ANNA BELFRAGE

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Archive for the tag “new book”

A celebratory post

It is out. My eleventh baby, Under the Approaching Dark, sees the light of the day today, and I’ve decided to celebrate my accomplishments. After all, if I don’t celebrate, why should anyone else?

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Eleven books since 2012. Okay, okay: I haven’t written eleven books in five years – I had quite a few of them done prior to taking those steadying breaths required prior to embarking on the path of publication, but still. Eleven. And guess what? Seeing your book in print doesn’t get old.

Yes, I have become more critical. I pick up the book, I inspect the spine, the paper, I turn it this way and that looking for flaws. This time round, I didn’t find any. Mind you, I know I will find some. There’ll be that irritating typo both me and my editor have missed. Or a slightly misaligned quotation mark. But for now, I hold up my book and inhale. A rather heady scent of ink and paper—somewhat addictive even for someone as fond of e-books as I am.

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As an ambitious author, I can’t rest on my laurels. I need to write more. And more. There’s a trilogy to finish editing, a sequel to The Graham Saga that just needs the last two chapters, the next book in The King’s Greatest Enemy to revise. Plus all the other stuff that clutters up my brain, all those stories that just have to be told. Not necessarily so as to enrich the human race, but more so that I don’t go slightly crazy keeping it all inside of my poor, buzzing brain.

Tea William Henry Margetson Afternoon-TeaBut today, I’m not doing any of that. Today, I’m going to bask in a sensation of accomplishment. Maybe I’ll even celebrate with a cup of tea and a slice of chocolate cake. Or maybe I’ll just jot down those lines that have been plaguing me for days now:

Simon knew the moment he shoved the door open that he’d made a mistake. He hesitated, not quite knowing what to make of what he saw. Behind him, he could still hear the muted sounds of the tourists making their way around the large Cathedral, most of them in unbuttoned warm winter jackets. Before him, fields dipped and swayed in a summer breeze, a lingering sunset gilding the stone walls closest.
“What is it?” Amanda asked, shoving at him. 
“Let’s go back,” he said, trying to pull the door closed. 
“Why? What do you see?” As impatient as ever, she shoved again, and this time he stumbled over the threshold. Acute pain enveloped him, causing him to fall to his knees while clutching his head.
“Simon?” Her voice sounded surprisingly faint. “Are you ok?” She made as if to go to him, he tried to tell her not to, but it was too late. She collapsed beside him. “What…” she gasped, before doubling over.
The door started to swing shut. Simon tried to get to his feet. The door. He had to keep it open. The door. Damn it, the door! 

With a soft sigh, the door closed. The ground beneath them shook, the pain was gone. 
“What happened?” Amanda asked, getting to her feet. Her eyes widened as she took in the lush greenery. “Simon?” Her voice quavered. “How…”

Well, dear readers, there went my tea and cake. So if you’ll excuse me, I have a new story to write. No rest for the weary, right?

Of leading ladies and gate-crashing male protagonists

NOTE: This blog post was written for and originally posted on that most excellent blog The Bluestocking Belles – a group of authors that elevate Regency romance to dizzying heights. I recommend you drop by and visit – if Regency is your cup of tea, that is. Actually, even if it isn’t, as the belles are known for their wit and repartee 🙂 It has been somewhat rewritten since the original posting – a consequence of time passing…

Last Monday was the official publication date of the first book in my new series, In The Shadow of the Storm. So I decided to celebrate with an informal get together with my principal ladies. I do one-on-one’s with all of them regularly, which is how I know what they think and feel, what their opinions are on things as diverse as sex during Lent to the present oil-price. You see, my ladies come from different time periods, so what is everyday business for one of them, is a brand new world for the others. Makes it sort of interesting to toss them all together – especially as I thought we’d discuss something as incendiary as feminism.

Me, being a modern person, take it for granted that I as a woman have the same rights as any man.
“Yeah!” Alex Graham mutters, giving me a look somewhere between amused and irritated. Alex is also a firm believer in equal rights, having been born in the 1970s. Unfortunately for her – at least from that perspective – she no longer lives in the present day. Alex Graham has, through a number of weird and wonderful coincidences, been transported back to the 17th century, a time in which women have very few – if any – rights.

A5 Mailer-Front“That’s because women have less sense than us men,” Matthew Graham says, winking at his wife. As gorgeous as ever, he has appeared in the doorway, his linen shirt unlaced sufficiently to allow a peek at a broad and hairy chest. His wife is nowhere near as exposed. Matthew is a firm believer in some things being for his eyes only, and Alex is therefore wearing a bodice with a high cut neckline, her hair covered by a neat lace cap, and her long skirts hinting at curves no one but Matthew is ever allowed to appreciate.
“You’re not supposed to be here,” I protest. “This is ladies only.” Not that I mind – not at all – which he knows, being fully aware that this author has a major crush on him.
There is a low laugh from somewhere behind me. Yet another male gate-crasher.
“That’s being very discriminatory, don’t you think?” Jason settles himself on the sofa, drapes a possessive arm round Helle’s shoulders and pulls her close. “Besides, I like cake.” And I like Jason, all six feet and more of him with that absolutely magnificent mass of mahogany coloured hair, and…Sheesh! Get a grip, I admonish myself.
“Aye,” Matthew Graham says, joining his wife on the bench by the fireplace. “So do I.” He extends his booted legs towards the fire, muttering something about it being damned cold for October, and what will it mean for the winter?

