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Interview: Freya North talks about Little Wing

Freya North is one of the UK's bestselling writers. Her first novel, Sally, was published to great acclaim while she was still in her twenties. Her subsequent books have all been bestsellers. Her latest book, Little Wing, is the story of two families over three generations. A novel about resilience, forgiveness and the true meaning of family, about finding one's place in the world and discovering how we all belong somewhere and to someone.

Can you tell us a little about the new book?

My novel Little Wing is set partly in the late 1960s and partly in the early 2000s - and one of the major characters is the remote Isle of Harris in the Scottish Outer Hebrides. I thought about a teenager who is full of love and idealism suddenly finding herself pregnant in the 1960s and banished in disgrace to distant relatives on a remote island - and I thought what if finally, someone goes looking for her… The Isle of Harris holds the answers to many questions posed by the characters and it is out there that they learn about their own resilience, about forgiveness and what it feels to belong.

What was the hardest thing about writing Little Wing?

Well, I had to confront 5 years of writer’s block… but actually the story itself flew out of my fingertips in a matter of months during the first lockdown in March 2020.

What research was involved?

I first went to the Outer Hebrides in 2017 researching an idea for a screenplay - I travelled through the many islands that make up the archipelago but something about the Isle of Harris really spoke to me. I felt both so at ease and yet so tiny amidst all that power from the brooding mountains and wild weather and the force of the North Atlantic Ocean. That’s when I thought - what if I sent a character here…. How would they fare?

My character Dougie is a photographer as are two of my friends so I grilled them about their craft. Near to where I live is a wonderful ‘care-in-the-community’ cafe so I based the Chaffinch cafe on that. I also did a lot of research about early-onset dementia and spoke to friends who have family members similarly afflicted.

What was your routine or process when writing this book?

Well, as it was lockdown, there was bugger all else to do! Actually, I live on a farm so even during lockdown I stuck to my routine of getting up early to do the animals and muck out the stables and then, by mid-morning, I was ready to write. Writing this book brought me so much joy that I was hugely productive and energised, so each day I really looked forward to returning to the story.

If a soundtrack was made to accompany the new book, name a song or two you would include.

Well, Little Wing by Jimi Hendrix is obvious! There’s a beautiful song called Under The Waves by Peter Droge that would perfectly suit Dougie’s return to Harris and the demons he confronts there. And I think the Cinematic Orchestra’s To Build A Home should be with the closing titles as that would make the audience sob! I’d also really like to involve young Gaelic musicians - there’s a lot of talent in that field.

What did you enjoy the most about writing Little Wing?

Oh - EVERYTHING. It’s my 15th novel and the experience was just amazing. I particularly loved Florence as a character and her story set in the late 1960s. And thought the pandemic raged around me, everyday in my mind’s eye I was back on the extraordinary wild and beautiful island with sand the colour of angel wings.

What did you do to celebrate finishing this book?

Had a little cry - and then went and mucked out the horses. So glamorous!

What is the favourite book you have read so far this year and why?

My mum gave me an extraordinary book called Mrs Bridge by Evan S Connell. It was actually written in the late 1950s and is one of those stories you read with your jaw on the floor. It’s a series of vignettes about a housewife in Kansas City - and I gasped quite frequently. I’ve never read anything quite like it.

What’s next on the agenda for you?

Well, I’m finishing my next novel now - which is, I suppose, a love letter to youth and follows 3 friends through their infancy to university and beyond. Part of it is set in Manchester in the late 1980s and early 1990s when the rave scene first hit. I lived there myself during that era so it’s been fascinating to plunder my memories, look at old photos and reconnect with my friends from back then.


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