Thursday, 4 April 2013

Swedish Wheatballs - an interview with Anna Belfrage

First of all, greetings my favourite literary knight, and thank you for taking the time to interview me! As I never learnt how, I’ll not even attempt to curtsey in gratitude, but ask you to visualise me doing so.
And with that out of the way, let’s dig into your interesting questions:

  1. Tell us about "Like Chaff in the Wind"?
“Like Chaff in the Wind” is the story of two people who are separated by fate – wait, wait; they’re separated due to the dastardly actions of Matthew’s brother, Luke Graham – and the quest Alex sets out on to bring her husband home. The underlying theme is the love between Alex and Matthew, a love so strong it carries Matthew through his unbearable existence in Virginia, a love so powerful Alex never hesitates to set off in search of her husband, no matter how hazardous this might be. As the novel progresses it offers insights into the life of indentured servants in Virginia, it highlights the constant enmity between Catholics and Protestants, and it gives the reader a glimpse of Sir William Berkeley, Governor of Virginia (a real person, however fictitious his acquaintance with Alex).

  1. "Like Chaff in the Wind" is a boy’s own adventure and a romance all rolled into one. There is a lot of emotion in your writing and it draws the reader in.  Was it as gruelling writing those scenes as it was to read them?
I believe all writers aspire to drawing their readers into the story, so thank you for that! “Like Chaff in the Wind” has a number of scenes that were difficult to write, mainly because I have to “see” them in much more detail than what I actually convey to the reader. One such example is the scene between Alex and Fairfax, where I have a far more graphic description of events in my head than what ended up on the page.

Another example would be the scene where Matthew is reunited with his wife. My head was bursting with emotions for that scene; his feelings, her feelings, so much relief, an undertone of anger, of despair, but most of all love – and hope, and vindicated faith, and… Phew! That scene has been rewritten a number of times, let me tell you. Generally when faced with complex scenes I write the scene from two different POVs, let it lie and marinate for a while and then go back to read my two versions of it. This, I believe, helps me pick out the details that must be present, while allowing me to sift out the chaff. In this particular instance I chose to do the scene from Matthew’s POV, because he’s the one experiencing the more conflicting emotions.

Given the subject matter and setting of my book, it contains a number of rather violent scenes – a flogging is per definition an act of violence as is an attempt to murder someone. I find these scenes daunting, but to not include them would be to give a false and sanitised picture of what life was like back then, especially for a man who’d been abducted and sold into slavery. I spend a lot of times re-enacting my more physical scenes, with sons and husband roped in to do slow-motion versions of the scene I see in my head.

  1. Your novels are historical in nature and researched well, but they have a supernatural element.  How did you develop the concept?
I’m not really sure I developed the concept. I had a vision of a woman being thrown three centuries backwards in time, and sort of took it from there. The painted portals through time are actually a slight bow in the direction of my father, a gifted amateur painter who would spend hours depicting trees and skies, every single dot of blue and green added with meticulous care to his WIP. It might be wise to add that my father had very little in common with Mercedes, the witch painter who paints the portals in my books. 

  1. How did you begin writing? Do you have a writing regime that you follow?
I’ve always written. More or less, of course, but there have always been notebooks by my bed, on my desk, with ideas and scenes jotted down in haste. There are a number of completed works I will never, ever show a soul (but there’s stuff in those early efforts that I recycle), I have a fantasy trilogy that I might at some point in time edit into publishable standards, and then there are I don’t know how many potential storylines rattling round in my drawers, some of them stretching back to when I was a teen, some conceived within the last decade.

As to regime, in my case it’s been more a matter of making the best of whatever time I had at my disposal. Combining a full time job, a large house and four children was in itself something of a challenge. Add to that three to four hours of writing per day, and the equation became somewhat strained. Things have become easier with time; three kids have left home, the house has become a flat and I now have the luxury of spending almost all my free time at my writing desk.

My actual writing starts with an intense burst of creativity – we’re talking hours and hours of just getting it all down on my computer – and then follows a long period of rewrites. I love rewrites, how the scenes develop and shift, eventually acquiring their permanent shape. While I mostly stay true to the original scene in factual terms, the descriptions, the POV and the setting may change during the rewrites.  

  1. This is the second book about the Graham family - the first being "A Rip in the Veil"; are you planning to continue the series or do you have other projects in the pipeline?
The Graham Saga has a number of books to go, most of which are finished or in the final editing phase. I am somewhat in love with Matthew and Alex – mostly with Matthew (“Tell me about it,” Alex grumbles) and they lead such an exciting life, those two. Religious persecution comes next, and then there’s the terrible family feud with the Burley brothers, the rescue expedition they set out on after the Monmouth rebellion, the hardships they experience in… No, stop. You’ll just have to wait for the next books.

The third book in the Graham Saga, “The Prodigal Son”, is due in June/July of this year, and it deals with the difficult times after the restoration of Charles II, when a number of laws were enacted to restrict religious freedom in his realms. Throughout his life, Matthew Graham has fought too hard for the right to hold to his beliefs, and so he is embroiled in this conflict from the start, risking his life on behalf of the outlawed ministers of his kirk. Not something that endears him – or the fugitive ministers – to Alex, and especially not when his actions threaten not only him, but his whole family as well.  

Further to this I am working on a book set in seventeenth century Sweden and England. My main character, Sofia Carolina, grows up with Queen Christina, is accused of stealing a fortune in jewels (she does, but there are mitigating circumstances) and has to flee the country, aided by Jonathan Darrow, a down on his luck royalist who is kicking in heels in exile now that Charles I has been executed.

  1. Fun question - at which event in history would you like to be a fly on the wall?
Fun but difficult, as there are so many such moments. One top-ten moment would have been to be present when Gustavus Adolphus was presented with his son – oops, sorry, daughter. Apparently the king took the news that the child was a girl like a man, he didn’t even have the mistaken midwife punished. One other moment – a rather sad one – would have been to be present when Charles I was executed. I’m no fan of Charles I, but as I hear it he met his end with dignity and courage.

  1. Fun question - which three characters from history would you invite to dinner and why?
Having spent so much of my time in the virtual company of Alexander Peden – this ousted minister and inspired preacher plays a major role in “The Prodigal Son” – I think I would invite him, if nothing else as his presence would guarantee quite the lively debate. To further the discussions, I’d add Martin Luther, two religious, opinionated men at the same table could turn into quite the interesting cock fight. To even out the numbers, I’d invite Katherine of Aragon – a devout, well-educated Catholic, and woman to boot. (“What?” both men exclaim. “A woman!” gasps Peden. “ A papist!” groans Luther. “Tough; my table my rules,” I inform them, “and there’s apple pie for dessert if you behave.”)

 Thank you Anna, for a thoroughly entertaining interview!


  1. I enjoyed this interview. Thank your Sir Read- Alot and as always, thank you Anne.

  2. I've just finished this book - and agree with you Sir Read-A-Lot .... a darn good read.