26.6.20

Gracie's Sin

Now Published by Canelo. 
It's 1942 and three young women join the Women's Timber Corps, eager to do their bit for the war effort. Buxom and bouncy, red-headed Lou is newly married and sees her training in Cornwall as a way of staying near her sailor husband.

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. With The Land Girls on TV this week, I thought you might be interested to hear about Betty, who I interviewed for Gracie’s Sin.

Betty joined the Women's Timber Corps, which is a branch of the Land Army, because she was too young to join the WRNS. 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. She recalls that her first task was to plant larch and Scots Pine, which had to be one spade length and one foot apart. Later she went into felling, but first Betty had to select the trees. She used calipers to measure the diameter and estimate the height. She would mark each tree due to be felled with a white blaze, then take it down using a 5lb Ellwood Felling axe, or the crosscut saw. These were for pitprops. Stumps had to be flat to the ground so that no one would trip over them, or a tractor bump into them. And with a war on, every inch of cut wood was valuable. For loading logs on to the lorry they had a three-legged crane with wires, which worked like a pulley. The tractor would be fixed to the wire, draw away and it would lift the timber and Betty would stand on the wagon and guide the logs on board, checking that they were stacked evenly and didn’t fall. She was only small, barely 5 foot, but learned the task through common sense and practice.

She helped to fell a stand of trees on the far side of Loweswater. There was oak along the edge of the water and larch above. She helped build a chute to send the felled trees into the lake so that they could be towed across by boat. These were probably for telegraph poles. The forester was in charge and Betty said you did as he said or you were in trouble. The trees had to be lopped and topped, then peeled and all the knots taken off with a drawknife. Stripping the bark hurt her fingers, and it was sticky underneath, creamy with sap. A lot of swearing would go on. Lastly they burned the brash, which includes the leaves and smaller branches; otherwise the litter encourages bugs, which would infect the trees.

Cheese sandwiches seemed to be the main fare to keep them all going. There were blisters, aching muscles and sunburn, and the skin of her hands became hard and calloused, coloured by the bark. Her clothes when she took them off at night would be full of small brown spiders.

Betty worked most of the war in Grizedale Forest close to the German POW Camp, which was strictly for officers. 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.

Betty remembers that she had to have a pass to walk through the camp gates to reach the forest to work. She joined the Women’s Timber Corps when she was aged just 17. 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.

They worked from eight till five most days and were rarely allowed a full weekend off, with four weeks a year leave. Betty sometimes got a lift to the station at Ulverston to go and see her mother who was a seven-shilling widow. Betty earned twenty-eight shillings a week, less insurance. Fourteen shillings went on board and lodging at the camp and she sent her mother five shillings. She’d be left with about 5 bob if she was lucky, and thought herself fortunate.

After the war she worked in 22 different counties in three years from 1947-49. Then stayed on with the Forestry Commission as a cartographer. She drew maps so well that they were often used for publication and she made a career of it.

I had a lovely time visiting her, and her memories were happy ones as she could still wield a 5lb axe even though she was then  in her eighties.


War puts their friendship to the test, but can they unite against their true enemy? 
It’s 1942 and Gracie is eager to do her bit for the war effort. She joins the Women’s Timber Corps, relieved to get away from her quarrelling, interfering parents. Her training leads her to Cornwall where she meets energetic newly-married Lou, and Rosie who is desperate to escape her bully of a brother. The three girls become fast friends and are happy to learn they will stay together for the next posting to the Lake District. 

Against the backdrop of rolling hills and dense forests, they soon discover that emotions are heightened in wartime. Rosie is swept off her feet by an American GI, Lou must come to grips with the prospect of tragedy when she is told her husband is missing in action, and Gracie is cast out after she falls in love with a German POW. Will the bond of friendship be strong enough for them to overcome these hardships, and do their bit for the war effort? 

A page-turning saga of love and loyalty, perfect for fans of Nancy Revell and Katie Flynn.

Amazon

25.6.20

The Bobbin Girls

Now Published by Canelo.
Alena Townsen wants nothing more than to spend the rest of her life with her childhood friend Rob, the only son of James Hollinthwaite, a wealthy landowner.

The Bobbin Girls, set against the wonderful backdrop of Grizedale Forest where two young people in love try to escape the disapproval of parents and make a new life for themselves, are one of my favourite historical sagas. They are now available on Canelo, and such a joy to revisit it for editing purposes, as I’d largely forgotten it. It’s the story of a powerful young love blighted by a dark secret from the past, which might, or might not, be true. I do remember that I loved doing the research as I found some marvellous people to interview. The late Bill Hogarth, spent hours taking me through Grizedale Forest teaching me the tricks of his trade on coppicing, showing me how he made hurdles and swill baskets. Stan Crabtree and Bill Grant also enlightened and entertained me on the skills of forestry. Even the charcoal maker patiently explained his craft to me.

