An Interview with Flora Wiström

I have been chatting to Swedish writer and blogger Flora Wiström about writing tips and tricks, inspirational authors, and what it takes to tell a story.

Flora Wiström is a 22 year-old writer and blogger. Her debut novel, Stanna, is a moving love story set in Stockholm. Published in 2016, it tells the story of Ester, who works in an antique shop, and Eli, who has paint-stained hands and a dying mother. The novel asks – what do you do when love isn’t enough to save someone from falling apart?

Flora, describe your writer-self!

My writer-self is really not the same as my everyday self. I write in periods; sometimes I do it every day, and sometimes a month can go by without me writing anything. I’m also hard-working. I’ve decided to take my writing seriously.

Name three women writers who have inspired you?

At the moment, I am in Lisbon writing my second book. I spend a lot of time alone here, and I listen to the Swedish writer Bodil Malmsten almost all the time: when I go for a walk, do the laundry, cook my dinner… She is really good at making big problems more tangible, and she’s so funny and smart. I love her! Another Swedish writer that has inspired me a lot is Felicia Stenroth. And for the third – I love Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, her language and the stories, they are so… imposing. I feel like I learn a lot about the world when I read her work.

What did you learn while writing your first novel that helps you now?

Sometimes I look at my first novel and ask myself how the hell that happened – did I really write those 370 pages?! But it comforts me to know that I can actually do it. The hard part is to actually keep on writing after having finished the first 10% of a book. I don’t allow myself to think about how much work I have in front of me.

I think it’s important to remember that the writing process doesn’t just happen in front of your computer. It’s just as much about strolling the streets of your city, watching a series or just being around people. That’s when you see what life is really like.

What is different this time round – writing your second novel?

When I wrote Stanna, at times it was really difficult: the story is based on events from my own life, and this meant that people close to me could recognize themselves in the book. It’s fictional, but the close connection to true events made it more complicated. Some  people could feel hurt, and I had to take the decision to go ahead anyway and tell my story. My second novel is a completely fictional story, which means that I can’t lean back on a real storyline, I have to make every little detail up myself.

What advice do you have to anyone who wants to be a writer?

Take your dream seriously: look for a writing class, physical or online, or an online community where you can get support from other aspiring writers. I have studied creative writing for almost three years, and I don’t think there is a stage where you feel like “I’m done – now I’m a writer!”. It’s a constant work-in-progress.

It’s also important to open up for input from others. You learn a lot when you let someone read your text and give you feedback! I try to remember that if I’m uncomfortable doing that, it doesn’t matter; what matters is that my writing improves.

Plus, read a lot of books – and dare to believe that you can write one yourself. I saw other young people write books and get them published, and I told myself that if they can do it, why wouldn’t I be able to?

For more, read this interview Flora did in 2016 with novelist and poet Jennifer Clement, President of PEN International. At Flora’s blog you can follow her life in Stockholm and her thoughts on relationships, veganism, anxiety, Scandi fashion – and everything in between.

Girls’ Globe Book Tour: Finland

Finnish literature echoes the country’s vast forests, icy winters and endless summer nights. But also, at times, the conservatism and racism, social gaps, and haunting memories from the two world wars. At its best, it’s dark, witty, and brave – particularly the works of these five writers.

Outside of Finland, Tove Jansson (1914-2001) is best known as the creator of the wildly popular Moomins. Jansson was a multitalented artist who wrote and illustrated fiction for children and adults. She also led an ‘unconventional’ life, choosing never to marry or have children, but instead to put her artistry first. She often approached taboo themes, for instance, she incorporated her romantic relationships with women in her stories. (In Finland, homosexuality was considered an illness until 1981.)

The Summer Book is set on an island in the Finnish archipelago. Sophia and her grandmother spend the summer on the remote island, observing and living in harmony with the animals, birds and natural forces around them. It’s a quiet and soothing story about the sea, friendship, life and death, written without beautifying filters or nostalgia.

I only want to live in peace, plant potatoes and dream! – Tove Jansson

Katja Kettu wrote her most successful novel in the back of a car, while she and her boyfriend were travelling back to Helsinki from Rovaniemi, the small city in the north of Finland close to the Arctic Circle where she grew up. Maybe that is why her writing is as wild and untamed as the northern lights. Katja also works as a director of animated films, and her bestseller The Midwife was turned into a movie.

The Midwife is a controversial love story between a Nazi officer and a Finnish midwife during WWII, set in the icy forests of Finnish Lapland. The midwife falls in love at first sight with the handsome officer who one day comes to the village as a photographer. She joins the German side as a volunteer nurse, just to be close to him. Brutal murder, abortions, pain… Is all really fair in love and war? A magical, hypnotic, fleshy, and disgusting story about love.

Rosa Liksom is a Finnish writer and artist from Lapland who has produced a large number of novels, children’s books, art books, and plays. In 2011, she was awarded the Finlandia prize for her novel Compartment no 6.

On a long train journey from a wintery Moscow to Mongolia, a young Finnish woman gets stuck in the same compartment as a talkative, foul-mouthed former soldier. He talks and drinks endlessly during the long journey, and even trying to silence him by pouring a bottle of nail polish remover into his vodka doesn’t help. The pen of Liksom is poetic, dramatic and incredibly witty.

Sofi Oksanen is one of the best known contemporary Finnish writers. Her stories are brave and fierce, and she’s not afraid to attack touchy subjects. In Sofi’s debut novel Stalin’s Cows, the eating disorder of the main character and the racism she and her Estonian mother are subjected to make the novel a very painful read at times – but also an honest and touching one.

The bestseller Purge is set in Estonia, where the worlds of Zara and Aliide collide. Zara is a trafficking victim on the run from her pimp, who ends up as by chance in Aliide’s backyard. But, it turns out that the meeting of the two women might not be a coincidence at all. Here begins a story of past horrors, sexual abuse, and how history is written by the winners – but we all have blood on our hands.

If you enjoy discovering new female authors, make sure to read Girls’ Globe’s recommendations from Sweden, Latin America and Scotland too!

4 Scottish Authors You Need on Your Bookshelf

There is, and has always been, a wealth of wonderful and unique writing coming out of Scotland. Here are some of my favourite female Scottish writers, both long-loved and newly-discovered:

Ali Smith

One of Scotland’s best-loved writers, Ali Smith is an author, playwright, lecturer and journalist whose novels and short stories have gathered multiple prizes and endless admirers. Born and raised in Inverness, a small city in the north of Scotland, Smith started writing poetry at just 8 years old.

There’s a long list of Smith novels to choose from, but my favourite is Hotel World, a mesmerising and inventive piece of writing in which Smith is beautifully playful with language – often going pages at a time without punctuating the stream-of-consciousness of her narrators.

“Stories can change lives if we’re not careful. They will come in and take the shirts off our backs. Tell the right stories, and we live better lives.”

– Ali Smith, during a radio interview in 2016

Jenni Fagan 

A poet and novelist, Fagan graduated from Greenwich University with the highest possible grade for a creative writing. She was was included in the most recent Granta list of the 20 Best Young British Novelists. In fact, she was the only Scottish writer on that list.

Her debut novel, The Panopticon, tells of Anais Hendricks, a teenage girl in care. Told in a first person Scottish vernacular, the novel pulls on Fagan’s own experience of life – she was looked after by the state for 16 years – without succumbing to the slightest hint of cliche.

The sky is a vast black. Each star up there is just a wee pinhole letting in pure-white light. Imagine if it was all pure-white light on the other side of that sky.

– Jenni Fagan, The Panopticon, 2012

Kirsty Logan 

Kirsty Logan is fiction writer, book reviewer and writing mentor. She lives in Glasgow where, according to her own website, she drinks coffee, listens to true crime podcasts and dreams of the sea.

Try The Gracekeepers, a magical story of a floating circus and two young women in search of a home. Filled with inspiration from Scottish folklore and fairytales, Logan’s lyrical debut made me think of Angela Carter’s writing in the best possible way.

We don’t belong anywhere, because we can belong everywhere.

– Kirsty Logan, The Gracekeepers, 2015

Janice Galloway 

Another of Scotland’s most esteemed female writers, Galloway is the author of several novels, short stories and poetry collections. She has done extensive radio work for the BBC, and is a writer in residence at four Scottish prisons.

Her first novel, The Trick is to Keep Breathing, is widely regarded as a Scottish literary classic. Dealing with depression and trauma, it is bravely written and brutally honest, and manages to be exhilarating at the same time as full to the brim with despair.

“No matter how often I think I can’t stand it anymore, I always do. There is no alternative. I don’t fall, I don’t foam at the mouth, faint, collapse or die. It’s the same for all of us. You can’t get out of the inside of your own head. Something keeps you going. Something always does.”

– Janice Galloway, The Trick is to Keep Breathing, 1989

You can join Girls’ Globe on our global book tour of female authors. Try these writers from Sweden and Latin America…you might just discover your new favourite!

Girls’ Globe Book Tour – Next Stop: Latin America

Join Girls’ Globe on a global book tour of female authors. We’ve visited Sweden already, and we’re ready for our next stop!

Latin America has a rich literary history. Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Pablo Neruda, Jorge Luis Borges, Carlos Fuentes, Roberto Bolaño, Julio Cortazar. However,apart from a few notable exceptions, Latin America’s women authors have gone comparatively without recognition. Those who can quote Neruda’s Veinte Poemas may not have even heard of Ocampo’s Los Nombres.

