Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Why set a story in 17th century Scotland?

by Anna Belfrage

If one is going to be financially successful as a writer of historical fiction, one should write about the Tudors. Or about Rome – or medieval England. Maybe even Regency (especially when thinking Romance). Somehow, the 17th century exists in a bubble of obscurity, trapped between the great drama of the 16th century and the bloody upheaval of the 18th. The 17th century has no Marie Antoinette, no Mary Queen of Scots.

Instead, the 17th century has religious strife a-plenty. It has war, it has pillage. It has the English Civil War, the execution of Charles I, Cromwell’s mass deportation of the Irish. It has Mazarin and Louis XIV, it has the Dutch rebellion against the Spanish, it has a Glorious Revolution, it has men like John Locke and Isaac Newton. Really, not much to write home about, right?

Reading through that rather impressive list, I can only congratulate myself on my choice of century. After all, there is no shortage of dramatic material. Besides, there is a very personal reason for my fascination with the 17th century, and that’s my husband.

Let me immediately disillusion you by assuring you my husband is not a time traveller. He is a man very much rooted in the here and now, but on his finger he carries a signet ring, and his family can be traced back to the more remote parts of time. He can claim ancestry from Erik XIV of Sweden (but rarely does, as Erik XIV was not all there, plus 90% of all Swedish noble families share that honour) but he can also claim Stuart ancestry – and all because of the religious upheaval that plagued Scotland in the 17th century.

Picture Gothenburg in the early 17th century: having brought in Dutch city planners to design his new city – as yet very much under construction – the Swedish king, Gustavus Adolphus, also needed to populate this city of his, preferably with merchants. Sweden at the time mostly traded in raw material. We exported timber, iron ore, wool and oats. We imported everything else – including capable people. On the opposite side of the North Sea lived a nation of savvy merchants, namely the Scots. Being a small and relatively poor country, Scotland produced a number of surplus sons, many of whom crossed the sea to Sweden (or elsewhere – a minority chose Sweden, having as yet not developed latter day’s appreciation for Swedish blondes).

To this building site, yet another Scot arrived in 1624 – no doubt attracted by the fact that so many Scots were already there. John Belfrage was twelve, and came with his mother, Joneta. As per the records, they were fleeing their homeland due to religious persecution – that was the reason Joneta gave. Given that they chose to go to Sweden, we must assume these refugees were Protestants. Sweden looked askance at Catholics. As John received an education and rose to local prominence, we can deduce that Joneta carried funds of some kind with her. Other than that, we know very little. In what straits did Joneta find herself that her powerful Stuart connections could not help her? And what became of John’s father?

Anyway; this little glimpse into my husband’s ancestry fascinated me. Where before my preferred historical reading matter tended to be focused on the 11th to 14th century, I began reading extensively about the sixteen hundreds, a period defined not only by religious conflicts but also by the birth of modern science, of modern concepts such as the rights of men. Sadly, at the time those human rights did not include the right to worship as one pleased, but the seeds for future liberties were sown.

And so The Graham Saga began to take form. My central character very quickly became a Scot, and because I was intrigued by the tales of Covenanters and the brutal persecution they suffered at the hands of the restored Stuart monarchy, this shadow man of mine developed into a former Commonwealth soldier, a man of convictions and a deep personal faith. Just to spice up his life a bit, I decided to endow this man with a woman very different from him. Enter Alexandra Lind, a modern day woman who had the misfortune (or not) to fall through time and land at Matthew’s feet. The rest, as they say, is history.

On July 1, the sixth instalment of the series, Revenge and Retribution, will be published. I am of course inordinately proud of this particular book, a heady mix of adventure, emotional drama and despair. But it all began in A Rip in the Veil, when Alex Lind first clapped her concussed eyes on Matthew Graham. Below an excerpt from that first book – I hope you enjoy it!

