My plan was to write a post on the continuing saga of a girl living abroad but I will throw all of that to the wind this morning. Instead, after receiving the news last night that my book has gone to the printer’s, there is only one subject this morning that interests me and I hope will interest you – since we all have them… dreams. Not the kind that swirl images haphazardly through your head making you more tired when you wake up than when you went to bed, but rather the dreams you concoct from a variety of ingredients throughout your childhood; a sprinkle of gym class here, a dash of brotherly nudging there, a well-rounded cup of sisterly and parental encouragement, two heaping tablespoons of planning, a very reliable alarm clock and a whole tumbler full of desire. Once baked at the highest possible temperature, but knowing just when to simmer, you suddenly find yourself with a pot of perfectly brewed “goal”.

That recipe worked nicely for my dream of getting to the top of the rowing world all those years ago. And I was close, a few times just shy of a medal at the World Rowing Championships. There are no words for the intimidation I felt as I glanced left and right of me in the starting gates at those enormous hairy under-armed eastern block rowers. But it was in coming third in the Commonwealth Games, that was perhaps a pivotal moment for me as I realized that third didn’t seem good enough, that somehow all of this was not my dream but something expected of me.

So I started growing a new recipe for myself, one that was sometimes spicy and other times filled with far too much coziness. But it was my recipe, my dream, no matter how unexpected it was to others. I was lucky enough to have a leftover bag of sisterly encouragement. Every time I’d doubt myself, I’d just add another scoop. Somehow, that bag never seemed to empty. And lo and behold, that recipe baked many stories along the way, stories that started to get noticed. Now, my tasty recipe, turned dream, turned goal, is now the beautiful soufflé it was meant to be, The Particular Appeal of Gillian Pugsley, now at the printer’s.

A very grateful writer

Not Very Swedish or Am I?

Let’s face it, Swedish is not the easiest language to learn but if you trudge through the mud enough, you’re bound to find green grass somewhere. And so is the life of yet another, dare I say, foreigner.

Being back in Sweden after three years in the United States, I’ve got culture and language on my mind – hence another expat and not-so expat blog post. It’s one of those things you can’t avoid. It was lovely the other day, having fika (coffee time) with two friends from England. One has only been living in Sweden for eighteen months so we were teaching her how to manage with the language. “Say plenty of Ah’s and Mmm’s and learn how to suck in a sudden gulp of air into your throat as though you were choking in the middle of a conversation, and you will manage just fine.”

I once counted how many “Ah’s” I heard in a short Skype conversation between my husband and his father. Twenty-two! Twenty-two times of letting the other person know you are still alive, that you either agree with them, mean yes or haven’t quite decided while bobbing your head sideways just a little. Some Swedes gulp air more than other Swedes. Thank goodness my husband very rarely does this, but having a conversation with the women in our extended family here makes me jumpy, as air is gulped far too often for comfort.

So yes, Swedes have some interesting features. The question is, “Do they rub off on the non-Swede?” Of course they do. When our fika was over, one friend said that she had had a wasps nest under the deck, and without realizing it, apparently I responded by saying, “Jahaaa…”, which was quickly pointed out to me by Sweden’s latest newcomer. It goes without saying that I brought some of those traits to the United States with me when I’d reply in a shop with “Ah” and I’d get a blank stare from the cashier that somehow meant, what does that mean? Surely the world knows it means, “yes” – NOT!

In the grand scheme of things, are we really that different? Yes, I could go into how the Swedes glare into each others’ eyes when they first meet while shaking feverishly the hand before them while saying their names clearly so as not to misinterpret, only to find that it is repeated by the receiver. Or how the Americans toss out a, “Hi, how ya’ doing?” and never actually learn the receiver’s name, and how Canadian are somewhere in between. No, I won’t go into the nitty gritty – not today. Instead, I will wrap up all those glorious differences between the Swedes and us English speaking folk and leave this post with a lingering question for those other brave souls who have ventured abroad. “What were we thinking?”

Your very happy, almost Swedish Canadian

Not Very Swedish – for all the expat and not-so-expat people out there

The question of identity has long baffled many a folk who have thrown a backpack over their shoulder and found themselves living in countries where, let’s face it, it’s not English! This perplexing phenomenon has weaved itself into my life, leaving me with tangles of hairy dilemmas to sort out, all under the umbrella question of who am I?

It’s simple really – I’m Susan from Canada. Oh, well, Susan from Canada who happened to fall for a Swede. Okay, let’s try this again. I’m Susan from Canada who happens to live in Sweden. Been here for sixteen years. But what about our first two years of marriage living in Norway? Susan from Canada whose son was born in Norway. Does that make him Norwegian? No silly, of course not, everyone knows if you’re Scandinavian, then you’re pretty much entitled to free rein between the countries. Hmm.

Okay, let me start again, Susan from Canada living in Sweden, except for the last three years of living as an expat in North Carolina, USA. No wonder the airport check-in machines were mixed up every time I’d travel – a Canadian passport with Swedish permanent residency but an American L2 visa. What should the machine do with that? Reject me, that’s what. Off to a real human being behind a counter seemed like the best solution. Surely, I wasn’t the only person on earth in such a situation? Sounds simple – NOT!

Now I’m off track. Susan from Canada married to a Swede, back here living in Sweden again. What about those years I lived in France and Australia, do they count? No, that was pre-marriage Susan. HELLO – of course they count! It’s Susan with a degree in French, have you forgotten about her? Okay, Canadian Susan with a French degree, rapidly losing her vocabulary and stuck with the dilemma of the Swedish language. Yes, yes, I’ve studied Swedish. I speak Swedish but still get headaches when everyone seems to be talking at the same time. Try attending a dinner party, sitting at the table where everyone is speaking a language other than your own. After two or three or four hours of my head spinning, all the voices start to fade into one incessant buzzing during which time I start to notice how lovely someone’s dress is or how they shouldn’t wear that colour eye shadow. Maybe I notice the moose outside in my garden or simply begin to daydream. The buzz finally begins to fade when I land in my own safe little world – my imagination. Oh, how comfortable that safe world is, free from language barriers, free from social faux pas. It’s there in this world, this moment in time where some of my best stories are sown. I’m free for that fraction of time to be myself until the dreaded, “Vad tycker du, Susan?” when I haven’t listened to a single word.

That’s the moment when my little world is crushed and I’m required to crank my brain back into Swedish mode and formulate thoughts again. The comfortable place; my little English world has been snatched from me without regard by my fellow Swedes, those whom I love, my Swedish friends and family. Yes, I am back in Sweden. Yes I am Canadian and will always be. Yes, it’s true, my accent may have altered over the years – somewhat.  Yes my children are Swedish but they are also Canadian despite never having lived a day there. Sweden is our family’s home and it makes me happy. But I’ve grown to understand that when you spend your life living in different countries, struggling with learning foreign languages and reveling in those moments when you feel as though you completely fit it, everywhere becomes home yet in the very same breath, nowhere does.

So the question of my identity? Who am I? I am a writer at heart, even when no one else believed I could be. I’ve escaped into my own world of stories while loving the real world I live in – my real world of being a wife and mom, a friend and teacher, whether I am speaking English or Swedish, or writing stories that fill all those gaps in what makes up a person. I’m hardly a philosophical person, but I am one who has needed to deal with the constant question of where do I belong? But maybe, that’s a question we all ask ourselves from time to time.


Book Review – Letters from Skye

A heart-warming book by Jessica Brockmole. Available in bookshops everywhere. 

My thoughts:

There is a woman I miss at Barnes and Noble at Southpoint Mall in Durham, NC. She never failed to recommend my kind of book. Somehow, she just knew my taste. Letters from Skye was her last recommendation to me before I moved back to Sweden.

I’ll never forget arriving at the Wright Brothers National Memorial, Outer Banks, North Carolina, only to find there was a book signing with children’s author Suzanne Tate. We had a lovely chat and at the tail end, Suzanne recommended a book she had just finished. Lo and behold, she couldn’t believe it, when I told her that that very book was sitting on the front seat of my car and that I had been reading it during our drive to OBX. Letters from Skye started a thread of emails between us, a novel we both didn’t want to end.

I want what every reader wants – to be swept away, and Jessica Brockmole’s Letters from Skye carried me effortlessly on a gust of wind I’ll not soon forget. Drawing me into the landscape of Scotland’s remote Isle of Skye and setting the tone for a love story across continents at the time of war, clinched it. Elspeth and Davey’s poignant story is gracefully laced across two generations and with it, the turmoil of an uncertain world. Letters from Skye is an epistolary novel that reflects the beauty of an old, yellowed photograph in a family album and the feeling it imbues – a spirit that contemporary women hold dearly.


Visit Jessica Brockmole’s website at: Letters from Skye

Visit Jessica Brockmole at Goodreads:  Goodreads


Welcome to My Blog

In anticipation of my debut novel, The Particular Appeal of Gillian Pugsley being released, I have included a blog page called “News and Events” to my new website, susanornbratt.com.  I look forward to having you follow this exciting journey with me.

Cover Reveal

Cover for website

I am thrilled to reveal my novel’s cover to the public.  With a publisher and editor who had a remarkably similar vision for the cover as I did, the process was a pleasure. Thank you, Elizabeth, for bringing it to life and for making even me wonder, “what is out there, that Gillian is longing for?”

Copyright © 2014 Susan Örnbratt