‘When I come back to Sweden I feel like I can breathe’

Author Catherine Coe can't get enough of children's books – reading, writing or publishing them. She tells The Local how her move to Sweden has provided her with new inspiration for her work.

'When I come back to Sweden I feel like I can breathe'
Catherine Coe sat amongst her published books. Photo: Karsten Seipp

From a young age Coe knew she wanted to work with books. Since the age of five she wanted to be a librarian, playing library with her sister as she had no idea that anyone could ever even become an author.

“I thought they were just like magical beings,” Coe, from Lowestoft, Suffolk, laughs.

“Although I did write when I was younger I had no idea that I actually wanted to be a writer – because I wasn't one of these magical beings.”

“Coming from quite a small town I always wanted to get away to the big city,” Coe explains. Which is why she decided to go to the University of Roehampton in London, as well as because the course she chose had a year's study of children’s literature.

Whilst at her first job in publishing at Hodder and Stoughton, she worked with TV personalities like Craig Revel Horwood on 'Teach Yourself Ballroom Dancing' and Patrick Moore on 'Teach Yourself Astronomy'.

Coe working at her desk at home. Photo: Karsten Seipp

After four years at Hodder and Stoughton a step up arrived.

“I finally got my break at Orchard Books and became the editor of the fiction list there for the ages of five up to young adult, and I've been editing children's books ever since.”

“I know it’s a cliché, but I wake up every day and pinch myself, you know, I get to read children’s books all day!”

In 2011 Coe decided to go freelance, which gave her the flexibility to work from different places. In 2015 when her husband got a job in Belgium, she moved there with him and they both stayed for a year until he was offered a new job at Google in Stockholm.

“I'd never even stepped foot in a Nordic country until the day that we moved to Sweden,” Coe laughs, remembering her 2016 move.

The Brit recalls her first week in Sweden: “There was half a metre of snow in Stockholm and we didn't have any of the right clothes. So we had to venture out in our terrible, non-snowy jackets and converse to try and find something to wear. But it wasn’t a bad thing, it was kind of fun.”


Happy National Day of Sweden! Celebrating with a spot of #picnicking #wine #bbq #sunshine

A post shared by Catherine Coe (@catherinecoeauthor) on Jun 6, 2017 at 2:42pm PDT

“I found moving here more difficult than I thought actually. The society is different, not necessarily in a bad way, but quite different. And because I work for myself and I work from home it’s much harder for me to meet people because I don’t meet people through work, and I pretty much have all my work through the UK.”

“I had this kind of idea that I should be getting on really well and should be happy and I wasn’t because it was taking so long to settle. But then I remember having this eureka moment when I had this revelation that it’s ok not to be ok, and since then it’s definitely got better and is on the up,” she continued.

Coe loves the space in Sweden, the relaxed way of life and the work-life balance.

“Particularly coming from London, and I go back there every 1-2 months and it hits me how busy it is, then when I come back here I feel like I can just breathe again. That really helps with what I do, I have the head space to write.”

Fishing on Långholmen. Photo: Karsten Seipp

The author mostly writes fantasy books for 6-8 year-olds these days, where she says her goal is to transport them to a magical world.

When writing she thinks back to how she felt when she was that age and liked to read, when she “loved being taken away to incredible, different worlds where there was the possibility of anything, you never know what’s going to happen around the corner”.

Living in Sweden has had a positive impact on her writing:

“I have so much more head space to write and I'm able to send myself somewhere picturesque and entirely quiet in order to be able to work on new ideas.”

Last summer she and her husband visited the south of Sweden and stayed in Kalmar, which also left an impression. “There was this amazing pagoda right on the water and the owner let me use it as a writing hut for the entire week when I was working on new ideas for the book I'm writing at the moment.”

“It had this amazing view and even if the weather wasn’t great it was just fantastic to sit in there and come up with ideas – it was like a little retreat.”

Coe writing with a view on holiday in Kalmar in the pagoda. Photo: Karsten Seipp

As well as benefiting from the scenery and openness of the country, Coe has gained new inspiration for her writing.

For example a book the author is currently working on is inspired by the Vasa shipwreck. “When I moved here I didn’t know anything about the Vasa, and in my first year I had a membership card where I think I visited seven or eight times.”

“It's not that I've exhausted every inspiring element of London, but being in a new space makes you look at different things. And if I hadn’t have moved here then I wouldn’t have had that idea and wouldn’t now be in the phases of editing the book ready to send to my agent.”

Coe’s goal with her books is to encourage more children to love reading: “There's so much focus in school on learning to read and not enough on the actual enjoyment of it. I want to help children gain a love for reading and I feel that I'm really lucky to already do that.”

When she does school visits, she thinks it’s important for the children to see that authors are actually real people, not some ‘magical creation’, and to help them realise that they too can become authors if they wish to.

The author sunbathing on Långholmen. Photo: Karsten Seipp

In the upcoming school year Coe will be visiting international schools in Stockholm, where she will conduct interactive sessions with the students.

