ANNA BELFRAGE

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Archive for the tag “historical fiction”

Historical Fiction – a genre or an umbrella?

Sometimes, people ask me why I write historical fiction. “Why such a difficult genre?” they ask, which in itself makes me a tad irritated, as historical fiction, IMO, is not a genre – it’s an umbrella under which all other genres coexist. In essence, the “historical” in historical fiction merely indicates that the story is set in a non-contemporary time. It says nothing about the content as such, albeit that many people seem to think historical fiction is defined by blood and gore and thousands upon thousands dying in one battle or other.

John Opie MurderOfRizzio

John Opie, Murder of Rizzo – is he painting history or a gruesome death? 

Yes, that stuff happens in historical novels. It also happens in contemporary novels – it happens in real life around us on a daily basis. There are historical novels that are essentially love stories, there are others that are coming-of-age stories, yet another author delivers a well-crafted thriller set in distant times, and quite a few produce so called cosy mysteries a la Miss Marple. As long as all these very different books are set in the past, they end up labelled as historical fiction – and considered comparable. Obviously, they are not.

I write books set in the past because I am something of a history geek. Since I was old enough to read for myself, I have submerged myself in stories set in the past – no matter genre – because I wanted to pretend I was there, in an era very distant from my own. Escapism in its purest form, one could say.

And yes, I spend very many happy hours researching my chosen setting – at times resulting in tangential excursions that bring no value whatsoever to my WIP, but expand my soul and enrich my life in general. After all, who doesn’t want to know that Peter the Great married a low-born, illiterate commoner? Or that Eleanor of Castile had a half-brother, Felipe, already a bishop when he threw his ecclesiastic career out of the window to marry a Norwegian princess?

Neither here nor there for the purpose of this post – except to highlight that I am as happy as a calf in a field of juicy clover writing historical fiction.

You can research your setting and the era you’ve chosen until you’re blue in the face. That in itself will not result in a page-turning novel. In fact, sometimes too much research produces a major info-dump instead – you know, books in which the author expends pages and pages on showcasing their own knowledge of the period, thereby effectively killing pace.

Millais_-_The_Ransom_-_72.PA.13_-_J._Paul_Getty_Museum

Millais – a Historical Painter or a Painter who loved to paint the past? 

A skilled writer of historical fiction inserts DETAILS, not paragraphs. A skilled writer – no matter genre – also knows that if you want the story you write to resonate with the reader, your novel must deliver some sort of insight into the commonalities of being human. Therefore, for a novel to come alive, it requires characters that are vibrant and complex, real enough to step out of the pages, no matter if they ever existed or not.

People have not changed all that much through the centuries. We are still needy creatures, both on a physical and emotional level. Think Maslow, and I guess we all agree humans have physiological needs, a desire to feel safe, to belong. We do in this day and age, they did back in historic (and pre-historic) times as well.

It is therefore a safe bet to assume human emotions and reactions are relatively constant throughout the ages. Someone betrays you, the visceral rage you feel is probably identical to the one your 12th century ancestor felt when he realised he’d been set up. Loving someone probably feels the same – maybe with the caveat that these days, we consider it a borderline human right to be loved and love. Back in the darker and grimmer eras that precede ours, love was something of a luxury: if you had food and a roof over your head, if you were safe and your children set up for surviving, you could live with not falling into throes of passion at the sight of your husband/wife. Truth is, you didn’t EXPECT to love your spouse – you married for reasons on the lower lever of the Maslow pyramid. But this doesn’t preclude that IF you fell in love, it would feel exactly the same way as it feels today.

All of us have personal experience of feelings and emotions. As these are the most important aspects to convey in a novel, we could all, potentially, carry a budding writer within. There is, however, a major difference between experiencing an emotion and describing it – plus, once again, it is a fine balancing act between describing too much and too little. Readers enjoy filling in the blanks. Writers don’t want them to fill in the blanks with the wrong stuff, so writers have to leave enough hints to steer the reader in the right direction. This is the major difference between “show” and “tell” writing – as in “She was so devastated and confused she had no idea what to do next” (the writer informs – tells – the reader of what the protagonist is experiencing) or “She couldn’t quite focus: her hands shook, her mouth was the texture of paper, her brain a total blank” (the writers presents the protagonist’s reactions which the reader analyses before concluding she is in a bad way, probably in some sort of shock).

Whatever the case, it is my opinion that to write a novel one must be fascinated by humanity, in all its diverse forms. It is only by presenting the reader with a mirror in which they can recognise their own emotions that a writer succeeds in hooking them. And once the reader has swallowed the bait, it doesn’t really matter if the book is set in the future, the past or the present. What matters is that the reader is willing to take a ride through the imagined landscapes produced by the writer, hand in hand with the protagonist.

Write what you love, they say. And I do, combining my endless curiosity as to what makes people tick with my love for the past. Do I write historical fiction? I guess I do – but more importantly, I write novels that explore the human condition. An exercise in self-exploration? Maybe. An attempt to exorcise personal experiences? Rarely. A fulfilling experience? Always.

