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?

photo credit

photo credit

The Battle Between Reader and Writer

How many writers out there have shelved full manuscripts? Not even shelved them, but somewhere in the hidden crevices of their laptops sit dusty novels that have been loved and painstakingly brought to life, only to be rejected for likely a multitude of reasons. It is quite incredible how we slave over a work for months (maybe years) then succeed in completing it only to be read by a few pairs of eyes. Why? Why do we do this to ourselves? During the writing process, are we consciously thinking about how our readers will feel? Is the reader in the driver’s seat here? Is the reader more important than the writer?

This question has weighed on my mind recently—in part because I haven’t been able to let go of my second novel. It’s one that in retrospect and after gruesome dissection, I came to the conclusion that it is too real. How real should fiction feel? Well, that all depends on the reader. To those who are close to a writer, it can be the case that they see too much of themselves or others they know in the characters. That alone can be painful even if the story is fictional. Note of interest – As I sit here writing this post, the song I often listened to while writing that novel, just came on the radio—a song I haven’t heard in three years. Amazing how the stars work! It is a song that permeates through that novel. It is gut-wrenching. At the time, it helped feed my novel with the tone I was looking for. Being the writer, it satisfied my need to tell this story through my eyes.

Three years later, I understand now that it is a novel I wrote for me, not for my readers. With this realization, I was able to be objective and look critically at my work. Clarissa Harwood, a writer of historical romance recently examined her own past work with the same raw need to bring some clarity to a project that didn’t necessarily deserve to be tucked away for eternity. On Happy Endings And Why The Reader Matters More Than The Writer, Clarissa eloquently states, “I’d allowed the struggle of writing it to colour the finished product.” This statement is profound in its call to writers to heed their objective—to ask themselves, “Why am I writing this story and for whom?”

Reflection is a necessary part of who we are as writers. I see now how unlikeable my main character is in that novel. It’s true. What’s lovely about this, is that I’m not bothered. It has taught me an important lesson. It has made me read other authors works more critically. It has made me reflect on the novels that drew me in as a young adult and those that carried me through my university years, my years as a young mother and my years living abroad. Without a doubt, it is those novels whose main character captivated me, the ones with whom I connected and made me smile or laugh out loud, those who touched me and the person I aspire to be, that made me read to the end.

Yes, I confess, I’m one of those readers who needs to be lured and fed in order to finish a book. I like liking the main character. I want substance of course like any reader, but if I like the main character then I won’t want the story to end. The best indicator for me is when I find a desperate need to read the book as slowly as humanly possible—fighting the urge to gobble it up. I simply want the story to last. HELLO Susan! So, if I, as a reader, want to like a main character then how could I expect anyone to want to read my unlikable main character? A costly but important lesson learned. The joy in writing the main character in The Particular Appeal of Gillian Pugsley enabled me to honour that lesson. Gillian is a character so real to me. As I created her, I grew with her and never cast aside the needs of potential readers. She is one I care deeply about and if I feel that way about her, then I have a greater chance of my readers feeling the same.

There’s no question that with every book I write, I learn a valuable lesson or two. My writing improves with each novel I write. I don’t think we ever stop developing as writers. As a newly published author, I take well-intentioned, constructive criticism seriously. I want to learn from readers’ reactions and try to understand their point of view. Point of view and tense and time lapsing are often aspects in our novels that readers feel passionately about. What jars our readers? What makes them want to scream or shake their head? What makes them want to reach into the pages to hug our characters?

I am much more aware of this now than ever before. I can consciously sit back, pinpoint a trouble area and ask myself, “How would the reader feel about this?” I have come to realize this is something all writers need to do. Perhaps, Clarissa Harwood worded it best for all of us who love to write, “I will fight no longer. I’ll certainly always try to stay true to my characters, but I’m not writing just for me.”

We all need to learn through our own process of writing. It can be clear from the start for some writers. For some of us, it takes writing a few novels, growing thick skin in the process, before it really hits home—before we come to realize that there doesn’t need to be a battle at all. We are crafting our novels to be read by readers. The reader needs to come first. I suggest we revel in the process, write passionately, love to love our characters and love to hate some of them and never stop reflecting on our work. The more we write, the better writers we become. The better writers we become, the more readers we will attract. No battle!

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Photo source

Is Midsummer a Writer’s Dream?

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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.

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walrus photo source

Writing in the Face of Tragedy

A few years ago, I had a colleague say to me that when most people wanted to stay away after tragedy struck a mutual friend, I ran toward her instead, and that would be something our friend would never forget. At the time, not even the Atlantic Ocean could keep me from her and I found myself on a plane two days later. I couldn’t bear to think of the pain she was going through and somehow felt that my presence would be of some comfort. Over three years later, I sometimes wonder whether I did it for her or for me. After all, maybe I could be a shoulder, maybe I could be of some use, maybe it would make me feel needed. Was I being selfish? Perhaps, though my intentions were honourable. Perhaps others were right to give her space and come only when she reached out. In the face of sudden tragedy, my actions were reactions. Reacting out of love for a dear friend.

