10.12.16

Fat-free Christmas Pudding

4 oz prunes or dates
4 oz candied peel
4 oz grated carrot
4 oz sultanas
4 oz raisins
4 oz currants
1 cooking apple, chopped
½ allspice
½ tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp ground nutmeg
½ tsp ground cloves
juice and zest of 1 orange and 1 lemon
4 oz fresh wholemeal breadcrumbs
2 oz chopped hazelnuts or flaked almonds
4 oz self-raising flour
6 oz dark muscavado sugar
2 large eggs
¼ pint Guinness or 2 –3 tbsp brandy

Mix all the ingredients together, stir well and make your wish, then fill a 2 ½ pint or 1.4 litre pudding basin, or divide between two 1 pint dishes.
Steam initially for 6 hrs and cook for a further 3 ½ hrs on Christmas Day prior to serving. You can use the microwave to reheat before you serve it. But if you bake it in the microwave, it won’t have the keeping qualities of the traditional method. You can store this pudding in a suitable container in the fridge for twelve months. Enjoy and have a happy Christmas.

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

Amazon US
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 

Amazon UK            Amazon US


Other blogs about Forgotten Women

 

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

If you wish to sign up for my newsletter please visit my website: http://www.fredalightfoot.co.uk



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


20.8.16

Main Characters of Forgotten Women

Charlotte McBain, daughter of a Scottish laird, spent a lonely, neglected childhood growing up in a fine castle in Kirkcudbrightshire and has no wish to be forced into marriage by her bully of a stepfather. She is passionate about art, stubborn, courageous and determined to find freedom and do something useful with her life. 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. Charlotte, who likes to be called Charlie, also has a desire to help people less fortunate than herself, not only the tenants on her father’s estate but also the people of Spain caught up in the Civil War. She and her dear friend, Libby Forbes, have a somewhat complex relationship, being from opposite sides of the class divide, but wish to do what they can to help.

Libby Forbes is a somewhat unsociable and self-opinionated girl who very much likes to be the centre of attention. She rarely reveals her true feelings about anything, particularly the fact she is passionate about Ray Dunmore, and fond of Laurence too. But her worry is they may both be more fascinated by her friend Charlotte, who is a beautiful and rich woman. She strives to remain friends with her, despite the jealousy she feels. When Libby’s brother goes missing in Spain in 1936, she is desperate to find him, no matter what the risk.

Rosita García Díaz, a young Spanish girl, is fiercely loyal to her family and country and having suffered badly from the war, she cannot stand by and do nothing. When Charlotte and Libby arrive, they become good friends. Three brave women, inspired by patriotism, idealism, love and even revenge, who dare to do battle against tradition and oppression.

Scotland 1986: Libby’s granddaughter Jo, is accused of displaying a forged picture in an exhibition. And finding a letter tucked into the back of it, realises she knows little about her grandmother’s life. Why has she kept silent? Feeling the need to find answers and recover from her own personal traumas, she goes to Spain to find the effect the Civil War had upon these three women’s lives, and why they are forgotten women. What she learns will change all of their lives forever.

Click here to download a sample: http://www.fredalightfoot.co.uk/



Published 6 September by Lake Union Imprint




5.8.16

The Yin and Yang of Character.

In Chinese philosophy the concept of yin - yang means dark and light, used to describe how opposite or contradictory forces are connected. This concept lies at the heart of traditional Chinese medicine, and even martial arts. Dark and light, female and male, low and high, cold and hot, water and fire, earth and air— all are thought of as manifestations of yin and yang. This is because they believe light cannot exist without darkness, and we all know men have their feminine side and women a masculine one.

In the 2nd century Confucious apparently attached a moral dimension of good and evil, although the modern sense of Yin-Yang stems from Buddhist adaptations of Taoist philosophy which generally discounts good/bad distinctions, preferring the concept of balance. They insist that yin and yang are not so much in opposition as complementary opposites, a part of a dynamic whole. But we in the west love to say there’s a little bit of evil in every good, or a little bit of dark in every light, and vice versa. And it is an excellent way of viewing character. How do we start to develop a character using this idea?

