with Sölvi Björn Sigurðsson
writer and translator Sölvi Björn
Sigurðsson has returned to the Baltic Centre for
Writers and Translators several times since his first visit here in 2006. Now he
is writing on his fifth novel, which will be published in Iceland in the fall.
– The best thing about staying here is that you get so
much concentrated time for writing. During my two weeks in Visby I catch up
with much more than I normally would have done back home. Every day here is
like three days at home in Reykjavik, he says.
Sölvi Björn Sigurðsson started to write
early. Already at the age of 16, he was pretty sure that this was what he
wanted to do in his life. He read a lot during his adolescence and has written
poems since he was a child. His first published works are collections of
poetry: Ást og
and Freedom) and Vökunætur Glátúnshundsins
(Sleepless Nights of the Glátún Dog).
– There were a lot of books at home when I was growing
up and my grandfather translated poetry – works by the Swedish writers Gustaf Fröding and Hjalmar Gullberg among others. So
I was quite fearless when I chose a job in this field. I used my university years
to get started with writing, he says and continues:
– When I was 16-17 years old, I had a summer job as a
guard at the National Museum in Reykjavik. There were not as many tourists in
Iceland as there are today and I had plenty of time reading books, so it was a really
good and suitable job for me, he says, smiling.
Sölvi Björn Sigurðsson writes poetry
and novels, and has also published two non-fiction books about Icelandic fish
culture and history. He translates classical poetry from French, German and
English into Icelandic and has made a celebrated translation of Arthur Rimbaud´s
A Season in Hell (Une Saison en Enfer) and Shakespeare´s The Tempest.
His first novel, Radíó Selfoss, was published in 2003, a story
about two friends in Selfoss, a small provincial town
in southern Iceland about 50 kilometers east of Reykjavik, where Sölvi lived until he was 11 years old and the family moved
to the capital. He studied Comparative Literature and French in Montpellier and
Paris. It was here that he began to translate Rimbaud´s A Season in Hell, which he worked with now and then during ten
– The language is so powerful, every sentence matters,
you have to get it right. While translating poetry you need to get very close
to the text and give quite a lot of yourself, he says.
He has also lived in Scotland, where he got a master´s
degree in publishing.
– I have a small publishing house in my kitchen and
have published some poetry collections, including the Rimbaud-translation and
poetry of the Scottish poet Robert Burns, he says.
Parts of his epic poem Gleðileikurinn djöfullegi (The Diabolical Comedy) are translated
into Swedish, Danish and Finnish for some anthologies. It´s a story about a
young man´s quest through Reykjavik´s night life and alludes to The Divine Comedy by Dante, in terms of
structure, poetic form and plot. Another of his books that has been translated is
the novel Síðustu dagar móður minnar (2009), which is
partly written during a previous stay at the Baltic Centre for Writers and
Translators. It has been translated into Danish and English with the title The Last Days of My Mother and deals
with the relationship between a 37 years-old man and his
colorful mother, who travel to Amsterdam together when the mother has got a terminal
cancer diagnosis. A story written with dark humor, where the
joy of life wrestles with the fear of death.
– I try to analyze how people connect to each other. Relationships
are something I return to in all my books, he says.
Ten years ago he got the idea of the book that he is
working on right now, and the characters have developed during this time. The
story circles around a family in Reykjavik and parts of the
story is taking place in Russia. One of the characters returns to
Iceland in the 1960´s to open a pharmacy. The company grows until the financial
crisis strikes and ruins everything, an experience that had a deep and strong
impact on the Icelandic society.
Sölvi Björn Sigurðsson has traveled to
Sweden several times to write and has participated in a course for debutant
writers from the Scandinavian countries in 2004 at Biskops
Arnö Nordens Folkhögskola. He spent two weeks last summer with his
family at the Villa Bergshyddan in Stockholm – a residence
for professional artists living in one of the capitals of Scandinavia. And he gladly
returns to the Baltic Centre for Writers and Translators once a year for a few
weeks of intense writing, with small breaks for walks on the medieval cobbled
streets inside the city walls, along the beach and back through the woods in the
pale sunlight of the early spring. He describes the Baltic Centre in Visby as a
calm and inviting place.
– It´s great to come here, everything is very well
organized. If you want company, there is always someone to talk with. You are
left alone to work quietly, and yet you are not alone.
Text and photo: