Author interview with Freda Warrington
Hi Freda, welcome over at The Book Plank and for taking your time to answer these few questions for us.
BP: First off could you give us a short introduction as to who Freda Warrington is? What are you hobbies, likes and dislikes?
FW: Hello! Where to start – well, I was born in the middle of England and I still live there; it’s home, and I love the countryside which has been very inspirational to my writing. I was an only child who preferred books to the rough and tumble of other children, and I still tend to be shy and hermit-like. English was my best subject at school, but I feared that if I studied the subject at university, it might deter me from writing for life. So I chose an artistic, practical skill instead, and worked in graphic design for a number of years before becoming a full-time writer. (Graphics is incredibly helpful in understanding book layout, fonts, cover design and so on. However, we did everything by hand in those days, so I’m trying to bring my design software knowledge up to speed). I’ve also done a handful of strange part-time jobs. I even worked in a timber yard (aka, lumber yard) for a while – no one ever believes me, but it’s true! Anyway, although science fascinates me, I lean towards the creative side of things and I also enjoy crafts such as Tiffany-style stained glass, jewellery, needlepoint and so on. I even know how to make a traditional teddy bear! My husband Mike – whom I met through SF/ fantasy conventions – loves to travel, and we’ve been to some amazing places, which is very handy for creating book settings. I can’t claim any adventurous activities – no sky-diving for me, and the closest I get to a martial art is Tai Chi – but I like yoga, swimming and walking. The latter is great for pondering ideas.
What do I dislike? Do you have all day *grin*? Rudeness. Gender inequality – it’s still a massive problem all over the world, and it’s like trying to run up a down escalator, just to hold onto the progress women have made. People dying too young – we’ve lost too many friends recently, only in their 50s or 60s. Internet rage – I swear people use a different part of their brains on the net, because you see a degree of nastiness that most of us would never use in real life. It’s as if they have no brakes. I’ve seen stuff on social media so breathtakingly aggressive and malicious, I’ve been close to quitting the online world altogether. It’s scary.
BP: You have been writing for a long time already. Do you know when and where you first decided to write your story?
FW: Almost as soon as I could hold a pencil and form words, I started writing little stories. My dad used to make up bedtime fairy tales for me, and he encouraged me to read very early, so I must have got it from him. If a book particularly inspired me, I would want to create a made-up world of my own in order to carry on the magic. Animal stories and pony stories when I was younger, gradually moving on to fantasy in my teens – writing down my daydreams, in effect. I never really grew out of it! I’ve read that many writers are inspired to emulate their favourite authors, gradually developing their own voice and skills as they go. That’s pretty much how it happened for me. I’m still learning all the time, which is a good thing. As for the most recent novel, The Dark Arts of Blood – that goes back a long way, as explained below…
BP: The Blood Wine series was originally published back in the 90’s what first inspired you to write the series?
FW: A combination of factors that coalesced over many years. I’ve long been fascinated by vampires. My mum let me stay up to watch the Hammer Horror films starring Christopher Lee as Dracula when I was very young, so that was the start! I didn’t find the films frightening, but I was very taken with his portrayal of this fascinating, powerful, charismatic character. It began to drive me nuts that, in every film and book, the vampire was always a monster to be staked. I wanted something different. I loved the story Carmilla by J S LeFanu, in which the vampire Carmilla seems to be such a passionate, vulnerable, human character – I recall writing a story with a female vampire in my early teens, although it lay unfinished. I loved the 1979 film Dracula with Frank Langella, a Dracula who was unashamedly alluring and desirable. Then came the ground-breaking Interview with the Vampire by Anne Rice – unknown when I bought my copy in the late 70s – and I was spellbound by reading Louis’ rich, detailed of account of what it was like actually to be a vampire. For once, the vampire did not get staked! However, Ms Rice still presented an impenetrable barrier between vampire and human. That was part of Louis’ tragedy, of course. But I wanted more – I wanted to explore how it would be if a human being could break through the barrier and come to know such a mysterious, dangerous, alien creature, not as predator and prey, but as equals. I knew I had to write something. My characters – Charlotte and Karl – began to take on life in my imagination.