Digging up the Tudor roots

Okay, I’m going to come clean: I am NOT a major Tudor fan. I’ve had it up to here (waves hand around eye level) with novels featuring Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn. Likewise with Elizabeth I – undoubtedly an intriguing lady – maybe not so much with Mary Tudor. Which is why I surprised myself when I bought a book about Owen Tudor – but hey, all I knew about this particular Tudor was that he’d seduced Henry V’s widow  and that this happened like 100 years before Henry VIII’s heyday. Turns out I enjoyed the book, which is why I’ve invited the author, Tony Riches, to pop by.

TR Owen and Jasper BooksWelcome to my blog, Tony! By now, I have read quite a few of your books, and I recently enjoyed (yes, to my surprise – see above) both Owen and Jasper, the first two books in your Tudor trilogy. Why this fascination with the early Tudors?

Hi Anna – and thank you for inviting me to your blog. I was born within sight of Pembroke Castle, birthplace of Henry Tudor, so was naturally intrigued by how Henry became King of England. Surprised to find there were no books about Owen Tudor, the Welsh servant who married the widow of King Henry V, I began researching his life and discovered the fascinating story of how the Tudor dynasty began. I soon had more than enough material for a book and decided to write the trilogy, with Henry being born in the first book, coming of age in the second and becoming king in the third.

In Owen, you present Catherine of Valois as being prone to depression, if not full-blown mental instability. Tell us a bit about this – did your research lead you to conclude she was somewhat frail, or is this a case of “filling in the blanks”?

Although there is no direct evidence of Catherine’s ‘instability’ it’s recorded that her father, Charles VI of France, suffered from delusions, such as the belief he was made of glass. He began violently attacking his servants and had to be locked up for his own safety. Catherine’s son Henry VI also suffered from ’lapses’ and is reported as falling into some form of depressive catatonic state. Importantly, both her father and her son sometimes failed to recognise their own family and, as the link between them, Queen Catherine must have feared for her own mental health. She became a recluse at Bermondsey Abbey after Owen was arrested and her sons taken from her, so it was easy to imagine how this might have caused tension in her relationship with Owen Tudor.

In Jasper, Henry VI is already showing clear signs of retiring mentally from the world, leaving his forceful wife to cope on her own. Do you think there were ever discussions among the Lancastrians to depose him?

Yes – he was definitely unfit to rule, so if it had not been for the protection of Queen Margaret of Anjou I’m sure he would have been ‘retired’ through ill health much earlier. It’s fascinating to wonder how history might have changed if he’d not remained on the throne…

There has been speculation regarding the paternity of Prince Edward, Henry VI’s son. What is your take on it?

The only person who knows for certain is Queen Margaret, although providing the king with a male heir transformed her status in the country. By all accounts she was an attractive and lonely young woman, so given her husband’s mental and physical state at the time the temptation to take matters into her own hands must have been overwhelming.  (Ha! A true diplomat, Mr Riches…)

You paint a very engaging picture of Jasper Tudor – a man loyal to a fault, both to his brother and his nephew. Was this your starting point when you decided to write about him?

I wanted to show Jasper as a man with plenty of weaknesses. He always seemed to run from battles to save himself, he wasn’t a great military tactician, often failed to listen to good advice and didn’t settle down and marry until he was fifty-five.  At the same time, Jasper was an easy man to like, as he always put others first. There is no question of his loyalty to Henry Tudor or his diplomatic skills, qualities which were vital for the future of the Tudor dynasty.

 

In Jasper, the Welsh are talked into supporting Henry Tudor because he’s Welsh and rides under the Welsh dragon. Were there benefits to the Welsh during Henry VII’s reign?

The Welsh had been subjugated, second-class citizens for centuries, not allowed to own land or even carry a sword, so it must have been compelling to believe Henry was their prophesised saviour, ‘Y Mab Darogan’, the ‘son of destiny’. There is scant evidence that Henry VII ever returned to Wales once he was king, however, although he generously rewarded those who supported him at Bosworth.

As a writer, I found it interesting to note that Owen is written in first person, present tense, while Jasper is third person, past tense. Why have you used two such different approaches?

I started writing Owen in the third person, then read Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall and was impressed by the sense of immediacy she achieves. I enjoyed the challenge of re-writing Owen in the first person and present tense – but Jasper was always third person in book one and I decided to continue this. I understand some readers struggle to get in to first person, present tense, although the feedback and reviews (and international sales) suggest it wasn’t an issue.

Your trilogy is to be concluded with a third book (obviously) named Henry. It seems to me the world of historical fiction readers is very polarised when it comes to Henry Tudor – what is your take on this enigmatic man?

I respected Richard III’s courage at the end of my book Jasper – and now I’m keen to present a fresh perspective on the man Henry was. He inherited a bankrupt throne and left it richer than it had ever been. He oversaw the longest period of peace for centuries, uniting families and establishing a new style of monarchy. (I’m attending the Bosworth anniversary re-enactment next month, however, and am sure the ‘Ricardians’ will take some convincing!)

