Author Freya North reflects on her inspirations and writing methods
It has been 20 years since the publication of novelist Freya North’s breakout success Sally, the story of a reckless 20-something woman who ditches a homely life to embrace her wilder side.
The book was a bestseller in 1996 but conceived four years earlier when the British author dropped out of studying for a PhD in art history to try her hand at fiction. Sally was followed by Chloe (1997), Polly (1998) and Cat (2000) – all best-sellers – before North expanded her romantic subject matter to include art (Fen, 2001) and clowns (Pip, 2004).
But it was in the matters of the heart that North continued to find the greatest commercial and critical success. In 2008, she won the Romantic Novel of the Year award for Pillow Talk, about the relationship between a sleepwalker and an insomniac.
She has sold more than two million books in the United Kingdom alone, and as North has matured, so have her characters. The Turning Point, the 48-year-old’s latest novel, her 14th, details a long-distance romance between two single parents: Frankie, a frustrated author who lives on the North Norfolk coast, and Canadian film music composer Scott, who resides in British Columbia. To mark its release in paperback last week, we invited the author to reflect on her inspirations and writing methods.
Tell us about The Turning Point.
aWriting it was the most extraordinary and profound experience of my career – it was as if that book existed without me and I got to tell it. I loved writing it so much, I can’t let it go. The heroine [Frankie] in that book is as close to me as I’ve ever written a character – she’s an author who has writer’s bloc and a single parent with two kids. It isn’t me but I inform that character, for sure.
Given Frankie is so close to you, was there an element of wish fulfilment in creating Scott ?
Yeah, he’s lovely. It was weird, when I went to [his] village, I got quite teary because I could sense this character, almost like he was just around the next corner – pathetic, really. I even hiked for 12 miles to try to find him and he still wasn’t there – but he’s in the book.
Where do all your much-loved characters come from?
It feels to me that they pre-exist and I’m the lucky author who gets to write their stories. Ideas for family dramas interest me – domestic settings, the details, the strangeness of everyday life – that’s the subject matter that I still find to offer a wealth of material.
What’s your writing routine?
I’m a single mum and I have to fit everything in between the school run. The beginning of a book I write from the public library – people know that I’m there but they leave me be – and by about two-thirds, I could write in the middle of a traffic roundabout because I’m so into the story that nothing could distract me. Some days I write 5,000 words, sometimes a few hundred – but as long as I’ve been in that focused, parallel world, I know the writing will be good.
Transatlantic romances tend to do very well on the big screen. Any plans for an adaptation?
It hasn’t been optioned but I’m trying to write a screenplay, first and foremost because I can’t bear to let the story go yet – I want back in. The other thing is I’m interested in the challenge of taking 90 pages to tell a story as a screenplay, rather than the 470 I can witter on in a book – I might not be able to but I’m going to give it a bash.
Do you worry about audience expectations? The pressure for a happy ending?
Never, never, never. My books have changed quite a lot and the original readers have grown with me. So women who were in their 20s are now in their 40s. One of the most heartening things is when my readers send me photos of their baby daughters called Freya – I’ve got an album on Facebook of all these different Freyas of different ages. Isn’t that lovely? So I don’t feel under any pressure to subscribe to a certain type of book. I just write the stories that come to me to be written – and thus far the publishers and readers have been pleased with what I’ve given them.
The Turning Point by Freya North is available in bookstores now
Updated: April 2, 2016 04:00 AM