep. When I was ten I formed my own little theatre troupe and a group of us used to dress up and perform plays in Cheshire Homes and for old people.
At various times I wanted to be an actress, a missionary (very briefly), a diplomat and a TV researcher. After university, I did a secretarial course and my first job was working on a Woman’s magazine called Over 21 where I was PA to the editor. I started writing small things for the arts pages of the magazine and this experience made me decide that instead of going into TV I would rather become a print journalist. I had no formal journalistic training but I could write, type and do shorthand and was interested in people. My first journalistic job was working for the Universe Catholic newspaper as a reporter, where my nickname was Kristina Byline and where they joked that I was always given “The Third World and the lost causes” to write about, as I was interested in human interest stories rather than news.
I decided I wanted to become a foreign correspondent and when I was 27 I went to live and work in Panama for two years where I worked as a volunteer for the Church and in a children’s home. I wanted to write stories that would make the world a better place. It was here in Panama that I had a conversion experience through the Catholic Charismatic Renewal. This changed the arc of my life. I realised that Jesus lay at the heart of any lasting personal or social transformation and so rather than being a journalist I decided I wanted to become an evangelist of some sort and spread the gospel message. As i didn’t want to be a nun my job options were a bit limited, but miraculously God opened up an opportunity for me to edit The Goodnews, the newsletter for the Catholic Charismatic Renewal. I did this first on a temporary basis, but then full time, and became the editor, transforming it from a six page newsletter to a 36 page magazine, which I edited for 35 years until I retired last year.
The ethos of the magazine was to give witness to the wonderful things God was doing among his people, of healings and conversions, things which often don’t get into the normal newspapers which are dominated by bad news. As well as writing, I also gave talks on the spiritual life for groups and did a bit of freelance writing for other Catholic magazines, and short reflections for the radio.
Last February, the charity which employed me ran out of funds and couldn’t afford to subsidise the magazine any more and I was made redundant.
As I was near retirement age anyway, I decided not to look for a new job but to concentrate on some of the unfinished writing projects I had started over the years. One of these was The Little Witch Who Wanted to be Good.
BACKGROUND TO THE LITTLE WITCH WHO WANTED TO BE GOOD
Last year on Easter Sunday, which I felt was a very symbolic, I was inspired to write another little story about Esmeralda, the heroine of “The Little Witch Who Wanted To Be Good” which I had begun 20 years ago. I sent this to my niece Jessica, who is a fashion designer in Sweden. She has always loved the stories and was inspired to do some illustrations for it. These were perfect and she offered to illustrate the book for me. This took quite a long time as she is in full time work, but the book, came out in February this year.
My inspiration for writing the book was that although the production and illustrations of children’s books today are often really imaginative and exciting, the content from a moral point of view can be very thin and sometimes disturbing. I feel children’s stories are a wonderful way of communicating moral truths and ideas in an entertaining way. I was alarmed at the influence of social media and at the consumerist culture that was developing among children. This was seen even in the way words themselves were changing meaning, which reflected the change in the culture. For example calling someone a “goody two shoes” is an insult, whereas to say something is ” really wicked” or “bad” means it is exciting and attractive. There was a famous advert for cream cakes which called them “naughty but nice”. While goodness is seen as boring and wet or phoney, evil is seen as fun and attractive. Happy endings in films and plays are seen as “predictable” whereas immoral or depressing context is called “edgy” and realistic”.
The challenge was thus to write a story that would make “goodness” cool and fun and attractive and I wondered how to do this in the current context where you can’t appeal to the authority of the Christian narrative. Thus with the interest in witchcraft due to the Harry Potter series phenonomen and the fact that children often identify with rebellious characters I decided to subvert this genre and so “Esmeralda” was born. She is an little orphaned witch, who lives with her aunts in the forest, but who rebels against the way she has been brought up and wants to be good and kind. The humour comes from the fact that she gets told off for having a tidy bedroom, and gets expelled from Witches Academy for being a disruptive influence in the school, by consoling the victim of bullying. Basically she gets told off for being good. This has its funny side for the children but also subtly is preparing them for the culture they are growing up in which is often against Christian values. Instead following Esmeralda’s example they are taught to stand up for goodness, even if adults around them aren’t and to see serving others as good fun and enjoyable.
Initially I wasn’t sure if children would understand or like the book, so about 7 years ago I trialled it with a class of girls in a local school. I needn’t have been afraid, the children absolutely loved it. They not only laughed but even got the message about doing good deeds. This gave me the confidence to carry on and finish the book. Finding the right illustrator was a big difficulty, as I wanted quirky not sweet illustrations so the book wasn’t too twee. It was also difficult to find a publisher, which led to me ultimately publishing it myself. The son of a friend has created a web site for me. This is called www.thereadiesclub.com as I am not promoting witchcraft but goodness. The Readies, which is the group that Esmeralda joins, are children who are always ready to help others. Initially I had Esmeralda become a brownie. But it transpired that Brownies are a protected brand, so you have to be careful how you portray them. The brownie promise used to have God in it, but in line with current secularism, God has now been taken out. Rather than ending up in legal difficulties, I decided I would change the name and colour of the uniforms and call them something different. Thus the Readies was born.
Creating a new organisation, however, mean creating a whole new structure with appropriate names. When it came to finding a name equivalent to Brown Owl, I was thinking about names to do with the colour red. Then a friend suggested Ladybird, which I thought was perfect. I decided I would goggle “ladybird” to see if it had any connotations of which I wasn’t aware. Imagine my surprise when I found out that ladybirds are actually named after Our Blessed Lady. The 7 spots on a ladybird’s back were to remind us of the seven sorrows and seven joys of OUr Lady. For me this was yet another sign of God’s hand in the project and a subtle way of introducing the presence of the Divine while not being overt. A friend said that he felt that once they had read the book, children might want to become Readies themselves so I had to think of a way for them to do this. So if you want to be a Readie, as it explains at the back of my book, all you have to do is to recite the REadie promise every day and then do a 100 good deeds for others. You don’t have to attend meetings or anything. I have had some ladybird stickers printed too so children can keep track of these good deeds, either in an exercise book or if it is a family – on a wall chart.
My ultimate hope is that a whole movement might be encouraged among children to do good and serve others and become Readies like Esmeralda and her friends. So far the response among both adults and children has been very good.
It is a bit hard promoting a book without the backing of an established publisher, but through my own contacts I have managed to sell about 350-400 books. As well as being available through my web site, the book is being stocked by a wonderful secular children’s educational shop in Clapham Junction called The Chalkboard. The book is not overtly religious but its core is and my hope that it will touch children’s hearts. But that is up to the Holy Spirit.