What I found very interesting in Jasper was how distant you depicted the relationship between Margaret Beaufort and her son, Henry. Not so strange, really, seeing as he was raised by others than her, but somewhat at odds with the notion that she was the “power behind the throne” once he became king. What are your thoughts on Margaret and her relationship with Henry?

Margaret Beaufort was a fascinating woman, and I relied on numerous sources but was particularly impressed by Elizabeth Norton’s Margaret Beaufort: Mother of the Tudor Dynasty. The price of Henry’s long exile was that his mother would have been a complete stranger, as for many years they couldn’t exchange letters, yet she never stopped working for his return and became his most trusted advisor once he was king.

Finally, when will we be able to read Henry?

I am now working on the first draft and plan to launch Henry, Book Three of The Tudor Trilogy by Easter next year.

Thank you so much for dropping by, Tony – and for giving me a new perspective on the Tudors!

*****************************

TR Tony Riches 2016Tony Riches lives with his wife in Pembrokeshire, West Wales and is a specialist in the history of the fifteenth century, with a particular interest in the Wars of the Roses and the lives of the early Tudors. For more information about Tony’s books please visit his popular blog, The Writing Desk and his WordPress website and find him on Facebook and Twitter @tonyriches.

Sunny days and summer reads – a new book & a giveaway!

The other day, I published my tenth book. I’m starting to feel like one of those ladies back in medieval times who popped out a baby a year and probably worried how on earth she was to feed and clothe them, let alone love them all. Except, of course, that one always loves one’s babies, right?

9789198324518Days of Sun and Glory is the second in my series The King’s Greatest Enemy. Once again, I get to muck about in the delightfully complicated political environment of 14th century England, rubbing shoulders with Edward II and Despenser (although I keep my distance from dear Hugh – don’t like him much) and, of course, Roger Mortimer. Him I like – or rather, I see him through the eyes of my protagonist, Adam de Guirande, who loves Roger, has loved him since that day when Roger saved twelve-year-old Adam from his abusive father.

“Complicated,” Kit de Guirande says when I ask her what she thinks of Roger. She frowns. “To love Roger Mortimer in this the year of our Lord 1323 is to ask for trouble.”
Tell me about it. Mortimer has just managed to escape from the Tower and has fled to France. In England, Edward II is cursing himself to hell and back for not having executed Mortimer while he had the chance. Despenser totally agrees, but wisely holds his tongue. Queen Isabella, Edward IIs wife, detests Despenser – and even more she detests being marginalised by the king’s favourite, which is why she’s rooting for Mortimer, albeit extremely discreetly. And then there’s Edward of Windsor, the young prince, since some months Adam’s new lord and master.

Adam loves his young lord. He agonises with Prince Edward as the boy is torn apart betwen his father and his mother – after all, Adam knows just how that feels, as torn between Mortimer and the prince. And then there’s Kit, whom he adores and desperately wants to keep safe, but how is he to do that in this political quagmire?
“All he has to do to keep me safe is to keep himself safe.” Kit fingers her veil. “If he dies…” She shudders. “If Despenser gets hold of him…”
Yeah. That would be bad. Very bad.

Well: in conclusion, Days of Sun and Glory is something of a medieval roller-coaster. People fight.People die. And in all this mess, all this upheaval, I just have to trust that Adam’s innate honour and loyalty will help him choose the right way forward. Sheesh! I keep my fingers crossed so hard they hurt…

Slide1So, what are you waiting for? Go and grab a copy of Days and Sun and Glory and leave the very complicated here and now for an equally complicated, if distant, 14th century.

And should you want to start at the beginning, why not pick up In the Shadow of the Storm as well!

And seeing as a new book is always cause for celebration, I am giving away two e-book copies of Days of Sun and Glory. Just leave a comment and let me know where you prefer to do your #summerreading 🙂 Giveaway closes July 21st.

UPDATE! The winners are Denise and Sharon! Congratulations!

Making real people work for you

Valdemar_Atterdag_brandskattar_Visby_(1882)I write Historical Fiction. While my protagonists are entirely fictional, they now and then have to interact with “real” people – people who’ve existed, lived and died for real. This can be something of a bummer – especially when your perfectly crafted timeline suddenly crashes headlong into the wall of historical facts. That conversation your protagonist was to have with the wife of the Earl of Lancaster can no longer happen, seeing as the lady died some months before the planned meeting. (Shoot! How inconsiderate of her…) The touching scene in which the king and his wife are reconciled must be scrapped – the king would no more reconcile with his wife than he would have a crocodile in his bed (which would not only be very weird, but also anachronistic, as there were no crocodiles in England in the 14th century)

See? These real-life characters are hard to deal with. In actual fact, so are the invented characters, as all of a sudden they start developing opinions of their own and generally refuse to cooperate when they don’t agree with the overall plotline, but that is neither here nor there – not in this post.