Eileen Thompson, Joyce Wilson and Pat Hogarth regaled me with their yarns and the wonderful tricks they played on each other in the bobbin mill. How they would put a mouse in a friend’s bait box lunch, which meant there would be little left of the poor girl’s sandwiches. How I loved spending the evening with them, learning so much of the ‘Bobbin Girls’, and mice were a common pest among the wood shavings. They described all that was involved in the making of bobbins, a skill I would not wish to try considering the hidden difficulties and dangers. Bobbin makers are well known for being a digit short. Fortunately, Eileen, Joyce and Pat still had all of theirs when working for them.

And  there a romance in this book?
Alena Townsen, a fiery tomboy from a large, happy family, wants nothing more than to spend the rest of her life with her childhood friend, Rob, the only son of James Hollinthwaite, a wealthy landowner. Hollinthwaite, however, has other ideas and when he forces the two to part Rob is sent away to school while Alena must start work in the local bobbin mill. Life is hard and her love for Rob severely tested. Torn between two men, her indecision is heightened by the knowledge of a tragic secret. Dolly Sutton has problems of a more intimate nature, while shy and unassuming, Sandra Myers finds herself an unlikely campaigner against Hollinthwaite’s destructive plans for the village when he ruthlessly sacks the man she loves.


She must decide if her childhood sweetheart is worth the struggle…
Alena Townsen is in love with Rob and wants to spend the rest of her life with him. But he is the only son of James Hollinthwaite, a wealthy landowner who has his own ideas about Rob’s future, and he forces the two to part. With no other option, Rob and Alena run away together and plan to start a new life. 

Their dreams are shattered when they are discovered, and Rob is sent away by his father. Alena starts work at the local bobbin mill but life is hard and lonely for her, and her love for Rob is tested with the arrival of the mill’s new foreman. Torn between two men, Alena must decide where her heart truly lies. 

A charming romantic saga packed full of love and conflicting loyalties, perfect for fans of Katie Flynn and Annie Clarke.

‘A bombshell of an unsuspected secret rounds off a romantic saga narrated with pace and purpose and fuelled by conflict.’ The Keswick Reminder 

‘an informative and lively read’ West Briton

Amazon

24.6.20

Daisy's Secret

Now Published by Canelo. 

Daisy is devastated when her lover, Percy, abandons her. All alone, Daisy is forced by her own mother to give up her baby son for adoption – shortly before she throws Daisy out.

The Lakes 2012
Laura is having problems with her marriage, so when she is left a house in the Lake District by her grandmother, she starts to look at her life anew. And she begins to investigate the cause of the feud between her father and his mother. What was Daisy’s Secret?

Manchester 1939
Abandoned by her sweetheart and rejected by her family, Daisy agrees to being evacuated to the Lakes at the start of the war. Still grieving for the baby boy she was forced to give up for adoption, she agrees that he will be her secret - a precious memory but spoken of to no one. She seeks consolation by taking under her wing two frightened little girls. Can helping evacuees make up for losing her own child?

‘An emotional and gritty Lake District saga’ Coventry Evening Telegraph

‘Another Lightfoot triumph’ Dorset Echo

’A glorious story’ Bangor Chronicle 


An old secret is about to be uncovered…

Daisy is devastated when her lover, Percy, abandons her. All alone, Daisy is forced by her own mother to give up her baby son for adoption – shortly before she throws Daisy out. War is imminent, and Daisy is evacuated to the Lake District, where she eventually tracks down her black-sheep aunt, Florrie. Together they set up a guest house, and when Daisy meets and falls in love with a young airman, Harry, happiness is within her reach. 

The guest house is full of eccentric characters, and all of them use Daisy's shoulder to cry on. But when Percy turns up holding a baby, Daisy is torn between her yearning to reclaim her son and her love for Harry. Will the truth set Daisy free, or break her heart once more? 

A compelling saga of wartime struggle and triumph over adversity, perfect for fans of Nancy Revell and Val Wood.


