What is a Lucky Writer?

How a Grandmother’s Secret Words Became a Granddaughter’s Treasure – a gift to publication

Note: This post was first published as a guest post on Women’s Fiction Writers on April 21, 2015.

What is a lucky writer? Is it one who attends the best school with the best writing programme? Is it one who starts telling stories before she learns how to write? Is it one who writes her first novel and manages to get pulled from the slush pile, noticed and offered what we all want – the opportunity to publish? Or can it be as simple as a gift of words from one generation to another?

I like to believe that grandmothers see something that we cannot. It’s as though they have an ability to wash away all life’s bits—the dirt that clouds our vision. When we doubt ourselves as writers, somehow they never do. Grandmothers see the heart of it, what’s really there.

I can imagine my grandmother standing in a field of life’s debris, everything scattered around her; her mistakes, her worries, her indulgences, her vanity, her moments of envy and her need for approval, maybe even self-satisfaction and courage. The only structures still in tact are her passions; the people whom she adored, her dogs and The Lord. She was a devout Catholic. Yet standing tall on the horizon are her poems, one after another like city skyscrapers untouched yet powerful. IMG_2038

In 2003, I was an on-again-off-again writer. I had written several children’s books and had completed my first novel a few years before – none of them garnering results. I hadn’t realized at the time the immense value in their training ground. Each writing project was overshadowed by a demanding career as a teacher. With all of my life’s debris floating around me, I couldn’t have known that my grandmother was waiting for the right time to shoo it all away.

All along, when I thought no one had noticed my writing, what I enjoyed most in this world, there was someone in the wings watching every move. That’s what grandmothers do, just as I have a sneaking suspicion that every writer out there has someone watching. Whether you dabble in prose on weekends or coffee breaks in the staffroom, whether you submit that extra writing piece along with your art project at university, someone is noticing. I am sure of it.

When my grandmother gave me the incredible gift of her poems just weeks before she died of cancer—cancer that she wasn’t actually aware of at the time, I remember holding them feeling bewildered and full of questions. These were poems that she had spent her life writing, yet all she would tell me was that no one had ever known about them. It was an incomprehensible treasure. Before handing them to me, she cradled them against her chest, holding them like a newborn child, and said, “You are a writer, Susan, maybe you can do something with these one day.” I wasn’t sure why, but I shelved her gift and didn’t look at them for ten years. Perhaps it was grief. I simply didn’t know. It took finishing my second novel before it occurred to me, “It’s time. I have to read those poems.”

It was in seeing her handwriting that her words flooded every part of me. Seeing the bits she had scratched out and replaced, were telling of her love and commitment to her writing. Each poem told a story about her, about the times, about young love in the face of war and the trials of a woman, a wife, a mother on the home front, waiting on British soil, praying that he will walk through the door again. Seeing the rough drafts worked into a finished product made me appreciate the written word on paper, the handwritten word.

9781611531114_Cover.inddThese poems were in essence the letters of her life, and oh, how romantic they were! So I weaved my grandma’s poems into a new novel, a story inspired by her exquisite poems in her beautiful handwriting, The Particular Appeal of Gillian Pugsley.  The exciting part is, even after death, my grandmother’s poems combined with my storytelling made a publisher sit up and notice. Together, we did it. It wasn’t until I was knee-deep in my novel that I understood why I had waited so long to read her poems—I wasn’t ready to write this story.

We, as writers, find inspiration in a myriad of places. It can be found in the tiniest droplet of water on a twig whilst taking a walk, and still we feel lucky for being given that moment. So what makes for a lucky writer? I think we should all ask ourselves that question from time to time. Can it be as simple as a gift of words from one generation to the next? When I think of my grandmother and the treasure trove that her words unfolded in my imagination, the answer is crystal clear. Yes.

Bedtime storytelling is to writing what walking is to running – Don’t underestimate its value.

I’ve just returned from a lovely morning walk in the forest and neighbourhood, feeling guilty at first that I had decided to walk instead of jog. To compromise, I walked briskly while admiring the vitsippor (white wildflowers – not sure what they are called in English) waving to me from the forest floor. It is a sight that year after year, conjures up instant stories in my head. Sometimes I see trolls lurking behind large rocks, leprechauns tripping themselves among low ferns, Vikings sword fighting or 19th century lovers embracing before they run away together – their horses waiting just behind a tree in the distance.

The forest and its myriad of stories just waiting to be discovered, hint to times when my children were tucked in bed eagerly awaiting their new story – a story crafted just for them from the forest of their bedroom. Books were fine, they’d say, but mom’s stories came into the world just for them. I always asked them to choose a topic, setting, and one or two characters. I’ll never forget my daughter’s choice of being different (topic), rainbows (setting) and parrot (character). To this day it remains one of her favourite bedtime story memories.

Sometimes, when the stories felt extra special, made up as I went along, I would leave her as she fell into a deep slumber then go to my computer and write them down or jot notes to myself so I wouldn’t forget the fun bits. The parrot story became a rhyming children’s story, Through the Rainbow, Baltazar! with an important message for children to be proud of who they are no matter what colour or how different they might be to others.

When I had injured my knee several years ago and found jogging to be a struggle, a friend of my husband’s said, “Never underestimate the value of walking”. He was right. Walking gets you moving, your heart pumping, you feel good doing it and you never, ever regret it. I can say the same for storytelling. It gets your imagination moving, your heart pumping with excitement and creativity, you feel good making it up as you go along and seeing the wonder in your child’s eyes and you never, ever regret doing it. There is nothing like the feeling of sending your child into dreamland with a sack full of inspiration. Try it! I promise you will feel like a star parent!

The beauty of bedtime storytelling is that its rewards are plentiful. Whether you are a writer or not, it will jog your imagination, curiosity, make you more productive and creative at work. I am sure of it. You will be more open to new concepts and ideas. Just look around you. Inspiration is everywhere. When my daughter would give me a character and I couldn’t think what to do with that character, all I would need to do was let my eyes travel her bedroom for inspiration; a shadow on the wall, a stuffed animal on a shelf, clothes strewn across the floor, too lazy to work themselves into the laundry hamper. There is never a shortage of inspiration – you just have to look for it.

So when I was walking back to my house this morning, and I realized that I had started my walk cold to the bone, yet I had become toasty warm, it didn’t matter that a gorgeous, blond Swede, twice my height ran past me in her sleek running gear. I had worked up a little body heat of my own, thank you very much. My heart was pumping, I had thought of the perfect title for this blog post, irritated to no end that I had left my mobile phone at home and was forced to recite the title 50 times so I wouldn’t forget it. But nonetheless, I felt good. I felt inspired. I felt like writing.

So go for a walk, you don’t need to run, but it might lead you to run one day. Tell a bedtime story, you don’t need to write it down, but it might turn into a novel one day.

Image source

9 Quirky Moments that have Inspired My Writing

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1. The Naked Cowboy in Times Square playing his guitar on my first trip to NYC.

Anyone that confident can drive me to test my own limits – in my writing, thank you very much.

2. The sea lion that kept following me along the Isle of Man’s shoreline last summer.

Its curiosity and downright cuteness reminded me that everything has a different perspective and to keep testing those POV’s until I get it right.

3. The moose in my garden grunting only two meters behind me when it occurred to my husband to tell me that she was there in the first place.

Nothing will light a fire under you like an enormous wild animal on your doorstep. Now I have the power to write exactly what it feels like, sounds like and smells like to be nose to nose with the “Queen” of the Forest.

4. When I unexpectedly met children’s author Suzanne Tate for the first time and she said there was one book that I just had to read. It was already sitting on the front seat of my car on that same trip!

Are there really coincidences? I think not. Jessica Brockmole’s Letters from Skye brought two writers together that day, enabling me to weave with even greater conviction fluky circumstances into my own stories.

5. The stoplights when I was caught singing in full, theatrical motion by the driver and passenger of a neighbouring car.  

A little humiliation from time to time does a writer good. Keeps us grounded. Best part was not stopping when they saw me. That’s what made them laugh! So that’s how I can make my readers laugh – be honest in my writing and open and free and spirited and the “fabulousness” in my words will shine through.

6. When an old Italian farmer clip-clopped up to me on his donkey under the Sicilian summer sun and began a full-out conversation with me in Italian – and I didn’t speak a word of it.

No matter who you are, where you’re from or what language you speak, you will always find a way to communicate. It was the perfect opportunity for the writer in me to observe hand gestures, facial expressions and even breathing – to become completely absorbed in our “conversation”, which I’m sure to the onlooker would have appeared ridiculous. It is a 20 or so minute moment I will always treasure.

7. When I looked into the eyes of the woman who had been sitting outside our local shop with a tin cup next to her, having passed her many times before.