At the same time, including real characters in the story adds a certain nerve. People can read the book, become intrigued and spend some time googling the real characters. Hopefully, they come away with the impression that the author has done a good job adhering to the overall facts. If not, there may be a problem, as readers of historical fiction tend to be sensitive to incorrect information. Not, I might add, that all readers of historical fiction KNOW the facts – but they are often quite convinced that they do, and if not they will google. Trust me – I’m a reader too.

The further back in history you write, the more leeway you have when utilizing the real-life characters. Also, I think it important to underline that Historical Fiction is precisely that: fiction. Even when writing about real historical people, we must keep in mind that we don’t know these shadowy ghosts from the past. What we have are fragments of their lives (at best), mentions in this roll or the other, acidic comments in one chronicler’s version of events, praise in another’s. So what any good historical fiction author does is that he/she constructs a picture – fleshes out the spare bones we have left to create a living, breathing character (in as much as characters can breathe, of course). Every such representation is incorrect in that it does not – cannot – be a fair representation of the person who lived and died all those years ago.

Henry_VIIThis is why we get such varied depictions of historical people. Authors may start with the same bare facts, but then they’ll add biases and personal values, which is why Henry Tudor may come across as the villain in one book, as an earnest man with a mission in another. Thing is, we have no idea what he was really like. Was he passionate in bed? Did he have the enervating habit of sucking his teeth as he thought? Did he take reading matter with him to the garderobe? Did he eat the veggies first? Did he now and then curse that meddlesome mother of his to hell and back? Or maybe he didn’t think her meddlesome at all? We simply don’t know. What we do know is that he won at Bosworth – and that, according to some, is down to pure luck, while others will argue for divine intervention.

Knights_TemplarTestament to the skill of the writer, is how well they succeed in influencing our opinions about those long dead people. Was William Marshal truly as gallant as Elizabeth Chadwick depicts him? I lean towards saying yes, and even if I were leaning towards saying no, I don’t think it would matter. This gentleman has been given the ultimate PR consultant in Ms Chadwick – her meticulous research coupled with her evident love for William have resulted in a representation that does breathe, does bleed.

Also, hands up those who knew anything at all about Llewellyn ap Iorwerth before reading Here be Dragons by Sharon Penman. No, I thought as much…Now Llewellyn may very well have been quite the thug, and there is something a tad bothersome about a man pushing forty wedding a fourteen-year-old, and yet Ms Penman – through research and admiration – has given us a hero, a man who sets the wellbeing of his people and his country before his own pride – no matter how much that hurts. To write a book in which Llewellyn is represented as being anything but a hero would be difficult. Too many readers would howl in protest…Yet again: we DON’T know if he had bad hair days, if he suffered from piles or refused to eat raspberries because they gave him a rash. But it doesn’t matter.

I guess the long and short of all this is that a historical fiction author must know his/her period, must be familiar with customs and foods, clothes and values. Of course, when writing about real people, the author needs to have read up on the facts that exist. But these are just the building blocks. A historical fiction author first and foremost wants to tell a story, and sometimes those real life characters have to be tweaked – a bit – so as to create the required tension. And so Henry Tudor is at times represented as diabolical, at others as an ambitious man who truly believes he deserves the English crown. A skilled author will have the reader accepting either or – for the sake of the story as such.

In the Shadow of the StormIn my recent release, In the Shadow of the Storm, I am writing about a turbulent time in English history. We’re in the 1320s, and on the one side we have Edward II and his beloved favourite Hugh Despenser, on the other side we have the disgruntled barons, led by Roger Mortimer. I suppose Hugh Despenser must have had some nice, cuddly personal traits. Some. Maybe. But I am writing this book strictly in the POV of people who are 100% loyal to Mortimer, and as Despenser hated Mortimer’s guts – a sentiment returned in full – Hugh Despenser comes across as a nasty, sadistic villain. I am sure he was – to those who opposed him and his king. But he was also more than that – to the king he served, to his wife and children. Of course he was.

“Him? Despenser is a sick, perverted bastard,” Adam de Guirande mutters. He glowers at me. “You should have allowed me to kill him.” Hmm. I can understand where my dear Adam is coming from, given what Despenser puts him through, but Despenser’s subsequent fate is a matter of historical record, and no matter how much I commiserate with Adam’s desire to avenge himself on dear Hugh, I cannot let this invented male protagonist of mine have his way. Nope. (And this argument has had Adam sulking in the corners of my mind for weeks. I finally cajoled him into returning to the party by promising him he could…Well, you’ll have to wait and see what happens in the next book.)

Likewise, a lot of the book centres round Roger Mortimer. We know a lot about Roger – detailed inventories of what he owned when he was attainted survive, as do mentions in rolls and legal documents. His overall biography – birth, marriage, children, political career, death – is there for us to study. We know very little about him as a person, though. He has left us no diary, no Youtube clips in which he shares his personal views. This for me as a novelist is manna from heaven: as long as I stick to the known facts, I can choose to depict Mortimer as it best suits me, and so in this first book I present you with a man of convictions, an honourable servant of the crown until something snaps in him. Is this a “true and fair” representation of the man? I don’t know – but then, neither does anyone else, seeing as those who had the privilege of chit-chatting with Roger Mortimer are so dead they’re not even dust in the air anymore.

