Have you always been interested in history, and what sparked your interest in the lives of people from the past?
Yes, I’ve always loved history. I remember my grandad taking me round ancient castles and old houses, filling my head with intriguing stories of the past. He had a knack of sneaking through doors into parts visitors weren’t allowed. We met one or two lords that way.
Which historical fiction books do you remember reading when you were growing up? Did any have a particular impact on you?
I’d say my favourite historical was Katherine by Anya Seton, which I’ve read many times since. I also enjoyed Jean Plaidy and Norah Lofts. I found I loved being transported to another age. It felt like a journey of discovery. I also read lots of Catherine Gaskin’s books as a teenager, my favourite being Sara Dane. I loved her historical suspense too.
You’ve written about quite different periods and places in history. How do you go about your research for each?
I love the research and have to be quite firm at times not to indulge myself too much. The story must come first. Generally I aim for an overview of the period then narrow the focus to specifics while I’m actually writing, as that way I know what I need. But I do become utterly engrossed in the period, and love historical biographies most of all.
With the sagas I also interview people who tell me about their lives and work, such as the boatmen on Lake Windermere, and Diana Matthews at the Steamboat museum who told me all about her late father and the work he did on the steamyachts. This all helped to build a wonderful background for Lakeland Lily.
Do you have a favourite historical period?
I always have great difficulty making a choice, perhaps because I love history so much that discovering a new period to explore and research is always exciting. You should see my library, I’m definitely an addict when it comes to buying historicals, both fiction and non-fiction. My favourite period at the moment though is the regency for my historicals, and Edwardian for my sagas. But who knows what may come next?
Is there an era, or place, where you would like to set one of your books, but have yet to do so?
Ah, that’s a good question. I’m currently venturing into the Russian revolution which is challenging but fascinating. It’s a two time period story so also features the Lakes, of course. I’d also like to explore the cotton industry more, not least its connection with India.
Where does the inspiration for your characters come from?
Goodness, I have no idea. They come out of my head, although sometimes I have based one on a family member. Big Flo in Polly Pride bears a strong resemblance to my grandmother. She was a real Lancashire stoic: a teetotal Methodist and hard working weaver with an invalid husband, as poor as the proverbial but her flag floors so clean you could have eaten your dinner off them. Therein lay her pride. Her flaw was that she found it hard to show her feelings.
When you are thinking about a new book, what usually comes first for you – a plot or a character?
I’d say the problem and setting, then I develop a character to deal with the issue. The story comes as I write, and I never know the ending till I get there. Once I have the complete draft I go back and rewrite and revise till I’m completely happy with it.
Many of your books have a Lakeland setting. Can you tell us about your own time spent in the area?
We lived in the Lakes for sixteen years and brought our daughters up there. I started and ran The Bookworm in Kendal, now long gone. My husband was a solicitor and also town clerk for a time. In a mad moment when I sold the business we took on a smallholding and had great fun living the good life, which was on the telly at the time. Thus was born the idea for Luckpenny Land. Nothing in a writers’ life is ever wasted.
Could you tell us something about your latest ebook, Lakeland Lily?
It is a story of revenge that goes wrong. Lily Thorpe suffers a boating accident on the lake caused by the rich Clermont-Read family and marries their only son, Bertie, a handsome indolent charmer, in retaliation. But fate and her own ambition means that her quest rebounds upon herself.
The idea came when we were out on Lake Windermere enjoying a sail on one of those beautiful steamyachts, listening to how the wealthy would enjoy picnics with butlers to serve them out on the lake. There never was the kind of poor district where Lily lived anywhere in that region, but that is the joy of fiction, you can make one up. The surrounding area is of course accurately described, and I’ve walked many miles over those fells while doing the research for my books.
If you could be transported back in time for a short while, when and where would you like to go?
Because I write gritty, realistic historicals I am fully aware that life in the past was not always as rosy as it might appear in retrospect. The pleasure in looking back at a time when medicine was poor, poverty rife and women poorly treated lies in the fact we believe things have improved now, even if some of the issues might resonate. So I think I’ll stick with visiting history only in my imagination and enjoy the comforts of the present day.
Thank you so much for having me, it’s been fun.
About Freda Lightfoot
Born in Lancashire, Freda Lightfoot has been a teacher and bookseller. In a mad moment she even tried her hand at the ‘good life as a smallholder. Inspired by this tough life on the fells, memories of her Lancashire childhood, and her passion for history she has published forty family sagas and historical novels. Freda has lived in the Lake District and Cornwall but now spends the winters in Spain and summers in the UK. For more information visit her website.