Now this was in the early eighties, and I initially began to write the book as an escape from a particularly difficult time in my life. That early draft was very different, more of an historical romance set in the 18th century! Some years later, after my first few novels had been published, I presented the idea to my agent, who told me, “Vampires are over.” I have heard that “vampires are over” countless times over the years, yet still they keep rising from the grave! Anyway, I completely rewrote A Taste of Blood Wine and changed the setting to the 1920s, a period of glamour and change that brought a vivid new dimension to the story. Pan Macmillan published it in 1992.
I thought one novel would be it. But then a face appeared in my mind’s eye: a woman with snowy skin, violet eyes, black hair. I knew her name was Violette and that she was a ballerina, but also that she had some mysterious connection to the goddess Lilith. From that one image sprang two more big novels, A Dance in Blood Velvet and The Dark Blood of Poppies. I came up with an outline for a fourth – it was always called The Dark Arts of Blood – but at that time, my editor had left and they decided to cull much of their fantasy list. So I moved onto other publishers and other novels, while the outline gathered dust.
BP: Titan Books has been reissuing the series over the last years, what went through you when you heard that they were interested in reissuing the books?
FW: A big whoop of joy! I love those books – you know how authors get completely immersed in their characters? They’re still my favourites of everything I’ve written. I’d been getting emails from readers who’d read the first one, but couldn’t find the second and third. This went on for years. I helped them as best I could, until my own spare copies ran out. So I knew there was a demand for the books. My agent and I tried for years to get them back in print – publishers would show interest, dangle us for a few months, then decide against it. I don’t know their reasons, but it was incredibly frustrating – especially when the “new wave” of vampire novels crashed upon the market with Twilight and many others. I concluded the problem was that my novels weren’t set in an American High School!
Anyway, I knew the books deserved to be out there. Publishing technology had advanced drastically by then, so I decided it was time to re-publish them myself. And no sooner had I decided than Titan made their offer! I’ve been thrilled with the reissues. I was able to edit the text (curtailing my tendency to waffle), and the covers are beautiful. Best of all, they commissioned me to write the fourth book at last. I dusted off the outline, completely reworked it. The writing took about eighteen months, and here it is!
BP: The fourth book, The Dark Art of Blood, is out this June if you would have to sell the book with a single sentence how would it go?
FW: If you love the glamour and decadence of the 1920s... If you prefer your vampires passionate, grown-up, and not afraid to be vampires... The Dark Arts of Blood offers sumptuous landscapes, silent movies, blood-lust, political intrigue and mystery.
BP: There is almost nineteen years between the first book and the fourth book, was it difficult to pick up the story once again?
FW: Yes and no. The first was a romance, albeit with a lot of complications, and it just sort of poured out onto the paper. But I couldn’t do that with the fourth, so the story took a lot more planning. Also, it’s difficult to write in a rush of white-hot youthful enthusiasm when you’re older – you think and question everything more. You want to be true to the characters without repeating yourself. On the other hand, I had re-edited all three books, so I was immersed in my Blood Wine world again. And I’ve written a handful of stories over the years, so I’m always dipping in and out, and it feels like second nature to be with my vampire characters again.
BP: What has been the biggest challenge you have faced when during the writing of the Blood Wine series?
FW: I’ve written various different types of fantasy, and every book has its own challenges. I suppose the first one, A Taste of Blood Wine, was fairly easy because it came straight from my heart, although there are some twists and turns in it that I’ve no idea how I thought up! The challenge really is to keep the central concept – what does it mean to be a vampire? – fresh. I mean, good heavens, there are thousands of vampire novels out there now. When I first started, there weren’t many at all. The girl-meets-vampire trope was actually fairly original at the time, believe it or not! So to keep my vampires involved in interesting stories that also add new layers to who and what they are – that is the challenge.
BP: Did you encounter any specific problems during your writing?
FW: I think the longer you work as an author, the harder it gets. You’re under pressure not to keep repeating the same ideas. You’re trying to strike a balance between what you passionately want to write, and what the market seems to want. That can cause a lot of inner conflict, which can lead to confidence wobbles and the dreaded “writer’s block” – a blanket term for all manner of difficulties that impede your writing. You find yourself constantly questioning what you’re doing, trying to write with an invisible critic staring over your shoulder, and that’s impossible. Sometimes I have to battle with myself and just plunge in, write whatever needs to come out, and then worry later about shaping it into a coherent narrative.
BP: Besides the problems and difficulties, which chapter, scene or character did you enjoy writing about the most?
