Novel Setting vs. Writer Personality

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Everyone knows the right setting can anchor a novel and its characters, don’t they? If you have intimate knowledge of a place, the story will be richer, right?

I’ve been thinking lately that perhaps a better question to ask is, how does the setting make an author feel as he/she writes? In other words, how does the author connect with the setting emotionally regardless of whether or not he/she has intimate knowledge of the place?

Recently, I read a very good post in Women’s Fiction Writers written by Yona Zeldis McDonough titled, A Sense of Place.  In her view, the setting of a book can function very much like a character. I couldn’t agree more. She writes;

“To make that “character” come alive, you have to know it well—the sights, sounds and smells of a place, the nuances of the neighborhoods, the landmarks and the hidden spots that are off-the-beaten track.”

When I read this, I immediately knew exactly what she was saying. I understood those nuances, the smells and how they made me feel. Yet I can’t help but wonder how a character in a book comes into being. We might have an idea of their personality before that character is written. Perhaps we model the character after someone we know in our lives. Even if that’s the case, characters tend to evolve as we write the story. Their layers begin to unfold, often surprising writers. At least they do me. When I think I know them well, they turn a corner on me and something changes. Sometimes that change is minor and sometimes it can shift the storyline completely.

We don’t always know our characters thoroughly and intimately. We don’t always know their nooks and crannies until we discover them through our writing. Can that not be said of our setting as well?

For me, personality, my personality comes into play here. Over the last half year, I have struggled with the issue of setting for my current novel. I knew that I wanted the story to encompass Canada and England. I have been drawn to the east coast of Canada since I was a child but have never actually been there. Of course, growing up in Canada, I was familiar with all the provinces. Prince Edward Island has always been on my to-do list and I was convinced that I should write a story that took place there. I’ve read countless books about PEI. Of course, Anne of Green Gables has special meaning, being set in a time period I love, in a place that I’ve imagined many times over, and a story revolving around the life of children. Being a teacher, I can relate intimately to all the bits and pieces of children that make such a story magical.

There are parts of the history of Prince Edward Island that I knew I wanted to encompass in my story, but the more I researched the more I started to see how the Maritime Provinces connected. In ways, a shared struggle and hardship they have endured through history and specifically in the time period of my novel. As I researched, I became more drawn to Newfoundland than I had expected. The pull was something I couldn’t ignore, leaving PEI ever so slightly in its wake. The idea of shifting my story to another province seemed altogether crazy, but somehow the idea grew on me. Fortunately, I was early enough into the writing to begin to play with the idea.

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As I began, there was a nagging question that hadn’t been answered. Why? Why did I feel pulled toward Newfoundland? Why didn’t I want to set my story in PEI like I had planned? When I read Zeldis McDonough’s post, I had agree with everything she wrote. Of course, you should know your setting intimately. But hold on! There is something I know intimately, and that’s myself. I know what inspires me. I know what makes me tick as a person and as a writer. I know what makes me feel passionate. I know what makes me feel alive and driven.

When I wrote The Particular Appeal of Gillian Pugsley, and learned that there were internment camps on the Isle of Man during WW2, I knew I needed to investigate this, since my gut feeling told me this would be the perfect setting for my character. What I found was something altogether unexpected. I was pulled there, to this small island in the middle of the Irish Sea. I was spellbound. All of this from pictures and books and copious research. I wrote that novel having never stepped foot on the Isle of Man, yet I felt a passion for it that was inexplicable. I knew, however, that I couldn’t release the book into the world without having been there. I wanted… No, I needed to prove to myself that those nuances and smells and feelings were real to me. Did I connect with the real island or was it all in my imagination?

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What I found was something quite remarkable. When I arrived on the Isle of Man for the first time, during the editing process of my book, immediately, it felt as though I was coming home in ways. I felt instantly as though I knew the island intimately. I realized that through my research and writing, the character that the island had become in my novel had developed and grown. I had nurtured it and when it was time to meet the Isle of Man for the first time, it was as though I had met my twin, separated from birth but joined later in life. As I turned corners on the island, I knew what was there. Somehow I knew what to expect. I actually saw Gillian Pugsley walking down the pier to meet Christian as she does in my story—a ghost-like Gillian. Hard to explain perhaps except to say that it just felt right. IMG_3515

So the question still lingered, why? Why was I drawn to the Isle of Man? And why am I equally as drawn to Newfoundland? Landscape.

There is a similarity between Newfoundland and the British Isles—a rugged, brutish landscape, sensual, almost carnal, particularly the coastline. It is a landscape that makes me feel alive. This kind of beauty evokes feelings that at least this writer needs in order to write with passion and conviction. Prince Edward Island is known as a province with outstanding natural beauty, but the pastoral landscape was not captivating me quite like I thought it would. Strangely or not, the coastline of Newfoundland seems to mimic my personality. I haven’t been there yet I know it, just as I did with the Isle of Man.

