Ytre Arna: A Virtual Tour

For a more recent drone’s-eye-view of Ytre Arna, check this short video:


Ytre Arna is the little village nestled into the side of one of the mountains surrounding Bergen, Norway. I’ve been lucky enough to visit there and the stories I visited with friends from the “war years” generation. Their stories inspired my research and writing, set in Ytre Arna. My recent web-touring of the Arna region turned up several images to help readers visualize the community while reading.

Arna is a region divided by a large fjord, with Ytre Arna on the banks further from Bergen. “Ytre” means “outer”. On the near side of the fjord are Indra Arna (Inner  Arna) and  Garnes, two much larger communities. The pictures I found are fairly current. Since the war years, housing and population have expanded, but many of the homes, streets, and shops have been there for a hundred years and more.

In the early part of the twentieth century, just before the war years, Ytre Arna was renowned for it’s weaving factories. For generations they produced highly desirable and high quality fabrics for the country and for the world market. Their location on the fjord offered easy access to the ports at Bergen and the sea beyond.

The most exciting discovery I made during my web-cruise was a YouTube video. (Yes, YouTube has something besides cats and TED talks.) It offers a windshield view through the streets of modern Ytre Arna. Many of the homes, business, and other buildings are ones I saw during visits there. Early in the ride you can see the white church and steeple I had in mind while writing rise into view on the left. Take a few minutes and enjoy the ride:

You may wonder why an occupying German army would bother with such a tiny village, especially one whose principal industry was making fabric.  Its location on the fjord is part of the explanation. In addition, the presence of German encampments, the numbers of soldiers, and their expanse into every Norwegian community assured their complete control of the country and its resources. It sent a clear message that, as Star Trek fans would say, “Resistance is futile”.

Germany claimed not to be invading, but to be occupying for the safety, protection, and defense of kindred spirits. They claimed Norway as a sort of “blood kin”; members of the “Aryan Race” who were destined to one day rule the world. They were even met by some Norwegians who welcomed them.

There’s an eerie similarity between what happened then to Norway (and other countries) and to what is happening now in Crimea. As I watch Russian troops land, expand, encourage local support, and insist they are there as protectors I feel as if I’m viewing my research come to life.

Intersecting Thoughts: Fiction and Inspiration

In earlier posts… I addressed the importance of readers making personal connections, engaging with the characters and emotions in a story.

…a question was asked again recently and I found myself exploring more ways this fictional story mirrors my memories, experiences, and family tales. Here’s what I first wrote:

 FAQ: Did you base Mari’s family on your own?

I’m not Norwegian and wasn’t alive during World War II. In most details, my life and family were quite different from Mari’s. But in the most important ways, it was the same. I’m a middle child of four: three girls and one boy. I grew up in more of a “pack” since we were all just a few years apart from each other. There were long periods when my widowed grandma lived with us, and dinner table conversation was our family routine, too. Most important of all, I never doubted that I was loved, that we all were, and that any hard times were survivable.

Now I’m following my own advice to dig deeper. My mother was a “late life” child with a large age gap separating her from her older siblings. She adored them, but they played more of a parental role in her life. She often told stories of growing up feeling a bit lonely, spending time with her grandma and her dog. This question makes me realize that much of Mari’s situation and her worries echo stories my mother told about her childhood. I was never conscious of that while writing.

When the final cover art by Kathleen Spale was released I was thrilled. The image, the color, the mood it evoked all suited the characters and story perfectly. As I compared Mari’s and Odin’s circumstances and relationships to my mom’s, the cover came to mind. My mom’s childhood was spent in the “hollers” of Appalachia, whose ancient hills and valleys weren’t as mountainous as the cover scene.  But it doesn’t take much imagination for me to see her standing on a ridge overlooking the Ohio River with her dog at her side.

Mom began taking art lessons after she retired. Even with years of work her art was more folk than professional, but she developed a personal style and favored certain subjects. Her paintings often featured colors and tones similar to these, and she frequently included young people in outdoor scenes. One of my sisters reminded me of that when I shared the cover art on Facebook.

Kirby Larson, author of DUKE, reflects on unconscious inspirations in her  “Friend Friday” blog post this week. Hers is a lovely tribute to the influence of one of her favorite authors, Jamie Gilson. (You should read her post, truly). When I reread Lois Lowry’s Number the Stars recently I was  surprised to find I had named Mari’s older sister Lise, the same name as the older sister in that powerful story.

Never underestimate the power of memory and inspiration. I nearly did.