FIRST: Think of the chief character trait and choose a keypoint characteristic. 

Make a list of all the positive aspects of it. And then the negative. You can make these into a vice-virtue wheel, or just do a list.

E.g: Independent

Positive aspects:
Self-sufficient
Determined
Well-organised
Free thinking
Individual
Non-partisan
Self-contained
Often quite courageous

Negative aspects:
Obstinate
Stubborn
Won’t always accept help or listen to advice
Proud, even arrogant at times
May find it hard to accept failure

NEXT: Now ask questions: 

What does the character want?
What is his/her aim or goal?
Why does he/she want it?
What is the source of his/her motivation?
Why does he/she behave as she does?

There must be obstacles to prevent him/her achieving their goal.

Conflict is the stuff of fiction. External conflict will come from other characters, fate, events and incidents that you the author throws at her. But her keypoint characteristic will determine how she deals with them. The negative side of the keypoint characteristic is the flaw, the inner conflict that is preventing him/her from achieving their goal. But the positive aspect of this trait should hopefully help to overcome them.

22.7.16

Class- an ingredient of Sagas

We may be living in a classless society now, but Class was once vitally important and is a favourite ingredient of the saga. Your heroine is often aspiring to break out of her class and better herself. Seek out stories of the social underclasses, the rural backwaters, the ordinary farmers and folk of the hills and the dales. That, to me, is what history is all about. How ordinary people cope with the difficulties of life.

Does your character know her place? Is she content with it? What can she do to change it? Find out what problems people faced in the area at that time. Some people are victims of their class. Others thrive on it, rise above it, or slip further down the ladder, either because of marriage or fate. Some develop a chip on their shoulders or become inverted snobs. How does it affect your character?

Every aspect of any particular class is ripe for fictional exploration. But don’t get it wrong. E.g: Most poor families needed their young to go out to work as soon as possible, no matter how bright they were. That was true even in my youth in some families. Buying them a school uniform could be beyond them.

Decide if yours is to be a working class saga, lower or upper middle class, upper class or a combination of all. Know and understand each class thoroughly before you write about it, either through personal experience or careful research such as interviews and autobiographies.

Class is influenced both by character and region. Remember that everyone feels themselves above someone else, no matter how hard up they are. Whether above or below stairs in an Edwardian household. There’s no such thing as an amorphous mass. Every section of society has its own hierarchy.

It’s not just the upper classes being snobby about the middle classes. Take into account that there are divisions within the working classes too. A skilled man, shopkeeper, carpenter, engineer etc. could be considered quite well off by a factory labourer or apprentice. Street cleaners and refuse men were considered the lowest, no matter how justified their reason for being there.

Moral standards and prejudices among the working classes are every bit as condemning as among the middle or upper, on certain matters. Pregnant girls in Ancoats frequently killed themselves, rather than confess to their parents. Do not assume that the very poor are all feckless, or that they have no morals, are dirty and have coal in their baths. Study the reality, not nonsensical assumptions.


15.7.16

Writing about Strong Women in Sagas

The saga usually has a strong woman as the main character - who must succeed against all the odds. She can be found fighting to deal with the issue in question, and possibly also the poverty of her surroundings. She may aspire to break out of the lower class in order to better herself, or she might be battling against the restrictions and prejudices of the time, as well as the conflict brought about by her antagonist or her own inner flaws.

Her heroic achievement must pit good against evil and, unlike in real life, she must win through in the end, no matter what she has suffered or lost along the way. She needs to be a woman of her time, confined by the moral mores, the traditions, and tenets of her upbringing. Yet she must also have the strength and courage to appeal to a modern readership. It’s a fine balance and if you read Catherine Cookson, you will see that the females in her books managed to do both rather splendidly.

