Spotted: Three Questions for Author Ella Frances Sanders

Spotted is an interview series that features all sorts of creative people - in destinations around the globe - who have a fresh perspective and “see” the world uniquely.  

Gezellig. This “funny” word came in handy when I first moved to Amsterdam, a place I called home for nearly seven years. An abstract adjective that can have many meanings depending on the context, it permeates both Dutch conversation and Dutch life. My friends and colleagues always enjoyed bragging about this word to me and other English speakers, explaining how “untranslatable” it was, something unique to their culture. 

It translates roughly to fun, cozy or convivial. Think about sitting around the fireplace in the living room of your oldest friend, drinking mulled wine on a snowy night, with nowhere to be the next day, laughing until you cry. The word may be unique, but the feeling is certainly universal. Still, perhaps the fact that the word exists at all in Dutch culture means that those magical moments occur more often there. Maybe language nudges life just a bit.  

For Christmas, my brother gave me the book Lost in Translation, a beautiful collection of more than 50 illustrated words that don’t have a direct English translation - and it warmed my heart to see gezellig featured. 

So what better way to kick off my new series, Spotted, than to interview the author herself - Ella Frances Sanders - about her book, as well as her favorite spots in her home of Bath and abroad.

A self described "writer out of necessity and an illustrator by accident," she created a blog post back in 2013 while working for Maptia, which went viral and inspired her book -  now a New York Times travel bestseller! I also hear she's working on another one, so stay tuned.

On work

VT: What inspired your interest in foreign words? Do you have a favorite illustration or word from the book?

ES: The book actually happened entirely back-to-front, so although I have always been interested in languages and the ways in which they connect us, it was only after the book deal happened that I realised I needed to be invested in languages for the long haul. It all happened so out of the blue—unplanned, unexpected, that sort of thing.

I have a few illustrations that I am particularly attached to, like ‘Boketto’, ‘Forelsket’ and ‘Cafuné’. And words? I love the German ones, and how they often just unapologetically squash their words together to create brilliance.

On travel

VT: What has been your favorite travel destination and why? What's the must-see spot there?

ES: I haven’t so much travelled to places as I have lived in them. I spent a year living in Morocco and it was definitely a very influential time for me, both personally and creatively (this sounds so awfully cliché but it's true). I lived in a small fishing town called Taghazout, and if you ever happen to find yourself there then I can highly recommend finding the café along the main street called ‘Dar Josephine’, which has both great tagine (a local dish) and amazing tarte au citron. Quite frankly I don’t think I went there often enough.

 Taghazout, Morocco (Photo:

Taghazout, Morocco (Photo:

On home

VT: What's the must-see spot in your hometown?

ES: I grew up in the middle of the English countryside, so I couldn’t really recommend you a ‘must-see spot’ there—the main feature was really just hedgerows. But home for me right now is the city of Bath, in the UK, which is a World Heritage Site famous for it’s Roman history, natural hot springs, and to-die-for 18th-century Georgian architecture. I could insist you went to a whole handful of places here… Bath Abbey, the Roman-built baths, Prior Park, Landsdowne Crescent (I could go on).

 Prior Park, Bath, UK

Prior Park, Bath, UK