I used to scribble stories in a little red book, the stories generally bearing a strong resemblance to whatever I’d recently been reading: The Chalet School stories, the What Katy Did series, Malcolm Saville adventure books, and Secret Garden my all time favourite.
What is the first book you remember reading?
Little Grey Rabbit. Still have it somewhere. Must look for it.
Ossy, as we called it, was a wonderful place to grow up. A friendly Lancashire town with a fabulous history. Home of James Hargreaves, inventor of the spinning jenny, and the Peel family of Robert Peel fame who started the police force. My parents had a shoe shop and I loved nothing more than chatting with people, somehow aware I’d write about all of that one day. David and I brought up our family in the Lakes, then rather bad arthritis drove me to become a snow bird and live in Spain in the winter. But we have a holiday home in the UK for the summer, so enjoy the best of both worlds.
Where do you do the majority of your writing – in Spain or England?
Anywhere and everywhere. Makes no difference to me, I’m an addict.
Do you think that at some point in the future one of your family sagas will be set in Spain?
I’m already planning one, but for now it still sits on that bookshelf in my head. I just need to live long enough to write them all.
Your family sagas and fictionalised biographies are set in very different eras – how do you plan your research, and how much time does it take up before you can sit down to the actual writing?
The fictionalised biographies take the most time as you can’t change the facts or someone’s character so every detail has to be investigated. It’s rather like being a detective searching out reasons and motivations. For the family sagas I love to interview old people who can tell me how things used to be. What treasured memories they have. Then I check all the facts to get the feel of period from my substantial library. With the sagas I try to do just enough to get started, then research what I need as I write. The story always comes first.
I have used many family memories in my stories, including the one of my great aunt Hannah who pawned all her furniture during the depression to buy second hand carpets which she cut up and sold on the market in order to survive. I fictionalised this for Polly Pride, and I would think she’d love it, although her own husband was much more supportive than Polly’s. But then this is fiction and we need plenty of conflict.
The covers of your novels are very attractive – do any of them depict members of your family?
Yes, my mother is on the cover of Polly Pride, walking down the street with her aunt. And I am on the cover of Daisy’s Secret looking like a waif and stray.
Apart from the biographies, which comes first, the characters or the setting?
Always the characters. They drive the plot, determine the setting, everything.
Alongside a successful career with a mainstream publisher, you must be delighted with the success of your e-books – has this surprised you?
I’m totally amazed and thrilled. And so grateful to my many fans who have supported me for years. Where would I be without them? We chat on my Facebook page, which is great. I still love talking to people.
I found the article on self-publishing on your website very informative – and also realistic about the amount of work involved in creating a profile. You state the advisability of involving outside agencies for editing, proofing, cover art, promoting, etc; did you take this route from the outset or did you learn by ‘trial and error’?
I was fortunate in that all my books that I have published so far were previously published with Hodder & Stoughton, so they are professionally edited. I did cut them a bit, and soften the Lancashire speech, but that’s all. Were I to put up a new book, then I would hire an editor. You really can’t spot all your own errors. I also do much of my own cover art, which I love doing, although if I don’t have time I do use a graphic artist. As for promotion I think building a relationship with your readers is the best way, and I do send out a regular newsletter.
And finally, Freda; is there a book by another writer you wish you’d written?
Oh, wow, what a question. There are so many writers and books I admire. But I would choose Rebecca, which is surely the best book ever written. Every time I read it I find something new in it. Daphne DuMaurier wrote beautiful prose and the most amazing stories in every genre.
Thank you for taking time out from your busy schedule to answer my questions, and every good wish for your continued success.
Thank you for having me. It’s been a pleasure. I’ve loved chatting with you.
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