Saturday, 7 October 2017

Diana talks to Anna Belfrage

Hi Anna. I have known you for ages on social media and had the pleasure of meeting you in person last year in Oxford. I am a great fan of your books - in common with a great many other people!

First things first I am sure there is a question that you have always longed to be asked. Now is the chance. Ask your own question and answer it!
How do you combine your job as a Financial Director with your writing? Time-wise, it can be a challenge. Inspiration does not take into account such things as Annual Reports and Quarterly Statements, and so I might be busy drafting the text for a financial report when out of the blue Mrs Inspiration (my own muse and veritable pain in the nether parts) pops by and whispers something like “Eleanor of Castile. You could do something with that.” Let me tell you it is difficult to refocus on earnings per share after that..However, overall my financial career and my writing endeavours complement each other. Thanks to my profession, I am very structured in my writing. Thanks to my writing, I am more creative at work.

What is the genre you are best known for? I suppose The Graham Saga which my time-slip series featuring Alexandra Lind and her adventures in the 17th century is the one I am best known for. On the other hand, some readers prefer my “straight” historical fiction.

If your latest book Under the Approaching Dark was adapted into a TV show or a film, who would you like to play the lead role? Well, Charlie Hunnam would make a mouth-watering Adam de Guirande, and I’d love to see Rufus Sewell as Roger Mortimer.

What made you choose this genre? Choose and choose…If we’re talking about The Graham Saga, Alex danced into my brain clad in tight, tight jeans and a bright red jacket and there was Matthew Graham, my 17th century somewhat dour Scotsman. He saw her, he wanted her, and I resigned myself to writing about a woman propelled three centuries backwards in time as Matthew otherwise threatened to disappear. Permanently.
((Speaking as someone more than a little infatuated with Matthew, I am so happy you did not disappear him...)
How do you get ideas for plots and characters? I have a vivid imagination. My brain is like the waiting room at the doctor’s, chockfull with actual characters, potential characters, discarded characters. I generally don’t tell the discarded characters they’re out of the running as it dampens the mood significantly when they sulk. Other than this loud collection of peeps in my head I read a lot of non-fiction history books, and certain events trigger a "What if" or an “Oooo” feeling.

Favourite picture or work of art? How difficult! I’m a big Velázquez fan, and this portrait of little Prince Felipe Próspero 

Note from Diana - I could look at that image forever.
is one I can spend hours looking at. This little child carried a lot of hopes on his frail shoulders, he was even named so as to ensure he’d thrive, but sadly he was sickly and died when he was around two. I am also one of those hopelessly romantic people who sort of sigh happily whenever confronted with a Millais or a Waterhouse –Order of Release by Millais, is a particular favourite. However, if I were to be exceedingly rich, I think I’d expend my money on something far older, namely Rogier van der Weyden’s The Magdalen Reading.

If, as a one off, (and you could guarantee publication!)  you could write anything you wanted, is there another genre you would love to work with and do you already have a budding plot line in mind? Well, I already have a finished trilogy I am going to publish which is probably best labelled as Contemporary Romantic Suspense. Just to spice things up, I have a time-slip angle to it, as well as some sprinklings of paranormal.

Was becoming a writer a conscious decision or something that you drifted into (or even something so compelling that it could not be denied?) How old were you when you first started to write seriously? I have always written. Always. But when I was some years over forty and the youngest child was around ten, then I decided it was time to do something about those little bits and pieces of papers that I had lying around with half-written scenes on them.

Marmite? Love it or hate it? I’m going to pass on that one. I’m not English so I don’t feel I need to an express an opinion on this. 😼

Do you have any rituals and routines when writing? Your favourite cup for example or ‘that’ piece of music...?? I like sitting at my desk and writing while hubby is watching one of his action-packed movies. Other than that, I like having a cup of tea nearby but no nibbles as I hate getting crumbs on my keyboard.

I promise I won’t tell them the answer to this, but when you are writing, who is more important, your family or your characters? Ha! Let’s just say that there were some years when my poor family were left to fend entirely for themselves. I had cooked for twenty years, give or take, and felt entitled to skip the cooking and write instead. Come Christmas, the youngest child was very worried I’d skip the Christmas baking as well. I didn’t. With several years of writing extensively under my belt I have become much better at shutting off the writing for a while, go and do the family thing and then come back, flip the switch to “on” and continue where I left off.

