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.

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Published 6 September by Lake Union Imprint

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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:
Free thinking
Often quite courageous

Negative aspects:
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.


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.


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.



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.



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. 


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





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.