Author Interview | A story inspires Jorie to seek out the back-story behind the genesis of the novel’s creation whilst developing a wicked good convo with author Susan Ornbratt on behalf of her #GillianPugsley!

Posted Friday, 4 March, 2016 by jorielov , , 2 Comments

Conversations with the Bookish badge created by Jorie in Canva

As soon as I finished reading #GillianPugsley’s story, I felt so connected to the heart and spirit of the characters’ of whom had entertained my mind for so many lovely moons of a stay, I did not wish to depart them. Even though I knew my time with them was coming to a close, I wanted to learn a bit more about the back-story of how this particular novel was composed so eloquently but also, how real-life provided such a hearty level of inspiration, as there are points within the novel’s scope of depth where you can feel quite attune and attached to the author’s journey inasmuch as her characters!

This is one of those special novels which becomes an experience of it’s own to read – where you feel inter-connected through time and the pages of where words bridge the gap between what can be well-envisioned of a lived life and where fiction tucks in the differences and grants us a personal glimpse of ‘what could have been’. Such is the beauty behind “The Particular Appeal of Gillian Pugsley” as you are treated to such a heart-moving story about a granddaughter’s search for the truth about her grandmother’s life!

I was overjoyed when Ms Örnbratt was open to an interview, as there were questions which were coming to me as I read the story and some came after I concluded the final bits which left my cheeks watered with tears and a choking realisation all is known, and all is quite a bit lost except for the happiness of having crossed paths with both Gilly and Gillian Pugsley! Two women who should leave an impression on each woman who reads their story, for they had such a legacy of words, love and a voice of a life lived whilst in pursuit of finding one’s voice and owning the path you choose.

Here is the conversation the novel inspired me to compose
and the responses on behalf of Ms Örnbratt I believe will inspire you!

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The Particular Appeal of Gillian Pugsley by Susan Ornbratt

She has written a heart-centred story befit for granddaughters who achingly miss their grandmothers whose close-knit connection was a dear part of their lives. This is a story told from a granddaughter’s perception about their grandmother’s story – as Gillian is best understood through the graceful wisdom of Gilly; two women who share not only a name but an old soul mentality about life, living and the circles of love. It has such a powerful thread of story, you do not realise at first how hard-hitting #GillianPugsley will be until you tuck yourself inside it’s chapters and fear for the moment where your fingers turn the ending pages, revealling not only the fuller scope of what you’ve consumed but the theory you first realised when you began reading it.

The ‘particular appeal’ of #GillianPugsley is she’s an ‘every woman’ character, writ solid with a dimensional story arc not limited by time nor country. Hers is a story of fortitude of strength and a zest for adventure; where accepting limitations is not her mantra and where embracing life as it arrives is part of her nature. She’s particularly appealing because of her moxie and her deep commitment to living life on her terms. She softens by love and she is renewed in the spirit of living by the one man she never had to explain herself too as he already understood her quirky nature. If war and time had not been erased of the clock, you start to wonder – would their lives have been writ differently?

This is a story written from the living hours straight through to the resolution of the tomorrow Gilly captures from her grandmother. It’s an ode to grandmothers and granddaughters of whom intrinsically know more than they let on about each other.

-taken from my review of The Particular Appeal of Gillian Pugsley

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From the opening sequences of the novel, I instinctively felt the poems were the foreshadowing of this story to be layered through autobiographical data left behind and/or passed down to you. How did you approach crafting the story out of the poems, as this was also a measure of Gilly’s journey as well? Were the two connected or did you expound a bit away from your own living truth?

Örnbratt responds: The poems are autobiographical. Of this, I have no doubt. How I interpreted them on the other hand, was left to my imagination. Indeed, they foreshadow much of the story and yes, I drew bits and pieces from my own and my grandmother’s life, eg. setting (London, Tobermory, Berkshire), my grandmother working as a nanny for a maharaja of India, a sister named Beaty, etc. But the actual story is fictional.

I had a general idea of where I wanted the story to go. In this way, the crafting was rather loose, at least far from rigid. I let the feeling of the poems drive the story. My writing was very much connected to them through the entire process. At times, I would write a chapter and the poem I had originally chosen to accompany it, fit better somewhere else. There was shifting throughout which was easy to do because I understood there was a common thread through all of them. They were about love, passion and commitment. This worked well for the story’s purpose. I drew from between those lines. Even if my interpretation wasn’t my grandmother’s actual history, I could imagine some of the poems deriving from a first love and others, the settled, familiarity of marriage.

