‘I love thinking about the future, about threats and trends we can prevent’

Boel Bermann (1979) is a born storyteller. She used to work as a reporter for several large newspapers and is a member of the Swedish collective, Fear. Besides writing world-famous video games, she has also written her debut novel, The New Children: a fast-paced, gripping and heartbreaking dystopian tale, published by Swedish publisher Kalla Kulor Förlag in 2013. The New Children received rave reviews and appeals to readers of all ages. We are delighted to introduce this all-round debutant. We talked with her about what dystopian novels can teach us and how to make the unbelievable believable.

BNA: You are working in the games industry. What do you exactly do?
I work for the Paradox Development Studio games company and I have the amazing job of being a game writer for a role-playing game based on Norse mythology. I create characters, quests and events and try to challenge the player with the adventures they face and provide them with enough choices to create their own story.
The strangest part is that being a game writer and being an author is completely separate in my mind. I go to work and delve deep into Norse mythology and write fantasy in English about gods, trolls and rune stones. Then I come home and keep writing – but then I write science fiction in Swedish and explore the future. I think I separate the two by writing in different languages and different genres, so one is my work and the other is my creative hobby.

BNA: How does that experience help you with your writing?
It makes me think out of the box. When writing a novel, you choose what your characters do. But in a game, the person playing your game is deciding and you need to be prepared for the gamer to choose anything. I think it helps me to think of all the possible ways in which my stories could go and not just stay attached to one path.

BNA: We are told you love horror and sci-fi. Where does that fascination come from?
From reading the news, actually. Every time I read the news, I feel the urge to change the world and the future. Sometimes it´s really hard to relate to news that is very close to your reality, so I actually think it´s easier to relate to the things we face every day if we place them in a fictional setting in the future. I love thinking about the future, about things that may come and threats and trends we can prevent.

BNA: The New Children is your debut. Could you briefly explain what the novel is about?
In the novel, no children are being born and the world is in shock. After a few years, women begin to get pregnant again, but the new children are not like children used to be. They don’t play games or show emotions, they only watch silently. Against her will, the main character, Rakel, becomes involved when she accidentally kills one of the new children. She is among the first to realize that the new generation is a threat to humanity’s very existence.

BNA: Why did you choose to write this story?
I wanted to make people think about how they would react to the fact that humanity is dying. About what we humans are prepared to do for our own survival. I don´t believe humanity is evil, but I´m convinced that, to preserve what we have, we would go far beyond what we believe ourselves capable of. To protect the persons we love and to avoid seeing things that hurt.

BNA: The book is also about a new generation that develops faster than ‘normal’ people. How did you come up with such a brilliant but terrifying idea?
I wanted humanity to be certain that they are the last generation of their kind. But with the new children growing up, they would still be distant, they would always be younger than us. So I decided that if they developed faster, they would be a more real threat because they might even take over before humanity has died out.

BNA: The main text is interspersed with news articles and interviews. Why did you use this structure?
My main character Rakel is quite introvert and views the world with a distant gaze. So I wanted the novel to give something more than her point of view, due to the fact that she is so focused on her own life. I wanted a larger perspective, but I only wanted one main story – the one Rakel lives through. Therefore, in parallel to the story, I decided to use fictional in-depth interviews from research articles to get short freeze frames of different people’s views of the world.
The newspaper articles were a result of my own frustration with how much I fail to grasp of what is going on in the world. Even though I follow the news every day, I still feel that I only get bits and pieces that rarely come together to create a bigger picture. What I hope is that the articles add to the sense of realism of the story and make it more believable as well as giving a brief overview of how someone would perceive everything that is happening.

BNA: The story is a real page turner. How did you manage to keep up the pace?
I never wanted the reader to feel safe or relaxed. I usually cut the scenes down and left them unfinished, because I wanted the reader to create them in their own minds. Strangely enough, I didn’t think of the novel as a page-turner when I wrote it, probably because I actually knew most of what would happen. But I realized that it’s nearly impossible to put down once you start reading, which of course is marvelous.

BNA: The main character Rakel is an anti-hero who lives a dissolute life: she sleeps with different men, is often hung over and, on top of that, she kills a child. Why did you choose her as the main character?
I wanted the main character to feel like a real person, and I don´t really believe that there are people that are all good. Even good people can do bad things and have destructive personality features. But I have to admit that I also love to write in the first person when the main character is hard to identify with, because then I´m actually forcing you as a reader to see the world from her point of view.
Of course Rakel is a very broken person. I wanted her to evolve so, in the first part of the novel, she is quite passive. She doesn’t care about the end of mankind, she mostly cares about her everyday life. Then, without giving any of the story away, she changes in the latter part – finding something that actually makes her act rather than react. But she did drive me insane sometimes: I’d sit there and curse at the computer. Oh come on, do something and stop looking at the world as if it were pitch black all the time. Rakel and I are very different people, and I doubt we’d be friends if she were real.

