Guest Post: Author Susan Örnbratt Asks: “What is a lucky writer?”

Cover for websiteHere is a lovely reminder from author Susan Örnbratt that we should find inspiration in the everyday as well as in the extraordinary. And, that sometimes things happen just when they should. Even if it’s ten years later. Please welcome Susan to Women’s Fiction Writers!

Amy xo

How a Grandmother’s Secret Words Became a Granddaughter’s Treasure 

by Susan Örnbratt Cover for websiteWhat 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. 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. These 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. author photoSusan Örnbratt was born in London, Canada and grew up on the dance floor until her brother’s high school rowing crew needed a coxswain. Quickly, she traded in her ballet shoes for a megaphone as rowing filled all of Susan’s time outside of school while competing in regattas across Canada and the US. When she was 16, Susan became a member of the Junior National Rowing Team and went on to compete in the Junior and Senior World Championships and the XIII Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh, Scotland. A graduate from the University of Western Ontario in French and the University of Manitoba in elementary education, as well as attending L’Université Blaise Pascal Clermont-Ferrand II in France while she worked as a fille au pair, Susan has gone on to teach and live in six countries. Although a maple leaf will forever be stitched on her heart, she has called Sweden her home for the past sixteen years with a recent three-year stint in North Carolina, USA for her husband’s work. It was there, where Susan wrote her second and third novels while achieving her long time goal of signing with a publisher for The Particular Appeal of Gillian Pugsley. Susan lives in Gothenburg, Sweden with her husband and two children and an apple tree nibbled on by the local moose population.  If she isn’t shooing away the beasts, you can find her in her garden with some pruning shears, a good book and always a cup of tea. If Susan were dried out, she could be brewed. Susan’s website: http://susanornbratt.com

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17 thoughts on “Guest Post: Author Susan Örnbratt Asks: “What is a lucky writer?”

  1. How wonderful, Michelle, thank you! I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it. I appreciate your following as well. I was happy to see that. Have a lovely day.

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  2. It seems that we work hard at our writing every day but we never know just when the inspiration for a new story will arrive. It sounds like your grandmother gave you the perfect premise for a novel built from the heart. How lucky you are to have her share her poems and have faith in you that you would help her words find a way into the world. Congratulations! I look forward to reading your book which sounds fascinating. And how nice that the moose have a special treat in your yard. My husband is from Norway and he’s had some close moose encounters. I imagine they are happier after eating fresh apples! I envy your living abroad. We too lived in North Carolina but I hoped to live in Europe since I’ve got this Scandinavian hubby but we are back where I grew up in Sonoma County, CA. Very nice place to raise a family but I have wanderlust.

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    • I think I’ll always have wanderlust too. What a great word! My kids keep nagging us to take them to California, so maybe we should do an exchange. 🙂 I lived in Norway for a couple of years. It’s a beautiful country. I hope you have an opportunity one day to live there or at least have an extended stay. On the other hand, I long for the southern sun again! Thank you for your comment regarding my grandmother and her poems. I feel this story has brought us even closer together and that in some mysterious way, she knows all about it. I will be thrilled if you read my book and over the moon if you enjoy it. Tusen tack!

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  3. Just before reading your interview, I received an email from my sister (also named Susan) that she has finished compiling 5 hours of recordings made by our parents and grandparents of their life stories. I’m looking forward to reading your grandmother’s story.

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    • Oh my goodness, Grace, that’s exciting! Just imagine the stories. I bet you and your sister will come to know your parents and grandparents in a way you never thought possible. I’m so pleased you want to read my story. When you do, you will come to know my grandmother. She had this way of touching the lives of the people she met. Thank you for your comment.

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  4. Thanks, Susan, for sharing the story of your grandmother’s gift. I think a great deal of successful writing depends on an inspiring moment, an unexpected connection, a sudden revelation. We just have to hope we’re open to such gifts when they’re offered to us.

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    • How true that is, Sally! Recognizing them as gifts is the key. I believe it’s often through our writing that we grow to understand their value. Thank you for your comment.

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  5. Susan, as someone whose grandmother lived with our family until she died at age 99–a grandmother who was also British and a great storyteller–I really loved and appreciated this post. Thank you for a thoughtful piece.

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    • What a lovely comment, Holly, thank you. I’m sure your grandmother felt such joy and peace living with you. I imagine you’ve shared some of her greatest stories with the ones you love. Passing them down is one of the best ways to carry on their legacy.

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  6. Grandmothers! I am hoping to be as inspirational to my grandchildren as your grandmother was to you and mine to me. Your story is filled with enchantment not to mention that power of inheritance that runs through us. My grandmother didn’t write poetry, but she encouraged reading and music in everyone of her children. That legacy became mine and has filled my life with literature and music–right in the heart of a busy US city like Chicago. Thanks so much for sharing your story–it gives me hope that my grandmother will help me work some magic.

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    • It sounds like your grandmother has already passed on a little magic your way, Beth. Reading and music – I can’t think of a better combination. How lucky you are to have been given such a gift. I think you and I are both very lucky to have had truly remarkable grandmothers. Thank you for your lovely comment.

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  7. We have been hearing Susan talking about her passion of writing books since the very beginning of her teaching our very lucky children. We were many who were crossing our fingers for an editor to sit up straight soon! Susan, your dedication to teaching may have taken your focus and time off from your writing now and then, but we sure are happy and grateful that you were our teacher ❤ And as you say, things happen when they have to happen. So I cannot really put into words how happy I am for you and for us that we can soon read your books (yes, in plural, as I am SURE there are more to come) and more stories like this, stories from your real life. Congratulations, you deserve it all!

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    • Silvie, what a surprise! So great that you’ve commented here. I’m truly honoured. Yes, teaching is one of those professions that swallows up one’s time as it definitely has mine over the years. But there comes a time when you can’t deny yourself the joy of following your heart. My grandma saw to it this time. I am so lucky to have taught your wonderful boys, and having parents in my class like you, who show such support like now, make me grateful beyond even a writer’s words. I also hope to have many more books to come!

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  8. How very, very fortunate Susan is to have had such a grandmother who entrusted her with such a wondrous gift of captured memories and love! I can not wait to read this book! And thank you for reminding us that sometimes the time isn’t right….my grandma Debo was always my source of unconditional love, support (and mischief) and I was crushed when we lost her as I just began my teaching career. Wish I could capture her as Susan has!

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    • What a lovely comment, Regina, thank you. Your grandma sounds wonderful. How lucky you and I are to have had grandmothers who oozed personality – mischief is delightful when it comes in the form of a grandma. Mine would make me laugh till tears spilled from my eyes. Like you, I was crushed when she passed away. I’m so happy you want to read my book. I hope you enjoy it. Have a happy day.

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  9. Pingback: What is a Lucky Writer? | Susan Örnbratt

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