In her 15 years as a novelist, Freya North has penned 11 bestsellers. She’s sold over two million books in the UK alone, and has acquired an army of fans who love her modern take on traditional tales of love, family and friendship.
Her twelfth novel, Rumours, is in stores now so we caught up with the writer to talk about life, literature and spreading rumours.
You’ve just published your twelfth novel, Rumours. What’s it about?
I had so much fun researching this novel! It's set around the impending sale of a small stately home - and the effect this has on the villagers whose lives have long been intertwined with it. The heroine, Stella, is the agent trying to sell the place on behalf of the eccentric elderly Lady Fortescue. She's a single mum, very guarded about her past and she needs every penny of the commission she might earn. The hero, Xander, will do anything to stand in her way - he grew up there, his secrets and memories aren't for sale. I fell a little bit in love with Xander - he's on the attractive side of stroppy.
Have you ever spread your own rumour?
One of the best sayings I know is 'those who gossip with you, gossip about you' - so I bear that in mind whenever I hear some fabulous juicy goss. I like to keep my ear to the ground, because in general I'm a nosey-parker, but I'm also a great believer in Karma too so I'm actually pretty mindful about what I repeat and what I keep to myself.
What’s the best rumour you’ve ever heard?
Years ago, when I was living in North London, a rumour started that Brad Pitt was going to be living very near me - and I mean VERY. Of course, it turned out to be untrue, but for a while there was a frisson of anticipation every time I left my house - and people would ask me if it was true, as if I had the inside track on Brad's life. That's a pretty good one. Oh - and the one about an ex's new girlfriend. That was priceless - not least because it turned out to be true.
How did your writing career begin? Did you always know you wanted to be an author?
If I'd have done as I was told, I wouldn't have written my first novel, I'd have cracked on with my PhD in History of Art like I was meant to. But whilst figuring out how my very first computer worked I found myself opening a file called "Novel" - and that was pretty much that. I loved writing fiction at school and the teachers always complained I spent too much time daydreaming. It was a tough few years of making ends meet and not taking all the rejection slips personally - but in 1996, I struck my first deal. I still have the same editor and agent - and the same thrill to be writing novels.
How and when do you write?
After the school run and before pick-up. When I lived in the city, I used to write from my local library, now I live in the Hertfordshire countryside, I write from a converted stable in my back garden. I leave the phone in the house and as I don't have broadband, I can't become distracted by Emerald Street! I simply sit there and cram words into the available hours - it's no good feeling oh, I'm not very inspired today. It's my job - there's a deadline to meet. Sometimes I can rattle off 4-5,000 words in that time, sometimes only a few hundred. I judge the success of my working day on the quality of the words themselves - as long as I've been 'in the zone' I'm usually pleased with the outcome.
Do you read the reviews about your books?
I read reviews about my books in much the same way as I watch The Killing or Doctor Who - half-hiding behind my hands. I find it difficult not to take narky reviews personally - I invest so much of myself whilst researching and writing my novels that negative comments simply hurt. However, the worst reviews for an author are those where it's obvious that the book has merely been skim-read and assumptions made.
Your books are known as ‘feisty romps’. Are you yourself known as rather feisty?
I think I am, yes! I'd rather be feisty than a shrinking violet - though it does make for an emotionally tiring life, sometimes! But then there's always so much to write about...
What book are you reading at the moment? Would you recommend it?
I am reading a wonderful novel by my favourite author Laurie Graham called A Humble Companion. She's a magnificent author - everything she writes has me absorbed. At her best, she takes a historical event or character and blends fact and fiction seamlessly. A Humble Companion is set in the time of George III and focuses on the domestic side of his family life as well as a fascinating and crucial time in history. It is recounted by one of the princess's 'companions' - the bright and ballsy Nellie and it's funny, touching and in someways so contemporary too. Another of Graham's novels, Gone With The Windsors is one of my all time faves - Edward and Mrs Simpson recounted through a fictitious diary of an imagined friend of Wallis's. And Life According to Lubka was simply a hilarious romp around the music industry. I cannot recommend this author more highly.
As an author, how important is it to be active in social media?
It is fundamentally important. Also, because it can be quite isolating spending all that time with people who don't actually exist (however 'real' one's characters seem to be!) I have found social media to be really engaging and heartening. I love connecting with my readers - to have their seal of approval is perhaps even more precious than a month in the top ten. I have a website and a very active Facebook page - but from the start I was determined to make them personal, intimate even, so that visitors feel it's the next best thing to popping over for a cuppa at my kitchen table. I don't do Twitter - I had to draw the line and would prefer to do Facebook and my website really well. Plus, I imagine I could become easily addicted to Twitter - and that might compromise the time I have in which to write my novels. I'm pretty disciplined about how much time I spend on-line - not having broadband, the dongle is sometimes little faster than dial-up!
What advice would you give budding writers?
Just let the characters dictate the plot - if you try and force one on them, they'll become little more than your puppets and the story will consequently be soulless. You can have the most intricate plot in the world - but if the characters aren't believable, the reader won't really care about what happens. Also - write because you need to - not because you fancy 'being a writer' as a lifestyle choice.
What’s been the happiest moment of your life?
The birth of my children. Felix is now 11 and Georgia is 9. And when my mum was given the all-clear after putting up a magnificent fight against cancer.
Rumours is set in a grand estate in Hertfordshire so we’re celebrating its release by offering you the chance to win an extravagant break for two at one of Hertfordshire’s finest retreats; St Michael’s Manor Hotel in St Albans Click here to enter