My Guest, Author Anna Belfrage

Stephanie: Hello, Anna! Thank you for chatting with me today. It is always a pleasure and I am honored you have taken the time to visit with me again. With all the wonderful stories and articles you have written, you are one busy lady! I’m in the middle of reading your book, A Newfound Land and I’m enjoying it very much! The Grahams sure do keep you on your toes! Please tell your audience a little about your new book.

Anna: “A little about my new book” – you are a hoot, Stephanie! I have a problem abbreviating my books, but if I try, I’d say that A Newfound Land is a story about attempting to recreate yourself in a new land and realizing you can’t, as you are much more defined by your past than by the place you live in. It is also about the inherent conflicts between a 17th century man and a 20th century woman – as you know, Alex Graham is a time-traveler, having had the misfortune (or not, depending on what you think of Matthew) of being propelled three centuries backwards in time. Talk about being in the wrong place at the wrong time…

Anyway, in A Newfound Land, the Graham family is struggling to set down roots in their new homeland, the Colony of Maryland. Religious strife forced them to leave Scotland behind, and while the life of a settler is harsh, Alex is hoping that life will become less fraught with conflict in their new home than it was in their old.

Things happen, as they say, and suddenly both Alex and Matthew have to confront spectres from their past. Old enmities blossom into new life, Matthew’s defense of the Native Americans make life-long enemies of the Burley brothers, and just like that Alex is yet again thrown into an existence that very much revolves around her fear that someone will kill her husband.

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Stephanie: What are some of the different challenges they face in America versus Scotland?

Anna: To start with, they have to settle land. Sometimes I think we have a very romanticized version of what it must have been like to ride out into unknown forests and attempt to create a home, a working farm. The sheer work involved was enormous, and while 17th century Scotland had little amenities compared to the present day and age, it was substantially more civilized than the Maryland hinterlands.

Further to this, we have the Native Americans – or Indians, as I call them in the book, just as the white settlers did. If you push people off their land, you cannot be surprised when they start to retaliate, and the threat of a native uprising was always there. In Maryland, things turned very nasty in the 1670’s, affecting Matthew’s and Alex’s life.

Then there was the isolation. Living out in the woods, with well over an hour’s ride to the closest neighbor, required that you be very self-sufficient. It also helped if you liked each other, as there was no other company to be had. Fortunately, Matthew and Alex do like each other. A lot.

Stephanie: How do Alex’s children adjust to the new world?

Anna: Having experienced what it is like to move around to various parts of the globe as a child, I can tell you that as long as there’s a mother and a father around, most children have no problem in adapting to new circumstances. If anything, they have it much easier than the adults, being unburdened with such emotions as nostalgia and homesickness.

Stephanie: That is true!

What is the research that was involved for this book? What have you learned about America that maybe you didn’t know before?

Anna: Well, I obviously learned a lot about the Susquehannock – much more than I knew before, but still very little, as the tribe left very few traces of their existence. My Qaachow, the Susquehannock chief that befriends Matthew and Alex, is a homage to a people that no longer is, but that once were, a powerful tribe that controlled a large part of northern Maryland into Pennsylvania and Delaware.

Then I had the pleasure of learning more about present day Annapolis, founded in the 1650’s by Puritans fleeing persecution in Virginia and at the time named Providence, which is the name I use throughout the book. I believe, you see, that the original Puritan settlers would prefer holding on to this name rather than that of Anne Arundel’s City, which was its official name. Not a name that would go down well with Puritans, as Anne Arundel was Catholic.

Stephanie: Why did you choose Maryland as the colony they moved too?

Anna: Maryland has the proud distinction of being the first place in the world that implemented an Act of Toleration.(One could argue the Muslim kingdoms in Spain were as – if not more – tolerant, but their tolerance came at a price, as Jews and Christians paid extra taxes to be allowed to practice their faiths) Maryland’s Act of Toleration was restricted to Trinitarian faiths – i.e. to such faiths that believed in Jesus Christ, and it was expressly forbidden, under pain of death, to question Jesus’ divinity. Not much of an Act of Toleration, you might think, but if you set it into context (a century marked by religious strife, where Catholics were persecuted in some countries, Protestants in others, and Puritans in very many) it is a remarkably foresighted piece of legislation, brought into place by Lord Calvert, who was a Catholic grandee that owned the colony outright. Maryland’s Act of Toleration is in many ways a precursor to the First Amendment in the American Constitution. In a world full of religious strife, it was an innovative attempt to heal rather than breach.

