A Simple Christmas Gesture


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 Book Selling Mission in Paris


In recent years, I’ve found myself browsing the large chain bookshops more often than not. I’ve found myself scrolling down the list of today’s bestsellers on the internet. I even read my first Swedish novel on an iPad. I suppose convenience has played a part in my search, tousled by the busy life of today. Yet, somehow the charm, the wonderment of the search seemed to have escaped me just a little, until a lovely reminder this past week in Paris.

I had my list of English bookshops in hand and a grand purpose behind it – to promote my debut novel. The first shop was all boarded up, closed to the outside world – for good it seemed. It was the second shop, with a man stacking reams of books, lugging them from crates on the sidewalk and into the shop that intrigued me. I approached with uncertainty, muscling up the courage to introduce myself. He replied as he crouched down to lift more books, with not a single glance my way. I couldn’t have felt more intrusive. He insisted that I speak my mind while he finished up. In and out of the threshold he stepped as I meagerly said my piece.

Once all books were nestled in the corner, he sat down behind the counter, piled high with secondhand books from Dickens to Jamie Oliver. I glanced down the narrow aisle flanked by aged books that seemed to tower through the ceiling above. My eyes traveled back to the shop owner when I quickly learned that I had his full attention. So full that he perused my list. Then with the care of a mentor, he congratulated me on getting published then one by one proceeded to give advice on each shop in the vicinity. He knew them well having owned his little corner of the market for umpteen years. Not an easy task to keep an English bookshop’s heart pumping in the centre of Paris, especially one called San Francisco Book Company.

It was his final comment to me that made me laugh, though it was weighed down by the reality of all artists; grueling, tedious work we love with often little to no recognition. “It’s a tough business. Thank God you’re not a painter. Writers feel sorry for the painters. And the painters feel sorry for the poets. I’m a poet and I run a secondhand book shop.”

I took his advice and re-arranged my list. Before I knew it, I found myself stepping into a shop that oozed the charm of his, with an added “je ne sais quoi”. Who am I kidding? I know exactly “what” that “quoi” was; the creaky floors, the attempted bustle of people squeezing past each other to reach for that one special book, but the towering shelves with ladders forced the bustle to calm down. I could almost hear the rushing hearts from the tourist frenzy across the bridge at Notre Dame, suddenly slow when the tinkle of the bell sounded on the shop’s door. As I walked along the aisle, people buried in this book and that, I rounded a corner that held crevices where book lovers could get lost. Though the hall was a tight squeeze, it felt friendly as it led to a narrow staircase wrapped in stone walls.

Unlike its browsing customers and those coming up for air every so often, I was on a mission – to promote Gillian Pugsley. Although I had to fight my way through a shop that could have easily swallowed me for good, in the end, I was able to say my piece. Now, Mademoiselle Pugsley needs to work her magic even in a country that’s not her own. Shakespeare and Company, as English as it is in the heart of the Latin Quarter as well as the other shops I visited, will be that much richer if they dance a little jig with Gilly. Fingers crossed.