|12th April 2006, 11:20 AM||#1 (permalink)|
Join Date: Aug 2004
The Freda Warrington Interview
It is with great pleasure that I post this interview with Freda. I grouped the questions into themes to allow for overlap and avoid repetition. Freda is a most interesting character with a wealth of writing experience to share. I, for one, am delighted that she has decided to make Chronicles Network her online home for discussing her work. This interview gives a starting point, but if it raises questions about her work, then please feel free to chip in on this thread and I’m sure Freda will be only too happy to discuss her work further.
1 - I know that the interview by P Blinder on your website gives considerable detail on your family upbringing, but for the benefit of the Chronicles members, could you briefly describe your path into writing? Was it always a burning desire, or was your progression into writing as you matured something that you drifted into?
It seemed to be an instinct, in that as soon as I could write aged five, I was making up little stories. As an only child, with a lot of time to read and daydream, I started writing as automatically as other children might play football Perhaps I didn’t have enough adventure in my life, so the need to make up stories was a form of compensation! I always had a feel for the fantastical and dream-like side of the subconscious. If I read a book that excited me - for example, the Narnia books - I would want to create something of my own to carry on the magic. I’ve never grown out of that need. Once at school, when I was about twelve, our English teacher asked the class if anyone had ever tried to write a novel and I was the only person who put their hand up! I suppose I should have been proud but I felt horribly embarrassed at the time! Chiefly, I’ve always written to please myself, to create the kind of magical internal worlds that satisfy me for whatever psychological reason. However, there comes a time when you feel the need for external validation, to see if your strange personal visions can actually be shared, understood and enjoyed by other people, and then the search for a publisher begins.
2 – Your first series (Blackbird) was hardly a traditional fantasy, so if you had to list your initial major influences, who would feature in your list? Also, to your knowledge, are there any well known writers who list you as one of their major influences? To follow this to its natural conclusion, how would your list of major influences look today?
There are the obvious classics like the Narnia books and The Lord of the Rings, but when it came to actual inspiration there were a number of authors I discovered in my teens, such as Michael Moorcock, Tanith Lee, Joy Chant, Peter S Beagle, George MacDonald, early Anne McCaffrey, who really fired my imagination. While I was revising A Blackbird in Silver for Immanion Press, I realised it was pretty strange and quirky! I also loved classics such as Tess of the D’Urbervilles, WutheringHeights and Jane Eyre, with their tragic and brave heroines. Later, there were lots of non-fiction writers on paganism and related subjects, such as Starhawk. Now I enjoy various contemporary authors, both mainstream and fantasy, but I think the more you develop your own style, the less you are actually influenced by anyone.
Not sure if anyone well-known has found me inspirational – no one’s admitted it! I found a book in the library, the title of which escapes me, grouping authors who are broadly similar, in an ‘if you enjoyed so-and-so you will also enjoy these’ sort of idea, and I found my name in there, which was fun.
I think my list of influences would look quite odd. Tolkien, Moorcock, Tanith Lee, Thomas Hardy, Virginia Woolf, Sheridan le Fanu, Starhawk, the Pre-Raphaelites, the Irish rock band Horslips, Stevie Nicks, Charnwood Forest in Leicestershire… stitch that lot together!
3 – You said in the interview by P Blinder that the initial idea for the first Blackbird duo was the ending. Given that you knew the ending, how did you set about constructing a storyline to get there? Do you have a set process for formulating stories? If so, do you find that the process works equally well for different genres? Does your writing process vary when tackling short stories, or do you go through a similar thought/writing process for all of your work?
Often when I start something new I feel as if I’ve never written anything in my life before! The process gets harder, not easier. The trouble is that you’re constantly setting the bar higher each time, feeling that each book has to be better than the last, it really has to be perfect this time. And the more books you’ve already written, the more you lose the naïve enthusiasm that just allows you to get on with it. So that has to be overcome. And every book is different – I don’t write to a formula. It helps if you know how it ends, but I don’t always! I have more of a jigsaw, patchwork approach. I may have a number of events or scenes in my head that I’m really excited about, and I tend to sketch these out first. Then the hard work comes in mapping out how these events fit together, how they build on each other until they steam towards the hopefully towering conclusion.
With the Blackbird books it wasn’t that hard. Along with the ending I had a pretty clear vision of the trials the characters would have to go through, with each strange experience adding to their understanding of what was actually going on. As I say, it gets harder as you mature and attempt more complex or subtler story-lines. But to balance that, you’ve also acquired a style and the experience to know that, however difficult a journey it is, you can do it.
