North to Norfolk
- Credit: Charlotte Murphy
Author Freya North returns to north Norfolk for her latest novel about learning to live and love. Catherine Larner reports.
It would be too much of a cliché to set the story in a cottage by the sea, says Freya North of The Turning Point, her 14th novel in a career spanning 20 years, and which has seen her known and loved for feel-good, happy-ever-after escapist reads.
This new book takes a different tack to Freya’s earlier work, reflecting the light and shade of real life, presenting tragedy as well as hope.
“My books are more emotionally challenging now, I suppose,” she says. “I couldn’t have written this book when I first started out in my 20s because I simply didn’t have the experiences of love and family and loss that I have accrued over the years.”
In this book, the central character, Frankie Shaw, is a successful children’s author and a single mum who has moved to north Norfolk - a place of happy memories - to make a fresh start.
“Everyone focuses on the coast in north Norfolk because it is so spectacular, beyond comparison with anywhere else in the world,” Freya says. “But the reality for Frankie is that she can’t afford all the lovely places she’s seen. Her house is inland, it has a weird smell of damp and she’s not keen on the clay tiles on the floor.”
Living in a village between Binham and Langham, Frankie gradually comes to appreciate all that her new home has to offer. (The reader, too, is treated to the sights, shops and pubs of Holt and Burnham, beaches at Brancaster and Holkham, and the local dialect.) A chance meeting with a Canadian musician opens up romantic possibilities as well as challenges as the couple are forced to negotiate the oceans and time zones, but Frankie learns how to live for the moment, to seize happiness where she can.
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“There is more of myself in Frankie than in any of my previous heroines,” admits Freya, a mother of two, who moved out of the city to rural Hertfordshire when her relationship ended a few years ago. “Usually I write about women I feel could be my sister or best friend, or they are characters I like to live vicariously through. But my own experiences informed Frankie.”
And Freya’s own holidays in Norfolk over the years prompted her to send her character here; writing the novel was an excuse to return. “I need to smell the place I’m writing about, and to see it through the seasons. I wanted to be here when the holidaymakers have gone and the sugar beet is in mountains. It was lovely being here for the first time on my own - not having to pacify children who want to go crabbing off the wall in Blakeney or having to fit in with other people’s plans. I could be much freer to imagine that I was Frankie.”
Research for the book also took Freya to Canada to experience the life of her other character, the musician Scott. Here she had no previous knowledge of the country and chose his home initially by looking at a road map in the library. A trip to British Columbia saw Freya trading talks to a book group in return for visiting homes and getting an insight to the town and the people. “I could never have written this novel without visiting Canada. I wouldn’t have known how important the Canadian First Nations are, and this became a key element to the book,” she says. “It was also a big step for me personally – to be so far from home and my kids, all on my own.
“When people read your books, they imagine they are written especially for them, but actually writing this book really enriched my life. I felt enormously privileged to have had the chance to write it.”
In addition to a writing a book a year, Freya also runs the Hertford Children’s Book Festival, is an ambassador for Beating Bowel Cancer, a judge for the Campaign to Protect Rural England as well as being a busy single mum.
“It is a very hectic life and sometimes I feel quite ragged but in those times I think about north Norfolk or Pemberton in British Columbia. Just the knowledge that those places are there is very soothing. I think if you write from your imagination, you can use it to your advantage!” ?
The Turning Point by Freya North is out this month, published by HarperCollins.