My whole world

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No matter how small the creature, it’s always at the centre of its own world.

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Hubby and I sometimes talk about this in relation to spiders and flies: how they must view the world so differently from us – not only because they have more eyes, but because they hang upside down from tent ceilings and windows. Wonder how this garden looks from their perspective, we say. Do they even have a concept of it, or do they just see their immediate surroundings and ignore the rest? Is the ant’s world comprised of the blade of grass directly in front of it – an obstacle to overcome – or do they think about the ant hill and dream of reaching it faster than yesterday?

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Every single organism is at the nave of its own universe. It’s the receptacle for sun and rain, for wind and weather. Everything that happens to it happens in relation to their unique self.

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Even in a field of endless waving grain, every seed is an individual.

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But what about fungi? Their self resides under ground, and the bodies we see poking up through the forest floor are only satellites revealing a larger presence beneath the surface.

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And we humans – can we see beyond our immediate surroundings? Can we grasp the concept of the garden even though we can only see the blade of grass that blocks our way?

Are we individuals, or a seemingly unique expression of something else – something constant, something whole?

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King of all I survey

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I’ve heard that an important Swedish trait is our love of nature, which makes me go “Huh? Doesn’t everyone in the world love nature?” so I guess in my case it’s true. 😀 But apparently some people are put off by the prospect of miles and miles of forest where they won’t meet a soul. To me it sounds like paradise.

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Or even better than a forest: a mountain. There’s nothing like standing on the top of a hill and looking down at things that usually seem important blur into insignificance.

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Maybe that’s why the elk is so emblematic of Sweden. It’s a solitary animal that goes where it wants in the woods – it has its paths and doesn’t care about the roads we’ve built – and it looks so majestic where it glides along beneath the towering pines and firs. There’s even an expression in Swedish – älga iväg (‘elk away’) – which means walk with long big strides.

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So like the elk I like to roam free and feel like I own the world. 😀 And nowhere do I feel it more than in unpopulated areas. Nothing calms my soul like listening to the special kind of silence that speaks of distance: you may hear the odd car on a highway far away, but the very fact that the sound travels such a long way tells you how alone you are – how utterly peaceful. No chatter, no demands, no social mores or rituals to honour. Just you and the water and the air and the sun.

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On a related note, I also love ruins and abandoned buildings. All the heartache and intrigue that once happened there is history, and all the people who struggled are long dead. You can own the place, because no one owns it anymore.

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You can imagine the echoes, but they don’t touch you. Only the atmosphere of the place, the final outbreath when the battle is over.

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It’s both lovely and awful how nature takes over as soon as humans stop fighting for a place in it. Lovely because it gives me hope for the planet after we’re gone, and awful because it really takes all we have to stop both ourselves and our houses from falling into decay.

And at the same time it’s so funny how we tend to want to fight. We could easily let beautiful weeds overgrow our gardens, but we insist on ripping them out and planting things that don’t really want to be there, that crave a subtle balance of sun and damp and shade that has us toiling in our free time just to cater to them!

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It’s as if the fact that we have to work for something makes it more valuable – and maybe that’s true to a point. But if we’re plagued by stress and demands, and gardening isn’t a hobby or a way for us to wind down, maybe we should lower our standards and be okay with a little wilderness.

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Finally, I can willingly trade a cluttered beach on the Riviera for the peaceful solitude of a tiny strip of sand by a northern Swedish lake.

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And yeah, alright – I might be persuaded to share it with a tiny little frog. 🙂

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Going to the chapel

This weekend, hubby and I went on an outing to an old chapel in the middle of the wilderness. It was built in 1891, and the spot was chosen to be accessible from several surrounding municipalities – even though people had to travel 25 miles’ worth of primitive forest paths to get there.

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Back then it was also used as a school. There was no central heating, but there was a fireplace that the teacher or the beadle had to stoke.

The house was really pretty both on the outside and the inside. It recently won an award for ‘most beautiful building in the county’. It almost had a viking feel, probably because it was built during a time in Swedish history when people liked music, literature, art, and architecture that smacked of romantic nationalism.

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The afternoon light really did the room justice.

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Outside the chapel there was just endless forest – and miles of winding road flanked by wild flowers. It was almost ridiculously picturesque.

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But then on the way home the weather turned really dramatic, veering from violent winds and pelting rain to the brightest sunlight. I almost couldn’t snap these pictures at all, because the wind kept buffeting at me, my camera was drenched, and I had no time either to compose the images or adjust focus and exposure.

