Interview: Dorthe Nors, Author, Wild Swims

ByArunima Mazumdar
Sep 17, 2021 04:46 PM IST

The Danish author talks about living along the North Sea shoreline, the idea of hygge, how the pandemic closed off the world for her, and about her anthology of 14 short stories that offer crisp everyday glimpses of the Nordic life

Tell us about your relationship with nature and writing.

Author Dorthe Nors (Agnete Schlichtkrull)
Author Dorthe Nors (Agnete Schlichtkrull)

There’s a strong connection and I believe; it gets stronger as I get older. I grew up in a vast landscape but moved to the big city when I was young. Over the years, I seemed more and more drawn back to nature, as if I wanted to return home, or just stop pretending to be “a proper and fully urbanized individual.” I can see that development in my literature. I love being in the wilderness. It’s natural to me. It’s how I grew up. It’s in my bones, and it’s in my way of sensing the world.

How much of your fiction is inspired from your own memories of people, places?

I think all writers store experiences, sentences, situations, dialogues that they come across in life. But the way this personal material manifests itself in the text is quite often a long way from the original ‘real’ personal experiences. All writers donate. But that doesn’t make all writing autobiographical. I recently published a book about my roots and life on the North Sea shoreline. All memories described in there are of course mine, but ‘the curation’, you could say, is done with the attempt to write as good a book as possible. Not to ‘spill the beans.’

Your comments on the Danish word hygge – a word that has been used and reused to promote commodities across the world.

Well, the brand “hygge”, that is used to sell commodities, ideas, and a specific image of Danish coolness, is only the surface of the social construction and control mechanism that hygge is in real life. Hygge is very much about keeping the surface intact and excluding everything that will spoil the hygge. I love “to hygge”, don’t get me wrong’, but as a Dane I also know that there are darker things hiding beneath the surface of the word. In my story collection Wild Swims there’s a story called Hygge. It’s based on a sentence I read in the newspaper once. A man who had murdered his girlfriend was asked why he did it, and he answered: “I don’t know. One minute we were sitting on the couch hygging, and the next minute she lay dead on the floor.” The sentence seemed to reveal how short a route there is from that perfect surface – to something that is very uncanny. By the way: that which is very uncanny, is called uhyggelig, in Danish!

Wild Swims, by Dorthe Nors, translated by Misha Hoekstra; 128pp, ₹399; Pushkin Press
Wild Swims, by Dorthe Nors, translated by Misha Hoekstra; 128pp, ₹399; Pushkin Press

Tell us about where you live – Jutland – cut off from mainland Denmark.

After many years in Aarhus and Copenhagen, I moved back to Jutland about seven years ago. I didn’t move back to the place I came from, though. I moved a bit further west and settled on the North Sea shoreline. I love living by the sea. I seem to be addicted to the horizon. To the dreams and longings – and calm – you find out there. I live in a small house in a little village. Every day the geese fly over my house, and the North Sea fronts come ashore changing the light in dramatic ways. When I’m not here (and there are no Covid-19-restrictions) I travel a lot and I spend a lot of time in big cities. Before Covid I lived in Amsterdam for a while. This fall I hope to live in Oslo, Norway for a while, writing and researching. But my roots are in the landscape, in the wild.

Considering that you already live in a secluded island, how did the pandemic affect your writing?

The pandemic meant that the world closed off to me. That was awful. All my launching in the world was reduced to virtual events (which was okay, but it’s just not good for literature. It’s too disconnected and I truly hope we return to a reality where writers and readers get to meet at festivals and ‘real events’ in the future). I feel like I lost the world, during the pandemic, and I miss airports and travelling A LOT. But staying at home, working and writing, was very nice too, actually. I had no problems with dealing with everyday life during the pandemic. As you mentioned: writing is a solitary job. It was “business as usual”.

Who are your favourite Nordic authors?

I grew up reading a lot of Hans Christian Andersen, of course. And I also loved reading the Swedish writer Astrid Lindgren. When I grew older, I fell in love with the poetry of Tove Ditlevsen. She is amazing. I started studying Nordic Literature at the University of Aarhus when I was 20 and fell in love with Swedish literature. Read a lot of Kerstin Ekman, Per Olov Enquist, August Strindberg and Ingmar Bergman. My thesis was on Swedish literature.

Tell us about your next book

I just published a book about how I moved to the North Sea shoreline, and what that place means to my life, my memory and what the connection between identity and a place is. This book, called North Sea, will be out in the UK in 2022, and I’m very excited about that and it would be in the spirit of the book itself that I made it across the North Sea and back into the world with it! Like the Vikings I am a very rooted person but with a strong international longing. I’m still launching this book (Wild Swims) in Denmark, but when fall comes (and I hopefully sit in Oslo writing), I will be working on a novel.

Arunima Mazumdar is an independent writer. She is @sermoninstone on Twitter and @sermonsinstone on Instagram.

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