When and why did you begin writing?
I have always wanted to write, even as a small child, perhaps because I read a lot as soon as I was able to do so and felt the urge to create stories of my own.
Why did you choose to write in your particular field or genre?
I write both fiction and non-fiction and can’t pin myself down to any particular genre, although much of what I write is set at a particular time in the past, even if it may be not very long ago. There are some genres that I am definitely not interested in, however, such as romance, crime and sci-fi.
What is the biggest thing that people THINK they know about your subject/genre that isn’t so?
Having lived and worked in Sweden for many years, I have written both fact and fiction with a Swedish background (although for fiction I have also used the UK, Paris, where I once stayed for 2-3 months and New Zealand, which I have visited several times). There have been, and still are, many misconceptions about Sweden, ranging from at one extreme, that it is a humourless, utterly boring nanny state lacking all incentive and as a consequence has an alarming suicide rate, to the other, that it is a model egalitarian welfare paradise in perfect harmony with nature and the universe, never having lifted a finger in anger since Viking times.
What is the most important thing that people DON’T know about your subject/genre that they need to know?
When it comes to Sweden, there are a number of things, and I have tried to deal with some of the more surprising ones in a short E-book called What You Should Know About Sweden. To take but a few examples: Sweden has been a colonial power; it last went to war to force an unwanted union on its Nordic neighbor Norway; having declared itself neutral in the two world wars, its behavior was sometimes far from neutral; and it held Olympic Games more than sixty years before what are known as the first Olympics of the modern era (in Paris in 1896).
What are some day jobs you have held?
Although I never wanted to be a schoolteacher, I did do some supply teaching after graduating from the London School of Economics and Political Science, moving from school to school to fill in for a person who was ill or absent for some other reason. In all, I was at twenty-nine schools for periods ranging from a day to a whole term. This included going into some very tough areas in London. At the very first school I went to, the headmaster told me he had only been there a short while but his life had already been threatened twice! The person I was replacing had had a nervous breakdown. I soon understood why.
By chance, I was subsequently given the opportunity to go to Sweden for eight months. Although I returned to the UK at the end of that time, I later went back and was eventually offered a job with Radio Sweden, working at first only on the news, then as a journalist-broadcaster-programme producer/compiler. During that time I was also a contributor to Radio New Zealand’s then ‘Viewpoint’ programme. In addition, I have taught English to adults, worked as a translator, including doing some simultaneous interpretation, editor, and lecturer, primarily on a course, written by myself and intended for company employees who have to write documents in English.
Do you work to an outline or plot sketch, or do you prefer to let a general idea guide your writing?
I like to have a clear idea of what I want to write and often scribble guidelines on paper first as this can be done wherever I happen to be. But things can change a lot during the actual writing.
Can you share with readers a little bit about your latest book?
I have been putting the finishing touches to a book for the older child (and anyone older than that) with the working title of ‘Where Night Is Day’. It is about a family who emigrate to New Zealand in the early 1870s. They are among the first group of Scandinavians recruited to clear an enormous primeval forest in the lower North Island. Although they and their adventures, both during the extremely hazardous voyage and after arrival, are fictitious, the background to the story is rooted in historical fact.
What made you decide to sit down and actually start writing this book?
On one of my visits to New Zealand I spent some weeks researching, collecting and recording material on Scandinavians who had gone there from the time of the earliest European contact onwards, starting with those who sailed with Captain Cook in 1769 on his first voyage to the South Seas. This was for use in a series of radio programmes which I compiled and presented after I got back to Sweden. During my stay, I spent some time at the home of a descendent of one of the original settlers, visited the site of the first Scandinavian settlement and was provided with a lot of unpublished material about the settlers and their lives before and after arrival. In writing ‘Where Night Is Day’ I thought I could put some, albeit imaginary though perfectly plausible, flesh on the historical bones in a story about a young family seeking a better life elsewhere in the world and the great hazards, seemingly insurmountable difficulties and adventures they had to face. Hopefully, it is of relevance in our day as well as to the past.
With regard to the E-book about Sweden, I came to visit family members in California early in March. I was due to stay for three weeks, but am there still because of the pandemic! As flights kept getting cancelled and I realised I wasn’t going to be able to leave for an indefinite time, I took the opportunity not only to work on Where Night Is Day, but to use much of the material and research I had earlier carried out but wasn’t able to use when writing a guide book on Sweden, published in London and New York. Work on both projects was considerably interrupted when we were threatened by one of California’s wildfires and were hurriedly forced to evacuate the area where the family live. Fortunately, it was spared, thanks to the work of the many firefighters from near and far who came to battle the flames, but the fire that threatened us did destroy more than nine hundred homes not very far away.
What is one thing you hate about being a writer?
There is nothing I ‘hate’ about writing. However, there are two considerable difficulties that I have. Firstly, I like meeting and interacting with other people, but have never collaborated with other authors and so writing for me is a solitary occupation. But then except by courtesy of Zoom or Skype, I wouldn’t have been able to meet people this year anyway because of the pandemic. The other difficulty I have is self-discipline. Working in radio there were always deadlines, sometimes more than one in a day. You simply had to get things done in time. Sitting at home in front of a keyboard with no special time to keep, or a delivery date that may be well in the future, is considerably less stressful, but it is also easy to find other things to do – something I’m very good at! Once started, however, I soon get immersed in what I am writing.
How can you discover more about Stanley and his work?