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04/05/2014: Guest Author - Anna Belfrage

Today I welcome my Swedish friend Anna Belfrage to my blog - we met quite by chance at a conference in York some years ago and, as well as being delighted to find a fellow Swede (or half Swede in my case), we also discovered a shared love of time travel stories! She's here today to talk about the latest instalment of her wonderful series about the Graham family. Over to you, Anna!:-

The other day, one of my sons and I were standing in the supermarket, considering what vegetables to buy.

"April is when most people starved to death in the old days," he said out of the blue, frowning down at a plump Spanish tomato. Not exactly news to his history nerd of a mother (some interests, it seems, are passed along with the mother's genes), and we spent a happy half-hour discussing just how exposed the people some generations back were to the vagaries of weather and the resulting famines.

For us, it is difficult to comprehend what it means to starve. We read about people mixing ground bark into the flour to make it last longer, but none of us have ever tasted bark bread. To us, nettle shoots are a delicacy (and they are, let me tell you!), to our great-grandmothers they were a way of ensuring her family survived - one more day.

A long, cold spring was a disaster, the depleted winter stores down to the last wrinkled carrot by April. If the crops failed, there was no if about someone in the family dying, it was simply a question of who.

Famine was one of the driving forces behind the mass immigration to America in the 19th century. People fled Ireland and Sweden, dirt-poor Norway and overcrowded Holland, in the hope of making themselves a new life "over there".

However, famine was not the only reason why people set off across the Atlantic, never to return. There was another, just as forceful reason, and that was the desire to escape religious persecution. From the 17th century on, people left Europe in boatloads for the Colonies, because they were Catholic, or Puritans, or Presbyterians, or Quakers, or Baptists, or… And the colonies received these religious immigrants with open arms - well, more or less."Quaker? Pennsylvania for you, m'dear!""Puritan? Welcome to Boston!""Good Anglican stock? Virginia welcomes you!""Catholic? Hmm. Ah, yes - Maryland!"

Life was no easier for the religious immigrants than it was for those fleeing starvation. Setting down roots in a new country is a difficult business, even more so when your allotted farm consisted of virginal forests that had to be cut down before the land could be cleared and planted. It wasn't as if you could call the nearby logging company and have them come in and do it for you… And yet they came, all those people who could no longer stand living in constant fear because of their faith. Impressive people, in my opinion, which is why my books centre round one such man, Matthew Graham, who had to flee his beloved Scotland in the late 17th century due to his Presbyterian faith.

Fortunately for Matthew, I gave him quite the companion through his very adventurous life. Alex Graham is creative, optimistic and buoyed by a firm belief in the future. Well, she would know all about the future, having been born in 1976 before being thrown three centuries backwards in time to land at Matthew's feet. In Matthew's opinion, Alex's drop through time was an act of God, a divine gift, no less. In Alex's opinion, it was all a matter of a number of improbable circumstances. Whatever the case, they both agree it was somehow meant to be - she is his woman, he is her man, no matter that they were born three centuries apart!

The latest release in The Graham Saga, Serpents in the Garden, has just been selected Editor's choice by the Historical Novel Society. It shares that honour with one of the previous instalments, The Prodigal Son, which has also won a B.R.A.G. Medallion and is shortlisted for the 2014 RONE Awards. If you want to find out more about The Graham Saga, please visit Anna's website, or why not pop over to Amazon US or Amazon UK?

Anna is also a proud member of the RNA New Writers Scheme and is presently in the final editing phase of her manuscript. As all her books, this m/s combines love with gritty historical detail and quite some adventure. And no, they don't eat nettles - but Alex Graham is a major fan of nettle soup!

It sounds lovely, Anna, thank you for being my guest today! And just to confirm that the threat of starvation wasn't that long ago in our countries, my Swedish grandmother told me about eating bark bread when she was a little girl (just before World War I) and she also made me nettle soup 🙂

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