As I said right at the beginning, I write fiction. I have the joy of constructing a plot that weaves its way through the tapestry of known history, my invented leads interacting freely with the people who populate the history books – as I see them. Sometimes, this causes me to tear at my hair while begging them all to cooperate so that we can get this pivotal scene right. At others, I sit back and stare at my computer screen before either bursting into tears (tragic scene) or grinning goofily (amusing scene). Sometimes, I have to get up and kiss my husband – but I don’t need to explain what sort of scenes drive that behavior, do I?

All in all, I consider myself lucky. My life is enriched by those vague shadows of the long ago, by the characters that populate my mind. Or maybe I am going crazy – if so an affliction I share with most of my fellow writers.

Why the 17th century? A declaration of love

JA Elizabeth_I_when_a_Princess

Elizabeth Tudor

If one is going to be financially successful as a writer of historical fiction, one should write about the Tudors. Or about Rome – or medieval England. Maybe even Regency (especially when thinking Romance). Somehow, the 17th century exists in a bubble of obscurity, trapped between the great drama of the 16th century and the bloody upheaval of the 18th. The 17th century has no Marie Antoinette, no Mary Queen of Scots.

Instead, the 17th century has religious strife a-plenty. It has the Thirty Years’ War, it has pillage. It has Wallenstein and Philip IV. It has (sniff) Gustav II Adold hitting the dust at the Battle of Lützen. It has the English Civil War, the execution of Charles I, Cromwell’s mass deportation of the Irish. It has Mazarin and Louis XIV, it has the Dutch rebellion against the Spanish, it has a Glorious Revolution, it has men like John Locke and Isaac Newton. Really, not much to write home about, right?

Reading through that rather impressive list, I can only congratulate myself on my choice of century. After all, there is no shortage of dramatic material. Besides, there is a very personal reason for my fascination with the 17th century, and that’s my husband.

Let me immediately disillusion you by assuring you my husband is not a time traveller. And I’m thinking this is a good thing, all in all. My man has his feet very firmly planted in the here and now, a counter weight to my flights of fancy, an anchor to hold me, a harbour to keep me safe. (Have I mentioned I’m very much in love with him? Have I told you how he can still make me laugh until my stomach hurts, that he can still make me cry happy tears when he whispers certain somethings in my ear?) Anyway; my infatuation with Mr Belfrage is neither here nor there – or maybe it is, but seriously, I must not digress – but the fact that he carries a signet ring on his finger is very relevant to this post, as is the fact that his family can be traced back to the more remote parts of time. He can claim ancestry from Erik XIV of Sweden (but rarely does, as Erik XIV was borderline insane, plus 90% of all Swedish noble families share that honour) but he can also claim Stuart ancestry – and all because of the religious upheaval that plagued Scotland in the 17th century.

GIIA Gustav_II_of_Sweden

Gustav II Adolf

Picture Gothenburg in the early 17th century: having brought in Dutch city planners to design his new city – as yet very much under muddy construction – the Swedish king, Gustavus Adolphus, also needed to populate this city of his, preferably with merchants. Sweden at the time mostly traded in raw material. We exported timber, iron ore, wool and oats. We imported everything else – including capable people. On the opposite side of the North Sea lived a nation of savvy merchants, namely the Scots. Being a small and relatively poor country, Scotland produced a number of surplus sons, many of whom crossed the sea to Sweden (or elsewhere – preferably elsewhere – only a minority chose Sweden, having as yet not developed latter day’s appreciation for Swedish blondes).

To this building site, yet another Scot arrived in 1624 – no doubt attracted by the fact that so many Scots were already there. John Belfrage was twelve, and came with his mother, Joneta Stuart. As per the records, they were fleeing their homeland due to religious persecution – that was the reason Joneta gave. Given that they chose to go to Sweden, we must assume these refugees were Protestants. Sweden looked askance at Catholics, what with Gustavus Adolphus being busy cementing his reputation as the global defender of Protestants.

As John received an education and rose to local prominence, we can deduce that Joneta carried funds of some kind with her. Other than that, we know very little. In what straits did Joneta find herself that her powerful Stuart connections could not help her? After all, Joneta was a Stuart, albeit from a cadet branch, but still…And what became of John’s father?

belfrage vapen

Beavers. Sheesh. Not the sexiest heraldic animal

John made a good life for himself. He became the mayor of a small Swedish city, saw his name and coat of arms placed among the Swedish nobility and had well over ten children. By the time he died, he was probably more Swedish than Scots, answering to the name of Hans (a diminutive of Johannes) rather than John. He probably mostly spoke Swedish, but I bet he now and then dreamed in Scots. Personally, I get the impression this was a very ambitious man, on a mission to reclaim whatever grandeur the precipitated flight from his homeland had caused him to leave behind. In my experience, vastly ambitious people have a large streak of egoism in them, so I am not entirely sure Hans would have been the kind of person I’d have liked wholeheartedly. But he did make good, and for that I doff my mental hat to him.