Kit de Guirande has so far not said anything, sitting very much to the side while regarding the others from under her lashes. A sheer veil covers her dark-red hair, she is wearing a kirtle in the deepest of blues and fiddles with the belt from which hang her keys. It is with relief she smiles up at Adam when he sort of steps out of the shadows to stand beside her, a protective hand on her shoulder.
Adam de Guirande nods at Matthew – they’ve met before in my rather roomy head, both of them being men of honour and convictions, willing to risk life and freedom for things they find truly important. Something that has both Kit and Alex enduring sleepless nights, let me tell you.

Where Matthew is dark, Adam is fair, arms bulging after years swinging swords and carrying shields. He is also very much a product of the early 14th century, and when I inform him as to the subject of the day, he raises his brows, mouth twitching with a contained smile. But he doesn’t say anything, more than secure in the knowledge that in his home he rules and Kit follows. Most of the time.

Helle is giving Kit’s clothes an admiring look. She herself is in her customary jeans – although at times she has throw-back memories to a life in which she wore sweeping garments of linen and fine wool, her head, her face, covered by veils her grandmother spent hours embroidering.
“Some sort of princess,” she confides to Kit, who looks very impressed, “but that was like three thousand years ago.” She pats Jason on the leg. “We met already then, but things went pear-shaped, and since then we’ve been tumbling through time, trying to find each other again.”
“And now we have,” Jason says, but he can’t resist throwing a look at the darker corners of my mind. Wise man, Jason; there’s plenty of evil lurking there, most of it in the shape of Sam Woolf, Jason’s personal nemesis.
“Oh,” Kit croaks, shuffling on her stool so that her back is firmly pressed against Adam’s legs. He bends over and murmurs something in her ear along the lines of me having a most fertile imagination, nothing to be worried about – at all. I smile at him. I’m pretty proud of what I’ve made up when it comes to him – and Kit, who may appear acquiescent but who lets nothing stop her when her man requires rescuing. Which he does on occasion, being torn apart between his loyalty to his liege-lord, Baron Roger Mortimer, and his growing affection for Lord Edward, heir to the throne and son to Edward II, that most inept of kings.

“Well,” I say, “shall I be mother?” Uncomprehending looks from Matthew and Adam, a titter from Alex.
“Tea?” Adam sniffs suspiciously at his mug.
“Best thing in the world.” Alex sighs happily.
“I thought I was the best thing in the world,” Matthew teases, reaching for a slice of sponge cake.
“Best man, not thing,” Alex says.
There’s a mild snort from Kit, accompanied by a secret little smile she directs at Adam, now sitting beside her.

Series-One-RowMy readers have as yet not made Kit’s or Adam’s acquaintance – the first book in their series has just hit the virtual shelves. I, however, have been living with them close to three years by now so I know why Adam limps so badly, and how Kit was coerced into impersonating someone else to marry him. I have held my breath as Kit has thrown herself headlong into rushing waters in a desperate attempt to save Adam’s life, I have kept my fingers crossed at daring escapes over slippery rooftops at night. And I have smiled and looked away when he loves her, so attracted by this wife of his he disobeys the teachings of the church and beds her during Lent.

“And what about us?” Alex kicks me softly on the shin. “Are you going to abandon Matthew and me?” Oooo, she sounds quite jealous.
“Of course not.” I give her an encouraging smile. There will be more about Alex and Matthew, because despite eight books there are things to clear up – and I love this leading couple of mine to bits. Him with those magical hazel eyes and his slow smile, her headstrong and loving – the two of them make an impressive duo as they face whatever calamities life throws in their way. There have been many of those.
“As long as you don’t kill off any more of my babies,” Alex warns, shoulders hunching together. I can’t resist the urge to reach forward and stroke her cheek. She’s lost so much, my Alex.

