Today, I have an excellent exclusive interview with Anna Belfrage, author of The Graham Saga series, the newest release being book three, called The Prodigal Son. Make sure to sign-up for the giveaway for a copy of the book, following the interview. Enjoy my discussion with Anna, she’s so insightful and humorous! You’ll love it!
Hi Anna! So happy to have you on Oh, for the Hook of a Book today for an interview! You’re an absolute delight and I bet readers are going to have as good a time reading our interview as I will have hosting it. How are things? You’ve been so busy producing your book series, have you had time for anything else?
Anna: Hi Erin, I’m so thrilled to be here – I feel quite honoured to have the opportunity to chat with you like this. As to how things are, well it’s all a bit hectic – but fun hectic. However, if you ask my family they might grumble, along the lines that their mother & wife spends too much time in front of her computer, too little in the kitchen.
Erin: Ah, well let’s relax and have a tea party then, shall we? What’s your choice of tea (Anna replies that she likes black tea, no milk) and I’ll make up a pot. Let’s splurge and eat something yummy while we’re at it too! Let’s get our discussion started!
Q: When were you first inspired to write? Given your day job, how did you decide it was time to let your creative side out for all of us to enjoy?
A: I was first inspired to write when as I child I read a book (by Henry Treece I think) where the ending was not to my liking. I’m a bit of a sucker for some sort of a happy end – it doesn’t have to be an uncomplicated happy end, and there may be sorrows and losses along the way, but still, some sort of “phew, they made it!” feeling is important to me. This is why – dare I admit it? – I always peek at the last page to reassure myself the characters I’m rooting for will be okay. Makes it a bit difficult to read George. R.R. Martin, let me tell you! (But I do)
As to my day job, I am fortunate enough to have a demanding, challenging job that keeps me on my toes and allows me to grow. Yes, I have a number of time conflicts, but now that my children are more or less grown up, I invest the time I used to spend on them at my writing desk. I escape into my bubble of make believe for a couple of hours and reappear refreshed and energized – well, sometimes I reappear a bit too late, like three a.m. which makes next morning somewhat heavy, but the sheer joy of writing makes it all worthwhile.
Q: How did the idea form for you to write A Rip in the Veil, your first book that started your Graham Saga series, which is just now publishing Book Three, The Prodigal Son? Were at first just set to write one book and it became a series? Or did you always have a series in mind?
A: Alexandra Lind has been in my head for very many years. She’s danced through my brain and in her wake came Matthew (happy sigh) and a whispered account of so many adventures my mind suffered a minor quake. So when I started writing A Rip in the Veil I already knew one book wouldn’t be enough.
Q: How much do you control the characters in your novel as you write and how often do they lead you to where their story needs to go?
A: “Control?” Alex laughs and shakes her head. “You have no idea, do you Erin? We lead Anna quite the merry dance, we do!” Well; maybe not as merry as all that, because I do have a general blueprint of how the story is going to develop, but my characters do have a major influence on events. I have spent a lot of time with Matthew and Alex, I know where they’re going, I know where they’ve been, and still there are moments when they act in a way that surprises me but which, after having considered it for some minutes, makes absolute sense.
In book two, Like Chaff in the Wind, there is a scene where Alex feels obliged to taunt Matthew into a rage to break through the walls of silence he is building to protect his vulnerable and ravaged inner core. The fallout was not quite what I had expected… (And Matthew prefers not to think of it – at all.) In book three Captain Leslie decided to reappear, riding down the lane with perfect timing. I was very happy to see him – as was Alex – especially as he goes on to play an important part in all the subsequent books.
Q: Has it been an easy story to tell in the sense of it flows pretty easy on paper? I know you have several planned in the series (all with great covers), have you already written them all or do you have it all scheduled out? Can you talk about what is coming up in the series?
A: It’s an easy story to write, definitely. The problem lies in pruning it, because there are so many potential side stories, so many cameo characters that could grow into something more. And yes, I have already written them all – but that doesn’t mean I am finished as I have a LOT of editing left to do.
As to where the future books will take us, we will follow the Graham family to Maryland and their new life there, we will spend some time in London, traipse down to the West Indies to rescue a family member and return to Scotland with a detour through Seville. Religion remains a recurring theme and in Maryland the relationship between colonists and Indians play a central part. One of Mercedes’ magical paintings will resurface, causing considerable chaos, and to top it all off both Matthew and Alex will come face to face with people from their past – not all of them friendly faces.
Q: Speaking of covers, you have some of the most beautiful covers! Did you have a hand in designing them? Do you think covers help sell books?
