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26 August 2014

HNS Indie Award 2014 - shortlisted author Anna Belfrage

This year, 2014, the Historical Novel Society has introduced for the first time, an annual award for the best Indie / Self-Published Historical Novel, with winner and runner-up prizes kindly sponsored by Orna Ross, bestselling literary novelist and director of The Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi) and Geri Clouston of Indie B.R.A.G. There were eight eventual short-listed writers, from which four finalists were chosen by Orna Ross, with award-winning historical novelist Elizabeth Chadwick selecting the winner and runner-up.
Our judges found it very difficult to make their selections as the quality of writing 
was excellent, and to thank the authors, I would like to feature them all here on my Blog

So please welcome  
Anna Belfrage author of The Prodigal Son

Religious persecution, love and time travel – perfect ingredients for a 17th century novel!
In an article I recently read, Mr Richard N Haass (former advisor to Colin Powell) draws parallels between what is happening today in the Middle East and the religious drama that afflicted Europe during the 17th century. Having someone put it like that makes that distant past somewhat more comprehensible – and fearsome. After all, how many of us would like to be stuck in the ongoing violence in Iraq or Syria, in Gaza or Israel?

I have always been something of a history buff – it was a traumatic day in my life when I sadly concluded that time travel was not possible, and ergo I would not be able to transport myself back in time to live first hand all those cataclysmic events I was so fascinated by. These days, I am rather happy that I remain safely ensconced in my armchair while reading about the gruesome events that have shaped our past, our present – and our future. 

This is especially true when looking at the 17th century. A fascinating period in time, this century straddles the vestiges of the old and the beginning of the new. At one end, we have the Renaissance, at the other the Age of Enlightenment, and in between a century of war, of religious persecution, of budding nations and global exploration. In Mr Haass words, a century of defined by the bloody conflicts between fundamentalism and modernism, between budding national states and within said states, with governments forced to relinquish control over parts of their territory to militant groups that wreak havoc and death, creating millions of refugees. Not, perhaps, the time and age one would chose for a vacation.

To properly understand the 17th century, one must, I believe, start by attempting to understand the religious landscape. And to do that, one needs to go back to the 16th century and dear old Luther and Calvin. The single most important event from an educational perspective was when these reformers of the Church insisted that people should have access to the Bible in vernacular – and be able to read it. In one fell swoop, the priest’s role as intermediary between the worshiper and God was eliminated, and even more importantly, the worshiper no longer listened to the priest retelling stories from the Bible, he/she (yup; ladies as well) could read them themselves – and interpret them.

Many readers lead to many interpretations – and the Protestant Reformation blew apart into multiple factions, soon just as much at each other’s throats as at the throats of the hated Catholics (A sentiment returned in full by the Catholics). Presbyterians considered Anglicans to be borderline papists. Quakers sighed over the whole lot of sectarian violence. Puritans wrinkled their nose at anyone not following their particular version of Calvinism. Baptists were latecomers to the party and viewed with mistrust. 
From a modern perspective, we don’t quite understand how religion could be such a big issue. People died for their beliefs? Seriously? We shake our head in astonishment – but all we have to do is to study the mess that is present day Middle East to realise people still die for their beliefs – violently. 

In the 17th century, religious preference became one of the first freedoms man was willing to fight and die for. People did not protest the horrendous inequalities in material wealth. Gender issues were not even invented yet – or rather they were considered utterly insignificant, as everyone knew a woman was inferior to man in most things. But both men and women (and female martyrs were held in as high regard as male ones) willingly went to their death for their beliefs. Some were chained to stakes and left to meet their fate in the rising tides. Some were burnt alive. Some were “simply” hanged. All of them had in common that they were not about to compromise when it came to their beliefs in God. 
This is the background to my book The Prodigal Son. To be more precise, it is set in the immediate aftermath of the Restoration, when Charles II’s advisors decided to implement a number of laws – collectively known as the Clarendon Code – that had as its purpose to bring all religious factions to heel and have them recognise the king as head of State and Church. Not the most popular move in Scotland, let me tell you – in fact, more or less anathema to the powerful Scottish Kirk.  And so yet another vicious cycle of persecution began, with the die-hard Presbyterians being the persecuted, the determined Anglicans/Episcopalians the pursuers.  

In conclusion, Restoration Scotland was not the most salubrious of environments if one was a convinced Presbyterian – something which my protagonists experience first-hand. In The Prodigal Son, Matthew Graham is at constant loggerheads with the powers that be, and more than once he places his life – and the life of his wife and children – at risk to save dissident minister Sandy Peden. At times, this leads to substantial strain in the Graham marriage. At others, it is through the strength of their love for each other that Alex and Matthew can escape the fears and concerns that colour their everyday life. 

While perfectly readable as a stand-alone, The Prodigal Son is actually the third book in The Graham Saga – the story of two people who should never have met. My male protagonist, Matthew Graham, is a devout Presbyterian, a veteran of the Commonwealth armies and a man who, initially at least, tends to see the world as black or white. Which is why I gifted him with Alex Lind, an opinionated modern woman who had the misfortune (or not)  of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, thereby being dragged three centuries back in time to land concussed and badly singed at an astounded Matthew’s feet. 

Due to religious persecution and an adventurous life in general, Matthew Graham and his wife end up in the Colony of Maryland, there to build a new life for themselves and their children. Not an easy existence, and in the recently released sixth book of the saga, Revenge and Retribution, things will become excessively exciting and dangerous for both Matthew and Alex. 

All of Anna’s books are available on Amazon US and Amazon UK (links below)
For more information about Anna Belfrage and her books, visit her website or stop by her blog
For a somewhat more visual presentation of The Graham Saga, why not watch the book trailer?

Read the HNS review of  The  Prodigal Son

HNS Indie Award 2014

HNS Indie Award Short List 2014
judged by Orna Ross

1. The Sower of the Seeds of Dreams by Bill Page
2. Blackmore’s Treasure by Derek Rogers (withdrawn, author deceased)
3. Jacobites' Apprentice by David Ebsworth
4. A Gift for the Magus by Linda Proud
5. The Prodigal Son by Anna Belfrage
6. The Bow of Heaven: Book 1: The Other Alexander by Andrew Levkoff
7. Khamsin: The Devil Wind of the Nile by Inge H. Borg
8. The Subtlest Soul by Virginia Cox
9. Samoa by J. Robert Shaffer

and the 2014 Four Finalists are:
judged by Elizabeth Chadwick

1. Jacobites' Apprentice by David Ebsworth
2. A Gift for the Magus by Linda Proud
3. The Subtlest Soul by Virginia Cox
4  Samoa by J. Robert Shaffer

full details and rules can be found here

Elizabeth Chadwick: website
Indie B.R.A.G. website

HNS Conference 2014

Details of how to submit an Indie / self-published historical novel for review can be found here 

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