28.11.09

New York




While in New York we visited Ellis Island. It was fascinating to see where the immigrants were taken, subjected to intensive questioning and endured medical checks. Eyelids were lifted with boot hooks and if there was any sign of disease, even a cut from shaving was considered suspect, they were isolated and could well find themselves sent back to their home country. The saddest part of this story was that they weren’t returned to their own village where they knew people, but to the port from which they embarked upon their journey to America, which could be a long, long way from home. A father or grandmother might be sent back, or girls as young as 12 could be abandoned in the port of Liverpool unless a parent was available to return with her. But if there were other children to care for in the new world, or parents had already died on the voyage out, this might not be possible.



We went up the Top of the Rock, which was great, if a little scary. From here we could see the whole of the New York skyline set out before us, including the Empire State building, the Chysler Building and others. The lift, or elevator as we should call it, shot up 63 floors. Oh, my! Even our hotel, the Marriott Marquis, had 48 floors, and the top one was a rotating restaurant. Amazing sights from there too.




We walked up 5th Avenue, window gazing at designer stores such as Armani and Gucci where the rich do their shopping. We then walked in Central Park, feeling rather as if we were in a movie set as so many parts of it were familiar. The walkways, the pond and skating rink, for instance.


Then after lunch in a typical New York diner, we visited Macey’s to do some Christmas shopping. That second evening we saw The Jersey Boys. A feel-good musical. Great fun and great music, particularly for anyone who remembers Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. We loved it, although I have to say that ticket prices were a great deal higher than in London.

Manhattan was smaller than I expected, particular Broadway and Times Square. The streets were narrower and congested with both traffic and people, the sky scrapers taller, and with little warm sunshine filtering through we needed our hats and scarves. But then it was November. We enjoyed New York immensely and while using common sense and watching our purse and wallet, felt perfectly safe. We would certainly go again.

23.11.09

Queen Mary 2 - Ruby Wedding Trip













Taking a trip on one of the luxury liners was once only for the rich and film stars of the ilk of Cary Grant and Dorothy Lamour. Now such treats are within the reach of mere ordinary folk such as ourselves. David and I have just returned from a most wonderful trip on Queen Mary 2 to New York. From the moment we joined the ship at Southampton to sailing into the Hudson river with that first early morning sight of the Statue of Liberty, it was a voyage to remember. We enjoyed excellent cuisine, top class service and first rate entertainment. We were celebrating our ruby wedding and toasted the start of our adventure as the ship slid gracefully out of Southampton with a complementary half bottle of champagne.

This was our first cruise, more correctly termed a crossing, and we’d both packed several books to keep us occupied, not wishing to be left twiddling our thumbs for six long days and nights. As it turned out, finding time to read them was the main problem. There’s a swimming pool, cinema and theatre on board with shows every night to keep us entertained, plus TV in our stateroom, lectures, workshops and quizzes among other delights. With ten excellent restaurants and various bars to enjoy on board, David worked off some of his excess calories by walking on deck, one turn equalling a third of a mile, while I enjoyed the line dancing and took part in the fitness programme. This included pilates, yoga and step aerobics. I confess I avoided the gym, full of earnest folk puffing away on treadmills and such. I meant to swim in one of the pools but never quite got round to it.

Every evening I put on a ‘posh frock’ or little ‘elegant number’ specially purchased for the trip, and David looked very handsome in his tux or smart jacket. Then off we went dancing in the Queen’s Room, though I have to admit we weren’t very likely candidates for ‘Strictly’ as we jigged our way through the Latin numbers, and I never did persuade David to join in the afternoon lessons. We were, however, regulars at the disco in G32, tucked away aft where the most marvellous Caribbean Band Vibz kept us bouncing till the wee small hours.

We bounced in other ways too, as we did encounter some pretty rough weather. It was November after all. Captain Nick Bates, who kept us all entertained with his Irish jokes, informed us we were suffering a force 8 gale mid-Atlantic, which reached force 10 for a time over a twenty-four hour period. But Queen Mary 2 sailed blithely on through the 12 - 18 ft waves, her stabilisers making for a trouble-free crossing, although the odd slide to port or starboard did sometimes create much laughter on the dance floor.