Gilly, the granddaughter’s journey is definitely connected to the poems. It is a journey that also mirrors my own in ways. Both my character and myself as a writer became reacquainted with a grandmother and the writer neither of us knew she was. As I learned that my own grandmother had a past, that she was once a young woman filled with passion and dreams, so did my character.

When I read your response I could not believe how accurate I was in recognising how much of the story of the Pugsley girls was based on your grandmother’s life and yours, by default as you were truly living Gilly’s life! I could sense this as well – those poems evoked so much of your grandmother’s life out of the shadows of time, it’s hard not to feel the emotions and nearly see what was happening as you read them; both individually and as a collective. I could definitely see how they were the tipping stones to help guide your own heart and mind as you wrote the novel!

Thank you for sharing how the lines blurred between your fictional reality and the trues of the story. You’ve given so much of yourself to this novel, and that of your grandmother, it’s a special treat for the reader who takes the journey after you; to feel what you felt and see what you saw.

Did you notice the duality of the poems as you were placing them ahead of the chapters or was this a happy coincidence to have them tether both as a precept of what a chapter would yield and then, secondly as a culmination of the story itself?

Örnbratt responds: Yes, I definitely noticed their two-fold nature, which actually helped me place them. As mentioned in my previous response, though, I was able to move them around in some cases. Sometimes the emotional content of a chapter once written was either too heavy or couldn’t carry the weight of the poem and therefore it was simply better suited elsewhere. There were a few poems that were left out altogether. Each poem tells a story in its own right, yet at the same time, breathes life into each chapter. Was this coincidence? I rather like to think it was my grandmother’s hand on mine while I wrote. The result, I hope, being a much richer story and ending.

I liked how the poems could be shifted from one chapter to another where it’s significance might feel stronger as a reflection of what was occurring then rather than elsewhere. I sort of saw glimpses of this, as when you read ‘The Particular Appeal of Gillian Pugsley’ your seeing the groundwork of what you gave and the poems themselves are such a telling ‘story of their own’ to where I could see how threading them both aided your story and gave an addition readers might not expect finding. I had hoped it was your grandmother’s inspiration to guide you as you wrote the novel; as foresaid via my review, I felt all along this was a story for grandmothers and granddaughters – as there is simply a special connection between us all.

You definitely gave the ending an enrichment of place and heart – I could barely read the ending chapters because I was so consumed by my own emotional response, my eyes could not see through the tears! I had to sort of talk myself through it, in order to recover the sight needed to see the last bits of words in order to know what happened and where we leave Gilly!

Being a granddaughter named after her grandmother, I took a liking to Gillian and Gilly quite instantly as I could self-identify with their close-knit bond. How much of their relationship was based on your own life vs what you etched inside theirs to separate fact from fiction? Were there major differences or only subtle exclusions?

Örnbratt responds: I hadn’t thought of this until now, but my grandmother and I have the same middle name. Rather ironic perhaps. This was unintentional but somehow mirrors the bond that I also shared with my grandmother. The relationship between Gillian and Gilly is similar to what we shared in how we made each other feel more than anything. My grandmother had a similar humour to mine and made me laugh just about every time we met—the kind of laughter that brings tears. She made me feel safe and never judged. She had an incredible ability to listen and give advice when needed. She was young spirited even as an old woman. I felt like I could tell her anything.

These were all the feelings and characteristics that I wanted to instill in my character. In return, what she received and hopefully felt was undying love and respect. What was fictional was the story-line, the moments they actually shared together. Those moments were crafted as a result of their bond. I could easily imagine them happening for real. That was how I separated fact from fiction. In that way, the differences were both major and subtle.

I can attest that everything about your grandmother is mirrored through Gillian in her relationship with Gilly; it was so authentically raw and honest in places, it felt like real-life was living inside the fictional account. You definitely grounded your characters in the memories and allowed those memories a place to thrive whilst re-exploring what they could give to a story. It’s a fascinating back-story and the heart you underwrote into the pages is what keeps it a lasting testament to your grandmother and to Gillian Pugsley; who are both equal and separately phenomenal. 

The collective whole of the story has strong elements of ‘metafiction’ inside it, something I had meant to highlight in my review, but had so much I wanted to say, I left it for this conversation. You were keenly insightful as you layered in the difficulties writers go through whilst developing their creative process but also, how stories and the craft of writing is a journey each writer has to undertake themselves. Did you find these sections to be easy to write or the most challenging to convey? And, why?

