Anna, I was delighted to read your novel, “Like Chaff in the Wind.” What a wonderful and entertaining story. How would you describe your book to a group of readers who have never read nautical theme based stories?
First of all, hello Stephanie, and thank you for inviting me to join you today! I am so glad you enjoyed “Like Chaff in the Wind”, but I don’t think I would ever describe it as “nautical” – ships in this book are a means of conveyance, no more. “Like Chaff in the Wind” is essentially a story about a man who is torn away from his life and his woman and the quest his woman sets out on to bring him home. You see, for Alex Graham life without her Matthew is inconceivable, it’s as impossible as it is to live without your heart, and so she sets off to find him – hoping she won’t be too late.
This story makes a great stand alone. However, as I understand this is the sequel to, “A Rip in the Veil?” Could you please tell me a little about this story?
“A Rip in the Veil” describes how Alex meets Matthew, an altogether impossible event seeing as Alex is born in 1976 while Matthew is born in 1630. (“Yeah, I know,” Alex sighs, “totally unbelievable, but here I am.” She slides me a look; there are days when she has problems forgiving me for what I’ve put her through.) For Alex, being transported three centuries backward in time is not a dream come true, and so she struggles with adapting to this strange new life of hers – ably helped along by Matthew, the single compensating factor for this brutal shift in fate. Things are further complicated by the political situation – Cromwell has just died and Charles II is about to be restored – as well as the religious conflicts of the time. Oh, and then there’s Matthew’s brother Luke, who is anything but a loving sibling.
In, “Like Chaff in the Wind,” Matthew is unlawfully abducted and sold into slavery. He suffers greatly and you give in great detail the horrors he went through. Was there a scene you found the most difficult to write? And how so?
Several years ago, I found a small article about indentured servants in Virginia. There was also an example of a contract by which a child of four was indentured for like seventeen years to pay off not only his passage but that of his parent who had died on the voyage. That set me off on finding out more about the life of an indentured servant – which seems to have been very, very harsh, especially if you were sent over as a criminal.
For Matthew, this whole experience is one long humiliation. His clothes are torn off him, he is kept under lock and key, he is punished for speaking up about his unlawful abduction, he works endless hours over endless days, and to top it all there’s that memorable occasion when the overseer whips him until Matthew admits to being a slave. I think that was the scene I found most difficult to write, because I had no problems imagining just how degrading it would be to say “I’m a slave” out loud. It’s the equivalent of licking your tormentor’s boots after he’s kicked you black and blue, and it costs Matthew all of his remaining pride. I was haunted by Matthew’s eyes for days after writing that scene.
Alex Graham is an interesting woman. I admire her greatly and yet I was troubled at her lack of maternal feeling towards her son Isaac from the future. I don’t know if I would have given up my child so easily or at all. What made you decide to write it that way or did the characters go in their own direction?
Ah, little Isaac… I love this talented boy! Alex does as well, but her relationship with Isaac is tainted by how he was conceived – and by the very dark shadow his accursed father cast over Alex’ early twenties. As described in “A Rip in the Veil”, Isaac was an unwanted child, and it didn’t exactly help that he was the spitting image of his father. For these reasons, Alex had problems connecting with her firstborn and then she was yanked out of his life before he turned three. In “Like Chaff in the Wind”, Alex can choose to keep Isaac with her or let him return to the adults that he loves and who have shaped him into the child he is. I think it requires quite a lot of self-less love to do what Alex does.
Anna, I would probably have a better grasp of Alex when I read the first book in the series. Thank you for your explanation of why she had trouble connecting to Isaac.
What was the inspiration for your story?
The Graham books are set in the seventeenth century due to an avid interest in the religious conflicts of the time. Couple this with a romantic streak, a life-long yearning to time travel and a high level of admiration for all those people who set off across the seas to create new lives for themselves in the colonies, and you have a very inspired writer (me).
Specifically, “Like Chaff in the Wind” is inspired by the vision of Matthew Graham waking up in chains, with no idea of what has happened to him. And then there was that other vision, of a distraught Alex praying to God to keep her man safe, wiping angrily at her eyes as she does so because she has promised herself she won’t cry – not until she finds him.
I rather liked casting Alex as the hero, setting off to rescue her man. Matthew is less than enthusiastic about this, going on and on about him not feeling comfortable with being the victim. “Tough,” I tell him, but given how he’s scowled at me lately I’ve made sure he gets adequate room to shine in the next book, “The Prodigal Son”. Can’t stand it when he’s mad at me …
Who is your least favorite character you have written about and why?
I’m not overly fond of Dominic Jones. He’s a man with a mean streak the size of Mississippi, enriching himself at the expense of his fellow men. Does he get his comeuppance? Eventually…
Dominic Jones was my least favorite too. I kept on wondering throughout the book if you were going to eventually kill him off.
What is your favorite literary genre?
Historical Fiction, but I have a fondness for well-written fantasy as well.
What is your all-time favorite novel?
“Here be Dragons,” by Sharon Penman. Dead easy, that one!
Sharon Penman is one of my favorite authors! Her stories are brilliant!
How many books do you read in a year?
I average 2-3 books a week, so that’s like 130 – 150 books a year.
Which do you prefer to read from? Paperback or e-book?
I’m new to the e-book format, but find it very convenient. I travel extensively in my day job, and with one well-loaded Kindle I can travel back and forth to China a dozen of times and not run out of stuff to read. But the ultimate reading experience is still a paperback book, combined with a huge cup of tea and something sweet and sticky on the side.
What is your favorite quote?
In “Like Chaff in the Wind” there’s one sentence I particularly like: She hoped he knew it was her, that the bird he saw was her longing reaching across the world to softly graze his cheek.
But my favourite quote is in Spanish and comes from a play by Calderón de la Barca called “La Vida es Sueño” (Life is a dream”) and goes like this:
¿Qué es la vida? Un frenesí
¿Qué es la vida? Una ilusión,
una sombra, una ficción,
y el mayor bien es pequeño:
que toda la vida es sueño,
y los sueños, sueños son.
(What is life? A madness. What is life? An illusion, a shadow, a story. And the greatest good is little enough; for life itself is a dream, and dreams are only dreams.)
Beautiful quote Anna! Thank you for coming to Layered Pages and chatting with me! It’s was pleasure!
I was raised abroad, on a pungent mix of Latin American culture, English history and Swedish traditions. As a result I’m multilingual and most of my reading is historical – both non-fiction and fiction.
I was always going to be a writer – or a historian, preferably both. 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.