1939
‘Don’t think for a minute that you can carry on as if nothing has happened. Not after behaving so shamefully. We’re done with you now, Daisy Atkins. You’re no longer any daughter of mine. As for your father, he’s made it abundantly clear that he’ll not have you set foot in the house. Not ever again. We might be poor with not much to call us own, but we have us standards. Make no mistake about that.’
     Daisy looked into her mother’s set face and saw by the pursing of her narrow lips and the twin spots of colour on each hollow cheek, that she meant every hard and unforgiving word. ‘Then what am I to do? Where am I supposed to go?’
     ‘You should’ve thought of that before you - well - before you did what you oughtn’t to have done.’ Rita Atkins sniffed loud disapproval and folded her arms belligerently across her narrow chest. Daisy noticed that she was wearing her best black coat and hat for the visit, the one that she wore for chapel and for all funerals and weddings in the family. It bore a faint sheen of green and smelt strongly of mothballs. ‘I’ll not have it. I won’t. It’s just like your Aunt Florrie all over again.’
     Daisy let out a heavy sigh, feeling a prickle of resentment by the comparison which had been flung at her more times than she cared to remember in these last, agonising weeks.
     Aunt Florrie had brought disgrace to her family by running off with a man almost twice her age to live in the wilds of the Lake District. Daisy had no real memory of her, beyond the odd Christmas card but she’d always rather envied this adventurous, long-lost aunt who had escaped the boring inevitability of life in Marigold Court, Salford. She’d run away from broken windows, strings of washing and the reek of boiled fish and cabbage. And who could blame her? Certainly not Daisy. Whenever she’d ventured to say as much, she’d been slapped down by her mother that Daisy didn’t understand at all.
     She thought it would be the most glorious thing in the world to breathe clean, fresh country air and live where the grass stayed green and wasn’t always covered in soot. Hadn’t she long dreamed of just such an escape? She’d thought she could achieve it by marrying her sweetheart Percy, who kept a market stall out at Warrington. He’d certainly seemed smitten by her, proclaiming how much he adored her halo of golden brown, corkscrew curls, which Daisy privately loathed, longing as she did for more sophisticated, smooth bangs like Veronica Lake. He’d frequently told her how her soft, brown eyes just made him melt inside, how he adored each sun-kissed freckle and he’d certainly been more than happy to kiss the fragile prettiness of her small, pink mouth.

Amazon

23.6.20

Kitty Little

Now Published by Canelo.
After fleeing from a marriage arranged by her ambitious mother, Katherine throws herself into an acting career, but a scandal threatens to wreck everything she has worked for.

I based the LTP’s on Eleanor Elder’s story, whose great wish was to bring the Arts to the masses, and on that of the old Blue Box, otherwise known as the Century Theatre. This was a collection of mobile blue vans that trundled around northern towns until the number of trailers grew so big and cumbersome that it parked up by the lake at Keswick, and stayed there. Now it has gone, replaced by the beautiful Theatre by the Lake, pleasing locals and tourists alike.

One of the famous names at this time was Lillian Baylis at the Old Vic, who persisted in presenting Shakespeare. She also started a fine repertory company and established a permanent company for ballet. Miss Horniman, who ran The Old Gaiety Theatre in Manchester, transformed it into a modern repertory theatre and continued to do plays of a high quality, but it was not easy with so many of the ‘stars’ being taken away to go on tour. She had a reputation as a caring employer, anxious to achieve a good reputation for her actors. She even considered a trade union would be of benefit to enforce managers to provide clean and safe theatres, and pay for rehearsals. In 1913 one theatre in Manchester carried a notice which read “this theatre is perfectly ventilated, cleaned daily by the vacuum process and disinfected with Jeyes Fluid.” But on the whole, repertory companies suffered badly, largely because they persisted in presenting the same old Victorian melodramas, perpetuating the myth that anything was good enough for the provinces.

Films were the new popular treat, both at home and with troops in France, Charlie Chaplin’s in particular. It was estimated that by 1917 half the population went to the Cinema at least once a week as it was cheaper than a night out at the pub. Newsreels and propaganda films were also common. Performers would often entertain cinema audiences between films. Queues too would be entertained by performing dogs or a man playing a banjo or accordion. Then a collection would be taken up for the soldiers and sailors. Benefit performances were held to raise money to entertain wounded soldiers; just as there were Tank Weeks, or fund raising for an ambulance. Matinees too would be held to buy x-ray or other first aid equipment.

The greatest rival to cinema was the music hall with concert parties and visits from famous artists to the camps and rest areas. Harry Lauder was a great favourite of the troops as he tirelessly toured France, getting as close to the front line as possible after his only son was killed there in 1916.