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The need to explore

One of my favourite sources for information on the MBTI is personalityhacker, and they’ve dubbed my auxiliary function as an INTP ‘exploration’. It’s what makes you want to discover new things and go where no one has ever gone before.

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As a child on holiday I always wanted to leave the main road and potter along tiny cobbled streets to find out where they led. I think I realised that they didn’t lead anywhere special – other than a park or a pocket restaurant or something – but I just wanted to feel like I was on an adventure.

And according to personalityhacker, that was a good instinct. All types benefit from developing their auxiliary function, even though it may feel like a chore at times. It’s often easier to fall back on your tertiary function – in my case introverted sensing, which stands for memory and routine and safety – than make the effort to grow.

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In the case of INTPs and INFPs, the auxiliary function to develop is extraverted intuition. These types become happiest if they try to discover new things and break old habits, tasting new food and seeing new places. In fact I tend to do this to a fault when I’m in a new town: every time I’ve moved somewhere new, I’ve spent one or two of my first days getting lost almost on purpose, because I’ve relied on my non-existent sense of direction to take me where I want. And maybe that has been a good thing. You never know what you’ll find when you take the road less travelled.

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The more I learn about the MBTI and my auxiliary extraverted intuition, the more I understand past experiences. For example I remember being really happy when hubby and I went to Santorini. I was in a rut at the time. I had this feeling that nothing in my life would ever change much. But then I looked out of the airplane window and saw those beautiful, alien (to me) houses, and hope was kindled – just because I saw something different, something I didn’t already know.

To quote my WIP set on that very island:

I haven’t dared believe it until now, but as I gaze out of the window, there’s only the sapphire sea all around. Not an island in sight. It actually looks as if we’re going to land on the water.

But then the plane veers right, and a startling sight comes into view: a monster of a mountain, towering above a small, dark grey beach. As the first few houses appear, I feel a welcome pang of happiness. This is something new. Something I’ve never seen before. Just what I need to get me out of the depressive coma I’ve been buried in for half a year. Nothing has been able to touch me, but now the sight of those houses – so different from the timbered cottages at home – gives me hope somehow.

Because this was why I went here in the first place.

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Extraverted intuition is also at the heart of my photography: it’s a way to discover new ways of looking at the same old things. I want to change my perspective, to see past the dullness of the everyday. I want to see everything shrouded in light. I want to see the tiny things that are so easy to miss.

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If you are an INTP or an INFP, you too can benefit from using your Ne. Sure, it takes effort to get out of that rut, but there are rewards – especially when it feels like the last thing you want to do. And you don’t need to invent the wheel – it can be as simple as walking a new path in a known forest.

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Fly by night

This post and the link in it contain advertisements for my book.

More documentation than art, but it was really nice to see these guys again. We think they live in the attic of our cabin. Normally we only see them in August when it’s darker, but this time we were treated to a display against a bright July sky. 🙂

Orphan Bats

Lyrics: Vaughan
Music: Vaughan/Gardiner

We are unwanted but loved
We are the scary squatters
We hang hidden in black
We won’t go back where we came from

And we won’t die
Even though you turn us away
We will keep crawling
Out of attics everywhere

And come twilight
You can see us
Winging our way
Hunting our prey
Through the horrid night
You can join us
Seeing with your ears
Knowing no fears

We are the children of chance
We are the brainy critters
We see your world upside down
And we are blind to progress

We may seem silent
And our flight random and queer
But we’ll keep on sending
Our voices everywhere

And come twilight…

There is something in the night
Something seems to move
A band of orphan bats
That don’t need you to approve

Dark and gruesome exteriors
Sprung from fevered dreams
But in the heart of darkness
There’s a light that ever gleams

(From Just Playing)

Fourteen years and counting

This post and some of the links in it contain advertisements for my books.

The fourth of July means a lot to some people, and I’m one of them. Because July 4, 2003 was when I met my nemesis – no, sorry, love of my life!

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Now I’m a complete romantic fool. Maybe that’s why I write romance books. But my idea of romance isn’t always that… uh, romantic.

You see, I’m an INTP, which is a personality type according to the Myers-Briggs typology system (if you’re unfamiliar with the MBTI, this is an awesome site for information on it). Anyway, INTPs tend to be unsentimental about things, or at least that’s the stereotype. Think Sheldon in Big Bang Theory (or so I’m told, I don’t watch it). INTPs love ideas and finding out how things work and logic and systems. Flowers and champagne? Not so much.

Yet here we are.

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Chin-chin!

