S: I would like to introduce Anna Belfrage to my site today. Hey Anna, thank you for this interview. I recently read The Prodigal Son and enjoyed it very much. You touched upon some subjects that I am interested in, such as how interrogations with suspects were conducted and how people during that time were treated because of their faith. But first of all please tell the audience a little about your story.
Anna: Hi Stephanie! Before we immerse ourselves in your questions, let me say thank you for hosting me today. And I was glad to hear you enjoyed The Prodigal Son as this is a book that for a number of reasons lies very close to my heart.
The Prodigal Son is very much about faith – and love. Matthew Graham is a devout member of the Scottish Kirk, and when his beliefs, his ministers, are threatened he must of course ride to the rescue – despite risking his life. Alex Graham, Matthew’s wife, is not as enthused. Not only does she find it difficult to comprehend or sympathize with certain aspects of Matthew’s faith (predestination is a major bone of contention), she is also very upset by the fact that he repeatedly places himself – and thereby by extension his family – in grave danger. If she’d loved him less she might have left him, but seeing as living without him is the equivalent of living with a heart ripped into shreds that is never an option. (Phew; she had me a bit worried there, let me tell you!)
S: I can see why she had you worried there…Oh, and may I add your title to your story is fitting.
I really like how you have developed Matthew’s and Alex’ relationship. Is there anything challenging in writing about them, considering Alex is from the future? She seems to adapt pretty well to the time period and I really do admire her spunk!
Anna: So do I! Alex tends to rise to a challenge rather than deflate like a pricked balloon. As to the adapting, I think most human beings are good at surviving in a new environment, it is one of the reasons we’re relatively successful as a species (if success is to be calculated based on the sheer amount of individuals, that is). Alex is a modern woman who has been raised to believe in herself and handle her own problems – excellent qualities in a time traveler, I think! As to the challenges, Alex is very headstrong, so now and then she sets off in the total opposite direction than I intended, but usually to good effect. The fact that she is born in 1976 is not particularly difficult for me to handle; her values lie close to my own on most matters, her reasoning is often very modern and therefore quite familiar. The challenge lies in having her subtly change, because as the years pass she will be influenced by how the people around her live, talk and act. Matthew sees the changes in her much more than she herself does, but seeing as he is generally quite pleased by the fact that she becomes somewhat less opinionated, somewhat less independent, he isn’t about to tell her. Having said that, Matthew loves his wife for being all those things she is, including stubborn and wilful, capable of expressing her own opinion, and fiercely protective of him and her family.
S: What was some of the research involved for the religious aspects to your story and what are your opinions of Charles ll and the Church of England of that time?
Anna: It helps to have read the Bible, I think. I have also read a lot about the Scottish Kirk and the Scottish Reformation. And if you’re going to read about the Reformation, you inevitably end up reading about Calvin and Huss and Martin Luther. Of the three, I prefer Martin who seems to have had a penchant for enjoying life. Calvin I’m not so sure – and he is the stronger influence on the Scottish Reformers. But even Calvin, who does come across as a rather dour and serious man, did now and then make the point that God expected us to revel in his creation, enjoying everything from the bright green of a summer lawn to the wet nose of a dog.
Otherwise, religion and politics go very much hand in hand during the 17th century – well, they seem to have done that throughout the ages. The religious persecution suffered by the Covenanters in Lowland Scotland as depicted in my novel was no about faith; it was about power. Religion in general makes an excellent pretext, because it’s difficult to fault someone for fighting for their faith, isn’t it? But when Gustavus Adolphus, the Swedish warrior king that led the Protestant forces in the Thirty Years’ War, pillaged and sacked Prague, I don’t think he was muttering the Lord’s Prayer, no, he was counting silver and gold, drunk on the euphoria of being the winner.
As to Charles II, I believe he learnt the hard way that religion was quite the incendiary stuff. Once he was restored, I think he was far more interested in keeping his throne – and his head – than in making any sort of religious statement. I also believe he was a man who considered matters of faith to be private, something between the person in question and God – a bit like Elizabeth I, who was also reluctant to meddle in what she considered very private issues.