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So, isn’t it possible that if our personality resembles a setting, and after a great deal of research, we can as writers become familiar and even intimate with that setting? And if so, isn’t it possible that that setting can grow and function as a character even if we haven’t set foot there except in our imagination? After all, had Lewis Carroll intimate knowledge of his fantasy world of Wonderland prior to writing Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland? Probably not. What is likely, however, is that Wonderland mimicked a part of his personality. That can be argued no doubt. But I do tend to believe that personality comes into play when writers choose a setting. I believe some people would describe my personality as vibrant. I know I’m not shy and truth is, I rather like being noticed. I love to smile. I can even say I’m fiery at times. For me to choose a dull, lifeless setting would be a painful writing experience I’m sure.

I’ve always said, “Put me by the sea with crashing waves and I could write a book.” It’s true. My personality comes alive by the sea so why wouldn’t I want a setting there? It reminds me of my on-going love/hate relationship with Sweden. I’ve lived here for nearly two decades. I live ten minutes from the sea. In sunny, warm weather, I can think of nowhere else I’d rather be than floating in a boat in the west coast archipelago. But it’s more or less flat water kept in check by a series of rock islands. It’s truly beautiful when the sun shines but most of the time, the skies are grey and as drizzle fills the air, the water and islands sit lifeless to me. IMG_3425I know my husband, having grown up here, feels quite the opposite. It is paradise to him. I do understand and appreciate that. But I need movement. We had taken a walk on a small island called Amundön a couple of weeks ago. It was an unusually windy day and the sea was on my side this time. I was in heaven as we sat with a hot cup of tea on the rocks watching the waves crash against the rocks. Just the way I like it.

I don’t think many people would argue that setting is important to a novel, but I am curious if other writers also feel as I do; that a writer’s personality can be a factor in choosing a setting. The wavering I’ve experienced regarding setting with my current novel has finally settled into something that makes sense to me, that makes sense for me. If I feel passionate about my setting then surely it will show in my writing and ultimately draw my readers into the story and captivate them.

How does your setting match your personality?

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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 Simple Christmas Gesture

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So the Christmas rush has begun—a frenzy of buying, crowds and wrapping. I stood in a shop yesterday watching three men (very clearly fathers), standing in front of a rack of children’s bit and bobs. A haze grew around them as they stared blankly, automatons with “I don’t want to be here” written all over them. I had to leave. I couldn’t watch their pain for another moment.

As I drove away from the crowded parking lot, it made me think of what I yearn for every year during the holiday season—to have a simple, relaxing holiday with the people I love most in this world. Those thoughts rolled into the things that truly bring happiness to my life. Of course, family soars highest of all, way above the Earth’s atmosphere, making me dizzy at times with love and worry and joy and all those things that mothers and wives experience.

Just under that invisible shield circling our world is another layer. Yesterday that layer unfolded itself in all the kind, everyday gestures that people have done for me and I for them. Waving another driver into the queue made me giddy with happiness. For that tiny moment, I was beaming over such a simple gesture, but one that people appreciate. I know I do, when someone does the same for me. And it’s so easy, isn’t it? Easy just to be kind.

Yesterday, I woke up to a lovely message from a fellow writer, Caitlin Hicks, author of A Theory of Expanded Love, letting me know that my book, The Particular Appeal of Gillian Pugsley, along with hers, was included in Judith Collins’ 50 Must Read Books of 2015. She wasn’t obligated to inform me, but that gesture made me smile and grateful to be part of a community, the writing community.

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When I see the tsunami of books flooding the market every day, it is easy to get overwhelmed, realizing you are just one of thousands of writers out there trying to find an audience. It is a ruthless industry but one with creative people at its core. Writers have this incredible innate desire, I believe, to be supportive of other writers. It might be a kind word, advice or actively participating in the development of another writer. We understand how grueling the process of writing is and how hard it is to be recognized for our efforts. So, when a kind hand reaches out to us, we take it. During the holiday season, when everyone is tripping over their To-Do lists, it means that much more when people are kind, and authors are no exception.

cover_frontI haven’t even met in person, Cecilia Lindblad, author of Och Sedan Aldrig Mer, here in Sweden, but through our husbands we connected and exchanged books. I received a lovely message from her recently offering her support within the Swedish market. It is remarkable to me when someone reaches out in such a way, giving what he/she can to help another person. Likewise, my constant supporter, Lille-Mor Arnäs, author of the children’s fantasy book series, Fyrklövern, is cheering me on, offering advice and inspiring words. She is an inspiration.

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There is a lovely sincerity that I feel from her and others in my community of writers. How can I not appreciate them during the holidays? They, along with my non-writer friends, give me that extra push when doubt floods me. Every writer suffers from doubt from time to time. It’s part of the package. In any case, when you find yourself in the shops this holiday or fighting your way through the crowds, pull back and remind yourself what is real, what is important. Is it important to fill every nook and cranny under the Christmas tree? Do something instead. Something kind. Something real. Something lovely.

Smile at a stranger. Let someone into the queue ahead of you. If you liked someone’s book, let him/her know. Nothing needs to be fluffy. A simple gesture of kindness might just make someone feel giddy. And oh, isn’t that a wonderful feeling?

