I’m thrilled to bring you the one hundred and thirty-sixth of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, bloggers, autobiographers and more. Today’s is with the prolific author Freda Lightfoot. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further.
Morgen: Hello Freda. Lovely to meet you. Please tell us something about yourself and how you came to be a writer.
Freda: I was born in Lancashire, and brought up behind my parents’ shoe shop. I still remember my first pair of clogs, made by my father, which I wore to school for many years. My parents were passionate about reading and I spent many happy hours in our local library. I would write my own stories in little red exercise books, always rather similar to what I had recently read: Enid Blyton mysteries, Chalet School, and my all time favourite, The Secret Garden. I always wanted to be a writer but this was considered a rather exotic ambition, so I qualified as a teacher and it wasn’t until I was bored with the nappy routine that I tried it again. Writing started as a hobby with articles and children’s stories. But after I opened a bookshop it again fell by the wayside as I was busy bringing up my kids and helping prop up the family budget. After ten years of this, with my husband better established in his own job, I sold the business and we moved out onto the remote Lakeland fells. Here I became thoroughly involved in rural life. Fortunately the weather was so bad I was able to stay indoors a good deal and write, short stories, articles, serials, children’s novels, puzzles, anything that took my fancy. The object was to send them out faster than they came back. Not easy, but eventually I learned to target my efforts and sold over forty short stories and articles.
Morgen: I love the idea of you beating the rejections and it is all about practice, honing your craft. What genre do you generally write now and have you considered other genres?
Freda: I write historical romantic fiction in some form or another. When it was out of fashion I wrote family sagas. Now it is very much back in fashion so I am writing both, which is a good way for me to keep my writing muscles fresh.
Morgen: It definitely is popular. I met three agents at this July’s Winchester Writers’ Conference and they all wanted more historical (and crime). What have you had published to-date? Can you remember where you saw your first books on the shelves?
Freda: I’ve had over 35 books published to date. I rather lose track of the exact count. Following my success with the short stuff I tried my hand at novels, and after a couple of rejections my third historical romance was accepted by Mills & Boon. After that I turned to family sagas set in the early part of the twentieth century. I remember seeing a whole rack of Luckpenny Land in terminal 1 at Manchester airport, and was absolutely overwhelmed.
Morgen: 🙂 Have you ever seen a member of the public (whom you don’t know!) reading your book… in any unusual locations?
Freda: Thankfully, no. That would be terribly embarrassing.
Morgen: Really? I know one person (a colleague called Mary at the Red Cross shop I volunteer at) who is a big reader of your novels and her eyes lit up at the mention of your name. As they did when I mentioned Anna Jacobs, who I interviewed back in July, which is how I knew I’d get that reaction. Given that you’re so established, how much of the marketing do you do for your published works or indeed for yourself as a ‘brand’?
Freda: It is a fact that most writers, other than the big names, are entirely responsible for their own publicity. Building one’s ‘brand’ is very important, and I’ve done hundreds of talks, workshops, and courses over the years. These days I promote mainly online, and although it is very demanding on time I would much rather spend writing, it is an essential part of the job. Fortunately, it can also be quite good fun.
Morgen: <keeps fingers crossed that this is included in that> Do you write under a pseudonym? If so why and do you think it makes a difference?
Freda: The first novels I wrote for Mills & Boon were written under the pseudonym Marion Carr. Since then I’ve used my own name.
Morgen: Are your books available as eBooks? If so what was your experience of that process? And do you read eBooks?
Freda: Most of my backlist is now up on Kindle and other platforms. I was fortunate in getting many of the rights reverted so published them myself, and I must say they are selling surprisingly well. They really took off a few months ago. I have a Kindle myself and absolutely love it. So now I have an ebook habit to feed as well as a print one.
Morgen: Not a hard habit to endure, I’m sure. 🙂 What was your first acceptance and is being accepted still a thrill?
Freda: There is nothing to compare with the sale of your first book. That ranks alongside the birth of my children, the day I fell in love, my wedding day, and such like wonderful events in my life. But an acceptance is still a joy and also a relief that you haven’t lost whatever talent you might have.
Morgen: Presumably you’ve had some rejections along the way. If so, how do you deal with them?
Freda: Every writer suffers rejections. You deal with them by drying the tears, put on a pot of coffee, then write another book taking any criticisms into account. Persistence, patience and practise are the three essential ps. I was fortunate that having cut my teeth on shorter work. my first saga, Luckpenny Land, had three offers for it, so that was hugely exciting to have a telephone auction. Writing the second book though, was quite terrifying. Writing is never easy.
Morgen: But you’re practiced at it now. 🙂 What are you working on at the moment / next?
Freda: I am just getting started on the next saga, title undecided, in fact much of the plot is undecided at this stage. I have an overview, a beginning, a middle and an end, although how I will get there has yet to be determined. I’m not a great plotter and planner. Once I have an idea of the main characters and the premise I start writing into the mist and see what comes. Usually by chapter four and five I know where I’m going. After this, will come another biographical historical. The desire to write the next book always acts as a spur to work hard on the current one.
Morgen: Most of the authors I’ve interviewed have said they don’t plan much and as the characters to have a tendency to take over it’s probably wise. Do you manage to write every day? What’s the most you’ve written in a day?
Freda: Writing is my job, and one that I love, so I keep to a strict routine. I award myself a holiday each year, and a little time off at weekends, and in the summer. Other than that, yes, I write 7 or 8 hours a day for at least five days a week, more as the deadline approaches.
