Forfatter-interview #122 Sophie Swerts Knudsen

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OMKRING ROMANEN Ulven

Mention three fun facts that your fans maybe don’t know about you

  1. I was born in Belgium, Flanders, in a very small village not too far away from the Dutch border. The first 12 years of my life, I went to the village school where I already, only 11 years old, began to write my first stories. The very first story I ever wrote was about a haughty leaf that fell from a tree. 😊
  2. When I graduated from University, I was offered a job in a bank, but I hated it so much so I resigned after 2 months and applied for a job as a tour guide in the USA. For two years, I travelled throughout the USA with tourists from all over the world. I had the most amazing time with all these different people being on holiday and sharing their experiences with me. Also, I was able to enjoy the most beautiful sights in the USA many times.
  3. I don’t just write books – in 2003, I also invented a board game: Globetrotter. This game was produced by Danspil and sold in Fætter BR and other shops for more than 3 years.

When did you know that you wanted to become an author?

Already when I was 11, I wrote my first stories. They were handwritten on pieces of paper and were usually not longer than 1 page. 😊

How long have you been writing? And what started it?

I began to write for real when I was 32 years old, and pregnant with my first daughter. I absolutely wanted to be able to tell her my own stories before she went to bed, so I wrote a beautiful fairytale about flower elves whose world is about to be destroyed by a huge snail witch who threatens to eat all that’s green on the planet.

It was important for me to finish every chapter with a cliffhanger so my daughter would be eager to know how the story continued and look forward to going to bed the next evening. 😊 I succeeded! 😊

Who discovered you? (Did you contact publishing houses? How was the process?)

I contacted quite a few publishing houses and many turned me down. Because I was an aspiring author with very little experience, my first manuscript was written in a quite amateur type of way and some publishing houses were downright rude in their denial and reasons for why they refused me. It is a tough world! Then, one day, Clavis wrote me and said they loved the story of Lilli and the Flower Elves. They called it a story in the Scandinavian storytelling tradition. That was the start of my authorship.

How many books have you published (so far)? And which genre?

The first book was ‘Lilli and the Flower Elves’ – a fairytale for both boys and girls. The story is about Lilli, a gifted child who is able to enter the world of the flower elves with a stone she receives at her birth. When she grows up, she notices that all flowers gradually disappear and that only green plants and trees seem to survive. She finds out that the flower elves have been captured by an evil snail witch and she will have to travel through a wonderful but also dangerous fairytale world inhabited by horrible trolls to try and save the elves from a cruel death.

The second book is Wolf. Wolf is the story about a young boy with cancer and how he deals with it. Through his escape in the Sioux Indian world and a totem animal (which is a wolf), he manages to fight his disease. Wolf won a prestigious first prize in Flanders, Belgium in 2012 and was published also in Denmark in 2016. All profits go to Børnecancerfonden. Wolf was published in Israel in 2017 with the same purpose. All profits go to a children’s hospital.

Blurb: When Seppe turns ten, he is told he suffers from an aggressive cancer in his knee, and he is urged to the hospital. Linking the disease only to old people and death, Seppe can hardly believe he has cancer, and he sinks ever deeper in a depression. He loses his hair, feels nauseous from chemotherapy, and, worst of all, he has no idea if he will survive. The turning point happens when his parents buy him a book about the North American Sioux Indians, and he seems to find comfort in daydreaming he is a courageous and proud Sioux warrior. Through his vivid imagination, he fights painful exercises, and nauseating chemo, and, most importantly, he manages to find his totem animal, which slowly but surely gives him the strength to fight his disease. Seppe also befriends a nurse with Indian ancestors and a girl who, like him, suffers from cancer. Unlike his family, neither of them pities him, yet treat him like the boy he is, despite the cancer. They push Seppe to his limits and show him what true friendship is. Wolf is a story of courage, friendship and finding strength in places where life is truly difficult.

My third book is called: ‘Ulf og Tordengudens sværd’. Ulf and the Sword of Thor takes you back to the rough, everyday life of the Vikings. Ulf, a young Viking, longs for glory; strong, brave and with his heart in the right place, he outshines all his peers in battle and courage. His strong feelings for family and friendship, and his love for a slave girl lead to a series of events that will reveal the incredible truth about his background, and destiny.

Why this story? What made you choose this specific theme?

