1. How did you get to write Pomegranates at 4800 Metres?
A campfire storyteller for as long as I remember, encouraged by friends suggesting I write about my various exploits, I toyed with vague thoughts of writing a memoir for years. After my husband died in 2007, I began writing disconnected stories. The idea of Pomegranates at 4800 Metres came to fruition with a high-altitude dream during a visit to Nepal a couple of years later. I woke from that troubled night with a title and outline. Although I wrote for five years, the last two were the most productive, culminating in the book being published in 2018.
2. Why did you write Soul of a Nomad?
As I wrote Pomegranates at 4800 Metres, I realized I had too many stories to squeeze into one book and they didn’t all belong together. I categorized and divided them into two general themes. There is overlap but I achieved a balance I liked. Soul of a Nomad is a chronology – 1954 to 2019 – of stories that led to and represent my passion for travelling and learning about unfamiliar cultures and places. The book explores the concept of being Other and seeking understanding of Otherness. I think of the books as companions, one not requiring the other but each enhanced by the other. The timelines are interwoven, with Soul of a Nomad beginning before and ending after the stories in Pomegranates at 4800 Metres.
3. In what ways is your forthcoming book different from the first two?
In the Footsteps of a Roman Legion – Walking the Via Egnatia, tells the story of just one event – my friend Pat and me walking across the Balkans in 2016 along the route of the Roman road the Via Egnatia. I have also introduced a fictitious character – a Roman legionnaire. While the other two books are intertwined, this one is a standalone. I weave Balkan history, poverty, the Greek economic crisis, the refugee crisis and our adventure into a multi-dimensioned strand.
4. What memorable or formative experience around learning to write springs to mind?
I describe this in Soul of a Nomad: I am eight. My family lives in England. We are on summer vacation, just arrived in Denmark. We headed for Odense to visit Hans Christian Anderson’s house. Seeing the desk where he’d written some of my favourite childhood tales, for the first time I contemplated stories from the point of view of their creation. Looking around the low-ceilinged room, I imagined Andersen taking quill to paper and writing “The Metal Pig” and “The Little Mermaid” from his own imagination. As we walked down chilly cobbled streets, I reflected on my own imaginary world.
5. What writers have been formative in shaping how you write? How?
There are so many. I read one or two books a week and expect each one has had some influence on how I perceive the world and how I write. In no order, a few of my favourite authors and their works are Warshan Shire “Home,” Imtiaz Dharker “How to Cut a Pomegranate,” Ryszard Kapuścinski “Travels with Herodotus,” Sally Armstrong Veiled Threat,” Bruce Kirkby “Blue Sky Kingdom,” General Roméo Dallaire “Shake Hands with the Devil,” Rebecca Solnit “Wanderlust A History of Walking,” Robert MacFarlane “The Old Ways.” This diverse group of authors has shaped my craft by delivering nonfiction with powerful imagery, eliciting emotion, describing other ways of being and doing, and revealing compassion for the people and places they write about.
6. What writing rituals or behavioral patterns do you follow in where, when, or how you write?
When I’m home – and I’ve been home all the time since December 2019 – I devote a solid thirty to fifty hours a week to some aspect of writing: research, drafting, editing, revising, reading. I feel this is the best way for me to focus on developing and practising my craft. I keep a notebook by my bed and if I wake up with an idea, description, narrative, scene, dialogue – I jot the thoughts down. Sometimes I can’t read these midnight jottings the next morning, but they enable me to fall back to sleep. I tend to start first thing in the morning because that is my “sharpest” time of day. I will also write in the middle of the night if I can’t sleep, or late in the day if I’m in the mood. I move my laptop around. Sometimes I write outside, sometimes by the bright window in my dining room, in the winter I tend to write in my office or by the woodstove where it’s cozy and warm. I find my immediate surroundings influence my mood which influences my writing. I usually write directly onto my laptop but sometimes will write longhand. I type faster than I scrawl and have learned to resist the temptation to correct as I go. When travelling, I journal – every day – sometimes in point form, usually with expenditures listed, always untidy, poorly spelled, with atrocious grammar.
7. How do other people contribute to your writing practice?
Although my mother died before I wrote my first book, she championed my dreams of writing since I was a child and set that dream in motion by reading to me. She still has the greatest influence. Sometimes I write for her, she often reads over my shoulder.
8. How is your writing practice informed by a sense of writing to or for others? Do you have an audience in mind when you write?
I focus on writing for, not to readers. I write to entertain, inspire and inform but not to instruct. I would like readers to share my points of view, but respect and accept their freedom to agree or disagree. My desire is to bring readers into the story, so they feel what I feel, hear, see and smell what I do. I want them to be breathless at the top of a mountain, awestruck in a cathedral and shudder when a lion roars. I want readers to laugh, cry, shiver, sweat, hunger and thirst from the comfort of an armchair by a fire, a lawn chair under a tree or, one day soon, from their seat on a plane as they head off on their own journeys. I always answer the question, “Who is your audience?” with, “You are.”
9. What emotions do you associate with writing? Or, differently put, how does writing impact your emotional state?
I wouldn’t write if it didn’t bring me joy. As words arrange themselves in meaningful ways on the page, I relish the pictures I’m painting, the emotions I’m evoking, the ideas I’m distilling. I am awed by the potential power in words. I write. You read. We begin discourse. Through discourse we achieve understanding. We connect. Writing is sometimes difficult. Writing about the horror and sorrow of my husband’s death took me to the edge of the abys. Writing about some of my failures is humbling. As I write about various achievements and adventures, I know many others have accomplished greater feats. But relating stories and sharing insights isn’t about competition, it’s about connection.
Kim Letson is the author of Pomegranates at 4800 Metres and Soul of a Nomad. As the daughter of a Canadian military father, Kim spent her childhood living in various parts of Canada and Europe. She and her husband Mike Simpson also served in the Canadian Forces. Retiring in the Comox Valley on Vancouver Island after twenty-year military careers, they focussed on raising their two sons, Brian and Kyle. Kim and Mike pursued second careers as professional ski patrollers on nearby Mount Washington and for a time owned a sea kayaking company based on the west coast of Vancouver Island. After Mike’s death, seeking solace and following her nomadic spirit, Kim now indulges her passion for off-the-beaten path international travel. When at home, she walks with friends, writes books and enjoys her unconventional garden.