Guest Post: How to write a novel – Freya North

Today’s guest blog is from author Freya North. She has just finished her 13th novel  – theFreya North (b) FINAL brilliant The Way Back Home – and with this fresh in her mind she answers the question for us ‘How do you write a novel?’. We have 5 copies of her new book The Way Back Home to giveaway. It’s a brilliant read -we devoured our copy in one go, leaving the children to fend for themselves for a day as we were glued to the book. To enter simply leave a comment at the end.


Freya North – How to write a novel

The three questions I’m most frequently asked are: Where do you get your ideas?  How do you write?  What would you do if you weren’t an author?

During the writing of my new novel, The Way Back Home, I posed all three questions to myself.  For a while, I had no answers.  And it was terrifying.

Freya - suffering for my art

I never believed Writer’s Block existed.  I thought it was a lame excuse by lazy authors who’d rather watch daytime television.  I had written 12 novels – not necessarily with ease – but the process had been straightforward nonetheless, regardless of what was going on in my life.  In fact, Chances, my 11th novel, was written during a time of immense personal duress, coinciding as it did with my mother’s cancer diagnosis, my split from my long-term partner and my move from town to countryside as a single parent.  But writing was my solace; it has always provided respite from all external challenges.  It has been the place, the space, where I’ve felt in control and confident.  This is what I do.  This is me at my best.  This is where I like to be.

The Way Back Home, my 13th novel, was a different experience altogether.  I knew the story – it was as if I’d seen the entire novel in a glimpse, like a film fast-forwarded from beginning to end at breakneck speed.  It was a book I so wanted to write.  It transpired I was locked out, pushed away.

Writer’s Block had hit me and it had hit me very hard.  For months on end.


Not a word.  And it made me ill.

For six months I spent every working day in front of the screen, clutching my acidic, twisted gut as I fixated on two words goading me: ‘CHAPTER ONE’.  Adrenalin coursed through my body making sleep fitful yet injecting utter exhaustion into my waking hours.  I was constantly nauseous, my head pounded each day, my temper was frayed, I looked a state and I felt desperate.

Chapter One Chapter One Chapter One.  Only 115,000 words to go.

Freya - finished novel

I did not dare tell a soul.  I felt utterly ashamed and I lied to my publishers and my agent when they asked me how the novel was progressing.

“Great! Brilliant!  Love it!” I’d say.

I felt appalled at what I considered my ineptitude, my failure.  I was letting down so many – not least my characters Oriana, Malachy and Jed.  They were trapped but I was their gaoler and I had no idea where the key was.

I took antacids for my stomach and painkillers for my headaches.  The doctor put me on high dose, slow release beta-blockers.  I had hypnosis and holistic massage.  I gave up caffeine and when that didn’t work, I took it up again.  I became worryingly introverted – for an author who spends so much time only in the company of people who don’t actually exist, that was an increasingly dangerous place for me to be.

However, throughout this entire period, what loomed large was Windward, the house in The Way Back Home – an imagined artists’ commune in the Derbyshire dales.  I could see the colour of the stone, I could smell the oil paints on the palettes in the studios, I could hear drifts of the music from the upstairs rooms.  If I really concentrated, I could listen in on faint snippets of conversations between people I so wanted to know.  I had to get there.  I knew it would be like hiking to Derbyshire from Hertfordshire where I live but blindfolded, barefoot on sharp gravel against a headwind and into driving rain.  It was going to be the journey of a lifetime and my career depended on it.  After all, what could I do if I didn’t write?  I’m a single mum and the sole provider for my two children 11 and 13 – what on earth would I do to make a living?  After 18 years in this one job, I’m ill equipped to do much else.

If I’m not an author, who am I?

Was that it?  Did I only ever have 12 books in me?

But I made it.  I battled my way there.  I dragged myself to a library in a nearby town, I sat at my laptop, dug my nails into my palms and I dug deep.  I typed a single letter.  It was “W.”  Three more until I had the first word of the novel: “When”.  Then I hauled out word after word until I had a sentence, a paragraph, a chapter.  Two. Three.  Four…  I ate badly.  I slept badly.  But regardless of how wretched I felt, I kept going.  No time for hypnosis or massage or the things that I love like riding my horse and hanging with my friends.  I didn’t dare let myself have any brain rest.  The story was starting to tumble and I had to be there to catch it.  Somehow, that novel was written.  Usually, it’s something of an anti-climax to complete a novel.  When I knew the final few sentences of The Way Back Home were imminent, I was utterly euphoric.