The ship herself is magnificent, beautifully appointed throughout, the epitome of luxury, and all the staff were so friendly and attentive. It took us most of the week to explore all of her charms, visit the Mayfair shops, find unexpected corners where we could play a game, linger over a lunch time drink to the strains of the string quartet, or simply sit in the sun. I took part in the book club of course, and visited the well stocked library. We were sorry when it was over for all the excitement of docking in New York at dawn, and are already planning our next trip, perhaps on the brand new Queen Elizabeth whose maiden season is next year.

I’ve posted a smug shot of us both looking very pleased with ourselves, and one or two of the ship, including our lovely stateroom.
Read what my publisher has to say about one of life's little coincidences.
Best wishes,
Freda

7.11.09

First of the olive crop



Yes, this is a picture of me picking olives. The ladder doesn't look too safe, does it? The one above is of David unloading them at the coperativa.

We spent yesterday picking the first of the olives. The Levante wind was blowing, some of the olives were fat and ripe and we were afraid we might lose them. We picked around 35 kilos from 3 trees which we took to the local cooperativa. To earn the status of extra virgin oil the olives have to be taken to the press on the day of picking and reach a certain acidity level. Ours were fine and resulted in 5 litres of oil, the first of the season. We still have 26 trees to pick, which will probably be ready for harvesting in a couple of weeks, and can yield as much as 600 kilos before we're done. It's going to be a bumper crop this year as the trees are heavy with fruit. Despite the drought this summer, we had rain in the spring when the fruit was being set, and again in the autumn to swell them. I love olive picking. It's great fun. The big boys with a thousand trees or more in their groves use machinery to do the job and it's serious money. But we hobby olive pickers do it by hand. We don't shake the tree like that lovely old woman in the advert, nor do we bash it with sticks, although I suppose that's one way of doing it. We just run our hand down a branch and knock the olives into the bucket below. It's a most satisfying sound. We also put nets under the tree to catch the fallen ones. Of course you can get neurotic about picking every last olive, and the most luscious ones,like blackberries, are always just out of reach, so ladders and some tree climbing is called for. Yes, I have fallen out of an olive tree, and knocking over the bucket and spilling the olives is another hazard. But it's a day of exercise in the sun, more fun than going to the gym, and at the end of it you've produced something that is actually good for your heart. We invite friends round to help. Some actually volunteer , and everyone looks forward to olive picking day. For their efforts they get a couple of litres of extra virgin oil, and a good lunch of course. Anyone still sober enough after lunch can carry on picking for a little while longer, but then in the late afternoon or early evening, we take the crop to the press. It may not be a particularly cost effective method but it's less work, and much more fun.
Best wishes,
Freda




2.11.09

Postal Service

With post so disrupted in England at the moment, I thought you might like to hear how it works here in rural Spain. When we first came to live in the village about ten years ago, just for a few months each winter in those days, we waited weeks for our post to arrive and received not a scrap. We asked friends in the UK to send us letters to test it, but nothing came. And then someone pointed out that we hadn’t introduced ourselves to the postman. Ah, we thought, this must be a quaint Spanish custom. So along we went to do just that and Pedro declared himself delighted to meet us, shook our hands and welcomed us to his village before handing us a huge bundle of our mail which he’d been saving for us. It turned out that he was dyslexic and couldn’t read, but once he’d connected your written name with your face, that was fine. We never had any more delays after that.

Fortunately now I can send the manuscript by email, but back then getting the manuscript to the publisher was fraught with unexpected difficulties. Thinking to speed things along I took my substantial manuscript to a much larger post office in the nearest town and asked that it be sent Urgente. The man behind the counter weighed my parcel and was appalled. He took great pains to explain how much such a transaction would cost. Not only an arm and a leg, but more euros than I could possibly imagine. I kept insisting that was fine. It had to be in London by Friday. Unconvinced that this little English lady understood a word of what he was saying, he called upon the entire assembly of customers gathered in the Post Office to help him, found someone who could speak English and had them explain to me exactly what I was letting myself in for. I agreed, and accepted the terms. It must be there by Friday, I said. In five days. It took three weeks. Next time I sent it by ordinary post and it was in London in 3 days.