Anyway; this little glimpse into my husband’s ancestry fascinated me (it made him so exotic! Me, being young, craved exotic) Where before my preferred historical reading matter tended to be focused on the 11th to 14th century, I began reading extensively about the sixteen hundreds, a period defined not only by religious conflicts but also by the birth of modern science, of modern concepts such as the rights of men. Sadly, at the time those human rights did not include the right to worship as one pleased, but the seeds for future liberties were sown.

Graham Saga BannerOut of all this reading The Graham Saga began to take form. My central character very quickly became a Scot, and because I was particularly intrigued by the tales of Covenanters and the brutal persecution they suffered at the hands of the restored Stuart monarchy, this shadow man of mine developed into a former Commonwealth soldier, a man of convictions and a deep personal faith. Just to spice up his life a bit, I decided to endow this man with a woman very different from him. Enter Alexandra Lind, a modern day woman who had the misfortune (or not) to fall through time and land at Matthew’s feet. The rest, as they say, is history.

It all began in A Rip in the Veil, when Alex Lind first clapped her concussed eyes on Matthew Graham. Below an excerpt from that first book – I hope you enjoy it!

9781781321676-Cover.inddAlex rested back against the cave wall and concentrated on breathing without hurting herself. She studied him from under her lashes, irritated to find he’d gone back to gawking at her. What was the matter with him? Had he never seen a woman in jeans before? She looked closely at him. Tall, broad in shoulders and chest, but thin and with an underlying pallor to his skin – as if he’d been ill, just recently allowed out of bed. His hair was cut unbecomingly short except at the back where some longer strands still hung on, his cheeks were covered by a dark, unkempt bristle, like the one Magnus, her father, would sport at the end of his summer holidays – so far nothing alarming. His shirt though… Worn linen that laced up the front, mended cuffs – all of it hand stitched.
Maybe his girlfriend had made it for him, or maybe New Age people believed in doing everything from scratch, in which case they needed a serious fashion update. She moved, scraped her foot against the rocky ground, and winced.
“Is it alright if I touch you?” he said. “It might ease somewhat if I wash the blood off.”
“Sure, go ahead, touch all you want.” Well, within limits of course.
He looked at her with a hesitant expression. “All I want?”
She made a huge effort to look him straight in the eyes, despite the fact that she could see two – no, three – of him.
“Help me, I’m not feeling too good.” She turned her head to the side and retched, but this time it was just slimy yellow bile that burnt her throat as she heaved. “Damn,” she said afterwards, keeping her eyes closed to stop the whole world from spinning. “I must have hit my head really hard.”

He spent quite some time on her forehead, close enough that she could smell him, drawing in the scent of sweat and unwashed male. She wrinkled her nose. Phew! How about some soap?
“What?” he said. “Did I hurt you?”
“No, I’m fine.” She wasn’t; her brain was banging against her skull, the broken skin on her forehead itched, her ribs were using her lungs as a pincushion and her foot… no, best not think about her foot, because it looked absolutely awful, blisters like a fetter round her ankle and all the way down to her toes. She flexed them experimentally. It hurt like hell.

He poured some more water onto the rag he was using and wiped her face. She liked that, opening her eyes to smile her thanks at him. He smiled back, teeth flashing a surprising white in the darkness of his beard. He sat back on his haunches, a worried expression on his face.
“What?” Did she need stitches? Because she really, really hated needles.
“Your ribs, I have to do something about them.”
“Like what?”
“Bandage them, so that you don’t shift them too much.”
“You’ve done this before?”
“It happens, aye.”
“Oh, so you’re a doctor?”
“A doctor?” He laughed. “Nay, lass, I am no doctor. But setting ribs is no great matter, is it?”
“It is when they’re mine.” She shifted on her bottom. “It won’t hurt, will it?”
“No, but I will have to … err … well, I must … the shirt, aye?”
“The shirt?”
“Well, you have to take it off.”
“Oh.” Where did this man come from? “That’s alright; you won’t be the first to see me in the flesh.” He looked so shocked she laughed, but the pain that flew up her side made her gasp instead.

(…)

She was aware of his eyes on her skin, on her neck, but mostly on her breasts, quick glances that returned time and time again to the lacy red bra edged with cream that cupped her breasts and lifted them high. She sat up straighter, shoulders pulled back. She peeked at him, met his eyes and looked away.
“What’s this?” He put a finger on the satin strap. Impossible; men that hadn’t seen a bra didn’t exist – not where she came from.
“It’s a bra.”
“A bra,” he echoed, tracing it round her middle. She jerked back, making both of them gasp.
“My apologies.” He raised his hands in a conciliatory gesture. “I shouldn’t … But there, now it’s done.” He gave her the shirt and averted his eyes as she struggled to put it back on.
Alex closed her eyes, trying to come up with a label to pin on this strange man. Isolated goat farmer? Recluse? Maybe he was an old-fashioned – extremely old-fashioned – Quaker, or maybe the Amish had set up a little colony up here in the Scottish wilderness.

