The year is 1886 and Swedish teenager, Ingrid Andersdotter, is about to face a series of life-changing events. When Ingrid forgets to close the barn door one freezing cold night, there will be dire consequences for her family. To make matters worse, her attraction to the new school teacher leads to ostracism and shame.
Ingrid’s strong opinions and the pressure of the powerful village church to conform to ideas she doesn’t believe in put her at odds with her traditional community. Her only option is to leave her home and family. But is she brave enough to make an ocean crossing to a strange new land on her own, leaving everything she knows far behind? And will she find the freedom she dreams of if she takes such a risk?
Told through the lens of a Swedish fairy tale, this epic coming-of-age story, is both a page-turning personal account of one feisty young woman’s determination to seek a better life, and the tale of many single women who emigrated from Sweden to America in the 19th century.
It’s always a great pleasure to welcome friends made through Writers, Authors and Readers and Book Connectors as guests on Being Anne, and today I’m delighted to introduce you to Kendra Olson. Kendra’s first novel The Forest King’s Daughter is available from Amazon in the UK and US, and she’s written the loveliest guest post about the way her book was inspired by – and dedicated to – her late grandfather. Over to you Kendra…
I moved from California to London in August 2004 to be with my (British) husband–a big adjustment, to say the least!
In May 2010, my grandfather passed away. My grandfather was very dear to me. He was a writer, and had spent most of his life writing and editing children’s publications. When I was 18, we took a course together, to encourage one another creatively. For some years after having moved to London, I gave up trying to write anything more than a journal; life felt too full and busy to fit anymore in. This was a decision which disappointed my grandfather. After he died I discovered that he’d printed and kept the email I’d sent him (shortly before) telling him that I’d begun writing again, and had even enrolled on a writing course. That email was kept in his top drawer, printed in large font so that, even with his ever diminishing eyesight, he would be able to read the words.
There’s something else I should say about my grandfather: he was the last member of our family who grew up speaking Swedish at home. In America, where everyone is descended from immigrant stock (unless you’re American Indian), this is quite an important distinction. His family, originally Swedish, had now fully integrated and become American. His children and grandchildren would only know Swedish if they made a special effort to learn it.
It was then that I began looking over the family tree my uncle had created some years before. He’d (rather remarkably) managed to trace our family all the way back to 17th century Norway. In this record, one ancestor specifically stood out: my great, great grandmother, Lovisa Marie Johansdotter–my grandfather’s grandmother. She was born in Värmland, Sweden in 1866.
As a young woman she’d left her home, alone, to seek a better life abroad. First she moved to England to work as a domestic servant then, in 1891, she emigrated to America. Her bravery was particularly striking to me as I knew first hand from my experience how difficult living in a new country and culture could be. But, in my case, I could always phone, email or Skype with family and friends back in America, should I become lonely. Lovisa, however, had no such opportunity; letters often took months to arrive.
Her emigration took place during a period in history where women did not usually make decisions for themselves, let alone move halfway across the world because they wanted to. There was something about her that intrigued me, which sparked my imagination. I could relate to this impulse of hers, which must have been seen as somewhat odd and reckless by those around her. What would have driven her decision to take her chances in a strange, new country and on a dangerous sea crossing? After all, outbreaks of cholera and typhus were still commonplace amongst third class passengers at that time. Had she, perhaps, been trying to escape from something?
It was then that I knew I had a story to write, not about her particularly, but about a young woman who may have been like her. The seeds of my novel, The Forest King’s Daughter, were planted.
In April 2011 I visited Sweden, and saw the place where she’d lived, having gotten in contact with my relatives there. The fairy tale-like beauty of the area inspired me to weave myth and folklore into the story. I then began reading about Swedish history and learning what women’s lives were like at the time. And, eventually, I wrote my novel, and succeeded in getting it published by Pilrig Press.
As may be expected, I dedicated the story to my grandfather.
What a lovely story Kendra – thank you so much for sharing it, and for being my guest today.
Kendra has an MLitt in Creative Writing from The University of Glasgow. In addition to writing novels she enjoys writing short stories and creative non-fiction, including book reviews, some of which feature in the regional Scottish magazine, Lothian Life.
When Kendra is not writing she enjoys spending time with husband and her cats and reading as many books as possible.
Follow Kendra on Twitter and Facebook: she also has a really excellent website, where you’ll find more about the author and her writing, her recently launched editing service and read her reviews and features.