The Purposeful Mayonnaise

July 8, 2022: Nadia Henderson Interview

My name is Nadia Henderson. 

Originally from London, UK, I moved to rural Sweden in 2020 to pursue my dream of writing full-time. My debut short story collection, Tools For Surviving A Storm, was published in December 2021 by Dear Damsels. I also write a monthly newsletter, Home Comforts, which explores ideas on home and belonging, and a blog, The Sweden Years, chronicling my experiences as a British immigrant in Sweden. 

My writing mainly focuses on themes of nature, our connection to the natural world, and how it shapes our identities and motivations.

Website:   Instagram: @notsoquietgrrl 

Tell us a bit about yourself...

I’m a thirty-three-year-old writer from London, UK, currently living in the countryside in the Hälsingland region of Sweden. I started writing as a child, coming up with comic books, songs, and eventually writing full novels (of questionable quality, I’m sure) as a teenager. In my twenties, wanting to take my writing more seriously, I attended a women’s writing course called Write Like A Grrrl. The support and friendship I encountered on that course transformed my writing practice and led to me realising I wanted to focus primarily on writing short fiction.

What themes or ideas do you pursue in your work?

Nature is the main theme in the majority of my writing; specifically, how characters are connected to the setting of the story and how their natural surroundings inform their identities. I’m also very interested in fear as an emotion: how does fear motivate, or hold back, a person, and at what cost? I’m quite an anxious, fearful person, and it is a force that I’ve had to push myself to overcome in my life. It’s an emotion I know well, and writing about it does help me in someways to tackle it in myself, too.

You write a monthly newsletter, Home Comforts. Can you tell us a bit about it? Why home and what does ‘home’ mean to you?

I’d wanted to start a newsletter for the longest time, but every time I settled on a theme for it I started to feel like I’d be narrowing the scope and boxing myself in. I wanted to talk about moving to Sweden and my life here, but also the natural world and wider ideas of belonging and identity. I realised that these themes all fit comfortably under the umbrella of ‘home’. I’m also a huge homebody–I love being at home–so the theme emerged quite naturally.

For me, home is a shifting concept. It can be a physical place–a country, city, or building–as well as a person or group of people. It can even be an item of furniture: I feel very at home on my sofa, for instance.

You moved not only from England to Sweden but also from a big city to the countryside. Would you say that this move and learning a new language influenced your writing in any way? If yes, how?

Massively. After the move, I suddenly had so many more life experiences to draw from. The biggest influence has been the change in physical surroundings. Living so close to nature has inspired me to situate characters and stories in new places; I feel more confident writing the natural world, and even countries or cities I’ve never been to.

Learning Swedish (an ongoing process) has humbled me in big, isolating ways–definitely an experience that has helped me add different layers to my characters and understand them better. As a writer, it also feels like a door being held open into a new, exciting world. I recently had a story from my collection translated into Swedish and published in a magazine here. It was incredible to see my words and ideas in the language of my adopted home.

Can you tell us about your process? What does a day look like for you when you’re writing?

I try not to enforce too rigid a process on myself, so that when life–or my creativity level–inevitably changes, I don’t feel too lost and disappointed. I am, however, very fond of routine so when I’m working on a story

 I try to consistently show up at my desk to chip away at it. I start slowly by thinking about the idea I’ve had and the images and emotions it’s stirred up. Then I usually spend some time fleshing out the characters using Nikesh Shukla’s development tips. 

I’m a very slow writer and I edit as I go, so sometimes a typical day can involve writing no more than a paragraph.This has been quite hard to accept but once I reframed what ‘counts’ as writing and productivity, I felt much better about my output.

Can you tell us a bit about your book Tools for Surviving a Storm?

It’s a collection of eleven short stories exploring themes of love, loss, fear, motherhood and connection to the natural world. Each story centres on a female protagonist dealing with some sort of ‘storm’: the death of a loved one, the growing pains of teenagehood, the horror of new motherhood. There are elements of magical realism in many of the stories. I find writing about the natural world–an aspect of the human experience that can feel so otherworldly–lends itself well to a reimagining of what’s real and what’s not.

I wrote Tools For Surviving A Storm during the hottest summer on record (now exceeded in many places by this summer). As someone who cares deeply about climate change and its devastating global effects, I felt I couldn’t write a book-themed around nature without addressing it. I didn’t want the stories to feel moralistic or didactic; instead, I hoped if I could highlight the interconnectedness between nature and humans, I might be able to encourage readers to consider their own relationships with the natural world, and feel motivated to make a difference, too.

Do you actively search for inspiration or wait for inspiration to find you?

I find it very hard to generate ideas, but I do try and practice active observation in my everyday life. Unfortunately, I am that writer who will listen to your personal anecdote and be inspired, although I never draw directly from anyone else’s life. I pick out feelings and images from anecdotes, films, songs. I try to journal regularly to tease ideas out of things I see and experience in nature or through life.

What's the most peculiar thing/situation that sparked your inspiration?

Probably a flower with a pretty name, which was the jumping-off point for the story Foxglove in my collection.

What writer(s) do you admire? 

Some of the writers who’ve informed my style and subject matter are Carmen Maria Machado, Julia Armfield and Nina Mingya Powles. I’m most inspired, however, by my beloved writing group, with whom I’ve been active in some form for nearly ten years. Their consistent desire to learn, write and support each other as we try to carve out our creative lives has provided me with much comfort and reassurance over the years.

What is your dream project? 

I’d love to write something long-form: a novella, maybe, or a themed essay collection. In addition to endless money and time, I’d also need a longer attention span!

Tell us about the future.

I’m in the process right now of coming up with new ideas for a second collection of short stories, with the hope of finding an agent to help me get it published. I’m also very much enjoying writing creative non-fiction at the moment; this is something I want to get better at. Generally, I am still in a period of creative rejuvenation following the intensity of working on Tools For Surviving A Storm last year, so continuing through that period is my main plan at present.

As I continue to find my feet here in Sweden, I’d love to be part of a wider creative community in my area. This area of the country is so rich with folklore, stories and creative resistance, and it feels important to me to soak it all up.

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