A: Why thank you! The credit resides with Oliver Bennett at GB Print. I will waffle on about what I want – I have a very clear image of what I want and sometimes I’ve sent him a sketch – he will think for a couple of days, and voilà! a new cover lands in my inbox. It’s sort of amusing; Oliver is a young man, far from the intended target group for my books, and yet he immediately gets it, now and then adding details to make the whole even better. I think a good cover snags the eye, thereby generating the initial interest that is a prerequisite for a sale.
Q: Who is your favorite character in any of your books so far? And why?
A: I am rather in love with Matthew. (“What?” Alex scowls. “Hands off, lady!” “Fine,” I mutter, “it’s not as if I have a chance anyway, is it?” “Nay, not as such,” Matthew says, gathering Alex to his chest. He winks at me, that long mouth of his quirking into a smile. ) I like his steadfastness, his convictions, the stubborn streak in him that Alex finds enervating. I like how vulnerable he can be at times, that he admits to being frightened, that he recognizes how dependent he is on his Alex. (“Shush,” Matthew mutters, “she doesn’t need to know, aye?” Alex hugs him from behind. “I already do,” she says, kissing his nape. “Besides, it’s mutual.”) I have really enjoyed working with a male POV – I think it has deepened my understanding of men in general.
Q: What has been your favorite part of writing this series? (I know, when those voices talk to you..ha!)
A: Yes, the voices in my head do add an extra dimension to my life. 🙂 Actually, I really enjoy following Matthew and Alex through their lives, being at their side as their family expands, holding their hand when they suffer loss. Through them I have learnt so much; about life in the seventeenth century, about the sheer courage required to set off for a new life in the colonies, about love in all its varied forms, about faith and determination – and about myself.
Q: What has been your biggest challenge?
A: As a writer of Historical Fiction, I think the biggest challenge is to always remember that it’s the characters, not the historical events, that must be the backbone of your book. Readers relate to people, not to dates, and no matter how much facts you load your work with it won’t fly unless there’s a human interest. There is a constant temptation to show off, to add a paragraph or two describing just how the cider press works, or how the honey is separated from the honeycomb, or how the maple syrup is kept simmering for hours on end over open fire. The thing is, most of the readers don’t care! Having said that, most readers are quick to spot an anachronism, so whatever you do include must be correct, so I don’t have Alex wandering out to collect eggs in in December – hens don’t lay eggs between November and March – nor do Matthew’s breeches have zippers (duh!).
Q: What is your favorite historical time period? Do you have another time and place you’d like to write about outside of this series? If you could time travel yourself, where would it be to?
A: Well, obviously I have a thing about the 17th century – it is something of a breaking point between old and new. Many of the foundations upon which our modern societies are based saw the light of the day in the 17th century, starting with the Bill of Rights approved by the English Parliament in 1689. Also, I am rather fascinated by the religious conflicts that dominated the century.
I am also very interested in the medieval period and have a draft for a story set in early 14th century in England. Also, I have a fascination for the period of the Reconquista in Spain (15th century, mainly) and especially in the Andalucía region.
If I could time travel I would love to spend time with Henry II of England. And with Llewellyn Fawr. And with Robert Bruce. And with Isabel of Castille. And with Henry of Navarre. And with St Catherine of Sienna. And with Cardinal Richelieu. And with my favourite Swedish king, Gustavus Adolphus. Sheesh; I’d have one major jetlag after all those trips back and forth!
Q: Do you think that it’s possible to time travel now or in the future? What kind of impact might that have on the future if we mess with history?
A: No, I don’t think time travelling will ever be possible – unless one resorts to magic, and one should never discount magic, should one? If it were possible, I think we would all be very tempted to tamper with history. Assassinating Robespierre would seem a good idea to avoid the terror he unleashed on Paris in the aftermath of the revolution. Drowning Hitler as a baby seems a good idea, and as to Lenin and Stalin… The problem with this is that we have no idea what the consequences would be if we did away with all these baddies. An excellent novel about the potential disaster caused by time travelling is Stephen Fry’s book Making History.
Q: Are there any famous women in history that you’d like to write about in a novel or one that you admire?
A: I have a thing about Queen Christina of Sweden. I’m not sure I admire her, but she did know how to cause quite the ruckus – imagine that; the queen of staunchly protestant Sweden abdicated AND converted to Catholicism. I do have a WIP in which Queen Christina figures quite prominently. Otherwise, my admiration is mostly for the women who lived “ordinary” lives, who fed their children, held their families together, who followed their men across the seas to unknown lands. I cannot begin to comprehend just how brave these pioneer women were!
Q: What advice do you have for women writers? How can they fulfill their writing dreams and make time for family and other obligations as well?
