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Why did I choose Estonia for a novel setting?

I have recently released a novel called ‘Forest Brothers’, based in Estonia and I am asked a lot these days why I chose this setting. Certainly, I have no connection by birth or ancestry to the country. I am from Wales, hardly a neighbouring land. However, I have been married to an Estonian girl for 11 years and my visits to her nation have made me feel an empathy with  her country. I must admit we did not meet in the conventional manner, we started talking on an astrological website! Then we carried on talking. A lot.  The stars tell us we aren’t compatible. Missed that part of the script somewhere. But I do find this is mirrored with my affection for Estonia, I shouldn’t feel I have anything in common either.

My knowledge of Estonia was achieved via default, I’m afraid. I remember Leicester University receiving a delegation of students from the Soviet Union in 1983. ‘The Russians are coming!’ the student newspaper sounded out, then sheepishly beat a retreat as the ‘Russians’ politely informed them, that they were in fact Estonian. In the 1980s, to us everyone in the Soviet Union was Russian. In the same way that to the world at large, the UK is just England by another name. I know how much that annoys me, so I can understand how irritating it must have felt to those students.

I wasn’t totally ignorant to the Baltic nations, even if my school history books had chosen to forget their plight in the war. However, as I explored this country, now so much more accessible by 2001, I began to appreciate something of the culture and found similarities with my own homeland, that I found made me feel at ease in Estonia.

There’s certainly nothing similar in language. The Celtic framework bears no relation to that found in Estonian. The rugged mountains of my homeland are stark contrast to the swathe of forest that reach the shores of the Baltic Sea. The two histories are certainly not similar. However, I think there is something similar in the small nation psyche. Being for so long part of a larger state, overlooked and influenced by a larger neighbour. In Wales, the response has been to focus on what you can claim to be exclusively of your land – your culture, language, music and arts. There appeared to be a similar mindset in Estonia. We like being a small group, we like being different. We are proud of it.

In my fiction writing, I indulge in history that interests me and focus on events and areas that my potential audience are not so aware of. As my links to Wales and Estonia were now quite established, and my creative writing was developing, I sought to find a story that could somehow marry up the two.

Back in 2001, on my first date, in a freezing February Tallinn, I was fascinated by a memorial on the city walls. It was to the Royal Navy for the part they played in Estonia’s war of independence. I was surprised, for I felt despite my personal knowledge of my country’s history being better than average, I had no knowledge of this event. I had found a story I wanted to tell. I read more and found our Navy had not won Estonia’s independence, but had certainly watched their backs whilst the country struggled and won a land war against two invading armies.

The main character to ‘Forest Brothers’ was born that freezing day on a medieval wall by Fat Margaret. In the story, Huw is a young trainee officer in the Royal Navy squadron of 1918 that was based in Tallinn. He runs away with an Estonian girl, but eventually is recaptured.  His life is in ruins by 1944, when he is sent back as a British agent to make contact with a group of Forest Brothers on Estonia’s North coast. The land has changed dramatically and is now is bracing itself as Germany retreats from the onslaught of the Soviet Union.

For Huw’s story, I have made use of the many areas I have visited in the North and West. His journey takes him into contact with some memorable places, where the ghosts of his past reach out to reconnect with him. This was not a hard thing to do. as the land almost wishes to tell you its story as you go. Most of the prose was written in the forest close to Marjamaa, albeit with one leg in plaster courtesy of a torn achilles. My character didn’t have that problem, which was just as well, he had a lot of ground to cover as his mission quickly changes, influenced by the people he meets. The title ‘Forest Brothers’ is descriptive on more than one level.

I have traveled around most of the country and its main islands. All the things that make Estonia different to me have found their way into the novel. Whether it be narrow medieval streets, long sandy beaches with shallow seas, storks nesting on old telegraph poles or the forest bugs who love to bite me. I still get surprised by new discoveries at every visit. Last year, I was given the chance to explore Naissaar. a new adventure to add to the list. In the past I have supped Estonian wine with my black bread and sat on the lakeside at Leigo and let the music weave its magic. In short, Estonia never stops surprising me.

There is a lot more to see and explore and who knows, Estonia may weave another story within my creative mind. I look forward to it

Forest Brothers gets spammed!

And don’t worry, I didn’t click on any of the links. You are not at risk!

Tell me, does this mean I am doing well, that I get this kind of attention?  🙂

This month has seen a sudden rise of spam coming through to both this website and the facebook page. Seriously, why bother? I really would just jump across to the incredible offerings of a total stranger randomly selecting me by some program.

I’m not going to buy your products. I don’t need sun-glasses, it rains here. A lot.

I don’t need an SEO. I’ve got a really great one already – Aqueous SEO. Jon and Jamie sort me out. If I didn’t have them, I’d be going to Jelena at Novista. I’m sorted guys. I’m happy. Quick bit of advertising there, because these two teams deserve it!

And before you ask… I don’t need any of THOSE products either…

The Facebook spam is crafty. A new user asks to join the group, then springs in some marketing post (about sunglasses, in my case. They just don’t get the message…)

A long time back, a really good friend of mine died and I set up a Facebook page as a sort of wake and book of condolence. A lady asked to join and in good faith I accepted Next thing I knew, she had posted a link. Click on this. i did, it was some house music. My buddy was a rock fan. i quickly dropped it, ran the virus checker and told the woman what i thought about her, preying on the mourning.

It has made me wary, so of the last 4 requests to join the Facebook group have been declined, as they are from profiles that have no or one or two posts, have little or no friends and don’t make any sense. One request was from a guy in France who took a name that I found out later was of a philanthropic American Billionaire. But the only post on the site was arranging a small loan at some rate of interest. In billionaire terms, VERY small. (If I have offended a wealthy US philanthropic  billionaire, I do apologise though. They do decent beer in the local pub, I’m buying)

Anyway, it’s frustrating trying to market your work enough. I don’t mean having to do so, it’s refreshing. It is also necessary and if you talk to most authors, it comes with the territory. You also need exposure when you are starting up. Nobody knows of me (by the way, in terms of the Geraint Roberts’ of this world, I didn’t write the book on Welsh castles, am not a German based jazz bass guitarist and was never mauled by a 49 stone pig at my farm…) And I really need to get myself and Forest brothers promoted, so i need all the exposure I can get. just not the stuff that comes wrapped around the brand name for Pork luncheon meat 🙂

Moving on, more Estonian stuff to follow. What do I write next? Who would you put in the title roles of the hypothetical movie? More about Estonia and why it is similar to Wales in my universe. Keep smiling!