BNA: Was it difficult to write about the future?
The future portrayed in The New Children is extremely close in time and occurs in a society that largely resembles our own. I wanted to explore how the human race would react when ordinary people realize that they are probably the last generation of their kind. What is the private, political and social? One reviewer wrote something that meant the world to me: “I think that the dystopian lies as much in the present as in the future as depicted, for the unacceptable is already happening, and the monsters already exist.’’

BNA: We know that dystopian novels are one of your favorite genres. Why is that?
I’ve always loved dystopias because they are in between everyday life and the end of the world as we know it. You still have a society where people try to live their everyday life, but the structure of society is withering away. The strength of dystopias is that they make the reader ask: What would I do? Would I strive to change anything or just look the other way? Since I stay so close to today’s reality, I didn´t have to invent a completely new world, I only had to twist and bend the world we live in and then see what would happen…

BNA: How did the writing process go? Did you face any difficulties?
With a full time job and a social life, the writing did take time. I mostly wrote during vacations, evenings and in meetings of my writing collective, Fear. I didn’t have many problems writing the novel; it came very naturally. My real challenge was in the later part when I had to edit it. I’m critical, so I just kept cutting out pieces I felt were dead meat. That probably helped the novel’s pacing as well – since I removed a lot of the breathing space for the reader.

BNA: Which books or writers inspired you?
It seems that dystopias usually surface when the world is going through a crisis and right now we are in the middle of a wave of dystopias in literature. I personally adore Margaret Atwood’s novels, especially her Maddaddam trilogy, and I feel that her strength lies in how she explores current social trends and pushes them right to the edge of what we can believe.

BNA: The New Children is beautiful but also heartbreaking. Didn’t you find it hard to write such an incredibly sad story?
I needed to believe in my main character Rakel, to believe she was real. Because if I didn’t believe in her, then nobody else would. I felt that if I could make the reader believe in Rakel, they would believe anything I told them in The New Children – even that the children being born were different. I wanted to make the unbelievable believable.

Interview first published at Brandt New Agency.

Represented by Brandt New Agency

Brandt New Agency 2014

Watch the New Children Book Trailer here:

Donna Tartt – Stories that cuts across time & class

When I try to recall my first experience with Donna Tartt’s novel The Secret History, it always blends together with the end of that summer I spent in the countryside and these words from the novel itself:

“On Sunday I woke up early to a quiet house. Francis had given my clothes to Mrs Hatch to be laundered; putting on a bathrobe he’d lent to me, I went downstairs to sit on the porch for a few minutes before the others woke up. Outside, it was cool and still, the sky the hazy shade of white peculiar to autumn mornings, and the wicker chairs were drenched with white dew.”

My newfound friends from school had given me the novel as a gift, but I had been hesitant to read it. Knowing what the book meant to them, I was afraid it wouldn’t fulfill my expectations and thereby I’d letting them down in some way. But somehow I found the courage to read it. I remember being mesmerized by the words, sitting on the porch of an old Swedish country house drinking my coffee. Reading my friends words scribbled on the first page made me feel as chosen as Richard, to be included into their group of friends. I never wanted to put the novel down; I wanted to devour the words without any interruptions. But life demanded that I occasionally put it aside. However each morning I went out to the porch and sat there reading while the house was still sleeping.

The Secret History is one of the few novels that I have revisited more times than I can even remember. And when I hear Donna Tartt utter the words that she uses to describe Dickens, I realize that is how I wish I could have described what it has been like to read her novels:
– No matter how many times I read them, I always see something new. You can never quite pin it, define it and take the measure of it. The stories cut across time and class.

The chair Donna Tartt is sitting in doesn’t allow her feet to rest at the stage floor. Instead they dangle with the toes touching the stage floor and she keeps the toes together. This small detail makes her appear like a child dressed in a grownup clothes, a precocious and intellectual child that analyzes her own work and tries to remember how she became an author:
– I can´t remember not being able to read. I can remember not being able to read handwriting, but I thought the grownups were writing in some sort of code to keep us kids from understanding their notes.
It seems as if she recalls the south of her childhood with a sense of loss that can be felt in her novel The Little Friend that takes place in Mississippi, in a fictional town in an era that is gone now.
– My childhood wasn’t very different from the south that my grandmother and my great-grandmother lived on. The south was sort of a time capsule and I believe me and my sisters was the last generation to have lived in it. Now that is gone, now the south is like the rest of the world.