Merry Christmas

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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.

What inspires writers? My Favourite Read this Summer

The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton – Please note this is not a review.

It was both my editor, Elizabeth Turnbull at Light Messages and the below statement by a Goodreads reviewer about my recent release of The Particular Appeal of Gillian Pugsley,

This is Susan Ornbratt’s debut, reminiscent of Kate Morton and Susanna Kearsley, I highly recommend.”

that drove me to find out more about Kate Morton. Susanna Kearsley is next on my list. Nonetheless, I was curious, so I purchased one of her books, The Secret Keeper.

13508607The Secret KeeperWithin the first page, I was taken, held hostage willingly. I kept asking myself how my name could be in the same sentence as this gorgeous writer. I was completely smitten and could only dream of writing this beautifully. I adore descriptive language that can paint a picture around me, pulling me into a story. This is precisely what Kate Morton does, at least for me. I understand from researching that she weaves different time periods into all of her stories, suggesting that the past and the present are tethered together – an unavoidable connection really. They are multilayered, rich with characters and different places.

When I started looking at this more closely, that’s when I was able to draw some similarities between my work and hers. After all, my writing is descriptive to its very core. I often close my eyes imagining a landscape or a scene, then translate my images into words. A current storyline is often rooted in the past, where my present-day characters set out on a journey – one that connects the generations.   My instinct was to suggest that the calibre of Kate Morton’s writing was out of reach for the mere mortal, when I reminded myself of those lovely moments we writers have – those moments when we read something we’ve written and ask, “Wow, did I write that?” The best writers always make it look easy. 9781611531114_Cover.indd

In realizing the sprinkle of similarity Morton’s work held with mine, it gave me renewed hope and a kick to my stride. It reminded me how we writers are our own worst critics. We’re tough on ourselves and need to step back from time to time to look at the fantastic writing we’ve done – the product resulting from our initial inspiration – and forgive ourselves for the not so fantastic writing.  It goes without saying, yet needs be shouted from the rooftops every day to the hurried writers scribbling at their desks, “Read. Read every day.” Choose authors who inspire you. Choose authors whose writing forces you to re-read sentences, because those sentences make you melt or think or feel something you haven’t felt before or haven’t felt in far too long. Then breathe…  Our own words will come.

I’m only discovering Kate Morton’s work now, but I regard it as good timing. As writers, we draw inspiration from a variety of sources. We improve (one hopes) with every project. To avoid becoming stale, we must soak in inspiration whenever and wherever possible. I tend to be inspired by the environment, more specifically, the sea, shapes of clouds, the smells and sounds that come with the coastline, blue skies and green grass – the greener the better. I have a close friend who knows my taste well. She is as English as they come and enjoys sending me photos of country villages and family from years gone by. There are stories in those photos – I can feel them every time.

I love to watch people. Who doesn’t? All the quirky, behavioural tidbits a writer can absorb just by sitting on a park bench and watching. Inspirational indeed! I enjoy using people in my own life as inspiration for characters. I’ll never forget good ol’ Irish Auntie Essie, a mock Texan with her Jesus Loves spread across her suitcase. I could write a book about it. As my grandmother would have said, “Bless her”.

Films have been known to captivate me. As a teenager, I was wild about classics, including musicals. The actors and time periods fascinated me, especially the 1940’s. Fred Astaire, Greer Garson, Elizabeth Taylor, Vivien Leigh, Doris Day, Cary Grant, Jimmy Stewart, Hedy Lamarr – I couldn’t get enough. I think I knew just about every word to the film, Funny Girl with Barbara Streisand (though that came much later in 1968), and oh… how I loved to mimic Lady Beldon in Mrs. Miniver. I used to tape scenes of my favourite films with my audio cassette player and play them back endlessly. It was their voices, I think, that inspired me.

Certainly as writers, we could probably build a mountain together with all the ways we are inspired. Films were my escape when I was young (still are in many ways), but I grew into reading and understood there was a magic in words that couldn’t be captured on film. It’s important to read books from a variety of authors, but I tend to swim in a pool of one author’s work before moving on to the next – pool hopping of sorts. It works for me and for now, it appears that Kate Morton is my summer and autumn pick. I am itching to get to another one of her stories. So imagine the joy I felt in seeing my book on the same shelf as The Secret Keeper in Barnes and Noble.  What an honour! FullSizeRenderThe Secret Keeper 

Although this is not a review of The Secret Keeper, I believe writers touch us all in different ways. Kate Morton’s rich language has modesty about it. It is not frivolous or garrulous but rather dynamic and vivacious. It has a certain melody that rises and falls, carrying its reader along the storyline. As a writer, I can only benefit from reading literature like this. It moves me, and in the end, isn’t that what we all want from a good book? I urge lovers of historical fiction to scoop up one of Kate Morton’s books. For me, I plan to indulge in more of them, take what inspiration I can and write whenever I come up for air.

So read, writer, read!

Then tell me, what book inspired you this summer?

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