Duncan James Lewis founded Nordisk Books in February 2016. The first book (Havoc by Tom Kristensen) to be released on October 6th, with two more books coming in the next six months or so. Norah Myers wanted to find out more.
1) What inspired the creation of Nordisk Books?
This came about due to two things really. The main inspiration was a short passage in the sixth volume of Karl Ove Knausgård’s ‘My Struggle,’ where he explains the beginnings of the publisher he co-founded in Norway (Pelikanen). A friend of his had written a book about his experiences in the Gulf which they were struggling to get published, so they decided to do it themselves, the idea being that with the press up and running, they could then use it to produce Norwegian versions of English, French etc. books that they liked and that did not already exist in Norwegian. This got me to thinking that the same could (should?) be done in the other direction.
The second part of it was just the fact that there seemed to me a nearly unimaginable quantity of Nordic books in translation in the UK, but almost exclusively crime novels. Whilst there is of course nothing wrong with this as a genre per se, there is clearly more to the region’s literary output than that, and I wanted to try and see if some of this other stuff would sell as well!
Both of these sources of inspiration are underpinned by the fact that I lived six years in Denmark and do have a general interest in the region.
2) What is the current market for Nordic books in Britain?
It’s in a very healthy place at the moment. Recent surveys have shown that the market for translated fiction generally has been increasing dramatically (albeit from a low base and largely due to a couple of big ticket authors). The massive success of ‘Nordic Noir’ does seem to be getting people curious about other aspects of Scandinavian literature and I can only hope the recent slew of titles on ‘hygge’ may generate further interest. It’s surprising the variety of drivers there are – for example, when Iceland were having a great run in the European Championships in football this summer, Icelandic literary editors reported a large spike in requests for rights to their titles.
3) How do you hope Nordisk Books can influence a shift in the market for Nordic titles?
That’s maybe too bold and noble a goal for a one-man show! I had a fantastic time living in Denmark and I’ve always loved travelling in that part of the world, especially a way up in the north. If somehow I can, at the risk of sounding terribly hackneyed, give something back by means of introducing new audiences to Nordic literature, that would be great. And if I can get just a few people to realise that there is more to Scandinavian literature than crime novels and HC Andersen, that would be great too.
4) Which genres are you most passionate about? Why?
I suppose I tend towards the Dogme ’95 view on this and would rather eschew genres altogether. The overriding goal of this project is to release fantastic, contemporary, literary fiction, without focusing on any particular genre. Havoc is a bit of an exception to this (originally published in 1930) and came about because I wanted to start with something Scandinavian publishers are familiar with, to make it easier to get my foot in the door for the subsequent books. As it turns out, that has not been necessary, as they are all very keen to have someone (anyone!) promoting their authors abroad. I’m passionate about books that evoke a time or a place or an emotion and that stretch and shake language into forms that we are not used to seeing. Not about a particular genre.
5) What advice do you have for booksellers when selling Nordic books to a UK market?
Part of the reason I enjoyed my time in Denmark so much is that Scandinavia has a fantastic combination (from a British perspective) of being hugely different – topographically (especially the north), politico-culturally (cf the Scottish referendum – “We can be the new Norway”) but also remarkably similar. The sense of humour is generally very much in line with our own, linguistically we share much common ground. So I’d like to see less discourse along the lines of ‘read this book about how you can be more like the Scandinavians because they’re better than us’ and more ‘these are one of our closest neighbours and yet the mountains and forests and designer toilet brush holders seem so incomprehensible, isn’t this something you’d like to try and understand?’
6) What do you most look forward to about this new venture?
I guess it’s seeing whether it actually works. I don’t come from a publishing background at all and am learning about this all the time, so for me it would be an amazing thing to sell out the first print run of Havoc for example (500). Or to get just a few people really excited about an obscure Norwegian author that I love. If after that I can also make some money, it would obviously be nice too, but so far just seeing the first book in print has been a really satisfying feeling. Seeing it on bookshelves in strangers’ homes would be an even better one (I don’t mean I’m going to break into your home and take photographs of your shelves by the way).
Havoc, by Tom Kristensen: released October 6th
, RRP GBP 12.00