Nope, I do not spend hours and hours gazing at my reflection. In fact, I mostly avoid my reflection. Now and then, though, I spend time considering who I am – specifically when I am challenged to share stuff about myself on social media. I very often find it difficult to come up with particularly interesting insights. Or maybe it is more a matter of not wanting to shed too much light into the darker wrinkles of my brain.
Anyway: recently I was tasked to share ten things about me. Ten. Seriously, who would find it even remotely interesting to find out ten things about me? I blame my reaction on the fact that I’m Swedish—in Sweden, tooting your own horn is NOT approved of. Nope. We have a firm “who-do-you-think-you-are” approach to our fellow men and women (at least if they’re Swedish) so even the more successful among us will somewhat bashfully downplay what we’re good at.
Right: just like that I have actually sorted one of those ten things about me: you now know my nationality. Whether that qualifies as interesting or not, I’m not quite sure. Sometimes, people think that us Swedes are an uninhibited lot who bounce about half-naked and have lots and lots of sex—especially if we’re women. Sorry to tell you that is a LIE: Most Swedish people are shy. Most Swedish people will happily swim naked, sit in the sauna naked, but will NOT bounce about half-dressed and as to all that sex, Swedish sin, dear peeps, is an export article rather than a thing we partake of locally. But we do have beautiful, endless forests. We have silent lakes that shimmer with trapped sunlight as the sun sets. We have stately moose, we probably have lots and lots of trolls (John Bauer saw them everywhere) and when the fogs lift from our meadows, fairies sparkle and dance for an instant or two before they quickly hide away.
Despite being Swedish, I am a major, major tea drinker. In Sweden, coffee is the things, and so famous is our tradition of combining coffee with cake (the Swedish FIKA) that some have proposed it should be included in Unesco’s list of cultural heritages. I do not drink coffee – well, except when I am pregnant, and as that is not about to happen again, I stick to tea. I like my tea black, no sugar, no lemon – but somewhat less potent than the builder’s tea one so often gets in the UK. With my tea, I am Swedish enough to like cake. These days, my intake of cake is severely restricted. You see, the third thing about me is that I have recently lost 50 kilos. That’s eight stone, give or take.
“How did you do that?” people ask.
“By not eating all that much,” I reply breezily. Ha! There was nothing easy about doing this. In fact, it is probably one of the hardest things I’ve done in my life and I am very proud of myself for having achieved a leaner, meaner—err, healthier—me. The more relevant question is “Why did you do it?” I had to. It was lose weight or end up permanently incapacitated, which served as a very good motivator, let me tell you! Along the way, I have become something of a health-freak. I do, however, consider chocolate to be a staple in a healthy diet. Yes, dear peeps, I am a chocolate-addict, which, IMO, adds some balance to my otherwise so healthy and veggie-dominated life.
When I am not guzzling tea or writing books (more about that later) I am also a passionate walker. I love walking. It makes it seem as if I am very busy in the here and now while actually I am somewhere totally different in my mind. My imagination takes flight as I walk, and over the course of my two hour jaunt I will be everything from a medieval knight to a dying queen (very briefly. After all, she died…) to a 19th century woman locked away in an attic to an intrepid heroine prepared to die to save her man. Let’s just say I have a lot of fun during my walks—plus I burn enough calories to be able to indulge in…taa-daa…chocolate!
Mind you, my imagination does not only go into active mode when I walk. It is very much a permanent feature in my life. It is my imagination that has me dreaming up all the stories that end up in my books. A common denominator in all these stories is LOVE. Another is “put-your-characters-through-hell”. After all “They met, they fell in love, they lived happily ever after” – would not make much of a story. Besides, I do so like having my protagonists face one challenge after the other, thereby making them grow as people. They do not always agree. They accuse me of being a sadist, but as I strongly disagree, I won’t list this as one of the ten facts about me. After all, no matter what I put them through, the ultimate goal is to have them achieve some contentment. Okay, so sometimes it takes time. In my latest series, The Wanderer, Jason and Helle have survived (barely) two books and have ways to go before they can ride off happily into the sunset. If you ask Adam and Kit, protagonists of The King’s Greatest Enemy, they would not necessarily agree that the story ends with them being happy. (But hey, they’re alive, I tell them. Adam glares at me, likely thinking of all those who no longer are, having died along the way…) And as to Alex and Matthew, survivors of the nine books in The Graham Saga, by now they have achieved contentment. Well, maybe: there are still several unresolved issues and therefore a tenth book is slowly, slowly building.
“What do you mean, slowly building?” Alex fixes me with her blue, blue eyes, still as sparkling and glittering as ever, no matter that she is now over sixty. “I’ve retired from my life as literary heroine.”
Huh. I give her a malicious smile. “Not your call, honey.”
“I – we – go on strike!” she says, crossing her arms.
“You do? Oh well, then I will just have to kill poor Simon off. And Duncan.”
“Duncan?” she bristles. “What about Duncan?”
“What do you care? You’ve retired.” I give her a little wave. She looks about to burst. I high-five myself: she’ll be so curious – and worried – she’ll come along for the ride, no matter how retired she is. I should probably add manipulative to those ten things about me – but I won’t.
One of my major failings (or not) is that I fall in love with my characters and end up with a permanent case of “what will happen next to them?” This is why I write book series. This is why my Works-in-Progress always end up as series. When I started writing the first book in Adam’s and Kit’s story I told my BFF that this would be a one book story. She has still not recovered from her laughing fit… I told her the same thing when I started writing The Castilian Hawk (planned publication in 2020) She just patted my hand and asked me if I wanted more tea. I have therefore resigned myself to the fact that my writing will always result in series.
For those that follow this blog – or have read my books – it comes as no surprise to hear that I’m a bit of a history nut. I love submerging myself (and my readers) in the past. I love combining my invented characters with real-life people, I adore disappearing into a rabbit-hole as I research my periods. I emerge eternally grateful that I didn’t live back then, because life was harsh, it was often short and it was severely lacking when it comes to tea and chocolate. But still…there are moments when I wish I could at least pop in for a brief visit.
I am also an avid word collector. As I am fluent in three languages, I have a lot of words to choose from, but some of the English words I find very beautiful are “ubiquitous”, “twilight” and “incandescent”. My favourite words tend to vary depending on my mood—and what I am presently working on. If I am writing a story set in the 13th century I suddenly find myself saying words like “samite” or “destrier” out loud. And then I spend like half an hour wondering if I pronounced them the way my characters would…
I suppose the tenth thing you should know about me is that I am very productive. But then, is that really relevant? No, I think my tenth thing will be that I try very, very hard to be kind (except to my characters) I have this naïve belief that if more of us made an effort to live according to the golden rule— “do unto others as you would have others do unto you”—this world of ours would be a nicer, fairer place. Something to aspire to, at least.
So there you have it, dear reader. I give you Anna Belfrage who is a wannabe kind Swedish tea-drinker turned health-freak with a chocolate-addiction and who takes long walks so as to set free the imagination that spawns her book series, most of which feature history and a love of words. Does that make me sound interesting or just somewhat weird? Well that, dear reader, I leave up to you!