FW: Oh, I liked everything – if I’m hating a particular part of the story, or a character, that signals that something’s not working and I need to rethink it, remove it, try a different approach. But I always enjoy writing about Karl, my male lead. I hesitate to say hero, because he’s not a “good” vampire as such – he has his own moral code, and he has good intentions, but he’s not afraid to be ruthless when necessary. Goes without saying, he’s devastatingly gorgeous. Charlotte has to dig down a long way through his calm, enigmatic surface, through the dark, sinister blood-drinking side of him, to the human aspects and vulnerability beneath. So to me he’s an incredibly attractive, many-layered character and I love him for that. I think he still has secrets to come out.
BP: The Dark Arts of Blood is your fourth book in the series, have you already mapped out how many volumes the series will run?
FW: Ha. That’s a very good question. Not at all – each book so far is self-contained, although the story runs on from the previous novel, of course. The series is open-ended… I already have some ideas for a fifth… and I can’t keep them in the 1920s forever, as perfect as that period is. Thing is with my vampires, they’ve offered me enormous scope for exploring all aspects of sexuality, love, friendship, psychology, religious belief, mythology, politics, you name it – there’s unlimited potential. I’ve already written a number of short stories set in their world, including a couple set in the present day (I hope to produce a collection eventually. You can find a list, and lots more information on my website, www.fredawarrington.com). I could move backwards and forwards in time – for example, a novel about Karl and Charlotte set in the 1920s in the eighteen-month gap between the first and second books. What did they get up to? More about Karl in the nineteenth century, before he even met Charlotte. So many possibilities. I don’t know yet, but I feel these characters will be with me for the rest of my writing life, and that’s the way it should be.
BP: Next to the Blood Wine series, do you have any other projects that you wish to pursue in the near future?
FW: Lots to do! Once Dark Arts went to press earlier this year, I wrote two short stories I’d promised to editors. (One of them is a Dark Arts spin off – Pierre and Ilona go off to Russia at the start of the novel and we don’t see them again, so the story is about what they get up to there. The other is a horror story in a new anthology, Nice Day for a Picnic, ed. Alex Davis). I also indie-re-issued my 2003 novel about Richard III, The Court of the Midnight King, to commemorate all the Ricardian events this year. It’s on Kindle, or available as a paperback from Feedaread.com. Now I’m working on a new fantasy novel but I daren’t say any more as it’s far too early. I also have an ongoing project to get my out-of-print titles onto Kindle this year. And more book ideas… all I need is elastic time and lots of energy!
BP: Everyone enjoys fantasy in his or her own way. What do you like most about reading and writing fantasy?
FW: It’s C S Lewis’s fault – the Narnia books made me fall in love with the idea of walking through the back of a wardrobe into another world! It’s that daydream again, of meeting elves and gods and ghosts, heroes and dark lords, walking into a dream landscape that you feel might be just a breath away from reality. As for writing – you can make things happen, you can create sweeping epic scenarios, you can examine real-world issues in a way that is not so easy in mainstream fiction because you have more freedom of invention, access to allegory. You can ask, “What if…?”
BP: If you would have to give your top 5 favourite books, which would they be?
FW: I’m never ready for this question because my list changes all the time! Tess of the D’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy. The Lord of the Rings by J R R Tolkien. The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury. A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula LeGuin. Blood 20 by Tanith Lee (a new collection of her vampire stories). This is really impossible – ask again tomorrow, I’ll give you a different five because, “Oh, I forgot about such and such!”
BP: And just lastly, can you tell us a bit more of what might be in store for the readers of The Dark Art of Blood and a possible teaser of what’s might to come?
FW: Lust, guilty secrets, silent movies, unrequited love, the Swiss Alps and the Algerian desert, Mussolini, the rise of 1920s nationalist politics, occult rituals, ghosts and sinister Alpine folklore… and not least, vampires of course! I hope an extract from the cover blurb will fit the bill:
Charlotte and Karl fall into danger as the sinister activist Godric Reiniger begins his rise to power. Meanwhile, fiery dancer Emil achieves his dream to partner legendary ballerina Violette Lenoir - until his forbidden desire for her becomes an obsession. Rejected, spiralling towards madness, he seeks solace with a mysterious beauty, Fadiya. But she too is a vampire, with a hidden agenda…
BP: Thank you for your time Freda and good luck with your future writing!
FW: Thank you, it was a pleasure!