Unfortunately, Anna's busy schedule left little opportunity for causal conversation which is how I found myself dubiously considering a mug of tea across from Alex Graham while our mutual acquaintance worked busily away in the next room. Not being one to look gift horse in the mouth I took advantage the moment and improvised an impromptu Q&A. I hope Anna isn't too upset, but deadlines are deadlines after all.
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Err… What I miss the most? The most, she says? Umm… Hot showers, I think. Or maybe cars. No, wait: a washing machine. Or a newspaper. Or seeing The Lord of the Rings – I only got to see the first movie. Hmm. No, if I have to choose one thing it is the hot showers.
You haven't seen the rest of the trilogy! Anna is going to hear about this. Least she can do is put it on while you're waiting to review her manuscript. Is there anything you’re happy to be rid of?
Stress? Not that it isn’t stressful here as well, but the constant dividing of the day in minute segments of time, in deadlines and stuff, that we don’t do here. Things take the time they take, and sometimes it takes one day, sometimes it takes two. Somehow, modern man has lost the capacity to savour life as it is – as I recall it, we were constantly on our way to the next big thing, the next buzz. Here, I’ve REALLY learnt to appreciate the humdrum – but that may have something to do with the more adventurous aspects of my life.
A quiet existence is hard to come by anymore, though Anna seems to have found a happy medium at her summer house. What part of seventeenth century life do you like the most?
Goes together with the answer to the previous question, I believe. The capacity to live in the here and now, to be grateful for the fundamentals such as health and having food on our plates. From a more personal perspective, the single best thing with life is Matthew.
I think all Anna's readers are jealous of what you and Matthew have with one another, but it didn't come without sacrifice. There must be elements you dislike about the path you've chosen.
It is very insular. It’s not as if I can keep abreast of what is happening in the big, wide world. Generally, by the time I hear the news, they’re nowhere close to being news anymore.
I can't imagine. Daily life must be a completely different experience in Graham's Garden. It isn't as if you can just run down to the grocery store. What seventeenth century life skill was the most difficult for you master?
That of pretending to consider men my betters – but Matthew says I have ways to go before I’ve got that one down pat. Plus I have still haven’t quite mastered the art of knitting…
Knitting isn't so hard, I actually find it rather therapeutic in that it gives me time to think things over. Speaking of which, do think about the politics and religion differently than you used to?
Yes. Used to be, I wasn’t all that sure God existed. Now I know He does, even if at times I find Him unfair – but Matthew says that’s because we can never fully comprehend God. Hmm. I think it is because He IS unfair – from a narrow human perspective. What hasn’t changed is my opinion of religious fanatics – and let me tell you they pop out of the woodwork here. Men (and women) can at times have the most intolerant approach to their fellow-men. Idiots!
As to politics; same old, same old. Those who have power don’t want to relinquish it – those that don’t have it, want it. The methods to achieve power are perhaps more visibly brutal in the 17th century than in modern times, but it is essentially the same cutthroat approach that is valid.
Politicians, some things never change do they? If you could go back to the day of the thunderstorm, what piece of advice would you give yourself?
Not leave the car? But if I hadn’t, I would never have met Matthew, and that is such an unbearable thought it almost makes me cry. So I guess my advice to myself would be “Do exactly what you did last time”.
That's so amazing, considering all you and your family have been through. Do you have any regrets?
Isaac. I failed him – not perhaps, out of any fault of my own, but all the same. Sometimes I wish I had not sent him back to his time that summer when he was seven. I should have kept him with me, raised him, loved him. Loved him? I never loved him as he deserved – it wasn’t his fault his father was a sadistic bastard. Poor Isaac. (Alex falls silent, staring blankly at the wall)
I'm sorry, I didn't mean to pry, but I think everyone has moments like that, chapters they wish they could rewrite, demons who dog their steps. Is there anything you fear might be in your future?