Alex rested back against the cave wall and concentrated on breathing without hurting herself. She studied him from under her lashes, irritated to find he’d gone back to gawking at her. What was the matter with him? Had he never seen a woman in jeans before? She looked closely at him. Tall, broad in shoulders and chest, but thin and with an underlying pallor to his skin – as if he’d been ill, just recently allowed out of bed. His hair was cut unbecomingly short except at the back where some longer strands still hung on, his cheeks were covered by a dark, unkempt bristle, like the one Magnus, her father, would sport at the end of his summer holidays – so far nothing alarming. His shirt though… Worn linen that laced up the front, mended cuffs – all of it hand stitched.

Maybe his girlfriend had made it for him, or maybe New Age people believed in doing everything from scratch, in which case they needed a serious fashion update. She moved, scraped her foot against the rocky ground, and winced.

“Is it alright if I touch you?” he said. “It might ease somewhat if I wash the blood off.”

“Sure, go ahead, touch all you want.” Well, within limits of course.

He looked at her with a hesitant expression. “All I want?”

She made a huge effort to look him straight in the eyes, despite the fact that she could see two – no, three – of him.

“Help me, I’m not feeling too good.” She turned her head to the side and retched, but this time it was just slimy yellow bile that burnt her throat as she heaved. “Damn,” she said afterwards, keeping her eyes closed to stop the whole world from spinning. “I must have hit my head really hard.”

He spent quite some time on her forehead, close enough that she could smell him, drawing in the scent of sweat and unwashed male. She wrinkled her nose. Phew! How about some soap?

“What?” he said. “Did I hurt you?”

“No, I’m fine.” She wasn’t; her brain was banging against her skull, the broken skin on her forehead itched, her ribs were using her lungs as a pincushion and her foot... no, best not think about her foot, because it looked absolutely awful, blisters like a fetter round her ankle and all the way down to her toes. She flexed them experimentally. It hurt like hell.

He poured some more water onto the rag he was using and wiped her face. She liked that, opening her eyes to smile her thanks at him. He smiled back, teeth flashing a surprising white in the darkness of his beard. He sat back on his haunches, a worried expression on his face.

“What?” Did she need stitches? Because she really, really hated needles.

“Your ribs, I have to do something about them.”

“Like what?”

“Bandage them, so that you don’t shift them too much.”

“You’ve done this before?”

“It happens, aye.”

“Oh, so you’re a doctor?”

“A doctor?” He laughed. “Nay, lass, I am no doctor. But setting ribs is no great matter, is it?”

“It is when they’re mine.” She shifted on her bottom. “It won’t hurt, will it?”

“No, but I will have to ... err ... well, I must ... the shirt, aye?”

“The shirt?”

“Well, you have to take it off.”

“Oh.” Where did this man come from? “That’s alright; you won’t be the first to see me in the flesh.” He looked so shocked she laughed, but the pain that flew up her side made her gasp instead.

He pulled his bundle close and rummaged in it, muttering something about having to find something to bandage her ribs with. Finally he extracted what looked like a rag and proceeded to tear it into strips.

He was very careful as he helped her out of her jacket and her shirt, and at the sight of her bra his eyes widened, but he didn’t say anything. She sat up so that he could wrap the torn lengths of cloth around her. His exhalations tickled her skin, and she took short breaths, staring straight ahead as his big, capable hands worked their way around her torso, a gentle touch that sent surprising and quite unwelcome tingles of warmth through her body.

She was aware of his eyes on her skin, on her neck, but mostly on her breasts, quick glances that returned time and time again to the lacy red bra edged with cream that cupped her breasts and lifted them high. She sat up straighter, shoulders pulled back. She peeked at him, met his eyes and looked away.

“What’s this?” He put a finger on the satin strap. Impossible; men that hadn’t seen a bra didn’t exist – not where she came from.

“It’s a bra.”

“A bra,” he echoed, tracing it round her middle. She jerked back, making both of them gasp.

“My apologies.” He raised his hands in a conciliatory gesture. “I shouldn’t … But there, now it’s done.” He gave her the shirt and averted his eyes as she struggled to put it back on.

Alex closed her eyes, trying to come up with a label to pin on this strange man. Isolated goat farmer? Recluse? Maybe he was an old-fashioned – extremely old-fashioned – Quaker, or maybe the Amish had set up a little colony up here in the Scottish wilderness.


