The Far Reach of Conferences for Writers Abroad

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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.

 

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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.