Today I am pleased to host a visit from Danish author Hanne Holten.
Welcome, Hanne. Would you like to tell us about your novel, Snares and Delusions?
First, I want to thank you for this opportunity, Tim. Should I give a brief idea of the plot? Snares and Delusions is set in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. The protagonist, Hedda, faces her life — and death — in dreams and nightmares. At the beginning a feisty teenager, Hedda develops into an independent woman, through traumatic events and brief moments of romance. There are elements of Norse myths in the nightmare sequences, and I’ve drawn on Danish folklore about elves in a birth scene.
It’s not always easy to talk about one’s own writing, perhaps because it’s too close. I suppose one could say that ‘Snares and Delusions’ is an attempt to get inside the imagination of a character. On the other hand, one could say that about most fiction writing.
Various authors have commented on the third-person present-tense writing, but I couldn’t see any other way to do this. If my protagonist is dying and relives her life in dreams and nightmares, it isn’t possible to write in first person, because it suggests that she survives. Neither can it be told in past-tense: my character would be dead and there would be no story. I must agree with Shakespeare that ‘we are such stuff that dreams are made of, and our little life is rounded with a sleep’.
To what extent does the novel draw upon your own experiences?
Obviously, I have no personal experience of the historical period. On the other hand, I’ve relied on my family history, although my protagonist is invented. The inspiration for this was a real person, but I know almost nothing about her. She hid her past and was long dead when I was born. I only knew that she arrived in Denmark from Sweden, that she had a boarding house, and that she had a daughter. Whether or not she was married is questionable. Let me just add, that I don’t think it’s possible to write anything without drawing on personal experience.
Am I right in thinking that you are working on a second book? What can you tell us about that?
Yes, I’m working on, that is, I’m revising my second book at present. It falls in three parts, mainly set in The Great War and during the twenties and thirties’ Denmark. This time I work with two protagonists: a young man from Sønderborg (then part of Germany). He goes to China as a volunteer but ends up as a POW in Japan. My second main character is a young girl who lives in Copenhagen and writes a diary about her life, her puppy love, and the war as she sees it — from a distance. Eventually, these two characters meet. They fall in love, but their love isn’t simple. The climate in Denmark during the twenties and thirties, the rise of Hitler, all makes their life together difficult. He carries the trauma of The Great War inside, and she doesn’t understand his fascination with the German ideas. The third and last part presents the female character, as a widow looking back on the events of her life.
You’re from Denmark, have spent time in the UK and now live in Germany. Where feels most like home?
Do you know, I can’t really say? Sometimes, I believe that I don’t belong anywhere. I left Denmark for personal reasons and enjoyed living in England for fifteen years. Admittedly, I have a certain nostalgia for that period, but I see little opportunity to return in the current situation. For me, Brexit is a sad development. There are good and bad aspects of living in Germany, but the current atmosphere of xenophobia is, I fear, present everywhere.
As well as writing, you also play music and paint. Which art form means the most to you?
It would be simple to say that every art-form is equally important to me, but that would be a simplification. I grew up with music as an essential part of my life — my dream was to become an opera singer. I did realize that dream to some extent but found that my calling veered in the direction of teaching. This I continue to do.
Although I always loved the fine arts and dabbled a bit in drawing, painting came later. When I first moved to London, I missed having pictures on my walls. I couldn’t afford to buy them, but I had some colour and brushes. In short, I started painting my own art-work and quickly developed my personal style. Painting is something I do with great pleasure, but my other activities — and the frequent lack of natural light — put it in the back seat as it were.
Always an avid reader, I started to write early. There have been times when I couldn’t find time to write regularly, but during my years in England, it became a necessity for me to write every day. I made many false starts on writing my first novel. It took years before I dared to believe it could be published. I don’t think Snares and Delusions would have appeared if I hadn’t joined Authonomy — up to that time, I had no feedback and felt hampered by insecurity and — procrastination. That is a thing of the past now, I mean the procrastination.
What else is important in your life at the moment?
Cooking! I love to eat well — and a healthy diet is necessary to keep going.
Like most freelance writers, I must earn money besides through my writing. The teaching paid well during the first years I lived here, but then my job fell through. That’s another story. Suffice it to say that the number of students fell, but that I still have some loyal and promising pupils. To close the income gap, I administer two holiday flats in the house where I have my flat. The workload differs with the seasons but tides me over.
Friends and family are spread wide, so social media plays a large role in my day to day interest.
Finally, what question would you have liked me to ask that I didn’t?
There are always unanswered questions — and always questions we don’t ask. It’s difficult to think of something right away but give me a moment, and I might come up with something. I think we’ve covered most of what is important in my life, unless you’d like to know something about my publishing journey?
And what is the answer?
I believe that everybody is aware that getting a publishing deal with one of the major publishing houses is next to impossible unless you know some high animal — are a celebrity — or have a viable platform (a successful blog or another internet prominence). When I started submitting the former version of my book to literary agents: it was then Of Foes and Friends, I had no idea of this except a vague feeling that it might not be easy to get recognized. The theme for my book, or rather the Scandinavian setting might not interest a large audience. Having said that, I chose that setting for obvious reasons (being of good Danish stock) and thought it could appear exotic. Anyway, that brings me back to Authonomy and the feedback, which made me realize that there was plenty of plot gaps in the ‘Foes’. In other words, back to the writing desk. I rewrote most of the book and that version received admiration — but still no contract. That was when I decided to go indie. I took the plunge straight away. Only to realize that I hadn’t followed the advice that abounds for indie authors. That’s when I started my blog. Being unsure about how to do it, I started two blogs that I later united. A year on, there are still lessons to learn, but I know a lot more than I did. Learning by trial and error isn’t always the easiest route to take, but I don’t regret anything but my own naivety at the outset.
Thank you for those fascinating answers, Hanne. Good luck with your writing!
You can learn more about Hanne, and Snares and Delusions, through the following links: