Bilingual Families

'It must be nice to be bilingual.'

I have been reflecting on my family’s recent road trip to France to visit our daughter who is studying in a language programme there for part of the summer. It’s not unusual for Swedish teens to head to all corners of the globe for språkresor (language trips). In fact, it might well be part of why you’ll find Swedes just about wherever you go in the world. They love to travel and do it well. At the heart of our trip was language, a subject that is constant in any bilingual family – only we tend not to think about it until we’re faced with those whose “normal” is different from ours.

While visiting some old family friends on the way home, they were asking us how it worked with two languages constantly on the go within one family and one conversation. Swedes are extremely good at switching to English when a person who does not speak Swedish enters a conversation (out of respect), but it’s rare that they would continue with two languages at once. Or is it? In my experience here, it’s not actually so rare at all, not if your spouse’s native language is different from yours, your children attend international schools and you work in a bilingual or multilingual environment.

The issue of language has always fascinated me. While some people may think it’s strange to speak two languages at home, others can’t imagine living any other way. It’s normal to us and normal to many families we know here. When our children were born, we had never even discussed which language we should speak. It was simply natural for both of us to speak our native language to our children. We’ve faced some criticism for this but if the shoe was on the other foot, I wonder how readily one would give up their language just to fit the status quo. More to the point, we feel it is the greatest gift we could ever have given our children – to grow up with two native languages. From the time they began speaking, they naturally associated Swedish with their father and English with their mother and switched back and forth between the languages without giving it a single thought. I remember having monolingual friends for dinner when the children were toddlers and how perplexing it had seemed to them to watch these young children at the table switching back and forth between the parents without even thinking.

What the children chose to speak from early childhood to each other was simply up to them, whatever came naturally. This happened to be Swedish. I asked my son when he was about five years old why he spoke only Swedish to his sister. His answer, “Why would I speak English to a Swedish girl?” So that was that.

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Our trip to France and our daughter’s experience at the college there has shown us once again that there are many, many families just like ours. Several of her new friends there speak two, and in some cases three languages at home. We visited a friend of mine on the way down to the Riviera. We had studied French together twenty-eight years ago while we were both au pairs. She had married a Frenchman and settled there. On our visit, I met her daughter who is bilingual. I noticed she was speaking both languages to her mom at any given time. I asked her about this and she said that she simply says whatever comes into her head first. This is their family’s normal, which didn’t faze me at all. In fact, it’s exactly what happens time and time again in my work and at the children’s schools.

Whether it is colleagues switching languages in one conversation depending on the person with whom they are speaking or parents gathered at a school function, switching languages continuously or speaking one language while the other person responds in another language, it works. In fact, I had two students years ago who (at the age of 6/7) spoke French to their mother, Dutch to their father, English in class, Swedish to some friends and English to other friends. Then they moved to Shanghai and learned Chinese! For this reason, I was particularly baffled by our friends’ curiosity, considering here in Scandinavia, if you put a Swede, Norwegian and Dane together, all three will speak their native language to each other as though it is normal. Which it is here! Scandinavians grow up hearing and interacting with all three languages.

So why question me about English and living in a family with two active languages? When my children and husband speak Swedish in front of me, I understand everything, I simply respond in English. If it’s not considered rude when Scandinavians speak their native languages to each other and everyone can understand, why then would it be rude to add English to the mix when everyone in the family understands English? Outside the home, and certainly with those who do not speak English, I speak Swedish. I speak Swedish to my neighbours and my in-laws, in the shops, a variety of friends and anywhere else it calls for that language. Swedish is an integral part of my life, but I am English and I won’t apologize for wanting my children to learn it equally as well.

In the 2014 article, “12 things parents raising bilingual children need to know” by Rita Rosenback on Multilingual Parenting site, she states that bilingualism doesn’t happen by magic and that parents need to have a plan. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Although this is true, in our case we never laid out a plan as such. Everything moved forward in a very natural way. Of course, being a true blue Canadian and a lover of language, I was adamant from the onset that English would be part of our family’s daily life and yes, I wanted the children to have an English education as well as a Swedish one. With that in mind and a very, very early application to The English School Gothenburg, where both languages thrive, life as a bilingual family evolved naturally from there, addressing all the key points in Rosenback’s article. My favourite point she makes, “There will be doubters. Ignore them, they do not know what they are talking about.” Probably the most important point in the article, however, is to be consistent. This is something we have taken seriously. It is for this reason that our children are consistent in return.  Video here based on the article.

Every family is different, choosing what works best for them. There is no right or wrong, it’s just what it is. If I were to do it all again, for my family, I wouldn’t change a thing.

I’d love to hear what languages you speak at home and how it works in your family.

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Embracing a New Year as a Writer & On Again-off Again Expat

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Typically, a new year brings new resolutions to mind, good intentions but often with little follow-through. The way I approached the New Year, was to reflect on how 2015 unfolded. It was an exciting year of change with a recent move back to Sweden and my debut novel being released in the spring. There is always a honeymoon stage with any change I suspect, and certainly in my case this has proven true. No matter how many moves I make over the years, and there have been a few having lived in six countries, one might think I’d be used to it—the curiosity, the thrill of meeting new people, seeing places you never knew existed or maybe reacquainting yourself with old ties, friends, family. Perhaps the ironic joy in any change is not being used to it whatsoever and maybe that’s why we crave it. Why ironic? Because of the uphill battle to get there.

For the first time, I discovered how moving back to Sweden was very much like the process of releasing my first novel. All the legwork had to be done; applying to schools for my children, selling the house in the U.S., returning to our house in Sweden and finalizing everything with our tenants, banks, taxes, moving company, purchasing new cars, selling the old ones, reconnecting with my school, colleagues, friends and family. All of this while I was in the middle of the publication process with my publisher in the U.S.

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It wasn’t chaotic in any way, mind you, busy, but not chaotic. Each task was handled with care. In the case of my book, several months of editing back and forth with my editor then the production of the book and releasing the ARC (advanced reading/review copy) was thrilling, a tremendous amount of work, but thrilling.

So 2016 arrived. My book was released and we have settled into Swedish life once again. But have we? Or rather have I? Asking myself what worked and what did not, what has been challenging and rewarding and what has not, is important if I am to make 2016 a success, both personally and professionally.

It reminds me of the film, Finding Nemo, when the fish finally escape the dental office in a plastic bag filled with water. After the bag plunges into the sea then bobs on its surface, one fish says, “Now what?”

That’s me in a nutshell. The kids are settled into their schools, the house has been arranged, my husband is busy with work life and back in his familiar, the familiar ring of his own culture and language. Despite the familiarity I have with Sweden, having lived here for many years before our three-year stay in the U.S., it is not really my culture or my language. There is an empty crevice somewhere in all the pandemonium that I sometimes think only people who have lived abroad can understand. No matter how full your life is, it is always there.

My book having been released into the world garners a similar feeling. The hard work, the excitement, the recognition, but now I’m Finding Nemo, “Now what?” It’s been a fantastic learning experience without any doubt, but what worked and what didn’t? That is what I’ve needed to address.

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First and foremost, living in a foreign country that is not English has proven to be tremendously challenging as a debut author. Unless you are well known in the English market, it is very difficult to get exposure in Scandinavia. I had to learn this the hard way by spending countless hours writing emails, making phone calls, meeting bookshop owners and distributors, all in the hope of introducing my English book to a Scandinavian audience. In the process, my writing suffered because I dedicated too much energy and too much time to running up a very slippery slope, one with no end in sight. When I could have spent precious time writing, I spent it marketing. Of course, the latter is important but a book on the horizon is essential. Had I been in an English speaking country, I am as certain as I can be, that I would have garnered different results.

In any case, it was an important lesson learned. I had to ask myself what I wanted most. It was an easy answer. I wanted to write. As a result, I have chosen to arrange my day differently this year. Writing must be my top priority. Emails and social media come only after I’ve written my word quota for the day. As a writer, I need to wake up with my story filling all those wonderful crevices of my imagination. The moment I open an email or check to see how my book might be fairing on Amazon or Goodreads, my story loses a part of me. That’s something I am no longer willing to jeopardize. My story deserves my full attention. So if I have posted fewer blog posts lately, that is precisely the reason.

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Instead, I am spending time wisely, getting to know my new characters and developing a plot that keeps surprising me. I am new to social media and I am still learning how to write—how to write well, how to write creatively, how to write intelligently and with heart. I hope I never stop learning. I am reading more. I’m reading novels by authors who inspire me, like Kate Morton and Susan Meissner. I want to sink into a story and fall in love with the writing, and one day, I hope someone will feel that same way about something I’ve written.

If my reviews are any indication, I know my novel The Particular Appeal of Gillian Pugsley has touched some readers in a way that I will always treasure. I am grateful for that. I am grateful for these changes in my life. Travel with my family remains a priority to me and I will likely jump at the opportunity to move house and home once again, somewhere sunny where my writing can flourish. 2016 is about setting goals, one of which is to complete my current writing project. Having made a plan for that to happen is key. It’s well under way and it feels great.

A new year brings new challenges to everyone. Embrace change in your life, make a plan and follow it through—writers are no exception, expats are no exception. As tough as it might be, it’s all a grand adventure. Is it not?

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A Castle by the Sea

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In the wake of all that’s been happening in the world over the last week, the atrocities, the deluge of grief, anger and compassion, I was reminded yesterday of simpler times. I was reminded of the beauty that sits just down the road from me when my daughter asked us to go to Tjolöholms Julmarknad (Christmas market) at a nearby castle by Gothenburg’s archipelago.

As we strolled through the barns, I watched regular folk who had lovingly crafted their art; beautiful pendants made with glass, earrings and necklaces made from old silver cutlery, knitted garments, and baked goods made that morning. I watched little Swedish children scurry through the crowds, some crying because of this or that, some chasing their siblings, toddlers on their dad’s shoulders. Roasted almonds and cashews filled the air with sweetness outside where the frost was sparkling on the ground. IMG_8898

The old carriages that stood proud in another barn hooked me straight away. I imagined myself a hundred years ago stepping into one—stepping into history. For a writer, this is such a wonderful feeling. The seeds of a story get planted whether we want it or not.

Christmas lights festooned along the walkway toward the castle, and the cold breath puffing from our mouths as we weaved in and out of visitors, pulled us toward the grand castle that was once home to several distinguished families. A truly remarkable building.

Christmas music sounded in the air and people were happy. As I wandered the halls of Tjolöholm, I couldn’t help but imagine a child running through the corridor, playing hide and seek in days gone by. Petticoats and crinolines whooshed through my mind. I could almost touch them.

IMG_8932As we rounded the corner outside, heading toward the sea, the sunset met the arched bridge under which the carriages must have stopped all those years ago. It was magical.

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On our way out, we stopped in one of the barns for a little evening fika (snack), sipped on warm glögg (mulled wine), ate pepparkakor (gingerbread cookies) and Lussekatter (saffron bun) and always some julmust (Christmas pop), beloved by Swedes.

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Just three hours there, but it was enough to enchant me once again. It was enough to remind me that we need to enjoy simple moments. A grand castle perhaps, but what lay within its walls, was the ability to stir my mind into tiny stories that may one day make it into one of my books. It carried me into a time that I’ve always wanted to visit. It made me look at my family and appreciate a lovely Saturday outing with the people I love most in this world.

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Finding Inspiration

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Writers find inspiration in the most unlikely places. For me, yesterday, I found it when Halloween fell over the sunset in Sweden’s west coast archipelago. Although Halloween isn’t celebrated in Sweden in the way that it is in North America, (no trick or treaters, no witches or ghosts or candy), the orange sky melted its way over the small fishing village of Grundsund as a truly lustrous charm. It was as though all the pumpkins turned Jack-o-lanterns in my childhood had flickered their flames across the water, bringing me home once again. I was grateful. It felt as though the sun had given me alone something special to remember Halloween by.

I’d had a lovely day trip with my family up the coast with lunch at Brygghuset IMG_8785in Fiskebäckskil, where I was once again faced with the dilemma – to reap the rewards of the sillbord or not. In plain old English, herring buffet or no herring buffet before the main meal? That was the question. Please don’t get me wrong, I have the utmost respect for my Swedish family, friends and their Viking ways but “sill” is not one of them. Not for me, not ever. I may have dual citizenship now, but I am Canadian through and through when it comes to keeping some order to my plate of food. Let me present my husband’s appetizer plate: pickled herring (stekt inlagd strömming), boiled eggs, pickled fried herring, pickled red cabbage (rödkål), pickled mustard herring (inlagd senapsill), pickled in a different way herring (matjesill), herring cake (silltårta), herring potato salad (potatissalad med sill).

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Are you inspired?

That’s what I thought.

How about my son’s plate?

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No, didn’t think so. Whereas my very Viking boy was licking his lips when he sat down to eat this feast for the eyes. His eyes, I reiterate. In fairness, I have to add that the food at this restaurant was otherwise absolutely delicious and I would recommend it to anyone. And who knows, I’m sure there is a herring lover somewhere in Canada, too.

Now where is this all going you might be asking yourself? A writer’s inspiration. How can a plate of Swedish food inspire a writer? Well, all I will say is that I am absolutely certain there is a writer somewhere in Sweden who is inspired by this food enough to win a Nobel prize in literature, but not me.

As we sat in Brygghuset mulling over our options for the afternoon, I peered out the window to find inspiration headed straight toward me—a twenty-three meter luxury yacht from Norway. All that oil, you know. Before it made it to the dock, I was already conjuring up my next novel, taking place on a tiny island in the South Pacific and arriving on that.

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A few photo bursts later, we were walking along the newly built dock in Grundsund, the one that wraps around the shoreline hugging yet another of Sweden’s lovely fishing villages. IMG_8812 The orange sunset was the crowning glory to a perfect day. How could it not inspire you? As we drove off, not exactly into the sunset, but rather in the dark to the ferry to Orust, a sea of flickering lights all over the local cemetery, on all the graves of loved-ones, reminded me how Halloween is Allhelgona (All Hallows’ Eve) here in Sweden. It is a “gentle remembrance of the saints and of those loved ones who (have) died.” Once again I felt inspired and know that somehow that sea of candle light will work its way into my writing.

What I love about writing is how those lovely moments of inspiration seem to come when you least expect them. As I sat writing this post, my son shouted across the house for everyone to look at the sky. What had been unusually and completely orange on Halloween, tonight on November 1, the sky was a stunning purple.  No, not just purple, it was amethyst! I’ve never seen anything like it. Click, click went the mobile phone. It was something I simply had to capture—a moment that was gone as quickly as it came. But what a jewel!

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I would love to know where and when and even what inspires you. Please feel free to comment below.

A Writer’s Fleeting Moment? Maybe or Maybe Not. – believe in yourself and be happy for others

As I watch the writing career of a childhood/high school friend fall beautifully into place – her books gracing shelves in bookshops around the world and translated into multiple languages – I thought I might feel envious. Strangely, I don’t. I think as writers, we know and understand the grueling, painstaking work behind what we do. Yes, there are those perhaps who are in the right place at the right time. On the other hand, I believe we make our own luck by being prepared, hence “when preparation meets opportunity.” What we see (the readers looking in) is that silver lining, the joy of those authors in the public eye, representing their work and their publishers. My friend, Susin Nielsen (author of We Are All Made of Molecules), who is currently at Festivaletteratura in Mantua, Italy, is living that life. She was invited there and even had two representatives meet her at the airport. What writer wouldn’t enjoy that? But she has worked hard to get where she is. For most of us in this business, nothing is given on a silver platter.

It’s true, good fortune can come more readily to some people but persistence is something in which I strongly believe. I have only recently stepped into the publishing industry officially, but unofficially, I’ve been at it for years. Rarely does it happen overnight. I know what it’s like to watch that mountain of rejection letters grow into something that looks an awful lot like humble pie. You go in feeling high, and so you should. You’ve finished writing a book! How many people can say that? Slowly reality surfaces when you realize what you’re up against – the ever-growing number of daily submissions. There’s a staggering amount of competition out there. So we, as writers, need to revel in our moments of success.

I am thrilled for Susin Nielsen. She deserves this success. I am equally as thrilled that I’ve managed to climb to the top of my rejection pile and see a glimpse of what’s out there for me. Writing is the most creatively challenging pursuit I have ever taken on, but it remains a very natural part of me. I like telling stories. I always have. I like making up names and places and characters and describing them so all my reader or listener has to do is close her eyes and see for herself.

I wanted someone to believe in my writing as much as I believed in it. When the time was right, when my right place and my right moment came, as prepared as any top-selling author, that’s when I was offered a contract. Ever since, I have reveled in those lovely moments of success.  Success perhaps on a different scale.  But isn’t it simply a question of how we measure success?  On the other hand, our goals are ever-changing! I first wanted to complete a book – I did. Then I wanted it to be published – it was. Then I wanted someone whom I didn’t know to buy the book and genuinely enjoy it – they did. And now, yes it’s true, I hope to sell it many times over.

I was invited to speak at a book club in New Delhi, India two nights ago via Skype. One member even joined us online from home since she was ill. What a joy it was to see women in another part of the world reading my book and sharing their thoughts and feelings about it! They were expats from various parts of the world, all of whom could relate easily to the characters and places in The Particular Appeal of Gillian Pugsley.  All of them have experienced the feelings of adventure, isolation, thrill,   India Book Clubcamaraderie and a sense of homelessness about living abroad – a rather sacred and oddly lovely confusion that rests with expats. These feelings are no stranger to my main character, which resulted in this book club bonding with Gilly on an intimate level. How marvelous was that? Yes, it was one of those moments in which to revel.

I have been invited to speak at The American Women’s Club in Gothenburg, Sweden next week. I am honoured and very excited about it. I am a local author yet will likely understand these women before I even meet them. They, too, are experiencing living abroad, just as I have done for many years.

IMG_0412 KoboWhen we work hard at our craft, we feel validated when someone sits up and notices. Recently, I was bowled over to learn that my book was in the top ten bestsellers in historical fiction on Kobo Books and was running alongside Kate Morton’s, The Distant Hours. I couldn’t believe my eyes, KATE MORTON! Okay, so my ranking wasn’t quite as sustainable as hers but I’ll take what I can get.

These may all be fleeting moments in any writer’s life. Do we shout from the rooftops or quietly soak in these moments? I rather like the idea of a bit of both. After all, we writers have to claw our way through the slush pile and make ourselves noticed. Trumpet to the world if that’s what it takes. We need to believe in ourselves and stand by our writing, even when the odds are against us.

I am over the moon for my friend and her success. It’s inspirational at the very least. Yet, I am grateful beyond words to have even a taste of it myself. All the fluff is wonderful—cotton candy at its best. But what matters in the end is that we write. And if someone reads our books and is touched by them, I don’t know a purer form of success. I may not have representatives greeting me at airports to take me to this event and that, but a writer can dream. After all, that’s where it all started—this thing we call writing—it started with a dream.

Is Midsummer a Writer’s Dream?

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Now that Midsummer celebrations are winding down here in Sweden, it gives me time to reflect on the weekend. Swedes cherish Midsummer festivities, an occasion to celebrate the longest and lightest day of the year. This is not to be taken “lightly” in Scandinavia since much of the year is dark and dare I say dreary. Although it was calling for rain, that never stops Swedes from a having a fabulous time. If that means dancing in a downpour in rubber boots, flower crown and traditional blue and yellow dress around a May pole then so be it.  FullSizeRenderMidsummer10