That I will have to bury another of my children. Mothers shouldn’t survive their babies – but in the here and now, mothers very often do. It feels wrong, somehow. And then there’s the paralyzing fear that one day I might wake up and discover I’ve been transported back to my original time – without my Matthew. Sheesh… (Alex digs around for a handkerchief) Actually, thinking of life without Matthew is pretty awful. I intend to die before him, let me tell you!
What you have together is truly special, at least that's how it comes across in Anna's writing. What do you consider your greatest achievement?
My children. All ten of them, even if I have no idea what kind of person Isaac might have become, lost in the future as he is. I think he’s okay – and sometimes I have these glimpses of him, and he seems happy.
But it is my children in the here and now that make me swell with pride – after all, I can’t take any credit for Isaac, can I?
I suppose not, but I understand what you mean. My children are my greatest joy and I'm fiercely proud of them both. What do you consider your greatest strength?
I don’t give up – ever. And I’m as protective as an enraged lioness when it comes to my family – all of them, including Matthew. Especially Matthew…
That definitely comes through in the books. What do you consider your greatest weakness?
I don’t give up – ever. Sometimes your greatest strength is also your weakness. There are battles one cannot win, and it is better to admit defeat and go on to fight another day than to continue arguing your case.
Well said. Two sides of the same coin and all. If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
I’d like to become better at dissimulating. As it is, Matthew can read my face as if it were a book – and not only Matthew, I fear.
I know the feeling... If you had a free day with no responsibilities and your only mission was to enjoy yourself, what would you do?
I’d sneak off and lie naked in the sun – I haven’t worked on a tan since I got here. And when I got bored with that, I’d do some serious disco dancing. Plus eat cake. A good day includes cake.
Do you get a lot of sun in Maryland? I've always imagined it cloudy and overcast. Guess that's what I get for making my home on the west coast. Is there anything you've always wanted to do but haven't?
Not really. I wasn’t intending to time travel, and that has been quite the experience in itself. I used to dream of visiting Tibet, but that isn’t about to happen, I think.
You never know. Portuguese missionaries began work in Tibet in 1624. Maybe you and Matthew could contribute to their cause. On that note, how would you define your relationship with your husband?
He completes me, makes me a better person. Together, we carry each other through the darkest of days – and we’ve had a few of those, let me tell you. But we also have the wonderful moments, those instances in time forever engraved in my heart, a sequence of memories of him and me, lying close together, talking, kissing, making love… And at times, it’s like we merge together, you know? Two halves made into a stronger one – that’s Matthew and me. Which is why it is so crippling to even consider a life without him: how could I live on, if I am yanked in two?
I'm not a gambler, but I'd bet money on readers sighing when they read that response. What do you like best about him?
I take it you’re talking inner qualities, right? I mean, his physical attributes are obvious – tall, strong, handsome, beautiful hazel eyes, hands that can be so very, very gentle one moment, so very, very demanding at others…And his mouth – look at the curve of his lower lip. (Alex clears her throat) As to his other qualities, what I like best about him is that he loves me just as I am.
Ha! No shame in appreciating what you have. What do you like least about him?
I can’t say I’m a major fan of his “I’m the man, so I decide” approach to some things. In fact, it pisses me off no end when he pulls the gender card on me. To his credit, he doesn’t do it all that often – even if he’s entitled to do so, what with me being nothing but his property – at least as per the law. Ugh!
I think I'd scream if someone tried preaching the superiority of the Y chromosome, but I'm a single mom so my tolerance for that sort of pigheadedness is pretty short. If asked, how do you think Matthew would describe you?
Me? Ha! I guess you should ask him, right? I think he’d describe me as opinionated. He says that a lot when he’s upset with me… I also think he’d say I am brave – foolhardy at times. I think he’s as proud of me as I am of him – I hope so at least.
If he has even half Anna's admiration for you, you're golden. Speaking of which, what is it like working with Anna?
She’s very determined. And bloody stubborn. Not the best at compromising, either, and she gets this bright look in her eyes when she starts devising a plot and I go “uh-oh” because I know that whenever she looks at me or Matthew like that, she is planning yet another adventure for us. But she’s good at listening – to me and Matthew – and I know for a fact she loves us. Very, very much, does she love us, which is probably why she’s been crying her eyes out while she’s been writing the next book – the last book, she says. Huh.
