What Is Your ‘Darkest Corner of the World’?

Have you ever wondered if your book will ever get published? If there is any point in continuing? Or if all the hard work is going to be worth the long journey around the learning curve?

Urve Tamberg is my guest today and she knows all about that curve. Now I don’t want to say she has made it around the bend because of the possible negative connotations, but she has walked the walk to get her family’s story out. Indeed, it is the story of a whole country, small though Estonia is, that Urve brings to light in The Darkest Corner of the World. I am proud to welcome Urve today for her story, her magnetic personality, and her example to writers everywhere that the goal is worth the work. Please consider leaving comments for both Urve and myself and by all means check out The Darkest Corner of the World.

Elaine Cougler:  Urve, you’re from Toronto, Ontario but your parents immigrated here from Estonia. First of all, where is Estonia and when did they leave? Finally, how does that all tie into The Darkest Corner of the World?

Urve Tamberg:  Winston Churchill said that “history is written by the victors.” For most of the twentieth century, the Soviet Union was the “winner.” They illegally annexed the Baltic countries of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania during the second World War, and for five decades the Iron Curtain limited communication between the West and the Eastern Bloc countries. Letters were censored, and people on both sides of the ocean were afraid to tell their stories. When I was growing up, there were no books about Estonia.

Estonia is bordered by Latvia, Russia, and the Baltic Sea. It’s located in a very strategic corner of the world and for hundreds of years was part of the Hanseatic league for trade and merchants. Due to its location and small size, it’s been a target for occupation. The Germans, the Swedes, and the Russians have ruled the country at various times in its history. In 1939, Estonia was illegally annexed to the Soviet Union as a result of a secret clause in the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. During the war Estonia was occupied by Nazi Germany in 1941, then reoccupied by the Soviet Union in 1944. Estonia regained independence in 1991 after the collapse of the USSR and joined the European Union in 2004.

After Estonia regained independence in 1991, stories slowly started to filter out, but even now there is very little written in English, much less written for a younger audience.

Another reason that Estonia’s stories have not been told is because of its tiny population. There are about 1.5 million Estonians in the world. Much of the literature to date has been written in Estonian, so fluency in the language has been a necessity.

Both of my parents fled Estonia in 1944 when the Soviets returned. They lived in Sweden for a period of time, and then eventually made their way to Canada in the early 1950s where they met.

I heard stories about Estonia both from my parents, and at my weekly night class at Estonian school. As my parents aged, and I connected with relatives in Estonia, I became more interested in the country’s history. I wanted to capture those stories, and share them with my children, and others who may not know about the turbulent, and fascinating history of this small country.  

EC:  I had the feeling when I was reading this book that much of it came from personal experience, not your own but your mother’s or grandmother’s. Or is Madli mostly a fictional character?

UT:  The story is personal, but the characters are fictitious though I’ve tried to portray Estonian characteristics such as dark humour, sarcasm, and sheer stubbornness in the characters.

The setting on Hiiumaa Island takes place on my mother’s farm. When I was growing up, I thought Hiiumaa was a sleepy place where nothing interesting happened, but during the second World War, the front passed through my mother’s farm twice. Once in 1941 when the German Army drove the Soviets out of Estonia, and once in 1944 when the Soviets returned to occupy it.

I read Estonian, and thus was able to read the life histories of people who had survived this terrifying experience. From these sources, I was able to pull out details of everyday life.

EC:  When did you decide to write and how did you start? Short stories, essays, or did you start with this book?

UT:  I started writing a few years ago when I enrolled in a local writing course run by Brian Henry. My first published article was for the Facts and Arguments page in the Globe and Mail, and it was such a thrill to know that people were actually reading my words. I published a couple of short stories in anthologies, and then decided to write a novel which took me over five years to complete, and to get published.

EC:  For other writers, what would you say is the single most helpful advice you received along the road to publication?

UT:  Find your writing tribe. Like any profession, it’s important to connect with your peers. Join associations, whether it’s SCBWI and CANSCAIP for children’s writers, or other groups for mystery writers, or romance writers, or sci-fi writers. Learn the craft of writing. We learn science, piano, and other skills. Good writing is a skill that can be learned through courses, workshops, and reading books about writing.

EC:  Do you have other projects in the works?

UT:  My current work-in-progress is a sequel to The Darkest Corner of the World. It sheds light on another little-known story of World War II. In 1944, thousands of Estonians (along with Latvians, and Lithuanians) tried to escape from their country as the Soviets occupied the Baltics. Hundreds of people did not survive the hazardous journey across the stormy Baltic Sea in the fall of 1944. My mother was amongst those who braved the Baltic Sea in a tiny boat. She left Estonia with only an apple in the pocket of her coat.

