Why I Wrote: A Series
A Guest Post by Anna Belfrage
I might as well come clean right from the start and admit I never had an intention of writing more than one book about my time travelling Alexandra Lind and her 17th century man, Matthew Graham. Truth be told, I found the idea of one book quite daunting. After years of writing little bits and pieces there, of deleting 30 000 words and starting anew multiple times, I had almost given up on ever completing the dratted book. It was mostly Matthew’s fault.
“My fault?” He scowls. “Is it my fault you chose to depict me as it fitted your preconceived notions of what a Calvinist Scot should be? Is it my fault…” Whatever. Best block him out. Let’s just say that Matthew’s character arc developed in a totally different direction than originally intended, and… “Thank heavens for that,” Alex breaks in. “Imagine shackling me to some dour Knox-like type.” No, that would have been difficult. I share a quick smile with my protagonists, watching with some sort of maternal pride as they wander off, hand in hand.
So, where was I? Oh, right: I was struggling with book one. Now, I am one of those writers who often has an idea as to how things will end long before I’ve worked out the how or the why. In this case, the last chapter was so heart wrenching I cried myself to sleep on multiple occasions, and as Alex and Matthew grew into “real” people my intended end was not only inappropriate—it was cruel. Very, very cruel, and how was I to live with their silent reproaches echoing through my head for the rest of my life? Besides, if I go by my own reading preferences, I seriously dislike unhappy endings.
I did some tweaking, readjusted several crucial scenes, and the consequence of all this was that Matthew and Alex were still alive at the end of book one. Phew. Except, of course, that now I started wondering about what would happen next. It was emotionally impossible for me to leave them to their own lives. I had bonded so hard with my invented characters that living without them whispering in my head was the equivalent of sitting in the middle of a frozen tundra with nothing but emptiness surrounding me. Not a nice place to be in, let me tell you. Plus, I kept on catching snippets of their conversations, and realised Alex and Matthew were destined for a very adventurous life. Too adventurous, Alex would say.
So instead of going crazy out there on my mental tundra, I decided to write a second book about Alex and Matthew. And a third. And a fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth. There: I sat back and felt very satisfied. I was done, I had seen my Alex and her Matthew into some sort of safe harbour (very sort of, given the losses and adventures they’d experienced along the way) and I could leave them to enjoy the remainder of their lives in peace on their beloved homestead in 17th century Maryland.
Writing a series comes with its own challenges. Somehow, I have to ensure each installment has its own unique beginning and end while making it fit into the overall story arc. My characters must be consistent while developing as a consequence of what happens to them. I can’t introduce a surprising twist in book five without having laid the groundwork earlier. I must keep track of names and birthdates and peculiarities. As a writer of a series set in the 17th century, I must also bring the historic setting alive in each book without repeating myself – and keep tabs on what was happening in the world at large while Matthew and Alex were struggling with their own misadventures in Virginia or Scotland or Maryland.
The benefits of writing a series lie principally in the opportunities to develop the characters. I have the luxury of exploring just how affected one of my characters might be by his disruptive childhood, or of having a serious boy grow into a narrow-minded bigot. I can subject my characters to tribulations but be there to guide them through some sort of recovery. I can watch Alex and Matthew grow older and wiser.
“Wiser?” Matthew tugs gently at a lock of Alex’s hair. “Alex? I think not.”
“Don’t be an idiot,” she retorts, “of course I’m wiser now!” Except, dear reader, that I am prone to agreeing with Matthew. Alex retains a propensity for rashness that somehow cancels out any wisdom she may have collected along the way. But that is what makes Alex Alex. That’s why both Matthew and I love her to bits.
Since completing The Graham Saga I have gone on to write other things. Yet again, I have started out with the ambition to write one book and ended up with…taa-daa…a series. Clearly, I become too dependent on my characters, humming “every time we say goodbye” softly under my breath as I type that final THE END. And sometimes, it turns out THE END isn’t the end. How else to explain I have an almost finished ninth book of The Graham Saga?
Had Anna been allowed to choose, she’d have become a professional time-traveller. As such a profession does not exist, she settled for second best and became a financial professional with two absorbing interests, namely history and writing.
Anna has authored the acclaimed time-slip series The Graham Saga, winner of multiple awards, including the HNS Indie Award 2015. Her new series, The King’s Greatest Enemy, is set in the 1320s and features Adam de Guirande, his wife Kit, and their adventures during Roger Mortimer’s rise to power.
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