22.10.16

A Canadian Cruise

We’ve just enjoyed a wonderful cruise from New York to Canada on Queen Mary 2.


It began with Newport on Rhode Island, a pretty town founded in 1639 that is rich in history.



We enjoyed a lovely walk around admiring beautiful houses, and a Quaker meeting house. It was apparently once a most popular town for well-off families including the Astors, Vanderbilts and Wideners, where they owned summer homes. Would love to have explored it a little more.


Sydney in Novia Scotia was our next port of call where we were free to explore, the waterfront most delightful. You can take a bus tour to explore further afield but we were happy to walk around a part of the town as it was most fascinating, having a connection with Scotland, many immigrants coming from there in the nineteenth century. Jost House and Cossit House were also interesting, dating from the eighteenth century. Cape Breton Island very Celtic.


We particularly enjoyed Quebec, which yes, is very much French but a lovely and interesting walled city. We walked and walked, explored the harbour, visited museums, the ruins beneath the chateau, the Citadel, shops and enjoyed lovely lunches.





Boston was a part of the trip, but as we’d already spent some days there we took a rest day. But it is a fascinating and lovely city.


Next came Saguenay, a small rural town that very much welcomed Queen Mary 2 with a band and celebrations. Many locals were in costumes, Indians with their wigwams and children dancing. Great fun!



Finally, we called at Gaspé and Halifax. Gaspé is quite small and rural; Halifax large and commercial but we enjoyed a visit to the Citadel army museum and then an ancient boat.


It was a most enjoyable cruise. Excellent food and most entertaining.

11.10.16

A String of Pearls - Cantoria

They call Cantoria the pearl of the Almanzora but in my view it is only one of a whole string of pearls. Here you will find a scattering of tucked-away, white-washed villages in which time seems to stand still.

Situated 7km north-west of Albox, Cantoria seems a world away from its more commercial neighbour. Protected by the Sierras de Filabres to the west and Oria to the north, the village lies in a tranquil valley, dominated by its fine church. According to Donna González Linnitt from Rural Cantoria Estate Agency, some of the more adventurous British are indeed falling for its charms, enchanted by the cortijo life-style. The Spanish tend to work in the village during the week and move to their farmhouses at week-ends and fiestas.

The marble industry is its greatest source of wealth yet we saw no eye-sore quarries to spoil the view, these being well hidden at the far end of the village. British children now settle happily in the village school, retired couples can enjoy a healthy, outdoor life, with good walking, sports and fiestas. Best of all, for less than 200,000€ you can buy a fully restored, four-bedroomed, two bathroomed farmhouse, together with a plot of land, terraces and outbuildings, and perhaps even with an orange grove.

In Cantoria we enjoyed a coffee in the Plaza de Constitucion while senior citizens played cards in the morning sunshine. Evidently a favourite pursuit. The small town was buzzing with morning traffic although hardly a rush-hour; people chatting; old ladies doing their shopping, mothers and children sitting on doorsteps enjoying the sun.

We took a short detour to Albanchez, a delightful village clinging to the hillside overlooking the rich Almanzora valley. I am told it boasts a fine restaurant but we didn’t have time to linger today to taste its delights, as we were keen to move on to our next pearl.

If you love Spain, you might enjoy my latest book Forgotten Women.


It is 1936 and Spain is on the brink of civil war. Across Europe, young men are enlisting in the International Brigade to free their Spanish brethren from the grip of Fascism, leaving sisters and lovers at home. 

But not all women are content to be left behind. In Britain, Charlotte McBain and Libby Forbes, friends from opposite sides of the class divide, are determined to do what they can; in Spain, Rosita García Díaz, fiercely loyal to her family and country, cannot stand by and watch. Three brave women, inspired by patriotism, idealism, love and even revenge, dare to go into battle against tradition and oppression. 

Tying them all together is Jo, Libby’s granddaughter. Five decades later she travels to Spain hoping to make sense of a troubling letter hidden among her grandmother’s possessions. What she learns will change all of their lives forever. 