Yet Latin America is full of decorated women writers who capture the culture of their countries, and the nuances of the human condition, as well as any of the male writers in the Latin American canon. A few (available in English) to start:

Laura Esquivel

“La mera verdad es que la verdad no existe, todo depende del punto de vista.”
“The truth is that the truth doesn’t exist, it’s all a matter of perspective.”

Laura Esquivel is from Mexico City and spent eight years as a teacher. Esquivel’s Like Water for Chocolate captured imaginations for its mix of magical realism and genre cross-over and became a bestseller in the United States and Mexico.

Known for: Como Agua Para Chocolate [Like Water for Chocolate] (1990), Malinche (2006)

Julia Alvarez

“It is a life lived with a centering principle, and mine is this: that I will pay close attention to this world I find myself in.”

Julia Alvarez was born in New York City, but her parents, Dominicans, returned to the Dominican Republic under Rafael Trujillo’s notorious dictatorship. They fled again in the 1960s.

Alvarez began writing in the early seventies, a time with Latino literature was far from mainstream. She made a living teaching high school while writing, and at 41 years old, after twenty odd years of writing behind her, she published her first novel. She lives now in the United States.

Known for: How the García Girls Lost Their Accents (1991), In the Time of the Butterflies (1994).

Gabriela Mistral

“Instrúyase a la mujer; que no hay nada en ella que le haga ser colocada en un lugar más bajo que el del hombre…Que algo más que la virtud le haga acreedora al respeto, a la admiración, al amor. Tendréis en el bello sexo instruido, menos miserables, menos fanáticas y menos mujeres nulas… Que pueda llegar a valerse por sí sola y deje de ser aquella criatura que agoniza y miseria si el padre, el esposo o el hijo no la amparan.”
“Instruct women: there’s nothing in them that relegates them a lower place than men…That something more than virtue makes her worthy of respect, of admiration, of love. Instilling this in the fairer sex will leave them less miserable, less hysterical and less empty…it will let her come to value herself for herself alone, and cease to be that creature which agonizes and suffers should her father, her husband or her son not protect her.”

Mistral, whose real name was Lucila Godoy y Alcayaga, was a Chilean poet. Her career is said to have started when she was a teacher in a village after a relationship which ended when he, a railway worker, took his own life.

Her writing took her from teaching to the Chilean consulate, and actively involved in culture and education in the region. The Universities of Florence and Guatemala awarded her honorary degrees, and taught at the United States at Columbia University, Middlebury College, Vassar College, and at the University of Puerto Rico. She was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1945.

Famous for: Sonetos de la muerte [Sonnets of Death] (1914), Desolación [Despair] (1922), Ternura [Tenderness] (1924).

Look out for the next stop on the Girls’ Globe Book Tour…coming soon! 

Cover photo credit: Brigitte Tohm 

Girls’ Globe Book Tour – First Stop: Sweden

What we read can influence our thoughts, dreams and goals. Stories are powerful and so, too, are storytellers. Grab a book written by a strong woman who speaks her mind and you can be sure of a read free from meek female characters waiting in the background for a prince to save them!

Join Girls’ Globe on a global book tour of female authors translated into English. Our first stop is Sweden – here are five writers who are sure to serve you spellbinding stories.

All of Karolina Ramqvist’s writing is political. She is one of Sweden’s most well-known contemporary feminist writers, unafraid to spell out uncomfortable truths. Her style is simple and elegant, while the content is raw and fiery. Read the psychological The White City, about former gangster’s girlfriend, Karin, who suddenly finds herself alone with a baby and a pile of bills she can’t pay. The reader follows Karin’s fall from luxury housewife to abandoned single mother as she starts selling of her Louis Vuitton handbags to be able to afford food and heating.

When Sara Stridsberg’s Swedish translation of Valeria Solana’s SCUM manifesto was published, her name was suddenly on everyone’s lips – just as much for her angry and powerful preface as for the translated work. Sara originally studied law, but decided to pursue writing after graduation. Today, she is part of the Swedish Academy, the organization that hands out the Nobel Prize in literature, and her work has been translated into several languages. Her novel The Gravity of Love is a haunting and glittering gem set in a psychiatric hospital inhabited by lost souls.

I have to admit that before the release of Wilful Disregard – a love story by Lena Andersson, I didn’t know who she was. But then – BAAM! – this book came out and everyone in Sweden read it, discussed it, disagreed over it. Just how awful can one man be without crossing all the lines? Was Ester a pushover, or just a victim of love? The story of Ester’s toxic, all-consuming love with older man Hugo is a painful, beautifully written, spot-on and sometimes very frustrating read.

