Isle of Mull, Scotland – Sometimes Words are not Enough

A sure fire way to get the inspiration you need – just go there!

For months, I had been trying to sort out the ending to my new novel.  Forcing it was clearly not working.  It needed to come naturally, in its own time, at its own pace.  What I needed was a change of scenery and though the Isle of Mull is only a memory in my novel, it has proven to be worth all the words in the world to me.

Staying in a remote area on the mainland this past week, with the sea in my garden and the highlands wrapped around me, I was able to soak in this magical place.  Just across the water was the Isle of Mull and it was in my two day trips there by ferry that inspired my writing – the ending that I needed.  Here are some of the photos I took on the west coast of Scotland and Isle of Mull.  Indeed, sometimes words are not enough.

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The Particular Appeal of Gillian Pugsley is a Finalist!

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What a week of excitement!  Four separate days of announcements recognizing The Particular Appeal of Gillian Pugsley:

  1. The CHATELAINE Awards for Romantic Fiction 2015 First Place Category Winner in Historical Romance
  2. The CHAUCER Awards for Historical Fiction 2015 Finalist
  3. The IBPA BENJAMIN FRANKLIN Book Awards – one of three finalists in Fiction Romance (already a silver winner)
  4. Foreword Reviews’ 2015 INDIEFAB BOOK OF THE YEAR Award finalist

I am still trying to get my head around it all.  Certainly, the best moments in life are those that are unexpected.  I am immensely grateful.

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2015 indiefab finalists promo-susan

Below is the Press Release from Light Messages Publishing regarding the Indiefab Awards

NC Small Press Celebrates Book Award Finalists

Three titles from Light Messages Publishing have been named Foreword Reviews‘ 18th annual INDIEFAB Book of the Year Awards Finalists: The Particular Appeal of Gillian Pugsley by Susan Örnbratt, Relentless Savage by Dave Edlund, and A Theory of Expanded Love by Caitlin Hicks. 

Each year, Foreword Reviews shines a light on a select group of indie publishers, university presses, and self-published authors whose work stands out from the crowd. Over the next three months, a panel of more than 100 volunteer librarians and booksellers will determine the winners in 63 categories based on their experience with readers and patrons.

The three books chosen from Light Messages were lead titles for 2015. The Particular Appeal of Gillian Pugsley and A Theory of Expanded Love received resounding praise from reviewers and readers alike. They were each recognized as Top 50 Reads of 2015. Shortly after its release, Relentless Savage topped the charts on iBooks for Best New Mysteries and & Thrillers. The announcement comes just weeks ahead of the release of Edlund’s third Peter Savage novel, Deadly Savage, which Kirkus Reviews has praised for its “crackling action, brisk pace, timely topic…”

“As a small press in today’s climate, we feel like we have to work twice as hard to secure strong authors and meaningful books and ten times as hard to get their works into the hands of readers. Having a voice as influential as Foreword Reviews recognize three of our titles for their excellence and their contributions to the literary community means the world to us,” says Elizabeth Turnbull, Light Messages Senior Editor. “As the fictional Gillian Pugsley would say, we’re so tickled you could push us over with a guinea pig’s whiskers!”

Foreword Reviews will celebrate the winners during a program at the American Library Association Annual Conference in San Francisco on Friday, June 26 at 6 p.m. at the Pop Top Stage in the exhibit hall. Everyone is welcome. The Editor’s Choice Prize for Fiction, Nonfiction, and Foreword Reviews’ 2014 INDIEFAB Publisher of the Year Award will also be announced during the presentation.

About Light Messages

Light Messages Publishing, founded in 1998, is a family-run, general trade publisher located in Durham, North Carolina. We pride ourselves in bringing to light meaningful books by emerging and award-winning authors. For more information about Light Messages Publishing and its services, please visit our website.

About Foreword

Foreword Magazine, Inc is a media company featuring a Folio-award-winning quarterly print magazine, Foreword Reviews, and a website devoted to independently published books. In the magazine, they feature reviews of the best 170 new titles from independent publishers, university presses, and noteworthy self-published authors. Their website features daily updates: reviews along with in-depth coverage and analysis of independent publishing from a team of more than 100 reviewers, journalists, and bloggers. The print magazine is available at most Barnes & Noble and Books-A-Million newsstands or by subscription. You can also connect with them on FacebookTwitterGoogle+, and Pinterest. They are headquartered in Traverse City, Michigan, USA.

