Thanks a lot! It’s always fun when history is noticed. It does not always get noticed. The culture pages are often about, for example, what was on Twitter the other day or something like that. But it can be useful to have a slightly longer perspective sometimes.
To me, Swedish history is a man named Dick. It is very possible that Dick was not his real name, but that was what he was called. Dick was a slave in the Swedish colony of Saint-Barthélemy in the early 1800s. We really only know one thing about him and that is that he tried to escape, or rather – he managed to escape. It says in a notice in the local newspaper. The notice is included in a book called Slave Trade and Slavery Under the Swedish Flag, by Holger Weiss.
There have always been people who resist. When I was writing the War of the Gods, which is a children’s book about slaves in the Viking Age, I did not want to write about slaves that you feel pity for. You could indeed fell pity for the slaves, but I wanted to write about slaves who escape. It’s really one of the few things we truly know about the slaves in the Viking Age – that they escaped sometimes. Among other places, this can be seen in old legal texts.
There have always been people who have accepted to be oppressed. But there have also always been people who refuse. There are those who immediately when they have got the chain around their feet start planning for how they will be able to escape and one day be free. It is those people who have built this country.
As a matter of principle, I have no idols or role models. But there are three people who have meant a lot for my writing:
One is Jan Myrdal. Sometimes people get upset when you mention Jan Myrdal. Maybe not right here, but in other contexts, and then you get the question what you think about what Myrdal has said about different things. It’s not something I reflect on. Jan Myrdal must take responsibility for what he wrote, I only take responsibility for what I write myself. But I stand for the fact that Jan Myrdal has been of great importance. His books were my high school and my university. Above all, the collection volumes Skriftställning 1–19. When he wrote things, whether he was right or wrong, I personally think he was right many times and wrong many times, it was always properly accounted for, so you could form your own opinion. You should investigate the matter and go to the sources. It taught me not to trust authorities, to investigate things myself and not to believe everything people say. And to not believe everything Jan Myrdal says either.
When it comes to language, there is no one who has meant as much as Sven Wernström. Sven Wernström was initially a typographer and the typographers of the time worked hard to proofread and edit the journalists’ texts. This meant that he had a very straightforward, simple, and correct language.
Another author who has influenced me a lot, not least my children’s books, is Maria Sandel, who wrote books in the early 20th century. Especially about working women in the big cities. She wrote about how difficult it was for them, but also about what they did to have a more dignified life in the midst of all the misery. She wrote about people who help their neighbours, who put potted plants in the window – almost all good people in her books have potted plants, they read books instead of drinking and go to union meetings.
So, I have no idols, but if I were to mention any source of inspiration for what I am doing, it is partly the slaves who tried to escape, but also the anti-imperialist movement of the 1970s, which changed Sweden’s foreign policy through grassroot organization. And last but not least, the Swedish organized working class, the labour movement and the other popular movements. I have learned a lot by being a part of it, among other things by having been union active in Kommunal.
The bourgeoisie usually describes the Swedish working class as stupid and undiversified. That is absolutely not true, everyone who has been out in the workplaces knows that. The Swedish working class is much more multifaceted than the editorial writers are, or for that matter than what the cultural writers are. The working class are Sami, Jews, gays, dikes, and transgender people. They are different on the surface but are united by common interests. Everything we have, all rights, including the right to write what we want in the newspapers without the police coming, we have got it because these people have organized and fought together.
I like to write novels sometimes, especially for children. But there are some things that are not as suitable for fiction. The witch trials are one such thing, it really happened but simply seems too unrealistic. The same is true with the heroes of history.
I do not think anyone would have taken me seriously if I had written a novel about two men, two workers in the late 19th century who had a relationship with each other and stood for it and who seem to have been quite accepted by their neighbours and their families. No one would have believed it. But it has really happened, so it was possible to write the documentary book Frans and Lars about them.
Same with the grey coats. It was a religious revival movement in the 1730s on Södermalm in Stockholm. They were people who sat at home and studied and realized that the priests of the state church were wrong. They stood up in the church and told the priests. This has also happened for real and the book The Grey Coats is based on real protocols.
I’m glad if you like my books, but the only thing I’ve tried to do is describe reality as it is, the working people as it is, and history as it is. Thanks!