Whatever her problem, she must have the core of strength necessary to allow her to resolve it, whether she is ahead of her time, a rebel, or simply has grit. She must suffer, sink all the way down, be beaten by the prejudices and restrictions of the time, her antagonists, fate, and whatever conflicts you can throw at her. Then she must bring herself back up again and win through, thus making a stand for all women. Your heroine must grow stronger in spirit than she was at the start of the story.

We know that in today’s world we must not attempt to radicalise or be politically incorrect. Being set in the past, you need to reveal that attitudes were very different. Obviously, some issues, such as murder, rape, child abuse, etc., cannot be justified on any account. But it is sometimes necessary to give a slightly modern twang to the problem, or to your main character.

E,g: Illegitimacy, as Cookson made clear, was considered wrong at one time, but not any more. A mixed marriage was also looked upon as wrong in certain areas, even back in WWII. The issue can be objected to by some people in your story, while others consider it to be perfectly fine. You need to be politically correct by showing points of view from both sides. Where possible look for a balance.

An element of your character can be a modern woman, forward thinking for her time so that your readers can empathise with her. In a way, women have always been a bit modern in their way of thinking. They’ve always fought for what they believe in, battled against hard times, done several jobs at once, held their families together and aspired for a better future for their children. Take care though, not to overdo it. Make sure you do not allow your heroine to become an anachronism. Don’t have her knowing or understanding things she couldn’t possibly have known in the period in which she lives.

Women’s rights have always been vital ingredients of the saga. Write with your heart and passion and make her real.

1.7.16

Interviews

Everyone loves to talk about themselves and the things that matter to them.
To be sure of a good interview here is a list of points to bear in mind.

1. Research the subject well beforehand. Decide your angle or approach.
2. Track down suitable interviewees through organisations, libraries and industries, agents etc. Politely approach your subject with your request. Phone to say who you are, why you would like to write about them.
3. Think through what you need to know and make a list of questions. But avoid asking questions that elicit only a no or yes. Be open-ended.
4. Start with an easy one. ‘Tell me how you got started at . . .’ Once you get them talking, don’t interrupt, simply encourage and jog their memories or slip in your next question when they pause, or if they stray too far from what you want.
5. Don’t make prolific notes as your subject talks. It can be very off-putting for them. Either write it up afterwards, or better still use a dictaphone. Be friendly and get them talking, then slip it out when your interviewee is in full flow and say, ‘This is interesting, you don’t mind if I use this, do you?’
6. If they start sharing personal matters with you, you may need to turn off your recorder.
7. Save your most important questions till last. By then they will be in full flow and probably tell you more than you need.
8. If you wish to take a photograph of your interviewee, do ask if they will be happy with that.
9. If you need more info, ask them to suggest someone else who could tell you more, or talk about another subject of interest.
10. Write up the material as soon as possible after the interview. Remember that transcribing can take a long time. Keep the odd quote, the rest can be your interpretation of what was said. Finally, write and thank your interviewee and you can always ask them to check the info they’ve given you when you write it in your novel.

I often interview people when I'm working on a book, and they readily find time to share their memories with me of the work they used to do whether in the mill or munitions, farming or forestry, war or peace. One was wonderful Betty, an elderly lady I interviewed for Gracie’s Sin. Betty joined the Women's Timber Corps, a branch of the Land Army, at just 17 in 1942, being too young to join the WRNS. Here she is standing at the front of this line.


The girls were trained by foresters too old to fight, and were allowed only a matter of weeks to learn how to do the job. Betty worked most of the war in Grizedale Forest close to the German POW Camp, which was strictly for officers. She remembers that she had to show her pass to allow her to walk through the camp gates to reach the forest to work. There was a sentry on guard who would say: ‘Halt, who goes there? Friend or Foe?’
‘Friend,’ she would say.
‘Advance friend to be recognised.’
So Betty would show her pass and be allowed through.

