Thursday, February 12, 2015

Author Feature: Anna Belfrage

Today's featured author is the lovely Anna Belfrage.

Anna is the author of the fantastic Graham saga of time slip novels set in the seventeenth century. A firm favourite with historical fiction readers across the world. There are now seven books in the series and you can find out more about the books and Anna on her website

Five favourite books

What a horribly difficult question! Favourite books come and go, I think, believing on my present situation in life and my mood. But if I make a humongous effort, I can put together a list – not at all comprehensive, of course, but still…

1. Lord of the Rings – author name unnecessary, right? A book (well, trilogy) I’ve returned to over and over again throughout my life. A book that has been a door-opener into the magic world of literature for my sons (not my daughter), a book that is so well-read it is falling apart along the spine.

2. Kristin Lavransdotter by S Undstedt. The first truly historical book I ever read – at a very young age. Medieval times in Norway with an unforgettable female protagonist. What more can one want?

3. For whom the bell tolls. My favourite among Hemingway’s books – probably because of the setting and the streak of romance.

4. La fiesta del Chivo – The Feast of the Goat – by Mario Vargas Llosa. Beautiful language, at times quite unbearable content. What stays with me are the contrasts - the good guy sipping chicken soup for lunch while Trujillo is torturing someone in a nearby prison.

5. Here be Dragons by Sharon K Penman. It should probably come at the top, given the number of times I’ve read it. This particular book had me running off to buy a book called “Learning Welsh” (did not go so well), made me re-direct our entire honeymoon to visit each and every one of Llewellyn’s castles, and can still reduce me to tears – every single time.

And now to my top five writing tips

1. Read! Read some more. A writer develops his/her craft through reading, how else? Discover what you like, what you don’t like – I, for example, am not a fan of first person narrative as it restricts the story substantially. Learn from the masters, consider the perfection of Barbara Vine’s prose, or Philip Roth’s. Read Michael Dibdin to learn how to write introspection, Elizabeth Chadwick to see how she inserts historical feel. Study dialogue by laughing your head off when reading Janet Evanovich, sigh and dream of other places when you lap up the gorgeous descriptive writing of Barbara Gaskell Denvil. That is how we learn to write: by reading.

2. Write for yourself. Forget about commercial angles, ignore the savvy advice of those who tell you that any historical novelist wanting success must write a Tudor novel – unless you desperately want to write a Tudor novel (and yes, Tudor novels sell amazingly well; can’t quite comprehend why…) writing is first and foremost a selfish pleasure, an opportunity for the writer to wallow in precisely the genre/period he/she adores above all others.

3. Grow a couple of extra layers of skin. Very many people may like your book – just as many won’t, and several of these will gladly tell you just what a terrible read your novel is. But if you’re true to point two, it will be easier to ignore the negative reviews – after all, your aim is first and foremost to please Number One.

4. Write your book. Put it aside. Not for one day, not for one week, not even for one month. No, leave it alone for three months or so, before opening it anew. Errors will leap out at you – but there will also be passages that make you grin with pride. Correct the errors. Repeat the entire process.

5. If you really want to publish your book, do not stint on the editing. Every author needs a good editor, because try as you might, you will never catch all your errors on your own!

And now on to Lisa’s tricky questions…

1. Do you plan your story first and then do the research or does reading and researching spark ideas? In my case, it works both ways. I may have an interesting plot line in my head but can’t quite find the period in which to place it, and then one day as I am reading a non-fiction book, a little detail may catch my eye, and hey presto! I have my period! Research is important – but beware of wanting to show off all your knowledge in your final product. “Info dumps” can smother the best of stories.
Research is a bit like an airplane: it lifts you off the ground and flies you somewhere else. But the adventure starts when you reach your destination. I generally read non-fiction from the periods I am interested in, so already in my selection of research literature I have narrowed down my choices. Having said that, now and then I pick up a book about something totally unrelated and end up somewhere else than where I’d planned to go – like buying a last minute ticket to an exotic destination.

2. Do you think historical fiction is enjoying a resurgence and if so, why? Yes, I do. Partly because of a number of excellent authors, such as Hillary Mantel, taking it on, partly due to a general increase in curiosity about history. TV shows like Game of Thrones also help – especially if you write medieval fiction. Plus, if we’re going to be quite honest, Historical Fiction is more of an umbrella than a genre, as everything from crime to romance can be dressed in the garments of the past – something quite a few authors (and readers) have discovered.

3. What draws you to writing about the past? History had always been my passion – and especially British history. Combining my desire to write with this never-ending curiosity about life in the past was a given, somehow.

4. Do you have a typical writing day? Not really. I steal my writing moments – other than writing, I have a challenging and inspiring day-time job, as do many writers. I apply discipline to my writing on my weekends. On such days, I will eat a leisurely breakfast, write for four or five hours, take a break for a long walk, write some more. There are a couple of mandatory props when I write: tea, sweatpants and my trusted red computer. Plus I use a lot of post-its.

5. What are you working on now? I am working on a trilogy set in the 14th century.
“A trilogy?” my BFF asked earlier today. “I thought it was two books.” “Things expanded,” I explained. They very often do… Anyway: my new series is about Kit Coucy who is coerced into marrying Adam de Guirande while pretending to be someone else. Adam is one of Roger Mortimer’s most loyal men, and in marrying him, Kit is drawn into the events surrounding Mortimer’s rebellion against Edward II. Plenty of adventure, very much love, and all of this against a background of  exciting real life events!

Thank you so much for allowing me to visit with you Lisa!

Thank you Anna I am also a massive fan of Here be Dragons and thanks for some top writing tips.

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