And then the strangest thing happened – when I read it back, there were vast tracts of the book that I had absolutely no recollection writing.  I think this, my 13th novel, came from a place deep deep inside.  My more spiritual friends said, you’ve channelled the whole thing, man.  I’m starting my 14th novel now and I’m dreading feeling those debilitating emotions again.  This time, though, I know there’s a way through.  I know I can do it.  I’ll trust that if I have even a glimpse of a novel, then I’m blessed with the ability to write it out of my system.

I heard that Gary Barlow suffered similarly with his music – that for a while, when everyone thought he was breezing along writing new material, he was actually cowering under his piano.  I bring him into my final paragraph because there is an interesting analogy here.   Throughout my career I’ve been snubbed by those critics who denounce commercial fiction as lightweight and flimsy and not worthy of review – the implication being that if it’s an enjoyable read then it can’t be well written, if it’s in price promotions and rides high in the charts and reaches a wide audience, it must have been a doddle to write.  This detracts from the commitment, preparation and honing I invest in every book I write.  I care.  I care enormously about the tiny details and the grander themes.  Most of all I’m committed to my characters, their back-stories and their own journey through the book.  Until this novel, I always felt that I had to be there for them, to assist them on their way – that I was their mentor, their enabler.  With The Way Back Home, this was not the case.  Ultimately, they were there for me, every step of that rocky road from Chapter One to The End.

Freya North’s new novel The Way Back Home is out in June.



THE WAY BACK HOMEWe have 5 copies of The Way Back Home to giveaway.

To enter simply leave a comment here on this blog post and from all comments received by midnight on 30th June we will pick out 5 lucky winners. Usual Netmums terms and conditions apply.


About The Netmums Blog

The Netmums Blog brings you a behind the scenes look at Netmums, as well as some fabulous guest bloggers and an up to date look at what's new on our Parent Bloggers Network.
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71 Responses to Guest Post: How to write a novel – Freya North

  1. heather says:

    Love your books and ‘secrets’ is one of my go to books.

  2. Clare Bryant says:

    Who is your favourite author?

  3. Jocelyn McDowall says:

    So glad to hear the professionals struggle too. Particularly agreed with the last paragraph about commercial fiction- way too much snobbery. Good luck with novel 14!

  4. Jean Suddes says:

    Such honesty, I can feel the angst but what an end too ie a completed book. I wish I could write so eloquently. Many congratulations on the book, I cannot wait to read it.

  5. Sheila says:

    Fantastic author, realistic storylines and characters. Looking forward to reading this one. Thank you for all your hard work!

  6. Sarah Cox says:

    I have read a lot of Freya’s books and it is true that to a non-writer they flow so easily and capture your imagination you feel they must have been that easy to write. Well done Freya for working through the block to bring us number 13. Looking forward to reading it x

  7. Kerry sims says:

    I love your books. It all started with cat, then I had to by pip and fen and then others too! Keep up the good work.

  8. layls88 says:

    Which has been your favourite book you’ve written?x

  9. layls88 says:

    Which has been your favourite book you’ve written?x

  10. Jane D says:

    Perhaps ‘block’ is what contributes to musicians, artists, writers etc resorting to illegal drugs to stimulate new parts of themselves.

  11. Sally says:

    Love Freya North’s books. Would love to win a copy x

  12. catherine says:

    I can’t wait to read this, I love all Freya North’s books and will read it from a different view point now I know just how hard to come by this one was. It makes me sad to think that critics still snub authors of this genre when their work brings enjoyment and a love of reading to so many people.

  13. Samantha Wheeler says:

    Wow! Have been a massive fan for a while – what a fab prize!

  14. says:

    I would love to win a copy of this book.

  15. Morag says:

    This was really interesting to read about how hard it can be to write a novel, even if you are really good at it! Love all her books and now can’t wait for this one 🙂

  16. Emma Miller says:

    I love reading but I am yet to try one of Freya’s books. Having read this honest article and the book description, this sounds like a great book and I would love to have the opportunity to win a copy.