I've anticipated tears of my own since finishing Whither Thou Goest. Truth is I'm not ready to say goodbye. Have you enjoyed the response her books have generated?
Mostly, yes. But some of the stuff she writes is so intimate, and just the thought of someone peeking in on me and Matthew… well, it makes me blush, okay?
I'm not even gonna touch that one though I certainly see where you're coming from. How about your family? What do they think of the series?
Ruth is less than thrilled, muttering that she comes across as quite the prim little madam (which she is – sometimes). The boys are pretty okay with being minor celebrities, even if Samuel has not quite forgiven Anna for that business with his ear. Sarah was a wreck after the sixth book. A total wreck. Now, she’s in a better place, and more than pleased about her role in the latest book. Mrs Parson thinks more time should be expended on describing her knitting, but Anna has told her (rather brutally) that readers aren’t that interested in how she stripes her stockings. Mrs Parson refused to speak to Anna until she apologized.
With all due respect to Mrs Parson, I have to side with Anna on that one. Wouldn't want To Catch a Falling Star to be a how to guide to needle-craft after all. I know it's frightfully rude to ask, but can you give readers any hints at what we might expect when it is published next March?
Not sure I should – Anna can be quite a pain in the butt at times, and she will NOT like it if I give away parts of the plot. To be quite honest, there are parts she hasn’t even shared with me, but I know for a fact we will be going back to Scotland – and it is killing me to do so! I want us to stay here, with our children and grandchildren, but no, Matthew has decided he wants to see Hillview again. I can’t exactly let him go on his own, can I? Plus I must admit to being rather curious about Luke – has time mellowed him? According to Anna, there will be plenty of Luke in the next book, so maybe I’ll find out. And Isaac, Anna adds. WHAT? Look, I don’t have time to talk to you right now. I have to find out just what Anna is planning to put my son through. Let me tell you, I don’t like the look on her face. HEY, ANNA! Don’t you dare…(Alex fades away)
ABOUT ALEX GRAHAM
Astrological sign: Virgo (“Virgo? How boring is that,” she says with a laugh)
Education: Degrees in Computer Engineering and Programming. Most useful in her new environment she says sarcastically. A karate practitioner since childhood, she holds a black belt 4th dan and has also dabbled in jujitsu. Never got beyond “Smoke on the water” on guitar, but knows the lyrics to all her favourite rock songs – although she’s not quite sure this qualifies as education. Is a proficient user of the staple gun – has used it for everything from upholstery to fixing Halloween disguises. Sadly, staple guns do not exist in the seventeenth century. Good at drawing, crap at sewing and knitting. Used to consider herself a good chess player – until she met Matthew.
Favourite dish: Chocolate cake. Or maybe chocolate mousse, or chocolate ice cream or … Chocolate, she summarises with a little sigh.
Favourite pastime: Hot baths and Matthew.Appearances: A Rip in the Veil, Like Chaff in the Wind, The Prodigal Son, A Newfound Land, Serpents in the Garden, Revenge and Retribution, Whither Thou Goest, To Catch a Falling Star
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I was raised abroad, on a pungent mix of Latin American culture, English history and Swedish traditions. As a result I’m multilingual and most of my reading is historical – both non-fiction and fiction.I was always going to be a writer – or a historian, preferably both. Instead I ended up with a degree in Business and Finance, with very little time to spare for my most favourite pursuit. Still, one does as one must, and in between juggling a challenging career I raised my four children on a potent combination of invented stories, historical debates and masses of good food and homemade cakes. They seem to thrive … Nowadays I spend most of my spare time at my writing desk. The children are half grown, the house is at times eerily silent and I slip away into my imaginary world, with my imaginary characters. Every now and then the one and only man in my life pops his head in to ensure I’m still there. I like that – just as I like how he makes me laugh so often I’ll probably live to well over a hundred.I was always going to be a writer. Now I am – I have achieved my dream.
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