Interview: Dorthe Nors, author, Wild Swims

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Tell us about your relationship with nature and writing.

There is a strong link and I believe; it gets stronger as you get older. I grew up in a vast landscape but moved to the big city when I was young. Over the years I have seemed more and more drawn to nature, as if I wanted to come home, or just stop pretending to be “a suitable and fully urbanized individual”. I can see this development in my literature. I like to be in the desert. It’s natural for me. This is how I grew up. It’s in my bones, and it’s in my way of feeling the world.

To what extent is your fiction inspired by your own memories of people, places?

I think all writers store experiences, phrases, situations, dialogues that they encounter in life. But the way this personal material manifests itself in the text is often far removed 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 my life by the North Sea. All of the memories described in it are of course mine, but “preservation”, one might say, comes with the attempt to write a book as good as possible. Don’t ‘spill the beans.

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

Well, the brand “hyggeWhich is used to sell wares, ideas and a specific image of Danish freshness, is only the surface of the construction and social control mechanism that hygge is in real life. Hygge essentially consists of keeping the surface intact and excluding anything that could spoil the hygge. I like hygge “, don’t get me wrong ”, but as a Dane, I also know that there are darker things lurking beneath the surface of the word. In my collection of stories Wild swimming there is a story called Hygge. It’s based on a sentence I read in the newspaper once. A man who murdered his girlfriend was asked why he had done it, and he said, “I don’t know. One minute we were sitting on the couch hygge, and the next minute she was lying dead on the floor. The sentence seemed to reveal how short the road was from that perfect surface – to something very strange. Moreover: what is very strange, is called uhyggelig, in Danish!

Wild Swims, by Dorthe Nors, translated by Misha Hoekstra; 128 pages, 399; Pushkin press

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

After many years in Aarhus and Copenhagen, I returned to Jutland about seven years ago. I did not return to where I came from, however. I moved a little further west and settled on the shore of the North Sea. I like living by the sea. I seem to be addicted to the horizon. To the dreams and desires – and the calm – that you discover there. I live in a small house in a small village. Every day geese fly over my house and the North Sea fronts tumble down, changing the light dramatically. When I’m not here (and there are no restrictions related to Covid-19), I travel a lot and spend a lot of time in big cities. Before Covid, I lived in Amsterdam for a while. This fall, I hope to spend some time in Oslo, Norway, writing and researching. But my roots are in the landscape, in nature.

Given that you already live on a remote island, how has the pandemic affected your writing?

The pandemic has meant the world has closed itself off to me. It was horrible. All of my launches in the world have been reduced to virtual events (which was good, but it’s just not good for literature. It’s too disconnected and I really hope we get back to a reality where writers and readers meet at festivals and “real events” in the future). I feel like I lost the world, during the pandemic, and I miss airports and travel a LOT. But staying at home, working and writing was great, too, actually. I had no problem dealing with daily life during the pandemic. As you mentioned: writing is a lonely job. It was “as usual”.

Who are your favorite Nordic authors?

I grew up reading a lot of Hans Christian Andersen, of course. And I also loved reading Swedish writer Astrid Lindgren. When I grew up I fell in love with the poetry of Tove Ditlevsen. She is incredible. I started studying Nordic literature at Aarhus University at the age of 20 and fell in love with Swedish literature. Read a lot from 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 coast, and what this place means to my life, my memory and what is the connection between identity and a place. This book, titled The North Sea, is coming out in the UK in 2022, and I’m very excited about it and it would be in the spirit of the book itself that I have crossed the North Sea and returned to the world with! Like the Vikings, I am a very grounded person but with a strong international envy. I always throw this book (Wild swimming) in Denmark, but when fall comes (and I hope to be sitting in Oslo writing), I’ll be working on a novel.

Arunima Mazumdar is a freelance writer. She is @sermoninstone on Twitter and @sermonsinstone on Instagram.

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