The POWs used to march up and down the road for exercise. They’d make comments to the girls and the guard would shout at them, ‘Eyes front.’

There was a machine gun trained on them the whole time. ‘We are German Officers and if we say we will not escape, we will keep our word.’

Of course, escape attempts were common, particularly when they were out working in the forest. If they could reach the coast they could get to Ireland, but none succeeded. They would all be caught later on the fells in a sorry state. Trouble-makers were taken up to London in a blacked out car for interrogation. I found out a great deal more from Betty than I’d hoped for. It was definitely worth the hours we spent chatting.

17.6.16

Witchchild

The inspiration for my latest historical romance, Witchchild, came from the myths and legends of Robin-the-Devil, a Major Robert Philipson who was reputed to have ridden down the aisle of Kendal Parish Church seeking his enemy, Colonel Briggs. The pair had been in conflict for some time, and Briggs laid siege to Robin’s island home and even sacked his family church at Windermere during the civil war. A house still stands on Belle Isle on Lake Windermere but not the one of the legend.

Sir Walter Scott used this myth to write his poem – Rokeby.

When through the Gothic arch there sprung 
A horseman arm’d, at headlong speed 
Sable his cloak, his plume, his steed. 

My research unearthed no real information about the feud and so my writer’s mind devised my own, making the story family and romance oriented. I have changed the names of all characters as they bear no relation to any family in the Lake District. Apart from the inclusion of some of these myths and legends, is entirely fictitious.

Lady Rowanna Blamire, the spirited and much cherished daughter of a Royalist has lived for much of her life in Yorkshire because of a family feud, about which she knows little. But now her grandfather has died, her Parliamentarian uncle, Carus Blamire, has brought her home to Lakeland. His motive is to lay his hands on his niece’s fortune by marrying her to his stepson. When Rowanna refuses, he punishes her rebellious disobedience by auctioning her off for a month’s hard labour to the highest bidder. 

Sir Robert Pennington, a cavalier known as Robin-the-Devil, makes a bid and carries her off to his island home. Is he too seeking possession of her fortune, or simply wishes to bed her? She finds him irresistible, but with the outbreak of civil war hostilities erupt to a far more dangerous level, and the family feud becomes a mystery she needs to resolve. 


Extract:

WHO would buy her? Lady Rowanna’s fearful gaze focused desperately on the distant horizon, the glorious range of mountains bringing some ease to her troubled heart. She felt the June heat of the market place thicken as the throng of inquisitive farmers pressed suffocatingly close, making her heart beat all the faster. What was she doing here? What had brought her to this pretty pass? She really didn’t care to consider.

If she turned her head she could see the stocks beneath the ancient oak. It stood in a shady corner of Kendal’s main square where many a recalcitrant daughter or sharp-tongued wife had endured punishment. As she must endure hers. She supposed she should be grateful that her uncle had not subjected her to such pillory. Despite the stocks having been little used in this England of 1645, not since the last witch had been stoned there half a decade ago, Rowanna had feared she might be about to set a new precedent. She’d heard worrying talk lately of witch-finders stalking the land, tormenting innocent girls but none in Westmorland so far, praise be to God.

But what had possessed her uncle to flout family tradition of loyalty to the monarchy and embrace a brand of politics and religion that allowed such diabolical practices, and with such fervour? Could it be hysteria and superstition, or simply his desire for power?

Rowanna looked at the beads of moisture glittering upon his brow, the curl of disdain about his thin mouth, and the hardness in his narrowed eyes. Carus Blamire was lean and scrawny, a man who did not believe in excess, not even in his own flesh. He showed no loyalty or affection, not even towards family members, but believed utterly in his right to dictate and control. She shuddered to think how she was vulnerably in his hands now that her father was dead. Her uncle seemed stubbornly determined to marry her off to his stepson, her cousin by marriage. If he had his way they would be wed before the month was out, thereby giving him the pleasure of revenge on his dead brother. This alliance he planned struck a presentiment of dread in her heart. Nothing would induce her to agree.

