The Far Reach of Conferences for Writers Abroad

cac161-300x300           benfranklinsilversticke_med  indiefab-logo-250x250

Year after year, there is a frustration that slips under my skin living abroad with no redeeming qualities—the distance between me and the English writing world. I nearly considered the internet as a redeeming quality, but in the case of English writers’ conferences, they are still far out of reach for most of us who live in a non-English country. Case in point, the awards galas for which I am a finalist in historical fiction are held at conferences not just in the United States, but on the other side of the US, about three times closer to Hawaii than to Sweden (where I live). I can understand anyone who chooses to shrug their shoulders at such a predicament. But for those of us who live abroad, it is no shrugging matter. Yes, it was our choice to live where we live and yes, all that could be changed with just one move. Rarely is it that simple, however, at least not when you have a family to consider. query

At what point do we put our writing first? The Particular Appeal of Gillian Pugsley is my first book published and let me say, it hasn’t been an easy writing road with manuscripts dangling from cobwebs within the crevices of my laptop. They served a grand purpose by improving my writing to the point where agents and finally a publisher took notice. Polished and gleaming, it was released into the book world nearly one year ago, along with the thousands of other books out there. Never for a moment did I think it would get noticed and pulled from the crowd as a contender in any competition. I believe all writers hope for it, but when it actually happened, when I received notification from my publisher on all four competitions, as Gillian would say, “You could have tipped me over with a guinea pig’s whiskers.”

So my predicament lingers—my debut novel is being recognized in such an unexpected way and I likely cannot be there. Even though the outcome of any of these competitions isn’t what would drive me to go, the fact that my writing is being validated and recognized publicly, that someone has seen its value and appreciated my hard work, means more than I can possibly say. hns-oxford-2016-small-white-border

Most writers need to pick and choose which writers’ functions they can attend, so I am no exception in that regard. In fairness, there is a selection of conferences and writers’ retreats throughout Europe, eg. Iceland Writers Retreat coming up in mid April and the Historical Novel Society Conference in early September.

It’s simply that the frustration under my skin seems to have bubbled up this time, for the sole reason a novel I gave so much of myself to, a story I grew to love as each page was written, is being recognized and I may not be there to support it. On the bright side, the best side actually, is that it was shortlisted and made a finalist at all. So whether I attend or not, I will forever be grateful and honoured.

If you feel like you are the only English writer living in a non-English country, I would love to hear your thoughts on the subject.

 

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

new-year-2015

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.

repatriation-expat-moving-back-home-e1421277274116

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.

if-not-now-when

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.

new-year-plan

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?

Image 1 Source

Image 2 Source

Image 3 Source

Image 4 Source

 

 

Is Midsummer a Writer’s Dream?

IMG_6896Midsummer11 IMG_6853Midsummer8 IMG_6929[2]Midsummer2

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.

IMG_6854Midsummer9

walrus photo source