It’s always a pleasure to interview an author from my native Britain and today it’s Freda Lightfoot. If you enjoy family sagas and or historical novels, Freda’s books should definitely be on your to read list. She now lives in Spain and here she is to tell us about her books and writing life. Visit her Web site at http://www.fredalightfoot.co.uk/
Susan Palmquist (SP)-Tell us about the first story you sold to D.C Thomson?
Freda Lightfoot (FL)-It was called The Peacock Feather, and is the story of a teacher whose village school is about to be closed. Teaching was her life and she can’t think what else to do if she has to give up. But when she meets a stranger who turns out to be an artist, and he encourages the children to paint a picture of a peacock feather, telling them of the myths and history attached to the bird, she is reminded of her youthful dreams. Not only does she find him attractive, but he opens up her mind to all the exciting adventures still to be tasted. She realises that maybe life isn’t over for her after all. I think it sold for two reasons, because it was a strong, in-depth character sketch, and it was written from the heart.
SP-You grew up in an area rich with history. Do you think that influenced your writing in any way?
FL-Yes, it did indeed. I think even as a girl at the back of my mind was the weird feeling that I must remember how it was, as I might write about it one day. I was aware that my great aunts were born during Queen Victoria’s reign, that they would speak of the days their gas lamps were taken out in order for electricity to be installed. I remember the milk cart coming round with its churn, and people would take their jugs to be filled. The milkman’s horse would always be trimmed in ribbons on May Day, and we children would dance around a home-made Maypole. My mother was a weaver, weaving parachutes during the war. Her mother too was a weaver and they could converse by silently mee-mawing to each other, so that I didn’t hear their private conversation. All weavers have to do this because it is so noisy in the weaving shed. When I interview people for my books they love to remember how things used to be. People love nostalgia, so yes, many of my family sagas are about a way of life now gone.
SP-Sounds like you grew up in a wonderful close knit family. Do you think that’s the reason you enjoy writing family sagas?
FL-I was fortunate in that I had a happy childhood with two loving parents. We never had much money but that didn’t seem to matter. I was an only child so we were a threesome, a unit. They encouraged my love of reading by buying me books, took me to join the library and were voracious readers themselves. A parent can give a child no better blessing than their love, and a joy in reading. I had cousins and many friends, but was content with my own company. I spent a great deal of time in my own imagination, telling myself stories, and writing them down in little red exercise books. For the purposes of fiction the family unit is a perfect hunting ground for drama. The story of how ordinary people deal with extraordinary events in their life is fertile ground for the novelist. I’ve tackled such themes as illegitimacy, adoption, divorce, infidelity, poverty, stolen children, birth control, inheritance, and family secrets of all kinds. I’m now putting many of my back list up on to Amazon and Smashwords as e-books, and it’s good to see these stories given a new lease of life.
SP-How long have you lived in Spain?
FL-We bought a holiday home in Almeria about 14 years ago, and 10 years ago we decided to make it our permanent home. We bought an olive grove and built a house on it. This is the nearest to retirement a writer ever gets, to live where you choose and still be able to do the job you love. There are downsides to the decision, of course, a proximity to book shops, libraries, and the many talks and conferences I like to do. So we try to spend some weeks each summer in England. I like to think I have the best of both worlds. I love the climate, the people, my Spanish garden where I can dream through the next part of the plot while digging up weeds and pruning the roses.
SP-Does it influence your writing in anyway?
FL-I think it has made me feel more European, which has expanded my mind and opportunities, and I’ve now started writing historical fiction. I’m working on a trilogy about Marguerite de Valois, daughter of Catherine de Medici who was forcibly married to Henry of Navarre and her wedding marred by the Massacre of St Bartholomew. The first two: Hostage Queen and Reluctant Queen are already out and doing well. I’m now writing the third: The Queen and the Courtesan, which I’m really enjoying writing.
SP-What’s a typical writing day like for you?
