Author Interview with Anna Belfrage
Stephanie: Hello, Anna! It is a delight to be chatting with you again! Congrats on winning the B.R.A.G Medallion for your book, The Prodigal Son, which I have read and enjoyed very much!
Anna: Thank you, Stephanie – and may I say I am very glad to be here today, and extremely proud of having won the B.R.A.G Medallion.
Stephanie: Your medallion is well deserved! Please tell your audience about your story.
Anna: Set in 17th century Scotland, The Prodigal Son is the story of Matthew Graham’s struggle to balance his religious convictions with the need of his family, and foremost those of his time-traveler wife, Alexandra Lind, who has little understanding for Matthew’s continued support of his co-religionists, not when it can potentially cost him his life.
At the time, the early 1660’s, the political upheaval that so scarred the British Isles during the 17th century have come almost full circle. Charles II, son of the beheaded Charles I, has been restored, the Commonwealth replaced by a ruling monarch. While the restoration is greeted with relief by many (and not only the royalists; Oliver Cromwell was at times a harsh ruler), the people of Ayrshire are less than thrilled when the king – or his fervent Anglican counsellors – decide to bring the Scottish Kirk to its knees, forcing all of Charles’ subjects to recognize his supremacy, not only as king but also as head of all things religious.
The Scottish Kirk was traditionally ruled by a General Assembly. They had never considered the king as the head of their church, and had no intention of doing so now, and so the scene was set for a bloody confrontation between the devout Scottish people and their king.
Matthew Graham was raised in the Scottish Kirk. He has fought in the Parliamentarian armies, against the king, and remains convinced that the king has no right to meddle in matters of faith or conscience. When people he has known since childhood are threatened and bullied, when the ministers who represent his Kirk and his beliefs are thrown out of their livings and chased like wild animals across the moors, Matthew feels obliged to lend support. And while Alex sympathizes, she is also scared silly by what he risks whenever he buckles on his sword and slips out into the night to help the ministers. So scared, in fact, that one day she lays down an ultimatum; his faith or his family. Suddenly, Matthew is fighting a battle on two fronts…
Stephanie: Tell me a little about Sandy Peden and his strengths and weaknesses? He is a character I find most interesting. He is pious and has a lot of opinions about women and such. Sometimes I disliked him and other times I admired him for his stand and courage of his faith.
Anna: Ah, dear Sandy… I have spent the last few years in very close proximity to Alexander Peden, opinionated minister, dedicated preacher and loyal member of the Scottish Kirk. I must admit to admiring him, quite a lot actually. There is something very attractive about people who have the integrity to cling to their beliefs, no matter at what cost, and Alexander Peden did more than cling, he stood up and more or less shouted to his flock that God was there, with them, as long as they did not abandon their faith. Charismatic, clearly a gifted speaker and also a man of a deep and very personal faith, Sandy inspired huge loyalty among his followers, quite a few of whom risked their lives to see him safe.
To our modern eyes, there is an unattractive streak of fanaticism in a man as dedicated to his faith and God as Sandy was. But before we judge, we should also keep in mind that most men had very strong opinions when it came to religion in the 17th century, and Sandy wasn’t out to impose his beliefs on the Anglicans or Episcopalians – however weak of faith he found them – all he wanted was to continue worshiping God as he had been taught to do. A harsh God, Sandy’s God. A God that demanded obedience and humility, that would condemn the greater part of humanity to hell everlasting while only a few, through God’s grace and mercy, would ever make it through the narrow gate of Heaven. But also a God who filled the world with little miracles; the song of a thrush in spring, the burbling of a burn as it skipped its way down a Scottish hillside, here and there bordered with stands of windflowers (anemones). And I believe Alexander Peden was a man who truly admired God’s creation, from the glorious show of a sunset to the perfection of a polished pebble.