Now our postal service is generally quite good, you can send something addressed to me with no house number or street name but just the village, and I’ll get it. Isobel, our post lady, knows who we all are. She doesn’t deliver, unless your house is in the village. Ours is on the hill just beyond so we have to collect our post, taking turns with our neighbours. Very communal. Of course, if her son Danuelle is sick, then the post office is closed and we couldn’t collect it anyway. Fortunately he’s a healthy child. When he was small he would happily eat his morning yoghurt sitting on the weigh scales, although it was a nuisance for him if someone wanted to send a parcel. And if Isabel is having a busy time, such as Christmas, one or two stalwarts get stuck in and help her to sort and deliver them. Very much a community affair. Our only problem is that the PO is open for only a short time each day, and not on fiesta’s or bank holidays, of which there are any number. But you can’t have everything, and patience is essential. As no doubt it is in England too at the moment.

27.10.09

Why do I write?

I suppose because I must. The story is in my head and I have to express it. I used to tell myself stories as a child, tell them to anyone who would listen. I'd write plays, enlist my friends to act in them and then charge other kids a penny to come and watch them.

But writing books is a solitary task. People tell me how pale I am, even though I live in Spain. You don’t get much of a tan sitting for hours on end in solitary confinement talking to your computer. Sometimes you’d rather be doing anything, anywhere, rather than sitting there staring at that blank screen. I’ve even been known to willingly get the ironing out, and a difficult bit will always find me in my stationery cupboard having a big sort out. Yet when it's going well I wouldn't want to be anywhere else.

When the story is out of your head at last, worked on, improved, polished till it shines, finished, backed up and printed out, the sensation is euphoric. Of course, that doesn’t last long, but it’s wonderful while it does. Before I was published I always imagined that seeing your book on the bookshop shelves was the most exciting part of writing. That’s not the case at all. If you see several copies sitting on the shelf in a shop, you think, oh goodness, it’s not selling. If you see none at all, you think they aren’t stocking it. It’s a no-win situation. The greatest satisfaction comes from actually writing the thing, dispatching the manuscript to the publisher, and starting on the next, always with that special nub of excitement that you experience at the start of every new story. I can’t think of any better way of spending my time.

25.10.09

Is the book dead?
Throughout September and October I’ve been engrossed writing the first part of my work in progress, which is a sequel to House of Angels.
You can read a review for this latest title on Bookbag: Sadly as a result of all this dedication, or perhaps obsession is a better word, things like blogs, newsletters, websites and dinner for my lovely David all get forgotten.

We did enjoy a few days break in London which was all very bookish. I attended a couple of meetings: one with the RNA where Freya North gave a fascinating and inspirational talk, and one with the Society of Authors where it was debated whether the book was dead. Fortunately it was decided that there was still life in the analogue, battery-free book. And why not? People still listen to radio, don’t they, so why shouldn’t they go on reading real paper books, and not just e-books? It’s seriously scary though that a college in Boston is selling off and giving away their collection of books from its library, apparently to save space, and turning entirely to digital. And in California print text books are to be replaced with e-versions. Do students no longer browse along the shelves, dipping into the delights a book might offer simply out of curiosity? Do they always know what they are looking for, and can they be certain of finding it online? And do they not realise that computers and e-readers are far more environmentally unfriendly than a book made from recycled paper? Read a printed book and save the planet. How’s that for a campaign? I love the feel, the smell of books, the sight of them stacked on my bookshelves, the promise of a pile of new ones by my bed waiting to reveal their secrets. I may be tempted to buy an e-reader one day, but long may the book live. Is it just me, or do other people love the physical book best?

Best wishes, Freda

17.10.09

Whatever happened to paperbacks?

I don’t think publishers ever fly Ryanair, or Easyjet for that matter. If they did they would never produce such huge paperbacks. Have you seen them lately? They’re the size of bricks, and growing bigger by the day. How many trees have to die to produce just one? Half a rain forest I should think. What can be the reason behind this fad? Is it a competition to produce the largest tome with the fewest words? Or is it a desire to make them appear more important than those books which went before? What happened to those neat little mass market paperbacks that used to slip into my pocket or bag? I could stuff half a dozen or more into my hand luggage without any problem. Not any more. The last time I attempted to do so it cost me a small fortune in excess baggage charges. I no longer buy paperbacks by author, or even by title, but by size. Yes, I like the font to be of comfortable proportions, since I am a woman of a certain age, but surely that can be achieved in something less than the size of an aircraft hangar? I am a woman of small dimensions and these huge paperbacks also make my hands and arms ache after a very short time. And if I stretch out on my lounger in the sun, or am foolish enough to attempt to read one in bed, I can suffer mild concussion when it falls on my face as I drift off to sleep, which I do have a tendency to do. Another problem arises when it reaches my bookshelf. There will be a whole row of the author’s previous novels, all neat and perfectly formed, but sit the brick alongside and it’s like a cuckoo in a nest of swallows. It just doesn’t look right. It’s not comfortable there and I toss it out or give it to a local charity shop. Maybe I’m alone in my dislike of these things, but if there are others like me out there then surely it’s affecting the economy of bookshops. Where I used to buy half a dozen, I now can’t carry more than one, so that’s all I buy. And I’m a bookaholic for goodness sake. Am I alone in being put off by the encyclopedic size of these things?

