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‘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

My Swedish Career: How labour market training got me a job at Capgemini

Two years after she arrived in Sweden, Shreya Sai, from India, decided to use Sweden's 'labour market training' system to learn to code from scratch. A year later she was working as a developer at Capgemini.

My Swedish Career: How labour market training got me a job at Capgemini

Sai moved to Älmhult, the small town that hosts Ikea’s headquarters, back at the start of 2019, after her husband got a job working for the flatpack furniture giant.

She is a qualified physiotherapist and had spent two years practicing back home in India. But it didn’t take long for her to realise that it would be difficult to work in Sweden in her chosen profession, given the difficulty of getting a license to practice. 

“After coming over here, I saw that there were so many hurdles in medical fields, and it was a very long procedure of almost four years [to convert],” she says. 

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She worked as a substitute teacher, but after almost two years in Sweden, her handler at the Swedish Public Employment Services suggested she retrain. 

“I had a chat with my case officer. And I told her about my problems, the language barrier, and how, in the past, I had studied something related to IT, so that’s why she suggested I go for these certifications.” 

The case officer enrolled Sai on a six-month full stack developer course at Lexicon, an education supplier in nearby Växjö. It was a tough few months, but Sai didn’t lose hope. She completed the course in February 2021, and then started as an intern at a Stockholm startup the next month. 

“It was really tough for me initially, but anyhow, I grabbed some momentum and started understanding coding,” she remembers. “It’s so tough to be a coder, and it is the purest pressure in my whole training time, because I didn’t know anything about coding. All types of coding were alien to me.”  She had last studied computers when she was at upper secondary school.

The Covid-19 pandemic was still ongoing, so both the course and the internship were done through remote learning, but that did not stop her from getting a four-month contact as a web developer with a heating technologies company upon graduation.

Then in February this year, she started a permanent contract at Capgemini, after being hired through their Ignite graduate program. 

Sai believes that the Public Employment Service’s labour market training courses are a good option for newcomers to Sweden, with some 400 courses on offer, mostly provided by private sector suppliers such as Lexicon, Lernia, or AU utbildning. 

 You can see a full list of available courses here. And here is some information on going on a study visit.

“You choose which field you want to belong to, and when you choose, they give you some type of study visits,” she says. “And then you go and explore and receive information, and then your case officer enrolls you if there is a vacancy after a short interview.”

In May, the employment service reported that 20,210 people had undertaken labour market training in 2021, and that there were currently 40,000 people either awaiting a decision or engaged in labour market training. 

The program is expensive, costing Sweden’s government 1.5 billion kronor in 2021, but according to the report, 43.7 percent of those who took courses were working 180 days after their course was completed, and 36.2 percent were working 90 days after the training finished. 

While studying, you still qualify for unemployment benefit from the Swedish Social Insurance Agency.

Sai says that there were people on her coding course from Ireland, Israel, Iran, Sweden and Poland, among other countries, and that only about 20 percent had a direct background in IT, with the rest having had careers in other fields.

She was the only one in the class with absolutely zero experience with computers or coding, however. 

“It was very, very, very hard for me. I was like, ‘I will quit it. I won’t be able to do it.’ But my family supported me a lot. And they said, ‘you have to do it, you can’t back out because you can you don’t have any other option'”.

She lacked the qualifications, she says, to do a less intensive computer programming course at a university, and lacked the qualifications needed for other jobs in Sweden. 

“I used to like studying day and night, and somehow, I managed it. Right now, I will not say that I’m the best or a perfect coder in today’s world, but I’m working towards becoming a good coder.” 

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