“So, women’s rights,” I say, trying to revert to the original subject.
“Overrated,” Jason says, and laughs when Helle smacks him over the head. They make a handsome couple, her blond curls standing in a messy halo round a face dominated by turquoise eyes. Shapely and fit, she lounges back on the sofa and her top rides up, revealing a couple of inches of tanned skin. Kit looks scandalized. Alex looks jealous. Jason scowls at the other two men and yanks Helle’s top back down. He may be living in the 21st century, but Jason comes burdened with perceptions developed over an endless number of lives, leaving him very possessive when it comes to his woman.
“They’re necessary.” Alex scrapes at something on her skirts. “Women are people, not chattel.”
“Women are vulnerable,” Adam breaks in. “They don’t need rights, they need men who protect them.”
“Really?” Helle sounds anything but impressed. “And what if the man set to protect them is the one who abuses them?”
“Then that is wrong.” Adam shrugs.
“I’m not vulnerable,” Kit objects. Her voice is low and dark, sultry enough that both Matthew and Jason throw her interested looks.
“If women were vulnerable, the human race would have gone extinct long before they lived in caves,” Alex says.
“Yeah,” Helle agrees. “Let’s see a man give birth to a baby or two.” She shares a quick look with Jason and ducks her head. Sensitive subject, that of children – at least for these two, who had a girl in the long ago, a child cruelly stolen from them and never found.
“I didn’t mean it like that.” Adam extends his hand to his wife. “You know I have the utmost respect for you, my lady, and I, if anyone, knows just what you are capable of. My point was rather that it shouldn’t matter if women have rights or not – they should be cherished and honoured, loved and protected, no matter what.”
“Hear, hear.” Matthew raises his mug. “To our women.”

The ladies in the room look quite pleased, and I decide there’s no point in continuing this debate. Instead, I recline against the wall and sip at my tea. I narrow my eyes at Jason and Helle, sitting with their heads close together. I wonder if I should tell them just what I – and Sam – have in store for them. No, I decide, why spoil this moment for them; better serve up more cake and tea. Besides, Jason and Helle won’t be hitting the bookshelves until 2017, so there’s no need to frighten them silly – yet.

Below, a little excerpt from In the Shadow of the Storm, the first in the Kit and Adam trilogy (and yes, it is somewhat steamy, not a “dot,dot,dot” in sight):
In the Shadow of the StormAfter the long, confusing meal, Kit succeeded in sneaking off to her room – their room, she amended, noting that the small space was cluttered with Adam’s belongings, most of them spilling from a large chest. In contrast, her few garments were hanging neatly from the clothes’ pole, tucked away in an alcove just beyond the bed and half-hidden behind a length of linen suspended from the roof.

She sank down on the bed and cradled her head in her hands. How was she to cope in this unfamiliar role? How was she to keep up the subterfuge that she was someone she wasn’t? She’d spent most of dinner shoving the food around on her trencher while she watched the others eat. Spicy roasts, bread that was warm from the ovens, cheeses and wines, dried fruits and miniature pies – she’d never seen such a selection of food before, accustomed to the plain fare and quiet peace of meals at Tresaints. Her stomach grumbled, unhappy with her for not having fed it more, but Kit had spent most of the meal struggling with her conscience. What she was doing was wrong, and things were not helped by Adam’s courteous behaviour at dinner or by the way his eyes had lingered on her. Sweetest Virgin, what was she to do?

Kit rose and wandered over to Adam’s chest. Tunics lay thrown together, she saw the coloured leather of a boot, the heavy buckle of a belt. She picked up a long length of hose, found its pair and rolled them together. The tunics were shaken, inspected and folded, with Kit caressing the fine silks of his two supertunics. There was a deep blue woollen tunic that must fall down to his knees, a number of linen braies and three long linen shirts. She held one to her nose, capturing a faint remnant of his scent. Her husband… despite the unorthodox aspects of their union, she couldn’t quite suppress a little shiver. Just the thought of him had her privates contracting, heat flaring between her legs. Lust, she chided herself, this is mere lust.

“My squire can do that.”
She whirled, finding her husband by the door.
“I don’t mind,” she said. This was something she felt comfortable doing, with the added benefit of being out of sight from all the people who thronged the castle.
She folded a thick cloak, knelt to tuck it in, and heard him crossing the floor towards her. His boots squeaked, a leg clad in thick hose appeared in her field of vision. She placed a hand on his leg. He inhaled when she moved her hand upwards.
“What are you doing?”
Her cheeks heated at her daring. Would he find her too forward?
“Exploring my husband,” she said, caressing the narrow patch of bare skin she found on his upper thighs. The hose-points were tied to the rougher fabric of the linen braies, and Kit counted two ties as her fingers traced their way round his leg. She suppressed a nervous titter. She had never inspected a man’s undergarments before. His hand clasped hers, arresting it, through the fabric of his tunic.
“My turn today, my lord.” She looked up at him, still kneeling at his feet. His face was flushed, those grey eyes of his inscrutable.
Adam gestured with his head. “The door – it’s unbolted.” He sounded hoarse, breathless even.

Kit lurched to her feet, nearly stumbling until he caught her, holding her close. Stubble gilded his cheeks, straight fair lashes framed his eyes, and a lock of dishevelled hair fell across his brow. His lips grazed her ear, her jaw. She breathed through her mouth, eyes closed. His lips on hers, a strong hand at her waist manoeuvring her backwards, to the door. The bolt screeched into place. He pressed her against the door and she moaned into his mouth. Adam tore away, gasping for breath. His hands under her skirts, masses of fabric wedged between them, making it impossible to get him really close.
“Bed,” she said, tugging at his belt.
“Here,” he panted, “now!” He lifted her, entered her, and she clung to him, helpless in his arms, incapable of doing anything but taking what he gave her.

