Travel broadens the mind, but does it also fuel the pen?

The Weekly Post has caught up with six Danish-based, international, published authors to find out what motivated them to write

From a sea captain’s log to the journals of Marco Polo, travelling has always been inextricably linked to writing. 

Ernest Hemingway wrote ‘The Old Man and the Sea’ in Cuba and countless others in France, Gabriel Gárcia Márquez wrote ‘One Hundred Years of Solitude’ in Mexico and Oscar Wilde – well, what didn’t he write outside the borders of his beloved Ireland?

What’s stopping you?
So, as the old saying goes ‘Everyone has a book inside of them’, what’s stopping the thousands who move to start a new life in Denmark every year? Very little, according to six Danish-based authors who have all recently published works. 

The writers – Michael Diack (MD), Kay Xander Mellish (KXM), Iben Sandahl (IS), Bonnie Fortune (BF), Noreen O’Sullivan (NOS) and Wesley Mitchell Spyke (WMS) – tackle subjects linked to their vocation or personal situation, tapping into areas they already knew about, fresh ones presented by their new surroundings or good old-fashioned creativity. 

Read on to find out about the origins of six books written by or in collaboration with internationals based in Denmark.

Could you give an introduction of yourself and your book?
I’m from the UK and I’m a geologist. I work for an energy company in Copenhagen and I’ve been living here for over a year now. ‘The Secret Lives of Bicycles’ is aimed at children.  It is set in Copenhagen and is about bicycles who are alive and can talk to each other, but they can’t see or hear humans. The bicycles lead what they think are normal lives: going to work Monday to Friday and undertaking weekend adventures.

KXM:  I’m an American with a journalism background. In Denmark, I’ve worked for several large Danish companies including Danske Bank and Carlsberg. My book, ‘How to Live in Denmark’, is a compendium of tips and tricks from a foreigner who has lived in Denmark for nearly 15 years: how to make friends, how to find a place to live, or which faux pas to avoid, all explained with humour.

IS: I am a licenced narrative therapist with my own private practice just outside of Copenhagen. I specialise in counselling families and children. I am a wife and mother of two girls. ‘The Danish Way of Parenting’, which I co-wrote with American writer Jessica Alexander, states that the reason Danes are so consistently voted ‘the happiest people in the world’ is due to their upbringing. Danish parents raise happy children who grow up to be happy adults who raise their own happy children.

BF: I am an artist and writer from the US. I’ve lived in Denmark since 2010. ‘An Edge Affect: Art & Ecology in the Nordic Landscape’ is a collection of interviews, case studies, and two original essays written by curators Sue Spaid and Anne Sophie Witzke.  Through these forms, the book discusses artists and art groups who either currently live and work in the Nordic countries of Denmark, Sweden, Norway or Finland, or have lived and worked here and whose work deals with issues of the environment and ecology.

NOS: I am a native New Yorker, married to a Dane and permanently settled in Denmark. We have three girls. When our middle daughter was four we were challenged by her sensitivity to certain touch sensations. Her meltdowns grew from mild to severe. One night, as she screamed and cried after taking a bath, she asked me to help her. She had a condition called Tactile Defensiveness, where the central nervous system is not functioning optimally and renders one emotionally overwhelmed by touch sensations.

WS: I’m 38 years old and was born and raised in Michigan. I moved from Australia to Denmark as a love refugee eight years ago. This book is the first of several volumes I plan to publish in the vein of poetry. These particular poems were written between 1994 and 1996.

How did you keep yourself disciplined?
MD: When I have an idea for a book and I know what I want to write, I’ll set a minimum target of 3,000 words a day.  It’s important to write every day, even when you’re not writing a novel.  The good part about writing fantasy books is you can create your own rules and push the boundaries, so there is always nearly a solution to a tricky plot development or sticking point.  

KXM: The fans of the podcast help keep me disciplined – they complain if I haven’t released a podcast on schedule!  I do ‘How To Live in Denmark’ events where I meet a lot of fans, and it’s very helpful to get their feedback and know that I have helped them.

IS: Because we were two writers working together, living in two different countries, the book was mostly the result of an email correspondence and Skype. We felt a great responsibility to one another. When the writing lacked perspective, the document was sent to the other, who looked at the text with fresh eyes.

