Elizabeth Fremantle on creative writing courses, balancing writing with mothering, and being a writer

Birkbeck alumnus Elizabeth Fremantle has been interviewed on the (fabulous) Writer’s Hub website. Here are a few of the gems she had to share:

‘I suppose for me studying for an MA in Creative Writing was a commitment that allowed me to start to think of myself as a writer, or certainly as someone who was striving to be that.’

‘Much of writing is about dull things like discipline, solitude and cogitating on the seemingly insignificant aspects of life, and some people do seem to have a greater propensity for those things. I do not really believe that there is any great mystery to writing; I’m afraid I’m too much of a pragmatist for that and the adage that it’s 3% talent and 97% hard work (or in the case of a recent Tweet I read, 3% talent and 97% not getting distracted by the internet) is true.’

‘I suppose I could say that the writing and studying were a good balance with the exceedingly uncerebral business of caring for small children.’

‘the great thing about fiction is there are no rules, as long as you make it work.’

‘Many readers of Queen’s Gambit will know at least something about Katherine Parr’s story, even if it is only that she ‘survived,’ but the present tense is a device that makes Katherine Parr, the character, oblivious to her future. The present is after all the tense of drama and perhaps I was most influenced from reading Shakespeare and other sixteenth century dramatists. I enjoy the immediacy and energy of the present.’

‘I think it is the contradictions in people that make them complex and interesting. When someone acts out of character there is drama, and I also feel that it is exactly at the point where Katherine Parr makes her most disastrous and ill-advised decision that she becomes human and identifiable to contemporary women.’

The following advise about how to approach writing historical fiction seems appropriate to most forms of fiction, and, in particular, creative non-fiction, such as biography.

‘Writing historical fiction is an act of imagination. Start with character and build out from there; the ‘facts’ are just a framework in which your characters operate and once you have convincing characters you have the heart of your story. Look outside the obvious places for your inspiration. In order to develop my character of Katherine Parr, I researched both Amish and fundamentalist Islamic women who adhere to their belief system in a similar way to their sixteenth-century sisters, in that they believe wholeheartedly in the afterlife and also accept the lesser status of women. Don’t allow your writing to become burdened with historical detail. Just because you know that Tudor women didn’t wear underwear, for example, it should only go into the text if it’s relevant and meaningful. Don’t worry about what the ‘historians’ are going to think; you will never please them all!’

Read the rest of the interview here.