As to Sandy’s views on women, there is a little anecdote involving a young Alexander and an equally young woman. Something soured, the woman accused Alexander of having done more (a lot more) than hold her hand. He insisted that he hadn’t, and from that day forward he approached women with a certain caution, preferring always to address them as a minister rather than as a man. Besides, when he complains about Alex being far too opinionated, he is but expressing the common beliefs of the time; a good woman was a good wife and mother, a woman who stood by her husband through thick and thin, always acquiescent to his will and greater wisdom. Needless to say, such thoughts had Alex rolling over in paroxysms of hysterical laughter…
Stephanie: Do you think Matthew did the right thing by his supporting of the Sandy at the risk of his family’s safety?
Anna: From a modern perspective, I think it is easy to say “no” to that question. Matthew was risking everything in his continued support of the evicted Presbyterian ministers, and as Alex points out, he does have other responsibilities, mainly his children.
But Matthew is a man who has fought for the right to practice his faith, and as a man of his times and of his convictions, the choice is never as clear-cut as saying “family first”. To Matthew, Sandy and his brothers in faith are family – albeit a very extended family. To not help them is to risk his soul and his chance of a life everlasting. To help them is to endanger himself and his family. Not the easiest of choices – not then, not now.
Ultimately, of course, everything comes at a price, and Matthew will pay a very heavy price for his continued support of the covenanters. Too heavy, far too heavy – but that is easy to say with hindsight, isn’t it?
Stephanie: I would agree. Alex is my favorite character. What is her take on Sandy and Matthew helping him?
Anna: I’m glad you like Alex – I am very fond of her as well, even if I do have something of a crush on Matthew. (This causes some strain between Alex and me at times. She will glower like an aggravated bull, telling me to keep my hands off her husband, or else… Ridiculous really, as Matthew only exists in my head – as does Alex – but let me tell you those dark blue eyes of hers can freeze me to the spot…)
As to Sandy, Alex is very ambivalent. She recognizes Sandy as a devout and committed minister, she hates him for placing her husband repeatedly in danger. And then he has this irritating tendency to quiz Alex about the Bible, the Catechism, and the teachings of the Kirk, generally indicating just how dissatisfying and ignorant he finds her answers.
At some level, Alex understands just how torn apart her Matthew is by all the upheaval that surrounds them. She sees his pain when childhood friends are fined from home and hearth for nothing more than helping a fleeing minister, but she is also terribly hurt by what she perceives as his willingness to set his faith before their family – and her. To Alex, there is no conflict. To Alex, her family – and Matthew – always come first.
Of course, when it comes to the crunch, Alex could no more abandon her husband than she could lope of her leg. When he truly needs her, she is there, as always, doing her utmost to keep her man safe despite his stubborn insistence in risking his life, over and over again.
Stephanie: Was there research involved in this story?
Anna: Yes, of course there was – I think you only need to read the preceding answers to realize that. Alexander Peden is a real person, commemorated by a rather ugly monument in Cumnock, Ayrshire (I think it would have made him grin), and the persecution of the die-hard members of the Scottish Kirk, often collectively labelled Covenanters, is a historical fact, a tragedy that tainted the lives of the local Scots for more than two decades. I enjoy the research, and especially when it includes such a heady brew of political and religious upheaval as the 17th century does.
Stephanie: How long did it take you to write this book?
Anna: About six months – excluding all the edits and re-writes. I generally write most of the story at a very intense pace – 10 000 words a week or so. After that, I review the entire text from a historical perspective – it is important to me that the historical background is as correctly depicted as it can be. And then (cracking my knuckles here) begins the real work; the re-writes, the weighing of words, the murder of adverbs and the tweaking of dialogue. It’s like being a sculptor. There is a lump of clay before you, showing the general shape of a man encased in mud, and as the rewrites progress, the man acquires features and idiosyncrasies, evolving from an anonymous being into someone you know everything about. (“Everything?” Alex laughs out loud, shaking her head so that the curls I so envy her bounce round her shoulders. “You don’t know the half of it,” she continues, resting back against her husband’s larger and broader frame. His hands come up to cover hers, placed lightly over a rounded belly, and as I watch he bends his head to nibble her neck and….JEEZ! Cut!)
Stephanie: That is an incredible amount of words written in one week for all the work you do! You are inspiring!
Who designed the book cover?