Unlikely as it sounds, Donna Tartt once wrote a short story about cheer-leading. No one was interested in it until The Secret History was published. Then people started to ask her if she happened to have anything else and the manuscript emerged from a drawer. She says, almost apologetically, that she was very young when she wrote it.
– I remember sitting in the car reading George Orwell, I was the only cheerleader reading Orwell. You might say that being a part of the cheerleading squad was sort of being in an Orwellian organization. It wasn’t something I wanted to do, it was more a thing I did as a child to please my parents. Mississippi is a flat, bleak landscape and driving through it is a very Kafkaesque experience with no way of telling the distance to your destination. And I remember how horrible it felt when it went too dark so I couldn’t make out the words in the book anymore.

It´s strange to hear these memories of her growing up, almost surreal. In my mind, Donna Tartt has always been who she is now. My mind can´t take in the fact that she was once a child growing up in the south, that she has been a cheerleader or the fact that she helped out in the library in her hometown, even after her debut novel had received critical acclaim. I realize I hardly view her as American. I have placed her in her own time and space and she keeps reminding me that she is American, even when that means such fragmented and different things.
– Something quite different about America is that class is very fluid. It is easy to move both up and down in class. In the south, when I was young as it is described in The Little Friend, it was very fixed classes. But in The Secret History and in The Goldfinch, it´s a lot about the movement up and down between the classes. If you view books such as The Great Gatsby and a lot of American literature and our national stories – classes and the movement between classes has always been there as a reoccurring theme.

During the conversation she comes back to America a lot, to what makes the country she lives in different from the rest of the world. She speaks of the short story Young Goodman Brown and calls it an anti-moral tale. She explains:
– In America, as a society, we tend to spit up things into good and evil. Our nation is built on the Jeffersonians, enlightenment and declaration of independence, but our country was still funded by Puritans. So the country is divided into those who want new ideas and those who want to keep thing as they are.

I´m at one of the last public appearances for Donna Tartt in Sweden, taking place at Kulturhuset Stockholm. Through the entire conversation, Donna Tartt keeps her eye on the person in front of her and appears to become unaware of all of us sitting there in the audience. Not in a nonchalant way, rather the opposite. I suspect she almost forgets us, since she is so engaged in the talk.
The myth of Donna Tartt came very much from her praised debut novel The Secret History and the silence that followed during the ten years before her next novel was published. Her readers, like myself, were afraid. We feared that the silence meant that she would never write another novel and that her ability to write would be lost to the world. The only one not afraid was Donna Tartt. She knew that the wait would be long and that her readers would have to be patient:
– I knew a book wouldn’t come soon after The Secret History. It took me nearly ten years to write that novel. I started when I was nineteen and finished it when I was twenty-eight years old.

During the conversation, she turns away from the audience, but it again seems like she is unaware of it and is only doing turning to be better able to view the person she is talking to. It´s not really an interview, it´s much more a conversation between the two people up on the stage. We are merely eavesdropping on a conversation, all 700 hundred of us. Every now and then we remind Donna Tartt of our existence, by applauding, laughing at a joke or making discrete noises of approval.

For a brief period of time, her posture changes when she reads from her latest novel, The Goldfinch. When reading, she sits straight and lifts her gaze to the novel. She looks up, but not as much at the audience but beyond. As if she is recalling the space she has written about in the novel, the area between the creator, the work and the illusion it creates.
– It´s like when you dream and wake up and remember what you dream. You can know what caused the dream, something you read, heard or viewed previously – but you don´t know why it took the shape it did in the dream. The area between where we can see the artist’s work, the human hand that shaped the painting and the moment where you take a step back and the illusion takes over and shows you the motif.

Personally I have always had a strong emotion for novels that are written in first person perspective and I often write in that perspective myself. There is something fascinating about forcing the reader into the mind of the main character. I believe this perspective makes it both easier to love as well as hate the characters, depending on how they feel about the person. Being forced into viewing the world from the eyes of someone you dislike or are too different from is a hard thing. For Donna Tartt, she very carefully chooses how to tell the story in order to being able to tell the stories she wants.
– In The Secret History, it was important that the reader would not know anything about what the other persons were thinking. The reader realizes and experiences the same things as Richard does about what is happening. In The Little Friend it was important to expand beyond Harriet’s point of view, because she is a child and does view the world from her perspective. And she does view things the wrong way when she interprets them.

