Strange Horizons interview Swedish writer Karin Tidbeck
Over at Strange Horizons, Dustin Monk interviews Swedish writer Karin Tidbeck:
Swedish writer Karin Tidbeck attended Clarion Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers’ Workshop in 2010, and there was much discussion of writing gnomes. A short story collection, Vem är Arvid Pekon? was published in Sweden in September 2010, and another is set to be released later this year from Cheeky Frawg Books; her short story “Jagganath” first published in Weird Tales #358—was featured on Drabblecast in March. It was great to catch up with Ms. Tidbeck; in this interview we discuss the speculative fiction market overseas, LARPing, the dark and dangerous worlds of Tove Jansson, and, of course, those gnomes.
Dustin Monk: Your first published story in English was “Augusta Prima,” in Weird Tales. It concerns the titular character’s curiosity about the nature of her world and time which, as she points out, “can’t be measured properly here.” Sweden has several months of perpetual darkness and several months of perpetual light; did this influence the story at all and how does it affect your own sense of time, if at all?
Karin Tidbeck: I grew up in Stockholm, which is in the south, so no total darkness or light. However, a midwinter day is maybe six or seven hours long, and summer nights are so short that it never gets completely dark. Sunrise and sunset is a slow, very gradual process that can last for hours. I suppose the way this affects my own sense of time is that I’m always a little jet-lagged. Midday isn’t the same time as it was last week; or, suddenly dusk starts at five p.m. and not seven. It can be hell on your sleep cycle. We spend a lot of time in twilight, which is a liminal condition, a no-man’s land. The light has an eerie and melancholy quality. I suppose this has carried over into my writing as well, both in the sense of the eerie and melancholy, but also the sensation of having stepped sideways into another world where the sun has stopped in its course.
DM: You’re working on an English translation of your short story collection, Vem är Arvid Pekon. What do you find to be the most difficult aspect of translating a work, even your own?
KT: The main challenge is that you don’t have the same intuitive grasp of a second language as you do with your first. I’m not talking about skill, but about how words resonate with you. Swedish is the language in which my brain has been programmed; the meaning of words is instinctive and immediate. I can manipulate that language with precision and find the words that feel right. With English, it’s sometimes like writing with gloves on because the language isn’t hard-wired into me. I must be getting better, though, because I started out with mittens.
Dialect and register is another issue. Some of my Swedish stories are a little troublesome because I’ve written them in a specific dialect, for example a story in phonetic working-class Stockholm dialect. On another level, there’s vocabulary or turns of phrase that identify the speaker’s geographical or social origin. Then there’s using sentence structure and punctuation to convey the general feel of the story. All of these need an English analogue. It can only be an approximation, because the two languages come with different cultural baggage and worldview. So what I’m really doing is a re-imagining, not a translation. I’ve ended up with two voices as a writer: a Swedish and an English one. – continue reading.
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