Deceit, heartbreak, and a longstanding fear of reprisals must all be overcome if the deeds of the forgotten women are to be properly honoured. 

Amazon UK

Amazon US 

Blogs about Forgotten Women and the Spanish Civil War


4.10.16

Volunteers of the Spanish Civil War

‘The aim of volunteers was not to establish communism in Spain, but to help the people hang on democracy.’ 


The characters in my book were inspired to go to Spain for personal reasons and as a result of what they saw on the British Pathe news. Crowds of refugees escaping the bombing of their town, children crying and bodies lying everywhere. This was why many local Scots volunteered to join the International Brigade. Of course some young men were seeking adventure, or felt the need to escape from some problem back home. But hundreds of brave men and even women volunteered to help the Spanish people, believing in humanity and democracy. These comprised ordinary working and middle-class folk, students, artists, photographers and many others, both British and Scottish. They also feared that if fascism was not stopped in Spain, it would spread to a wider conflict across Europe and maybe to England. And with no support from the British government they would make their own way to Spain.

Many Scottish Nurses went to help too. As Orwell states in his personal account of the Spanish Civil War - Homage to Catalonia, ‘Apparently there was no supply of trained nurses in Spain, perhaps because before the war this work was done chiefly by nuns.’ Possibly for that reason their assistance was greatly appreciated, as foreign medical volunteers were much better trained. The Scottish Ambulance Unit made a vowed commitment to neutrality, pledging to treat the injured of both sides even if this sometimes proved difficult. The nurses too remained neutral.

Spanish women took on their husbands jobs once they’d joined up to fight. The government recommended families did this, thus enabling industry to continue, women having been granted more rights during the war. But as we know, the Fascists did not always approve of them working close to the Front, even when they were supporting the men by providing food and clean clothes. However, many brave women paid no attention to this attitude, some even fought alongside the men and were in need of volunteer nurses if they suffered injury.

Around 2,400 British nationals fought in the International Brigade in Spain and about 550 were Scottish. Very few had had training and ammunition was not easily available at first. There were some volunteers who had naively imagined the war would last only a few months, and when they realised that wasn’t going to happen, would escape and return home. Later, that was disallowed, although most volunteers fought hard to the end, many of whom never returned.

The moment finally came when Franco declared he’d won and all foreigners must leave. Those who did return home were often assumed to be communists, as a consequence of their support in the Civil War, and had problems finding a job. Some men went to join up and fight in World War II, many believing that if the British and French government had done more to help Spain fight for their democracy, Hitler might never have started that war. Mussolini too might have thought twice about what he did. Yet many Spanish lives had been saved thanks to the International Brigade, including evacuated children. But sadly, Spain’s problems continued for some time.

Published by Lake Union


It is 1936 and Spain is on the brink of civil war. Across Europe, young men are enlisting in the International Brigade to free their Spanish brethren from the grip of Fascism, leaving sisters and lovers at home. 

But not all women are content to be left behind. In Britain, Charlotte McBain and Libby Forbes, friends from opposite sides of the class divide, are determined to do what they can; in Spain, Rosita García Díaz, fiercely loyal to her family and country, cannot stand by and watch. Three brave women, inspired by patriotism, idealism, love and even revenge, dare to go into battle against tradition and oppression. 

Tying them all together is Jo, Libby’s granddaughter. Five decades later she travels to Spain hoping to make sense of a troubling letter hidden among her grandmother’s possessions. What she learns will change all of their lives forever. 

Deceit, heartbreak, and a longstanding fear of reprisals must all be overcome if the deeds of the forgotten women are to be properly honoured. 

You can buy here:

Amazon UK

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Other blogs about Forgotten Women


27.9.16

Book Club Questions – Forgotten Women

Here is a selection of questions for your book club to choose from.

 1 – Should the British government have given more help to the International Brigade to support the Spanish against the fascist dictatorship?