Örnbratt responds: I found this aspect of the story the easiest by far to convey. It came so naturally to write about the creative process that I wanted Gillian to impart to her granddaughter. I wanted her to be stubborn about withholding her life’s experiences. This would force Gilly to tap into her creative side while following clues that she might find in the poems gifted to her—just as I was forced to do.

As a writer, I live with this process every day; the frustrations, the writer’s block, the ease in which it can shift from a good, solid day of writing to a bad one then back again, the investigation, the research. For me to inject this into the story felt right.

You achieved this to such a high level of clarity for readers, they will love how inspiring Gillian is towards the goodwill of growth on behalf of Gilly. It’s so easy to see how Gillian is knitting little seeds of life lessons inside her interactions with Gilly; yet it’s what Gilly chooses to do with those seeds as she plants her future path that became the spirit of Gillian’s story carrying on-wards after their initial conversations. I liked how your characters own their life’s story as much as you own yours – it’s a great way to give back to others by sharing such a personal route of a writerly career but also, to tap inside the headspace of ‘being a writer’ from the joys to the bittersweet moments of frustration. All of it is what makes up our internal compass towards listening to our creative voices and this is what was so giving inside your novel. You broached a balance which deepened the story for those who are reading it; for that, gratitude is yours from your readers!

I spoke about the uniqueness of how the plot arches over and out of both the war-time years and the contemporary reality of where we first meet Gillian at the end of her life. I was most curious how you made the choices you did in the method of how Gillian unveils her story – as it has it’s own internal clock of order.

Örnbratt responds: Very good question! It was important to me that this story should have a contemporary element since I intended for the greatest of the love stories in this novel, to be that between the grandmother and granddaughter. For this to be effective, I believed that the story needed to shift in and out of the past, much like a life’s experiences might be told in real life in bits and pieces as one grows up. It just made sense to me and felt right for the characters. I understood that it may be a risk to unveil the story this way but for readers who enjoy time-shift, it felt like a more authentic method to use as opposed to using linear narrative.

A risk you captialised on so expertly as to give this reader to re-consider how stories are told and the way in which a story revealls itself throughout the length of a novel. You used time slip to your full advantage, but evenso, as I have the tendency to read time slips and shifts quite often; you re-invented how they can be threaded inside the structure of a novel. It’s this grace of shifting between the historical past and the contemporary modern world you re-defined because your shifts are not entirely in the traditional sense nor do they appear as you might expect.

Instead your novel felt like how it would be revealled if a person was telling the tale by voice and trying to arrange the pieces of Gillian Pugsley’s life as a great puzzle that needs to be examined and understood one piece at a time. This is why I felt so attached to the heart and spirit of your characters – you wrote such a strong underscore of ‘place’ with a full-on emotional core, it’s almost as if we can tangibly connect to Gillian and Gilly.

The most guttingly brilliant moments of reading about Gillian Pugsley for me were the simple truths of how we are blessed by the people who cross our path and effectively change our hearts for the better. How did you add such clarity to the emotional depth of your characters whilst giving such a convicting ‘sense of place’ as the story moved forward and backwards – oft-times shifting the perspective?

Örnbratt responds: I tried to make the characters as real as possible. To achieve this, I drew on personal experience, how I have dealt with similar circumstances. For example, I was a fille au pair in France in my twenties, so I was able to relate very much to Gillian’s experience as a nanny, how I grew close to the children in my care. Drawing on my experience as a teacher likely came into play here as well. That combined with having friends from India, even a little girl next door who inspired my little maharani, Shashi. Many of the characters were modeled after people in my own life.

For example, I needed the right man for Gillian’s first love. He needed to be sincere, adventurous, independent yet fiercely loyal. He needed to love only one woman to give him peace in his life. The ideal man to model him after was my dear friend’s son, who tragically died at only 27 years old less than a year before I started writing this book. My character, Christian is also his namesake. Gillian’s quirky sister, Beaty is a culmination of my grandmother’s sisters. They were like living characters in a book with endless, rich personalities that made it easy to etch into my story.

By making the characters real in my mind, I knew that they could cross the barrier of time and make the story not only more believable but give it more heart. I also felt they needed a voice, that the reader needed to hear through each of their perspectives.

You were able to take real-life composites and turn them into such wonderfully 3-dimensional characters living in and off the pages so true to whom they were individually as to etch them directly into our mind’s eye. I loved how you approach creating your characters, by first making them real to your own heart and then, as you endeavoured to bring them to the story – all the work you put into building them came through quite strongly. I agree with you – the best stories to engage in are the ones where ‘heart and soul’ are ringing so loud & true to the core of a novel’s heart, you cannot help but become dearly attached to the journey a character will undertake.