Anna: All my covers have been designed by the marvelous Oliver Bennett of More Visual (www.morevisual.me) I sort of express an idea, he thinks about it some days and reverts with something that takes my breath away. Sometimes I worry he might be a mind reader…
Stephanie: What are some of the positive things people have said about your book?
Anna: It is always nice when people say they like your book – and many people apparently do. Many say that it touched them. One of the subplots is the story of Ian, Matthew’s son from his first marriage, and his developing relationship with Alex. The book is dedicated to all those people who open their hearts to a child not of their blood and take it as their own, and I have had a number of people approach me and express that I have done a very good job depicting Alex’s feelings as regards to Ian.
I think quite a few people have cried – at least to judge from their comments, and then there are those that are very nervous as to the prophesy Alexander Peden makes towards the end of the book. Rightly so, I might add. Me, knowing how things will work out, would recommend many boxes of tissues.
Stephanie: What do you like most about writing?
Anna: I have a very demanding day job at which I average 55-60 hours a week. I get home, shed my work clothes, inspect the fridge to see if there’s something to eat, make myself some tea and then it is writing time. I open my ongoing WIP, and wham, I am transported to another world, another time (I always have a historical element in my books). Even better, it is a world I control – to a point. Writing is my elixir, my personal bubble of escapism, a constant source of joy and energy. Plus, I learn something new every day. Isn’t that just fantastic?
Stephanie: How did you discover indieBRAG?
Anna: I actually discovered it when I was reading Sons of the Wolf by Paula Lofting. Her book had already won the B.R.A.G Medallion, and as I had had a couple of recent rather disappointing indie reads, I was very pleased to discover that the medal did go with quality – high quality at that. I never dared to submit the first books of the series (now I will), but The Prodigal Son is a book I am very proud of, so I completed the submission form, took a deep breath and pressed send. The rest, as they say, is history.
And may I take this opportunity to highlight yet again just how important a job indieBRAG is doing. Self-published books struggle against perceptions that they’re all trash, badly written, badly edited and badly formatted. After all, had they been good, the author would have gone mainstream, right? No, not necessarily, as some of us want total control over our babies. indieBRAG singles out self-published books that meet (and sometimes surpass) mainstream publishing standards. It sets a quality stamp on the book and the author, telling readers that this is a book they can pick up and expect to enjoy.
Stephanie: Where can readers buy your book?
Anna: Everywhere where good books are sold, to quote my publisher… Seriously, it is available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, a number of other e-retailers, and at quite some bookshops (if nothing else they can order it for you)
Thank you, Anna!
Anna: Well, thank you, Stephanie. Knowing how busy you are with your own writing, it is very nice of you to tear yourself away from it to host me. Best of luck with Arthur!
A message from BRAG:
We are delighted that Stephanie has chosen to interview Anna Belfrage, who is the author of, The Prodigal Son, one of our medallion honorees at www.bragmedallion.com . To be awarded a B.R.A.G. Medallion TM, a book must receive unanimous approval by a group of our readers. It is a daunting hurdle and it serves to reaffirm that a book such as, The Prodigal Son, merits the investment of a reader’s time and money.
Anna Belfrage’s Bio:
I was always going to be a writer – or a historian, preferably both. Ideally, I aspired to becoming a pioneer time traveller, but science has as yet not advanced to the point of making that possible. Instead I ended up with a degree in Business and Finance, with very little time to spare for my most favourite pursuit. Still, one does as one must, and in between juggling a challenging career I raised my four children on a potent combination of invented stories, historical debates and masses of good food and homemade cakes. They seem to thrive … Nowadays I spend most of my spare time at my writing desk. The children are half grown, the house is at times eerily silent and I slip away into my imaginary world, with my imaginary characters. Every now and then the one and only man in my life pops his head in to ensure I’m still there. I like that – just as I like how he makes me laugh so often I’ll probably live to well over a hundred.
I was always going to be a writer. Now I am – I have achieved my dream.
Links, Anna Belfrage
Website: http://www.annabelfrage.com Blog: http://annabelfrage.wordpress.com Twitter: http://twitter.com/Anna_Belfrage Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/theAlexandMatthewstory Amazon Author page: http://www.amazon.com/author/anna_belfrage