The Required Reading Series highlights voices from across the world, showcasing their opinions and sharing their inspirations. The literary scene, that wide and slippery beast, is fueled by the energy and enthusiasm of its individual parts, as well as a desire to share knowledge and ideas. Here we’ll explore the world’s front line of emerging, beginning, ambitious, desperate and passionate writers, ask them how they came to be writers, what they are reading and why you should be reading those things too.
Thomas Korsgaard came out with his debut “Hvis der skulle komme et menneske forbi (If someone should come by)” earlier this year and soon became a bestseller in his native Denmark. Written in 54 short scenes, “Hvis der skulle komme et menneske forbi” describes a family in disruption, a dominant father and a depressed mother. The story follows a young boy as he takes his first steps into the teenage years.
Based partly on his own childhood, Korsgaard is sparked debate among his family and friends, and across Denmark, about the value and aim of semi-autobiographical novels and the author’s balancing act between truth and fiction. He is currently working on his second book.
Josh King: Was there a “light-bulb moment” that inspired you to start writing?
Thomas Korsgaard: As long as I can remember I have been writing. I have tried to figure out why I have been doing this, but I actually think I just really enjoy it. I never thought I was going to be someone who was allowed to write real books. But as it occurs no one can give you the permission. When I realized this, I just started writing my first novel. After publishing a short essay in a small literary magazine, I was contacted by an editor who inspired me to continue and actually finish my first book. You could say that the meeting with her was my “light-bulb” moment.
King: What themes do you consider dominant in your work? Is there a reason for this?
Korsgaard: There are some themes that I think I keep going back to. Identity, sexuality, family and the question of whether you can live without one. I think I always felt left out and very different to others, and this has a huge impact on the themes in my book and in my writing in general. Abuse and the fragmented power relations in human relationships is also a theme that I find in a lot of my writing.
King: How much do you feel your writing is affected by setting and where you happened to be? Whether that’s being at home or in a café, or being in your own country or a foreign one?
Korsgaard: I think I can actually write everywhere, the most important part is that it is a chilled atmosphere around me. Sometimes I leave to go to a summerhouse or travel somewhere for a while by myself. Putting myself in that situation where I can focus on my writing fully, as a way of escaping any disruptions from everyday life things. When I am writing, nothing else matters. I also use an old abbey that has been transformed to a writing-refuge, where many writers come to disconnect from the world. The place is called Hald Hovedgård and is near Viborg, Denmark.
In a time where we look for “the real thing,” with reality TV and social media, the fictional book might be one of the real-est things you will find. – Thomas Korsgaard
King: When writing, do you have a Danish audience in mind? Is your audience determined by language spoken? Cultural sensibilities? Or something else entirely?
Korsgaard: I have no one in particular in my mind when I write. Of course I write with the idea that it should be published. It is important to me to be independent, reckless and honest – therefore I only write to myself at the start. Of course the book takes place in Denmark, but I think anyone from any country would understand the setting of a lower-class family farm. I use a lot of slang to portray misunderstandings as well of the lack of communication between the characters. This is all to give the audience a better understanding of the life of Tue (the protagonist).
King: Do you find yourself reading mostly translated works, mostly works in your home-language, or a mixture of both? Is there much opportunity to read foreign works translated into Danish?
Korsgaard: I recently noticed that I read an enormous amount of Norwegian books translated to Danish. Karl Ove Knausgaard, Merethe Lindstrøm, Vigdis Hjort and Per Petterson’s books are among these. I often find it hard to get through the “brick-books” that you often find in American literature. I have no doubt that many of them are very good, and I love the bulky language that you often find here. I would say that it generally is a good mix of Danish and foreign literature, contemporary as well as classic. In my experience there is quite a lot of translated work into Danish to find. All of the big publishers have international editorial staff.
King: “The Great American Novel” is a term used to describe a quintessentially American book, typical of the North American experience at a certain point in history. Which book might be the best candidate for the Great Danish Novel? Which author might be best qualified to write it?
Korsgaard: “Human Beauty” by Merete Pryds Helle was published last year. If I should name any Great Danish Novel, this would be a very good candidate. It is a family saga about the character Marie and her childhood, as she grows up in the mid-twenties. Merete Pryds Helle here captures the life of a typical Danish family in country-side during these years. Merete Pryds Helle just won the very prestigious Booksellers Choice Award for this novel. I think this book will be continuously read and loved for many years.
King: To an outsider, the Danish literary scene can seem homogeneous and contained. And yet Scandinavian literature is gaining popularity in the English-speaking world. As a young writer in the Danish scene, is there a desire to move into the international market among your contemporaries, or do you simply want to increase the body of Danish literature?
Korsgaard: I write and publish mainly in Danish, and with the idea to capture the Danish audience as well as the Danish language. Of course I would love the rest of the world to read my book as well, as the book is everything to me.
Personally, I do not think the Danish literary scene is homogeneous, we have many different writers and styles. The Danish author Dorthe Nors was not very popular in Denmark, but after having some short stories published in Harper’s Magazine and The New Yorker she had a massive international break through. This of course created a greater interest for Danish literature in the eyes of the international audience. And the general idea of increasing the body of Danish literature I think is fantastic.
King: What, in your view, is the role of the writer in today’s turbulent, and often unstable, world?
Korsgaard: It is a fact that it is more difficult than it has been for a book to succeed in the world. In the fast-running world it is hard to capture someone for the time it takes to read a book, I think. However the as the world grows to be more open, it becomes easier to create a public discussion with a book.
In a time where we look for “the real thing,” with reality TV and social media, the fictional book might be one of the real-est things you will find. A book can open up worlds, and we get to hear voices and experiences we might not have otherwise. As a writer and especially as a reader, I think literature still manages to touch us in ways that nothing else can.
King: If you had to recommend one book as required reading for the schoolchildren of the world, what would it be?
Korsgaard: “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” by C.S. Lewis is a book that I remember from my first years in school. The magical universe as well as the very serious world situation of World War II creates a fantastic world for a child. One of the themes, forgiveness, is a very important quality that I think every child should learn.
Thomas’ Required Reading List
- “Out Stealing Horses” by Per Petterson, Norway
- “Baboon” by Naja Marie Aidt, Denmark
- “Days in the History of the Silence” by Merete Lindstrøm, Norway
- “Ming” by Bjørn Rasmussen, Denmark
- “Lettipark” by Judith Hermann, Germany
- “Welcome to America (Velkommen til Amerika)” by Linda Boström Knausgård, Sweden.
- “RUD” by Kamilla Hega Holst, Denmark
Recommended Danish Novel: “Crème Fraiche” by Suzanne Brøgger.
Josh King received his MFA from Adelphi University in New York, and now lives in the UK. His fiction has been published in BlazeVOX magazine and other places, and he divides his time between writing articles, drama and drawing comics.[medium_cross_link url="https://medium.com/@joshuajosephking/the-required-reading-interviews-thomas-korsgaard-40804c2c9c2c"]