'The Missing Barbegazi' A charming Christmas read

We sit down with H.S. Norup, author of The Missing Barbegazi, the lovely white-bearded snow elf. Find out the story of the book and get more insight into what it's like to be an English language writer in Switzerland.

Tell us a bit more about yourself. Who is H.S. Norup?  

My first name is Helle. As it's a name non-Danes usually mispronounce or misspell, I use initials in my author name. I'm married, and I have two teenage sons.
I grew up in a small seaside town in Denmark, spending my spare-time playing golf (my golf-fanatic dad gave me my first club when I was two), being a scout, and reading piles of books from the library. 
I daydreamed a lot and invented stories about magical creatures and flying carpets, but I never wrote anything outside school. The thought that I would one day become a published author would have been absurd to teenage Helle - I didn't think normal people could become authors.
At university, I studied economics and business. Afterwards, I worked for an international Danish pharmaceutical company in project- and line management roles with a heavy focus on communication, which gave me plenty of writing practice. Reading remained, and still is, my absolute favourite pastime, and I read at least a book a week. 
I rediscovered children's fiction when I read the first Harry Potter books and Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials. These wonderful stories sparked my imagination, and over a period of five years I started and abandoned several novels.
After I completed the first draft on a novel in 2010, I began to take my writing seriously. I connected with other writers in Zurich, joined a writer's group, went to workshops and read books on writing.
Revising and rewriting that first manuscript many times, based on everything I learned, constitute my autodidactic writing apprenticeship. In 2015, I put that novel aside and began writing another: The Missing Barbegazi.

What brought you to Switzerland? Tell us a bit more about your story in Switzerland. 

Two years after I graduated from university, I was expatriated to Switzerland and moved to Basel with my boyfriend (now husband), intending to return to Denmark three years later.
That was in 1995. We have lived outside Denmark ever since, and Switzerland became our new home base, the place we moved back to after expatriations (for my husband's companies) to London and Singapore.
The first five years in Basel were easy. I had an exciting job and we didn't have children yet, so we had ample time to travel and explore this marvellous country in hiking boot or on skis.
I worked in a small affiliate where many people didn't speak English, so I was required to speak German and learn to understand Swiss German. That has been more helpful later than I could have ever imagined.
The Swiss (and the Danes for that matter) are not easy to get to know, and, without some proficiency in the local language, it's difficult to make connections outside the expat-bubble.
The second time we moved to Switzerland, we came directly from central London to a village in canton Zurich, and that was much more difficult. We had a toddler and soon also a baby, and I had quit my job before moving to London. I remember it was foggy for ninety days straight.
Despite friendly neighbours and people I met through the kids, I found it hard to adjust to being a stay-at-home mum in Switzerland. So that was definitely a low point.
When my youngest was a year old, I went back to work part-time for my old company and the boys went to a lovely Kinderkrippe. That was great for my sanity and, I think, good for the boys. We hiked and skied in the Alps, escaping the winter fog, and enjoyed the wonderful nature around us. I loved that in kindergarten the children spent every friday in the forest, no matter what the weather was like.
Safety is another aspect of Switzerland that I value highly. Our sons and their little friends roamed the neighbourhood on summer evenings, like we did when we grew up. Four-year-old children still walk to kindergarten on their own—even in Denmark that doesn't happen anymore.
After an expatriation to Singapore, we recently moved to Switzerland for the third time. We loved being in Singapore, but it's nice to be back in the fresh air, surrounded by nature and with the possibility of going skiing every weekend in winter.

What's it like being an English language writer in Switzerland?

Probably easier now than it has ever been. Through the internet, online bookshops, streaming services and podcasts, English language information and entertainment is readily available everywhere.
Social media further enables connections with likeminded writers in other countries. And there are quite large communities of Swiss-based English language writers in both Geneva and Zurich.
I'm part of several local networks and meet regularly with a group of writers in Zurich. Both The Zurich Writer's Workshop and The Woolf  organise annual workshops with well-known authors and publishing professionals. The Woolf furthermore publishes a brilliant quarterly online magazine with focus on literature and the arts.
I'm also a member of SCBWI - Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, a worldwide organisation with more than 20,000 members, and recently transferred from the Singapore group to the Swiss chapter.
Building a wider personal network of children's author friends, promoting my book in bookshops, and scheduling events in schools and at festivals would obviously be easier if I was based in the UK, but in terms of the actual writing, I don't think there are any disadvantages to being based in Switzerland.

Tell us more about The Missing Barbegazi, the book. How did the idea come about? How did you learn about white-bearded snow elves? What other interesting characters did you uncover from Swiss mythology?

My book is an adventure story about an eleven-year-old ski-racing girl who must save one of the last barbegazi from a deceptive elf hunter, all while the health of her grandmother deteriorates.
It's a book about trust, the power of hope and the magical bonds of family.
The book is set in St. Anton am Arlberg in the Austrian Alps where my sons were part of a ski racing team until we moved to Singapore. When I began writing the book, I had never heard of barbegazi. I wanted to tell the story of an eleven-year-old girl, Tessa, who was desperate to win a ski race. A story set entirely in the real world without any magic or mythical creatures.
But I had not written more than one chapter before Tessa met a strange furry creature in the snow. After some research, I discovered that the creature Tessa had encountered was a barbegazi.
So, I didn't find the barbegazi after reading about Swiss mythology. The barbegazi found me!
Like in many other countries, Swiss folklore has its share of dwarves, elves and fairies. The most interesting unique creatures I can think of are: the Böögg, the explosive snowman-bogeyman, which is burned in spring, following the carnival season; and the strange team of Samichlaus, a kind of Swiss Santa who brings clementines and peanuts and chocolate on the 6. of December, and Schmutzli, Samichlaus's evil companion who punishes children if they have not behaved well throughout the year and might carry them off into the woods in his burlap sack. Find out more about Swiss winter customs on this website: MySwitzerland.com.

If you were to describe your book in 5 words, what would those be?

Barbegazi, Snow, Family, Trust, Hope

Any inspiring closing thoughts for our readers, fellow expatriates living in Switzerland?

Most locations in Switzerland can be reached on a day or weekend trip, and there's something for everyone here, from historical sights and world class museums to charming cities and beautiful nature spots.
If you like being outdoors, there's no better place to be than Switzerland. More than 50'000 kilometres of marked walking and hiking routes lead through the glorious scenery.
Summer and Winter, the many resorts in the Alps offer a wide range of activities besides hiking and skiing. So, get out there and explore…
And please let me know if you see a barbegazi.
You can order 'The Missing Barbegazi' here.

H S Norup grew up on a golf course in Denmark and lived in the UK, the US, Austria and Switzerland before moving to Singapore.

Now, she has returned to Switzerland with her husband and two teenage sons. She has a Master's degree in Economics and Business Administration and sixteen years' experience in corporate marketing strategy and communications.

When she's not writing or reading, she spends her time outdoors either skiing, hiking, walking, golfing or taking photos. THE MISSING BARBEGAZI is her debut novel.

Find out more about her on this website: www.hsnorup.com



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