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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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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Writing Historical Fiction

I have been curious recently about those writers who churn out book after book as though on an episode of “How It’s Made”. I watch in awe of the assembly line stamping the book’s spine with a different title on each, and a giant robotic arm packing them into boxes marked and destined for, “World’s Largest Chain Bookstore”.

In a meeting with my editor last spring when this subject came up, she told me that there is a simple formula these authors use—a formula that enables them to write books very quickly. This baffled me somewhat. Yes, I could understand having a basic storyline that changes primarily with the introduction of new characters. Someone falls in love, they go through a hardship, someone dies… the end. But it hadn’t occurred to me until this past weekend, when I read an article about writing historical fiction, that a similar formula cannot be applied to this genre.

Writing historical fiction is anything but “simple”. It is so far on the opposite end of the spectrum to writing contemporary fiction that the article made me revisit my process with The Particular Appeal of Gillian Pugsley. I have written contemporary fiction before, but hadn’t realized at the time how I took many things for granted. If a character needed to go to another country, they’d hop on a plane and go. Hold on, as I skid my heels into the dirt! When writing Gillian Pugsley, I didn’t know if she could just hop on a plane and go. It was the 1930’s. I needed to research how international travel was possible. Was it for the wealthy only? Was there only one airline in Britain? Which one? (Imperial Airways, so it seems). Did they only fly out of London? How often? Was it more common to travel by sea? Which liners existed then? What did they look like? How did the average person purchase a ticket? How often did they leave port and at which port did they arrive?

The list of questions was endless. I often felt as though I’d only written a sentence or two before the next question arose. It was constant research, whether it was in the details of how a stove was lit during that time period, or whether or not they even called it a stove, or the clothing my characters wore. Did women wear trousers at that time in Canada, or was it only in the United States? Was it seen as garish to wear them in England or trendy? Again, on and on… Often was the case that I’d research an area, coming up with a slew of new information only later to delete it from the story entirely.

Somewhere along the way, I relished all the niggling and fussy bits. It swallowed up my time, but it has proven a feast to remember. How could any historical fiction be churned out like a weightless product? After reading Elizabeth Crook’s “Seven Rules for Writing Historical Fiction“, I understood why my writing goes through the nitty-gritty and dissecting process that it does. I understood that rich historical fiction takes time to marinate—all the gaps need to be filled with the flavour and spices of that time period, and the characters need to bring that flavour to life. Having an idea then plotting a storyline out is one massive undertaking, something we readers take for granted. On the other hand, in my experience as a writer, the heart comes in the details—those well-researched, time-consuming, delicious details that instantly transport a reader to another time.

Book Review – Letters from Skye

A heart-warming book by Jessica Brockmole. Available in bookshops everywhere. 

My thoughts:

There is a woman I miss at Barnes and Noble at Southpoint Mall in Durham, NC. She never failed to recommend my kind of book. Somehow, she just knew my taste. Letters from Skye was her last recommendation to me before I moved back to Sweden.

I’ll never forget arriving at the Wright Brothers National Memorial, Outer Banks, North Carolina, only to find there was a book signing with children’s author Suzanne Tate. We had a lovely chat and at the tail end, Suzanne recommended a book she had just finished. Lo and behold, she couldn’t believe it, when I told her that that very book was sitting on the front seat of my car and that I had been reading it during our drive to OBX. Letters from Skye started a thread of emails between us, a novel we both didn’t want to end.

I want what every reader wants – to be swept away, and Jessica Brockmole’s Letters from Skye carried me effortlessly on a gust of wind I’ll not soon forget. Drawing me into the landscape of Scotland’s remote Isle of Skye and setting the tone for a love story across continents at the time of war, clinched it. Elspeth and Davey’s poignant story is gracefully laced across two generations and with it, the turmoil of an uncertain world. Letters from Skye is an epistolary novel that reflects the beauty of an old, yellowed photograph in a family album and the feeling it imbues – a spirit that contemporary women hold dearly.

/Susan

Visit Jessica Brockmole’s website at: Letters from Skye

Visit Jessica Brockmole at Goodreads:  Goodreads