“God’s blood!” he exclaimed afterwards, leaning his forehead against hers. Her pulse was painfully loud in her head, her legs wobbly. Kit released her hold on his tunic, tried to straighten up.
“Indeed,” she said. The bed. She stumbled towards it, needing to lie down, to rest. The bed creaked with his weight when he joined her. Supple fingers unloosened her veil and braids, travelled further down to the lacings at the side of her kirtle. Garment by garment he stripped her, before undressing himself and lying down beside her.
“It seems that in this we are well suited, my lady,” he murmured. His eyes were dark and soft, his hand gentle as it caressed her cheek. “A good start,” he added, leaning over to place the lightest of kisses on her mouth. Hesitantly, she raised her hands to cup his face.
“A very good start,” she agreed. He laughed, took her hand and placed it on his chest.
“All yours,” he said. “Explore me to your heart’s content, my lady.”

I hope you enjoyed the above excerpt. The book is available on Amazon plus on various other on-line retailers.

Number seven sees the light of day!

Whither-Thou-Goest_Anna-Belfrage600pxby949pxOn November 1, the seventh book in The Graham Saga was published. Seven books.. Each book is around 120 000 words, and I’d calculate I have re-written more or less every word at least thrice as I’ve edited and hones, added and detracted. So seven books is the equivalent of 2 500 000 words – and this from a person who types with three fingers…

So what is this seventh book about? And how can a series extend over so many books and still bring something new to the table?

Starting with the last question first, I sincerely hope that is the case. And yes, there is an overall blueprint to which the books adhere. The difficulty lies in developing the characters – and keeping them true to themselves. Building different plots for each book is “easy” in comparison, and in Whither Thou Goest I am helped by the setting – my protagonists get to spend time in the Caribbean, very different from their home in Maryland….

Why the Caribbean? Well, I like the Caribbean. Sun, sand, sea and Kenny Rogers/Dolly Parton crooning Islands in the Stream – oops! that was anachronistic, as in the 17th century spending time on the beach was not about to happen – not unless adequately swathed in covering clothes and a hat, which sort of precludes running shrieking through the surf…

Actually, the Caribbean is about more than sun and sea. Those islands in the stream have their own fascinating history, and there was a lot of stuff happening in the area during the 17th century. Like pirates and the constant conflicts with Spain. Like the development of the slave trade – that huge blot on human history. At the beginning of the 17th century, most of the labour on the plantation fields were bond servants of one sort or other, white men who had a finite number of years of servitude to pay for their own passage. By the end of the century, the people toiling in the sun were black, and there was nothing finite about their period of servitude – they were chattels, accorded no human rights.

There were, however, white men who also ended up as slaves under the Caribbean sun. These were men of strong convictions – or who belonged to the “wrong” faith, like the 30 000 Irishmen Cromwell had deported to Barbados merely on the fact that they were Catholic. One such man is Matthew Graham’s nephew, Charlie. This young man fell under the spell of the Duke of Monmouth and joined in the duke’s ill-fated rebellion, which is why he has been condemned to live out his days in chains on a Barbados plantation.

It was quick, this transformation from human to beast. On the ship out, there had been desultory talk, a sharing of stories and hopes that allowed them to hang on to some scrap of basic humanity. Here, there was no talk on the fields, none of them had the breath for it, and at night, they collapsed to sleep as best they could, exhausted beyond the point of rational thought.
Starved already to begin with, the insufficient rations weakened him further, and the gruelling work under a punishing sun left him – all of them – a walking skeleton in less than a month. Charlie stole where he could. He ate anything set before him, he bullied the weaker of his companions into sharing with him, and while the others died, he remained alive. Alive, but a beast, an obedient slave that mumbled yes, massa, no, massa like the blacks did, that dragged and carried load after load of heavy cane to the voracious sugar mills from sunrise to well after sunset.
His skin no longer flamed under the sun, having tanned into a permanent reddish brown decorated with a scattering of uneven white circles where blisters had formed and healed. He was beaten for not being fast enough, he was whipped for standing for a moment in the shade to rest. He had the last remnant of the old Charlie Graham removed when his breeches were ripped off him and replaced by a linen clout, and still he survived, forcing his battered, starved body to work and eat, work and eat.

Obviously, Matthew Graham feels obliged to save his unfortunate nephew. Where Matthw goes, there goes Alex, reluctant to ever again let her husband out of her sight – look what happened to him last time that happened, him returning to her barely alive…

Whither Thou Goest is available from various on-line retailers (and some book shops) such as Amazon.

 

 

 

Who is real? Me or them?

Descartes

Descartes, by Frans Hals

Back in the 17th century, the French philosopher Descartes wrote “Cogito, ergo sum”, which is Latin for “I think, therefore I am.” He did a lot of thinking, this French man – and in particular, I suspect, as he lay on his deathbed in a freezing and unwelcoming Stockholm. His thoughts at the time would probably have been “why was I such an idiot as to come here?” Even in his extremis, however, Descartes would have known he existed – after all, he was still thinking, no matter how rambling his thoughts.