Read more of an extract here: www.fredalightfoot.co.uk

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9.6.16

Birds at Martin Mere

Martin Mere, close to Southport in the north-west, is a fabulous place to visit, a wonderful wetland reserve which birds, and families, love. Walking around the paths and pools it is fascinating as you can observe various ducks, cranes, swans etc., in this beautiful setting. Each area is labelled according to the country of origin of the birds occupying it. Children can take part in a competition to find toy ducks, which they find fun and gives them a reason to keep trotting round. They can also buy food to feed the ducks. There are several hides where you can watch the wild birds arrive and settle, nature trails, gardens, a duckery nursery, which is delightful to visit in spring. And also a shop, exhibition and café. Very much a favourite place we visit regularly, and I love taking pictures there.







Red-breasted geese: Their original home is in Russia. Now a threatened species, numbers having halved in the last decade because of hunting and agricultural changes.









Grey crowned-crane: African wetland birds with a wing span that can reach six or seven feet when in flight.











Crested screamer: These are apparently the ancestors of modern geese, ducks and swans. Their name echoes their voice.










Flamingos: Exotic-looking birds with lots of chicks. They like to eat small algae and insects and are given important nutrients in their feed.












Otters: Two Asian short-clawed otters have lived in Martin Mere since 2009. They are called Ned and Thai and have three daughters.

29.3.16

FAQ

How did you first get published? 

Writing started as a hobby while I was bringing up my two daughters. My first sales were of children’s stories and articles. After that I wrote over fifty short stories and articles for women’s magazines. I followed these with five historical romances for Mills & Boon, my first being Madeiran Legacy, before breaking into mainstream fiction with Lakeland regional sagas. I’ve now written over 45 books, many of them bestselling historicals and women's fiction.


Where do you get your ideas? 
From life is the simple answer, but really I don’t quite know. From people, from things that have happened to me or my family. Details change of course, get turned upside down, and I constantly use a writer’s favourite two words ‘what if’. For instance, in ‘Polly's Pride’ Polly sells all the family furniture in order to finance a second hand carpet business when her husband can’t find work during the depression. My great aunt Hannah did exactly the same thing, although the outcome was entirely different. So I asked - what if her husband objected?

Do you use real places for your settings? 
My characters sometimes live in a fictitious village or street, which allows some scope for my imagination, but it is placed in as accurate a setting as I possible. I enjoy research and spend a great deal of time seeking out those little details to create a true sense of place. This might include which hills my heroine might walk over, the birds or flowers she might see at any given time of year as well as national and global events. I take a great many photographs, draw maps and talk to people who have been involved in the type of industry or lifestyle that I am trying to recreate. A strong sense of place is essential for the kind of sagas I write, as it is a form of social history.

How long does it take you to write a novel? 
When I first started it usually took about nine or ten months. Now I can write a saga in four months, but the more complex books I write for Amazon publishing take well over a year. This naturally demands long hours at the computer, plus many months of research. But I don’t mind as I love research, and am never happier than when I am weaving stories in my head or on screen.

How do you relax? 
By reading, of course. I also enjoy my Spanish garden and walking in the countryside, or campo as it is called here. In England I love going to the theatre as I’ve been greatly involved in amateur dramatics over the years.

What do you enjoy reading? 
I love historical fiction. As a young girl I read everything published by Anya Seton, Jean Plaidy and Norah Loft. Now that historical fiction is back in fashion I indulge myself when not writing by reading my favourite authors: Elizabeth Chadwick, Philippa Gregory, Susanna Kearsley, Kate Morton, Rachel Hore, Anne O´Brien and many more.

