As we do on Fridays, when we have an interview, we take a break from the Regency Personality series. It shall of course return. As early as tomorrow.
Today we are fortunate to have with us novelist Anna Belfrage and are looking forward to hearing more about her historical novels set in the 17th century.
What moved you to become an author?
When you read as much as I do – and have done from a very young age – I think it’s a natural progression to start thinking about writing a book, you know be in CONTROL of the whole story. Plus, I can’t remember a day in my life when my head hasn’t been buzzing with one story or the other. Committing all this buzzing to paper has been a good way of ensuring my brain didn’t collapse under all that frenzied activity.
Tell us about your current novel.
I have just released The Prodigal Son , which is the third book in The Graham Saga. Set in 17th century Lowland Scotland, it has as its main theme the religious conflicts in Scotland post-Restoration. Now that may sound a bit…err… boring, but I can assure you the religious rebels were daring individuals who led quite an exciting life, hunted over the moors by the English dragoons. My male lead is a devout member of the Scottish Kirk who has no intention of bending knee to the authority of the Church of England – no matter what it costs him. His unstinting devotion to his faith and his ministers causes serious discord in his relationship with his dearly loved wife and unfortunately it will cost him – a lot. At some point Matthew Graham will start wondering if maybe the price is too high, but by then it is too late. As Calvin once said, “Build a man a fire and he will be warm for one day. Set a man on fire and he will be warm for the rest of his life.” Dangerous things, convictions; they can cause countries to explode!
How did the story begin to develop in your mind?
I am very interested in the religious conflicts that were the hallmark of the 17th century. I find it fascinating that people would ride to war over what, to me, seem as very small differences in interpretation of the Bible. Of course, the main bone of contention was never the Bible, it was the control over the Church; was this a royal prerogative? A papal right? Or, as the Scottish Kirk believed, was the kirk an independent body that should be governed by its elders, encouraging its members to commune directly with God?
I also enjoyed working the religious conflict into the Matthew/Alex love story. For those as yet unfamiliar with my work, Matthew Graham is a 17th century man, but Alex, his wife, is a modern woman who had the misfortune (hmm. Not entirely sure I agree) to be yanked out of context and propelled three centuries backwards in time. To Alex, all this religious conflict is borderline ridiculous – and far too dangerous, placing her man and her family in grave risk of losing everything they have, including their lives. To Matthew, his faith is an integral part of who he is, and he is frustrated by his inability to make Alex see just how important these issues are.
What did you find most challenging about this book?
One of the central characters in the book, Alexander Peden, actually existed. He was one of those inflammatory ministers who urged his flock never, ever to kowtow to the Anglican Church or to the sorry excuse for a Scotsman who sat on the throne and claimed to be head of the church. When including a real person in a book you have to do quite the balancing act between fictional requirements and facts. Of course I don’t think my Sandy fully reflects Alexander Peden. But I hope I have created a character close enough to the real thing for Alexander to smile and nod. I wouldn’t want to get on the wrong side of Prophet Peden!
How did you choose your publishing method?
I have sent out query letters – of course I have. But I am somewhat impatient and also quite the control freak which makes self-publishing a very attractive option. And now that I’m doing it, I’m really enjoying it – even if at times it’s a lot of work. Anyway; I decided I wanted an overall professional look to my books which is why I have used a publishing company rather than to do it all myself.
Tell us a little about yourself?
Swedish, mother of four, financial professional – which, BTW, comes in quite handy when self-publishing. I’m very good at doing product cost and return on investment calculations. Something of a history addict, with my original preference being for the middle ages, anything between 1100 and 1500. However, over the years I’ve sort of gotten stuck in the 17th century, this due to a couple of splendid biographies (Lady Fraser’s Charles II is a favorite) plus a developing fascination for all the religious wars that dominated the 17th century – throughout Europe.
What is your next work, and beyond that, what do you want to work on.
My next work will be the coming books in The Graham Saga. The writing is done, all to the final “The End”, so now it is editing and editing and editing some more. (DWW-I know how that goes.)
To reenergize myself after all this editing I am also working on a novel set in Sweden, England and … hmm, as yet undecided … during the reign of Queen Christina. It is something of a picaresque, with a heroine who has to run for her life after nicking one very impoverished nobleman’s family jewels (real jewels). She is helped by a disillusioned former royalist with a limp and a gigantic grudge vis-à-vis his family back in England, and then there’s charming Ned the Quill, a scribe/spy/assassin/anything you might need.
In the current work, is there an excerpt to share?
I rather like the below, as it highlights the inherent conflict between Alex and Sandy. (My favorite scene would be something of a spoiler)
“What’s he doing here?” Alex said a few days later, her eyes shooting darts into the back of Sandy Peden, who disappeared into the house.
“Joan asked for him, so I went and found him.”
“Joan? Why would she want to see him?”
“Mayhap because he’s a man of God?” He wiped a hand over his face. His sister’s apathy had him worried, and if Sandy could rouse her out of it, he’d be eternally grateful. “She blames herself; one bairn, and a lass at that.”
Alex muttered something about living in a man’s world, eyes still stuck on the door.
“He’s not staying.”
“Nay, of course not,” Matthew hastened to say. “He knows that.”
Alex tightened her shawl around her shoulders, turning to sweep their yard, the lane, the surrounding slopes with her eyes.
“Alex,” he sighed, “I’m no fool. I have Gavin sitting at the top of the lane.”