These days, our thoughts are not sufficient confirmation of our existence. We require other people – even total strangers – to verify that we’re around. We post on FB and hope someone will like our post. We tweet just to make sure people know we are there. The fact that we’re tweeting about totally mundane things such as “I just had coffee” is neither here nor there. We write posts on our blogs and hope someone will stop by, maybe even leave a comment (Yes please: remember, you’re dealing with a frail 21st century soul who has existential angst. Or not ;)) Likes, tweets, comments – indications that we do exist.

Ahem. I am pretty sure I exist anyway. If I pinch my calf it hurts, should I pass by a mirror, I can catch my reflection. Having said that, I am pretty sure my invented characters exist as well – I mean I have long, fulfilling conversations with all of them in my head. So maybe I don’t exist – at least not to a larger extent than Matthew Graham and his wife Alex does. Such thoughts make my head ache.

One day, we will all die. Hopefully we will leave a larger legacy behind than posts on FB and thousands of tweets. Hopefully, we will have left our mark on flesh-and-blood people because we have interacted with them in real time. We have hopefully hugged them, laughed with them, walked through summer twilights with them, lain on our back and studied the stars with them. You can’t do any of those things on FB – or on a blog. You can merely attempt to describe the experience. Weirdly enough, I can definitely do all of those things with my invented characters. There I am, peeking over the shoulder as Matthew cradles his new-born child. Or standing very still in the shadows, not knowing quite how to comfort a weeping Alex as she strokes her husband over his head. Which begs the question: do they exist?

R&R webstampAt times, my invented characters have the same sense of disorientation – like when Alex is plagued by far too vivid dreams

Alex struggled back into the light, and the man holding her was solid under her hands, his concerned eyes a gold-flecked green in the light of the candle he had lit.
“Matthew?”
“Aye, Matthew, that’s me, lass.”
Alex struggled to sit, her sweat-drenched shift sticking to her skin. Matthew handed her a mug of cider, helping her to hold it steady. She blinked, trying to clear her mind of the fragmented images of Isaac. Jesus, I’m going insane, she thought. She drained the mug and with trembling hands began to undo the laces of her chemise.
“Let me,” Matthew said. He got her out of the sopping garment, and found a towel to pat her dry with, sitting with her shivering, naked body on his lap. She curled into him, her arms tight around his neck, and he ran his warm hands up and down her bare skin, crooning her name in a hoarse, breaking voice.
“I’m not sure,” she groaned. “Are you for real? Or are you the dream?”
“I’m no dream,” he whispered back, “nor am I a ghost. I’m here, now, and so are you. It’s the others that don’t exist, Alex. It is them that are the dream.”
“A nightmare,” she said against his chest, “not a dream, never a dream. A black hole of loneliness. An absolute freezing emptiness.”
“Ah, lass.” Matthew kissed the top of her head and gathered her to him. Alex needed him even closer, pulling at his shirt, his breeches in a frenzied attempt to get at his skin, his warmth.

When we die, the legacy we leave behind are the memories we created in other people. Once the people who remember us are gone, we become one in thousands upon thousands of previous existences, one grey shade in a silent crowd. But we did exist, right? We believed, we loved, we struggled to make sense of our lives.

“So do we,” Alex tells me. “Every day, we go on with the task of living.” She gives me a smile. “Feeling maudlin today?”
“Somewhat.” I smile back at this my imaginary (or not) friend, complete in skirts and bodice, a neat white collar and a cap. Alex sits down beside me and takes my hand. Yup, I can feel her taking my hand. I obviously am delusional – or gifted with a very vivid imagination.
“When you die, we will still be around,” she tells me.
“And that is supposed to make me feel better?” I ask her, feeling a spurt of jealousy that my characters will know immortal life (well…) while my life-span is restricted by the biological events of birth and death.
“It makes me feel better.” Alex grins. “Seems sort of fair, given all the stuff you put me and Matthew through.”
“I don’t put you through anything! Your lives just sort of happen.”
“Really?” Alex doesn’t even try to keep the sarcasm out of her voice. Okay, okay. I like my books to be packed full of action and love and adventure and emotional drama and historical events and… I clasp Alex’s hand, and she squeezes back. We sit like that for some time. “If you kill him, I will drive you crazy,” she says. “Literally.” Alex gnaws at her lip.
“I can’t…” I break off. I was about to add ‘promise anything’, but the look in Alex’s dark blue eyes has me swallowing them back.
“My Matthew doesn’t die,” she hisses. “Ever!” She throws a look to her right, and we both sort of shiver as we catch sight of the huddled shape that is Matthew. Poor, poor Matthew. The things he goes through in Revenge and Retribution… “I swear. I will haunt you every moment of your life if you let him die.” The expression on Alex’s face makes me realise this is no empty threat.
“I’ll do what I can,” I say with a sigh. No need to tell her killing Matthew would be the equivalent of breaking my heart in two. No need for her to know just how much I love this tall man with hazel eyes and dark eyes, this man who loves her (AAAGH!) so completely, who holds to convictions and integrity no matter the cost. Alex laughs softly beside me.
“Silly,” she murmurs. “I can hear all your thoughts just as well as you can hear mine.”
“Oh.” I blush.
“He’s mine,” she tells me. As if in response, the huddled shape in the periphery of my mental eye raises his head. Matthew may be bloodied and bruised, he may look like a train or two ran him over, but when he smiles at his wife, it’s like seeing the sun break through a dark thunder cloud. And just like that, Alex is no longer by my side. She is running like the wind towards her man.

