Listening In is a series of author interviews, featuring authors whose works have been transformed into audiobooks! This time, we heard from Ann-Helén Laestadius, author of Stolen. Stolen tells the coming-of-age story of Elsa, a young Sámi girl and daughter of reindeer herders, as she struggles to defend herself and her community against many injustices. This title was narrated by Jade Wheeler.
Ann-Helén Laestadius is an author and journalist from Kiruna, Sweden. She is Sámi and of Tornedalian descent, two of Sweden’s national minorities. In 2016, Laestadius was awarded the prestigious August Prize for Best Young Adult and Children’s Novel for Ten Past One, for which she was also awarded Norrland’s Literature Prize. Stolen is her first adult novel and was named Sweden’s Book of the Year.
Author photo by Thron Ullberg.
Please tell us more about Stolen. Why should we listen to the audiobook?
Stolen is the story about Elsa, who grows up in a reindeer herding family in northern Sweden. The reindeer herders in the area get their reindeer tormented and killed, while the police do nothing about it. The book begins with Elsa as a child witnessing a man killing one of her calves. He threatens her into silence, and she doesn’t dare to tell her family. Ten years later, she is an adult and decides to try to put an end to the reindeer killings. It’s a story about feelng powerless and desperate and what that does to people. It’s also a story about growing up in small villages where everyone knows everyone, and where some of them commit crimes against the others.
Could you please tell us about your career as an author. What first drew you to writing?
I have always dreamt about becoming an author, ever since I was a child and started writing stories. The Sámi culture has a strong storytelling tradition, and my mother has always told me stories, both about her upbringing but also ghost stories and about events with supernatural elements. It sparked my imagination and desire to write my own stories. As a child, I also wanted to become a journalist, and I have worked as one since I finished high school, so writing has always been a big part of my life. I had long planned to write a book for an adult audience about three generations of Sámi women, but I didn’t really have the time to do it. But then I saw a writing competition on the theme “Being a young Sámi today” and it made me rethink, which led me to write a young adult novel that ended up winning that competition. That was the beginning of my career as an author.
You are also an accomplished journalist. What are the biggest difference in your approach to journalism and writing a novel? Are there any similarities?
It has been a clear advantage being a journalist before becoming an author. I have a habit of writing and telling stories, and I am not so sensitive when it comes to my text. As a journalist, you are used to having your text stricken and changed, and then you can handle having to rewrite a book manuscript as well. The big difference between being a journalist and an author is, of course, that as a journalist I have to be objective and write the “truth”, but as an author, I have the opportunity to create my own worlds and convey a message that is mine, through my characters.
We’d love to hear about your writing process. Please elaborate!
I write intuitively. I rarely have a synopsis from the start, but just start writing and see where it takes me. However, before I sit down by the computer, I often collect a large pile of post-it notes, small snippets of text on my phone, and handwritten scenes in a notebook. I also always have to go home to Silkimuotka and Nedre Soppero in the far north of Sweden and stand by the Lainio River fishing. My places at home always give me inspiration and I need to hear the languages Sámi and Meänkieli spoken. I have to be around my family and be reminded of what is important to us. The process often starts with me having a story that I want to tell. It was like that with Stolen, where I knew that I wanted to write about the reindeer killings, and then I began to search for my main character. As soon as I begin to see a first scene in front of me, it is time to gather all the ideas and sit down by the computer and just start writing and see what happens. I write without a plan, maybe up to 100 pages, but then when I have to tie the story together, I become more structured and write a synopsis. But it’s not at all certain that I will follow it.
You previously penned several children’s and young adult novels. Stolen is your first adult novel. What inspired you to make the demographic change?
I knew that Stolen would be quite brutal and had to be written for an adult audience. I had been wanting to write for adults for a long time, and when I came up with the idea for Stolen it felt so clear to me that it had to be written for an adult audience.
Where is your favourite place to write?
In Silkimuotka, at my parent’s house, in the far north of Sweden. There, I can walk out into nature and gather new inspiration, or just walk around in the forest to get my mind going.
Describe your writing style in five words or less.
Intuitive, fast, event-driven, and pleasurable.
Any advice for emerging writers?
To write what you know, or “dig where you stand” as we say in Swedish. Use places that you know well. Don’t limit yourself, don’t censor yourself, write everything that comes to mind and delete things afterwards if needed. And most of all, don’t wait for the inspiration – just sit down and try to write. Just anything really, maybe a scene or a dialogue. Or a first chapter.
What do you do when you experience writer’s block or reader’s block?
Walking always works. Especially in nature at home. But even here in Stockholm I can walk where there is greenery or water.
What has been the most exciting part of having your novel not only translated into many different languages, but also transformed into an audiobook?
I am so happy that Elsa gets to come out in the world and that the Sámi story is being told from our own perspective. It’s very important to talk about how Sweden has treated their indigenous population, I think that people are rather unaware about what abuse and oppression that the Sámi has been put through and there is an ongoing Sámi hatred. Audiobooks are great, as they give something extra. I write a lot in Sámi so then people get to hear the language. And to see it written in the books.
You, like your main character, are Swedish Sami. How important was it to you to tell a story based on your Indigenous heritage?
It is important, natural and completely obvious that I should write about the Sámi. I want to create recognition for Sámi who read my books, and at the same time I hope that others will learn something about Sweden’s indigenous people.
Please recommend an audiobook you absolutely adored!
Oh, it’s not easy to choose just one. But I really enjoyed The Maid by Nita Prose.
What are you reading (or listening to) right now?
I am reading Firekeeper’s Daughter by Angeline Boulley and I am listening to a Swedish book called Everyone Must Go South (Alla måste söderut) by Marie Lundström.