I didn’t know how to deal with such a life-changing event. Even though she fell into my arms at the time, I suddenly felt useless and intrusive. I hadn’t suddenly lost a child – she had. I had never been faced with grief – she had. I couldn’t possibly feel the depth of her pain. All I could do was be there. One week later, I had to go back to my life abroad – to take care of my family. A string of emails would have to suffice until I could see my friend again during the summer and try to be that little bit of a crutch for a few weeks until I had to go away again and again and again.

This is where writing comes into play – for me at least. How can a friend truly understand another’s pain? Our heart breaks for them, but unless we have experienced such a tragedy, we cannot come close to understanding, not for a millisecond. I’ve come to realize though, that as close friends, we hurt too. We hurt because we feel some of their pain. We don’t know the pain, but we do feel it. Our tendency is to brush off how it affects us, because we’re not the important ones here, our suffering friend is. It’s taken me these three years to understand that we do matter, our pain matters, too. It hurts to know that I can never heal my friend. I can’t bring back her son. But I can do something. I can write.

When I began writing my novel, The Particular Appeal of Gillian Pugsley, I had already developed the premise of the book. But as fate or the gods or whatever one wants to believe in would have it, her son found a place in my heart through my writing. It was through his inspiration that I was able to heal as a friend. It was through him and weaving his personality into my character, that I became stronger. I felt as though I was doing something worthwhile. It was as though my character, Christian Hunter wouldn’t exist without her son. And he wouldn’t. I needed a charismatic young man in my story. I needed him to be someone people felt good to be around. I needed him to be the kind of character that made others feel as though they were the most important person in the room. I needed him to be a good listener, inquisitive and down to earth. He needed to be someone who didn’t care how much money others made but still appreciated the finer things in life. He needed to be comfortable in his own company, sit and read a book in a crowded restaurant and thoroughly enjoy it. He needed to have strong morals and be deliciously easy-going. Only one person could fill my characters shoes and that was my friend’s son. He gave my character life and I will forever be grateful.

We are fortunate as writers to be able to use our passion to help heal us or in many cases, help ease the pain. Through writing, I was able to recognize my own pain through my friend’s experience. It helped me validate it and give it a voice. The result was a character of whom I am immensely proud, one who reminds me every day of the incredible son that my friend raised. It reminds me of the incredible parents he has and will always have in life and in death.

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My 6 Things About Writer’s Block – what are yours?

1) RESEARCH.

For me, I find that writer’s block often stems from a lack of research. When I have a pile of research behind me, I can actually feel it driving me forward. Go little red caboose! Or is it the little engine that could? Either way, the one drawback is that research can go on and on and on. There are times when I don’t know when to say, “Enough! Time to move forward.” What I need to do as a writer is find the clues within that pile. I know it needs to be taken apart in pieces – what works for me, what doesn’t. I can do more research later if need be. But that pile – I think about it endlessly, to the point it becomes a cyclone of information whirling in my head. That might be all well and good, but at some point girl, you need to sit down and write!

2) EXCUSES.

Yes, any number of them. They come in hoards. When I’m staring at a blank screen, it’s quite remarkable how easily they come; I need to pick up my daughter from school, it might be better to get groceries early in the day to avoid crowds, the garden slugs need to be taken care of. Here I come to the rescue – rubber gloves and bucket in hand. Stop with the excuses – just write!

3) THE KITCHEN.

The number of times I get out of my chair, leave my desk only to go make yet another cup of tea or peruse the fridge for something healthy to nibble on. How is it that I’m so gullible, kidding myself that I need something at all? Finally I reach for that one thing I know I shouldn’t eat. Did that help? NOOO! Sit back down and write for goodness sake. It doesn’t matter what – just write!

4) HOUSEWORK.

How did such a dreaded thing as housework ever become so desirable? There is absolutely a direct correlation between how clean my house is and how much writing I’ve accomplished. It’s amazing how I suddenly realize the importance of wiping the soot off the fireplace glass surround, when the only eyes to see it belong to the ever-present chirping bird outside my window – the bird that is no doubt castigating me for leaving my writing desk in the first place. Think of your writing as housework if you must – and write!

5) WEEKENDS.

Is there such a thing for this writer? The answer is easy when my writing is going well. But when writer’s block hits, weekends suddenly become very, very appealing. The family is off. No school. No work. Two days of pure, unadulterated freedom – from what? My own mind, that’s what? It’s like wanting to take a vacation from my own brain for two days, when I know full well, I can’t, shouldn’t, MUST NOT. So, get up early, before everyone in the family – and sit down to write! Yes, write!

6) BETWEEN PROJECTS.

