From maths flops to bestselling novelists: Freya North and Jane Green to reunite at Burgh House

Freya North

Freya North - Credit: Archant

Two old school friends are reuniting to discuss the art of writing, finds Alex Bellotti

Jane Green. Picture: Ian Warburg

Jane Green. Picture: Ian Warburg - Credit: Archant

They may be two of Britain’s bestselling authors, but on July 2, Freya North and Jane Green will be recollecting school days spent together at the back of the class, and coming bottom in maths exams.

Having met at South Hampstead Primary School, the pair have remained close since childhood, and their upcoming joint-talk at Burgh House promises to be as much about the longevity of friendship as it is about the process of writing.

North will be talking about her new novel, The Turning Point, while Green will be previewing her latest work, Summer Secrets. Although both are considered mainstream women’s writers, the former explains there’s an art to writing books accessible enough to top the British fiction charts.

“A point that I’d like to be very clear about making is that just because one might write books that are easy to read does not ever mean that they’re easy to write,” she says. “All writers of commercial fiction put in a lot of effort and skill to hone and hone and hone a book that is eminently readable.”

The Turning Point tells the story of Canadian musician Scott Emerson and British author Frankie Shaw, who meet by chance over a short weekend and make a profound connection despite living thousands of miles apart.

A fastidious researcher since her first book, 1991’s Sally, North travelled to the mountains of Canada for inspiration this time around, where she even spent time with its indigenous ‘First Nations’ people.

Most Read

“It was extraordinary,” she explains. “Canada chose me. I did ask the character [Scott] if he’d mind being Californian because I know California quite well, but he was resolutely Canadian.

“And that brings me onto the subject of how you write novels; often you’re not really the puppeteer at all, you’re more the PA to your characters. You’re at their services, so if Scott told me he was Canadian I had to believe him.”

While North left Muswell Hill to live in Hertfordshire with her two children, Green decided 15 years ago to relocate from Hampstead in a “completely impulsive” move to Connecticut, where she lives with her second husband and their families.

She admits she still misses London when back in the country and fondly remembers the days she spent working in the city as a journalist. Such memories re-emerge in Summer Secrets, when 27-year-old reporter Cat finds her partying lifestyle spiralling out of control after she discovers the identity of a father she never knew she had.

“It was just taking this fantastic trip down memory lane in my mind,” says Green. “I worked at the Express in the early ‘90s and they were really the glory days of journalism.

“They were different times; we partied, we jumped into taxis on expenses all over London. Those days are definitely gone now!”

Considering North and Green are on their 14th and 17th novels respectively, both are brutally honest about the pressures of being a modern day writer.

“Author’s advances are falling, so we’re making less money than we ever have and yet we put in the same commitment to our career and our craft,” says North. “Sometimes they sell [our books] for 99p or less, and that’s a year of your life that’s been valued at 99p.”

Green agrees: “It’s becoming harder and harder. Everyone’s attention span has reduced to almost nothing; we’re used to instant gratification and want everything yesterday.”

Nonetheless, as leading lights in their field, the pair’s Burgh House talk will surely hold the attention of any aspiring writer.

Even more so however, considering they are usually based on different continents, it will also prove a chance for two friends to catch up and perhaps even inspire an impromptu school reunion.

Will their maths teacher get an invite? “In retrospect we probably drove her to the brink of insanity,” North laughs, “but it’s just because Jane and I work in words. They saved our lives!”

Jane Green and Freya North will be talking at Burgh House on July 2 at 7pm. Tickets are available from Daunt Bookshop, 193 Haverstock Hill, or call 020 7794 4006.