Welcome to GatheringBooks, Tone. It really is a pleasure to have you as our featured storyteller for November-December.
Thank you so much! The pleasure is all mine.
In your bio, it says that you were formerly a journalist before you became a fantasy writer. Do share with our readers how the transition from fact-based writing to fantastical narrative was like for you?
For me, it was a return to what I love. As a child, I always looked for ways to add a sparkle of magic to the real world. I made up stories wherever I went: this hill hides a Viking ghost; that neighbor keeps a whole tub full of candy (um sorry, neighbor, for all the hopeful kids ringing your doorbell). I enjoyed all kinds of books, but I preferred fantasy stories. I wanted adventure and secret missions, campfires and wizards. I read fantasy, I chose fantasy for my book reports, and I studied fantasy in university.
I became a journalist because I thought I’d better get a “proper job,” but even then I was happier when I could write little pieces plucked from my own head rather than interviews or reviews. One day it occurred to me that I really ought to follow my heart. So I quit my job, sold my apartment, and began to write.
You wrote your masters thesis on The Lord of the Rings, do tell us a little more about this.
My thesis was called Fate and Freedom of Will in The Lord of the Rings. I examined the forces that influence the unfolding of events in Tolkien’s secondary world. A writer of fantasy can choose the relationship between free will and fate in his world, and so it made sense to examine my findings in the light of Tolkien’s personal view of the world. His metaphysical constructions align with his religion, and yet this is never crass or obvious, never at odds with the world’s own integrity.
Now, I may not share Tolkien’s world view, but his lesson has stayed with me both as a reader and a writer: Fantasy and allegory do not mix. Certainly fantasy should say something about the big and important aspects of life. But one of the reasons Tolkien’s story feels so powerful is that he never wrote it to represent something else. The fantasy world must feel real in its own rights, or the reader won’t want to believe in it.
Your parents were both teachers. Do you have plans of teaching in the university in the future?
As you can imagine, I have the greatest respect for teachers. They do incredibly important work that requires so much skill, education, and dedication. So beyond perhaps giving a guest lecture, I don’t think it’s in the cards for me, at least not yet.
Your home, Norway, is known for its winter festivals and its snow. Would you say that your city, Oslo, was an inspiration for Sylver, the land of eternal winter (you made mention of Trollheim Mountains)?
Oh, not Oslo, but rather Trondheim, which is even farther north. It’s where I lived when I wrote the very first version of Sylver, so the candy colored houses, the snowy parks, and the cobbled streets are all inspired by my favorite part of town there, Bakklandet.
As for the Sylver valley, with its tall mountains and frozen river, it bears a resemblance to Sunndalen, the valley of my grandmother’s farm, where I spent every vacation as a child.
The Twistrose Key is largely a plot-driven story with quite a number of twists and turns. How do you strike a balance between making your characters three-dimensional and at the same time providing a vivid description of your fantasy world?
Well, I don’t think three-dimensional characters and a vividly described world are opposites here, because they both belong in a good fantasy story. For me, writing starts with voice. Character, plot, and world-building: they all spring from the language.
The weaving together of the story elements is the most interesting and challenging part of writing. It’s at once slow and exhilarating, frustrating and satisfying. You must work and work until it flows smoothly, until you’ve worked out the kinks.
I want my stories to have rich language and lyrical qualities, and yet be the kind of tale that can be told sitting around a fire.
What are some of the parallels between Rufus and your gerbil, Gwen? How about you and Lin?
Gwen was a most excellent rodent friend. She was bright and fun and loving. So Rufus’s easy way of talking to other characters, his charm and quick tongue – those are all inspired by her. And Lin is a mix between my sister, Line, and me at eleven. When my sister was that age, we moved to a new town, and she experienced some of the loneliness that Lin has to deal with in The Twistrose Key. But Lin’s more stubborn traits, the ones that prompt her to go off on her own, even if she’s been told to stay put? That’s all me.
In your bio, you shared that it took you seven years to write The Twistrose Key. What are some of the challenges that you faced in writing your debut novel?
In short, I had to teach myself how to write a novel. When I quit my job to become a writer, I had no guarantee that I would be able to finish such a long text. It took me a while to find the right balance between dark and cozy, clear and intricate, hopeful and sad.
And perhaps more importantly: In the course of those seven years, my life changed. I had two children. I lost my father. I discovered my limits. I found my courage. All of these found a way into my story to make it richer. To begin with, I saw Lin’s relationship with her mother through the eyes of a daughter. When I finished, I watched Lin’s heart mend with the gratitude and relief of a mother.
You had several sessions at the Singapore Writers Festival – a writing workshop for kids and another one where you introduced the world of The Twistrose Key. Do tell us how those sessions went. What are some of the highlights from those events?
The workshop was my favorite. After many school visits and events, I already knew I love interacting with young readers, but working with young writers was a new and special treat. We explored some techniques for attracting and nurturing ideas, as well as methods to add texture and depth to a fantasy world.
For instance, I had the students make a list of things that light their minds on fire, which they can use if they’re stuck or otherwise need to remind themselves what they love about stories. I also taught them how to ask (nearly) a thousand questions to bring their worlds into focus. Such as: what does the sky look like? What color is the sun? Or, who travels in this world? How, where, and why?
Any upcoming books in the future that we should know about?
I’m delighted to say that I have just finished the first draft of my next novel. It’s also a fantasy novel for middle readers, and it’s set in the same universe as The Twistrose Key. But it’s not a direct sequel to Lin’s story, so you won’t have to have read The Twistrose Key in order to enjoy it. This one is a little scarier, I think, a little darker. And the main character is quite a rascal. I hope my readers will love it!
Thank you again for your time, dear Tone. And looking forward to reading more of your novels!
Thank you, and thank you so much for having me!