Monday, February 22, 2010

Choosing a theme

Catherine Cookson’s favourite themes were illegitimacy, upstarts and snobbery, rejection, love and hate, religion and superstition, mixed marriages and prejudice, purity and truth, the way people look at others, alienation and aloneness, education and trying to better yourself.

Today’s writers have expanded these themes to include any human condition you care to mention. E.g: Domestic violence. Rights of women. Murder. Gambling. Prostitution. Unemployment. Betrayal. You name it. The theme must be a strong one, a serious social issue or situation, life-changing, and characteristic of the period. For some reason, people seem better able to deal with these issues set back in the past. The distance creates a sense of security and nostalgia, from which they can consider the problems more safely.

In my own books I have used divorce (That’ll be the Day); discovering a lost identity (Fools Fall in Love) a mother’s sacrifice (The Girl from Poorhouse Lane); and overcoming the effects of a brutal father (House of Angels), to name but a few of the more recent ones. How much we, as writers, draw on our own experiences to write about these issues is a matter of personal choice. Catherine Cookson’s themes came out of the experiences of her own life and were written about with passion and conviction. Personal details can be changed, twisted, turned upside down and altered beyond recognition, but we, as writers, are always asking ourselves - What If?

My new book, coming out in April, isn't a saga but a novel set in 16th France. Hostage Queen .

The theme for this story must be the terrible consequences when you try to manipulate someone else's life.

Marguerite de Valois is the most beautiful woman in the French Court, and the subject of great scandal and intrigue. Her own brothers: the mad Charles IX and the bisexual Henri III, will stop at nothing to control her. Margot loves Henri of Guise but is married off to the Huguenot Henry of Navarre. By this means her mother Catherine de Medici hopes to bring peace to the realm.

But within days of the wedding the streets of Paris are awash with blood in the Massacre of Saint Bartholomew. Not only is her new husband’s life in danger, but her own too as her mother and brother hold them hostage in the Louvre. Can they ever hope to escape and keep their heads? In a court rife with murder, political intrigue, debauchery, jealousy and the hunger for power, it will not be an easy task.

Best wishes,
Freda Lightfoot

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