Where were born, and where have you lived since? 
I was born in Lancashire, and brought up behind my parent’s shoe shop. I still remember my first pair of clogs, made by my father. Writing was always a dream, but considered rather exotic so I qualified and worked as a teacher until moving to the Lake District in the early years of my marriage. While my children were young I opened a book shop and became far too busy reading catalogues and being a mum to find time to write.

 After nine years of this I moved out onto the Lakeland fells for a ‘rest’ and became thoroughly involved in rural life, keeping sheep and hens, various orphaned cats and dogs, built drystone walls, planted a small wood and even learned how to make jam. The Good Life was on TV at the time. Fortunately the weather was so bad I was forced to stay indoors a good deal, which gave me ample time to write.


We then moved to Fowey in Cornwall where we lived for a number of years, and loved it, using it for the setting of some of my books. Now I’ve abandoned my thermals, built a house in an olive grove and spend the winters in Spain, although I still like to spend the rainy summers in the north-west of England.

What are your plans for the future? 
To keep on writing.
You can find out more here:
 http://www.fredalightfoot.co.uk

30.1.16

Niebla and it's castle






The village of Niebla (which means fog or mist in Spanish) is about 30k from Huelva, west of Seville, situated on the shores of the river Tinto.









It’s a beautiful walled village of great historic interest, dating back to Medieval times, and quite prosperous.







Originating before the Roman period it is packed with narrow streets, lovely houses, restaurants, a church, originally a Mosque, and squares, gates, monuments and turrets. Beyond the confines of the wall, there is a Roman bridge and aqueduct.



The most interesting place to visit within the enclosed town is the castle. This was the alcázar or fortress of the Count of Niebla.





It is large and rectangular set on two levels with rooms that include the Countess’s Chamber, a kitchen and Armoury, and Dungeons complete with equipment of torture set in and around the courtyard. There’s even a floor below this if you wish to go down the ladder into the deep and dark interior.




You can also climb up a long flight of steps to walk around the upper walls of castle where there are yet more rooms to investigate. There are wonderful views from here of the surrounding area.

It’s a most quiet and charming village.





You can find out more here:

http://www.discoverhuelva.com/town/niebla

Related posts on my blog:
http://fredalightfoot.blogspot.co.uk/2016/01/christopher-columbus.html

http://fredalightfoot.blogspot.co.uk/2016/01/donana-national-park.html

29.1.16

Christopher Columbus

Muelle de las Carabelas is a fascinating museum close to Huelva, just west of Seville, in Spain. Its main exhibits are replicas of Christopher Columbus’s three ships, the Niña, the Pinta, and the Santa María.

Pinta, Santa Maria and Niña

In 1992 to celebrate 500 years since the discovery of America, these three replica ships sailed the route of Columbus’s first voyage to the Americas. They’d taken two years to build.


I loved exploring these quite small ships, even if climbing up and down the ladders had to be done with caution. Below deck there are replicas of food stores and work areas with statues of sailors working and climbing the ropes up the masts. There was also a display of cottages around this dock with statues replicating the natives. There is also a small area depicting the homes of ordinary English folk, food, and an imitation market of that time. It’s quite inexpensive to visit, and there’s a little shop, of course.


Columbus’s plan to explore the world was rejected by his home country of Italy, the Portuguese and initially by Isabella of Castille and Ferdinand of Aragon, as they were focused upon a war with the Muslims. He continued to work hard to persuade them and once the war was over in January of 1492, the Spanish monarchy agreed to finance his expedition.



He set out on his first Voyage to the New World in August of 1492, sailing from Spain in the Santa Maria, together with the Pinta and the Niña. His aim was to reach Asia (the Indies) via the western route, where he hoped to find gold and other riches. After over a month at sea they finally spotted land, not Asia but the Bahamas.


You can find out more about Columbus here:

http://www.eyewitnesstohistory.com/columbus.htmhttp://www.biography.com/people/christopher-columbus-9254209#mixed-legacy

Related links:

http://fredalightfoot.blogspot.co.uk/2016/01/niebla.html