I’m delighted to be on tour hosting Bjørn Larssen in my hot seat today chatting to us about his debut novel, Storytellers.
Bjørn is sharing his inspiration, research and much more. Enjoy!
In March 1920 Icelandic days are
short and cold, but the nights are long. For
most, on those nights, funny, sad, and dramatic stories are told around the
fire. But there is nothing dramatic about Gunnar, a hermit blacksmith who
barely manages to make ends meet. He knows nobody will remember him – they
already don’t. All he wants is peace, the company of his animals, and a steady
supply of his medication. Sometimes he wonders what it would feel like to have
a story of his own. He’s about to find out.
Sigurd – a man with a plan, a broken ankle, and shocking amounts of money – won’t talk about himself, but is happy to tell a story that just might get Gunnar killed. The blacksmith’s other “friends” are just as eager to write him into stories of their own – from Brynhildur who wants to fix Gunnar, then marry him, his doctor who is on the precipice of calling for an intervention, The Conservative Women of Iceland who want to rehabilitate Gunnar’s “heathen ways” – even the wretched elf has plans for the blacksmith.
As his defenses begin to crumble, Gunnar decides that perhaps his life is due for a change – on his own terms. But can he avoid the endings others have in mind for him, and forge his own?
Hi Bjørn, welcome to Jera’s Jamboree.
What was the idea/inspiration Storytellers?
I had a dream about seven years ago. I never remember my dreams, but this one stayed with me for years, demanding that I turn it into a book, until I finally gave up. The story evolved a lot, as it’s taken me over two years and twenty-one drafts before my editor and I declared it finished, but the main elements remained. Three brothers, one woman, a small fishing village, a culture clash, an old story that seems to be over…but isn’t.
If you could have given your characters one piece of advice before the opening pages of the book, what would it be …
You think you have secrets. You don’t.
And if you could choose to be one of your characters Bjørn, who would you be?
I wanted to say “Ragnar, the dog”, but the elf insists that I would want to be the elf. You know what elves are like, there’s no point in arguing. So I guess I would want to be the elf. *frustrated sigh*
Did you do any research? Travel to any places?
When I started writing about Iceland I got in touch with a wonderful historian who works at an open air museum, Árbæjarsafn. My husband and I went to meet her and see the buildings from the period I was writing about (late 19th/early 20th century). This was already fantastic. Then one night our landlady messaged us to ask whether we were enjoying the Northern lights. We were just about to go to sleep. Instead I grabbed Husby and we ran to the best place we could think of, the Sun Voyager, and watched Mother Nature showing off. We returned home after 1am and I said “sorry, can’t go to bed, I must rewrite one scene RIGHT NOW”.
Gunnar’s horse, Karl, takes him to town and back without being told what to do. In fact, Gunnar sometimes falls asleep and wakes up when they arrive. As a part of research we went horse riding in Iceland. Icelandic horses (not ponies!) are an exceptional breed, small, strong, resilient. We were told how to “steer” the horses, but I found out very quickly that mine, a gorgeous mare named Stjarna, had zero interest in what I wanted. She was acting exactly like Karl, going from A to B not only without my help, but with complete disregard towards my demands. I was delighted, and as a side effect I fell in love with Icelandic horses.
Does your story tackle a social barrier Bjørn?
Gunnar, my protagonist, suffers from depression and social anxiety at a time when mental illness is not something that is talked about – there’s no time for feelings anyway with work needing to be done. He believes that he is simply broken, his only coping mechanism being alcohol – during prohibition. All that Gunnar knows is that nobody can ever find out, so he tries his best to be invisible and drown his sorrows. It works… until it no longer does.
What scene did you enjoy writing the most?
Gunnar is a blacksmith – like me in one of my many past lives. I really enjoyed writing about the forge and the work from the point of view of both a blacksmith who loves what he does, and an outsider who has never seen the inside of a forge, but once he had he couldn’t have been less impressed.
If Storytellers was optioned for a movie, which actors would you choose?
I’ve actually made a Pinterest board! https://nl.pinterest.com/bjorn_larssen/storytellers/storytellers-the-cast/
I tend to cast my books, already did it for the WIP – it’s both fun and helps me remember what the character is supposed to look like. You’re welcome, Hollywood. I just wish I could somehow involve Jason Momoa in one of my projects…
Which authors have influenced your writing Bjørn?
My biggest influence is Marian Keyes. She writes about very difficult subjects in a way that makes me laugh. We write in wildly different genres, but this is what I would like to achieve, no matter how dark the subject there should be some humour bubbling underneath.
Do you think movie adaptations do books justice?
Movie adaptations have one massive flaw: once you’ve seen the movie, you can no longer imagine the characters differently, even if the script is fantastic. My least favourite movie adaptation ever is Bridget Jones’s Diary. In the book she obsesses about her weight, but her height, skin colour, hair colour is never mentioned. Once you’ve seen the movie, you’ll end up visualising Renee Zellweger whether you want to or not.
Do you have a favourite adaptation?
The best one is The Hours. It’s both my favourite movie and book of all time. It’s a very short book, so nothing needed to be cut, and the casting was impeccable. It’s one of the rare cases where the characters on the screen were exactly as I wanted them to be while I was reading the book. I re-read and re-watch The Hours at least once per year.
The best part of your writing journey so far?
Reading the reviews!
… and the worst?
Dreading the reviews!
Finally, are there any tips you could share with new writers?
Always either be polite or say nothing. Don’t fight with reviewers. Don’t tell a blogger/reader/anybody else that they “just don’t get it” or worse. Those people gave your book their time and often money as well. It’s not just because of you needing to appear professional (which you do) or because editors, bloggers, reviewers talk to each other (which they do). You have nothing to lose and everything to earn with a simple “thank you” or, if you couldn’t disagree more, saying nothing.
Thank you so much for having me, Shaz! 🙂
It’s been a pleasure to host you Bjørn. Wishing you success with all your writing projects.
Bjørn Larssen was made in Poland. He is mostly located in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, except for his heart which he lost in Iceland. Born in 1977, he self-published his first graphic novel at the age of seven in a limited edition of one. Since then his short stories and essays were published in Rita Baum Art Magazine, Writer Unboxed, Inaczej Magazine), Edurada.pl, Homiki.pl, and Holandia Expat Magazine. He is a member of Alliance of Independent Authors and Writer Unboxed.
Bjørn has a Master of Science degree in mathematics, worked as a graphic designer, a model, and a blacksmith. He used to speak eight languages (currently down to two and a half). His hobbies include sitting by open fires, dressing like an extra from Vikings, installing operating systems, and dreaming about living in a log cabin in the north of Iceland, even though he hates being cold. He has only met an elf once. So far.
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