Having been involved in amateur dramatics all my life I love the theatre, and have collected many books on the history of it, famous actors and so on, so I love to write about it and have touched on this theme in other books. But it was Harry Lauder’s story, and that of Miss Horniman, and also reading an old book called Travelling Players by Eleanor Elder, published in 1939, which gave me the inspiration to write Kitty Little.

‘Kitty Little is a charming novel encompassing the provincial theatre of the early 20th century, the horrors of warfare and timeless affairs of the heart.’ The West Briton

‘Freda Lightfoot’s talent for creating believable characters makes this a page-turning read.’ Newcastle Evening Chronicle 


After fleeing from a marriage arranged by her ambitious mother, Katherine throws herself into an acting career, but a scandal threatens to wreck everything she has worked for.

Charlotte believes she can have any man she wants, and she wants Archie – no matter who is standing in her way.

Esme is in love with the life and vibrancy of the theatre, and the contrast to the life of duty she has known as a parson’s daughter. But can a quiet and trusting girl ever be truly at home on the stage?

All three girls are seeking escape. Each is pretending to be someone she is not, and all are in love with the same man…

An enthralling tale of love and rivalry from bestselling author Freda Lightfoot, perfect for fans of Katie Flynn and Annie Clarke.

Inspiration for Kitty Little 
The Great War caused a boom in theatre going, but not necessarily to see plays. Many serious plays had to be withdrawn as they lost money. Most companies broke up on the backs of theatre-manager’s greed. These men often lacked the paternal care exhibited by the old actor-managers. They were far more ruthless and would quickly call a halt to a tour if audiences began to dip, and rising rents were a nightmare.

The war naturally brought a new surge in patriotism, both in drama and cinema. There were plays written about the suffering, but the emphasis was more on the humorous to attract the masses. There were many songs about the war, even women dressed as soldiers (Vesta Tilley) as well as drama that was hostile to Germany.

Soldiers on leave flocked to the theatres with their sweethearts, eager to be amused and entertained. Chu Chin Chow was a huge success. Starting out as a pantomime it ran for over 2,000 performances at His Majesty’s. A Little Bit of Fluff, a popular farce, ran for three years at the Criterion. Critics were vociferous against this kind of ‘vulgarity’ as they termed it. Others would complain there was too much Shakespeare and time for a change.

I hope I have done justice to the enthusiasm and pleasure these wonderful people have brought to their own audiences in my fictional tale. I’d like to think that Kitty is there in spirit, acting on that wonderful stage.

Amazon


22.6.20

Lakeland Lily

Now Published by Canelo.
Lily Thorpe is a spirited, ambitious fisherman’s daughter, desperate to escape the poverty of her Lakeland home.

Back in the fast I was enjoying my new career. I finished that first series then went on to write Lakeland Lily, which deals with snobbery and the effects of World War I. I’d achieved my dream. Life was good.

I checked with various people when I was writing this book years ago. It was great fun and I visited various places and talked to many people, obsessed with what I may be writing about. I greatly enjoyed several delightful cruises on the lake and spent a lot of time with men who ran wonderful steamboat skippers and boats in Windermere. They told me their fascinating history and answered many of my questions, and they still operate these to many other people who love visiting the Lakeland too.

I am indebted to Diana Matthews of the Windermere Nautical Trust for her assistance with research and for her splendid booklets. She knew a great deal about Lake Festivals on Windermere and Lake Windermere’s Golden Jubilee. I also appreciated her father, George Pattinson, for his excellent book, The Great Age of Steam on Windermere, which I found fascinating and inspired various ideas for me. Any mistakes or liberties taken for the sake of the story are, of course, my responsibility and not theirs.


Lily Thorpe is spirited, ambitious and desperate to escape the poverty of her Lake District home, and marry her secret sweetheart Dick Rawlins. But tragedy strikes and Dick is killed in a boating accident caused by the wealthy and arrogant Clermont-Read family. Lily is forced to reassess her future, and she embarks on a quest for revenge and marries Bertie Clermont-Read. 

The young couple are rejected by his family and suffer the same poverty Lily had tried to escape. Lily starts a passionate affair with local steam boat captain Nathan Monroe and when she is threatened with vengeance she must decide who is more important – her husband or her lover.