I even loved how this is quite the genre-bender – where you could relate to it being shelved in Historical Fiction (esp for the time slip bits), War Drama (as it plays such a championing part to the undertone of Gillian’s journey), Women’s Fiction (as your insightfulness was bang-on brilliant), Inspirational Fiction (as there is a subtle guidance of spirituality), and Historical Romantic Suspense as there is a bit of an unknown element lingering outside the pathos of following Gillian’s lead as we wander back through her footsteps. How did the story alight inside your heart to tell? What guided you the most in order to fuse your original ideas to the final copy we’ve read?

Örnbratt responds: At the time, I hadn’t quite realized the genre-bender that I was writing, apart from historical women’s fiction. I’m pleased that you saw characteristics of other genres in this novel, which probably stems from reading a variety of genres myself. It was my grandmother’s poems and the intense need I felt to give her a gift that would last forever. By bringing her words to life in a story, it could be shared and passed down, which is something I knew she would love. I had felt guilty not being there when she died, despite circumstances preventing it. It broke my heart and I suppose this story was a way to say I’m sorry as much as it was a way to share something forever. The last scene in my book is one that I hope to carry out for real one day.

In essence, this is what guided me the most. On a practical level, my lifelong friend in Canada was instrumental in giving advice. It was her idea, in fact, to introduce each chapter with a poem. Many twists and turns along the way were a result of copious emails and discussions. Once my editor became involved, the story changed in ways I would not have expected. Point of view and critical changes were made as a result of her insightfulness. Yet despite these changes, the spirit of the story never wavered.

My own heart pulled at hearing your own guilt in the last goodbye you had with your grandmother – there are moments like these in our lives that are hard to resolve, even if we can acknowledge the person it is a better place, it’s hard to let go when we feel we were not able to get a proper good-bye; a parting where some of the hurt of their loss would lesson and not weigh so dearly on our souls. In this I can understand, and I do whole-heartedly hope Gilly’s resolution and final parting words can be lived in real-life as it’s a touching moment of where one story ends, another is only just beginning.

You were given great advice! The poems added a hidden layer of both curiosity and suspense (at first) whilst grounding everything together in the living history truth of what was left behind to be found. It’s a story whose meaning strengthens the more you think over what is read and what was left to each individual imagination.

Do you think location of place played a strong role in how you were able to take the conception to the page? As it was said this novel was written in North Carolina whilst your husband was here for work. Is this also how you came to find Light Messages Publishing, which is based in Durham, North Carolina?

Örnbratt responds: Both location within my novel played a tremendous role and location in my own life. Living in North Carolina at the time couldn’t have been more ideal. The constant sunlight gave me more energy to write than I had ever felt. I relished it. As well, living in a state that has such a strong writing community and presence infused life into my writing and aspirations for it. I joined the North Carolina Writers’ Network and it was at their fall conference that I was introduced to Light Messages for the first time. They suggested I submit some chapters and to my delight, they were intrigued.

The locations within the story also played an important role. A natural starting point was my hometown of London, Ontario. Intimate knowledge of the place felt right early on, but I also wanted to challenge the notion that you had to know a place intimately in order to write about it sincerely. I started by drawing my attention to the UK. I knew it well enough, having visited several times growing up and into adulthood and having virtually all of my extended family there.

Still, research was needed of course. When I needed a place for Gillian to go during the war, and I discovered that there were internment camps on the Isle of Man during WW2, a place I had never visited at that point, I knew immediately that it was the right place. This location had everything to do with taking the story’s conception to the page. It just made sense and I knew that if I researched enough, it would all fall into place. It did and when I was finally able to visit the Isle of Man, I felt like I was meeting with an old friend again.

I loved how the setting of where the novel was written led you to Light Messages! It’s almost the same with me, as if I hadn’t dropped into #LitChat when I had last year, I would not have found Light Messages – ergo, I wouldn’t have read the press release for your novel and I would have lost out on this journey I took through your story! I believe we’re lead to be in certain places at certain times – sometimes the reasons ‘why’ only develop as our path moves forward.

I agree with you – I tend to challenge this perception of ‘writing what you know’ or ‘writing a locale you know best’ as most of my own stories are set outside the perimeter of where I have travelled. Research plays an integral part in knowing a place so wholly true to itself, it can feel as if you were living there – because I’ve been doing this myself, I can attest that a writer can become quite family with their settings without having lived in the general region.

