Photo (C) Linda B. Engelberth

"I think that literature festivals, such as that at Southbank Centre, can help writers as much as readers."

Hanne Ørstavik, Norwegian writer

Nordic Matters – Focus on Literature - Hanne Ørstavik

Hanne Ørstavik is a Norwegian writer. Born in Tana in Finnmark, she lived in Oslo from the age of 16 before moving to Milan, Italy. Her books include The Blue Room, described by the Guardian as ‘wonderfully creepy’, Pastor and a picture-novel written in collaboration with the French artist, Pierre Duba. She spoke to British Council Norway ahead of her engagement in the Nordic Matters Festival at Southbank, when she will talk about ‘Women Writers of the North.’

"I’m really looking forward to the encounters that I’ll have while in London, not only with readers but also with fellow writers. Who knows what unexpected things might happen. For me, there are endless other attractions: London’s skyline; the secrecy of private gardens; the tamed wilderness of Hyde Park; slices of cake to buy in small packages in Costa; the triangle-shaped sandwiches; the variety of fun food-places to explore; and the pubs. I’m looking forward to participating in Nordic Matters. I think that literature festivals, such as that at Southbank Centre, can help writers as much as readers in the sense that the former can help make things clearer for the latter. 

"One might say that this is especially important for a foreign writer whose novels have been translated. To date, my books have been translated into more than 20 languages, including, English, French, German, Spanish, Italian – as well as Hebrew, Arabian and Chinese. I’m happy and ever grateful that someone wants to dedicate themselves to the task of translating. It’s no small task. At the same time, there is a strange experience of loss that manifests itself within the original writer. Translation means an unique piece of writing is processed through another body, so that it can become readable in a new, sometimes unfamiliar language. While sentiments and aspects of the original text are kept, there are other characteristics that are lost. 

"Of all the British writers who have inspired by work, it’s got to be Virginia Woolf. The novels of Jean Rhys have also had an impact on how I write, especially her novels of the 1930s which include After Leaving Mr. Mackenzie and Good Morning, Midnight. I read very slowly, and only read what I feel will nurture my own creative instinct. But there are, of course, many other Norwegian writers that I would recommend British readers discover. Inger Bråtveit is exceptionally talented and original. It’s important not to forget the classics, too. For instance, Tarjei Vesaas, Henrik Ibsen, Amalie Skram.

"Britain has actually featured as a subject in my own books. In 2011, I wrote a novel set in a small English town on the south coast. It hasn’t been translated into English, but its title can be translated as The Hyenas. Although the town on which it’s based isn’t named in the book, the story features a Royal Pavilion. So perhaps Brighton was the inspiration? I’ve been quite a few times to that city due to family reasons, and it’s always made an impression on me. I love the sea, the shoreline, the horizon and the long lines of white or yellow buildings that sit by the water. "

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