Interview with Sölvi Björn Sigurðsson

The Icelandic 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 frelsi (Love 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 years.

– 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: Maria Molin




 
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