The working title is The Curtain Closes. In 1944,  an Estonian girl (Madli) must choose between freedom and her family when the Soviet Army occupies Estonia,  and the Iron Curtain shuts over the Baltics.

EC:  Without giving away your ending, could you tell me if there will be resolution for all of the characters in a sequel?

UT:  Based on the enthusiastic response from readers (both young and old), there seems to be an appetite for these little-known stories, so yes, I am researching a sequel.

EC:  What would you say has been the most important part of this book for you, both as a writer, and also as a person?

UT:  I have been really touched and overwhelmed by the support of the Estonian community. There is such interest for the novel from both the younger and older generations. I`ve been invited to speak at book clubs, and love talking to the women about the background for the novel, and hearing about their thoughts and experiences. But the best thing so far has been hearing about school book reports, and presentations done by Estonian teenagers. They’re so proud of their heritage, and I`m so proud of them for bringing this story to their Canadian classmates. One girl did a presentation to her class, and as part of the presentation she took a suitcase, and filled it with items that Madli would have taken into the forest with her. What a great idea!

This support has really motivated me to start researching a companion or sequel to The Darkest Corner of the World, and I`m looking forward to more adventures with these characters.

EC:  I have found in writing my own stories based on my childhood that the hardest thing is getting my memories out of the way to let a new and more interesting story blossom. Have you experienced this or does the fact that this is your heritage and not your personal story make a difference?

When I set out to write the novel, I had a goal of making it interesting and accessible to all teenagers, and thus, the story came first. I approached the novel more as a psychological thriller, rather than a war novel.

I gave myself permission to use my first novel as a learning experience and spent years learning about the craft of writing. It was very tempting to rush the process, but it took about four or five years from conception to publication, and countless rewrites.

As someone with no background in history, I had to research everything from the dates of major events to bathrooms, shoes, and bathing suit styles. Accuracy was very important because I felt that I had to honour the events and people of Estonia during that time period. My ability to read Estonian gave me access to a richness of work that wouldn’t be available to anyone who didn’t speak the language (needless to say, there aren’t many of us). I spend months reading life histories, and textbooks in both Estonian and English.

Elaine, thanks so much for this opportunity!!

Urve Tamberg

Blurb about The Darkest Corner of the World

Who can you turn to for help, when your only choice is between two evils? 

In 1941, Estonia is under the iron rule of the Soviet Union. Fifteen-year-old Madli is struggling to understand why she can’t raise her country’s flag, why soldiers are waiting at every corner, and why her father was taken away in the middle of the night. Her annual vacation to Hiiumaa Island for the Midsummer celebration is the one thing she has to look forward to.

But in the midst of the celebrations, the Nazis invade the Soviet Union, and are on a path that will take them through Estonia. When Madli hears about a band of forest-dwelling freedom fighters determined to overthrow the Soviets at any cost, she is forced to decide whether she’d rather live under the evil regime she knows, or help another evil regime in hopes her father will be freed and her nation’s story heard.

The Darkest Corner of the World is available at Chapters-Indigo and independent book stores, as well as on-line at Chapters.ca and Amazon.ca.  In the USA, it’s available through Amazon.com.

Websites: www.utamberg.com                      www.thedarkestcorneroftheworld.com

Facebook: Urve Tamberg – Author

Twitter:     @utamberg

Pinterest:  utamberg

29 thoughts on “What Is Your ‘Darkest Corner of the World’?

  1. Urve I am awed by the amazing amount of research and care you have obviously put into this novel. Five years of patience is a lot to devote to any project and I’m sure it comes out on each and every page. One of my questions is what sort of plan is there to sell your book in Estonia? Is your publisher making it available there and in the surrounding countries? I bet children and teens around the world will be fascinated by this little known story. Adults too!


    • What a good question, Jessica. Isn’t finding out about this story just so interesting? I heartily encourage everyone to read Urve’s book. It would make an excellent gift for just about anyone who loves learning about our world.


  2. The Darkest Corner of the World is an enlightening and compelling read. I learned so much about Estonia, but the story was told with a flair for characterization and setting that put me in the story rather than a desk in history class.

    This is a book I was proud to gift to the libraries at three local schools. I’m thrilled, Urve, to know you have a sequel in the works. I didn’t want to leave Madli when I reached the end of the book.

    I will stop by Westlake Academy today to provide them with the link to his post. I think their students will be interested in learning more about Estonian history, and your path to publication, Urve.


  3. Thanks so much, Jessica. Yes – the publisher has world rights, so they are exploring all the options for publication and distribution. In the meantime, I am in the process of sending copies to various Estonian libraries and archives around the world, Estonian schools around the world, and Baltic Studies programs.


  4. Gloria -thanks for the comments. I’m so delighted that you donated these books to your local schools. I hope they enjoy them, and if they are interested in any more information, I’d be happy to Skype with them.


  5. Urve, I’m so glad that this publication carries with it the richness of publication, but also the reward for your readers to learn and appreciate this snapshot of history. More than that, there must be an enormous gratification in understanding your roots and personal family history. There was a wealth of personal family history about my grandparents’ flight from Russia during the revolution-a wealth I didn’t recognize until it was too late, a treasure my grandparent’s took with them to the grave because I’d been too young to bother to ask. I’m thrilled for you to have had that opportunity. How satisfying to know that this emotive and powerful history, so long hidden, will now be revealed.


    • Thanks, Sherry! It would have been fascinating to hear about your family history. There is something satisfying in knowing “your story”, whatever that may be. It’s good to have a sense of permanence and history in this Disney/Kardashian/twitter world.


      • What a sad and poignant comment, Sherry, especially for those of us who have had the experience of wishing we could ask our departed loved one(s) some question or other. I am now so interested in my own history that I wish I could talk to my Dad one more time and ask him a host of questions. Luckily my brothers tell me a lot that I never knew.


    • Thanks, Janet. These days – just so you know how far Estonia has come – it’s a very popular tourist destination, especially on cruises of the Baltic. In the summer, cruise ships are in the harbor almost every day. Plus Skype is an Estonian invention. 🙂

      But back to your questions – what do you enjoy writing? Every genre has an association (or two). Mystery writers, thrillers, romance, children, christian, etc. If you tell me what you write, I may be able to direct you to an association.


      • Wow, Skype is a great invention! I think you have a rich treasure of topics to write about with your Estonian background and knowledge of the language. I’m glad you decided to write about it!

        My writing interests are Christian non-fiction in the areas of self-help and personal growth. I am working on some articles. I am also working on a book about my healing from cancer. I have had a couple poems published, but that was a long time ago. I have written as part of my profession in the government, but I no longer work. I have started writing on Christian topics in the last couple years. Any suggestions you can give me about an association, or how to find one, would be so helpful to me. I have a lot to learn about getting published. I started my blog this year, so I can practice writing, and meet some interesting people online — like meeting you today! Thank you, Urve.


      • Hi, Janet. It’s good that you have a specific target market in mind. That makes things so much easier. I’m afraid that I don’t know much about the Christian market, but from what little I know, I understand that it is a big market. A quick Google search revealed that there is a Writers Market Guide to the Christian market. If your library doesn’t carry a copy, you may want to invest in one. It will give you the names of agents, editors, and publications that would be interested in your work.


        The Market Guide is updated every year, and I’m sure that you’ll be able to find other resources on the Internet – conferences, etc.

        Have you considered submitting to the Chicken Soup books? They are always looking for inspirational.stories. It sounds like you have some interesting stories to tell.

        Best of luck,


  6. Urve, Thanks so much for sharing your experience in writing, as well as your story. From the interview and the excerp, it truly sounds like a remarkable read. I will be ordering it as all types of history is fascinating to me. I admire a writer who keeps charging and doesn’t give up.
    I feel a kinship as my book is also about a family experience during WWl and The Great Depression 1930’s in the Southern U.S. Research plays such a major role in getting the story right, even perfect, and that is what takes so long to get a great book written. A few re-writes, ton’s of research, and editing has taken me eleven years to write my story and now I too am in the hardest part of writing, finding the right publisher. If that happens, I also have a sequal to this one to write.

    I wish you blessings and great success.


    • Patricia, you keep plugging. I hear you loud and clear about looking for the publisher. I am not prepared to spend forever doing that, though. This age of self and e-publishing gives writers options, doesn’t it?


  7. Hi, Patricia, Thanks so much for your encouragement, and your story. Historical fiction is a both a joy and a burden to write about. It’s not just about the story, it’s about getting the feeling and experience right so another generation can appreciate that moment in time. Best of luck, and I look forward to hearing about your novel.


    • Urve, I like your comment about HF being both a joy and a burden. I do, however, appreciate my favorite HF authors so much more now that I, too, have been working on The Loyalist’s Wife for over 5 years. I am really thankful to all the people from whom I’ve learned in that time period and must focus on the generosity of other writers rather than my own failings. That rush through and get it done attitude of mine has had an overhaul. And I’ve learned to make all that learning and rewriting part of my joy. My work is so much better for all the effort. Thanks for your interview answers and your wonderful example, Urve!


  8. Sorry to be late to this party, but even though I watched The Darkest Corner of World progress to the wonderfully, rich story it is today, it’s still a pleasure to read all the behind the scenes detail that brought it to life. Congratulations, Urve. It’s wonderful to see your book so well received.


  9. Elaine and Urve what an excellent interview! Urve congratulations on the publication of The Darkest Corner of the World I look forward to reading your work!


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