We caught up with the very talented Elizabeth Fremantle to ask a few questions about her career as an author, her inspiration and motivation behind her writing, and her latest book The Honey and the Sting.
Have you always wanted to be a writer?
Yes – it was my dream ever since I can remember. I was always a book worm even as a small child. Books were my place of safety and I always had the dream of creating imaginary worlds for other people to get lost in. It took me a long time and a great deal of rejection to achieve my dream but it was all worth it.
Tell us a little bit about your latest book The Honey and the Sting…
It is part gothic revenge thriller and part mystery. Set in 1628 it tells of three sisters, outsiders, who are forced into hiding, and also the man sent to hunt them down. Focusing on the corrupting effects of power and the treachery of secrets, it works as a kind of fantasy of female agency at a time when women had almost no control over their own lives.
Where do you find inspiration?
I’m inspired by different things at different times. It’s usually stories from history, and particularly those that have been overlooked, that give me the initial spark for a novel. When I’m researching I tend to visit houses from the period and, if they still exist, houses that were lived in by the people I’m writing about. Architecture, getting a sense of the shape of an interior, a view from a window, a sweep of stairs, a portrait on a wall, always helps me to imagine the lives I am writing about. In The Honey and the Sting the house buried in the forest is almost a character in its own right and it is a kind of montage of several other houses I have visited over the years. I also take a good deal of inspiration from the natural world, animals, birds, plants, the seasons; the interplay of nature with my characters is important in my writing.
What are your top tips for focusing when writing?
I am not someone who can sit in a café and write. I need to be at my desk with all my research books around me, my dogs asleep nearby and no music. I write to a minimum word-count per day, so I force myself to continue until I have achieved that, even if it means I am still at the keyboard at ten at night.
What are your favourite three books?
That is an impossible question to answer as I have so many and it depends on my mood but three of my perennial favourites are Henry James’s Portrait of a lady; people have the idea that James is difficult but he’s not, he’s actually a wonderfully absorbing writer. Stephan Zweig’s Beware of Pity is, in my mind, an overlooked masterpiece, and Sarah Waters’ Fingersmith is a book I wish I’d written – such clever stuff, yet Waters makes it seem so easy.
Do you have any advice for any aspiring authors?
My advice is to read as much as you can in all genres. That is the best way to understand how fiction works. And write every day – create a discipline. I’m afraid it sounds horribly boring but writing requires 90% discipline and 10% talent, so forget crazy drinking binges a la Hemmingway and sit at that desk.
What is the highlight of your writing career so far?
Each book being published is an incredible high but it was when my agent rang me to tell me a publisher had made an offer on Queen’s Gambit (the first of my novels to be published). I had had three novels rejected everywhere and was losing hope and had been trying to get my work into print for a very long time. I was out walking my dogs and she said: ‘Are you sitting down?’ I burst into tears when she told me – tears of relief mostly, that I hadn’t wasted two decades of my life pursuing an impossible dream but joy too – great joy.
What is your home like? Do you have a specific set up that you find more motivating for work?
I live in a flat in a quiet leafy part of London, where I’m lucky enough to have a study all to myself with a squishy sofa for reading – and occasionally falling asleep in the afternoon if I’ve had a very early start. I bought the flat because of the light – it is on an upper floor, has large windows on three sides and glass doors opening onto a balcony which is crowded with pot plants and bird feeders. I’m a real home bod and love being able to work where I live.
If you could invite three people to dinner, past or present, who would you invite?
I’ve been asked this before and find it very difficult to answer but I think I’d like to have dinner with Artemisia Gentileschi the Roman Baroque artist, a true pioneer, who I’m writing a novel about at the moment, Lucille Ball would be hilarious and Ru Paul would be a lot of fun too.
You can follow Elizabeth on Instagram: @ecfremantle
Or on Twitter: @lizfremantle
Are you an aspiring author or love EC Freemantle's novels? We'd love to hear about your inspiration or where you like to sit and read at home. Let us know below in the comments.