I would love to visit the places my own stories are set – perhaps one day, I will be able too, but as I write the stories themselves somehow I feel there is a level of truth in how the places are portrayed through the research and the way in which we envision the stories to be writ on the pages. For your novel, I know travelling to the locales added more to how you could visualise it through the words you left behind; this is why, I hope I’ll have the same experiences.

There is sophistication to your prose – the style of how the language of Gillian Pugsley is portrayed. Especially in your choices to allow humour to mask the fear of pre-determined ending (i.e. Gillian’s state of health), the moxie of Gillian’s younger self’s personality, the heightened intuition of Beaty, the resourcefulness of Christian and the old soul of Gillian’s young friend from India. How did you approach the mannerisms of your narrative and present such an eloquent picture of a historically rooted story?

Örnbratt responds: I sometimes think that I was meant to be born in another era. I enjoy old-fashioned expressions. Though Gillian is Irish from the start, she is inspired by my grandmother, who had also left Ireland in her teens and moved to England. Therefore, the grandmother that I knew was very English and lived most of her life in Berkshire. Hence my character’s style of language is typical perhaps of the area. Some expressions I definitely inherited from my Scottish mother as well.

The humour and moxie of Gillian’s younger self was something I saw in my grandmother for as long as I knew her. She always put others first, told great stories and always found the silver lining in even the most dire of circumstance. I wanted my character to be this way. The best way to approach this was to imagine being there with the characters. How would I want them to be if I were in that scene? It was as though I was watching a film in the making. I could see myself lying in that hammock with little Shashi, and imagine her sweet face and the angelic conversation she might have, for example. I have a little secret as well. When I’m writing a character, I have a habit of putting on their accent as I write. It’s all in my head, but it makes them more real to me.

Ooh, dear my! Yes, I have oft-times questioned that myself – about the era in which I was bourne because I, too, love old world things – from words, to arts & crafts, to music, to fashion – to the fact I’ve already started to collect vintage typewriters! Alas, those of us who have a firm hand of appreciation on the historical past, know best how to bring it’s scope forward into the crafting of stories but also, in how to seek out the writers whose historical stories are renewing our joy of reading the lives of characters who could have lived or honestly did! (as one of my favourite sub-genres is “Biographical Historical Fiction”)

Thank you for sharing your writing life insights – seeing stories alight through our lens as if we were seeing a film or tv series is something a lot of the writers I’m crossing paths with have in common with me! I think it’s because we the tendency to have a strong passion for films or serials which are set in the historic past and/or are dramatically enticing set in the modern eras.

I do love seeing how characters become real to whom is creating them; to see how those inspirations of character traits and personalities first start to resonate with the writer and then, as the reader, seeing the other side – how everything translated and came through the narrative.

Most of the story is focused on Gilly gaining the confidence to trust her grandmother’s legacy (the poems and the will to create an honest story of what inspired them); was this part of your own journey or was this invented to compliment your grandmother’s poems? How did you personally start to embrace your writerly confidence and the joy of creating stories?

Örnbratt responds: Yes, I would say it was part of my journey. It was important to me to interpret the poems in a respectful way and to balance how much liberty I took in creating a story based on those interpretations with what may have been the true meaning of the poems. I have had a few relatives wonder how much of the story was true and what was invented. I rather like that I’ve left some wonder in the reader in this regard, and I think my grandmother would like that, too.

I’m not sure I’ll ever be fully confident in my writer’s skin, yet it’s something I can’t shed or want to. I think writers are the toughest critics on themselves. The questioning of our thought process, our creative ability and whether our last project is the best we’ll manage, hovers over that skin. There are moments of great confidence during the process however. This usually takes place when I begin to know my characters, when they become real to me, and when they start to drive the story in a direction that often surprises me.

It’s the best part!! Where reality and fiction merge into oblivion! What is real and what was imagined on your behalf? Ohh, I cannot tell you how much delight I had in trying to noodle this out and then, I let go of that curiosity and let myself fully enjoy being immersed in the story; letting myself get caught up in the tides of Gillian and Gilly’s lives.

I am often observed as being hard on myself – so yes, I can relate to what your saying! I think I am most confident whilst I am writing – where I am in-tune with my own creative synergy and everything is working towards a cohesive vision of what I am imagining to write down and draw together a story out of the ethers of where all imagination knits out of our desire to craft a portrait out of words. Even as a book blogger, I feel stronger and more confident now, as a near-3rd Year blogger than I had back in 2013. We develop our strengths as we move forward and are re-inspired by the words who crystallise our voice.

