by Birgitta Hjalmarson
Sam Law’s Interview on Fylgia and More
Sam Law, of It’s Good to Read, published this interview in November, 2018.
Please, give us a little more about the person behind the book:
Born in Sweden, I’ve spent the better part of my life in the US. I came to writing late. The desire was always there. What was absent was not opportunity but courage. When I finally began to write, it took me over. My friends no longer saw me — I’m sad to say I lost a few that way. These days I live with my husband on the northern California coast. Even now there’s the constant push and pull, the wish to be part of the world at large and the need to close the door and write.
Why did you begin writing?
I think I write because I must. As my husband can testify, I’m too hard to be around if I don’t. It may sound overly dramatic, but it’s the truth. When I was younger, I was always on the move. Not until I began to write did I finally settle down. I happened to live in San Francisco at the time. It could have been anywhere, but the fact that I was writing made it feel like home.
How do you form the ideas for your books?
I look at old photographs, pinned to the bulletin board in my office. One shows a group of people in a Swedish summer garden. The lilacs are in bloom, the tablecloth blinding white. What’s the occasion? Who’s the tall man? All through the writing of Fylgia, I searched their faces for answers. Many ideas come in the middle of the night. Still, what seems brilliant in the dark often lacks luster in the light of day. The best ideas show up when I least expect them. That’s why I go to my office every morning. If inspiration knocks, I’d better be there.
What authors inspired you to write?
Selma Lagerlöf for her lyricism and her reliance on folklore and myths. August Strindberg for his fury and compassion both — even Jean, the valet, hesitates before he sends Miss Julie to her death. Henrik Ibsen for exposing the lies by which we live and portraying women we’ll never forget (how on earth did he know?). Leo Tolstoy for capturing the world and yet writing so intimately about the Russian soul. Edward Albee for throwing us off balance and refusing to help. I still don’t like endings too clear. Human nature is much too complicated. Some corners must remain dark.
Describe your writing space.
My office used to be part of the garage. The window looks out over a meadow, green this time of year, cow parsnips and poppies in full bloom. Wild turkeys amble by, the females in the afternoon, clucking gently as they pass. Only yesterday I saw a doe with two new fawns. If I’m lucky, I’ll spot a red-tailed hawk.
The room itself is lined with bookcases, crowded with books. More books fill the file cabinets in the actual garage, all eight of them. I kept ordering one cabinet after another, until the saleswoman asked me what they were for. When I told her I was trying to get organized, she shook her head. “If you can’t get organized with eight, you may as well give up.” She’s probably right. Besides, I must leave room for the car.
Do you read your book reviews? How do you deal with them?
Criticism, when done well, is an art itself. As a writer, I must trust the process and write precisely what I mean. A critic or a reviewer must do the same. So, holding my breath, I read them all.
What is it like, to have your book published and out there?
It’s odd, a mix of panic and relief. For so long I’ve been in control (or as much in control as a writer can hope to be). Once I signed the contract, I relinquished that. Fylgia now belongs to the publisher and to the readers. A part of my life is over — no more rewrites, no more revisions, no more drafts. The only way to stay sane is to start work on the next book.
What did you learn when writing the book that you found surprising?
All writing is discovery. As with Michelangelo, the statue is already there, hidden in the marble. Fylgia began as non-fiction. Yet, the harder I tried, the less progress I made. I finally realized I had to turn to fiction to get to the truth. That was the moment when everything came into focus, when I knew that none of it could have happened any other way.
What do you read to relax?
I don’t. I take all writing seriously, too seriously perhaps. I watch movies. But even then, I don’t really relax. I write the scenes in my head as I watch them, much like I write from the photographs on my bulletin board. Relaxing, to me, is being with my husband and friends. Walking by the ocean and up on the ridge. Growing kohlrabi. Laughing.
What words of advice would you give aspiring authors?
Don’t fight it. You only lose time.
In Fylgia, what would you like readers to get the most from?
I would like them to linger in Anna’s world, as foreign as it may seem. My hope is that the title, echoed by the cover, will draw them in, and that Anna herself will win them over. But who am I to say? Reading is much like writing, just as demanding in many respects. At first we need the author’s guidance, signposts as to who and when and where, but then it shifts and we become creators too, making connections, remembering, anticipating.
What are your upcoming projects (if you can talk about them!!)?
The setting of my next novel is a country house in southern Sweden, much like the ones I used to visit when I was a student in Lund. It’s the early 1900s. I see men and women in a mirrored room. Curtains stir in the breeze, rose petals are scattered on the floor, someone plays a sonata on the grand piano. Hours go by. What are they waiting for? So far, it’s all surface. I must go deeper now.
What are you currently reading?
The Art of the Wasted Day, by Patricia Hampl. It’s a collection of essays, but also a memoir, dealing poignantly with her husband’s death. Montaigne, when he retreated to his tower, had also lost the love of his life. In fact, if it weren’t for his lover’s death, he might not have written his essays. Perhaps that’s why we write, to hold something forever, something that may already be gone. Hampl calls it a “solitude wanting to be heard.”
Any last thoughts?
We live in times of unrest. There have been great migrations before, and we see one now. Until recently I was leery of just about anything I encountered on the Internet, but I’ve changed my mind. Social media has the power to break down borders, both imaginary and real. Writing can be part of that. I can’t wait to see what the future will bring.
by Birgitta Hjalmarson
Journal by Birgitta Hjalmarson Chapter One ExcerptI STILL GO to the grave. My younger self runs ahead. I follow, cutting through the forest and staying away from the country road. An old woman in a beret and a tweed jacket.Anemones cover the...
Journal by Birgitta Hjalmarson Fylgia WRITTEN BY BIRGITTA HJALMARSON REVIEW BY VIVIANE CRYSTAL Anna is a proud, intelligent older woman recounting her life in the dark, serious atmosphere of Sweden. Her story begins in the time just preceding...
Journal by Birgitta Hjalmarson Rainer Maria Rilke was in his late twenties when he wrote Ellen Key from Rome, complaining about the “galloping spring.” Two years earlier, in 1901, he had married Clara Westhoff, a sculptress, with whom he now had...