Please help me welcome Anna Belfrage this morning.
Writing is such a challenging endeavor. What got you started on it and what keeps you doing it?
To write is to be in control – at least initially. I’ve always written stories, as a child swashbuckling stories involving a lot of bravery and yours truly, as an adolescent rather soppy love stories involving yours truly and Handsome Hero, and as an adult a combination of the two – well, with the major improvement of cutting yours truly out of the story.
As my writing skills have evolved – and they do on a daily basis – the fundamental pleasure in writing lies in telling the story THROUGH my character’s eyes. It also leads to some rather surprising twists, as my characters tend to be opinionated and verbal, thereby derailing the plot. These days I have but the vaguest idea of where the story is going to end when I start writing – but I know my characters in and out.
What did you do with your earliest efforts? Did anyone read them? Did you still have them?
My earliest efforts are safely stashed in the attic. No one has ever read them, no one ever will as I blush just thinking about them. Now and then I consider destroying them, but when I hold the notebooks in my hand I just can’t. Some of my stories were published in the school paper, some were read out loud. Very embarrassing when you’re fifteen and have written about girl meets boy …
What made you choose to write in the genres/time periods you write in?
I always knew I wanted to write in historical settings, this due to my passion for history. The Middle Ages were my first love, but since some years back I’ve focused almost entirely on the seventeenth century, this because I’m fascinated by the religious conflicts that dominated the century, but also because there’s a personal link in that my husband’s family were forced to flee Scotland due to religious persecution in the 1620’s.
What do you enjoy most in the writing process? What parts of it do you really dislike?
I love the re-writing. I generally start by writing until my fingertips bleed, one massive creative outburst after which I have all the basic components in place, After this I start the re-writing, the honing of each and every chapter. During this process approximately 30% of what I’ve written is deleted, 60% is re-written, and 10% is never touched. Interestingly enough, the parts I never changed are generally the ones that come to me in the middle of the night, resulting in a lot of scribbled notes on whatever I happen to have at hand by my bed.
There’s no part I really dislike – but what I find very disruptive is when I stumble onto a fact that has indirect bearing on my story without being crucial to it. I agonise for days over whether such facts should be included or not … This is where the show-off (Look, look, I REALLY know my stuff, okay? Like the fact that carrots weren’t always orange) comes into conflict with the writer (Who cares about the carrots? They live off kale, cabbage and salted pork!) The compromise tends to be that first I put the interesting little fact into the text, THEN I delete it in the next editing round.
If you write in multiple genres how do you make the switch from one to the other? Do you find it a welcome change, crazy-making or a little of both?
I dabble in some fantasy on the side, and that is mainly a release mechanism. I have no ambitions when it comes to my fantasy writing, so I can allow myself to go totally overboard which is quite fun.
Historical fiction takes a lot of research. What is the most memorable or interesting thing you’ve learned along the way?
I think what strikes me very often is how similar the people living then are to the people living now. Take the Verney letters, detailing the day-to-day life of a well-to-do family in the seventeenth century. Yes, they live very different lives from what we do, but their concerns, their hopes for their children are much the same as ours are.
One of the more memorable quotes I’ve stumbled upon is Queen Christina of Sweden who once said “ a child born to the throne belongs to the state.” Given her childhood – queen at the age of six, separated from her “hysteric” mother and raised as a king – she probably knew what she was talking about when she said that.
What do you to keep all your research information and plot ideas organized and accessible?
I have a system of plastic folders where I put all my notes by subject. My plot ideas are scribbled into different notebooks for different novels and are also kept in the plastic folders. Problems arise when the wrong notebook has ended up in the wrong folder – panic ensues until I’ve located the vagrant notebook and reorganised all my folders.
What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever gotten?
I really wanted to try and write period dialogue and spent tons of time trying to find the right vocabulary, the right speech patterns. When I sent the first draft of my novel to an editor, she came back and told me to forget about trying to make the dialogue authentic, as it was bound to fail. Readers, she told me, wanted dialogue they could relate to, that was snappy and to the point. To attempt to convey the period in the dialogue would result in an overburdened dialogue that would sound contrived. It almost killed me. All that hard work and she was telling me to tear it all up? But I did, and in retrospect she was right. A handful of writers can write fantastic period dialogue. Many writers try – and fail.
Tell us a little about your current project.
Since some years back, I am stuck in The Graham Saga, which is a planned series of eight books detailing the life of Alex and Matthew Graham in seventeenth century Scotland and Maryland. I never set out to write a series, but Alex and Matthew lead a very exciting life, and I just had to find out how it all would end. So at present I am looking forward to the official publication on March 1 of book two in the series, Like Chaff in the Wind, and working with the final editing of book three, The Prodigal Son, which will be published July 1.
Very briefly, Matthew is a man of strong religious convictions while his wife, Alex, is a time traveller who finds all this religious fervour difficult to comprehend – in particular when Matthew risks everything on behalf of his faith. Further complications arise due to Matthew’s son from his first marriage, Matthew’s psycho brother and Matthew’s beautiful ex-wife.
What’s up next for you?
My new WIP is also set in the seventeenth century and is the story of a disinherited royalist, Jon Darrow and a Swedish jewel thief, Sofia Rudbeck. The story is set both in Stockholm and England, with Queen Kristina and Charles Stuart as supporting characters.
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