Donna Tartt has a love for old adventure novels for children. She says that she was at a very formative age when she read all the books she could find in her grandmother’s house and in the public library. Since the library didn’t have much money, they didn’t have many recent books. Therefore, she simply read what was around. Reading what was around meant reading things that made an impression. She is very serious when she describes what she enjoys about Treasure Island:
– When it comes to Treasure Island, Stevenson doesn’t dumb down when writing for children. Even the villain John Silver is not a pure villain, he´s complicated. First the main character believes he is a wonderful man. Then the scene comes when he overhears a conversation… As both children and adults, we tend to trust people that look a certain way and we are taken by appearances.
Just like Richard Papen, taken by the appearance of the group of friends in The Secret History, fascinated by how they are unlike all the others.

She sits there leaning forward. The position signals that she wants to make sure she takes in all the words in order to answer to the best of her ability. She is very still, only using small gestures to reinforce her words. I wonder if she writes with as small gestures, scribbling down her words in discreet letters in her beloved notebooks.
– I keep notebooks wherever I am and wherever I go. I write something every day, even when I travel. When I´m home, I always write in the morning for at least three hours. If I, after that time, feel tired or frustrated, I shop or call my mother or do something else. But if I get into the writing, I will keep writing for quite a long time. I can´t just write in the same place, especially since it takes me quite a lot of time to finish a novel. If I only stayed in one place and wrote, I would be chained to that place for ten years. However I write by hand and the pile of notebooks grows throughout my writing process, so when I am closing in on the end I need to stay in the write place just to have all my notebooks with me.

I´m holding my breath, hoping that she will reveal more on how it is to live with her characters and her novel for such a long time. How she keeps her discipline, how she does research, what notes she scribbles down and at what moment she realizes that she has found the core of her next book, the book that will be her companion for such a long time. She is only giving small details about it, not revealing much about how it is to have a novel as your constant shadow.
– I enjoyed writing my latest book, but at first I didn’t realize it was a novel. It was just notes. There were these things that I knew were connected, but I didn’t know how. I don´t have a perfect plan for my novels, they evolve during the time I write them.

Donna Tartt’s appearance is thin, but not fragile. Her contours are sharp and she is dressed in black with red details, razor-sharp page and flat shoes in lacquer. Her appearance is as timeless as her work. Watching her up on stage, I realize that she could almost be from any time and her work carries the same timeless stamp:
– I don’t want my books to be bound to a certain time and that drives some people crazy. Because they want to know in what time the books took place and I have carefully edited out the time references. I want my novels to be very intentionally blurred in time. What I write is not meant to be real, my work is not supposed to be documentary reality. I want my novels to be removed from the ordinary.

Written by Boel Bermann

Donna Tartt/Peter Hapak for TIME

Author presentation at Brandt New Agency

Boel Bermann author page at Brandt New Agency for The New Children

”Praised, dystopian debutant author who combines her interest for fantasy, science-fiction and horror, developing world famous video games.

Boel Bermann’s debut novel The New Children, set in the near future, was published in Sweden in Fall 2013. The author has a background as a reporter at several large newspapers in Sweden and she’s also a member of the Swedish writers collective Fear, which blogs and produces a podcast of science-fiction, fantasy and horror short stories. Besides writing Boel also works at the games company Paradox Development Studio.

She previously studied journalism, criminology, social science, film science and social anthropology at Stockholm University.”

The New Children represented by Brandt New Agency

I´m happy to reveal that my debut novel ”The New Children” is represented by Brandt New Agency.

Read more in Brandt New Agency´s Spring 2014 Catalogue here:

About the novel ”The New Children”
What happens when all the new children being born aren’t normal?

‘I’ve killed a child.
That’s what they tell me in the police station interrogation room. Inside my head, I’m screaming.
It wasn’t a child I killed. It was something completely different. Can’t you see that?’

No children are being born and the world is in shock. After a few years, women begin to get pregnant again, but the new children are not like children used to be. They don’t play games or show emotions, they only watch silently. Against her will, Rakel becomes involved when she kills one of the new children. She is among the first to realize that the new generation is a threat to humanity’s very existence.
More children are born and they develop faster than normal humans. After a brutal incident at work, Rakel escapes: From anxiety and betrayed love, seeking solace in drink and the company of strangers. Until she discovers something …

Reviews for “The New Children”:  (Translated from Swedish)

The New Children by Boel Bermann (Brandt New Agency) New new


About Boel Bermann
Praised, dystopian debutant author who combines her interest for fantasy, science-fiction and horror, developing world famous video games.

Kalla Kulor Förlag, Sweden, 2013, 205 pages
Original Swedish title: Den nya människan
Genre: Dystopian Fiction

Book trailer for “The New Children” (Swedish trailer)

About the author: Boel Bermann

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