Sandy sat for hours with Joan and when he came out of her room so did she, gripping the minister’s arm as she made her way down the stairs.
“Well done,” Alex said, ushering Sandy in the direction of the kitchen. “It sort of brings to mind the tale of Lazarus.”
Matthew choked on a gust of laughter.
“She wasn’t dead,” Sandy corrected, accepting the food she put in front of him.
“Minor difference, she’s been staring at the wall for days on end – more dead than alive.”
“I heard that,” Joan said with a touch of asperity.
“A miracle, a miracle,” Alex muttered. “Look, she moves, she talks, she even hears.”
Matthew threw her a reproving look, but Alex just snorted and disappeared in the direction of the parlour, where a succession of loud noises indicated wee Rachel was doing something she shouldn’t.
Matthew lifted Jacob to sit in his lap and smiled at his sister. “It is good to see you up.”
“Aye, well, ‘tis good to be up.” She didn’t sound convinced, but smiled when Sarah placed Lucy in her arms. “Will you christen her?” she asked Sandy, handing him the wean.
“He’s not allowed to,” Alex voice cut in. “He’s been formally ejected, and mustn’t perform any sacraments.” She entered the kitchen, frowning at all three of them.
“He’s a minister of my Kirk, and I’ll much rather hide out in the moss to hear Minister Peden preach than go to Cumnock and hear a mealy mouthed representative of the Church of England offer us salvation if we just recognize the authority of the king over the church.” Joan sounded more animated than she’d done for weeks, with two spots of bright red on her cheeks.
“He baptized Jacob,” Matthew said, stroking back the thick, fair hair of his son.
“That was two years ago,” Alex said. “Before it began to get really nasty.”
Sandy smiled down at the child in his arms. “I’ll be glad to baptize the wean,” he said, “and if you want we can do it now.” He threw a challenging look in the direction of Alex, who opened her mouth to say something but clearly thought better of it. Instead she lifted Jacob out of Matthew’s lap and left the room.
“She fears for them, and for me,” Matthew tried to explain, watching Alex cross the yard with all their children and Ian in tow.
“Aye well,” Sandy said, “she’s but a woman – weak of body and of mind.”
Matthew met Joan’s eyes, suppressing a smile at this description of Alex.
Who do you think influenced your writing, this work, and who do you think you write like.
I’m not sure I want to write like anyone, but of course I have been heavily influenced by such literary heroes as Sharon Penman, Diana Gabaldon, Barbara Erskine and Elizabeth Chadwick. Not that I aspire to be compared to them… As to who influenced my writing, it all goes back to a fervent hope while young that one day I would be able to time travel – for real. The outline of the Graham Saga (young woman is yanked backwards in time, finds her intended mate & a whole set of adventures in this new existence of hers) has been with me for decades – I think I still have the notebook where I have the first tentative scenes – all of them scrapped since then.
Who do you read? What are the things that a reader can identify with that you have grounded yourself in.
I read a LOT. All genres, all types of authors, in three languages. When I need to relax it is often crime, as my favorite genre, Historical Fiction, nowadays suffers from the fact that I start making notes to self in the margins – mostly when I see something that I should learn from. Despite this, I’d say 65% of what I read is HF, and as a reader I want a book that is based on solid historical fact, contains action and adventure and a love angle. I like love angles – wait; I love love angles. As I get very irritated with authors who leave me with cliffhanger endings, I always try to ensure my books do have an end, some sort of conclusion on this particular set of adventures, before I move on to the next.
When writing, what is your routine?
First I just spout. I let myself go amok as I get the story down. Then I set it aside for some time, but I think a lot, writing little notes as to where I think the story needs to be revised. I do those revisions, print the whole thing out and start to cut. I’d say that for every final word I’ve excised two. And then comes the editing….
Do you think of yourself as an artist, or as a craftsman, a blend of both?
I actually think writing is a craft, but storytelling is an art. So I guess this means being an author of novels per definition requires a bit of both.
Where should we look for your work?
The Prodigal Son
He risks everything for his faith – but will he be able to pay the price? Safely returned from an involuntary stay on a plantation in Virginia, Matthew Graham finds the Scottish Lowlands torn asunder by religious strife. His Restored Majesty, Charles II, requires all his subjects to swear fealty to him and the Church of England, riding roughshod over any opposition.
In Ayrshire, people close ranks around their evicted Presbyterian ministers. But disobedience comes at a heavy price and Alex becomes increasingly more nervous as to what her Matthew is risking by his support of the clandestine ministers – foremost amongst them the charismatic Sandy Peden. Privately, Alex considers Sandy an enervating fanatic and all this religious fervour is totally incomprehensible to her. So when Matthew repeatedly sets his faith and ministers before his own safety he puts their marriage under severe strain.
The situation is further complicated by the presence of Ian, the son Matthew was cruelly duped into disowning several years ago. Now Matthew wants Ian back and Alex isn’t entirely sure this is a good thing. Things are brought to a head when Matthew places all their lives in the balance to save his dear preacher from the dragoons. How much is Matthew willing to risk? How much will he ultimately lose?
The Prodigal Son is the third in Anna Belfrage’s historical time slip series,
which includes the titles The Rip in the Veil
and Like Chaff in the Wind .
This is available on: Amazon and Amazon.UK
For information regarding the previous books in The Graham Saga please visit her website! http://www.annabelfrage.com
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