Short stories are very different. I’ve only written a handful. They can be fun, but in a way they are much harder than novels because they have to be so precise and tightly plotted. A really good short story is like a perfect little jewel.
When people ask for writing advice, I tell them that the important thing is just to write. It doesn’t matter how bad it is – you can always go back and improve it, but the important thing is to get something on the paper! Sometimes I find it hard to take my own advice – but when it goes well, there’s no feeling to compare.
4 – There has been considerable interest amongst the members of Chronicles about the diversity of your work. Do you feel that writing in several genres has been a positive experience? Do you feel that by dashing between fantasy, horror and historical fiction you have perhaps stunted the growth of your readership in any way? Was there any reluctance on the part of your publishers to support your work in different fields? Did your agent give support/advise for this cross genre writing? As a fellow author it is easy for me to understand the temptation of writing in multiple genres, but did the fans of your initial fantasy work appreciate your efforts in other fields?
Interestingly, the most positive and long-lasting response has been to my vampire trilogy, which I wrote after six fantasies. It’s difficult to say that I should have stuck to straight fantasy. When I wrote the earliest version of A Taste of Blood Wine in about 1982 – long before the Blackbirds even came out – my agent ummed and erred about it, saying another recently-published vampire novel hadn’t done very well. The book he was referring to was Interview with a Vampire! When I broached it again a few years later, the market had changed and I certainly don’t remember my agent or publisher trying to dissuade me from the vampire books. The first one did incredibly well, so I must have dragged some readers along with me.
It’s a really hard question to answer. You see, I don’t feel I do write in different genres – they all come from the same imaginative landscape in my head. You’ll see common themes through them all. Maybe I have lost readers because of the ‘packaging’ changing, but I would hope most readers are open-minded enough to try something slightly different by an author they enjoy. It is a perennial problem, isn’t it, whether an author must stay in the same pigeon-hole for their entire career because it’s too risky to come out. I still don’t know what I could have done differently. I certainly couldn’t have written Blackbird books for the rest of my career. I’ve written each one because I really wanted and needed to write it, and I would have found it impossibly restrictive to stay with a formula.
The big problem I’ve had is with publishers chopping and changing. Every author needs an editor who believes in them. Unfortunately, there comes a time when that editor leaves, or the list is axed, and that can leave you with new, unsympathetic staff to deal with who really aren’t interested in you or willing to spend time and money actually marketing your books. That has happened to me a few times now – it seems to happen to many authors who aren’t massive best-sellers, and let’s face it, only a few are that lucky.
The Court of the Midnight King, my venture into ‘historical’ fiction, was a one-off, born of my fascination with Richard III. I just had to write something about him, but I couldn’t tell it straight – that’s been done a hundred times, anyway – I had to put a fantastic spin on it, otherwise I couldn’t make the story work as I wanted it to! So it is really still a fantasy, based on real events but happening in a slightly skewed parallel reality. Purists may sneer, but fantasy readers should still enjoy it.
5 – I’ll be honest and say that I’m not a big horror fan, though I have read a considerable number of ‘classics’ in the genre. (James Herbert, Stephen King etc) Having met you, my initial impression of you was of a gentle soul, yet your characters are often flamboyant, aggressive and exotic in their choice of partners. I’d love to know what you feel it is that motivates you to write horror stories, and dark fantasies with such sexually charged characters. Do you have a particular preference of genre to write in now, or are you still torn between several? Do you intend to continue your vampire series, or is that now at an end?
I am a gentle soul! I can’t imagine what you’re referring to!
Well, really I don’t consider that I write horror. I don’t find vampires especially horrific, but I do find the idea of them extremely interesting and potentially erotic. They are paradoxical figures who represent things we fear, such as death, or the dead coming back to life, and things we might desire, such as immortality, power over others, or guilt-free sex. They can be used to explore all sorts of fascinating avenues of psychology. And of course the attraction of the dark predator such as Dracula or Heathcliffe is absolutely classic and timelessly popular. I’d grown annoyed with vampires in books and films always having to be pursued and destroyed, and I wanted to examine a relationship between a human, Charlotte, and a vampire, Karl, that didn’t have to end with Charlotte being rescued and Karl being staked. I’m fascinated by the idea of ‘otherness’ in the form of vampires, faeries and so on, and examining what could happen if, instead of becoming the victim, you could actually break through and get to know this mysterious creature.
I would like to continue the vampire series, and I’ve done so in a small way with a handful of short stories. Unfortunately, what you actually end up writing tends to depend on the publisher of the moment! If I found someone to reissue the vampire books I’d definitely write another.