Best wishes,
Freda

21.8.09

Domestic violence

I see in the news today that at last the onus will no longer be on the woman to bring a charge in the case of domestic abuse. Until I started researching my book Trapped, I hadn't realised how little the law had changed since I was suffering from this problem in my first marriage back in the early sixties. That the police would readily issue a charge of assault against a yob in the street, but not against a woman's partner in a domestic situation unless she made the charge, was entirely wrong. Now that they can use a restraining order more easily, we have at last taken a step in the right direction, although its effectiveness will depend on how willing they are to do so. Let us hope more effective action will be taken to protect women. It is not before time.

20.8.09

Trapped

Carly Stanton is a lucky girl. Newly married to the man of her dreams, a beautiful home with her family close by and with a job she adores. But all is not as it seems. Oliver Stanton may be charming and utterly gorgeous with dark good looks and captivating blue-grey eyes, as well as being successful and financially secure, but once the ring is on her finger, Carly discovers there’s a darker side to his nature.

He is possessive and controlling, sapping her confidence so that she feels as if she is living on a knife edge, her nerves in shreds. Carly knows that she desperately needs help before he destroys her. But who can she turn to? Not her family who think he is Mr Wonderful. As Oliver’s cruelty escalates, can Carly find a way out of the marriage trap?



This book came about as a result of a casual conversation with my editor, when I happened to mention that I had once suffered a short and violent marriage. My own story took place in the early sixties, but the problem of violent men still exists to this day and many of the incidents which Carly has to deal with, and the control Oliver imposes upon her, are written from personal experience. Writing this book was rather like opening Pandora’s box. I’ve been happily married now for almost thirty-nine years, certain that I’d successfully blocked the bad memories of that painful period from my mind. But as I began to write I soon realised that I still carried a sense of shame for having ‘allowed’ it to happen to me, for having stayed in the marriage for almost three years in a futile effort to make things come right. No woman should feel such guilt, or have to tolerate abuse. Fortunately, although some attitudes still need to change, help for the abused woman suffering domestic violence is more readily available today.

I've had several moving emails from readers about the issues raised in this book. If you are in need of such help, don’t hesitate to call the numbers on this page.

Women’s Aid or Refuge, run in partnership on the 24-hour National Domestic Violence Helpline: Call 0808 2000 247
http://www.refuge.org.uk
http://www.womensaid.org.uk

8.8.09

Prize Draw

House of Angels

Out in hardback on 4 September.

If you want to win a free signed copy visit www.fredalightfoot.co.uk to enter the Prize Draw.

Best of luck!
Freda

1.8.09

Summer Reading

Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton
This was a book that grew on me. At first I was distracted by the constant changing of time in three different periods, but little by little as the story began to unfold I became quite caught up in it. A slightly contrived method, perhaps, but it worked. I was intrigued by the mysteries and the secrets. The characters were well drawn and the clever use of the fairy stories added to the atmosphere delightfully.

The Return by Victoria Hislop
This book was brilliant. It begins in the present, showing a couple of friends taking a holiday in Granada, and one of them strikes up a friendship with an old man who runs a bar. He starts to tell her about the family who used to own it and were caught up in the civil war. Moving, powerful, a family you care about, and the writer was able to draw a realistic picture of the civil war without overdoing the research and getting into all the complicated factions. I was gripped and read it very quickly, neglecting my own writing in order to finish it. Highly recommended.

The Lady Elizabeth by Alison Weir
I loved this book, but then historical novels are my favourite. Weir writes well and with confidence, as we know from her non-fiction books, but she has made the change into fiction seamlessly. I might quarrel with one or two of her ‘fictions’ but she made a good story. You could feel Elizabeth's terror through those dangerous times, and her courage as she trod carefully around her sister Mary’s sensitivities. Excellent!