On July 1, the next instalment of The Graham Saga, Revenge and Retribution becomes available. I have done my best to keep Matthew safe and sound – but sometimes my best is not enough.

Find my books on Amazon US or Amazon UK

For a brief, visual introduction to The Graham Saga, why not watch my trailer?

Should you by now be salivating with need to READ my books, do not fear: I am offering a giveaway – one paperback, one Kindle. All you have to do is leave a comment and let me know if you are one hundred percent certain you exist!

UPDATE JULY 1: GIVEAWAY WINNERS – AS DRAWN BY MY SON – ARE MSGENERALLEE AND SABRINA

An Insatiable queen and her favourite

Today I have the pleasure of welcoming my author friend Ginger Myrick to my blog (She is the only person in the world I allow to call me Anna Banana – goes to show just how much I like her) This is a lady who writes like the wind and has a voracious appetite when it comes to anything historical. This time, Ginger has sunk her dainty little teeth into Marie Antoinette, and as Ginger is always Ginger, I dare say Marie Antoinette herself will be quite surprised at some of the things that happen to her. However, Marie Antoinette strikes me as a woman fully capable of taking surprises in her stride – and with dignity. Anyway, without further ado, let me turn you over into Ginger’s most capable hands!

Axel von Fersen: The Queen’s Favorite

Anyone who knows about Marie Antoinette will recognize the name of her favorite, Axel von Fersen. Although even experts in the field cannot definitively say whether they were physical lovers or not, there is no doubting that there was a strong bond between them. They shared a lifelong association that at the very least can be classified as a deep and lasting friendship. Their relationship began in their late teens and endured until Marie Antoinette’s death in 1793.

They met at an opera ball, a masked event on January 30, 1774, when Marie Antoinette was only eighteen years old and not yet Queen of France. Her husband Louis Auguste, then Dauphin, was in attendance along with his brothers and their wives, and the small circle of young royals seemed to approve of von Fersen. The Swedish count was invited to attend a few bals à la Dauphine, little informal dances given by Marie Antoinette in her personal apartments at Versailles. Although this may seem like the beginnings of a love affair, there was actually little opportunity for misbehavior, as the Dauphine would have been closely watched in her own rooms. A few months later, von Fersen left France to continue his Grand Tour of Europe, which included a visit to England where he would attempt to secure the hand of an heiress, Catherine Lyell.

Axel did not return to France for over four years. Marie Antoinette, by then Queen, immediately recognized von Fersen when he stopped in to pay court, even if the rest of the royals did not. A short while later, she invited him to one of her famous card parties, and despite the fact that she was pregnant at the time, von Fersen quickly became part of Marie Antoinette’s intimate circle, in fact, one of her favorites. He spent much time at Le Petit Trianon playing cards, lounging about, and engaging in meaningful discussions with the rest of the privileged few, whatever the queen’s whim demanded in the moment. This pleasant idyll lasted for nearly two years until he left in May of 1780 to aid the Americans in their fight for freedom.

Von Fersen had a long tradition of military service in his background and spent his formative years in military academies. He was a staunch idealist, and believed in the concept of freedom for all, although he came from a noble family and his father was one of the richest men in all of Sweden. His father served Louis XV of France in the Seven Years’ War, so there was a longtime connection to the French court, and it was as aide-de-camp to General Rochambeau that Axel the younger was assigned. A year after the arrival of l’Expédition Particulière, the unit marched south to join the Continental army under George Washington for their planned attack on New York.

Von Fersen’s duties encompassed many tasks for which he was well equipped. He filled the role of interpreter, secretary, and courier, and played a key role in organizing the objective at Yorktown that eventually led to the defeat of Cornwallis and ensured the American victory. Von Fersen was awarded the Order of Cincinnatus by Washington himself, although his own sovereign, King Gustavus III of Sweden, censured the wearing of an honor earned in a people’s revolt against their overlord.

From America, von Fersen returned to France in June of 1783, where he stayed until September before heading home to Sweden to serve King Gustavus. He spent nine months accompanying his king on a tour of Europe, eventually making their way back to Versailles to negotiate a treaty with Louis XVI. Axel then departed for his homeland once again on a mission of the utmost importance, to procure a puppy for Marie Antoinette. He brought this special breed, a Leonberger, back to her and maintained close contact through the next few years, being present for most of the major events leading up to the French Revolution.