I suppose I am a bit torn between genres. I’d like to revisit to the Blackbird world and my Blood Wine world, but I’ve got something entirely new going on now, plus another idea tangling with my thoughts. Whatever I write will always be fantastical in one way or another, and it will always have themes familiar to my readers, and it will always have my favourite dark and sexy characters!
6 –Despite the strange races involved in the Jewelfire Trilogy, it felt a far more traditional fantasy than Blackbird, but your use of modern language (particularly the swear words) stood out as different. Some of the phrases you used would not have felt out of place in a gritty modern New York Crime film. Why the mix? Do you seek to shock, or is this simply part of the dark side of Freda manifesting? What was the inspiration for the Zampherai and the Bhadradomen? The Aelyr feel almost elven from the first book, but these other races don’t really remind me of anything I’ve read about before.
When I first went to Earthlight, the Jewelfire Trilogy was my attempt to go a bit more commercially mainstream, but of course I still had to get my own ideas and visions in ‘under the wire’ as it were. New York crime film, I don’t remember it being that strong! No, I don’t seek to shock because I think it’s incredibly hard to shock anyone these days without being absolutely gross. It’s pretty common to find ‘strong language’ in contemporary fantasy and I prefer a more naturalistic style, especially when it helps to shape certain characters. However I do believe certain words should be used sparingly, like a hot spice!
Yes, the Aelyr are sort of elven and again express my fascination with the idea of ‘otherness’ – beings such as angels, vampires, elves, gods – who appear human but are different. As for the other races, I’m not sure where they came from – I think I was subconsciously echoing traditional fantasy themes, but consciously putting a different spin on them. Hence the Zampherai being small and subterranean, but looking and behaving nothing like traditional dwarves. The Bhahdradomen evolved as being an incredibly creepy master race – inspiring uncontrollable fear in humans, yet apparently innocuous and sheep-like, which makes them dangerously malleable in the hands of a fanatical leader. Despite my attempts to make them utterly evil, I grew rather fond of them in the end!
The Amber Citadel was shortlisted for a British Fantasy Society award, which was great. And I had planned a new series set in that world, but alas, the Earthlight list was axed so that was the end of it. However, the three books are still in print so there’s no excuse not to read them!
7 – Of all of the books you’ve written, if you were only able to recommend one book, or series, for the readers at Chronicles to try, which would you put forward and why?
If you like pure fantasy, I would say The Amber Citadel.
8 – Finally for now, how do you foresee your writing career progressing in the next five years? Have you any specific goals, or are you simply following your creative muse to see where it will lead you? Is there a particular story you would love to tackle? What projects do you have lined up?
The demise of Earthlight has given me a chance to rethink my direction. My agent is in negotiations with a new publisher, but while that’s rumbling on I have been rediscovering the pleasure of writing for its own sake. At the moment I’m working on a contemporary fantasy called All About Elfland. That’s to say, a fantasy set in the present-day real world, or at least, a version of it. Friends who have read it say it’s like nothing they have read before! Which could be a plus or a minus, I’m not sure!
In a way, All About Elfland is pulling together my other worlds and showing that, although they appear to be set in different genres, they are sitting along the same imaginative spiral which can generate unlimited stories. Pursuing my interest in ‘otherness’, the main characters are faery-folk living in the human world – really, they are a different branch of the Aelyr from the Jewelfire Trilogy. They can move into other realms, including the Crystal Ring which is a feature of my vampire books. At some stage, a character will pop up from my Richard III novel, The Court of the Midnight King. Little connections like that.
I’ve got more novels planned in the same universe, but they will be entirely stand-alone books, not sequels, even though a few characters may reappear. I don’t want to say too much about it, but it’s about two Aelyr families living in a human community, and their interactions, and a young girl growing up, and people making horrible mistakes and sleeping with the wrong people – my characters always do that! – and the ramifications of a powerful man slowly going mad… yes, it’s about a lot of things in fact, so don’t expect a traditional quest fantasy at all. That being said, there is a little quest in the middle! I’m having fun with it, anyway. I can only write when I feel passionate about an idea.
Having just read The Amber Citadel, I can see why Freda recommends it as a choice for lovers of pure fantasy to try. I have recently written a review of this, the first in The Jewelfire Trilogy, here:
I thoroughly enjoyed it and I hope that this interview will entice many others here to try her work – there is certainly plenty to choose from.
|12th April 2006, 11:52 AM||#2 (permalink)|
Join Date: Mar 2005
Location: Australia, Victoria
Re: The Freda Warrington Interview
Thanks for posting this Mark, I enjoyed reading Fera's thoughts on writing, especially her comments on Q3. which was part my query.....
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