Peeping into a Writer’s Attic
Shailaja Shrinivasan & Tultul Biswas
November 2022, volume 46, No 11

Shailaja Shrinivasan & Tultul Biswas in Conversation with Norwegian Writer Hans Sande

Shailaja Shrinivasan & Tultul Biswas: Your writing is  prolific—for children, for adults and poetry. How do you keep in touch with the current generation that you write for when you write for children?

Hans Sande: Apart from the impulses I get by visiting schools and kindergartens, I have no method or measure to keep in touch with the current generation. My grandchildren are teen-agers…I simply put my trust in my own sensibility and the bittersweet memories of my childhood. Curiosity and daring are basic elements in my writing.

Q: We have only read a few of your books for children.  Some  emotions like curiosity, angst, frustrations, loss, grief, trauma etc., have been addressed in some of your books. How do you decide which emotions to take up?

HS: No, I do not decide which emotions to take up. Emotions come as a result of the stories, and stories come out of the blue.

Q:What in your mind is the source of the reference to god in the book Frog, and what is its significance?

HS: I have a strong drive to play with myths and authorities. My father was a Lutheran priest, and I am a non-believer with a deep interest in all religions. Thus, I am fully aware of the comfort and the mental pain that religious belief may cause. The frog is happy in its belief, and I am happy to play with his divine revelation.

Q:Which emotions and issues have you not touched upon as yet in your books for children?

HS: Strange question! I have written more that 40 books for children and young adults, plus numerous poems. Still I am  surprised when new and unexpected themes pop up.

Q:What is your writing process? Do you observe/use lived experiences to base your stories?

HS: My writing process is in general spontaneous. I feel that the six words of Tilopa are close to my state of mind during my creative process: No plan, no intention, no effort, just let it settle…or develop, by itself!

Every morning I take a walk on a path in the nearby forest. One day this sentence popped up in my mind: ‘When I came home, the horse was gone. What? Say again! When I came home, the horse was gone.’ This meaningless sentence would not go away. Was I hallucinating? Ought I to contact a psychiatrist? No, Hans, just relax and enjoy! I was on the path to uncover a new story that was hiding in the claire-obscure forest of my mind. So I began pondering: Who is speaking? Obviously an elderly person, probably a man, may be a grandfather—very fond of his horse. He has been away for a long time, maybe as a prisoner of war, and when he came home, and expected that everything should get back to normal, the horse was gone. Nobody would answer his question. His peace of mind was gone. Years pass by, he is getting more and more confused, and the only one who is willing to listen, is his grandson.

The Red Sweater came to me in a different manner, more like a visual experience in a dreamlike state. Two vivid girls, the autumn colours, the landscape and the switch from innocence and joy to tragedy and sorrow. Maybe that is why it was natural for me to illustrate this book myself; I had already seen it all; the footprints in the sand, the happy girls running around, the secret place of cloudberries in the mountains. The name Liv means Life, and Siv means Straw or Reed, that is, reed growing in the water. Finally, the red sweater turns out to be a symbol of how Liv has to keep on living, running and growing up, while carrying the love and loss symbolized by Siv’s sweater.

Q: War, loss, trauma are difficult real life situations often avoided in children’s books. What is it that drives you to pick up such difficult themes in stories for children?

HS: What drives me is probably an inherited and chronic wish to find and uncover something unseen, hidden or forbidden. To reverse the question: why should I go for themes that have already been explored in hundreds of books?

Q: And how has the response of children and critics been to this?

HS: In general, my books are quite popular among children and critics, and I have received many prizes. Some of my books have however met with protests and warnings. I use the term Border Patrol to describe the resistance against unconventional literature. Such Border Patrols are probably less active in Norway than in many other countries. Still, they have repeatedly been trying to stop people from reading some of my books for children. Border Patrols are motivated by the most noble intentions, and may consist of parents, teachers, librarians and critics. They may be activated when a writer is passing their borders, based on pedagogical, religious, moral  or political standards. One grim example occurred when My Dad is a Pirate was published. The Israeli ambassador to Norway protested by writing to three Norwegian Ministers, warning them against the serious consequenses for the bilateral relations, if this book was read by children. The book deals with the water conflict and the suppression of the Palestinians.

Q: You may have interacted with children around your stories. If you have, is there any incident/question/thought that has remained with you? Would like to share some?

HS: Children are in general curious and open-minded. One critic attacked The Plum Tree, for the scary change taking place when the boy gradually grows into a tree. To children these changes appear to be intriguing and exciting fantacies. Finally, The Plum Tree was awarded a prestigious prize by the Ministry of Culture.