A Rip in the Veil link

Ripping through the veils of time

cels-sky-study-birds-L808-fmAdmit it. Of course you’ve fantasized about travelling through time. What? Is that a “no”? Can’t hear you honey, so I’m going to assume all of you, dear people, are nodding. Okay, so most of you smile somewhat at all this time travelling stuff, being quite content to remain exactly where you are – well, maybe not exactly, because you wouldn’t mind a couple of weeks in the Caribbean, would you? But some of you may have a pen holder in the shape of a Tardis on your desk. (And here I would argue we’re talking as many men as women. In fact, I’ve met more men who have a Tardis replica than women) Others may approach stone circles with a mixture of hope and fear, one little part wishing that they too be dragged back through time like Claire in Outlander, a larger part quailing at the thought. But let’s face it; the concept of travelling through time is fascinating, a mind-boggling exercise that can, at times, make your head ache. Unless you’re a new Einstein. Very few of us are…

Should it happen to any of us, we’re probably in for a nasty surprise. Modern man has grown soft, people. Plus we like being clean. And we are quite addicted to our toothbrushes. Our men are crap with a sword or a bow, us women don’t do much darning these days, and most of us would be quite stumped when faced with the warm carcass of a recently killed pig. Seriously, gut it? Ugh! (And yes, the stink is absolutely revolting, plus all those intestines slither all over the place). Plus imagine living in a world where the plague runs riot at regular intervals. Or where what dental care there is is often supplied by the village smith.

Flemish_Fair_-_Pieter_Brueghel_the_YoungerAnd yet… There is obviously something seriously wrong with me, because I would love to go back, take a peek at the people whose lives we read about today. Okay, so I want a return ticket as well – which, I must admit, I did not give Alex Lind, my female alter ego, time traveller extraordinare whom I plunged rather brutally into the seventeenth century. Nor did I give her much chance of reading up on her new environment – I found it more interesting to see how she would cope if she knew only the rudimentary facts about her new world.

Charles_XI,_Battle_of_Lund“Thanks a lot,” Alex mutters, but seeing as she is still alive, she’s obviously done quite a good job. But undoubtedly it was difficult at times – and not only from a practical perspective, but also from a mental perspective. What would it be like for a modern woman to land in a time in which she is essentially a chattel? How does one cope when all the rights one takes for granted are torn away from you? Well, we will never know, will we – but this is where that very powerful tool imagination comes into play. So, do I believe time travel is possible? In the flesh, no – but in my mind, most definitely yes! My brain rips the veils of time to shreds, and suddenly I am there, back in a time not at all my own. And you know what? I love it, every time!

Anyway, Alex gets to live through some of the more difficult aspects of transitioning to a new time. In the below excerpt, she has just met Matthew – a very strange man, in her opinion. (Needless to say, ex-convict Matthew is as confused by her) Alex is just beginning to realise something very odd has happened to her. Odd? Beg your pardon, impossible – at least for a person as rational as Alex is. But, as she is about to discover, sometimes impossible things do happen!

“What’s your name?” she asked.
“Matthew,” he replied after a while, rolling over in her direction. “Matthew Graham.”
“I’m Alex Lind.” She eased herself up to sit. She licked her lips, and he fumbled in the dark for his water skin, extending it in her direction.
“Alex?” he sat up. “That’s a lad’s name.”
She snorted and drank some more. “No it isn’t, last time I looked I was definitely female and it’s still my name. Short for Alexandra.” She twisted her head in the direction of the opening, exposing her nape, a bare patch of skin highlighted by the severe haircut. She had right pretty ears, tight to her skull and ending in a slight, pink point. Fairy ears…
“What are you?” he whispered, making her turn to face him.
“Just plain Alex; you know, an ordinary woman.”
“No you’re not; in my world women don’t walk around baring their bodies like you do, their hair cut short.”
“I’m not baring my body! I’m fully dressed, for God’s sake!”
He winced at her careless blasphemy. “Aye, there’s cloth all over you, but it reveals more than it conceals.”
“Tough, okay? You’d better learn to live with the times, mister. Just because you’ve chosen to live in some kind of archaic religious context, it doesn’t give you the right to judge the rest of us.”
“Religious context?” he echoed. “Archaic?”
“Well, look at you! You dress like a cross between a Hare Krishna monk and an Amish person, you stare at me as if you’ve never seen a bra before. You must’ve been living in some kind of secluded all male community.”
His mouth twisted into a wry smile. Aye, that was very true. He leaned towards her, trying to see her eyes in the dark.
“What’s a Harray krissna monk? And I haven’t seen a … bra, is it? before. I would definitely have remembered.”
She was staring at him, hands clenched tight around each other. Matthew gave her a wary look; the lass was gaping as if she’d seen a ghost.
“But you know what a car is, right?”
Matthew shook his head.
“A TV? Radio? A phone?”
He frowned; was this some sort of game? “Nay, I’ve never heard of any such things.”
She gulped and scooted away from him, eyes flying to his bundle, the flint and steel he’d left discarded on the floor. She moaned, hid her face in her arms.
“No,” she whispered. “No way. Stuff like that doesn’t happen, not in real life.”
“What?” He came after her, but she reared back, and the expression on her face made him raise his hands, palms towards her. “I’m not about to hurt you.”
“It’s not you, it’s just…” She broke off to stare yet again at him and his possessions. “Bloody hell, no, no, no.” She crawled towards the opening. “The car. My car, it’ll be right there, where I left it. This is just a bad dream, an effect of hitting my head too hard.”
“What’s a car?” he said. She laughed, and then she began to cry instead. He followed her outside, made a grab for her when she slipped.
“My BMW,” she said, “it has to be here!”
He had no idea what she was looking for as she limped up and down the slope, but whatever it was, it wasn’t where she’d expected it to be.
“A dream, it’s just a dream, isn’t it?” She looked at him beseechingly, and he had no idea what to say. This was no dream, not unless they were both sleeping and dreaming the same thing.
“It can’t be true.” To his surprise she placed a hand on his arm. “Too solid,” she moaned, “you’re too damn solid, you hear?” She hit him, repeatedly.
“So are you, lass, but I don’t take to hitting you, do I?” He wrapped his arms around her, pinned down her hands.
“Sorry,” she hiccupped before breaking down completely, a warm weight against his chest. Dearest Lord, but it felt good to hold a woman this close, her hair tickling his nose. It was a near on perfect match, her body a collection of curves that fitted comfortably into his larger and broader frame, her head resting against his shoulder. With an effort he released her. She was still weeping, albeit silently, and he coaxed her back inside, unnerved by her dejection.
“What is the matter, lass?”
She just shook her head, mumbled something he made out as ‘impossible’, and sank down to sit before the little fire. She quieted, drew in a few shaking breaths, and wiped at her face.

