Agnes & Me

They say ‘Write what you know’ and in Agnes Treading Water I did—to a degree. Don’t let your imagination run away with you now. I’m not Agnes and her story is not mine. We have a few touch points is all. The most obvious—I live just north of Coffs Harbour, the town she visits in Australia.

The view of Coffs Harbour marina from Mutton Bird Island. This is where Agnes spends a bit of her time.

And I too grew up in the town where she lives. Söderköping, which is the correct Swedish for South Hamlet, is an old town and rich in history that dates back to the middle ages. You find reminders of its heritage all through the area.

Here you can see both the town’s stream and the canal that runs along the Ramunder mountain. I went to school in the three storey white building with black roof in the middle of the photo. Our house is about half a km further along the canal, to the right. The long hotel at the bottom left is the inspiration to South Hamlet’s guesthouse in the novel.

We didn’t live in a wonderfully old house like Agnes’s, but a newly built ’70s brick house with a large backyard that stretched to the town’s stream where my parents’ modest sailing boat docked during the summer months. At the front of the house, there was only the road and then a narrow field between us and the canal—Göta Kanal—and along it, the mountain range called Ramunder. 

There are beautiful homes along the canal.

I wanted to either include Sweden in my story or have the entire tale take place there, but that was all I was sure of. We’re going back over three years now. I was sitting out on my favourite rocks watching the breaking waves when the idea of water came to me, the still water of the canal where I grew up vs the relentless ocean. The juxtaposition appealed to me. That’s how it began. I had water. Odd but true.

And once I had water and the canal, I knew the locks had to play a part. To begin with the job of Agnes’s father was to oversee one of the locks, a position she inherited. But I soon realised how automatic it’s all run these days so that went overboard.

This is from a few years ago. My daughters on a summer walk out to my father’s place, where he used to live right at the very last lock.

Once I realised that my protagonist lived in Söderköping, I knew that the old bookshop in town would have to play a small part, one way or another. For a while I thought Agnes owned or worked in the bookshop, but in the end I settled for her buying her books there. If you’ve read the interview with Niina, in my free ebook then you know a little of how important this shop was to my entire family, all through my childhood. The owners of that time are long gone, of course. The new owners are having incredible success in keeping this special place alive and kicking. My father has raved about them, many a times.

Niina was the bookshop manager and Agnes became a teddy bear artist. This too is something I share with Agnes. More about that next time.

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