Boel Bermann is a woman of many talents — she’s a journalist, works at a game company, is part of a writing collective with their own podcast… and after all that, she’s also the author of an intriguing dystopian novel, The New Children. In the novel, she explores the thing we fear the most — what if something was wrong with our kids? Our sisters and brothers? It’s a scary thought, making kids the ones to be feared.
Hopefully there’s chance we’ll see Den nya människan (Swedish title) in English some day. But until then, read on to discover why Boel enjoys dystopias, what she hopes to explore in her writing and how different her writing process is for her work at the game company when compared to writing her novels.
Tell us about the theme of your novel “The New Children”?
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 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.
What made you decide to take the plunge and write “The New Children (Den nya människan)?
I never thought about it as something frightening to write the novel, it was just something I had to do. The idea about what would happen if all the new children being born weren’t normal simply refused to leave my mind. Not that the children are monsters, but that they lack what often defines humanity – such as empathy and emotions. How would the world react?
And 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 as the question: What would I do? Would I strive to change anything or just look the other way?
One of the reviews I read about it said that it drew interesting parallels with our own society – can you tell us more about that?
The future portrayed in The New Children is extremely close in time and in a society that largely resembles our current society. I wanted to explore how the human race would react when ordinary people realize that they most likely is the last generation of its kind? What is the private, political and societal impact? 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 exists.
From what I’ve read, it’s a harrowing and possibly uncomfortable topic – especially as it has to do with children. They’re the innocents in our world, but you’ve flipped that on its head – what did you want to show/explore through that?
What it means to be human and being inhumane. My goal was to make people think about how they themselves would react to the fact that humanity is dying. What we humans are prepared to do for our own survival. I don´t believe humanity is evil, but I´m convinced that we would go far beyond what we believe ourselves capable of to preserve what we have. To protect the persons we love and to avoid seeing things that hurt. A dystopian novel to me is about choosing parts of the present and enhancing them and placing it in a near future. That way we get distance enough to look at what we are doing and in what direction the world is taking.
I loved the idea of the story being told through research articles and newspaper articles – can you tell us more about that? And what you think these two things bring to your book?
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 perspective, due to the fact that she is so focused on her own life and her own experiences. I wanted a larger perspective, but I only wanted one main story – the one Rakel lives through. Therefore, parallel to the story, I decided to use in-depth interviews from research articles to get short freeze frames of different peoples view on the world.
The newspaper articles was a result of my own frustration of 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 in a bigger picture.
What I hope is that the articles adds to the sense of realism of the story and make it more believable as well as giving a brief overview on how someone would perceive everything that is happening.
Tell us about your favorite dystopian writers – what you enjoy about their work?
It seems that dystopias usually surface when the world is going through crisis and right now we are in the middle of a wave of dystopias in literature. The most famous one right now is of course The Hunger Games about revolting against a totalitarian society.
I personally adore Margaret Atwood, especially her Maddaddam trilogy, and I feel that her strength is how she explore current trends in society and pushes them right to the edge of what we can believe. I also want to recommend the dystopian novel The Unit by Swedish author Ninni Holmqvist, that creates a very close and disturbing future.
Can you define what makes a good dystopian novel?
I’m convinced that a good dystopian novel needs to be so close that you can feel it breathing down your neck when you read it. That you recognise so much from your own society and make you realize how little it would take for the world to change in that direction.
As an advice to others out there that want to write dystopian literature or science fiction, I’d say that the most important thing is that you need to believe in what you are writing. Because if you don’t, then no one else will. If you can make the reader believe in the world you have created, the reader will believe anything you tell them. Make the unbelievable believable. With The New Children, I created a dystopian novel about the end of mankind and that does sound dramatic indeed. But it’s very close to everyday life and focuses on the children and how the world reacts to them. The fact that it’s such a close future makes it possible for anyone that reads it to feel familiar to the world and become frightened by how close this future is to our present.
What was the best piece of advice you ever got about being a writer? Who was it from?
I wish I’d say something horribly creative, but the best advice I ever got was from the Swedish horror author Anders Fager: “I think what separates published authors from others that write is simply their stubbornness.” When he said that, I remember thinking: “Well then, I’m stubborn as hell.” Then I just knew I´d finish my book no matter what. And so I did.
Describe your perfect writing environment – do you need quiet to focus or can you write anywhere at any time?
To be honest, I can write almost anywhere. In a café, in the subway or at home. The only strange part, especially considering my love for the future and for science fiction, is that I write a lot in notebooks. The reason is that I write really fast by hand, probably a legacy from my work as a journalist. And a notebook can´t tempt you with the ever alluring Internet, so you really don´t have an excuse to do anything else but writing – it’s just lines on a paper waiting to be covered by your words.
Can you tell us about working as a games writer and how it influenced your writing? Or, is it completely separate?
I’m horribly spoiled, because I write around the clock… I have the amazing job of being a game writer for the upcoming role-playing game Runemaster. The strangest part is that being a game writer and being an author is so extremely separate in my mind. I go to work and delve deep in 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 can be my work and one is my creative hobby.
Can you tell us too about the writing collective that you are part of and your podcast? They’re such different creative outlets! What do you as writer gain from stretching your creative muscles like this?
It´s hard to describe, even the first time everyone in my writers collective Fear (Fruktan) met, I just felt as if I had found a new home. Just the feeling of being able to blur out things like “So how would a hive-mind work practically?” or “Would you go to Mars if you´d never be able to return?” and people start to discuss it seriously without looking at you as if you escaped from an asylum. Actually, I can do that at my job as well, now that I think of it. At work, we even have a laminated list on how we would handle a zombie apocalypse. In short, I´m surrounded by excellent people.
But back to Fear, to be part of a writer’s collective transforms writing from something you do alone to something you do together with others. We write short stories together on themes or in the same setting, publish them in our podcast and meet every second week to write and explore ideas. I guess it’s a lot similar to the sense of belonging that fanfiction creates in communities, but the difference is that we actually create the world and the character ourselves before we write our different takes on it. Being part of Fear gives me a free creative zone without limitations and every time we meet I feel that nothing is impossible.
What’s next for you?
Currently I’m writing my next dystopian novel that is exploring quite a different subject regarding debt and consumption. I have just signed with Brandt New Agency, so knock on wood, I hope my novel will gets published outside Sweden. And this summer, my writer’s collective got our first short story collection published, named Stockholm Downfall (Stockholms Undergång) where we destroy the capital of Sweden in a lot of creative ways…