A: Difficult question: it is always a question of priorities, isn’t it? If you’re in that stage of your life where you have young children and have to combine this with a full time job I don’t think you should even try – it is difficult enough to juggle kids and work and your relationship. For many years all I did was write notes to self on scraps of paper, in notebooks – but I did write those notes! Once the children got older, I set aside “me” time for my writing – and made it clear to my family this was very important to me. Unless you consider it important enough to set aside time for it, no one else will take your writing seriously.
Q: Do you have any other projects you are working on or plan for the future you haven’t already discussed?
A: Well, I did mention the book with Queen Christina in it, didn’t I? My lead character is a young woman called Sofia Carolina who decides she deserves a new start in life and finances this by nicking a nobleman’s family jewels. Off she goes, the enraged nobleman comes after, and things would not have ended well for Sofia if it hadn’t been for Jon Darrow, a disillusioned royalist who has been forced into exile and earns his living through various … err… creative endeavours.
Q: Who are your writing mentors? Who inspires your writing? And who are some of you own favorite authors?
A: I don’t have any mentors – but I have a handful of people who support me and cheer me on, first and foremost my husband. Inspiration comes from various sources, but my children have definitely contributed to the Graham children. My favourite authors… now that is a long list! I read voraciously, across all genres, but if I restrict myself to the Historical Fiction genre the authors I always return to are Sharon Penman, Edith Pargeter, Barbara Erskine (especially her early books) and Pamela Belle. And yes, when in need of a special treat I will re-read my favourite passages in Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series.
Q: Where is the most beautiful place in the United Kingdom?
A: Given that I’m not British, I probably haven’t seen ALL the beautiful places in the UK, no matter that I’ve spent a lot of time there. However, I would argue that the Aber falls (Afon Rhaedr fawr) close to the A55 on the northern coast of Wales is a spectacular spot.
Q: And last but not least, what kind of food gets you through marathon writing sessions?
A: Chocolate. Tea. More chocolate. Unfortunately carrots don’t do it for me…
Q: Where can readers connect with you?
A: On my website, www.annabelfrage.com, or by commenting on my blog, annabelfrage.wordpress.com. I am also on facebook and on twitter, @Anna_Belfrage.
Q: Where is the best place to purchase your books?
A: They’re actually available on most online bookshops, but I tend to recommend Amazon, Barnes& Noble and Trobador.co.uk.
Erin: Anna, thank you so much for coming by my site, it’s always a pleasure to get to speak with you. Best wishes on your writing!
Anna: Likewise Erin – and thanks! And hey, if you’re not having that last slice of chocolate cake, can I have it?
Erin: I’ll split it with you. *wink*
The giveaway is for one copy of The Prodigal Son and open internationally. To enter, please comment below in the footer, email me to hookofabook(at)hotmail(dot)com, or on the Facebook page at www.facebook.com/HookofaBook. In all cases, you must leave your email so I can contact you if you win.
Extra entries: +1 for following this blog, +1 for recommending the blog, and +3 for “liking” the above mentioned Facebook page. Good luck and let me know which extras you do.
Safely returned from an involuntary stay on a tobacco plantation in Virginia, Matthew Graham finds the Scottish Lowlands torn asunder by religious strife. The government of 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, the people close ranks around their evicted ministers, stubbornly clinging to their Presbyterian faith. But disobedience comes at a price – a very steep price – and as neighbours and friends are driven from hearth and home, Alex becomes increasingly more nervous as to what her Matthew is risking by his continued 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 minister before his own safety and therefore per extension her safety and the safety of their children, 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, watching from a distance as her husband dances round his lost boy.
Things are brought to a head when Matthew yet again places all their lives in the balance to save his dear friend and preacher from the dragoons that chase him over the moor.
How much is Matthew willing to risk? How much will he ultimately lose?
Will she find him in time? And if she does, will she be capable of paying the price required to buy him free?
Author Anna Belfrage, Biography~
I was raised abroad, on a pungent mix of Latin American culture, English history and Swedish traditions. As a result I’m multilingual and most of my reading is historical – both non-fiction and fiction.
I was always going to be a writer – or a historian, preferably both. Instead I ended up with a degree in Business and Finance, with very little time to spare for my most favourite pursuit. Still, one does as one must, and in between juggling a challenging career I raised my four children on a potent combination of invented stories, historical debates and masses of good food and homemade cakes. They seem to thrive … Nowadays I spend most of my spare time at my writing desk. The children are half grown, the house is at times eerily silent and I slip away into my imaginary world, with my imaginary characters. Every now and then the one and only man in my life pops his head in to ensure I’m still there. I like that – just as I like how he makes me laugh so often I’ll probably live to well over a hundred.
I was always going to be a writer. Now I am – I have achieved my dream.
Link to Tour Schedule: http://hfvirtualbooktours.com/theprodigalsontour/
Twitter Hashtag: #ProdigalSonTour