For grades 1-4 “there’ll be reading, talking about animals and facts about them because lots of my books involve animals, creating poems, playing games and all kinds of stuff, so it’s not just about the reading”.

She also does sessions for the older grades 5-8, where the focus is more about dreaming big and following your dreams and passions:

“I didn’t get the grades I wanted in English at sixth form and I was encouraged by my teacher to reapply for a different course at university, but I still went for it and look at where I am now.”

“The feedback is that it’s really fascinating. I get lots of questions at the end of the session not only from the children but the teachers too,” she laughs.

Coe travelling to Gröna Lund on the Djurgården ferry. Photo: Angela Coe

She would love for one of her books to be translated into Swedish: “That would be the dream.” When asked whether she would ever write a book in Swedish herself, she says: “I'll leave that to the brilliant Swedish writers here.”

Coe has some parting advice for anyone moving to Sweden:

“The most important thing is to give it time and don’t be too hard on yourself if you're not enjoying it from the start. I think that’s the same for when you move to any country but Sweden in particular is a bit of a slow burner.”

“Talk to people, join lots of meet up groups in order to meet people from all different walks of life and make the most of the great things about it – the snow in the winter and the sun in summer,” she concludes.

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My Swedish Career: How I became Swedish Lapland’s first local wedding planner

Lisa Tousignant’s Swedish journey began with her taking a teaching job with IES in Stockholm. This month, she launched Arctic Lapland’s first wedding planning company.

My Swedish Career: How I became Swedish Lapland's first local wedding planner

Tousignant’s new company, Arctic Weddings of Lapland, opened for bookings on July 1st, and she is now focusing on arranging weddings for the coming winter season. You can see some images of weddings Tousignant has done on the company’s Instagram account. 

The idea came to her after colleagues she worked with while employed as the wedding coordinator at Icehotel, in Jukkasjärvi outside Kiruna, told her they often got weddings queries from both abroad and within Sweden.

“The photographers and the florist that I work with said they got calls all the time from people wanting to plan  weddings, but who had no idea where to start,” she said. “There’s no one doing destination wedding planning for Swedish Lapland who actually lives here and this area has so much to offer.”

Icehotel, the big international tourist draw in Jukkasjärvi, hosts dozen of weddings each year and Tousignant is set to continue her relationship with the hotel next year by doing wedding day coordinating. She hopes that Arctic Weddings of Lapland can build on the success that Icehotel has had with their customisable packages by offering different options for adventure within the whole region for winter and summer as well.

“I just had all this support from local people encouraging me to do it, because there’s so many options up here for beautiful weddings and adventure elopements. It’s hard to know where to start and how to navigate all the possibilities.” she says “The overwhelming support made me realise I have been building this idea in my heart for so long and wedding planning is what it is.”


A wedding at the Björkliden Mountain resort near Kiruna. Photo: Rebecca Lundh

She wants to what she calls “adventure weddings”. This week she was visiting the Nutti Sámi Siida offices to discuss collaborations. She plans to work with Fjellborg Arctic Journeys, who arrange dogsled trips and have a beautiful lodge camp that could accommodate large wedding parties. With her connection to Tornedalen, she plans to work with Huuva Hideaway, who specialize in Sami food, culture and history, and is also hoping to collaborate on events at Lapland View Lodge and Art Hotel. “i’m going to work my way down Norrbotten from Kiruna to Luleå connecting with all the venues and suppliers, “ she laughs.

 Tousignant’s journey towards being an Arctic wedding planner began 15 years ago when she left what she describes as “a successful career” doing public relations for CBC Television in Canada. 

“It just felt like life was supposed to be more than going back and forth to a job I didn’t love anymore,” she remembers, “I quit…sold all my stuff and went to Central and South America where I worked in hostels and roamed around for nearly two years getting to know myself in my mid-30’s.”

After her two years of travelling, she applied for teacher training college in Canada, got hired by Internationella Engelska Skolan (IES), and moved to their school in Nacka outside Stockholm. She thens taught at IES, and then at Futura Skolan International, for nearly 6 years, before following her sambo Martin Eriksson to the far-North of Sweden. 

“My sambo and I decided to have kids, “ she explains. “Making this decision really pushed him into wanting to change careers and follow his dream of becoming a shoe maker. We really try to support each other in following our dreams, so he moved up to Övertorneå in August while I stayed to complete my teaching contract.”

She moved up to Övertorneå in December, a week before their daughter was born. 
For her, moving to the far North of Sweden felt like coming home. “I immediately loved the North! People up here are chatty and friendly and very open.”
They lived in Övertorneå for almost three years, while Eriksson built up a successful bespoke boot business. But the Covid-19 pandemic reduced custom, and Eriksson took a job in Malmö shooting videos for the local police. But Malmö did not suit them. 
“After living in such a sleepy town, having two kids in the city was overwhelming and everyone missed the snow, so we took the first job opportunities we could in Norrbotten, my sambo [shooting video]for IRF (The Swedish Institute of Space physics) and me for Icehotel,” she says. 

An image from the website of Arctic Weddings of Lapland. Photo: Arctic Weddings of Lapland.