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.

Every Time, Times Twenty

1) Every time I sit down to write a blog post, I wonder what can I write that hasn’t already been written.

2) Every time I wake to a cold house, I feel like I’m living in Little House on the Prairie as I light a fire for warmth. (That’s a good thing.)

3) Every time my husband travels to the far corners of the world, I feel grateful that I miss him even more today than ever before. IMG_8392

4) Every time I doubt myself as a writer, I remind myself how fortunate I am to be published at all.

5) Every time the sun shines here in Sweden, I close my eyes and let it soak into my skin.

6) Every time my friend needs a shoulder, I realize how lucky I am to have my children safe at home and how I wish I could take her pain away for all time.

7) Every time I see my daughter dancing on stage, I cry.

8) Every time I start reading a new book, I rid myself of expectations.

9) Every time I fall in love with a book, I try with every fibre in me, to read it slowly and make it last. FullSizeRender.jpg kate morton

10) Every time I see a person sitting outside the shops with a cup and sign, I feel uncomfortable and angry and ashamed of myself all at once, when I walk right past.

11) Every time I look them in the eye and smile, it feels good.

12) Every time I step out of my comfort zone, I tell myself that if nothing else, this will be a great experience.

13) Every time my teenage children confide in me, I whisper to myself, “Don’t blow it, Susan, just keep quiet and listen.”

14) Every time I keep quiet and listen, I can feel their appreciation.

15) Every time my children tell me a grade from school, I try my hardest to react like my husband does—non-judgmental and proud.

16) Every time I have writer’s block, the frustration is so excruciating, I think I could go mad.

17) Every time I come across one of those melt in your mouth expressions or words, I feel like I’ve gone to writer’s heaven.

18) Every time I think of my sister, I wish she was close enough to drop by for a cup of tea.

19) Every time I see an overweight person jogging, I feel admiration and inspired.

20) Every time a moose visits our garden, nothing else matters. FullSizeRender.jpg moose

If you would like to share your twenty or even ten “times”, I’d enjoy hearing from you.

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.