He was in residence in the town of Versailles in October of 1789 when the Palace was stormed by a volatile mob. The royal family was taken and held at the Tuileries under strict guard, and von Fersen helped lay the groundwork to liberate them. With his military background and firsthand experience of covert operations, he was ultimately qualified to plot the escape and arranged the whole thing down to the smallest detail. At this point, he could have just played it safe and sent someone less recognizable to enact the plan, which might have been the wiser decision on his part. But due to his deep affection for Marie Antoinette, and in lesser part her husband, he refused to rely upon anyone else and drove the getaway carriage himself.

After the first leg of the journey, von Fersen unwillingly ceded control of the coach at Louis XVI’s insistence. The king did not want his people to believe he was attempting to leave France, especially aided by a foreign personage. After dismissing von Fersen, Louis was recognized when the party sought to change horses in Varennes, a mere forty miles from their destination, and the royal family was taken back to Paris.

In February 1792, von Fersen made his final visit to Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette at the Tuileries palace. In heavy disguise he sneaked in an unguarded side door and again urged them to escape, which Louis absolutely refused to do. He spent the night in their quarters, attempting to convince them, but left dejected the next morning unable to persuade Louis to change his mind. But the King’s refusal would not curtail his efforts. Von Fersen continued working to get Marie Antoinette out of France—one daring plan consisting of riding into the Conciergerie and taking her out on horseback—right up until she was executed in October of 1793. It is apparent that there was some extraordinary force at work behind the scenes. Spending so many years of his life to get Marie Antoinette to safety is the true testament to the devotion her bore her.

Because the veracity of their relationship will never be proven, it will always hold the allure of the unsolved mystery. In my new release—Insatiable: A Macabre History of France ~ L’Amour: Marie Antoinette—I exploit the premise that Marie Antoinette and Axel von Fersen were indeed lovers. I even take their relationship one step further by adopting the assertions of the gossip of the time attributing the paternity of her second son, Louis-Charles—the eventual Dauphin of France—to von Fersen. As INSATIABLE is a work of alternate history, the love affair between Marie Antoinette and Axel von Fersen is the least of the liberties I take with the story. But in my defense, I am not the first to do so nor will I be the last.

* * *

EXCERPT from INSATIABLE: A MACABRE HISTORY OF FRANCE ~ L’AMOUR: MARIE ANTOINETTE

After sipping a glass of punch, Marie Antoinette still felt winded by her exertions. She decided to observe for a bit before returning to the chaos. She spotted an open space above the ballroom floor with an unobstructed view of the dancers. She made her way to the landing and leaned up against the banister, snapping open her fan to circulate the air over her heated face and neck. The cool breeze on her skin felt heavenly. She relaxed but went suddenly rigid when a body bumped heavily into her from behind.

She heard a deep voice mumble, “Excuse me, Madame,” but she could not help but feel he had jostled her on purpose. Some impertinent courtier come to make sport with the Dauphine, perhaps? Well, she knew how to put paid to that. She squared her shoulders, lifted her chin, and adopted the most imperious attitude she could muster. She turned with a haughty swish of her skirts, glowered at her harasser, and ceased to breathe.

She had raised her chin in order to look down upon the intruder, but in doing so, her initial gaze only reached to the center of his broad chest. When she lifted her eyes to his face, she encountered the most striking looking man she had ever beheld in her life. He was dressed in the same fashion as the others in the room—tricorn hat, powdered wig, frock coat, and breeches—but nothing he could ever do would make him look like the rest.

The shape of his face was a study in masculinity with its angular planes, straight nose, clearly defined jawline, and square chin. He had heavy eyebrows set above a pair of piercing dark eyes the color of the sky at midnight. He was athletically slender with wide shoulders, narrow hips, and well turned legs, and he bore himself regally. And tall, so tall. His whole person gave off an imposing air that did little to diminish her attraction to him but, in fact, increased it.

Marie Antoinette’s heart pounded in her chest, and her breath came in little hitching gasps, which she desperately hoped he would not notice. Any thought she had previously entertained about quashing his advances flew immediately out of her head, and she stood there, unspeaking, knowing that the pause was becoming more conspicuous by the second but helpless to break the spell. She racked her brain, trying regain her composure while he stood there looking down at her with his brooding eyes and an amused but decidedly insolent upturn to the corners of his prim mouth.

“I’m sorry, but you have caught me off-guard, Monsieur,” she finally got out, praying that her voice sounded normal.

“Yes,” he said, the maddeningly arrogant expression never leaving his face. “It seems so,” he added, not bothering to introduce himself—which would have been the polite thing to do—and letting her squirm.

She should have been put out by his flippant response, but being in his presence had the distinct effect of discombobulating her. She took a deep breath—hoping that he would not notice her flustered state—and took a moment to reflect.