All of Anna’s books are available on Amazon US and Amazon UK
For more information about Anna Belfrage and her books, visit her website!
For a somewhat more visual presentation of The Graham Saga, why not watch the book trailer?

Friday, June 20, 2014

New Release: The Hall of Tyr by Octavia Randolph

The Hall of Tyr, Book Four of The Circle of Ceridwen Saga, has just been released.

The Hall of Tyr: It is a new day. Dawn finds Ceridwen and Sidroc beginning their lives together on the Baltic Sea island of Gotland. It is a place of peace and beauty. But someone is searching for them...

To celebrate The Hall of Tyr, all the books have new covers. See them here.

Thank you for placing The Circle of Ceridwen in Amazon.com's Top Ten in Women's Adventure for five months running!

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Game of 7s

I was tagged by Paula Lofting (see her Game of 7s here) to post 7 or so lines from page 77 starting at line 7. Since I start a new chapter just a few lines into that, I will just start in the new chapter.

"Do we have lamb tonight, Smills?" Mama said.
"We do, my lady. Shall I uncover that first?" he replied, frowning at Angel.
Angel turned her face from the everlasting glower of the man.
"Yes, that will be fine." The silver dome clanged as Smills lifted it from the plate, and Mama served herself. She did not look up, but asked for anyone's ears, "Has one of you broken Rules?"
Angel looked distraught. Dante straightened his back, looking more of a man, hoping to strengthen her. Nothing was wrong, and it was time to stand up for himself.
But Angel hastened to speak. “We intend to follow Rules, do we not, Dante? Do not be concerned, Mama.” She gave her brother a firm look.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Meet My Main Character by Scott Amis

Welcome, friends, to meet the main character of Scott Amis' book To Shine with Honor. I have enjoyed hosting several main characters here now, including two of my own, Dante and Evangeline. It is a fun blog hop, and I hope you enjoy reading about these (dare I say imaginary) persons.

I'd like to introduce Joseph Scott Amis who retired from thirty years as an architect (and when I said he needed help from a designer, he responded that he was also licensed in that field!) to turn his lifelong interest in medieval history and historical fiction into a literary career. He is currently working on To Shine with Honor, a three-volume tale of the First Crusade.

And now to introduce his character. 

1) What is the name of your character? Is he/she fictional or a historic person?

Galien de Coudre. He is a fictional person, acting within the context of historical events.

2) When and where is the story set?

1086 – 1118, before, during, and after the First Crusade. Settings: Southeastern and northern France, the Middle East, and the Crusader States, formed from the Middle Eastern territories taken from the Seljuk Turks by the First Crusaders.

3) What should we know about him/her? 

Galien is the third son in a French family of minor nobility. As customary for the time and place, his father pledged his third son to the Church at his birth, and made provision that he learn to read and write in French and Latin prior to entering training for the priesthood at fourteen. His disposition is largely scholarly and retiring, but he also shares the martial blood and knightly heritage of his family and has been trained in sword and horsemanship by his father Henri de Coudre, a knight of distinguished reputation. At the opening of the story and age fourteen, Galien is well-educated as well as a capable sword and horseman, abilities rarely found in one person in the eleventh century.

4) What is the main conflict? What messes up his/her life? 

The initial conflict is a bitter animosity between Galien and his eldest brother Thierré de Coudre. This is resolved in Volume I, Part I, a short twenty pages. In Part II, which begins five years later, in 1091, Galien and Thierré have long ago put aside their mutual hatred and developed the strongest of brotherly bonds.

In 1091, at the start of Part II, Galien is nineteen years old, compelled to remain at home to help his sister manage the family’s lands and kept from study for the priesthood due to the death of his mother and a crippling battle injury sustained by his father. The main conflict comes when Galien and the de Coudre family’s châtelaine Lisette fall hopelessly in love, but a marriage between a nobleman and a commoner is not acceptable by custom and opposed by Galien’s father. At the end of two years of surprising events, Galien and Lisette finally marry but after three years of happiness, she is murdered by a man with an old grievance against her family. This tragedy profoundly ‘messes up’ Galien’s life, and begins the series of consequences that will send him off to the Middle East as a knight in the armies of the First Crusade.  