Sense of place plays an important part of your next story, wherein you relied on your instincts to guide where you would set the locales. I truly believe writers are led to their characters and their characters in turn can inspire their settings. What was the best thing you learnt out of this process for your second novel which encompasses England and Newfoundland?

Örnbratt responds: I think the best thing I have learned is precisely what you have stated here, that I relied on my instincts. I only wish at times, that I would trust those instincts earlier on. It would certainly save me from a lot of time researching areas that perhaps were unnecessary. On the other hand, maybe there is a reason for everything. Through this process, I learned how the Maritime provinces connect culturally; their isolation during harsh winters in earlier times and how they depended on each other. This is something I am already incorporating into my current novel. I have struggled with the same issue for my setting in England, wanting to place the story in one part of the country while feeling more connected with the south. In this case, I’ve decided to go with what feels more comfortable. Being an Ontario-raised girl, I decided that the Newfoundland challenge was enough to take on.

The connection between characters and setting should not be undervalued. My characters come alive in their locale, maybe because of their locale and in turn, the locale comes alive because of them. When it clicks, that’s when the story begins to fall in place.

I fell in love with Newfoundland myself based on how culturally connected the Province is to story-tellers and the art of how stories can be told. I was so excited finding out you were taking-on Newfoundland in your new story, I cannot even tell you by how much! The Canadian Maritimes are definitely curious, especially for those of us stateside. They are simply their own entity and with that, draws out a lot of potential for uncovering stories and the people who claim these Provinces as their home.

I believe your lead to find certain things at times your needed to know of them; perhaps, as you said, the research you were doing for Gillian Pugsley was not meant for her story, but for one which would knit up after hers was concluded. We never know why we are led in one direction or another, but if the pursuit of the thread is enjoyable, it’s never unwarranted to pursue!

I definitely concur with you – locales are the foundation of how a character can be defined because where a person comes from or where they call home (if separate from where they were bourne) can grant so much insight into who they are and their individual traits.

What is your method of getting a story written? Are you hi-tech or lo-tech? Do you rely on notebooks, pens and paper in conjunction with a typewriter or do you prefer the convenience of a computer or other technology to help aide your writerly life? What tools are part of your writerly trade?

Örnbratt responds: I’m beginning to think my laptop is an extra limb I’ve grown. I don’t know that I could live without it. On the other hand, I am forever leaving notes all over the house. Most of them wouldn’t mean much to anyone, but to me, they are gold. I jot down random words or expressions that I’ve heard on television or in conversation with a friend. Little facts that interest me rarely escape my pen and paper. Dreams I’ve had, however patchy.

I usually begin a story using notebooks, writing whatever comes to mind; names, places, random ideas, thoughts. Then I begin to develop these ideas in a notebook often using a web-like method. For me, I like to see how a central idea or character can stem into something more and watch as each idea connects with another. Then I begin to research, which never seems to end. Much of it begins on paper but I always have a research folder on my computer. I read whatever I can on the subject and place where my story unfolds. I also try to connect with people who are well versed on the subject. I’ve had some wonderful input from a Master’s student in Prince Edward Island who will defend her thesis this spring on the subject of my book. I’ve never met her but I reached out via Facebook and that same day, she wrote back thrilled to help. Connecting with people is an important tool for writers.

I wish I could say I have been as earnest in capturing all my wanton thoughts and murmurings but whenever I would have a system of remembering to jot down this or that, I’d ever misplace the note and/or forget to keep up the habit! I had to resolve that I am simply meant to write in the moment I’m in the mood for noodling out a story or pulling together the randomness of where stories and characters originate whilst I’m creating than to worry about the ‘lost words’ as I am simply a writer’s worst secretary!

Part of what helps me align my thoughts and my muse is by typing my stories – not by computer, but by typewriter. This is how I started in my mid-teens and what I am hoping to return back too in the near future, as I have this lovely Royal I want to get restored. I love computers (as I do love blogging my reading life and tweeting out convos!) but as a writer, I find them to be stressful (perhaps because I’ve lost more data than I’d admit!) to my writerly heart.

Goodness yes! I love notebooks – getting back to pen and ink, writing it all down in longhand, whilst creating this guide map of where I want to take my stories – is there nothing better!? I do have a slight pen addiction, especially for coloured pens with fine gel ink!

