I am beyond excited (and honoured) to have Freda visit with me today - Freda has written too many novels to mentioned individually but I know each has given insurmountable pleasure to her legion of dedicated fans.
1) Who is your favourite author and why?
An impossible question to answer as it changes constantly. My passion for historicals was born through reading the entire collection of Anya Seton, Norah Lofts, Jean Plaidy and Mary Stewart, which are still on my shelves along with Georgette Heyer and Jane Austen. Currently I’m enjoying Diana Gabaldon, Elizabeth Chadwick, Susan Holloway Scott and Leslie Carroll. But next month it could be a different selection. My all time favourite though is Daphne du Maurier for her beautiful prose.
2) When did you first consider yourself a writer?
I must have been born with the desire to tell stories. I certainly got in enough trouble with teachers, either for day dreaming or for talking. What I was actually doing was telling my friend a story. Fortunately my parents indulged my passion as they loved reading themselves and books filled a large portion of my Christmas stocking. The local library too was a haven of escape, a place filled with mysteries and secrets I wanted to explore, although I had to twist the librarian’s arm to persuade her to let me borrow certain books she felt I was a bit young for. Forever Amber, for instance.
But I didn’t consider myself a writer until I’d sold my first novel. This was to Mills & Boon in the late eighties. Writing for me started as a hobby with articles and children’s stories back in the early 70s when my own children were small. This is easy, I thought. Wrong! Beginner’s luck perhaps, but I then didn’t sell anything for ages. Life took over as I was bringing up my girls and running a book shop, which turned out to be excellent experience for a budding writer. The itch was still there and the day came when I sold my first short story to D.C. Thompson. I think the editor must have taken pity on me, although I had learned to focus on just three or four target markets by then, rather than the scatter-gun approach. Following this breakthrough I seemed to develop the knack, or my luck changed, for I went on to sell many more short stories and articles. With renewed confidence I tried again for Mills & Boon, this time with an historical, Madeiran Legacy, which was accepted. I wrote 5 of these historical romances, now available as ebooks on Amazon, Sony etc. But as my stories began to get more complicated I decided to try a saga, selling Luckpenny Land to Hodder & Stoughton in 1993.
3) Describe your writing space?
A few years ago we built a house in Spain in an olive grove. From my office I have a wonderful view of it, which I love. However, I write facing a blank wall, just in case I get too distracted. I am, of course, surrounded by books on all other three walls. I have a large library of history reference books, plus leaflets, maps, menus, old writers’ mags, and my favourite ‘keepers’ from Poldark novels and Daphne du Maurier to Philippa Gregory and the romantic novels of my friends. Who said computers would bring about a paperless society? Moving house is always a nightmare. But my office is my womb. My favourite place.
4) What are you reading now?
The Help by Kathryn Stockett
My daughter insisted I read this as she says it’s the best book she’s read in years. I’ve only just started it but she’s absolutely right. Brilliant! It has me in its emotional grip already.
5) How many books have your written? Which is your favourite?
I’ve written 33 family sagas and historical novels, and my favourite is always the one I am currently writing.
6) What comes first, plot or characters?
Characters come first always. If I try to plot too much in advance I somehow lose the excitement and drive to get the story down.
I start by giving my main character his or her chief trait, then work out the yin and yang of that trait. You cannot have the one without the other. Every character should have a flaw, every villain their saving grace. I once did a workshop at an RNA conference where I demonstrated this. Once you have the trait, say independent, you then list all the good aspects of that trait, then all the bad. Pride, arrogance, whatever. From here you can develop your character’s flaws as well as their virtues and decide on the interaction and emphasis.
But the most important element of characterisation is motivation. Appearance is importance but what really matters is why they behave as they do. In order to discover that I devise a back story, mainly for my own purpose rather than inflicting it all upon the reader. If I understand what makes her tick then I can hopefully justify her actions to the reader and they will empathise with her. Once I know a character thoroughly she or he starts to live in my mind. All I have to do is listen to their voice and write it down and the rest follows, the ideas just come. I know it sounds crazy but that’s how it is.
7) Do you ever suffer from writer’s block?
I’m not prepared to admit there is such a thing, otherwise I might catch it. That’s not to say there aren’t times when the going gets tough, perhaps because I’m trying too hard, or rushing it, and need to step back and relax a little. There are a couple of strategies I use to get the creative mind working again. As I write historicals I find research can often inspire me with new ideas. Just the act of jotting down notes starts me thinking of new plot twists and scenes. If that doesn’t work then it’s time to relax. Go for a long walk, take a bath, watch TV or read someone else’s book, anything to allow my mind to wander, and sure enough all sorts of ideas will pop into it. Sometimes just going to sleep with the problem lodged in my brain does the trick, and I wake up with the answer next morning, which often demands some rewriting, but I love all of that. But then too much thinking can give me a sleepless night. It’s no easy road being a writer.
8) What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
Because I spend so much time in front of a computer, I like to do physical things: walking, gardening, yoga or aerobics.
9) Tell us about your latest book?
My latest saga is Angels at War, published 4 October by Allison & Busby. This is the sequel to House of Angels.esist his War I, as she strives to make her mark in the world. But then my heroines are always fe
I’m also writing historical fiction, still under my own name, which helps to keep me fresh. I’m currently working on the third book of a trilogy. The first was Hostage Queen, which is the story of Marguerite de Valois, daughter of Catherine de Medici. She was a fascinating woman and the subject of much scandal in the French court. In love with Henri de Guise she was married off to Henry of Navarre in order to bring peace to France. In fact the opposite happened as within days of the marriage Paris was awash with blood in the St Bartholomew Massacre. The Reluctant Queen, the second in the series, follows the story of Gabrielle de’Estrées who was mistress to Margot’s husband when he becomes King Henry IV. Margot herself is being held captive in Usson, and refusing to give him a divorce unless she gets the financial settlement she deserves. Atta girl! The Queen and the Courtesan will tell the story of his last mistress, Henriette d’Entragues, and his second wife, Queen Marie de Medici who fiercely competed for his affection. Margot, now divorced, is still very much around and creating problems and scandal.
10) What’s next for you?
More historicals, more sagas, although these are changing as the market shifts, and who knows what else. That’s the exciting thing about this business, there’s always something new to try. Watch this space!
Thank you so much for this fantastic interview, Freda, i have thoroughly enjoyed finding out more about how you work, your wonderful writing space (it sounds beautiful!) and what future releases we can look forward to reading! Your tip about characterisation is a fabulous one that I'm going to keep, if you don't mind!
I am sure Freda would love to read or answer any comments and questions...