5) What is the personal goal of the character?

At the opening of the story, Galien wants a quiet life of scholarship and writing, and doesn’t question his destiny in the priesthood. Later, to marry Lisette, and after her death, he reacts to events as they occur, with no strong vision for his future. In Volume III, toward the end of the story, he has found the life that he wanted when young, but circumstances again compel him to leave it behind and go back to war.   

6) Is there a working title for this novel, and can we read more about it?

To Shine With Honor is the present title; The Story and Travels of Galien de Coudre in the Time of the First Crusade the subtitle. More information can be found on my Facebook page, Jsa Literary; the link to a dramatic video presentation of a scene from To Shine With Honor by Facebook page Real Crusades History is on my Linkedin profile page.

7) When can we expect the book to be published?

Completion of Volumes I and II expected for Fall of 2014; Volume III to be written from manuscript in 2015. Date of eventual publication unknown, as is the means of publication.

To find more information about Scott and his work visit:



Influential authors:
Thomas Asbridge, historian, author of The First Crusade and The Crusades
Evan S. Connell, writer, author of Deus Lo Volt
Ken Follett, writer, author of The Pillars of the Earth and World Without End
Edward Rutherford, writer, author of Sarum
Zoe Oldenbourg, writer and historian, author of The World is Not Enough and The Crusades

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Meet My (Other) Main Character: Dante

This fun blog hop started some time ago with my post about poor Evangeline, a co-protagonist in the Dante and Evangeline Series. I have been tagged now to write about her twin brother, Dante.

Thanks to Liz Kales, author of The Silk Weaver's Daughter and her work-in-progress to be named either Night of the Gypsies or The Summer Gypsies, for the tag. You can read about her character and his intriguing dilemma HERE.

1) What is the name of your character? Is he/she fictional or a historic person?

Dante. He is fictional.

2) When and where is the story set?

The story takes place in the year of Queen Victoria's coronation on the fictional estate Cantery Hill with its strange manor house which was put together in a helter-skelter arrangement over the centuries.

3) What should we know about him/her?

Dante and his twin sister Evangeline were raised by their reclusive mother on the estate. Not having been allowed to talk to other people and neglected by their Mama emotionally, Dante and Evangeline have a very tight bond. Together they make plans for the future of Cantery Hill House and the estate.

4) What is the main conflict? What messes up his/her life?

As the years passed, tutors have planted the seed of curiosity in Dante's mind about the world outside the locked gates, a world the twins have been forbidden to see. Evangeline is content with life as it has been and fears any change, certain their reclusive mother's warnings that disaster would result from "breaking the Rules". As Dante's growing interest in outside places begins to raise problems in their relationship, Dante meets and falls in love with one of the kitchen maids, Molly. His concerns about his sister spiral as Evangeline develops a panic disorder, feeling she has lost him to the maid. The Rules become desperately important to her, and she tries to restrain Dante from pursuing a normal life. He now has to juggle an impossible state of affairs, wanting to marry the maid, overcome his sister's pathological thinking, and appease his mother as he makes changes which are against her Rules. Mama and her solicitor will not yield control of the house or money to Dante. As if this is not enough, the woman he loves tells him that a lord cannot marry a maid and keeps pulling away... He is yet to learn what is behind the strange bent of their life, and when he does it turns his world upside down.

5) What is the personal goal of the character?

I'm afraid I can't tell that without giving away too much of the story because... something big happens. Sorry!

6) Is there a working title for this novel, and can we read more about it?

The title is For the Skylark. You can read the first section HERE.

7) When can we expect the book to be published?

I am hoping it will be out by the end of this year.

I am tagging these authors to write about their main characters in one week.

Scott Amis is the author of To Shine With Honor and will post on his Facebook page.

David Cook is the author of Liberty or Death and will post on his Goodreads blog.

Tom Williams is the author of Cawnpore, The White Rajah, and His Majesty's Confidential Agent. He blogs at http://thewhiterajah.blogspot.co.uk/