I’m not sure who profits more from my writing: me or my readers…

We often talk about how a writer’s life affects their writing, and you know that I think this question to be boring, irrelevant even. Alas, we still keep talking about it. But the opposite? The question of how writing affects me or other authors came to my mind (again) this weekend. It is somehow tied to the question of why we write, but not only. Here’s the thing: I know that a great many of my colleagues write because they don’t have a choice (to make a long answer short and simple), the words just keep pouring out and we find ourselves vessels to hold them in our novels, stories, poems and plays. For some of us, writing is deeply therapeutic, a form of cheap psychotherapy. But that’s not what I had in mind today. No, I wanted to talk about something else entirely, based on my trip to Sápmi this past weekend. Care to join along?

The cover for my novel Last Winter’s Snow.

I know an author for whom writing was a form of working through her childhood (sexual) abuse, others (myself included) write about things that have touched us personally in one way or another, from abuse to illness, relationship conundrums and family challenges including the death of loved ones. Stories are woven from our lives’ experiences, so far so good. But what about the opposite? How do our stories affect us? I’ve just returned from a four day trip to Sápmi, to the land where my latest novel, Last Winter’s Snow plays out (in part). I had already traveled to Ammarnäs in January for research, and I had to promise my Sami guide and my hotel manager to return in the summer. I wasn’t entirely sure why, but I try to be a man of my word and I did return last week, as promised. I also took along my own extended family for the trip.

What I found has had as deep an effect on me as my first trip, and I’m not entirely sure (in fact I can’t make up my mind) as to which is better: Sápmi in the summer or in the winter. What I did learn however is that the two places are completely different. It’s like coming to a different world altogether. Here are two pictures to highlight this difference, although I’ll be honest and admit that my phone camera, as good as it may be, doesn’t do reality justice:

There are traces of Sami cultures everywhere, but they’re invisible to most of us. This, for instance, is a trail marker. Photo: Private

Another Sami marked birch, but look at how different the forest looks… Photo: Private

The summer in Sápmi is very short, as there’s still snow in April and well, the first snow can easily fall in late August. Mother Nature is rushed and it seems as if life virtually explodes all around with dozens of different varieties of colorful flowers, grasses etc. Up on the mountain, the birds are nesting, and there is a sweet fragrant smell in the air, mountain flowers needing an extra strong scent to attract pollinators.

I took my husband on a long hike to visit the lake that is prominently featured in my book, and the sight took my breath away. I feel extremely fortunate that my writing has taken me to such a beautiful place, again. And it’s not just Mother Nature putting on a display to leave eternal marks in my memory, the people of Ammarnäs are still as friendly and welcoming as then, and it may not come as a surprise that we are already planning our next trip. The journey hasn’t just affected me, my entire family was taken by the ethereal beauty of Sápmi. My dad, normally not very fond of Sweden and our rigid DIY attitude to service and our cool approach to each other, was almost in a trance state the entire weekend, his emotions deeply affected by the landscape, and it was he who wanted to see this in the winter. Needless to say that it made me happy to see him and my family so content. Even my husband, normally not the emotionally outgoing person (he dreams of achieving a Vulcan Kohlinaar) thanked me profusely on one occasion for having taken him and our son along on the trip. Another ego boost for the author.

I am lucky, and this really isn’t the first time I’ve been to visit a place of my writing to complete my journey with my characters. Here’s a photo my dad took three years ago, as I reached a very important point in Haakon’s journey in The Fallen Angels of Karnataka. You can tell by my self-embrace how emotional the moment was for me (unaware of the picture being taken):

From this jetty, my protagonist travels to his private island, an inheritance of dubious character… Photo: Private

And just last Christmas, while in Cartagena, Colombia, I visited the beach where two of my characters had an important philosophical argument about the limitations of “for better or worse” in a relationship:

On this beach, Jonathan’s grandson and his boyfriend have a very important discussion about what they expected each other to do in case of a severe illness or accident. Jonathan’s Promise. Photo: Private

But that’s not the only thing. I also learn from reading other authors, from having my own views and preconceptions challenged. I’m no perfect being, far from it, and while I read my colleague’s books, I learn a lot, not just professionally about the actual “craft” or “art” of writing, but also philosophically. Reading about other people’s point of view, seeing life lived through someone else’s lens is extremely valuable. Be it the experience of coming from a slightly different culture, or a radically different one. But also what it means to have a completely different human experience. I’m readily admitting to being small-minded and conceited at times, and reading (as well as my own writing research) helps me become a somewhat better person.

Last, not least, I also learn from my readers and my author friends, as well as other people I’ve met through my work. Things I never knew I needed (wanted?) to know, from fat phobia to the impact of living a life caught between gender expectations and your own reality, how to be a better chef, the impact of large breasts on your body, to being sexually or psychologically abused as a child, to risking to lose your child to your own rapist or, to complete this kaleidoscope of lessons, living life in a wheel chair, getting a little worse, day by day. No one mentioned, no one forgotten, but thank you to all for your stories, your experiences. Somehow, they all find their way into my subconscious from where my brain will knit all new stories.

I may not earn money as an author, but writing and being an author has certainly not been a vain exercise. I’ve learned more than I have in many other professions before, not just about other people, but also about our planet. Allow me to finish the post with the usual question about your experiences and a couple of photos to really drive home the point of just how lucky I am to be alive and being able to travel and learn:

Isn’t this gorgeous? Just a simple stream, but absolutely breathtaking. Photo: Private

The mountainous region of Sápmi is breathtaking, with lakes, moors and tundra, and always a slightly sweet scent from all the flowers. Photo: Private

If you like my writing, feel free to subscribe to my monthly newsletter (top right on this page) with competitions and hopefully interesting reading, the next one due next week. Interact with me on TwitterFacebookYouTube, and/or Instagram. Have a great week. If you want to comment, go ahead. I like to see my posts as conversation starters, so let’s talk to each other…

Thanks,

Hans

PS: Speaking of “talking to each other”. I saw this commercial for Heineken today. Have a look. You may agree with me, that it is something worth sharing…

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