Storytellers is not a fantasy story, at least not in the typical sense. But for something to be a fantasy story, there needs to be a layer of the fantastical, and Storytellers has it. When you read Storytellers, you step in the author’s love of Iceland, both of its immense rugged harshness and beauty. I have heard it referred to as fantasy-adjacent, and that is an apt description, for this is undoubtedly a fantastical story that can only be told from an author like Bjørn. You can see his love of the landscape of Iceland gleaming in every word and description.
Those who do not have power over the story that dominates their lives, power to retell it, rethink it, deconstruct it, joke about it, and change it as times change, truly are powerless, because they cannot think new thoughts.– Salman Rushdie, “One Thousand Days in a Balloon”
The story is two-fold: the current and the past. In the current story that takes place in Klettafjörður, the setting takes place in the early 20th century. We have a reclusive smith named Gunnar rescuing an injured stranger, and in exchange for help from Gunnar, the stranger, Sigurd, must “sing for his supper.” He has to tell Gunnar a story, and better make it interesting. In this, Storytellers has the feel of One Thousand and One Nights. As the story progresses we step into it the past, into a small Icelandic village. As the story progresses, we learn that not all is as shiny when you start to dig under these characters’ skin. We know more about why Gunnar is such a reclusive, and that we have unreliable narrators in these characters.
As I mentioned, structure-wise is told between two alternating timelines—both the past and current time. Readers need to pay close attention to this, as I had some difficulty navigating the switching from the narrators initially. As the book progresses, it got more comfortable because the cast of characters had developed their own voices, and everything starts to come together, building a tapestry.
It was at that moment that the realisation struck her, raising goosebumps on her skin: she had been living her adventure without even noticing. She was surrounded by magic, a prize more valuable than any jewel, more astounding than any story she had read before.
One of the best parts of this book and one that I applaud Larssen is how rawly he demonstrates substance abuse and mental illness. Depression, anxiety, alcoholism, imposter syndrome are genuine parts of the human psyche. They deserve to be a part of realistic characters. In Storytellers, you will have these emotions staring at you in the face. It is a mistake to think that this story is a downer. Quite the contrary, this story feels like how I would believe Iceland feels to an outsider looking in, rough, dark, and beautiful. It is full of crags and mountains and personal struggle and eventual triumph. I think that to be an Icelander; you have to be made of sterner stuff. Even the storytelling itself, the language and imagery have a dim quality to it. It is as if Larssen wanted to give you only so much light to see the characters, much like the dimness of the light in winter, where all you can see is by the brief bit of sun and the occasional candle.
You’re broken, the darkness taunted him. You don’t know how to live like normal people. No wonder nobody loves you. When you die nobody will remember you. That will be your legacy, said the darkness, its disembodied voice filled with fake pity.
This is a slow burn of a novel, but the richness of the tapestry that Larssen creates is worth the time and effort it takes to get there. And when I reached the end, I felt like what started out as a somber and slow-burning story evolved into leaving me with a spark of hope shining brilliantly.
It was worth the trip to get to this point and know if you decide to take this journey with Larssen, you will be greatly rewarded.
We already have your official bio, now we want to challenge you to describe yourself in ten words or less…Go!
Bjørn is most probably not ten raccoons in an overcoat.
Who or what are your inspirations when it comes to writing? Is it a particular author or authors, art, history, culture, current events, something else? How have they influenced your work?
Michael Cunningham is a big influence where it comes to character development – The Hours is my favourite book. Marian L Thorpe’s worldbuilding is incredible and I hope to write like this when I grow up. My sense of humour is somewhere between that of Joanna Chmielewska and Terry Pratchett. And, even though I originally set out to write rom-coms, it looks like the Norse Gods decided otherwise. Nordic history, especially Icelandic, seems to be my special interest whether I want it to be or not.
What do you love about self-publishing and on the flipside what drives you nuts about it? What aspects of self-publishing do you excel at and in what ways do you struggle?
I am a control freak and self-publishing means having control over everything. The scary thing about it is that if anything goes wrong, it’s my fault. The ability to mix genres is both great and not so much – every time I see a review of my book starting with ‘I’ve never read anything like this before’ I get another confirmation that I would never get a trad contract. At the same time, it would be handy to be able to tell people which Waterstones shelf my book belongs on using a few words instead of a few paragraphs. See? My own fault.
I really struggle with self-promotion, but I think that’s not exactly unusual among writers, self-published or not.
What does your daily writing process look like? What do you do to get in the writing zone? How many hours do you write or do you go for a word count? Tell us everything!
I’m disabled and my illness flares randomly, so there’s no daily writing process for me. Sometimes it’s two hours, sometimes ten (and then a week of recovering, because I’m not supposed to do that). I produced the first draft of Storytellers in two weeks, then took 26 months to declare the book finished. I’m consistent in my inconsistency. I overdo things when the characters finally start cooperating after weeks of crossing their arms on their chests and saying ‘I’d never do that. What would I do instead? You’re the writer, you figure it out.’.
What do you think makes a good story?
Interesting, three-dimensional characters that make mistakes. The most fascinating plot isn’t enough if I don’t care about the characters. George R.R. Martin taught me that it’s possible to write characters that are neither inherently good or bad, or villains I want to succeed.
When did you first learn that language had power?
I went to a course that was billed as ‘time management skills’ and turned out to be more of life management. One of the things the instructor said was that if there is something wrong going with my life, I can choose to make my self talk negative, positive, or at least neutral. It won’t actually change the situation (this isn’t about manifesting and The Secret), but it will change how I feel about myself. I would miss my tram to work and think ‘well there you go, too lazy and too slow as usual’, after the course I switched to ‘ah nice, extra ten minutes to read the news and listen to music’. The tram didn’t come any faster, but suddenly my whole day became better.
Are you a reader, and if so, which book inspired you?
I’m always surprised when writers say they are not readers! Where do you steal your ideas from, then? Marian Keyes’ Rachel’s Holiday taught me that it’s possible to take a very heavy subject, write about it in a way that’s raw and real… but make it hilarious.
Do you have a set writing schedule?
Whenever my health allows me and my neighbours’ shit-zu is quiet.
Do current events affect your writing, or do you try and keep life and your stories separate?
A few months ago I was pacing around my living room, all worked up by the realisation that the greatest democracy in the world was still keeping children in cages, only the media got bored and moved on. ‘I want to write something about this,’ I thought, then I realised I already have – there is a child put in a cage ‘for its own good’ in Children. I didn’t realise I was doing that. An early beta reader remarked that ‘all those Gods are sociopaths’ and I wanted to high-five myself, because that was the point. After all, they’re based on politicians and the one-percenters.
I also gave my characters lots of my own issues, because I don’t see why I should suffer alone when I can make them miserable as well.
If you could have dinner with any three figures from fiction, who would they be and why?
*immediately forgets all characters from all books has ever read, starts scrolling through e-reader contents* Gods, I read weird-ass books. I’ll go with Crowley and Aziraphale from Good Omens just because they’re so much fun together, so I’d sit quietly and enjoy them bantering. Nanny Ogg should arrive two hours late, so we’d all end up absolutely sloshed and singing inappropriate songs about hedgehogs.
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