Mastodon The Writing Desk: Book Launch Guest Post ~ Whither Thou Goest, by Anna Belfrage

9 November 2014

Book Launch Guest Post ~ Whither Thou Goest, by Anna Belfrage

In their rural home in the Colony of Maryland, Matthew and Alex Graham are still recovering from the awful events of the previous years when Luke Graham, Matthew’s estranged brother, asks them for a favour. So off they go to the West Indies to find a young man neither of them knows but is condemned to slavery for treason. The journey is hazardous and along the way Alex comes face to face with a most disturbing ghost from her previous life, a man she would much have preferred never to have met. 
Will Matthew deliver his nephew from imminent death?
And will they ever make it back home?

New on Amazon US and Amazon UK

Whither Thou Goest – setting off for the 17th century Caribbean

When people hear that I write in my spare time, now and then some of them will chuckle and say “Oh, it’s a hobby.” It isn’t. It’s a passion, an urge, a devouring need, an absolute joy and, at times, something of a dark obsession, but whatever it is, it is never a hobby. Hobbies don’t consume you alive.

I have written for most of my life. In between a demanding – and rewarding – career, and a large family, my writing was something I did for myself, and for very many years that was enough. Some time ago, that changed, this due to the fact that when the characters of The Graham Saga began to take form in my head, they became eerily real, invading my mind at the most inopportune moments and demanding to be presented to a larger readership than me.

The Graham Saga is about two people who should never have met. Set in 17th century Scotland and in the American colonies, it tells the story of devout, Scottish Presbyterian Matthew Graham and his time travelling wife, Alex, a woman who had the misfortune to be thrown three centuries back in time. (I’d argue it was more luck than misfortune: Alex mostly agrees, but now and then she throws me dark looks and mutters something about never volunteering for all this adventure)

The various instalments are stand-alone in that they can be read without having read the previous books, and it has been my ambition to centre each book round some specific historical events. In the recently released seventh book, Whither Thou Goest, I have therefore sent Matthew and Alex off to the Caribbean – and not for an anachronistic two-week all-inclusive on the beach, no matter that Alex tried to twist my arm.
Why the Caribbean? Come to that, why a devout Scottish Presbyterian when I am neither Scottish nor Presbyterian?

The answer to the last question is based on personal history: I am married to a man who can trace his lineage way back into the 14th century when his family was Scottish. And in the 17th century, his ancestor fled Scotland due to his faith. As to the first question, I must take you back some years (being female, I am allowing myself to be adequately vague as to how many years) when as an impressionable teen I visited Barbados.

Barbados is not only sun, sea, Harry Belafonte and steel drums. This is one of the older former British colonies, and was already well-established in the late 17th century. Ergo, there’s quite some history around – if you go looking, that is. The intention with our Barbadian visit was to slouch in a deck-chair, but as both my father and I got very restless doing nothing but lying about, we left my mother and my sister to cultivate their tans and went exploring. Which is how we came upon a little church quite some distance from Bridgetown. Incongruously European in the lush tropical settings, the church sported a number of crumbling headstones – all of them with Scottish names, the majority of them male.

The church stood on the closest thing to a hill available, and it breathed a sense of desolation, of homesickness – what the Welsh call hiraeth.  “Deportees,” our guide explained. “If we’re going to be quite correct, most Barbadians are the descendants of reluctant immigrants in one way or the other.”

Of course, the majority of these reluctant immigrants were Africans, carried over in chains from their homelands to end up as slaves in the labour-intensive world of colonial plantations. This huge stain on human history is not the subject for this post, so let us instead take a look at the Europeans who were forcibly uprooted from their homes and carried all the way to the Caribbean, there to be used until they died.

It started with Cromwell. Now, I happen to have a lot of respect for Oliver Cromwell, but I cannot quite get my head round his fanatic anti-papist views – and it is impossible to condone what he did to the Irish, when close to thirty thousand Irish men were abducted and transported as indentured labour to Barbados, just because they were Catholic.

Things changed. A restored Charles II had less of a beef with his Catholic subjects. Charles was broad-minded when it came to religion, but he was suspicious of the Scottish Presbyterians, holding them to some extent responsible for his father’s execution. His counsellors agreed, and laws were put in place requiring all the king’s subjects to swear an oath of loyalty to him as head of the church. Did not go down well in Scotland, let me tell you. The Scottish Kirk was as fiercely independent in the 1660’s as in the 1630’s, and as a consequence a number of ministers and die-hard Presbyterians were transported to Barbados. Some of these men probably ended up in that bare little church we saw…

And then, in the 1680’s, there was another influx of deportees – this time men convicted of treason for participating in Monmouth’s rebellion. The Duke of Monmouth – Charles Scott – was the flamboyant illegitimate son of Charles II who attempted to wrest the crown from his Catholic uncle, James II. The rebellion failed, and to set an example the rebels were harshly punished, the majority of them executed and left to rot, but a sizeable amount sent off to work until they dropped on the Barbadian sugar plantations. I dare say they died like flies, even if some were given exciting fictional lives such as Captain Blood. (As to the duke, he was beheaded in London by a singularly inept executioner)

One such Monmouth rebel figures prominently in Whither Thou Goest. As the rebel in question is family, Matthew and Alex have no choice but to attempt to find him and help him – before he dies. And along the way they meet dashing privateers and pyromaniacs, Spanish spies and Dutch reformed pirates. Plus the odd reference to Alex’s less than normal past… All in all, quite the adventurous jaunt – which is why Alex has not quite forgiven me yet. After all, she’s the one with the scars and the bruises, not me.

Anna Belfrage
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About the Author

Anna Belfrage combines an exciting day-job as the CEO of a multinational listed group with her writing endeavours. When she isn’t writing a novel, she is probably working on a post or catching up on her reading. Other than work and writing, Anna finds time to bake (awesome carrot-cake) and drink copious amounts of tea, preferably with a chocolaty nibble on the side. And yes, now and then she is known to visit a gym as a consequence. For more info about Anna, visit her website or her Amazon page. You can also visit her blog and follow Anna on Twitter @Anna_Belfrage.

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