This year, my family decided to try to outrun the rain and head to the islands in the west coast archipelago where the clouds are often pushed aside just for us it seems. Smart decision. The weather was glorious, not hot but pleasant—so pleasant you could go without a cardigan and feel the sun on your skin. We borrowed farmor and farfar’s (grandma and grandpa’s) boat and headed north, first to Mollösund—a seaside town that never disappoints. From the distance, you can actually feel it pulling you toward it. It is a happy fishing village with white or red houses with traditional clay tile rooftops. People are friendly. What I’ve always liked about Swedes is that you can trust their behaviour. They are either genuinely happy to greet you or they’re not. And if they’re not, you’ll know it straight away. Believe it or not, there is some comfort in that. They mean what they say and don’t put on a front. Mollösund is no exception—only in its case I have yet to meet a miserable soul.

Truth is, Midsummer brings out the best in Swedes. In a country where it’s the norm to walk right past a person on the street and not only not greet them, you dare not look into their eyes. What will happen? Well, that’s another blog post altogether. But on Midsummer, boaters are waving to each other from a distance, shouting “Hallå” and smiling from yacht to rowboat or even from water scooters.IMG_3549[3]Misummerseadoo National flags are flapping in the wind and people are people-watching. Oh, the people-watching is so much fun. Children are racing around with their friends, jumping into the freezing sea and laughing like true little Vikings. There is a feeling that I truly love about Sweden during vacation time. You simply know that everyone is relaxed and happy. Yes, of course there are always exceptions to the rule, but in Sweden’s case, vacation time is met with sheer, utter glee. It is cherished in this country and you can feel it in the air.

In our case, albeit happy, we were on a mission to find the perfect island to stop for the night. Of course, one island looks like the other. The archipelago is a series of scattered islands that look like giant sleeping walruses. Don’t you think?  The writer in me sees it anyway. We weren’t disappointed either. We have always managed to find just the right spot. This time, we were tucked into a lovely bay with only a few sailboat neighbours moored on the opposite side. We didn’t discover them until we hiked to the top of the rocks to get a view of paradise. And boy, were we met with a view—the brightest rainbow I’ve ever seen. We stood in awe as it slowly wrapped around a lovely seaside town called Lysekil. I’m sure our neighbours in the distance we watching it, too. Of course being Canadian, I enjoyed for a few moments kidding myself that we could go without Swedish traditional Midsummer food being on our own out at sea. NO! Forget that, Susan! As soon as we set the anchor, had our little trek, IMG_6901Midsummer6 there was hubby, boiling his beloved potatoes and pulling out the herring. Yes, herring of every kind and flavour. Our son, clearly inheriting the dominant Viking genes, later licked up the herring juice that was left over! Seventeen years married and it still makes my skin crawl. That said, I reveled in the smoked mackerel and devoured the fresh shrimp. Shrimp in Sweden is truly the world’s best!

IMG_6906Midsummer7  Apart from the gnats enjoying their Midsummer feast on us later that evening, we enjoyed our engångsgrill and summer sausages as we watched the sun set on the horizon. Well, I just added that for full effect. The truth is the sun doesn’t really set this time of year in Sweden – but I could imagine it. So the boat lulled us to sleep in the land of the midnight sun.

The morning scooted along those gnats and they were nowhere to be seen. The sea was calm and it was stunning weather. We spent the day visiting other islands and seaside villages—Smögen being one we like in particular. Although it is a party place during Midsummer, it brought happy vacationers. To me, that’s what Midsummer is about—the people. And if the sun shines, there’s no one happier than me.

So is Midsummer a writer’s dream? It’s certainly a time when the senses are on overdrive; the smell of the sea, the glittery swells, the taste of tradition, and human behaviour that explodes with joy. What better way to observe tiny moments that one day may work themselves into your next novel? In ways, Midsummer is a writer’s dream, but here in Sweden, it is very much a writer’s reality, too.

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Thoughts of a Hometown – London, Ontario

It was suggested to me recently that I write a post about my hometown of London, Ontario, Canada. My initial thought was how great a tie-in that would be to my book and how I could easily write about the city in which I grew up.