All themes have been chosen out of sheer interest in the topics. I have always loved fairytales (still today!) and elves, romance and the supernatural. It was only logical I would one day write a fairytale.

Wolf was inspired by a DR documentary about children in Rigshospital. After I had watched that program, I felt I needed to somehow help and the only way I can help is through telling a story.

Ulf and the Sword of Thor is written based on a 20-year interest in the Viking world. From the very first day I arrived in DK, I felt a genuine, profound interest for the Viking world and their mythology. My story combines the everyday life of the Vikings and their raids and travels, and the supernatural mythology I so very much like.

What inspires you to write? Which authors have inspired you? (Music, art, things in life?)

One of my favorite authors is Karen Blixen, and like her, I love to think of myself as a storyteller, nowhere near as good as her, but perhaps a fraction of her amazing qualities. Karen Blixen’s house, Rungstedlund, is by the way walking distance from my house, and I often go and visit the place. Inside, nothing has changed, and you can still admire the places where she sat, ate, told her stories and organized her famous dinner parties. It is easy for me to close my eyes and to imagine her there. Her spirit still wanders in Rungstedlund! There’s no doubt. When I am there, I always visit her grave in the outskirts of the park under the huge oak tree.  Such a visit recharges my inspiration batteries completely.

Also Frans Bengtsson who wrote the Long ships is an author I admire with heart and soul.

I find my inspiration in everyday life, in my friends and family, in my acquaintances and random people on the street. When I see odd things, I write them down, and I am always open for the world around me, and wonder….But what helps me most with my writing is my infinite imagination. From one moment to another, I can disappear in the past and travel to the Italian Renaissance, to the Viking period, to the Middle Ages…. you name it. And that is a wonderful quality to possess for an author. 😊

Also, my travel experience in the USA, my profound admiration for native Americans, the beauty of Italy and the possibilities I had to immerse myself in their most amazing art when I lived there….all of it helps me to create my books. Every little experience in my life is like a piece of a puzzle that I create when I write. When the book is finished, all the pieces of the puzzle have become a complete picture that makes sense to me. People who know me really well, will be able to recognize me in the picture. 😊

What is the message of your book? How should the reader interpret it?

I write my stories as they appear in my head while I sit at my computer, and I do not ponder about a message on beforehand. I suppose the themes you will always find in my books are ‘courage, justice and true friendship’.

Courage is important for me because you can magnify it so it becomes heroic. This is always good for a male character (like Ulf, my Viking boy). Also Sebastian in Wolf shows a great deal of courage when he imagines himself to be an Indian warrior; and even Lilli, who fights the snail witch, shows immense courage.

Justice is inherent to every good story. I despise injustice and because I cannot fight it alone, I write about it and fight it in my stories. I will deliberately create stories in which injustice takes a prominent role so I can crush it in the end. 😊

And finally, friendship. No theme is more beautiful than friendship, and you will find it in all my books. Again, because I value friendship immensely, it needs to have a place in my stories.

How do you identify with the character(s) in your book?

The themes in my stories are a part of me, and of my imagination. Everything the characters do, say, feel and desire is a part of me playing the creator of things. All characters are therefore somehow a part of my world, of the people around me, and my existence. I do not identify with one particular character, but with all of them. There’s a part of me in every person of my stories.

What are you currently reading?

I am reading everything I can get my hands on about Cesare Borgia, one of Italy’s greatest condottieri, and an immensely fascinating person in the Italian Renaissance period. I have read nearly everything there is to read about him, and three months ago, I began to write about him. 😊

Mention 3 book titles that you wish to recommend

  1. My African farm – Karen Blixen
  2. The Long ships – Frans Bengtsson
  3. Sacajawea – Ann Lee Waldo

When is your next book going to be published?

At the moment, I am in the process of writing two books: I am writing a sequel for Ulf and the Sword of Thor which I hope to finish it soon. And I am busy with my historical biography about Cesare Borgia. This book will, however, take many years to finish.

Since I am not a full-time author (I teach at the University of Copenhagen where I have a full-time job), all my writing needs to be done in my spare time.

I do hope, however, to finish my sequel of Ulf and the Sword of Thor quite soon so it can go through the editing process and hopefully be published real soon! Maybe Christmas 2018? 😊

http://www.sophieswertsknudsen.com/#author

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