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My Writing Process

I have been tagged by Elizabeth Caulfield Felt to participate in a little blog hop related to my writing process. At present, most of this process seems to occur very late at night, leaving me somewhat sleep-deprived and grumpy, but that, I suspect, is what you get when Ms Inspiration is in one of her more generous moods.

So, with no more further ado, let us leap straight into the pre-set questions.

What are you working on at present?

Well, as is insinuated above, too much is the brief answer. I have this very nagging young lady at the back of my head who is telling me to get on with it and write down her story, all the way from when the queen purposely cut her face open with a rapier to when she stole those jewels.
“Sorry, honey, I don’t have time right now,” I say.
“Why is it always me you put on the back burner?” Sofia Carolina complains. “At this rate I’m going to be DEAD before you get to me!”
Umm… no, dear Sofia Carolina, you will not. I hold your life in the palm of my hand.

I’m also putting the finishing touches to a book set in the 14th century, depicting a love story against the grim background of baronial rebellions , and then, of course, I am constantly occupied with tweaking the remaining instalments of The Graham Saga, a series set in the 17th century that spans the life of Matthew Graham and his wife Alex, two people who should never have met, not when she was born three hundred years after him.

At times, I feel borderline schizophrenic, what with all these voices in my head, but boy would my life be boring without them!

How does your work differ from other in the genre?

I’m not all that sure it does. My novels are about love – well, almost all books are about love in one way or the other – and they are set in various historical times – not exactly unusual, most historical fiction is set in the distant or not so distant past.

The Graham Saga is not, however, set in courtly circles, so despite me writing about 17th century Britain you won’t find Charles II striding across my pages. Also, there is a fantasy element in my writing, seeing as Alex is a time-traveller. Someone once asked me why I’d included the “device” of having a 20th century woman falling backwards through time. Device? I had no idea what he was on about. Alex is a modern woman. She just had the misfortune – or not, depending on how you see it – of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, and so…
Of course, Alex springs from my own deep-seated desire to time-travel, and I must say I’m getting somewhat desperate by now. Why has no-one invented the time machine yet? Time is running out for me people, because to travel back in time a glowing twenty-something is far more appealing than to do it as a plus fifty – geriatric care was not all that well-developed back then (Not so sure if it’s all that well-developed now either, come to think of it)

If I’m going to be somewhat more serious, I think all authors bring something different to their chosen genre, namely their writing style. I have a friend (D.W.Wilkin, whom I’ve tagged) who writes regency, and what he does to stamp his work with his distinctive characteristic is to write prose that to some extent reflects the time he writes about. I think it works well for him, but in my writing I have a somewhat different approach – my prose reflects me more than it does the time I write about. However, this does not mean I go all anachronistic – not a fan of anachronisms, unless they are done very much on purpose and with panache.

Why do you write what you do?

Okay, so I’m a sucker for a good love story. I am also a history nut. Have been since I was like five or so – I think that was when I first saw Errol Flynn as Robin Hood. (They don’t make them like Errol anymore, do they? What that man did for tights and short jerkins can never be over-estimated) Originally, this history interest was very much tied to my various attempts to time travel. They didn’t work very well, but one ritual involved too many candles at too close a range, so I exited my closet with my previously rather long fringe reduced to a stinking fuzz. My mother went a bit wild and crazy, let me tell you, and I was no longer allowed to light candles in my wardrobe. Once I got over the disappointment of realising I would never be Richard Lionheart’s page, I settled down to really read about history – both non-fiction and fiction.

Somewhere in my teens I discovered the addictive pleasure of writing – and what better way to combine my two passions (plus my somewhat bleeding heart) than to write historical fiction with a romantic touch?

How does your writing process work?

I think it’s all my reading that sets my brain off. I remember reading about the persecution of the Covenanters in Scotland, and I was thinking this is something we don’t read much about – fictional accounts of Scotland are to a large extent Highland geared, and very often 18th century or 14th century – for very obvious reasons (namely men in kilts, Culloden and Bannockburn). This was the tipping point for what was to expand into The Graham Saga, even if the Covenanter theme doesn’t really pop up until in book three of the series.
So, my research triggers my inspiration, and then that little idea will lie and germinate for some time until one day up pops a character and says “Hi, I’m XX, and I’m here to do the Covenanter stuff”. Chances are, by then the Covenanter stuff isn’t exactly at the top of my brain, but character XX is generally helpful, causing my synapses to go into overdrive, so now I have a potential historical background and a character.

