Writing superheroes: Anna Belfrage

Did Anna Belfrage mention she likes red? Read on and find out…

superhero copyIf you were to write the ‘origin’s episode’ of your writing what would be the most important scenes? What did your early efforts look like? Are they still around to be used as bribes and blackmail material?

  In my case, the ‘origins episode’ would feature a ten-year-old girl, sitting right at the top of her wardrobe with lit candles (boy, was my mother angry when she found me) trying out one spell after the other in a futile effort to make it back to the 12th century. It never worked – but my hair ended up badly singed.

Anyway; once I’d given up on actual time-travelling, I began to write, most of those early episodes featuring an extremely brave and talented girl (me) who despite her gender saved kings and earls, queens and popes from dire death. I guess I had a superhero complex already back then…
Yes, a lot of it is still around. No, it is most definitely not for the public eye, so I keep it well-hidden.Anna Belfrage 1

All super heroes have their mild-mannered secret identity, what is yours? I promise we won’t tell.

The problem with all those alter egos is that they are so bland! I am a lot of things, but I suspect friends, colleagues and family would roll over laughing should anyone describe me as “mild-mannered” – or bland. However, when I leave the protective environment of my writing lair, I don the appearance of a professional accountant, regarding the world around me through excel sheets.

Surrounded by papers, by invoices and ledgers, no one can guess at the fiery author superwoman who resides inside of me. Well, with the exception of my boss, who loudly complains that my Power Point slides are as wordy as novels. He-he; if only he knew…

Who are your partners in crime? What are their superpowers?

My foremost partner is my red computer. She is deeply involved in everything from plot construction to editing. Her digital approach to things means she prefers editing to inventing, which she tends to leave to me. Superpower is memory.
I do have a living, breathing partner as well, namely my best friend, biggest fan, and cruelest critic. She is a tech whizz – not that it helps me much, unless Red Computer is having an off day. Her historical knowledge, however, is invaluable, even if at times we drift off into the most tangential of discussions, such as “can you really darn a stocking by the light of a candle?” (Answer to that is no, we’ve concluded – but that may just be us) She is also an endless source of encouragement and energy – that’s her superpower.
Where do you get your superpowers from?

The single most important ingredient is chocolate. And tea. Or maybe the other way around. Writing without either of these ingredients at hand is difficult, like crossing the Sahara on foot with no water. I should perhaps admit to never having crossed the Sahara on foot. Don’t want to – don’t like the heat.

Apart from those ingredients I can imbibe, most of my superpowers are courtesy of my family. Crazy the whole lot of them, but encouraging and amusing – and brutally honest, which keeps my superpowers honed to a dangerous edge.
Where is your secret lair and what does it look like?

Like all true super heroes, I have TWO lairs. One for emergency purposes, should the ordinary lair be invaded be enemy forces. My secret-secret lair is in the middle of the forest. Unless you know where you’re going, you’ll never find it, which is a good thing in a secret-secret lair. Drawbacks are the unreliable internet connection and the equally unreliable power supply, but as any intrepid super hero, I have alternative energy sources at my disposal – read batteries. (Strangely enough, my computer doesn’t work well when connected to a wood-fire…)

My other lair is a place of red. Red computer, red lamp, red chair, red throw, red tea-cup, red pens, a red babushka doll. In pride of place sit my “iron fairies”, little talismans that ensure no one touches my red stuff when I’m not around. Well, that’s what they tell me they do, but those little fairies seem strangely inert. Maybe they do some mental zapping… Just in case, I encrypt everything – us superheroes do that as a matter of course..

Serpents-in-the-Garden_pb-lrg What kind of training do you do to keep your superpowers in world saving form? How do you insure they are used only for good?

I read. A lot. Only by reading other authors can I further improve my own craft. I also write – incredible amounts, of which I scrap at least half (or stuff it into a folder called “forget” in my computer) As to the being good part… hmm. I try, okay? And I generally have the good guy win over the bad guy – no dystopian endings in my books.
Granted, you probably don’t’ get to wear your superhero costume a lot, but if you did, what would it look like?