They were at a bal masqué. The entire point of going incognito was to discard the strictures of etiquette for a time and just have fun. And although most of the partygoers knew the identities behind the masks, it was expected to act somewhat out of the norm and not be held accountable afterward. Artois and Provence were masters at it!

The Dauphine could not act too outrageously with her husband in attendance—besides, she was not inclined toward wild behavior—but her disguise did afford her a small measure of anonymity. With this comforting thought in mind, she allowed her natural charm and flirtatiousness to bubble to the surface and engaged in a bit of playful banter with the stranger.

“Well, I suppose I should beware then,” she replied saucily. “Your reluctance to reveal your identity may be an attempt to hide malicious intent or a disreputable past. Next thing I know you will have abducted me and held me for ransom … or worse. Should I be alarmed?”

He chuckled to himself at the scandalous picture she painted of him as a potential criminal. The upstanding Axel von Fersen, adherent to etiquette and slave to propriety, a kidnapper? It was laughable. She certainly had a vivid imagination and a quick wit, to boot. If he had caught her off-guard at first, she was fully recovered now.

“The thought had not crossed my mind until you mentioned it, although now that you have, it’s not a bad idea.”

“I suppose it’s only fair to warn you. I am a very high-ranking Lady, and your actions would launch a massive manhunt to the farthest corners of France.”

“Well then, it’s a good thing that I have the fastest horse in all of Europe.”

“Yes, but he would be burdened with the two of us,” she pointed out, placing a finger on her dimpled chin and looking up out of the corner of her eyes at him. Her long lashes veiled the big round orbs alluringly in a captivating expression that stunned him into momentary silence.

The better part of her face was covered by her mask, but he could still clearly distinguish her charms. Her skin was white and luminous, her face a lovely pale oval flushed pink by her excitement. She had a slightly aquiline nose, although small and feminine, and an adorable pouty mouth. The one thing the mask did to enhance her natural beauty was to set off her eyes to their best advantage, and he had never seen a more bewitching pair in his life.

Her eyes, her beautiful silvery blue eyes, held him mesmerized. Although he could listen to her chatter merrily on about nothing and never tire of the display—her porcelain skin and plump red lips exceedingly attractive and her delicate white hands in constant motion—he found himself drowning in her eyes. He tore his gaze away and tried to regain the thread of his concentration.

“You are quite petite,” he said, giving an appreciative once over of her shapely figure. “My horse would hardly notice the extra load. Even if he did, I’m sure he would gladly bear it.”

It was her turn to be struck speechless. She didn’t know whether to be incensed that he had inspected her in such a blatantly assessing manner or flattered that he had noticed. She struggled with her natural prudishness for a moment, wondering if it would do more harm than good to reveal her identity. She was rendered acutely conscious by his comment, but still, she did not want her time with him to end, not just yet. What to do?

* * *

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Number four has landed!

9781781321355-100dpiI am now the proud mama – oops, AUTHOR – of four published books. As of today, my latest book, A Newfound Land is available “everywhere where good books are sold”. (I rather like that. It also makes me wonder where the bad books are sold. More to the point, it makes me consider what a bad book might be. My mother, whose avid love of literature and very broad taste introduced me to a very varied book diet, would argue there are no bad books. Well, unless the language in them is bad, bad being sloppy, full of unintentional grammatical errors and repetitive. Well: neither here nor there…)

A Newfound Land is set in Maryland, the colony that was first in world history to implement religious tolerance back in the 17th century. Why there? Well, because Matthew Graham has need of a new home for himself and his numerous family, what with him being persecuted for his faith back in Scotland. It’s not always easy to hold on to your convictions, and Matthew and Alex, his wife, have paid quite the price for Matthew’s stubborn refusal to bend his knee before Charles II and his Anglican Church. Whatever; new horizons beckon, a new life can be set in motion. But can it? Is anyone ever free of his/her past? I can assure you Matthew Graham has quite the nasty surprise waiting for him, and as for Alex…. phew!

Ultimately, A Newfound Land is about people brave enough to tear up their roots and start anew. Matthew and Alex represent thousands upon thousands of real people who were forced to leave the familiar surroundings of their homeland and start from scratch on a new continent. As you’ve probably noted in some of my previous posts (like here, or here), I am in awe of those early globetrotters and settlers. They knew NOTHING of what they were going to, and still they went. Hopeful but frightened, clutching their precious possessions to their chests they set off to build a brave new world, knowing all the time that they would never return.

The Welsh speak of hiraeth, the nostalgically tinged longing for a lost home. Matthew Graham has never heard of hiraeth, but I can assure you he knows exactly what it meant. In his heart, Scotland is forever engraved as home, a home now permanently lost to him. And yet he perseveres, swallowing back on the paralyzing homesickness to get on with his life.  That takes guts. It helps, of course, that he had Alex by his side, to support him and hold him. Or maybe it is him supporting her. A man and his woman, facing whatever life throws their way. Together. Always together.

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