In this particular case, the character was Matthew Graham, and he rattled around in my brain for some time until he (quite spontaneously) joined up with Alex Lind, who was a young woman I’d been chatting off and on with, what with her predilection for ending up in dangerous situations over and over again. Alex saw Matthew, he saw her, and wham! I had a time-transcending love story on my hands.
“Hang on!” I said. “You’re not in the same time-frame.”
“Well you’re the author,” Alex pointed out. “Surely you can fix the logistics.”
“The logistics?” I had to clear my throat. “You’re born like three centuries after him!”
“Fix it!” Matthew said. “Fix it, or we will both fade away.”
Sheesh! Overbearing, aren’t they? (OUCH! Don’t pinch me)

Characters, historical setting – then we’re into plot. I do not do detailed plotlines beforehand. I do, however, have a pretty clear idea of where I’m going, and when I’m working with a first draft there’s a large amount of text in CAPS which is my abbreviated storyline – I add to it as I go along. Often what happens is that I reach the end of the book and there’s plenty of stuff in CAPS left over – ideal for the next book. (I like series; I invest a lot of myself in my characters, and so I like having them around for some time)

Once my first draft is done, I set it aside. This is very, very difficult for me. It’s like giving a chocoholic one kilo of chocolate and telling them to place it on the kitchen table and not taste any. I suffer. I count days. I try to distract myself by writing something in the next book. I suffer some more. And then comes the day when I’m allowed to open the draft and start the re-writing process.
I re-write a lot. I love re-writes. I’d say I do on average fifteen to twenty re-writes – not on everything, but on relevant chunks of the book. This takes me ages and I love every single minute of it. It’s like being a sculptor; the first draft gives you the basic shape, and now you’re into refining the lump of rock into visible features. In difference to a sculptor, I can mess up quite badly and still salvage my work (I keep copies of all my re-write drafts, all of them labelled with dates)

Once I’m satisfied, off things go to the editor. And after the editor come the edits. After the edits, comes the publication process. And once it’s published, I go all weepy. But that’s me – somewhat too dependent on my fictional characters.

So there you are; my writing process defined. I think it is important to add that writing is a labour of love, it is about passion and commitment, about always wanting to refine and hone. It is about wanting to transport yourself and others elsewhere, about needing to capture all those vivid daydreams that colour my days in the written word. It is about making a leap of faith, in that I pour very much of myself into my work. To paraphrase a very famous Swedish writer, August Strindberg, writing is about displaying your heart to the world and hope they won’t tear it to shreds.

Onwards and upwards

Well, that was all for today about me, people. Let us instead move forward to the people I have tagged:

David.W.Wilkin is a man of many skills and interests. Not only is he a prolific writer, very much focused on his beloved Regency era, but he is also a skilled dancer, more than capable of taking over in all those dance sequences that seem to abound in Regency novels. Most of David’s books will feature a him and a her – a classical Romance concept – but what I really like about David’s writing is how skillfully he inserts his historical acumen into his books. Never heavy-handed, not an info-dump in sight, but still he conveys with precision all those details that make you believe you’re actually there, in the early 19th century. It is rather curious that this history fanatic also happens to be something of a computer whizz – or maybe that just goes to prove (yet again) that most of us are a complex bundle of contradictions. Join David on March 24th on his blog The Things That Catch My Eye and let him take you through his writing process!

Irina Shapiro is a lady you don’t want to mess with, people. This lady is an excellent shot, but so far I have never met her waving a shotgun about, so I suppose she confines this skill to the firing range. Just like me, Irina has a fondness for time travelling – just like me, she is compensating for the fact it can’t as yet be done for real by including a time traveller element in much of her writing. Just like David, Irina has written a LOT of books, spanning a number of eras. All her books somehow interlink the past with the present, through various devices such as time travelling, reincarnation or very vivid dreams. Thanks to her background, Irina has also promised me to supply whatever Russian dialogue I may need in my future books – I am therefore busily trying to work a dashing, Russian count into one of my WIPs. Irina shares her writing secrets with you here.

Linda Banche also has a long list of books to her name, all of them set in the Regency era. She also has a thing about birds, and as I found it rather odd to admit to a passion for ducks, I just had to buy one of her books featuring TWELVE ducks, after which I was quite hooked on her light-hearted and amusing writing style. One laughs a lot when reading Linda – and by now I am seriously considering a pet mallard or two. Linda takes her craft seriously and her romances are a fun blend of love and historical detail, now and then spiced up by the odd fantasy element or a cranky bird. Please visit with Linda on her blog on March 24th and let her tell you some more about how she writes.

5 thoughts on “My Writing Process”

  1. margaretskea Author of prize winning historical novel Turn of the Tide

    Hi Anna, Love the post – so much more lively than mine was last week in the same blog hop. – only problem – you are distracting me from my writing and reminding me that I need to go and check out the folk I tagged. nice to know that we’re part of a bigger whole… and all different.

  2. Pingback: My Writing Process | The Things That Catch My Eye

  3. Reblogged this on The Things That Catch My Eye and commented:
    This week we have Anna Belfrage and her article on My Writing Process. It is part of a blog hop by we authors on the very process that gets the words from inside our creative mind to the page where readers can enjoy them. Next Monday is my turn to provide the same in this hop. I hope you all will be here for that.

  4. It’s always so interesting to read about the writing process. I love the way your characters talk to you. Mine do to and sometimes it’s very hard to shut them up 😀

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