I rather like Charles II. He seems to have been brave and upright, cautious and diplomatic. Yes, he had an eye for the ladies, but he also seems to genuinely have liked women and enjoyed spending time with them, even out of bed. I like how he treated his wife, despite her being barren, I like how he took care of his bastards and their mothers. I do think he should have intervened in the persecution of the Covenanters, but he had other pressing issues to sort, first and foremost his rather bad finances. Some people argue that Charles II was a closet Catholic. I find this plausible as his mother was a devout Catholic, his brother converted and his wife was Catholic. Ultimately, I think Charles II was intelligent enough to realize the differences between the various Christian factions were rather insignificant.
I’m not sure I have an opinion about the Church of England back then. With the restoration came a lot of returning churchmen, and being human I guess they could, at times, be quite vindictive. I’m not sure that should be allowed to reflect on the Church of England as a whole and the religious conflicts between the Anglican Church and the Scottish Kirk was yet again about power, not faith. The Scottish Kirk was ruled by an independent body of men (the General Assembly) while the Church of England was under the control of His Majesty the king.
S: I do not know a whole lot of Charles ll and from just reading your book, I would like to know more. Yes, I did learn about him in school, but that wasn’t enough.
I admire Alex’s acceptance of Matthew’s son, Ian and that has taken sometime….which is understandable because of the situation. How do you think things would have gone if she wasn’t so forthcoming?
Anna: That was never an issue. Alex has had a soft spot for Ian since she first met him as a laughing four-year-old. While there are moments when she succumbs to bouts of jealousy on behalf of her children, she is also sorry for Ian, who is a confused and conflicted child due to his uncertain parentage. Alex’ major issue with Ian is his mother, Margaret. She isn’t too happy to have this constant reminder of Matthew’s ex-wife in her home.
S: Well, I applaud Alex. And I so understand her issues with Margaret. That woman even rubs me the wrong way. Was the way people were treated during interrogations the norm of that time and when did that all change?
Anna: Using force to extract a confession was very common during interrogations – well into our own times. If we’re going to be precise, force is still used during interrogations, especially when there is suspicion of rebellious activity. Things began to change late in the 17th century, what with The Bill of Rights introduced in 1689. There was a heightened perception of the individual that would continue to grow throughout the coming century, culminating in the American and French Revolution, both of which inspired new declarations of human rights.
S: I agree… Who is your favorite character in your stories?
Anna: Alex is very close to me, but I have to say Matthew .First of all, I imagine him as being very pleasing to the eye, but there is so much more to this man. I like his understated humor, his steadfastness, his convictions, and the stubborn streak in him that Alex finds enervating. I also like that he allows himself to be vulnerable, that he admits to being frightened, that he recognizes how dependent he is on his Alex.
I also have quite the soft spot for Magnus, Alex’ father – and for Mrs. Parson. Both will reappear in the future books.
S. I need to read your earlier books in this series. I would like to know more about Magnus. He has intrigues me so far of what I have read of him. I am partial to Alex. She is a wonderful character and so complex. What is your next book project and how far will you take this series?
Anna: I have a good friend who once told me there are three things one should do in life: one should plant a tree, have children and write at least one book. Well, I’ve done the tree, the kids and now I’ve done the books, but I can’t quite seem to stop! The Graham Saga consists of eight books – so maybe you can imagine just how many more adventures I have lined up for Alex and Matthew. The books are all finished – well, finished in the sense that the story is there, but there’s plenty of editing left to do.
S: Your friend gave you good advice! I love your series and really can’t wait to read all of your novels. So far I’ve read two. Will Alex be pulled back into the future eventually?
Anna: Really, Stephanie! I cannot answer that question, I think 😉
S: I figured you wouldn’t but I had to ask anyways! Lol. How long did it take to write The Prodigal Son?
Anna: About four months – mostly at night. But that was draft one, and prior to publishing we were at draft twelve or so.
S: Four months isn’t bad at all. Who designed your book cover?
Anna: It’s beautiful, isn’t it? All the covers for The Graham Saga have been designed by Oliver Bennett who works at GB Print in the UK. I’m very lucky to have found him and his charming colleague, Barry.
S: It sure is! Oliver did a fabulous job! Thank you, Anna for this wonderful and insightful interview!
About the Author
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 favorite 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.
For more information, please visit Anna Belfrage’s WEBSITE.
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