Guest Post with Candlelight Reading

Book Blog Tour Stop #3 – Candlelight Reading by Beatrice Rivers

Have you ever wondered how an author comes up with the setting and characters in their books? Join, Josephine Greenland as she talks about that very subject! 

The main setting of Embers, the mining town of Svartjokk, is based on a real town in northern Sweden called Gällivare. All the descriptions of the main features of the town, including the museum, the train station, the town square, Mount Dundret where the siblings see the midnight sun, the hostel the siblings stay at, and the neighbourhood across the river, are all accurate descriptions of the real landmarks of Gällivare that my brother and I visited. I spent five days here with my brother on our own holiday in northern Sweden in 2017, and got to know the town pretty well through our many walks and excursions. 

Just as Ellen and Simon do in the novel, my brother and I travelled to Gällivare by the Indlandsbana, an inland railway that stretches across two thirds of the country, from Gällivare in the north above the arctic circle, to Kristinehamn down in the south. The full journey, without stops, takes twenty four hours, and most people stop somewhere along the way for the night and some sightseeing to break the trip up. Ellen and Simon, just like my brother and I did, stopped in the small town of Vilhelmina and did kayaking on the big lake there (this is only mentioned in passing in the book towards the end). 

I based all of the siblings’ experiences on my own, not only to create a realistic setting, but also as a way to get closer to them as characters. By having this shared experience, I could tap into their thoughts and feelings in more depth and understand their situation a lot more. This is especially true with their trip up Mount Dundret to see the midnight sun, which follows me and my brother’s excursion almost to the letter (with the exception of questioning the tour leader about massacred reindeer). 

The other aspect of Gällivare I wanted to capture in my book and transfer onto Svartjokk was the atmosphere and character of the town itself. A mysterious sense of displacement and “otherness” harbours over the place, due partly to the mining industry, which has made the ground unstable and caused Malmberget, a small town to the north that is adjoined to Gällivare, to evacuate. Buildings are pulled down, and houses are transported on lorries to a safer site ten or so kilometres to the east. By about 2030, it is reckoned the whole town will have been moved. It’s strangely surreal to watch this process, and it feels very much like a ghost town to walk past the empty squares in the ground where houses used to be. 

Just as the setting of the novel is based on a real place and the real experiences my brother and I shared, so too are the characters of Ellen and Simon to a certain extent based on us. Ellen, in many ways, reflects the anxieties and seriousness I harboured in my late teens. She feels a great sense of responsibility for her brother, always looking out for him, and wary of never letting him out of her sight. In the first half of the novel she comes across as up-tight, having a lot of pent-up frustration towards her parents, but also as quite emotional. She is anxious for things to run smoothly and always wants to come across as polite and kind to others, and almost acts as pacifier to prevent her brother from getting into conflict with the locals. In contrast, Simon is logical and analytical right out to his fingertips. He does not care for other people’s opinions, but does what he deems to be right. In this sense, he has a tunnel-vision view of the world. Below the surface though, is an insecure young boy who struggles making sense of his feelings and who relies upon his sister as a source of security and stability a lot more than he is willing acknowledge. 

As the novel progresses, both siblings mature. When Ellen becomes more involved in the investigation, she loosens up a bit and becomes bolder, daring to take risks and speak her opinions. She starts to respect her brother and recognise his strengths, rather than seeing his taciturn nature and Asperger traits as liabilities. Simon, finally, starts to open up about his feelings and admit to mistakes. At the end of the novel, their bond is a lot tighter. 

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Read the original blog post here.