2 – Class was an issue in those days and affected the relationship between Charlotte and Libby. Do you think it has changed in today’s world?

3 – Charlotte’s reason for going to help the Spanish people was partly because of her own experience of being bullied by her stepfather. Did she have any other motivations, and was she wise to take such a risk with her life?

4 – Libby was rather a complex and difficult character who made many mistakes in her life. Was her behaviour justified? And did you like or dislike her?

5 – Did any of the characters change, for better or worse, by the end of the book?

6 – Was it right for children to be given away to other families for political reasons? This was a policy that lasted for some time in Spain even after the war ended. How would you feel about losing your child that way?

7 – The way women were treated at that time was not good. They had a poor education and were not permitted to take a job without the permission of their father or husband. There were similar issues in the UK up to the end of WWII. Are women now treated as equals or are there still issues needing attention?

8 – Charlotte’s relationship with her stepfather was never good. Sophie’s relationship with Jo, her alleged stepmother, wasn’t easy either but did improve. Why do you think that was?

9 – Does the time-shift from past to present add more mystery to the story?

10 - Were these women right to remain silent and aim to be forgotten women?



Published by Lake Union Imprint 6 September, 2016 

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20.9.16

Lost Children in the Spanish Civil War

Lady Felicity, Charlotte’s mother, decides to support her daughter by helping refugee children during the Spanish Civil War. It wasn’t an easy time for them. Many were sent away to foreign lands, including Scotland where she lived. Once the war was over they were expected to return to Spain, whether or not their parents agreed. Some didn’t wish that to happen because their lives were still not entirely safe. But these children were used as means of political propaganda.

Children were taken from those who had been assassinated, jailed, or where members of families had vanished without a trace. Women were in danger of being arrested simply for supporting their husbands. To have a child in prison was a woman’s worst nightmare. If the infant was fortunate enough to survive the birth it would often be taken from her, and their emaciated mothers could do nothing to save them. The law stated that children could remain in jail with their mothers until they turned three. But many were taken away before that, either because of ill health or were considered to be of the wrong religion, not being Catholics.

In addition, babies were often taken away from their mothers at birth, not only if they were unmarried or jailed, but if they were of a different political persuasion to the fascists. This rule was considered to be of benefit to the couples of the Francoist regime who wished to adopt a child, or sometimes in order to indoctrinate them to agree with the new politics of the state. Even after the war it became a state policy that continued for some years.

Other characters in the story also help with this issue, but won’t go into any more detail, as I’ve no wish to make spoilers.

Here’s an extract from the Prologue:

Ventas prison, 1938 
My dearest love, 
Let me assure you that I am well. The silence in the prison cells as thousands of women prisoners wait for the call they dread is deeply distressing. Every night is the same. The guards come in the hour before dawn to select the next victims to be shot by firing squad. The only crime of many of these poor women is to have supported their husband by not revealing his whereabouts, or simply to raise funds for the Republican cause. Even failing to follow the teachings of the Catholic Church with sufficient diligence can result in execution, particularly if the family is of the wrong political persuasion. 

Sometimes I feel that anticipating one’s death is almost worse than the actual event itself, rather like waiting to be sacrificed to ancient pagan gods. The agony becomes so intense that desperation grows inside me to get it over with quickly. Each night, when the call finally comes, the eyes of the women being taken go instantly blank, as if they’ve already departed this world and are looking beyond the grim walls of the prison to a life of peace in the hereafter. 

They walk to meet their fate with pride and courage, dressed in their best, heads shaved. I confess to breathing a sigh of relief each time I am passed by, even if my heart bleeds for those less fortunate than myself. An emotionally charged silence generally follows, as those of us who have been spared listen for the sound of the shots that mark the end of yet more innocent lives. 

