My very special guest for Christmas is prolifically successful historical author, Freda Lightfoot, with an insight into her career and sharing with us how she now enjoys the best of two worlds.
You have served a very interesting writing apprenticeship in order to attain the success you now enjoy. Could you share some of the key moments with us?
My first published piece was called An Elizabethan Toothache, published by Today’s Guide in 1972. I followed this small success with pieces on how to pass various badges, how-to’s, crosswords, quizzes and puzzles, then short stories and a serial, all of which sold to Guide and Brownie magazines and annuals. Fiction was what I really wanted to write but amidst all the child rearing and running a book shop, time to write was hard to come by. It wasn’t until I sold the business and moved out into the country that I started writing articles and short stories for adult magazines. My first success with a novel was a historical romance for Mills & Boon called Madeiran Legacy. I went on to write four more before my plot lines were becoming far too complicated and I wanted to write about real women.
Your Lancashire routes have provided a strong background for your Sagas. Have you used some of your own family’s historical experiences within the fiction?
Indeed I have, many times. My grandmother was the spark for Big Flo in Polly Pride. She’d had a hard life but was a real stoic, as Lancashire women were in those days. And the idea for the story came from my Great Aunt Hannah, who did exactly as Polly did and sold or pawned her furniture in order to buy a piece of carpet from a ship in Liverpool. Then she cut it up and sold the squares on the market. But her husband didn’t object as Polly’s did. Family stories may be the inspiration, but the story is fiction.
I often advise new writers that in order to succeed you need to be determined and dedicated. You seem to have these attributes in abundance as you have owned a small holding and a bookshop as well as becoming a successful writer and now live in an olive grove in Spain. Do you have a strong work-ethic, which you apply to your writing routine?
I dare say that is true, maybe I inherited it from my grandmother, and a long line of Lancashire and Yorkshire weavers. But then I love my work so it is no hardship to spend hours each day at the job. I put my heart and soul into my stories, which is absolutely essential. You must lose your inhibitions and be entirely sincere, but yes, it does take hard work and dedication. I’d say it demands the three p’s, which stand for practise, persistence, and passion for your craft.
Your fictionalised biographies must need meticulous research, even more so than historical sagas. How long do you spend researching a new project? Roughly how long do you take to write a completed first draft?
When I reach a certain stage with my work in progress, I start a little preliminary research on the next book, which gradually builds, taking several months altogether. All my books demand a good deal of research, for which I have a substantial library, plus interviews for my sagas. I’ve met some marvellous old folk who share their working lives and memories with me. The biographical historicals do take longer though, as you can’t make it up, and I like to be as accurate as possible. It’s rather like detective work trying to build the character and life of a real person. Fascinating.
Breaking into the eBook market was another bold move, which has certainly worked. Could you share any tips on how you made this a success?
I entered the digital market back in 2010, which were pioneering days for ebooks but I taught myself how to do the necessary formatting and put them up by way of experiment to see what would happen. Nothing much did at first but when the UK came on board in December 2011 and Santa Claus delivered a load of Kindles, they really took off. The more books you publish, the more you sell. But they must be good, page-turning stories, well-written and not rushed, error-free and properly edited with good commercial covers.
You now live in Spain. How did this move come about?
It all began back in 1997 when we bought a holiday home here, a little village house high in the mountains 20 kilometres from the coast. We fell in love with the village and found we were spending more and more time here, so finally bought a piece of land with an olive grove on it and built ourselves a house for our so-called retirement. Of course, writers don’t retire, but we love spending our winters here, and summers in the UK.
Will Spain feature more in your future novels?
I do have one or two ideas, so watch this space. It could happen.
You have the best of both worlds – Would you share a couple of things that you love most about your home country and your new one?
We do have the best of both worlds as here in Spain we can avoid the British winter. Almeria is the last designated desert in mainland Europe so in the daytime we can enjoy some sunshine and gardening, and as the nights grow cold we can light a fire and be cosy. The Spanish people are very friendly and we have a good life here with many friends of all nationalities. In the UK I love taking part in writer’s events, talks and conferences, visiting stately homes, and enjoying all things British.
Could you give a seasonal insight as to how Christmas in Spain varies to our traditional one in England?
One of the joys of living in Spain is that there isn’t the same commercial fuss made. Feliz Navidad will be up there in twinkling lights, and pontsettias everywhere, the Nativity scene ‘Nacimiento’ can be seen in plazas as well as many Spanish homes and shop windows, but Christmas itself is fairly low key.
Christmas Eve, Nochebuena, is when the main Christmas meal is taken, often roast lamb or suckling pig, a feast that takes place quite late, as do all Spanish fiestas, starting around 10 p.m. and going on until the small hours. Some families will sing carols around the nativity scene which remains without the baby until the stroke of midnight. Others go to midnight Mass ‘La misa del Gallo’, Rooster Mass, named after the bird who announced the birth of Christ. Many people, of course, like the rest of us, just watch the Christmas programme’s on TV while enjoying the traditional Turrón (nougat), or mantecas (a range of butter-based biscuits) with cava.
The big celebration for the Spanish is Fiesta de Los Reyes, Three Kings Day on January 6th. What we would call Epiphany. Traditionally, this is when Spanish children get their presents, not on Christmas Day from Papa Noel, although these days some enjoy gifts on both days. By then we’re packing our Christmas decorations away, but the Spanish are still partying.
What is next for Freda?
I’m currently working on another saga, which I never talk about until it is done. After that I plan to write a sequel for Polly Pride, and also another biographical historical in my royal mistresses series about Sarah Lennox, who had the chance to marry George III, but blew it. I do like to have lots to look forward to.
More by Freda: