Interview with Anna Belfrage
A Newfound Land
Today The Most Happy Reader has the pleasure of interviewing author Anna Belfrage who has published the fourth installment of The Graham Saga, A Newfound Land.
Welcome Anna! Many thanks for taking the time to share some insight about your work with The Most Happy Reader.
MHR: Would you tell us a little about yourself and your background?
AB: A little about myself, hey? Well, I must own up to being quite gregarious, I suppose. I’m a fast talker, and the more excited I am, the faster I talk. If speaking Spanish, my gesticulation increases as my pace picks up, which tends to make my audience sit back and stare. Most of the time, I’m a happy person – horribly cheerful, some would say. I sing a lot, and now that we’re in December, my repertoire narrows down to carols and other Christmas favourites.
I grew up in South America, and we moved around a lot. That left me rootless, in the sense that there’s no place I can call my childhood home. It also made me skilled at handling new surroundings, new cultures and languages. Plus it left me permanently enriched, as I am fluent not only in my native Swedish, but also in Spanish and English.
I’m the proud mother of four children, one daughter and three sons, and now that they’re more or less adults, it is very irritating to be the shortest person in the family. Probably the reason why they’re all so tall and strong is that I have always made sure they’ve eaten well – I enjoy cooking (and especially baking).
When I’m not writing, I’m working – or it’s the other way around, as I have more than a full day-time job (that I very much enjoy). During daytime I do numbers, budgets and forecasts, in the evenings I do words and stories set in the past. Perfect combination, if you ask me.
I have always written – more or less – but there were a number of years when work and small children made it difficult to invest more than the odd hour in this my favourite pastime. Not so anymore.
MHR: What made you decide to sit down and actually start writing what would become a four book series? Did you intend from the start to begin a saga with these characters?
AB: Actually, dear Shannon, The Graham Saga will run into eight books. And no, I never intended it to be such a long series, but when I finished the first book, my head was bursting with more stories, more scenes, odd snippets of dialogue. I saw children – many children – I saw grief and loss, I saw fear and anger. And whenever I closed my eyes to sleep, there was Alex and Matthew, whispering about new adventures, new dangers. So I wrote one more book. And another. Yet another – you get the picture, right?
Alex and Matthew lead a very exciting life, and through them I get the opportunity to explore the 17th century and its convoluted political (and religious) happenings. Further to this, I’ve really enjoyed watching their relationship develop from the heady fervor of youth to the middle-aged conviction that they belong together – always, no matter what life throws at them. Ultimately, I guess I’m a sucker for love, and Matthew and Alex have that in spades, even if that doesn’t stop them from being severely at odds with each other from time to time.
MHR: Give us an insight into Matthew Graham and Alexandra Lind. What about them (aside from Alexandra's abilities), has inspired you to write four novels?
AB: If we start with Alex, I like her resilience. She is basically an optimist, capable of enormous inner strength when required. Thrown out of context, she wastes very little time feeling sorry for herself and instead concentrates on building a new life with what she has at her disposal – which fortunately includes Matthew. Alex is no seer. She has paid scant attention to the history lessons of her youth, and so has but vague notions of what may happen next in her 17th century life. She also has few if any useful practical skills for her new life, because seriously, being a computer whizz doesn’t exactly help when you’re living in an age devoid of all high-tech stuff. But she is intelligent and resourceful, she is loyal and courageous and always has her husband’s back. Not that Matthew always appreciates this last quality, seeing as it is his opinion that he should do the defending…
Matthew is a 17th century man raised within the narrow confines of the Scottish Kirk who still retains enough of an open mind to not totally freak out when he finds a concussed and badly singed woman on the moor – a woman who insists she was born in 1973. Major plus points already there, even if there are times when Matthew is not entirely sure if Alex is a witch or not. A man of conviction, of strong beliefs in the right of men to rule themselves (he’s a Commonwealth man, through and through), he will at times place himself and his family at considerable risk for the sake of his beliefs. From being rather intolerant of other faiths, Matthew’s life with Alex (half heathen and potentially papist as she is) has him developing an acceptance for other Christian faiths. He is also a man with a strong sense of right and wrong, which is why he so often sides with the Indians against the colonists, all too aware that more often than not it is the colonists who are in the wrong, not the Indians. I like men with integrity and grit. Matthew possesses both these qualities and it helps, of course, that he is quite easy on the eyes as well.
MHR: How much primary research did you do when writing A Newfound Land?
AB: I read a lot about the origins of Maryland, the Act of Toleration and the upheaval the colony went through during the English Civil War. For the “emigrant” experience, I read extensively about the Swedish emigrants in the 19th century. I also did a lot of reading about the Susquehannock and their sad fate.
MHR: Do you read much and if so who are your favorite authors?
AB: To be a good writer, I think you have to be a voracious reader. I average three books a week, so I guess I qualify as “voracious”. I am a big fan of historical fiction, but when I am at my most productive stage, I will not read books within my own genre, as I don’t want to contaminate my own writing voice. Instead I read a lot of crime (great plotters, crime writers) and my favourites include Reginald Hill, Sara Paretsky and Michael Dibdin. I am also a fantasy fan – traditional fantasy, mostly, like Tolkien. When I’m through the crucial stages of my own writing, I will gladly read (or re-read) anything by Sharon Penman, Edith Pargeter, Pamela Belle, Elizabeth Chadwick and Nigel Tranter, all of them fantastic Historical Fiction authors.
MHR: For your own reading, do you prefer EBooks or traditional paper/hard back books?
AB: If you’d asked me a year ago, I’d have said paperback. Now, I am totally in love with my Kindle, but if I really like a book, I will probably buy it as a paperback as well.
MHR: Are you reading at the moment? If so, what?
AB: At present I am reading a biography of Queen Kristina of Sweden. I have a couple of books on my “review” list that I will sink my teeth into during the coming weeks, amongst them Royalist Rebel by A Seymour, Daughter of the God-King by A Cleeland and Sisters of the Bruce by J.M. Harvey. Looking forward to all three!
MHR: Do you have a favorite or inspirational author or novel? What is it about that person or their work that draws you to it?
AB: As an adolescent, I read Gone with the Wind nine times. I read Lord of the Rings ten times, and can’t quite count the number of times I’ve read Romeo and Juliet. Quite the mix, right? I was in my twenties when I first read Sharon Penman’s Here be Dragons, and since then I’ve read it once every year (which adds up to very, very many times by now, but one should never reveal one’s age, should one?) so I think Ms Penman is the closest thing to a house god I have. I would say it is never the author as a person that attracts me to a book, it is the story as such. Ms Penman sinks her teeth into very juice bits of history, but what makes her books soar is how she creates flesh and blood characters out of long dead historical people. Someday, I hope to write a book that will reduce me (and my readers) to a bloated mass of tears, like Ms Penman does in so many of her books. Actually, come to think of it, one of the future books in The Graham Saga does just that. It leaves me red-eyes and hoarse with tears, despite it being me that wrote it – which makes my husband shake his head and mutter something about “weird females”. I suspect he might be referring to me, but chose to pretend I didn’t hear him…
MHR: How can readers discover more about you and you work?
MHR: Anna, many thanks again for taking the time out of your busy schedule to take part in this interview.
AB: Dear Shannon, it was a pleasure – and may I take the opportunity to wish you great holidays.
Anna has generously agreed to offer the winner's choice of either a Kindle eBook or a paperback copy of A Newfound Land. This contest is open Internationally.
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