Some prisoners have had their sentence commuted to anything from ten to thirty years. I can’t recall how much of my five-year sentence I have served here in Ventas prison, or La Pepa as some call it. I’ve lost track. But then time no longer seems relevant. I do hope you are still safe, my darling. I live in hope for the day when this dreadful war is over and we’ll be together again. 

Sorry, my love, but I had to stop writing this letter and have returned to it a night or two later. I was interrupted by a heart-rending scream, then forced to watch in agonised silence as a woman frantically fought a guard who was dragging her child from her arms. He strode away with the screaming infant tucked under his arm as if it were no more than a rabbit. Silence descended upon everyone as the poor woman fell into a stupor, realising she had but hours to live. Perhaps she no longer cared, having lost the battle to save her child. The lack of facilities is such that many babies don’t survive birth. Nor do their mothers.


It is 1936 and Spain is on the brink of civil war. Across Europe, young men are enlisting in the International Brigade to free their Spanish brethren from the grip of Fascism, leaving sisters and lovers at home.

But not all women are content to be left behind. In Britain, Charlotte McBain and Libby Forbes, friends from opposite sides of the class divide, are determined to do what they can; in Spain, Rosita García Díaz, fiercely loyal to her family and country, cannot stand by and watch. Three brave women, inspired by patriotism, idealism, love and even revenge, dare to go into battle against tradition and oppression.

Tying them all together is Jo, Libby’s granddaughter. Five decades later she travels to Spain hoping to make sense of a troubling letter hidden among her grandmother’s possessions. What she learns will change all of their lives forever.

Deceit, heartbreak, and a longstanding fear of reprisals must all be overcome if the deeds of the forgotten women are to be properly honoured. 

Amazon UK

Amazon US



13.9.16

Treatment of Women in the Spanish Civil War

Before the Spanish Civil War, girls had a very poor education. Boys were permitted to stay on at school much longer, while for girls it was merely a means for learning domestic duties. It irritated Rosita and no doubt women in the real world that they were legally obliged to leave school at twelve, despite their love of education and desire for a career. Nor were women permitted to take a job outside the house without the permission of their father or husband.

But the war initially brought a change in status for women, as they wished to do their bit to help in support of their husbands. Many received their best education during the war years, assisted by Mujeres Libres, which did a great deal for the emancipation of women. This organisation didn’t do battle with men, but neither did it believe that women should be ruled by them. They claimed all women should be considered equal and have the same education and opportunities as men.

Women working in the war was not approved of by the Fascists, even if it was only doing the laundry for soldiers. Nor were they allowed to wear overalls or carry guns. Both left and right wing parties tended to dismiss women’s efforts as inappropriate, treating them more as sexual objects. They were expected to practise self-sacrifice and self-denial for their family, husband and the church. Some women tended to assume that the problems were more about class and economics, rather than gender. Others would deny they were feminists, nervous of endangering their efforts for equality and the fact they had no wish to be ruled by controlling men.

The problem was that if the authorities could not find the man they were seeking, they would arrest his wife or children simply for that reason. They hoped that threatening a man with that possibility could result in his surrender. Tragically, family differences could on occasions reveal where a fugitive was hiding. Women were often imprisoned for helping family and friends to escape. They could even be denounced by a neighbour, alleged friend, or family member.

After the war, they were returned to the kitchen, rather as was the case in the UK following both world wars. Women yet again felt cloistered, offered a very limited education and every effort was made to prevent them from attending university. They were even denied the right of divorce, contraception, abortion, or to open their own bank account. And no job was allowed once they were married. Laws were set up to ensure that women acted only as good wives and mothers. Fortunately, this anti-women attitude did eventually change, although it took some time. And the characters in this book are generally strong women, who very much do their bit to help, no matter what the risks involved.

Published by Lake Union

It is 1936 and Spain is on the brink of civil war. Across Europe, young men are enlisting in the International Brigade to free their Spanish brethren from the grip of Fascism, leaving sisters and lovers at home.