It was humbling – that moment. It was revealing, yet secretive. It was a bucket of emotions all twisted tightly yet let loose. It was an odd sensation as though I was reading a story that wanted to be told but wasn’t. It reminded me that stories can be deeply rooted and to tread respectfully down the writing path. Everyone has a story to tell and I better darned well be authentic in voicing mine.

8. Florida’s sky on the Gulf of Mexico and its magical cloud formations.

Anything that can whisk me away like that to Never-Never Land will show up soon in my writing. Look for the cloud formation in Gillian Puglsey and how it takes my characters to another place.

9. Singing, dancing, posing, walking, thinking and staring out to sea on the rocky shoreline of my adopted home – the west coast of Sweden.

A bundle of quirky moments that time and time again teach me that I am just one person in this big world for only a drop in time – but a person with a big imagination and something to share – my stories. The sea reminds me that, like all writers, we are just trying to make it, to do our best, to tell a story that will resonate with someone and take them to another place. Most of all, the sea brings me peace and makes everything clear again. It’s a place that I feel like a child again wanting to discover, with a hope that that same feeling translates into my writing.

What are 9 quirky moments that have inspired your writing?

 

18 Reasons to Follow Your Dreams

  1. Your day job is seriously getting in the way.

When your dream becomes so important to you and you are frustrated that you cannot devote more time to it, you need to ask yourself what place that dream has in your life. If your day job drains you of all energy that you have nothing left to give at the end of the day, then there is something wrong. If what you love to do most is suffering at the hands of that job and you feel forced to make a choice, doesn’t your dream have an equal right on the scales?

  1. You begin to realize, why not me?

It’s easy to believe we are not worthy of the kind of success that others may have. It seems surreal. Yet when you put it all into perspective and view your dream as a series of steps and challenges, then formulate a plan, you realize that it is attainable. At least the possibility is there. The key is to change the word from “dream” to “goal”. It’s hard work. You just have to decide if you are willing to do what it takes. In my case, that has meant years of writing, many rejections, but picking myself up and doing it again and again. What’s the expression? “Success is when preparation meets opportunity”.

  1. You realize that making the decision is the hardest part.

Oh, the joy in finally making a decision! Once you’ve made it, you will see that the hurdles lined up in front of you are simply challenges that need to be addressed one at a time. This was exactly the case before my family left for a three-year expat experience in the United States. The “what if’s” were strangling. Once we made the decision, we took each task as it came and got through it. In the end, it was an amazing family adventure that we will never regret.

  1. You’ll find courage inside that you didn’t know existed.

Fear can be a powerful emotion, but ask yourself if you want to get to the end of your life not knowing if you could have done it. Failure after trying your best is never failure to me. It is gratefully a learning experience, a stumbling block at most. If you want something badly enough, you will make it happen.

  1. You will finally be doing what makes you happy, not what others expect of you.

It’s your life. You have one opportunity to live on this Earth. Why shouldn’t you make it the best experience possible? Why shouldn’t you do what makes you happy?

  1. You’ll prove to yourself that it’s okay for dreams to change.

Who said that we are programmed to have only one career our entire adult life? We are constantly evolving as individuals. Think of that first boyfriend/girlfriend you had all those years ago. You are a different person today. You probably wouldn’t even glance their way now. Why should we not change professionally? Being a writer is one of my three professional dreams that I have had in my life. Would anyone out there know for a second that I desperately wanted to become an architect at one time? I spent half my childhood drawing floor plans for houses and office buildings. I had a need to use my creativity then and channeled that energy into story writing in my twenties. A stable career in teaching won over, but the drive to write has never been stronger than it is now. It’s more than okay for dreams to change – it makes us richer as individuals.

  1. You will find that you are capable of things you never thought possible.

When you follow your dream and hone your skills, you will surprise yourself time and time again. The more I read and write, the stronger I become as a writer. After I had written a number of children’s books, my dream was to write a novel. Did I think it was possible? Not when I was younger. When I realized that I could not only complete a novel, it meant that it was possible to write a second and a third. Was it then possible to get published? With each dream, you can build on it a little bit more making it grow into something truly beautiful.

  1. You will wake up eager to work.

Need I say more?

  1. A smile will creep into your face, surprising you every time.

I’ve had many moments since the offer of publication of my book where I am driving my car and that one song comes through the speakers that makes me gush with tears of joy. I left a meeting recently for my book launch securing a venue that I didn’t think was possible. I couldn’t wipe the smile from my face as I walked down the street. You will also feel that joy because you won’t believe you are really doing it. You are not only following your dream but you have made someone sit up and notice your passion.