 Lakeland Lily.
‘Freda Lightfoot is strong on sense of place’ Westmorland Gazette on Lakeland Lily
‘Engaging tale set in the Lake District during World War I’ West Cumbrian Gazette

Chapter One, 1909
‘Lily Thorpe, if you don’t come in this minute I’ll batter your face with a wet kipper. See if I don’t!’
    The recipient of this dire warning made no move to respond, for she was entirely engrossed in holding her breath so as not to interrupt what must be the longest kiss on record.
    ‘That was your mam,’ the boy said at last when nature forced them up for air.
    Lily, dizzy from the kiss, swept aside her shining brown hair and laid her cheek upon Dick’s chest with a sigh of blissful contentment. For a long moment, she lay listening to the rapid beat of his heart then lifted her face a fraction to give him the full benefit of her bewitching hazel eyes. Glowing almost gold with desire, her tip tilted nose and the bluntness of a deceptively demure chin he claimed, only proved how very stubborn she was. Lily meant to let him see that she would not be averse to the kiss being repeated.
    Not, she admitted wryly, that the ash-pit roof from strings of washing flapped was the most romantic place in the world to experiment with these delightful new sensations. Situated at the bottom of a yard shared by half a dozen other houses besides her own, shovel-loads of ash from the fire were stored in the pit and used to sweeten the tippler privy next door.
    But from its roof Lily could see beyond the huddle of narrow streets and overcrowded fishermen’s cottages that made up The Cobbles, as far as the dark green fringe of woodland that cloaked the lower reaches of the Lakeland hills, the bare tops of the more distant peaks, and, if she stood on tiptoe, the glimmer of silver-bright water that was the lake.
    Beyond the lake was the world where, one day, Lily meant to be: Rydal and Grasmere to the north, the busy towns of Windermere and Kendal to the south. To the west lay the snow-capped peaks of the Langdales, while to the east were the high fells of Kentmere. These were the limits of Lily’s knowledge. She had never in her life stepped outside the boundaries of Carreckwater, though she took every opportunity to escape the pungent confines of The Cobbles, squashed as it was between Fisher’s Brow and Old Martin’s Yard, far from the more elegant quarters of the small town.
    Lily hated The Cobbles and all it stood for. The sweet-sour stink of poverty gave a sense of hopelessness to the tiny overcrowded cottages. Walls ran with damp both inside and out. The alleys were infested with the kind of livestock nobody welcomed, and her mother fought a thankless daily battle against cockroaches. Each night the drunks would noisily roll home, and by morning the stink of urine and vomit would be stronger than ever. Lily’s single all-pervading desire was to leave The Cobbles for good. She dreamed of making her fortune in the neighbouring village of Bowness. Of holding court in her own fine shop, perhaps a draper’s and mantle makers surrounded by silks and satins she would fashion into much sought-after garments. These dreams made her life tolerable.
    But she wasn’t thinking of escape today. Nor had she any wish to admire the view. She wanted only to melt into Dick Rawlins’s arms, to be caressed by his fevered hands and kissed into submission by his burning lips. How else was she to learn about life if she didn’t experiment a little?

Amazon

11.3.20

Favourites of mine

Here are the details of favourite books of mine.



Just returned from the Napoleonic wars Raul Beringer discovers that as well as contending with the enmity of his brother, Maynard, the legacy of his late father’s wine business in Madeira must be shared with a penniless orphan, Coriander May. Whoever makes the most profit from their inheritance in a year will win control of the company. But is more than money at stake?








The Honourable Felicity Travers learns she is expected to marry the entrepreneurial Jarle Blakeley, the man she believes responsible for her father’s bankruptcy. Inspired by the suffragette movement, Felicity intends to be a modern woman and make her own decisions. Blakeley proves persuasive, if somewhat lacking in romance. But with secrets still to be told, does the marriage have any hope of success?







With American independence won and her brother George dead, Hester Mackay accepts Benjamin Blake’s proposal to avoid the shame of bankruptcy, despite him being an English gunrunner. Her happiness at the Georgia plantation house is short-lived as Hester learns that her new husband has already killed two wives. Can this be true, and is he now trying to kill her?







Wilful and beautiful, Charlotte Forbes is to inherit a fortune on her eighteenth birthday. But Sir James Caraddon, the rising star of Pitt’s government, informs her of a scandal lurking in her past. Charlotte runs away, joining a troupe of strolling players, while James feels obliged to protect her from the unsavoury characters who have an eye on her wealth.







Abigail Carter feels stifled as companion to Emilia Goodenough, and the responsibility of her wayward sister Polly. Then Emilia’s nephew, Carl Montegne, sweeps the ladies off to Italy to help him search for the long lost family fortune. But even a romantic castello doesn’t stem the friction between them - until the quest turns to danger, and Abigail discovers the extent of her feelings.



 


Lady Rowanna Blamire, the spirited and 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.



You can spot them on Amazon, so do enjoy

www.amazon.co.uk