ARIV w BRAG MedallionPoor Alex, hey? Or maybe not so poor, because after all, if she hadn’t dropped through that hole in time, she’d never have met Matthew! This is where it is such a delight to be an author: first, I can play around with such constants as time, then I can indulge in my fondness for love. Awwww….

A Rip in the Veil is the first in The Graham Saga and has recently been awarded a B.R.A.G. Medallion. And like Julie Andrews once warbled, “Let’s start at the very beginning, a very good place to start…” – well, assuming you’re into time travel and love and fast-paced adventure, and religious strife, and nefarious younger brothers, and… Phew!

 

The travails of a newly published author

Publishing a book bears a remarked resemblance to being stuck in a hole and yelling “Hello? Can anybody hear me?” Just because the book is there, it doesn’t automatically sell itself, nor do reviews start pouring in from right left and center.

Okay, okay; my book is still a baby, a mere two or three weeks old. But still; by now I had hoped to … what? I’m not quite sure, actually, but somehow the transition from writing & editing (a solitary work where I am entirely in control) to promoting and selling (where I am nowhere close to being in control; I can’t exactly force people to buy the book, it must sort of stand on its own merits – which it does) is much more difficult than I expected.

The absolute euphoria resulting from holding my book for the first time has faded somewhat – but only a little. I giggle like a child whenever I see it (Often. I have copies here, there and everywhere) and I still haven’t dared to read it. However, some people most definitely have, and while I am pleased as punch re the informal reviews I’ve had, please, please share them with more people. On Amazon, Goodreads, Lovereading, Troubador – wherever! I’m getting a bit hoarse here from calling out my lonesome “Hello?” (Plus it always makes me croon Lionel Richie’s song from like ages ago)

For those of you that haven’t read it yet, my book is a roller coaster ride set in the latter half of the seventeenth century. Rogues, devious ministers, royalists, fervent Presbyterians, witches and a very nasty brother populate its pages, and starring in this rather spicy broth is Alex(andra) Lind and Matthew Graham. She was born in 1972 (“What?” “Yupp, you heard me, in 1972”) and has the misfortune of being caught in a rift in time. Well, misfortune and misfortune, it’s not as if this new life of hers doesn’t offer some sort of compensation, mainly in the shape of Matthew Graham, handsome Scot that he is. (But not a kilt in sight). While Alex agrees that Matthew has some finer points, this her new life most certainly doesn’t, starting with the dismal lack of showers. Besides, things are far too exciting this side of the time divide, and there are days when she desperately longs for home and her lost people.

A Rip in the Veil makes perfect reading a rainy Sunday, or a sunny Saturday, or a lonely evening –  actually whenever you need some hours of escapism.

So; should you find the above enticing, why not click one of the links below and buy it? And if you liked it, maybe a little review?

(… and now I feel like a veritable salesman – not at all me. Ugh!)

http://www.troubador.co.uk/book_info.asp?bookid=1816

http://www.amazon.co.uk/A-Rip-Veil-Anna-Belfrage/dp/1780882424/ref=tmm_pap_title_0?ie=UTF8&qid=1345585234&sr=8-1

http://www.amazon.com/Rip-Veil-Anna-Belfrage/dp/1780882424/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1345585369&sr=1-1&keywords=a+rip+in+the+veil

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