Red. I like red – have I mentioned that? Major problem with my superhero costume is that it seems to have shrunk over the last decade or so. The fit is…err…skintight, and while leather should be tight, it should allow you to breathe. Anyway, when things get really tough, on goes my tight, one-piece catsuit in deep red leather. It is decorated by intricate braiding down the back (thank heavens! I can loosen them somewhat) and dull metal studs in a star pattern on each shoulder. My hair is hidden under a black beret (good thing I have short hair!), a silk mask hides my face, black long gloves cover my arms and matching black boots add three inches to my height. The ensemble is completed by a short velvet cloak. The lining is red silk. I am considering ditching the cloak, as it is mostly in the way, but it does look great in the wind.
What is your kryptonite? What are the biggest challenges faced with in your writing?

Self-doubt. “This is crap”, and wham, I’ve deleted something that’s taken me days to write, which I afterwards try desperately to recreate. Good thing is, often the recreated version end up better than the original version. Bad thing is, quite often I don’t remember enough to recreate. My dear husband tells me that if I don’t remember, it was probably forgettable, and so it’s a good thing I deleted it…
What important lessons have you learned along the way?

Patience! Which, BTW, does not come naturally to me… To write is to start by creating, and then there are months of work before you when you revise, reread, rewrite, reread… Same story, same characters, and yet the end product is fundamentally different from Draft Number One. I used to become very impatient during the editorial part of the process, but these days I almost enjoy the editing the most – well, except for comma angst. Am I the only one suffering from comma angst?
What have been the best/most memorable experiences along the way?

One day it struck me that people I don’t know are reading my books – and liking them! Readers send me mails, asking me about this or that character, they want to know more, read more. That is an empowering experience, let me tell you. Less empowering, but just as memorable, is getting that one-star review, and as you read it you realise the reviewer probably hasn’t been reading your book – or lives off a diet of barbed wire and acid.
If you did this again what would you do differently and what would you not change?

Anna Belfrage 2I would have waited a further six months before publishing book one of The Graham Saga so as to give it yet another re-read. Now, I am re-publishing it, which is a rather more expensive option.
What is the best (writing or otherwise) advice you have ever gotten and why.

One of my first editors tore my dialogue to pieces, telling me that it was more important my readers UNDERSTOOD what my characters were saying than to attempt a “correct” 17th century vocabulary. Plus, she pointed out, we don’t really know how they spoke, only how they wrote, and in general the written language is more archaic than the spoken word. I took her advice to heart.
Tell us about you new book and why we need to drop everything and get it now.

Betrayal? Death? Retribution? Love? Time Traveling? Any of those do it for you, and I guess you’ll like that particular installment of The Graham Saga. (I’m working on the sixth book. The fifth book is already in line for publication)
What’s in store for you in the future? Do you have any other big projects on the horizon?Anna Belfrage 3

I have two WIPs on-going. One is set in 17th century Sweden and features a young woman with kleptomaniac tendencies (she likes jewels – other people’s jewels), the other is yet another time-slip, but this time set in the 14th century, interwoven round the story of Roger Mortimer and his rebellion against Edward II.  This last book is being polished, re-written, polished some more before being sent off to the RNA (Romantic Novelists Association) for a thorough and (I hope) encouraging critique.

 You can find Anna at:




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1 comment

    • Linda Root on March 16, 2014 at 12:32 pm
    • Reply

    Anna is so write about not rushing forward with a debut. I love mine. It is still by far my best seller, #1 or #2 consistently in novel about the Queen of Scots (hear that, PG!). BUT if I had known Anna before I sent it off I would have begged her to do a pre-pub read, and if I had my 736 page tome would have become two books, a there would have been half as many characters and a lot less history. And the trade paperback would not have been priced out of the market due to the book’s length. . And Anna is also correct. A redo is expensive but tempting.

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