Kirsty Logan & Jón Kalman Stefánsson – Vivid Tales From the Wilderness – 18th August 2015.
Both Kirsty Logan and Jón Kalman Stefánsson’s books are linked by setting, and a sense of place. While The Gracekeepers is a standalone novel, and The Heart of Man is the end of a trilogy, they explore similar questions and themes, such as death.
“Why write if you will not ask the main questions?” says Jón Kalman. Writing about trivial things is also important, but in his books he asks the big questions, like where do we come from? When does death begin? What happens?
Kirsty’s first real experience of grief when her father passed away suddenly and she envied those who were brought up with religion and had set steps in how to deal with grief, she didn’t have that. She was out on a boat with her uncle when she saw a floating buoy that looked like a bird cage and began daydreaming. “I wanted some sort of way to know how long to feel this way for,” she explains, turning to death’s place in the book. “You can write a magical, fantastical book that’s uplifting, but can still have fairtytale-esque books and go to dark places.” It’s about exploring the dark and light of life.
“As a writer, I want to explore everything,” picks up Jón Kalman. “I don’t sit down and think I’ll write some serious stuff – I just write. If you write about life, you write about everything.”
Callinish’s character formed through grief, but where did North – the circus child who dances with her bear – come from? “I wish I knew,” says Kirsty. “There’s something mystical about writing. You don’t know where ideas come from. Ideas just come to you.”
“It would turn out to be a boring book,” adds Jón Kalman, on knowing exactly where all inspiration came from. “It’s important to be rather stupid, not knowing where stuff comes from. It’s a wonderful job. You never know if you’re doing a good thing. You hope you are. You get flashes of thinking it’s the best – ‘I’ll get a Nobel Prize for this!’” A few months later you read it again, and it’s in fact crap.
“I think I’m on to something when I don’t want people to read it,” notes Kirsty. If it’s personal or hiding something, revealing something of herself on the pages, then it’s better.
Translation is an interesting topic that comes up, as Jón Kalman is Icelandic and they publish 40% of publications in translation. Germany is at 50% and the UK at 3%, but the USA is 1.5% so at least we’re beating them. “You need to do something about that,” he says. “I think the curse of speaking the Latin of our days is it can cause some arrogance – ‘we’re the language ruler of the world’. You lack curiosity.” Icelandic is a small language so they have to use translations.
This notion of crossing borders leads us to interpretation, to which Kirsty in particular has noticed differences. Damplings are the 99%, and Landlockers the 1% – Callanish’s gloves cover webbed hands and feet, which is seen as horrendous to have a foot in either world, as it were. “In the UK it’s been seen as a metaphor for gender in sexuality,” she explains. “In the US, reviews mentioned race. It’s very much on their minds. Even in a very small way I’ve seen how one book can be received very differently.”
“The best thing [about being a writer] is to write, the worst thing is to write,” Jón Kalman explains. “It’s a wonderful job.”
Kirsty adds, “Normally I wake up and think ‘I cannot believe my actual job is making up stories’. My job is to make up worlds and invite people in.”