  17. Ceri Bongard says:

    I love Freya Norths books. Cat being one of my favourites, especially with the tour starting soon I’ll be dusting off my copy in the next few days

  18. Amanda hayes says:

    I would love to give this a try, I’ve been reading who dun it’s lately and it would be great to try another genre

  19. Cerys says:

    How lucky to be so creative and earn a living from it! Look forward to reading the new book

  20. juliette says:

    So happy that Freya overcame her writer’s block and look forward to reading this. If the others are anything to go by this will be truly brilliant

  21. Cathryn says:

    I can’t wait to dig into the latest FN novel. Knowing now how much Freya has suffered to get over the finish line, I will appreciate it more. I often dream of writing books, but don’t know where to start – apart from some odd things I dream of!

  22. swatt says:

    The first book of Freya North’s I read was Sally and I loved it so much I had to read her others in quick succession. Looking forward to this one just as much.

  23. Amanda says:

    It makes the book more interesting when you know the author has had a personal struggle rather like Marian Keyes when she released her baking book following her battle with depression. Freya North always reminds me of my friend as I used to buy her the latest release for presents but sadly we have lost this tradition. I’d give it to my friend if I won a copy.

  24. I’m such a fan, I’ve always loved your books and I know the feeling of wanting to write something you, yourself would want to read. Hope you will book your again and stop by Glasgow?

  25. karenaldous says:

    Fabulous article Freya and so honest! It’s really endearing to read about the challenges you’ve gone through professionally, and personally. I’m so pleased you persevered, you’ve certainly inspired my writing and I look forward to reading ‘The Way back Home’ – Love the cover by the way x

  26. Julia says:

    What a terrifying thought: no more Freya North books. Thank you for fighting and letting your book come to the rescue! It will get a place of honour on the shelf.

  27. Helen Marie Grant says:

    Lovely interview! I read Freya’s book ‘Sally’ while studying creative writing at university 15 years ago. I would love to be reacquainted with her writing with this latest book.

  28. Sandra Street says:

    After reading this I’m so eager to read this novel. I have read & loved all of Freya’s previous books but I have a feeling this one is going to be extra special. It seems the characters in this novel have chosen Freya as their writer of choice.

  29. Laura says:

    Can’t wait to read it!

  30. debbie luckhurst says:

    i cant wait to read this, me and my mum are always buying and swapping freya norths books 🙂

  31. sara says:

    It looks a really interesting read – Freya’s is an author I had not heard of, now I cannot wait to read the book.. Thanks for the great review and insight xx

  32. Catherine Jackson says:

    This would be a perfect summer holiday read :0). Fingers crossed!

  33. Rachel Snow says:

    I love to lock myself away and read Freya North’s books. They always make me smile and take me to a different place.

  34. sharon kenny says:

    so glad you have brought out another book. I would also like to thank you for writing such wonderful books. I love reading them as a result of me reading loads my daughter who is 7 loves reading too. would to win a copy, maybe I could share it with my daughter.

  35. charlotte wilde says:

    I love Freya North books ever since I was lent one on a train back from a business trip – I was snobbish and thought I would be ‘above’ it WRONG I loved it and always look out for more!

  36. Jennie Jordan says:

    Would love to win a copy x

  37. I empathise with Freya, at the moment I am at at crossroads in my life , and feel that my creativity is stifled . However, Freya kept at it and finished the book. I personally find this inspiring and truly believe that it is when we face our most extreme challenges; real learning and growth take place. .Once we’re thrown off our habitual paths, we think all is lost, but it’s only here that the new & the good begins. – Tolstoy

  38. Louise says:

    In desperate need of a new read. Love Freya North – thanks for the great post!

  39. danielle says:

    never read any off her books but would like to begin too.

  40. Andrena Mc Cauley says:

    I would love to win a copy I have read all of your previous books.

  41. Jenni says:

    Yey! Another Freya North book is coming out! I love Freya’s books, after discovering her during a year travelling around the world – you wouldn’t believe the number of different countries in which I found another of her books!! (Mostly backpacker hostels!) She is my favourite author and really looking forward to reading this new one – not that i get as much time to read these days with my LO running around xx

  42. Andrea F says:

    This looks like tab summer holiday reading!

  43. I love Freya North’s books and will definitely be getting this to read!

  44. What a moving article. As a new author it’s comforting to know I’m not the only one fighting demons. It’s also inspiring to hear how the person who got me into writing in the first place handles writer’s block. Can’t wait to read this when I’ve finished my latest project.