So when Matthew was obliged to flee his home country due to religious issues, Maryland would have seemed a good choice. Virginia was not an option, being fiercely Anglican (and Matthew would no more return to Virginia than he would have amputated his foot, having spent several humiliating months as a slave on a plantation), Massachusetts was far too Puritan, even for Matthew (who also had to consider his opinionated and vociferous wife) and besides, he had a friend in Maryland, Thomas Leslie.

Stephanie: Can you give us some background information on the Susquehannock Indians? A without giving too much away, their role in the story?

Anna: To write a novel set in Colonial America and gloss over the consequences of white man’s arrival to the original inhabitants would be to misrepresent history. In the area where Matthew and Alex make their home, the Susquehannock used to reign supreme, so of course this was the tribe they would encounter.
In general, the story of the Susquehannock follows the depressing pattern of what happened to very many of the indigenous tribes in the wake of European colonization, both in North and South America.
Upon the arrival of white man, the Susquehannock controlled most of the region round the upper parts of Chesapeake Bay. The Susquehannock welcomed the settlers and traded with them, but inevitably tension spread as the new arrivals claimed more and more land. Despite this, the relationship with the Susquehannock remained amicable – until the Indian wars of the 1670’s, when the Susquehannock were dragged into the conflict between the Powhatan and the Virginia settlers.
The colonist militia made no difference between Susquehannock and Powhatan: an Indian was an Indian, full stop. On one occasion, a band of militia snuck upon a group of unsuspecting Susquehannock and murdered them all in their sleep, and after that the previously good relationship deteriorated into open war.
Today, the Susquehannock are no more. Decimated by epidemics and forced to flee their homelands in the conflicts of the 1670’s, many of them joined the Mohawk. A small group of Susquehannock Indians settled in Conestoga Town in Pennsylvania and survived into the 18th century, but were brutally massacred in 1763 by the Paxton Boys in the aftermath of the French and Indian Wars. One of the little boys killed was called Qaachow, which is how my Susquehannock chief got his name.

In A Newfound Land, Qaachow and his tribe befriend Matthew and Alex, and a tenuous relationship is established whereby Matthew will keep Qaachow’s back and vice versa. I wanted there to be personal feelings involved and invested when Matthew interceded on behalf of the Indian women he saves from abduction. Why? Well, it will become clear as the Graham saga proceeds.

Stephanie: Matthew, never ceases to amaze me. He is always finding himself in danger. He is quite the character. What are his weaknesses and strengths in this story?

Anna: Well, in my book, Matthew has very few weaknesses.
“Hmph!” snorts Alex. “And what about that soft spot he has for rabid preachers, hey?” Yes, she does have a point. Matthew’s somewhat over-tender conscience sometimes leads him into the company of narrow-minded little bigots, such as Richard Campbell, and this, I suppose, is a weakness, as is his desire to revenge himself on Dominic Jones, the overseer who treated him so badly all those years ago on a plantation in Virginia.
Another little weakness – at least according to Alex – is his continued affection for Kate Jones, Dominic’s wife. Alex drowns in bright green jealousy whenever she sees this elegant and attractive woman anywhere near her husband – and even worse, Alex can understand what Matthew sees in her, given that Alex finds Kate quite likeable too.

His strengths are manifold; integrity, perseverance, courage – and a big heart, large enough to accommodate his sizeable brood of children and his wife, whom he loves to the point of distraction. A good fighter, an excellent shot, he is also intelligent, steadfast and generally good at keeping his temper in check, although his wife can at times rile him to the point where his rage boils over.
Mostly, though, I like his tenderness. Not a man given to grand gestures or endearments, Matthew loves quietly, patiently – well, except when the passion he feels for his wife surges through his veins, scorching him, but even then, he is mostly gentle.
Stephanie: Will there be a fifth book in this fantastic series?

Anna: Thank you for the compliment, dear Stephanie! There will be four more books in the series, all of them written, all of them planned for publication. And when the eighth is published I’m going to crawl up in an armchair and cry my eyes out, because how am I to survive without writing (or re-writing) new anecdotes from Matthew’s and Alex’s life?

Stephanie: Where in your home is your favorite place to write?

Anna: At my desk, especially purchased for this purpose. It sits in a corner of our living room, which means I can submerge myself in my writing while still keeping a fond eye on my husband.
Stephanie: Coffee or tea?

Anna: Tea. Real tea, not that rooibos stuff. I like it black, I like it green, I like it iced but I never, ever take milk.

Stephanie: I like green tea as well, with two sugars, no milk. I especially need it while writing.

Where can readers buy your book?

Anna: Anywhere where books are sold, Stephanie. It’s available on Amazon, on Barnes & Noble, and a number of other e-retailers, plus in quite a few bookshops.

Stephanie: Thank you, Anna!! XX

Anna: Thank you for hosting me, Stephanie. It is always an honour to pop by Layered Pages.

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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.

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