How We Write.
Today’s guest post on How We Write is by novelist Anna Belfrage, who lives in Sweden. Anna and I have connected on Facebook – and quite possibly in other lifetimes. Here’s a glimpse into her fantastical writing process:
Writing your protagonists
One of the benefits of writing fiction is that you can make things up. (Duh!) In my case, I have long nurtured a dream to time-travel, and once I came to the conclusion this was not about to happen for real – major, major disappointment, let me tell you – I decided to write about it instead. So I whipped up a major lightning storm that propelled my female protagonist in The Graham Saga, Alex Lind, three centuries backwards in time. I have a thing about the 17th century; all that political upheaval, all that religious unrest – definitely a time when a lot of stuff happened.
Dear Alex is not as adequately grateful as she should be. After all, here she is, thrown into a life full of adventure and excitement, very far from her previous rather humdrum existence as some sort of computer whiz.
“Humdrum?” she squeaks (she does that when she gets upset).
“Humdrum,” I insist. Well, okay, humdrum may be pushing it a bit, what with her horrible experiences in Italy and Ángel and—
“I don’t want to talk about that!” Alex interrupts. No; she wouldn’t, would she? One could actually say I did her a favour, propelling her out of a time so full of nasty characters, and yet the woman keeps complaining! No showers, no in-door plumbing, no newspapers, no TV… Sheesh! What about the benefits of unpolluted air? Of living in a time where so much of the world was unexplored? Alex gives me a look that should reduce me to a little pile of gooey matter and tells me that on top of it all, she is now relegated to being a second-class citizen – if at that – in a world where men control everything, at least legally. Hmm. I must concede she has a point there.
Alex did not leap out of my head like a modern day Athena, fully formed into the character she now is. She came in bits and pieces, evolving from a rather fuzzy image of someone with a lot of curly hair to a woman with more than her fair share of courage – and a capacity to adapt. Which is why, when I drop in to check on her, I am met by a woman quite indistinguishable from her new contemporaries – at least on the outside…
Alex sits down on the bench and looks at me. She’s in long skirts, a bodice that is a bit too tight over a rounded bosom, a neat white collar and an apron that is in serious need of a wash. The colours suit her, the muted russet of the bodice brings out the bronze and copper strands in her dark hair. Two blue eyes meet mine, brows pulled together in a frown.
“Still look the same, do I?” she says.
“More or less.” After all, the first time I saw her she was in jeans.
Alex scrapes at a stain of something that looks suspiciously like dried blood on her apron and sighs.
“Sometimes I no longer even notice. First few months here I’d change aprons every morning, but now …” She shrugs. “Same thing with all my clothes; I wear them well beyond modern hygiene standards.”
I can smell that. At least she bathes regularly, a major difference to most of the people in the here and now.
“Do you think it was meant somehow?” I ask her. “You know, your plunge through time.”
“Like some sort of predestined fate? Don’t be ridiculous! It was more a matter of wrong time, wrong place.”
“Yes,” I say. “I dare say you regret taking the shortcut over the moors.”
“I was late.” Alex gnaws her lip. She takes off her cap and scratches vigorously at her hair. I wonder if she might have lice, but refrain from asking. “It was either the moor or being flayed by Diane for being late. The moor seemed a better option.”
“So, do you regret it?”
“Well, I didn’t exactly plan on time travelling, did I?” She laughs, shaking her head. “I guess nobody does. Kind of incredible, all in all.” She grows serious. “Had someone told me that by taking the road over the moor I might end up yanked out of my time, I would never have done it – assuming I believed anyone who told me something so utterly ridiculous.”
We share a chuckle. Alex has no patience with people professing an interest for the occult – no matter in what shape. And yet here she is, living proof that sometimes weird things happen.
“I’m pretty glad no one did,” she says a few minutes later. “Otherwise, I’d never have met Matthew.” She gazes out of the small window, her mouth softening into a faint smile.
“So he’s worth it, huh?”
“He’s worth some of it,” she fires back. “Some of the experiences I’ve had here, I’d rather have been without, thank you very much.”
“Umm.” I like putting her through precarious episodes.
“Yeah, I kind of notice that.” Her blue eyes bore into me. “It’s because you’re jealous.”
“Who? Me?” I feel caught out. Of course I’m jealous! She’s young, he’s gorgeous, life is crammed with adventure – okay, okay, perhaps excessively so at times, but still. She laughs and shakes her head at me, and I feel my cheeks flaring into a bright, tomato red.
“We’re not here to talk about me,” I say in an effort to retake control over the situation. “It’s you people want to know about.”
“Five foot eight, dark hair, blue eyes, good tits… well that’s it, no?”
I roll my eyes at her. “Your inner qualities, Alex!”
“Opinionated and stubborn to a fault,” Matthew says as he enters the kitchen. He grins at Alex. “Quite the hellcat, and she kicks like an unbroken horse.” His mouth softens, he extends his hand and Alex sort of floats upright and levitates towards him. Okay, okay; of course she doesn’t – but is sure looks that way.
“I’m right glad you chose that shortcut,” he says.
“So am I,” she says, “most of the time.”
“Not always?” he asks, something dark colouring his voice.
“Almost always,” she says.
“Hmm.” He grips her chin and raises her face to the light. He kisses her, a mere brushing of lips no more, and I pretend a major interest in my pencil.
“Not always?” he asks again.
“Always,” she says in a voice so breathless it makes me smile. Seeing as they’re entirely oblivious to my presence, I leave them to it, gliding as soundlessly as possible from the table to the door.
Anna Belfrage is the author of five published books, all part of The Graham Saga. Set in the 17th century, the books tell the story of Matthew Graham and his time-travelling wife, Alex Lind. Anna can be found on amazon, wordpress, facebook and on her website.
See you in the 17th century?