For me, I tend to experience writer’s block between projects, when I’m undecided about the route I want to take. This is particularly painful for me. I might have ten ideas that I’m developing at once, all falling into a deep abyss of nothingness. In actual fact, it’s not nothingness – far from it, because I am writing. Maybe my course is shaky but I am doing what I insist above, despite any excuses, despite the kitchen, despite the housework and weekends. I am toying with possibilities. I am creating new characters and ideas. Perhaps I use as little as a name in the project that actually develops into something, but writing nothing would be a far more serious crime in my eyes. So, I say to myself, “keep writing, for something is bound to come of it!”

Now that I’ve got that off my chest, here are two productive ways to help with writer’s block.

  • Read as much as possible, within your genre and outside your genre, but read good literature. Surround yourself with quality. You might just be surprised at how easily it rubs off.
  • Give yourself permission to write badly. Now this one I’m still coming to grips with, especially given the sentence above. I tend to be very picky, fighting to find just the right word as I go along. I often ask myself, “Do I need to be so picky?” “Is it serving me well or is it hindering the process?” and alas, “Would my story be further along if I relaxed and just wrote whatever came to mind?” I recently read an article, 5 Creative Cures for Writer’s Block that put it into perspective. It is certainly something I want to consider as a writer and put into better practice.

“The first draft requires a show of sinew, not nuance. We write badly because we need our early drafts to show us, in broad strokes, what we’re actually supposed to be writing about. We write badly because we need to focus our energy on the larger story and structure, and can’t possibly attend to all the elements that make up a developed or refined work. We write badly because, even if we revise as we draft – and, mea culpa, many of us do – either we can’t revise with a complete manuscript in mind or we’re too close to that manuscript to have sufficient perspective…”

The point is to write, be it badly or not. Our writing will improve the more we read. Once we have something written, it’s then that we can revise, change, improve, whether it’s the plot, the characters, the POV, the grammar. It’s all part of our own editing. Writer’s block is real and it’s painful and frustrating beyond any writer’s words. BUT, it can be manageable. The key is to write – and through our writing, eventually, the right words will come.

What are some things about writer’s block for you?

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.

Do You Need to Like a Main Character?

I recently read an article on whether it’s necessary or even helpful to like a main character. Helpful to what end? Finishing the book, I suppose. The writer didn’t feel a particular need to like main characters. I suppose it can be rather engaging to love to hate a certain main character if he or she is written well. For me, the feeling is quite different. It’s one I wanted to share with you.

I’ve always had a tendency to put down a book and not pick it up for ages, saying to myself that I’ll return to those pages when I get the time. But what is it, what is the key to those books that lure me back? I can only speak for myself, but I suspect that I’m not the only reader who needs to feel connected in order to be drawn back into a story once I’ve put it down.

I completed a novel a few years ago that sits in its pool of misery somewhere deep in my computer, having been fully read by only two people – me and my husband. Why? The writing is fine, even compelling at times. When I asked my sister to read the manuscript, she happily agreed until she got a glimpse of my main character, uncomfortably resembling someone she knew well. It felt too real to her. The pages became heavier to turn to the point of immobility.

The answer to my question was one I think I knew all along. Something drove me to write that character in such a way. Once completed, I had to ask myself why it didn’t actually feel good to write her. What was it about her personality? Was she strong? Yes, but not in the way that sits comfortably with me. A strong woman is not one who shuts out reality but faces it head-on, bulldozing through the ugly bits of life while delicately crafting a positive attitude that feels good to her and the reader. As writers, we all know how invested we become in our characters and how real they become to us, with personalities that linger well beyond our writing day. Our characters become our company in many respects and we want to feel good being around them. At least I do.

It’s perfectly welcomed and often times necessary to have a selection of characters that get your blood boiling, but for the main character, I want that person to make me feel good. I want to get to know that person better, not necessarily become friends, but become more acquainted with what makes that person tick, what motivates him/her, what touches his/her inner core?

It was a hard lesson to learn, writing a whole novel only to learn how desperately I need to like my main character. I often ask myself why it took me a whole manuscript to learn such a lesson as a writer, when as a reader I’ve always known that’s what I needed. I’ve concluded that it needed to be a hard lesson, a lesson ground in late night and early morning writing, crafting of plot and subplots that weave around my character and how she reacts to events. It needed to be this way, so that I would do exactly the opposite in my next book.

I see now, that it was my non-likable character that stripped my writing of the energy needed for a story to feel alive and powerful and beautiful. As a writer, I need to feel an intimate connection with my main character, a connection that makes me feel good to the bone. I want to laugh with her, and hurt with her. I want to love with her and get annoyed with her. Quite simply, I can only do that if I like her. So I wrote my next novel with a main character who swallowed up my days and who has lingered beautifully on my mind ever since. I still find I want to know her even better and travel with her through more life experiences. She makes me feel good and I like to be around her, The Particular Appeal of Gillian Pugsley – a friend for life.

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?