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Mother of Light: A Novel

The Journey of an IR Volunteer from Genealogist to Author

By Elin de Ruyter

Writing a book is no easy feat, and though it appears from the surface to be very much a solo venture, it is far from it. I wrote a book and I have many people and organizations to thank for that, a big one of them being Icelandic Roots! This organization and community of volunteers nurtured my passion for really knowing my ancestors, provided photos and resources, and connected me with Icelandic history experts, enthusiasts and others searching for and writing their own stories.

My initial involvement with Icelandic Roots came through the late George Freeman, an IR volunteer. He helped me track down my three-times great-grandfather, who had left Iceland for North Dakota in the 1870s, but it wasn’t until after my solo trip to Iceland in 2017 that I, too, became a volunteer for Icelandic Roots.

My visit to Iceland in 2017 was a short three-week research trip with the bonus of catching up with family and friends. While there, I purchased some books to help with the research on Icelandic midwives I had been doing for insight into the life of my two-times great-grandmother Guðrún Þorðardóttir. Along with information about midwifery practices, the books I purchased also had information on midwives who had emigrated to America and Canada.

When I returned to Australia, I contacted Icelandic Roots with this information for their database. IR president Sunna Furstenau reached out to me and invited me to become a volunteer. Over time, we created the Midwives database on Icelandic Roots, which features stories, photos and information on both men and women who practiced as midwives in Iceland and North America.

Elin and Sunna at an Icelandic Roots dinner in Hafnarfjordur, Iceland September 2021
Elin and Sunna at an Icelandic Roots dinner in Hafnarfjordur, Iceland September 2021

August 2020 saw me fulfilling a dream of mine to live in Iceland. My husband and I packed up our house in Brisbane, Australia, putting our belongings into storage and pulling the kids out of school to move to the other side of the world. It was a huge but exciting moment in our lives.

These were tumultuous times and we had planned the move for over a year, but then the pandemic hit Australia in March earlier that year and our plans were nearly thwarted. We were determined though, and received a travel exemption from the Australian government.

We made it to Iceland three months later than our original move date in May, and we quickly found accommodation and jobs, enrolled the kids into public school and made our lives there for the next two years. It was the adventure of a lifetime and I knew it was here that I should finally write the story I had longed to write. I had spent the last few years researching, reading and learning what it took to be a midwife in 19th-century Iceland. I knew it was time to stop procrastinating and letting fear hold me back, so I knuckled down and got to writing every day, waking up at 5 am before the kids were awake and sneaking in a couple of hours after work. Eighteen months later, I finished the first draft of Mother of Light.

Mother of Light: A Novel begins in the autumn of 1881 and follows the journey of newly trained midwife Sólveig Pétursdóttir to a remote and isolated district in the far north Westfjörds of Iceland. There she must contend with reaching births in the harsh and unforgiving landscape, hoping to win the trust of a community steeped in poverty and superstition while also fighting the temptations of her heart.

I’d like to think of my story as an ode to Icelandic midwives and to my ancestors in the Westfjords, who lived in Súgandafjörður, where most of the book takes place. Inspired by real people and events, I wanted to tell a story that captured the Icelandic spirit as well as their way of life – their customs, their beliefs and superstitions. I wanted to highlight how courageous these women (and some men) were when they agreed to become midwives for their communities, the challenges they faced, not only delivering babies but also the dangers of the landscape and weather conditions they lived in. Life was far from easy back then and I believe that through knowing their stories, we come to appreciate the sheer strength, humility and resilience it took to survive life and the sheer uncertainty of it all. For me personally, I feel better equipped to face the challenges in my own life, knowing the stories of my ancestors and the harsh truth that they often faced worse and somehow got through it.

This is a ‘slice of life‘ book. Icelanders' lives were very much tied up with seasons, so I wanted Sólveig’s story to follow that too. Mother of Light is both beautiful and heartbreaking – birth and death are a very integral and normal part of life, and the people real and feeling too. Regardless of the constant battle it was for people to survive back then, I wanted to capture the hope, love, faith, and community spirit that Icelanders carried within them.

Mother of Light: A Novel is set for release on the 9th of July 2023. It is available now for pre-order in Ebook format through the website Amazon and the paperback will be available on the 9th of July 2023, also through Amazon worldwide. Mother of Light: A Novel - Kindle edition by de Ruyter, Elin. Literature & Fiction Kindle eBooks @

You can learn more about Mother of Light and subscribe to my newsletter at or follow my writing journey on Instagram at @elinde.writer.


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