A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini
As probably one of the few people who balked at reading the Kite Runner, thinking it didn’t sound like my thing, this book was recommended by a friend and I’m so glad I bought it. My goodness but it is a powerful story, and beautifully told. I went every step of the way with Mariam and with Laila as they were each forcibly married to the same man, and learned a great deal of the problems faced by Afghan women along the way. Strong as the subject matter was, it was not depressing, for the two main characters had such spirit and courage. I shall now have to read Kite Runner. That’s an absolute.

Happy reading,
Freda

25.7.09

New pictures of fire



The view on the left taken from my house, and the other of a helicopter carrying water to the fire.

Fire

This picture was taken by my brother-in-law Mike Lightfoot last week showing the fires in the Cabreras. Now they are raging again.

Temperatures here in Almeria are in the 40s and the wind like a blast from a hot oven. It was lightening that first started the fire last week. They started again last evening, fanned to light by the strong winds. It has travelled right around the Cortijo Grande over the Cabreras, and round Mojacar. The guardia evacuated all residents in the pueblo some time during the night, and residents spent the rest of the night sitting on the playa. La Parata, above the playa, is still burning and several houses are said to have gone, though I'm not sure from where. There are bomberos and military vehicles, earth moving equipment operated by the army to form fire breaks, plus a couple of dozen sea planes and helicopters, all working flat out. They land on the sea, scoop water up with amazing skill, then take off without losing speed despite the weight of water they’ve just taken on, before heading back into the smoke. Fortunately the pine forest is untouched but the bush, or campo, mainly sage, thyme and rosemary, is till burning. Olive and almond trees are being lost, which will take generations to regrow. Wild life destroyed: foxes, goats, donkeys, the wild Andalucian tortoise among others. The lower hills and mountains beyond are black and still smoking. We know people affected, one couple lost their car to the fire while their house was thankfully saved. All roads into Mojacar and the Cortijo Grande were closed this morning, and the smell of burning is strong in the air. Awful! I can't say we've slept much as we were keeping a close watch on the fire and the wind direction. Fortunately it seems to have died down now and the firefighters seem to have it under control now. No doubt they will continue to damp it down for days to come.
I spent much of the night thinking, should I start packing, and what should I take? I confess I'd start with my children's photos. Then the external hard drive which again has loads of photos on it, plus all my novels, of course. My livelihood. I reckon everything else could be replaced, save for all that trivia of my life which has no intrinsic value beyond pure sentiment: favourite books and trinket box, Guide badges, my grandmother's baby clogs and patchwork quilt, naff ornaments from family holidays, a coiled pot my daughter made me, my mother's recipe book, mementoes from my wedding. Then there's the more mundane stuff: money and credit cards, clothes, passport, toothbrush. If you don't have time to collect together all of your essentials and favourite stuff, which do you choose to take with you?


19.7.09

RNA Conference


On the photo from the left you can see Liz Gill, Catherine King, Joan Emery, me, Leah Fleming and Trisha Ashley.


18.7.09

First Post

This is my first blog, so here goes. I'm the author of 30 published novels, and I hope to chat about books, writing, my work in progress, and life in Spain, which is where I live for most of the year. My latest saga is House of Angels, which comes out in hardback in September 2009, paperback next Spring.

I'm a member of the Romantic Novelists Association, and I recently attended the annual conference, held this year in Penrith. The weekend began with a panel of writers in Penrith Library, which was great fun and inspired some excellent questions from the audience. Katie Fforde, our Chair, welcomed us and we settled down to a busy and entertaining weekend, the volume of chatter rising as time went on. We had some excellent speakers:Veronica Henry telling us the amusing tale of how she got thrown out of university and ended up running a night club before moving on to being a production secretary first in radio and then in TV. She ended up writing scripts, but is now a successful novelist. If she writes as well as she talks, her books will be worth reading. Anita Burgh spoke on presentation and writing a synopsis, Myra Holmes on how to write a proposal for a non-fiction book, which she presented with her customary skill, and a delightful talk by Jodi Thomas on how to break into the American romance market. There were many more, too numerous to mention. I gave a talk on how to promote yourself. I love doing library events and meeting readers.