Continuing my conversation with the contributors of the Historical Novel Society’s anthology, Distant Echoes, I’ve invited author Anna Belfrage to chat about her short story, “The Sharing of a Husband“.
Anna has somehow managed to tap into the magic elixir of being a literary powerhouse. She is the author of the critically acclaimed Graham Saga (8 books and counting), the King’s Greatest Enemy series, has been involved in four anthologies, and maintains a regular blog.
Her short story, “The Sharing of a Husband”, portrays a woman in Utah who is forced to accept the introduction of polygamy by church decree and how that changes her relationship with her husband.
Welcome Anna and thank you for returning to my blog!
I’m always amazed at the breadth and width of your historical knowledge. From Spain to Scotland and now to America. What made you want to tell this story of a woman grappling with the early days of the Mormon church?
Anna: I am fascinated by the history of the Mormon Church, sprung from a mixture of religious and utopian fervour. As I’ve had the pleasure of spending a lot of time in Salt Lake City, I have quite a few Mormon friends, and we’ve spent a lot of time discussing various aspects of their faith, my faith, all faiths. The story of Ellie was inspired by a biography, the story of one Robert Taylor who is considered one of the founding members of the church and who, due to the requirements of his church, took a second and a third wife even if he always reserved the lion’s share of his affection for his first wife. It was evident while reading the biography that plural marriages caused a lot of strain, not only on the wives, but also on the man. I think my Ellie is an attempt at trying to understand just what it would feel like to be the first wife, somehow set aside when a new wife arrives.
Hillary Mantel once said that historical novelists often falsely empower female characters. What are your thoughts on your main character, Ellie, as she contemplates a difficult and unpalatable choice?
Anna: Ellie doesn’t really have a choice. She has children to look out for, and her family is very far away. So Ellie’s dilemma is really not what to do but rather how to cope. Eventually, she gives in and adapts. What else can she do?
Historical Fiction often draws parallels between the present and the past. Is this true of your story, and if so, how?
Anna: I think we still live in a world where some women are have few rights and no liberty and must simply accept their lot in life. Plural marriage still exists in some cultures, and I bet it is always hard to be displaced by someone younger and prettier in your husband’s bed.
As a novelist, what are some of the challenges of writing a short story?
Anna: The need for brevity. Every word has to count. So it’s kill, kill, kill your adverbs and excessive adjectives.
Which comes first–character or plot and why?
Anna: In this case, the plot came first—because I’d been thinking so much about that biography I’d just read. Usually, I’d say it’s the character (who is generally doing something either very stupid or dangerous when we first meet up).
Had Anna Belfrage been allowed to choose, she’d have become a professional time-traveller. As such a profession does not exist, she became a financial professional with two absorbing interests, namely history and writing.
Presently, Anna is hard at work with The King’s Greatest Enemy, a series set in the 1320s featuring Adam de Guirande, his wife Kit, and their adventures and misfortunes in connection with Roger Mortimer’s rise to power. And yes, Edmund of Woodstock appears quite frequently. The first book, In The Shadow of the Storm was published in 2015, the second, Days of Sun and Glory, was published in July 2016, and the third, Under the Approaching Dark, was published in April 2017.
When Anna is not stuck in the 14th century, she’s probably visiting in the 17th century, specifically with Alex(andra) and Matthew Graham, the protagonists of the acclaimed The Graham Saga. This is the story of two people who should never have met – not when she was born three centuries after him.
About Distant Echoes
Gripping and thought-provoking stories of people, places and times past by writers from the Historical Novel Society.
A new anthology of nineteen award-winning and acclaimed historical fiction short stories.
Distant Echoes brings you vivid voices from the past. This haunting anthology explores love and death, family and war. From the chilling consequences of civil and world war, to the poignant fallout from more personal battles, these stories will stay with you long after the last page.
This selection of winning and shortlisted stories from recent Historical Novel Society writing awards includes “The House of Wild Beasts” by Anne Aylor (winner of the Historical Novel Society Short Story Award 2014), “Salt” by Lorna Fergusson (winner of the HNSLondon14 Short Story Award) and “Fire on the Water” by Vanessa Lafaye (winner of the HNSOxford16 Short Story Award).
If you enjoyed this interview and wish to hear about another contributors to Distant Echoes and their inspiration, check out my author spotlights:
Also check out Anna’s thoughts of mixing romance with historical fiction in the Love and History series (click here).