  45. Very nice article.
    It’s very true, based on my experience, the author is quite right in her emotional turmoil. When going through the Writer’s Block, let it know that YOU are the one in control not IT. It needs to be emphasized that IT has no importance at all, the more you are afraid of it, the more it will rule you. You can not let it rule you, so you have to get down against it, and declare war. And not just declare it, you MUST WIN IT!
    When I, IF I ever again, go through a writer’s block, one thing that I do is change my medium of writing. For example if I’m working on my PC, I pick up my pen and journal and start off; if I’m writing with my pen, I start typing stuff on my PC. If nothing else works, I go to Twitter (yes, seriously, publicity aside =) ) , and start mingling with the various writers, orgs I have added all related to writing, books, etc. It works! Really! At least ONE of these will work guaranteed work for you.
    Best of luck to everyone against this common enemy.

  46. Sam L says:

    Would love to win a copy as I really want to get back into reading books again since I had my children.

  47. Emma R. says:

    Oh I would love to win this book! X

  48. Asha says:

    The blog is very moving and would love to discover Freya North. Please enter me in the draw and fingers crossed!

  49. catwomanga says:

    Thankyou for this. I’ve been struggling with my own writing because ‘real life gets in the way.’ I think writing is like a muscle; you have to use it or lose it. But it can come back if you work at it, as Freya explained. It helps me to give myself permission to write anything, however crazy. It can always be edited later.

  50. helend says:

    would love to win your book. i love sitting down with a cup of tea and a good book when kids are all in bed

  51. sharon dickson says:

    I’d love to write. You inspire me.

  52. tadelej says:

    Love Freya’s books. Hope I win a copy of this one!!

  53. catherine halloran says:

    love love love freya north

  54. lynne says:

    love reading and would love to add this book to my collection x

  55. Sometimes Freya we don’t know how strong and committed we can be until we are tested, and sometimes the testing and challenges are of our own making. We push ourselves harder than others would dare to push us. The mind is a powerful tool and after a challenging personal test you obviously need to channel your emotions and release another memorable book. Stay happy and good luck with the new release 🙂

  56. Elizabeth MacDonald says:

    An achievement x

  57. Emmaline Higgs says:

    I stumbled across this just when I am in need of serious distraction and this sounds like just the knid of distraction I need. Keeping everything crossed x

  58. Dannielle Starkkie says:

    Aw, lovely competition! I have all Freya Norths books – so if I don’t win I will be buying it anyway!

  59. Siân says:

    I love Freya’s books and her honesty. I have been trying to write a book for 5 years now and I really hope I find the courage to complete it. Reading Freya’s blog has inspired me 🙂

  60. Chantal says:

    Cant wait to read this..!

  61. I have only recently found your books, having been mislead that only ‘literature’ was worthy to be read. Now I’m a busy mum I am beginning to see that there is nothing wrong with popular books, they can be just as well written (or badly, depending!) as more serious tomes but always leave me with a smile on my face. I’m glad you managed to push through to get your 13th book written and best luck for the next and the one after and the one after that…

  62. Dori Starnes says:

    Thank you for sharing. As a writer at the other end–just starting out–this was something I needed to hear.

  63. Louise Benney says:

    I read at least a book a week so have read the work of many authors but freya’s books are some of my favourite especially fen, cat and dear old django. My ambition is to write a book one day so I pounce hungrily on articles like this in the hope that I can glean hints and tips and just maybe some of their incredible talent might rub off 🙂

  64. Fiona says:

    What an interesting article! I love Freya North and was always amazed at how she always said she knew her characters so well that the books wrote themselves so I’m not surprised writers block was such a shock to the system. I hope the next book goes back to writing itself!

  65. Victoria Jago says:

    So glad you got there in the end Freya. Love your books x

  66. Leanne Doyle says:

    Hi Freya! I’m so glad you got past that writers block and wrote this book. I can’t wait to get my copy x

  67. The Way Back Home sounds like a lovely story. I look forward to reading it.

  68. I love the cover, it’s intriguing and differs from your others to date. I’m interested in the idea of unusual upbringings and look forward to reading to book and finding out what the ‘incident’ is.
    Sure to be a massive hit. Congrats on getting there in the end!

  69. bluna says:

    Gob-smacked, courage honesty; black blocked place. my mother’s suicide whirs around in my head. when times got hard she just couldn’t find a way out. the pills and the whisky got her. sometimes i think they will get me too but freya you give me another example. you don’t know how grateful i am to your post. maybe you’ve just saved someone’s life.

  70. blunagalla says:

    thanks Freya. Your honesty is a life saver and an inspiration. You deserve all your success!

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