I love the joy of connecting with other readers, writers and book bloggers – this is one reason I elected to become active on Twitter, the other half being it’s my ‘microblog’ of everything I’m keenly interested in across writing, reading, music, television, film, photography, knitting and a few other bits to keep it lively! I tend to focus on being a book blogger and avid reader at the moment but there will be a moment where this shifts and I focus more on being ‘the writer’ I was before I ever was a book blogger.

Without connecting with others it’s hard to celebrate the shared journey we’re all taking – it’s wonderful to connect with others, hearing their story and getting to know their writer’s process.

What do you feel has been your greatest mark of personal growth between writing The Particular Appeal of Gillian Pugsley and this second novel that is going towards publication (even though it’s not your second but your fourth)?

Örnbratt responds: That is a tough question, because a move back to Sweden fell between these two books. An onslaught of life changes affected my writing. I was in the middle of the publication process when we moved back. I needed to reacquaint myself with Swedish life, culture, language and weather.

After living in the southern sun for three years, this was no easy task. Perhaps my greatest mark of personal growth is, in fact, that—adjusting to life here again. After all, it has been my home for nearly two decades. Yet being Canadian, it isn’t fully my home—never will be. It is for my children and husband but not me. That is the price people pay when they live abroad for long periods.

To quote Gillian Pugsley, “The longer she had lived away, the more she realized that nowhere became home, though everywhere had.” There is a feeling of being suspended in air, never quite reaching the ground. The way I have dealt with that is through writing. It is the one aspect of my work life that grounds me.

What an incredibly honest response – I would never have suspected this were the case, and I wonder if Gillian’s words were a direct reflection of how you presently feel about what you consider ‘home’ and where you anchour your base. It’s hard to adjust to the seasons of life but you’ve done so with the strength and conviction of embracing the unexpected – this is the best blessing to have as you never know where you will be led to walk or to explore. I am thankful writing is your rock and guiding light; the legacy you’ve started to leave behind is an inspiring work of bookish joy!

In your Acknowledgements in the Appendix you gave a marked measure of gratitude to the key people in your life that inspired incredible characters to become bolted to life against the backdrop of the core story. How did you fuse cultural heritages and the communication of letter-writing into the background as easily as if it were a lifeblood of its own percolating at it’s own pace of entrance?

Örnbratt responds: I’ve always found letter writing special. There was no such thing as email when I was growing up. People wrote letters, long wistful, hopeful letters and sent them across the world with a real stamp! I certainly was no exception and have a wonderful collection of love letters from my husband, which are tied together in a keepsake box. Handwritten letters are revealing. They carry with them something that cannot be emulated in an email. Having traveled abroad quite a lot throughout my life (living in six countries) and making friends along the way, letter writing became quite natural for me. To use this as a way to communicate in Gillian Pugsley was never questioned. In fact, I had originally considered writing this novel as entirely epistolary. After all, one of my favourite novels of all time is The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.

To mesh my love for letters with other cultures already had a life-blood of its own. For as long as I can remember, I have been attracted to other countries, cultures and languages. I believed that through letter writing, my characters would reveal a piece of themselves to the reader that they wouldn’t be able to through dialogue. When we put pen to paper, when we are faced with finding the words, when we are free of the kinds of distractions we have in dialogue, especially in person, there is a sense of commitment to those words. It is something to which I believe most people can relate. Maybe for this reason, it fit naturally into the story.

I love your personal history with letter-writing! I, too, have a long history with letters and I’m attempting to re-emerge into the life of a letter-writer this year, as it’s been a bit too long since I was able to put thought to paper sending a conversation off to a dear friend whose mailbox is surely quite downtrodden by the absence of envelopes!

Exactly! Letters in of themselves are a rawness of personal experience – they shed light on things we cannot always put the same level of conviction of through spoken speech, and if there is distance involved, even if we could chatter away a mile towards a wicked good conversation with a dear friend, the phone bill would prevent it! Therefore, like you, I have a special affinity for letters and the manner in which they allow things to be revealled.

I think I need to re-think why I haven’t read that particular novel! Thank you!

About Susan Ornbratt

Susan Ornbratt

Susan 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 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 The Particular Appeal of Gillian Pugsley.

Susan lives in Gothenburg with her husband and two children and an apple tree beloved 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.

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This book review is courtesy of the author Susan Örnbratt

and her publisher Light Messages Publishing.

