Why Odin Drinks by Bjørn Larssen
What led you into writing?
I’ve spent decades (literally) saying things like “pftft, writing a book is very easy, I’d do it myself if only I had time” and even produced a few unfinished first drafts of… uh… things. In 2015, when I was working as a blacksmith, I had an accident – two spine injuries that ended my forging career. Suddenly all I had to do all day was see doctors/chiropractors/physios, take painkillers, and be in pain – except when I was sitting down in a special profiled chair with my laptop.
I had a dream a few years earlier that refused to go away, a skeleton of a story. Since by the end of 2016 I finished reading the entire Internet, I was bored – and I had no more excuses. On January 1, 2017 I started writing the first draft of what would become Storytellers, my debut. I have to admit that without the accident I’d remain an armchair critic instead of an armchair author.
My back is much better now. It looks like this writing thing is addictive, though.
How does a typical day look?
I don’t have one. I am disabled and my energy level is both limited and unpredictable. Sometimes I’ll work for eight hours straight, then regret it the day after, when I’m so tired I can’t even read. The “write every day” advice doesn’t work for me. One of the main reasons I chose to self-publish is that the only deadlines I have are self-imposed. (One of the main reasons I am in therapy is that I should stop self-imposing deadlines.)
In what ways do your characters test your abilities?
I come up with an outline for the plot, write the first (or fifteenth) draft, then the character refuses to cooperate. Children, my second book, has two MCs – Magni and Maya. Magni would sometimes cross his arms on his chest and go “I’m not doing THAT.” He wouldn’t tell me what else he’d do or how to fix the plot hole, though. “You’re the ‘author’ here. Let me know when you’re done and I’ll take another look.”
As for Maya, she took twenty-eight drafts… it is not my advice to other authors to write more than twenty drafts of a book… to reveal why she was claustrophobic (which she was from the very start). It became one of the strongest and most important scenes in the book, and the sequel, Land, will be partly based on that discovery.
What’s your setup?
When we bought our house, there was a walk-in closet that we turned into a fake “wood cabin.” We put wood panels on the walls, I found a really cute tiny desk, bought a chair my back liked. The official Writing Den was ready! I never use that room. Instead I sit on the sofa with a laptop, with a lovely view on our garden.
What lasting effects have your favourite authors had on your writing and style?
I read very wide and I’m a magpie. Michael Cunningham is a master at character development. Marian Keyes can write something deep and dark, but make it feel funny(ish) and light. Julio Cortázar simply writes magic and doesn’t do “limitations.” Sometimes I’ll get stuck on something, pick up a Jane Austen book and suddenly the problem I had with my Norse fantasy project is fixed by something Mrs Bennett says. But maybe the most lasting effect is the realisation that there is so much to create. This might be why I write multi-genre as well. Limits? I don’t know her.
What do you do for inspiration?
Mostly take a shower or try to fall asleep. Sometimes start eating dinner. Maya’s revelation came to me while I was in the shower. I have a notes app on my phone with grey text on black background, so I can write down the 2am ideas without waking my husband up.
I also listen to Taylor Swift a lot, although generally not when I’m trying to fall asleep (in the shower, sometimes). Her lyrics are incredibly visual and she can squeeze enough material for a trilogy into a four-minute song.
What repeating themes do you find yourself pulling into your stories?
Iceland and/or the Norse Gods. Mental illness/neurodivergence. Addiction. And blacksmiths called Gunnar – I mourn the fact that Why Odin Drinks ends before blacksmithing was invented. I’ll make up for that in the sequel.
How do you wind down?
At the end of 2019 we moved out of Amsterdam into a boring suburb. We picked a house with a garden as big as we could afford (in the Netherlands space is a very limited resource). During the lockdown I realised how lucky we were. I tune out the so-called real world and observe Mr and Ms Blackbird, and wondering about the Smol Blackbirds…
…since I wrote this a cat showed up and killed a Smol Blackbird a moment before we managed to save it, alarmed by Mr and Ms being very loud, so the winding down did not work…
…Mr and Ms Tit, Gareth The Cat (who would like it on record that it wasn’t he who attacked Smol Blackbird). Our baby cherry tree. And, at night, because there’s very little light pollution, we’ll sometimes have a bonfire and just watch the stars.
What sort of challenges do you regularly overcome while designing your world/setting?
In my fantasy books, both the dark literary Children and satirical Why Odin Drinks, I play fast and loose with the Norse mythology and lore. Some of the limitations the myths and stories introduce are 1) inconvenient and 2) often contradictory. Where many authors write around that, I just change whatever I want. When I make those changes, though, I have to remember what I’ve done – if I dare to create my own canon, I better stick with it. If my Frigg is barren in Why Odin Drinks, I can’t have her give birth in the sequel to Children three years from now. And since I’ve made those changes, I can’t look them up in the Eddas or other resources.
I’m planning to write a blog post talking about the changes I’ve made to the “old” canon, so that I can cunningly use it later as a reminder for myself.
What are you reading at the moment?
Jasper Fforde’s The Thursday Next Collection, Nora Ephron’s Heartburn, Lawrence H. Heeley’s War Before Civilisation: The Myth of the Peaceful Savage, and Trudie Skies’ The Cruel Gods. That’s surprisingly tame for me, normally I’m more eclectic.
What’s the most useful advice you could give to an aspiring author?
When you’re reading a book you like, pay notice to what you like about it. Marian Keyes can write a funny book about a drug addict who lands in rehab after an overdose, and the more unpleasant a person the heroine turns out to be, the more we like her. How does she do it? Michael Cunningham’s The Hours, my favourite book ever, is his homage to Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway, but where I’ve read The Hours a hundred times, I never managed to get past page 20 of Mrs Dalloway. I keep re-reading The Bell Jar even though I wouldn’t say I like (or enjoy) this book. Why is that? It’s a nice way to learn, too, because it means you get to re-read your favourite books and hush your family telling them you’re working.
If you’re going to self-publish, get an editor and a proofreader. A certain sort of reader will gloss over entire missing pages in a Penguin release and give your book two-stars because there’s one comma missing on page 281.
Tell us about the book you’re promoting.
Why Odin Drinks is a collection of four novellas documenting the Norse Gods’ first steps towards Ragnarök. After all, you can’t destroy the Nine Worlds without creating them (and people) first. It’s a bit as if Terry Pratchett rewrote the first chapters of Neil Gaiman’s Norse Mythology and then the creator of Calvin and Hobbes, Bill Watterson, added the philosophical bits. (He said, modestly.) It started with me wondering why in the actual Norse myth of creation Odin has two brothers, but they never reappear in the mythology. What happened to them? Find out from Why Odin Drinks, out now!
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As a new writer I found myself itching to contribute to a thriving, creative community, so I made Author Interviews and I've met loads of wonderful people in the process. You can buy my debut fantasy RINGLANDER: THE PATH AND THE WAY from Amazon.