White Blight by the poet Athena Farrokzhad has a mirror cover, showing me a blurred image of myself. Who am I? Inside the cover, a family awaits; a family that each describe the same event – involuntary leaving your home country – from different viewpoints. There is hurt, fear and anger mingling with hope, beauty and love. I was totally floored the first time I read it, and I still keep my copy by my bed so that I can go back to it again and again.

When I read Elin Wägner for the first time, I was amazed by how modern her writing was. She is one of the most important feminists in Sweden; a journalist and writer who lived in Stockholm in the early 20th century. A hundred years later, I can still relate to her stories where the struggle for respect, finding one’s place in the world and fighting for the same rights as our male colleagues play an important role. Wägner has recently been translated into several languages, and her beautiful, witty writing is really an inspirational must-read!

There are, of course. many more great women writers in and from Sweden – do you have a favorite? 

“My mother said: Like a mummy’s bandages you bind up the story
Like a river where the dirty waters of history run
My mother said: Time will catch up with your tongue
My father said: Everything you write will be used against you
My mother said: In due time, everything will be used against you”
Extract from White Blight by Athena Farrokhzad, translated by Jennifer Hayashida

Cover photo credit: Josh Applegate

Books to Make You Feel Bold

To mark International Women’s Day 2017 we’ve been celebrating the commitment and courage of the bloggers and organisations in Girls’ Globe’s network.

We asked each of them to share their secrets of feeling BOLD. Here are the top 20 books that Girls’ Globe reads to feel inspired, emboldened and ready to take action!

  1. We Should All Be Feminists, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
    What does “feminism” mean today? That’s the question
    at the heart of this personal, eloquently-argued essay.

    Book 1

  2. I Am Nujood, Age 10 and Divorced, Nujood Ali
    Nujood Ali’s father arranged for her to be married to a man three times her age. This book reminds us that hope is a verb.
  3. Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte
    This innovative and enduring romantic novel continues to engage and provoke readers through one woman’s passionate search for a wider and richer life.
  4. Daring Greatly, Brené Brown
    A powerful new vision that encourages us to embrace vulnerability and imperfection, to live wholeheartedly, and to courageously engage in our lives.
  5. Daughters of Africa, edited by Margaret Busby
    The most inclusive anthology ever attempted of oral and written literature–in every conceivable genre–by women of African descent the world over.
  6. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll
    A world of make-believe to delight readers young and old, where the height of adventure is limited only by the depths of imagination.

    Book 6

  7. The Diary of a Young Girl, Anne Frank
    Discovered in the attic in which she spent the last years of her life, Anne Frank’s remarkable diary is an eloquent testament to the human spirit.
  8. Bad Feminist, Roxane Gay
    A sharp and funny look at the ways in which the culture we consume becomes who we are, and an inspiring call-to-arms of all the ways we need to do better.

    Book 5

  9. In a Different Voice, Carol Gilligan
    This book started a revolution. Published decades ago, it made women’s voices heard, in their own right, with their own integrity.
  10. The Start Up of You, Reid Hoffman
    I would recommend this book to every young woman (and man) I know. It discusses how we can be the master of our own destiny, which is emboldening.
  11. Their Eyes Were Watching God, Zora Neale Hurston
    First published in 1937 and generally dismissed by reviewers, this novel is now embraced as one of the greatest works of the 20th century.

    Book 2

  12. This Sex Which is Not One, Luce Irigaray
    Irigaray reconsiders the question of female sexuality in light of current discussion of feminist theory and practice.
  13. When Breath Becomes Air, Paul Kalanithi
    A true account of a man dying of cancer reminds us of the fragility of life, how important it is to seize every moment and to hold on to the things that matter.
  14. On the Road, Jack Kerouac
    This classic novel of freedom and longing has inspired every generation since its initial publication.

    Book 3

  15. Unbowed, Wangari Maathai
    Winner of the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize and single mother of three recounts her extraordinary life as a political activist, feminist, and environmentalist in Kenya.
  16. The Women’s History of the World, Rosalind Miles
    Women’s vital part in the shaping of the world has been consistently undervalued or ignored – this book sets the record straight.
  17. The Blue Sweater, Jacqueline Novogratz
    The story of a woman who left a career in international banking to try to understand global poverty and find powerful new ways of tackling it.
  18. Just Kids, Patti Smith 
    The legendary American artist’s first book of prose offers an an honest and moving story of youth and friendship.
  19. The Hobbit, J.R. Tolkien
    Recognized as a timeless classic, this much-loved story recounts the adventures of a reluctant hero, a powerful and dangerous ring and a cruel dragon.
  20. The Book Thief, Markus Zusak
    An unforgettable story about the ability of books to feed the soul.

    Book 4

    How many of these books have you read? Which titles would make it onto your own list? We’d love for you to share your ‘Books to Make You Feel Bold’ recommendations with us – please leave a comment or use #BeBoldForChange on FacebookInstagram or Twitter