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So what gives? How can this purple prose Angst Queen who photographs backlit flowers profess to be an INTP? Well, because the stereotype is a, how shall I put it? Stereotype. Yes, INTPs love systems and ideas, but that doesn’t mean they’re all mathematical geniuses. Ask my primary school teacher what my math book looked like. We had a meeting about it.

Because this particular INTP (pictured above with romantic interest, flowers, and champagne) is interested in human systems. Language. Psychology. Sociology. Physiology. The hard sciences are meh, but anything that helps me figure out what the hell makes people tick? Count me in.

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(Last Communion)

You can see this again and again – in a romantic context – in my books. In All You Can Eat, I explore not only the psychology behind eating disorders, but also the way we sometimes try to scare off people before we let them in: the old princess-guarded-by-a-dragon-of-her-own-making mechanism.

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In Not Safe For Work, the hurdle to overcome is other people’s expectations and not being allowed to make your own decisions because the script has already been written by other people. A mindfuck I really enjoyed torturing my poor boys with – especially because of the added breathless stress of having that script spreading like wildfire across social media!

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In Rival Poet, I go full INTP and have my protagonists find each other through their writing. Sometimes you can hardly separate their creative collaboration from their lovemaking – because that’s what makes it romantic from my point of view: working towards a common goal, admiring and enjoying each other’s talent and intelligence.

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The same goes for the Pax series, where play-writing is replaced with musicianship. During the long and arduous periods where Jamie and Michael are unable to talk to each other about their feelings, their music talks for them.

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So I guess this all sums up my view of romance. I’m a sucker for one-to-one-ness, for the concept of soulmates and the one person who understands and appreciates you. But I don’t have my characters yell “I love you, honey” at every possible moment, and I don’t think any of them has bought the other flowers or chocolate. The closest I ever get to a Hollywood moment is this type of confession from Rival Poet:

MAJOR SPOILER ALERT!

When Kit spoke, his voice was the mere wisp of a sound. “You’re going to hate this,” he prefaced. “Or laugh at me. But…” He stopped to breathe, to gather his courage. “I’m in love with you, Will.”

Will froze. Stared into those hypnotising eyes, that unique golden colour. In love? His whole upbringing rebelled against the words. They didn’t make sense. Loving someone was one thing, but being in love… that was just possible when one of the two was a woman.

Only… when Kit said it, it did make sense. In the secrecy of this room, in the greyness of predawn, with just the two of them present to hear it, it made perfect sense.

Will breathed in. “If it’s something you can be,” he replied slowly, “Then… I am too.”

Well. I guess that is kind of mushy. But if you’re not allowed to be mushy about the kiss at the end of the rainbow, then what other opportunities are there really?

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Chucking the ballast

What are you carrying around that prevents you from picking up new things?

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If there’s one tip I should take to heart – not only as related to writing, but other stuff as well – it’s that sometimes in order to move forward you need to chuck things out. Even though you’ve put in a lot of work on them. I mean, I’ll keep snippets of deleted scenes for years, trying again and again to include them in new stories – and it never works, because the tone is off, or I’m not thinking through how the old scenes fit into the new timeline.

I know this, and yet I keep making the same mistake. I’m so loath to throw away things I’ve toiled over for hours and hours, but sometimes… you just have to. Put it down to a learning experience and move on.

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I don’t know why I don’t do this more often. I mean, I love writing, and yet it’s like I avoid writing by reusing old stuff. As if I can’t trust myself to come up with new words.

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Or is it just laziness? I don’t know. But today I came across an amazing writing tip on Tumblr that really spoke to my fetish for logical hierarchies, and I decided to try it out. START FROM SCRATCH for once, instead of trying to squeeze a stagnated WIP into a new structure and ending up with an even bigger mess than before.

So. I brought a pen and notebook into the garden and got to work the old-fashioned way. And after ten minutes or so I had to run inside and continue on my laptop, because my longhand couldn’t keep up with all the brand new ideas that kept popping into my head!

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At the end of the day I had an entire new novel mapped out, and it turns out that I can actually use minor scenes from one of those pesky WIPs in this new story. But the thing is that this time I started with the structure, with a departure and an arrival point that guided everything else, so when I use old material I know exactly where to put it for it to make sense in the dramaturgy instead of just cramming it in any old where.

Now, I won’t lie and say that structure is everything. It’s a tool that takes you some of the way, but not all the way. Sometimes you need to break the rules you’ve set up to move forward. The plot is a map that guides you, but sometimes you need to ignore the map for a while and trust the terrain. The whole process is like a pendulum that swings between structure and anarchy. Use the tool until you get stuck, then chuck the tool and improvise until you get stuck, etc.

That’s how you build a story.

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