Morgen: Wow. So I don’t suppose from writer’s block…
Freda: I don’t have time for writer’s block, not if it stops me writing. I accepted long since that writing is a painful process, one that even after 37 or 38 books, doesn’t get any easier. That feeling can still sneak in that I can’t really do this, that what I’m writing is rubbish. But as I say this for every book, it’s something I just have to live with and keep going. I tell myself that it will get better, that it doesn’t need to be perfect in the first draft, that it can be revised later. But I can’t improve a blank screen. Write first, criticism and edit afterwards.
Morgen: I’m sure it’ll reassure anyone reading this (it does me) that it can still be a struggle even after so much writing, although you clearly love it. One of my Monday night poets says she finds writing tortuous but she wouldn’t want to do anything else (nor would I, although I’ve only really found scriptwriting hard enough not to want to do any more). I mentioned characters earlier on, do you have a method for creating yours, their names and what do you think makes them believable?
Freda: The appearance of a character can come about as you write, but I like to work out in advance what kind of people they are. What is their main characteristic, and their major flaw? Often the two facets are linked. Independence can easily slip into stubborn obstinacy. Everyone has faults and it is these human failings which can bring a character alive for a reader, and explain their motivation for behaving as they do. Back story is also important, and how they relate to other people. We do not behave towards to our daughters, for instance, in the same as we do with our father. Nor do they see us in the same light, so considering other viewpoints about a character can help to round them out.
Morgen: Who is your first reader – who do you first show your work to?
Freda: My editor. But even she doesn’t see it until it pleases me first. I am my stiffest critic.
Morgen: Not a bad thing at all. 🙂 I’m the same really. If I’m not happy with it I don’t email it to Rachel until I am, otherwise I’m wasting her time which will ultimately cost me more in money and time as she’ll find more errors and I’ll have to correct it all anyway. Do you do a lot of editing or do you find that as time goes on your writing is more fully-formed?
Freda: I revise as I write for the first 30 – 40% of the book. Once the foundation is built and I know where I’m going, I sprint to the finish, or almost. I like to reach the end, although the final chapter might be a bit rough at this stage, then I go back and revise the whole thing, a notebook beside me to keep track of loose ends that need tying up, details which need checking, and so on. Scenes may get rewritten or moved, and I go over the book as many times as is necessary till it is as polished and perfect as I can make it. This is a method that works for me. But everyone has their own system.
Morgen: I found, certainly with my big chick-lit (the first draft was 117,540 words!) that four times was plenty, although I was still finding ‘thought’ instead of ‘though’ and so on. What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Freda: To be prepared to work hard and practise their craft until they’ve learned all the techniques and tenets of the novel. Many aspiring novelists make the mistake of sending work out too soon. Perhaps excited by the thrill of actually reaching the end of the story, they rush it out, thinking it’s ready to be seen. Wrong! Put it away for a month, then look at it again. I guarantee you will want to revise and improve it. You wouldn’t expect to master a musical instrument quickly, and even though we might all possess writing skills, they need to be honed and adapted to suit a market. It isn’t enough to write beautiful prose, or to be clever with words and grammar, we have to be good story-tellers and to be commercial. Study where you think your book will fit in the market. Which shelf would you expect to find it? And who would read it? Then you have made it as perfect as it can possibly be, then you can send it in. And start on your second novel at once.
Morgen: Absolutely, I often compare writing to piano playing. Who would sit you in front of a Steinbeck and expect you to play a concerto? We shouldn’t expect that of ourselves. What do you do when you’re not writing?
Freda: I garden, go on long walks, do yoga, watch drama on TV, and read, read, read. Never enough time in my day for reading.
Morgen: 🙂 Are you on any forums or networking sites? If so, how invaluable do you find them?
Freda: I do a lot of social networking as it seems to be essential these days. I’m on Twitter and Facebook, Goodreads and Writer’s Café on Kindle Boards, among others.
Morgen: Is there anything else you’d like to mention?
Freda: My latest two hardbacks are published at the end of September.
THE PROMISE, which has two time strands.
Chrissie Kemp visits her grandmother and discovers a shocking family secret that is about to throw her family into turmoil. As the truth unfurls, the passion, emotion and astounding love that blossomed in San Francisco over forty years earlier is revealed. Georgia Briscoe is in love with British sailor Ellis Cowper but unwillingly betrothed to Drew Kemp, a businessman mired in the San Francisco underworld. Georgia plans escape to be with the man she loves, but then comes the earthquake…
THE QUEEN AND THE COURTESAN, which is the last in the Marguerite de Valois trilogy.
Henriette d’Entragues isn’t satisfied with simply being the mistress of Henry IV of France, she wants a crown too. Despite his promises to marry her, the King is obliged by political necessity to ally himself with Marie de Medici, an Italian princess who will bring riches to the treasury. But Henriette isn’t for giving up easily. She has a written promise of marriage which she intends to use to declare the royal marriage illegal. All she has to do to achieve her ambition is to give Henry a son, then whatever it takes through intrigue and conspiracy to set him on the throne.
Morgen: Thank you so much Freda. I really appreciate your time, and I love your covers. 🙂
Born in Lancashire, England, Freda Lightfoot has been a teacher, bookseller and smallholder. Moving out on to the remote Lakeland fells for a ‘rest!’ she became thoroughly involved in rural life, kept sheep and hens, various orphaned cats and dogs, built drystone walls, planted a small wood and even learned how to make jam. Fortunately the weather was so bad she was forced to stay indoors a good deal and wrote and sold over forty short stories and articles. She followed these with five historical romances for Harlequin Mills & Boon. Inspired by this tough life on the fells, and her passion for history, she has published over thirty-five family sagas and historical novels. She has now given up her thermals to build a house in an olive grove in Spain, where she produces her own olive oil. To find out more about Freda visit her website or blog, or find her on Facebook and Twitter.
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