FL-I’m at my desk by 9 in the morning. Dealing with emails and related matters takes up more time than I’d like, but I’m very careful not to get drawn into Facebook or Twitter and such like distractions when I really should be writing. My first task is to read and revise the previous day’s material, by which time I’m motoring and usually manage 1,500 to 2,000 words a day. Apart from a short coffee break I keep going until 1.30 or 2.00, then break for lunch. Following the Spanish principle I take a couple of hours off in the afternoon for a siesta, or to garden, read, walk, swim, whatever. I’m usually back at my desk by 4.00 to 4.30 and work through till 7.00 when I might revise and add to what I’ve written that morning, or do some research and jot down notes for the next day’s stint. Only when all that is done, dare I let myself venture on to FB and Twitter to chat to my friends.
SP-Tell us about your novels House of Angels and Angela at War. How did the idea for the series begin?
FL-This is the story of how three sisters cope after being damaged by an abusive parent. Empty-headed, spoiled Ella is married off to a non-conformist farmer with three children in need of a mother. Amos Todd proves to be a cold, unfeeling man who sees sex as wicked and women as Jezebels. But the beauty of Kentmere gradually seeps into Ella’s heart. Can she make a life for herself in the dale? Livia is the eldest and most spirited daughter, and feels she must protect her more timid sisters. She longs to be a modern woman and work in the family store, but her father forbids it. She falls in love with Jack Flint, a man untroubled by rules and convention, which creates further problems. The youngest girl is practical, sensible Maggie who is expected to keep house for her father with no hope of marriage. And then, unexpectedly, there is Mercy Simpson, who lives in the stews of Fellside in Kendal with her mother Florrie, a linsey hand loom weaver in the last throes of consumption. With her mother’s dying breath she learns that her father is none other than Josiah Angel, owner of the town’s fine department store. But Mercy soon discovers that joining the Angel family doesn’t turn out to be quite as wonderful as she expected.
The story continues in Angels at War where Livia’s plans for the family department star are challenged by Matthew Grayson; she becomes involved in the Suffragette movement and in World War I. The Edwardian period is one I particularly enjoy writing about as women were very much making a stand for independence. I do love to write about feisty heroines.
SP-Do you do lots of research for your novels?
FL-I enjoy research, although I always make sure that the story comes first. I just do enough to get me started in the first instance, and then find what I need as I go along. Reading other people’s history books is a wonderful displacement therapy and there’s always the danger of putting something in just because you spent hours finding it. Keeping track of it all is another nightmare. I try to weave in little details seamlessly so that the reader sees, hears, smells and feels a strong sense of place without realising it, or being tempted to skim.
SP-Any plans to set a book in Spain?
FL-Not at present, but who knows what ideas the future might bring. I’m certainly starting to explore Spanish history, so it’s possible.
SP-Any genre you’d like to try?
FL-The new genre for me has been historical biographical fiction which I’m really enjoying. I love discovering the true facts of a person and their life, as with Queen Margot, and two of Henry IV’s many mistresses: Gabriel d’Estrées and Henriette d’Entragues in my French Queens trilogy, then making it accessible to the reader. This means ruthlessly concentrating on what is relevant to the main viewpoint character and story thread, while being able to set her life against a realistic portrayal of the times. Too much history can distract and destroy the focus of the story, too little can leave it bland and uninteresting. Not easy to get the balance right, but a fascinating challenge.
SP-What’s next for you?
FL-When I’ve finished writing The Queen and the Courtesan I already have ideas for another saga, and another historical, which I’m itching to write. I seem to have a bookshelf of ideas in my mind and just have to wait for one to get really pushy and demand to be written. I rarely take more than a couple of weeks break between books, writing two a year. But I also have to find time to put up more of my back list on to Amazon as ebooks, and catch up with blogs and website updates. The life of a writer these days is fairly frantic. Busy, busy, busy. There’s always something to be done, but then I can never complain that I’m bored.