I believe in the liberty to write about anything for any audience young or old. That is something very special, to be able to sit down with the freedom to write exactly the story that is burning inside of you and get it published.
In Scandinavia there are no taboos when it comes to writing, even for children and young people. Books for teens exploring sexuality with explicit language are not censored. Itâ€™s so normal for us. There is nothing I canâ€™t cover as a teen writer and I know my publisher would stand by me no matter what.
Here are a couple of examples to explain what I mean. The book Fittekvote by Axel Hellstenius and Morten SkÃ¥rdal, about young girls in the military, won a literature prize in 2011. It would be called â€œCunt Quotaâ€ if translated into English.
Another book, Tjuven (â€œThe Thiefâ€) by Rune Belsvik, is aimed at children around eight years old. In it, the main character, Jolver, learns how to masturbate from his friend Bob. The friend tells him how itâ€™s good to touch yourself while looking at naked women in a magazine. I canâ€™t quite see this happening in the UKâ€¦ yet.
Traditionally, Scandinavian authors take a childâ€™s world very seriously. Think of Swedish author (and creator of Pippi Longstocking) Astrid Lindgren, one of our most important voices, who never let her young readers down. Some of the things she wrote were pretty dark and serious, and Iâ€™m probably not the only one who cried when reading some of her books. Iâ€™m very grateful to her and those other writers who dared to challenge what people thought books for children and youth ought to be about.
In light of this tradition, it was fairly easy to keep the promise I made to myself when I started to write books; always to respect my young readerâ€™s ability to think for her/himself, not to be afraid and never avoid writing about subjects that could be painful, embarrassing or potentially offensive.
I have a lot of great colleagues with the same mission; the Swedish author Gunnar Ardelius is famed for his honest, brave and brilliant books about love and sexuality. When his book I Need You More Than I Love You and I Love You To Bits was going to be published in France, the publisher wanted to censor parts of it, but Gunnar, of course, said â€œnoâ€. Russia decided against publishing his books, full stop. When I met French kids to talk about my novel Angel Face, the first book about my female action hero Engel Winge, some of the teachers would not let the kids read the book because it was deemed inappropriate – the language is very explicit. A whole class didnâ€™t turn up because the teacher stopped them; nice girls are not supposed to talk and act like Engel Winge. Having said that, my latest novel Minus Me is my sweetest and least provocative work (and the first to be translated into English).
In Scandinavia, and in Norway in particular, itâ€™s possible to make a living as a YA author, even if you arenâ€™t a bestseller. Itâ€™s OK to write a debut novel, fail and still get another chance. My debut book was published in 1998 – it was a decent debut, promising, said the critics. The most inspiring sentence was, as I still recall it: â€œIngelin RÃ¸ssland has written her first novel but it will not be the lastâ€. I took it as a sign that I had potential to grow and improve. So I kept on writing and book by book I reached out to more young readers.
In 2006 and 2007 I started to win awards and my books started to be translated, first into German, then French and now, with Minus Me, in English. To be published in English feels like a miracle, but in reality it is hard work. Having a publisher that believed in me really helped, letting me write the books that I felt I needed to write, not what the market wanted. This has been a huge privilege for me and many other Norwegian writers such as Jostein Gaarder, who wrote the bestseller Sophieâ€™s World, Johan Harstad, who wrote the brilliant sci-fi/horror novel 172 Hours on the Moon and Lene Ask, whose beautiful graphic novel Dear Richard was recently published in English.
Writing for a young audience is considered to be important in Scandinavia and itâ€™s not unusual for bestselling adult authors to write books for children as well, an attitude I would say hasnâ€™t yet been adopted by other regions. Take Jo NesbÃ¸, who is primarily known for his crime novels about Inspector Harry Hole, but who also writes the fun, playful Doctor Proctor childrenâ€™s series.
Unni Lindell, another well-known writer of crime novels, also writes childrenâ€™s books. So does Jon Fosse, whose novels, short stories, poetry, essays and plays have been translated into more than forty languages. As does Simon Stranger, the critically acclaimed adult author, whose award-winning YA series Emilie has been hailed as â€œthe most important young adult novel of our timeâ€. The series follows Norwegian teenager Emilie, who is confronted with the enormous disparities in the worldâ€™s living conditions. The books have been translated into several languages and will hopefully find their way into the English-speaking market as well. Aina Basso writes historical novels for grown-ups and young adults alike. Her book Into The Fire, about a witch-hunt in the north of Norway, is another treat I hope an English audience will be able to enjoy some day.
The liberty to write about anything, no matter how sad, dark and difficult it may be, sometimes gives a depressing result, but when written with dark humour in the mix, even the saddest thing can also make you laugh.
â€¢ Ingelin RÃ¸sslandâ€™s latest book Minus Me is available at the Guardian bookshop.