Other than writing full time, what would be your dream job? I rather like the job I have. Numbers speak to me, which is a good thing if you’re in finance.

Coffee or tea? Red or white? Tea. And water. Plus an occasional mojito. If I must, white.

How much of your work is planned before you start? Do you have a full draft or let it find its way? I don’t have all that much planned. Usually, I have a couple of scenes, an idea of how I want things to end, and then off I go.

If you had free choice over the font your book is printed in, what font/fonts would you choose? I have a free choice 😊 I go for Bembo.

Imagine that you could get hold of any original source document. What would it be? “Dear Brother Richard: This is just to confirm those two little lads you sent over have arrived safe and sound. Your loving sister Margaret, Duchess of Burgundy.” Or “My most beloved lord and sovereign: this is to confirm the matter of the two eaglets has been handled according to your instructions. They rest in heavenly peace. Your most loyal servant, XX”

Have any of your characters ever shocked you and gone off on their own adventure leaving you scratching your head??? If so how did you cope with that!? I am no longer surprised. It happens every time. Like when Kit in my medieval books saves her man by swimming the Severn, or when Alex decided to take it upon herself to fight slavery all on her own in the 17th century. So instead of resisting, I embrace their escapades and go with the flow.

How much research do you do and do you ever go on research trips? I do a lot of research, mostly along the lines of reading biographies etc. And yes, I most definitely go on research trips to get a feel for the landscape. In some cases, this has consequences, such as discovering my female lead would not be able to see the sunset from the parapets of a certain castle. Too bad on that rather wonderful sunset scene…

Fiction authors have to contend with real characters invading our stories. Are there any ‘real’ characters you have been tempted to prematurely kill off or ignore because you just don’t like them or they spoil the plot? I think a good author doesn’t allow the real characters to invade. Instead, a skilled writer uses the real-life figures to flesh out the make-believe parts.

Are you prepared to go away from the known facts for the sake of the story and if so how do you get around this? This is a tricky question. When writing stories set in the past, there are quite a lot of blanks which are filled in by conjecture rather than facts – even by historians. After all, neither Edward II, his queen Isabella or Roger Mortimer have left us huge thick diaries in which they share their innermost thoughts. Plus, there are things we don’t know – like the classic conundrum who killed the little princes in the Tower. In fact, do we really know they were killed? Such ambiguity is gold dirt for a writer as we can write our take on things while not going away from facts seeing as there aren’t any…Generally, if I deviate from the standard interpretation of facts I will say so in my Historical Note. I also think this is a mechanism one has to use most sparingly and never when it comes to the historical details which create the background of the story.

Do you find that the lines between fact and fiction sometimes become blurred? Not really—except for those cases when the facts themselves are blurry.

Have you ever totally hated or fallen in love with one of your characters? Well, I adore most of my leads. I have very warm feelings towards Roger Mortimer, I am distinctly less fond of Isabella, I used to detest Luke Graham (Matthew Graham’s younger brother who sold my Matthew as a slave) but he’s earning brownie points like crazy in the later books, so now I’m not so sure what I feel about him. (Luke just winked at me. That man can be devastatingly sexy when he wants to) I guess the short answer to your question is YES.

What do you enjoy reading for pleasure? Everything. Seriously, I read thrillers, fantasy, romance, historical fiction, sagas, mysteries…I have made it my aim in life to totally confuse Amazon by always buying from diverse categories.

What drink would you recommend drinking whilst reading your latest book? Tea is always good. Hubby recommends a good whiskey.

Last but not least... favourite author? At present, I’m devouring everything by Kresley Cole. Other favourites are Philip K Roth, Lucinda Brant, Amanda Quick, Sharon K Penman, Edith Pargeter, Pamela Belle, Barbara Nadel, Michael Dibdin, Ruth Rendell, Gabriel García Marques and Penelope Lively.

© Diana Milne January 2017 © Anna Belfrage September 2017

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