I recently had the pleasure of being offered the chance to interview one of the most unassuming successful Nordic authors, who has attained incredible success from his worldwide acclaimed book ‘The Seventh child’.
Erik Valeur was awarded the Glass key award in 2012. This award is coveted, as this is the award which is given to only one Nordic author for a specific novel each year. The background from which Erik comes from is an insightful story of an untold history in Denmark back in the 50’s and 60’s, and I was not surprised to hear that this start in life gave him the strength and inspiration to feign a successful career in journalism, politics, art and writing. This background not only gave him the determination to succeed but also gave him the stimulus of his worldwide novel ‘The Seventh Child’.
‘The Seventh Child’ is a must read on anyone’s list. It is a crime thriller, yet an emotive story at the same time. The catalyst of events which brings these seven former orphanage children back to Kongslund the children’s home sets the scene for what will become a story where they must face their past demons to move forward. What starts from a woman’s body being discovered on a beach near Copenhagen, with a photo of Kongslund Orphanage around her and some years later with letters being sent to the past children of Kongslund bringing them together to investigate a murder, a cover up and history.
The Seventh child is sophisticated and thought provoking and most definitely will leave you waiting for the next follow on book by Erik Valeur.
Because Erik’s story is so intriguing and poignant I wanted him to do it justice, in his words. So here it goes…….
I was born in 1955 and spent my first two years in an orphanage.
My mother was alone and very depressed, so I started living with my grandparents, at two years old.
Today I have four children, who are aged from 15 to 26. I am now a full time author, but having been a journalist for more than 30 years.
I may have a fourth hobby: I often take part in public discussions, mostly about politics and media politics. Earlier in life I was often painting (and drawing cartoons for magazines for some years!), playing football and every summer climbing mountains in different countries.
Seven children are adopted by different families in the spring of ’61, and forty years later a mysterious death near the orphanage where their lives began bring them together again, whilst trying to unravel one of the seven children’s dark and mysterious past – a task that could throw over the most powerful people in the state of Denmark.
The book has been sold to 12 European and Asian countries – plus US, UK, Canada and other English-spoken countries (published by Amazon, in print and on-line)
I had this very personal knowledge of a famous orphanage in Denmark – called Skodsborg – where I spent the first two years of life.
Many years later as a journalist I wanted to track some of the children that were given away for adoption (that was the fate of most of the children in the orphanage). I wanted to write the story of seven children that had been in this ‘babyroom’ at exactly the same time (there were in fact seven beds in the room).
Adoption could easily have been my own fate, because in the fifties and sixties tens of thousand of newborn Danish children were left by their young mothers because it was very shameful to raise a child alone without being married – at that time.
So almost any Dane knows a family with a story of adoption – but very few know many details – and I wanted to describe this ‘dark landscape’ of our nation, only a couple of decades ago.
I found that it was not possible to unfold the full story in real life – as the adopted children were given brand new identities and could not easily be found so many years later – and even if I found some of them (as adults) I couldn’t just make contact ‘out of the blue’ because many adopted grown-ups wouldn’t want to talk about it – and because frightfully many of them had never been told that they were in fact adopted!
So I decided to use my research and personal knowledge as fuel for a novel – ‘The Seventh Child’ – that begins exactly where my own life began; the orphanage in the book is called Kongslund, as my first home was situated in a spot where the famous and very popular Danish King Frederik VII spent his happiest moments.
I had been writing stories since I was a child – and later in life published a row of non-fiction books – but I had never published fiction before – so I decided it may be the right time now.
I have been awarded several literature- and crime fiction prizes, and it is true that successful writers are very much cherished in Denmark. It goes from bestselling-authors to poets with much fewer readers (the latter perhaps even more – if they are good). I was a little bit astonished about this – because it is different from my former career as a journalist.
I can feel that many Danes find it outstanding to write a novel – and actually get it on print – but that may well be the same in other countries? In fact I think that some writers are in danger of being a little too much influenced by this admiration as if writing were a very rare skill that only very few living creatures can master.
