Given Lives—Interview with Anna Jensen
You've written poetry, created a journal and devotion books. And now you've written your first novel. Tell us about the inspiration behind Given Lives and who it will appeal to?
Given Lives started life as a section in a non-fiction book of devotions I started working on. My previous book focused on how God speaks to us through creation; this was to be a book exploring how God speaks to us through history. But once I got started, I realised this particular story deserved more than a couple of pages. I've wanted to write a work of fiction for a long time, but never seemed to have any ideas I thought worthwhile. Until now.
The most remarkable thing about this story is its relevance to the situation we find ourselves in today, with COVID-19 and all the hardships that have been experienced by so many. Given Lives tells of a community touched by the bubonic plague in the 17th century and the way they responded to it.
The book will appeal to anyone who enjoys history brought to life, or loves a story with a message.
Why will your readers love your main character, Kitty?
Kitty is a young woman of 17 years old who decides to spend a year with her aunt and uncle in the small village of Eyam (pronounced Eem) in the Derbyshire Peak District. Thinking only that her stay would involve helping out around the farm and looking after her young cousins, Kitty quickly becomes caught up in a devastating crisis which engulfs the small community when a deadly plague arrives from London.
In so many ways, Kitty is caught between two worlds; no longer a child, and not yet a married woman with family of her own; a city child learning to live in the countryside; a Puritan, non-Royalist whose closest friend is a Conformist rector’s wife; and an outsider having to share in the fate of a community not her own. I think readers will identify with some of her struggles and will love her the more for them.
This story takes place in the 17th century. Tell us about your research process.
I did a huge amount of research. Every individual, other than Kitty and her city family, really did live in Eyam in 1665-6! I used resources from the Eyam museum and the local church, St Lawrence’s. I was able to check parish registers for dates and read accounts of events that took place more than 300 years ago. It took me about a month of finding and compiling all the resources I needed. I even found what Scripture readings and prayers were being used by the presiding rector, William Mompesson, on any given Sunday. The sermons he gave were mine, however!
What was the strangest or most interesting thing that popped up in your research for this book?
Whilst writing Given Lives, I made a number of attempts to get in touch with people living in Eyam in order to get their input for the book. I wasn’t having much success until one day I received an email from a lady called Joan Plant. It turns out she is directly descended from a girl who features prominently in all stories about Eyam. The girl was called Margaret Blackwell, and was one of a very few who caught the plague but who survived! Joan read a copy of Given Lives and was so complimentary, it brought tears to my eyes. This was her endorsement:
"My 9th great Aunt and ancestor, Margaret Blackwell, is part of this wonderful novel and as a family survivor of this dreadful plague disease, I felt privileged to be asked to read Anna’s novel.
The story unfolds as Kitty comes to Eyam to celebrate the annual Wakes Week and becomes isolated with the villagers as they try to contain the disease. It captures the real depth of sacrificial love, care and compassion and their heroism during the Plague in 1665/66. The trust and hope the families had in God to bring them through this tragic time is a real testament to their fortitude as Kitty constantly, with her family, looks forward to a brighter and happier future.
A great read and thanks to Anna for her factual insight and passion for our history."
How long did it take you to write the novel? Please share your process from idea, to writing "the end".
In October 2020 I started all the research and planning. Then in November is signed up to the NaNoWriMo writing challenge to complete 50 thousand words over the course of the month. Amazingly I was able to do that, although the story wasn’t quite finished. I did other things over December and January, then sat down to finish the first draft in February 2021. I read through the first draft, amending the obvious flaws as I went along, and then the completed draft with a couple of reader friends who helped me with some basic editing and proofreading. Then I sent the manuscript away to a professional editor. By June everything was ready and it was time to create a book cover, format the novel for both paperback and ebook and have a quick final proofread.
Finally, now that Given Lives is out, what are you working on?
Given Lives is the first in a series of books inspired by historical events that I have planned. The next in this ‘Ripples Through Time’ series is set during World War II. Entitled Secret Lives, it is centred around the women codebreakers who were instrumental in helping break the ‘indecipherable’ messages that came from Allied agents in the field. I have started the research for this, although there is still much to do! I intend to write the bulk of the story in November, using the NaNoWriMo challenge as a springboard once again.
I also have a couple of 14-day devotional books in mind, but I’m not sure when I’ll get to compiling those!
Here's where you can buy a copy of Given Lives: https://books2read.com/givenlives.
Pre-orders will be $0.99 US until 19 August. The price will increase to $3.99 for ebooks, $9.99 for the paperback. South Africans can buy the paperback for R180, plus delivery, directly from Anna at: https://www.etsy.com/listing/1065688545/given-lives-a-village-a-plague-an