Foto: Virginia Bergin
OMKRING BOGEN Regnen
Mention three fun facts that your fans maybe don’t know about you . . .
Three fun facts?
- I am fun. In many ways I’m a very serious, anxious kind of person, but I also really know how to laugh. There’s nothing I like better!
- I love animals. I get angry emails about the treatment of pets in Regnen, but I wept over my keyboard writing that stuff! (My first pet was a guinea-pig, my second a hamster. I CRIED.)
- I’m a frustrated nerd at heart. I might even be a frustrated meta-nerd. I love learning new things – preferably from another human being. I really admire and am fascinated by expertise.
Is that fun enough? I can also tap dance . . .
When did you know that you wanted to become an author?
From childhood, I think . . . it’s just that the way I grew up (relatively poor, quite working class, school pretty bad at that time) meant I had no idea how people became authors. It seemed like another world. It was another world.
How long have you been writing? And what started it?
I’ve been writing since I was a kid, but got serious about it when I was a teen. I think reading must have started it. I didn’t have a happy childhood, but in stories – reading or writing – you can escape. You can ‘be’ anyone, anywhere; you can imagine yourself into a world that’s better than yours – or worse. You can imagine anything!
But I stopped writing when I discovered – at age 16 – that I couldn’t do creative writing at A-Level (the next exam step). I didn’t know of any route other than through education, so I stopped.
Until . . .
Who discovered you? (Did you contact publishing houses? How was the process?)
Ah . . . long story cut short: I stopped writing, then I started again. I wrote poems and short stories and film and TV scripts. I got nowhere.
Then I wrote Regnen, my first YA novel – and sent it to an old friend of an old friend who worked at a publishers. It was a HUGE favour. (I’m not well-connected; I was desperate.) She liked it, the publishers liked it – and they made an offer.
I realised immediately I didn’t know how to handle the situation, so I asked other friends who knew a published writer (Helen Dunmore) if she could advise . . . and Helen recommended Louise Lamont (now at LBA Books). I contacted other agents, but Louise responded – positively! – within 90 minutes. So I chose her as my agent . . . then wondered what I had done when she suggested we should try other publishers too.
I was 48. I’d waited my whole life to get my work published; it seemed crazy to me to risk losing a deal . . . but she seemed confident.
It ended in a nail-biting bidding war. I never dreamed such a thing could happen.
I signed with Macmillan, my UK publishers, because . . . from the very first meeting, it was work. They asked hard questions. We talked. Yes, it was work.
With my background, I am very much aware of how this ‘I know someone who knows someone’ works in the UK. I do not know how it is in Denmark, but in the UK we still have huge class – and race – issues. I cannot stress enough how removed from the publishing world I was, how tenuous – how slight – an opportunity I had . . . but it turned out I did know people who knew people who knew people. Me, I’d say this has to change, or we won’t get real stories.
I think, though, that a good story is a good story is a good story. It will be. And agents and publishers know it – now more than ever before.
Your job – your only job – as a writer is to tell that story.
How many books have you published (so far)? And which genre?
I’m on book number three! (Fast, steep learning curve!)
Regnen and its sequel, Storm, are a duology. My new book, Who Runs the World? stands alone. It was published in the UK on June 1st 2017, and tells a story set sixty years after a virus has killed almost every (chromosomal) man and boy on Planet Earth.
I’d call all my books sci-fi. I suppose I’m old-fashioned like that; to me, anything set in the future is sci-fi, but I know these stories could be called ‘speculative fiction’. I don’t write about spaceships and laser-guns (or at least, not yet), I write about what could happen tomorrow afternoon. I write ‘What if?’ fiction.
Why this story? What made you choose this specific theme?
This is another long story, cut short. I love New Scientist magazine (it’s a goldmine of ideas for writers), and I must have read an article about asteroids colliding with our planet and/or the search for alien life (which is most likely to be microbial, not little green or grey people). I can’t remember . . . partly because Regnen started life as a Hollywood-style film script in 2008!
The deeper, emotional ‘why’ is something else altogether. My unhappy childhood draws me to ‘survival’ themes; my adult self gets so angry about inequity (for millions of people on this planet, unsafe drinking water is a daily reality) – and, in general . . . we humans perhaps can too easily forget what we are: organisms who depend on water.
What inspires you to write? Which authors have inspired you? (Music, art, things in life?)
I think . . . everything and anything inspires writing. It’s just my way of expressing how I think and feel about the world. So I like to read, listen, and look.
Above all, I like walking; it’s the perfect antidote to the desk.
My inspiring authors? I tend to have inspiring books. And TOO many!
If you really, really want to know . . . my all-time ‘contemporary’ love is The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy.
(My greatest influence from childhood would be anything Moomintroll by Tove Jansson. Deep, complex, enchanting, profound.)
And . . . I am constantly in awe of Raymond Carver (microscopic observation and profound emotional shiftings) and Cormac McCarthy – such utterly beautiful writing about such utterly hideous things. (Please note: these are not ‘YA’ books!)
What is the message of your book? How should the reader interpret it?
Regnen is about the Earth. It’s a reminder – in a form that was the most powerful and direct I could think of – of how incredible our small, blue planet is. As said: all life, as we know it, depends on water. Life is strong – and vulnerable. We have so many problems, but if we don’t look after our water . . .
Still, I guess it’s up to you – you’re the reader! – as to what message/s you get from Regnen. If you’re interested in what I discovered in the writing – aside from knowing we have to take care of this planet, our only home . . . it’d be that love in all its forms is a precious thing, as precious as life itself. I also think Regnen – ultimately – says you are ok as you are.
(Actually, by the end of the sequel, Storm, it says you are more than ok . . . and that you don’t know – you do not know! – how important you are, or might become. We are all unique!)
How do you identify with the character(s) in your book?
Uh . . . I think I didn’t identify with Ruby, the main character and narrator in Regnen and Storm, she identified with me!
I haven’t got kids of my own, but some of my friends have teens, and we get on pretty well, but . . . Ruby? I didn’t even know she existed as a character until I sat down to write Regnen – and she just rocked up, opened her mouth, and would not shut up.
I truly have no idea where she came from. It was an experience bordering on the supernatural. I wasn’t like her – not at all! – when I was a teen, but I heard her voice. LOUDLY and CLEARLY.
I think . . . as a writer . . . that’s your job, to listen and feel your way into ALL your characters and their ways of being and seeing. It’s an exercise in empathy.
What are you currently reading?
Fiction: The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
Factual: Delusions of Gender by Cordelia Fine.
Mention 3 book titles that you wish to recommend:
Contemporary-ish, as opposed to all-time classics?
THUG – The Hate You Give – by Angie Thomas.
(I can’t praise this book enough; she took the hardest, harshest reality and told a story that would make the most no-don’t-get-this person understand.)
The Age of Miracles by Karen Walker Thompson.
(Not YA, though told by a tween. An exquisitely-written tale of dread and doom.)
A Beautiful Truth by Colin McAdam.
(Also not YA . . . recommending this book because I think he did an amazing job: inter-species compassion.)
When is your next book going to be published?
I will ask Turbine!