BF: Since my main mode of working is freelance on art projects, writing projects or website design projects, I am used to creating and maintaining my own schedule independent of outside pressure. My method is to always do a little bit every day – or every week day – on a project so that I don’t let deadlines get away from me. 

NOS: What has and will always keep me focused on the work I do is: misunderstood children. I cannot bear the thought of a single child being reprimanded for something that they simply do not have control of. Letters from parents asking for advice, or telling me how my book has changed their child’s life are constant reminders that I need to keep doing what I do.

WS: I’ve always viewed writing as saving my life while simultaneously slitting my wrists. It’s not safe to write; it shouldn’t be. It’s a necessity for me, something all-consuming that I can’t shut off. Travel keeps me literarily lean and focused; it’s a constant reminder that we all belong somewhere and nowhere at the same time. It’s a humbling euphoria that inspires me to pen the here and now before it slips into forgotten oblivion.

Did you use a traditional publisher or self-publish? How did you make the choice?
My first book was published by a small publishing press from the UK. They were great and very professional when it came to the cover and editing. The great aspect of self-publishing [which he did with his last book] is you are totally in charge and flexible. I’d encourage exploring both avenues.  

KXM: I self-published, but I hired a professional book cover designer and professional editors for the text. Many people were asking for a paper version they could use for gifts, so I published that as well, using Books on Demand.  Since I’ve run my own website for many years, it never occurred to me to use a traditional publisher.  

IS: There has been a growing market for self-publishers, which was considered. We ended up getting Danish publisher Erhorn-Hummerston to publish the book instead, but the agreement was that we would be in charge of promotion in the US ourselves. 

BF: I worked with a publisher of artist research projects based in Copenhagen and Chicago: Half Letter Press. The book, as an art project, was supported by the Danish Arts Council, which has an excellent granting program for professional artists.  

NOS: I found that mainstream publishers didn’t seem to have a category for this subject and so opted for self-publishing to find my niche. I printed 400 hardcover copies and sold them online and via Books and Company in Hellerup, mailing each one myself. Eventually, the books sold out. I then asked my readers which publisher they could see my book with – and accordingly approached Jessica Kinglsey Publishers. 

WS: I published this first volume of poems myself. It had to be that way. They’re not my best work by any means, but they had a voice I felt needed to be heard. Self-publishing gave me complete control over the process and tone of voice. I needed that for the sake of confidence. If these poems would have been handed over to an editor, they would have been ripped to shreds and their voice compromised.

Do you have any tips for an aspiring writer?
MD: Don’t edit your own book as you need a fresh set of eyes to critique your work.  You need to make your work stand out from the masses and that means quality.  There are lots of great graphic designers out there who can help you create a perfect book cover.

KXM: You have to write down ideas whenever you get them. You have to write even when you don’t feel like it, because if you only write when you’re extremely motivated, you will never get anything done.

IS: We have read and studied a large area from many different angles, but forgot to jot down our sources before we were deep in the process. I would definitely recommend creating a system in which themes are categorised from the beginning. 

BF: For the expat community, there are many online groups where you can connect with other writers to develop a community, which is important for giving and receiving feedback on writing projects. 

NOS: Self-publish while waiting to hear from publishers and find a ‘print on demand’ service to avoid unnecessary expenses. 

WS: Just write. Keep on writing. Even if it’s only a couple of words a day. Find your desperation. Find your hunger. Find your necessity and you’ll find your voice.

Iben Sandahl 
Nationality: Danish
Book title: The Danish Way of Parenting 
Publication date: 2015
Publisher: Ehrhorn-Hummerston

Michael Diack  
Nationality: British
Book title: The Secret Lives of Bicycles
Publication date: 2014
Publisher: Self-published

Bonnie Fortune 
Nationality: American
Book title: An Edge Affect: Art & Ecology in the Nordic Landscape
Publication date: 2014 
Publisher: Half Letter Press

Kay Xander Mellish 
Nationality: American
Book title: How to Live in Denmark 
Publication date: 2014
Publisher: Self-published

Noreen O'Sullivan 
Nationality: American
Book title: I'll tell you why … I can't wear those clothes
Publication date: 2014
Publisher: Jessica Kingsley Publishers

Wesley Mitchell Spyke
Nationality: American
Book title: Eidolons of Ecstasy
Publication date: 2014 
Publisher: Self-published