In my experience – from my time as being a newspaper-and magazine journalist (and a tutor for many young colleges) – many people are in fact better at that skill than they know. Of course it takes some patience – and training – but once ‘the gate’ opens I have seen many outstanding talents. One of the very best (intuitive talented) writers I ever met was a convicted murderer who grew up in absolute poverty in the poorest part of Copenhagen (the Danish capital). She only wrote diaries – from jail – and they were never printed outside of the magazine I worked for at that time – but I was stunned to see that a person with absolutely no special background (besides crazy parents and violent boyfriends) had the will (and ability) to describe the world and express her feelings. In the middle of chaos it was very beautiful.
I find much inspiration in the way children are brought up – and how they are sometimes abandoned and let down by their parents – as many adults fail to see (even their own) children’s sorrows, distress and desperation – all the strange things that live inside many of us from our life’s beginning.
This theme is in both The ‘Seventh Child’ and in the novel I am finishing now. In both books the story is combined with a suspense plot that drives the main characters to face their past and their secrets. So this is the main fuel – I think – and the rest is discipline – which is not so ‘easy’! I know about writers who maintain a precise scheme every day – for example writing in deep concentration from 10 am to 15 pm. That is not me. No day is exactly like the other. I write when I feel like it. I try to remember that the joy of writing should be at least equal to the discipline. I think you can see – in all fiction – when a writer is too disciplined (perhaps only disciplined) – or when he or she works like a ‘machine’ because the (next) book has to be finished as quickly as possible – for personal or commercial reasons.
I am not sure what ‘noir’ means? But when I was writing ‘The Seventh Child’ I was sometimes a bit nervous because I couldn’t find – or had heard of – any book that mixed the genres like I would like to do: Suspense mixed with a much deeper story that is somehow a fairy tale, both containing the story of seven children and their upbringing, some vital parts of my country’s history, the story of how we became wealthier in the sixties and the story of our society here and now, how powerful politicians and cynical media bosses behave towards the people they were meant to serve.
It can be read purely as an entertaining suspense-novel, but there are many layers that the readers can explore if they want to; there are a lot ‘hidden stories’ and themes that are woven together in a very detailed structure beneath the suspense-story. I have met a lot of readers who said they started reading the book again, because at the end of the story they had the feeling to go back and unravel some more of the hidden stories and themes they knew must be there.
To answer the question I found much inspiration in ‘Spanish-American literature’ – stretching from Isabel Allende to Steinbeck and – recently for example – ‘The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao’ by Junot Díaz and so on – so of course I am proud that the book has been published in English. If this means anything to a ‘Nordic career’ I’ll still have to find out.
The novel I am writing now begins – like ‘The Seventh Child’ – in ‘the landscape’ of childhood – and describes the life of a boy who grows up with some much hidden (and some very dangerous) secrets – and who as an adult becomes a strange and lonely man. Only one woman can (if she can …) ‘unwrap’ him – as she started her own life in the same lonely and scary way. Together the two set out to unravel the one great mystery in the strange man’s past. Today he is living in – and almost clinging to – a very notorious lighthouse in Denmark as he is facing the lighthouse’s drowning spot – called Hell’s Depth – the spot in the water that took so many of the country’s forefathers to their death. And which also may be the title of the book as it may describe the state of the main character’s souls.
Erik Valeur is a man to watch, his career has been long and varied but there is so much more to come within the genre of Nordic Noir from him.
A courteous man with a lot of powerful points to make, yet he makes them in such a way clever way of wrapping them around his mystery story that it does not feel pushed upon you. You make the decision yourself to delve deeper into Denmark’s past and enjoy a fantastic novel along the way.
Tags: 'erik valeur', 'nordic noir', 'the seventh child', danish, denmark
Sarah is a 36 years old British mum to 4 daughters, a blogger on IG @the_wormcatcher, a freelance writer for various online magazines and has just finished her debut crime fiction novel 'A Presence of Absence' which is a mix of Nordic noir and brit crime. So watch this space!
Completely in love with all Nordic genres from literary to film, design to food and music to clothes (for Kids) Sarah loves researching and writing about Nordic talents.
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