To my surprise, I found myself staring at a blank computer screen. How hard could it be to write about the place I learned how to ride a bicycle, tie my shoelaces, read and write, the place I started kindergarten and graduated from university, the place I made life-long friends, and the one whose waters welcomed me every morning for years as I rowed into the dawn and rowed out the sunset? How hard could it be?

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To combat my frustration, I decided to read some articles on the city that I knew as well as any native-Londoner. What I found surprised me. One blog that I thought was particularly charming was one about a mom raising her family in the city, appropriately called www.citymom.ca. I like this woman’s take on London. It’s positive, quirky and reminds me of all the things I like about my hometown. I’ll get to those a little later.

I browsed more sites, some that focused on the history of London, while others characterized it as a mini London, England with our Thames River and streets named Pall Mall, King, Talbot, not to mention a Stratford on Avon nearby – clearly in the hope of drawing some tourism to the city. To my delight, I came across an article that amused me with its honesty and straight-up view of London. London, Ontario: A Great Place to Live But I Wouldn’t Want to Visit. The feedback from readers was biting to say the least. Some accused the writer of not being proud of his hometown while others were simply defensive. A Dose of Buckley. 

Despite any criticism the article received, it made me think that we native Londoners, though proud of our heritage, have a tilted, not slanted by any means but a tilted view of our hometown. We see it from the inside out, whereas a visitor sees it from the outside in. We know what’s at the heart of our city. A London whose Thames River may not be as grand as the River Thames across the big pond, but it still has the ability to captivate. Its sprawling oaks, chatty mallards and ever-present Canada geese give life to the river. As Gillian points out in The Particular Appeal of Gillian Pugsley,

I was wrong to imply the Canadian version of the Thames was anything but lovely. Imitation or not, it has its own charm, narrow and the color of jade with magnificent oak trees nearly clutching the opposite bank. The odd leaf has changed color, yellow, red. Soon there will be too many to count.”

It’s a green place that holds many enchanting memories for me, from our fun annual school picnics by the water, to the bellowing out of my megaphone as my crew crossed the finish line. Feeling our rowing shell glide through the mist in the early morning stole our breath for those few sacred moments, where nine people became like one.

As the article pointed out, London’s attractions may well be lacking, but to the people who live there, there is a sweetness that we find in familiar surroundings. Some may visit London and find it dull, but don’t we find joy and excitement in the people with whom we connect.

I have lived abroad for nearly as long as I lived in London. I remember what drove me to travel. Rowing played an important role in that self-discovery by taking me to new and exciting places. It wasn’t that I wanted to leave it was that I wanted to discover. Yet when I dissect every place I’ve been, at the heart, it is always the people that shape the experience into a positive one or not.

London, Ontario, fondly known as The Forest City, may not have much to set itself apart from most Canadian cities, but there are ties that will continue to pull me back — friends and family. It remains a very good city to raise children. Despite its nearly 400,000 people, it remains a small university town in the middle of corn country. It grows the tastiest peaches on the planet, and has just about more snow than the North Pole coupled with blistering hot summers. It is a town of star-makers, (Ryan Gosling, Rachel McAdams, Kate Nelligan, Victor Garber, Eric Lindros, among others) and dreamers, of hard workers and nurturers. It is a town where you learn to drive in blizzards and ice storms and deal with it. When you’ve cleared your driveway, you offer to help out a neighbour do theirs.

It is a town that sprawls into suburbia hosting numerous malls and plazas. The city skyline is pretty from the forks of the Thames, and it’s always a joy to see the sky sprinkled in hot-air balloons every August when London hosts an International Hot-Air Balloon Festival.

So why was I compelled to include this city in my novel? Isn’t it the goal of every writer to touch the hearts of their readers? If London, Ontario played an important role in my life, and I could see the beauty in the things that come only to a native of a town, then maybe just maybe it would touch the hearts of my readers.

What do you like about your hometown? Feel free to leave a comment.

Photo References: London’s SkylineMiddlesex College, University of Western Ontario, London’s Old Court House,