But not all women are content to be left behind. In Britain, Charlotte McBain and Libby Forbes, friends from opposite sides of the class divide, are determined to do what they can; in Spain, Rosita García Díaz, fiercely loyal to her family and country, cannot stand by and watch. Three brave women, inspired by patriotism, idealism, love and even revenge, dare to go into battle against tradition and oppression.

Tying them all together is Jo, Libby’s granddaughter. Five decades later she travels to Spain hoping to make sense of a troubling letter hidden among her grandmother’s possessions. What she learns will change all of their lives forever.

Deceit, heartbreak, and a longstanding fear of reprisals must all be overcome if the deeds of the forgotten women are to be properly honoured.

Amazon UK 

Amazon US
Other blogs about Forgotten Women



6.9.16

Inspiration for Forgotten Women

We first had a village holiday home in Spain but in the late nineties bought an olive grove in a village in the mountains and built a house upon it. Here we enjoy a relaxed and reasonably stress-free lifestyle. We have space to breathe and enjoy the wonderful climate and a lovely outdoor life: walking, swimming, and working on the land. I generally spend an hour or two every afternoon gardening as a short break from writing. We do now spend our summers in the UK but happily spend each winter in Spain.

The subject of the Civil War is still not an issue the Spanish wish to talk about much. The horror stories we’ve heard from our village is that the priest was killed by being dropped down a well. Not a happy thought, but it was not an area that approved of Fascists and never entirely taken over by Franco. I’ve also heard stories about lost children, a dismissive attitude towards women and having lived there so long, I couldn’t resist doing some research on it.

Cartagena

The Spanish are delightfully friendly people, making ex-pats feel very much a part of the community and we love visiting different places in Spain. Ideas came to me when we visited the Salvador Dalí museum in Figueres, the Prado in Madrid, and the museum in Cartagena. La Colina de Arboledas is fictional, but all other places mentioned are real.

I read many books and articles on the Civil War. My favourites being: A Concise History of the Spanish Civil War, and Doves of War, both by Paul Preston. He is very much an expert on the subject. Other books included: Memories of Resistance – Women’s Voices from the Spanish Civil War by Shirley Mangini; Malaga Burning by Gamel Woolsey; Homage to Caledonia by Daniel Gray; Tales of the Kirkcudbright Artists by Haig Gordon.

But I did not wish this novel to be too depressing, as war undoubtedly is, so chose to add a little mystery and intrigue by adding the story of Libby’s granddaughter and what she discovered. I do think a little light relief in this kind of historical fiction is a good thing. Nor was there a happy ending for the Civil War in Spain and I did want one for this book, plus a little romance.

Thanks to Maria Dolores Castro, a Spanish friend who checked the Spanish language for me, and to my brother-in-law, Michael, who helped to check the historical facts. I am most grateful for their help and support, and of course to my husband David, who as well as keeping me well fed and cared for, helps with proofing and other admin tasks. My wonderful agent, Amanda Preston, and the excellent Amazon team.


I would also like to thank all my readers who follow me on my newsletter, Facebook:  and Twitter: @fredalightfoot

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It is 1936 and Spain is on the brink of civil war. Across Europe, young men are enlisting in the International Brigade to free their Spanish brethren from the grip of Fascism, leaving sisters and lovers at home. 

But not all women are content to be left behind. In Britain, Charlotte McBain and Libby Forbes, friends from opposite sides of the class divide, are determined to do what they can; in Spain, Rosita García Díaz, fiercely loyal to her family and country, cannot stand by and watch. Three brave women, inspired by patriotism, idealism, love and even revenge, dare to go into battle against tradition and oppression. 

Tying them all together is Jo, Libby’s granddaughter. Five decades later she travels to Spain hoping to make sense of a troubling letter hidden among her grandmother’s possessions. What she learns will change all of their lives forever. 

Deceit, heartbreak, and a longstanding fear of reprisals must all be overcome if the deeds of the forgotten women are to be properly honoured.

Other blogs about Forgotten Women