I am truly blessed to have crossed paths with Ms Örnbratt whilst I was in the process of reading “The Particular Appeal of Gillian Pugsley” her debut novel! We came together before I had concluded my readings and she thankfully was patient with me as I returned to her novel and left my ruminations on behalf of the story in a review I loved writing! This conversation was a true joy of mine to compose and what made it even better is the wonderful way the author opened up her heart and shared her personal journey with all of us – giving us added insight into her process to create heart-centred dramatic stories and the inter-workings of her writerly mind! I am blessed to share this conversation with you, dear hearts, and hope if you haven’t yet picked up #GillianPugsley you might now!

This #WomensHistoryMonth I read an incredible convo about a novel based on real-life! Click To Tweet

Find out the backstory of #GillianPugsley with this wicked good interview! Click To Tweet

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Be sure to leave your thoughts, comments and questions in the threads below for Ms Örnbratt! I look forward to seeing why you love inspiring women’s fiction stories rooted within the lived life of a woman who lived but whose chapters of life are not entirely known. What captures your joy in reading fiction based on real-life and ancestral data of reference?

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Similar to blog tours where I feature book reviews, as I choose to highlight an author via a Guest Post, Q&A, Interview, etc., I do not receive compensation for featuring supplemental content on my blog. I provide the questions for interviews and topics for the guest posts; wherein I receive the responses back from publicists and authors directly. I am naturally curious about the ‘behind-the-scenes’ of stories and the writers who pen them; I have a heap of joy bringing this content to my readers.

{SOURCES: Book Cover Art for “The Particular Appeal of Gillian Pugsley”, author biography, book synopsis and author photograph of Susan Örnbratt were provided by Light Messages Publishing and used with permission. Post dividers badge by Fun Stuff for Your Blog via Pure Imagination. Conversations with the Bookish banner created by Jorie in Canva. Comment banner created by Jorie in Canva. Tweets are embedded due to codes via Twitter.}

Copyright © Jorie Loves A Story, 2016.

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About jorielov

I am self-educated through local libraries and alternative education opportunities. I am a writer by trade and I cured a ten-year writer’s block by the discovery of Nanowrimo in November 2008. The event changed my life by re-establishing my muse and solidifying my path. Five years later whilst exploring the bookish blogosphere I decided to become a book blogger. I am a champion of wordsmiths who evoke a visceral experience in narrative. I write comprehensive book showcases electing to get into the heart of my reading observations. I dance through genres seeking literary enlightenment and enchantment. Starting in Autumn 2013 I became a blog book tour hostess featuring books and authors. I joined The Classics Club in January 2014 to seek out appreciators of the timeless works of literature whose breadth of scope and voice resonate with us all.

"I write my heart out and own my writing after it has spilt out of the pen." - self quote (Jorie of Jorie Loves A Story)

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Posted Friday, 4 March, 2016 by jorielov in Author Interview, Biographical Fiction & Non-Fiction, Blog Tour Host, Light Messages Publishing

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2 responses to “Author Interview | A story inspires Jorie to seek out the back-story behind the genesis of the novel’s creation whilst developing a wicked good convo with author Susan Ornbratt on behalf of her #GillianPugsley!

  1. Carolyn Steele

    What a positively delightful review and interview! #TheParticularAppealofGillianPugsley is firmly on my must read list. I had a similar relationship with my own grandmother–and I, too, share a variant of her name. As I read the interview, my writerly mind started flitting over what I might write to honor her and her homeland of Sweden. Imagine my delight when I discovered Ms. Ornbratt is living in Sweden! Thanks to you both for sharing your thoughts and so much of your personal history in this post.

    • Good afternoon, Ms Steele!

      I hadn’t realised we shared a Swedish lineage – as this is why I was happy to make the acquaintance of my first Swedish Thriller The Swimmer which gave me the realisation that the Swedes write stories in a similar vein as we do here! I’ve learnt I appreciate stories in-translaion from Swedish, Italian and Arabic (current read of mine: The Bridges of Constantine) as they write such heart-centred stories! I found the French stories I read in translation to be more blunt and forced; where the scope of the characters and the story were not as well fleshed out but rather a bit bare boned. I love finding stories which are emotionally grounded and give you such a hearty layering of voice, pace and back-story; which is what truly appealed to me out of #GillianPugsley!

      How lovely hearing that you share a similar connection to your grandmother!! And, that you want to explore writing a story which pays homage to her story and legacy! :) I love knitting in a personal bit of myself to my conversations and reviews; as I think it helps to make a reader’s visit here a bit more personable as they are seeing how things resonate with me. Thank you for sharing your lovely comment and how keen to know I gave you a #mustread!! I think you will truly love Light Messages Publishing – I have a review for them coming up next on Sunday, the 13th for Tea and Crumples! Happy readings!!

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