Sunday 1 November 2015

A Conversation with Katarina Bivald

Katarina Bivald grew up working part-time in a bookshop. Today she lives outside of Stockholm, Sweden, with her sister and as many bookshelves she can get by her. She's currently trying to persuade her sister that having a shelf for winter jackets and shoes is completely unneccessary. There should be enough space for a book shelf or two instead. Limited success so far. Apparantly, her sister is also stubbornly refusing to even discuss using the bath room to store books.

The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend is a book about books. All sorts of books, from Little Women and Harry Potter to Jodi Picoult and Jane Austen, from Stieg Larsson to Joyce Carol Oates to Proust. It’s about the joy and pleasure of getting lost in books, about learning from and possibly even hiding behind them. And one of the questions at its heart is whether or not books are better than real life or real relationships

The Readers of Broken Wheel has touches of 84 Charing Cross Road, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society and Chocolat, but adds an eccentric Swedish originality and intelligence all its own. It is a celebration of books and the bookworm. The descriptions of Broken Wheel are so lifelike that somebody once asked if Bivald had ever visited Iowa: "I just made it all up. In fact, When I wrote the book, I had never even been to the US, let alone Iowa. The only thing I knew about Iowa when I began was that they once had a library cat named Dewey Readmore Books"

Katarina Bivald sometimes claims that she still hasn't decided whether she prefer books or people but, as we all know, people are a non-starter. Even if you do like them, they're better in books. Only possible problem: reading a great book and having no one to recommend it to. But, of course now we have social media so never have to speak to a real live person ever again!

The Readers of Broken Wheel is a beautifully written book and we wish Katarina much fictional good luck with its future and look forward to the patter of tiny text in the not too distant future.

1. Tell us of your journey as a writer

I have always known I wanted to write, and somehow, I have always known that one day, I’d get a book published. It’s been a dream of mine so long that I never doubted it would come true. But then again, I never really worked on it either. Oh, I wrote. I started ideas. Gave up. Got a new one. Wrote for a weekend, or a week, or a few nights. Moved on to another idea. I studied and I worked and somehow I spent the least time and energy on the one dream that really mattered to me. I wonder if that’s not often the case in life? So one day I sat down, and I said to myself: pick any idea you like, it doesn’t have to be a great one, write a book, it definitely doesn’t have to be good. It will never be published. But write from Chapter 1 to The End and finish something.

Since I only wrote for practice, I decided to fill it with everything I like in books. And I like small American towns, quirky characters, unexpected friendships, books and love.

2. How do you see your role as a writer and what do you like most about it?

I want to write books that people put down with a smile after reading it; that makes people feel that life is more strange, fun, quirky and warm-hearted.

Otherwise, I don’t really know anything anymore about what a writer should be or do. I used to have very firm ideas on it. A writer should entertain, take responsibility towards her readers, write only great books but at least one a year, and whatever else, never experiment. Just focus on the readers and do their job. I need hardly say that I feel slightly different about it since becoming a writer myself…

My characters. That’s what I like most about writing. Writing is basically a socially acceptable way of having imaginary friends as a grown up. And if the book gets published, it’s like having imaginary friends that other people can suddenly see and relate to and have as their own friends.

3. Have you ever created a character who you dislike but find yourself empathising with?

Yes. He makes all the wrong decisions for partly the right reasons and suffers as a consequence – I identify with him, I understand him, I suffer with him, but I can’t bring myself to like him. I can’t even give him a happy ending. He just refuses to be happy. Although it’s not entirely his fault, but he refuses the small chances of happiness that he gets. I’m still not sure if I’ll ever be able to write the book. And if I do, I’ll probably have to use a pseudonym.

4. If you could be transported instantly, anywhere in the world, where would you most like to spend your time writing? And why?

At the moment, Chiloquin, in Klamath County, Oregon. But like Sara in my book I don’t have a driving license for cars, so small American towns is somewhat impractical.

5. What is the one book you wish you had written?

Fried Green Tomatoes at Whistle Stop CafĂ©. It’s a wonder of a book. And I would have loved to get to know Idgie. But it’s also such a great book that I’m deeply grateful that I did not write it, but just get to enjoy it.

6. What advice do you have for would be novelists?

Write the same way you like to read. I often like to read for escapist purposes, to go some place else and meet other people, experience other things, make things up – so that was how I wrote The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend. I had never even been to Iowa when I wrote it, but I could sit in my apartment in Sweden, look out on our pine trees and birches and see corn fields. And I could sit at a bar, talking to some acquaintances from work, and hear my characters answer instead. 

7. What are you currently working on? What can we look forward to reading?

My second book has just been published in Sweden – Life, Motorcycles and Other Impossible Projects. It takes place in a small, fictive, Swedish town and features Anette, a single mom who starts taking motorcycle lessons when her only daughter moves away to study in another town. So at the moment, I’m toying with the idea for my third book – looking out over the small pine trees and birches outside my apartment and seeing the trees, mountains and lakes of Oregon. Or possible Idaho. I’m not sure.

You can follow Katarina on Twitter: @katarinabivald

The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend is published by Chatto and Winduspart of Vintage Publishing.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

"I want to write books that people put down with a smile after reading it; that makes people feel that life is more strange, fun, quirky and warm-hearted."

I think Katarina Bivald defintiely achieves this in her book and wonderful to know that that was what she was infused with, in her writing intention from the outset. Thank you for sharing a wonderful interview, I loved the book too.