  1. Even if your decision disappoints someone, there will be many more who will be inspired by your choice.

Sometimes the easy route to take is the one expected of us. It is hard knowing that you may disappoint someone close to you, but it is far worse not honouring your dreams and what you love to do most. You will be surprised how time will allow those whom you have disappointed or perhaps stunned, adjust to this new you. They will grow to appreciate and admire your strength. Meanwhile, you have a following of others who have been inspired by your decision, some of whom will take action and follow their dreams.

  1. Not a businesswoman-bone in your body? Think again. You will be surprised at what you will learn in supporting and promoting your dream.

When you are passionate about your dream, lack of knowledge about the industry will not stand in your way. You do what is necessary to make it happen. You research. You meet people who do know about the industry. You learn whatever you can from them. You research more. You attend conferences. You put your shy or uncomfortable side away for the time being and take the bull by the horns. Some idioms are a pleasure to use! You walk straight up to that famous author or that well-known agent and ask what they can do for you. You’ll be surprised what fabulous advice you can get. I’ve done it and I take every single word and learn from it.

  1. Everything you do will feel better.

The food you eat will taste better, the sun will shine brighter, colours will take on a whole new meaning – even your stride will feel lighter.

  1. You will feel greater joy in the little things.

When you are comforted in knowing that your dream is not just alive, but is working hard for you as much as you are working hard for it, you feel a sense of relief and freedom to appreciate things you may have overlooked in the past. When I used to go for walks, my mind would be churning with the stress of all my responsibilities, but now I’m much more able to let it all go and find the small moments during my walks that bring big inspiration. I’ll never forget watching a single droplet of water on a twig that hung for dear life, and conjuring up one of the most beautiful sentences I had ever written.

  1. You will begin to look at things with a different perspective.

People will begin to look different, more interesting. You will likely judge less and accept more at face value. Yet on the same token, there will be a curiosity, perhaps even more so for writers, to look deeper, wonder what’s behind that face. You will realize that everyone has a story to tell.

  1. People will enjoy your company more.

Who doesn’t like to be around a positive, relaxed person? I’ve been known to get myself all wired up – no denial there – but there’s a colossal difference between being with someone who is negatively wired than being with someone who is excited and exuberant about his or her work. It just feels good.

  1. It will feel great to be with yourself.

Most of us know the weight of unhappiness and stress, but when you make your dreams attainable goals and follow through consistently, you begin to look at yourself differently. You feel positive and accomplished in reaching even the tiniest goal. For me, that might be conquering the toughest sentence to construct in my writing or finding that perfect word to describe a feeling. That can be enough to make me walk away on a high for the rest of the day, while patting myself on the back.

  1. Your happiness will be contagious.

Just like the feeling of walking past someone on the street – those who smile at you make you feel good, those who ignore your existence make you grumble inside. Your attitude and fulfillment will show in your expression. It will lessen the aging lines on your face and make your eyes brighter. Don’t you love that feeling when you cannot stop laughing, so much so that others begin to laugh and they don’t even know why?

  1. Despite the million reasons you may have not to follow your dream, there is always one monumental reason to do it – it’s what you love.

What is stopping you from following your dream?

Recipe for a Rainy Day

It’s early morning in the land of the Vikings, and the tickling of rain on the windows reminds me of the biting Swedish autumn outside. It’s the perfect weather to take me away into my imaginary world, the world I enjoy to its fullest, the world where images flutter past telling momentary stories, until that wonderful turning point when one settles into something more.

My favourite time to write is in the early morning when I know the world around me is in deep slumber. There are no lights in the neighbouring windows and only a distant car can be heard in irregular intervals. With a hint of light, I can see leaves waving furiously to get my attention. But I won’t let them rob me of this moment. Before long, the thieves of the day will join forces anyway and take me back to the world we all live in. A candle lit and a throw to curl up in with my trusty companion in my lap. No, not a dog – my laptop. There’s something not quite right about that, I mutter, scratching my head.

What is right though and infinitely remarkable, is how that single flame can turn into the trailing dress of an Edwardian artist at the turn of the century England. As the flame flickers in the hurricane lamp, the woman is jostled when she hears the trampling of feet at her back. She knows he has come to tell her the truth about what happened that night. And as the flame grows unexpectedly, she hears him dismount his horse as she faces the raging coastline. Whisking around, her dress picking up the dirt at her feet and feeling the dagger between her fingers, she’s ready to ask herself, should she or shouldn’t she?

When I look out the window, the light of the day has come and I hear twitches in the other rooms. The thieves have awakened.