With the date of his latest publication, Cigarette by Per Hagman fast approaching, Nordic Watchlist were lucky enough to sit down with Duncan Lewis, the man behind Nordisk Books and talk about his journey into publishing, his passion for Nordic literature and his plans for the future.
NW: I guess the obvious place for us to start is to ask you to tell us a bit about yourself and how Nordisk Books came to be?
NB: So, I started Nordisk Books in 2016. I’d lived and worked in Denmark for six years and whilst I was out there I managed to pick up the language. I began to read more and more and came to realise that were was so much that the Nordic region had to offer from a literary perspective than the crime fiction we see translated into English and that is so readily accessible.
The first book we published was ‘Havoc’ by Tom Kristensen and wonderfully translated by Carl Malmberg. Shortly after that we published the equally fantastic ‘You Can’t Betray Your Best Friend And Learn To Sing At The Same Time’ by Kim Hiorthoy and I guess the rest is history!
NW: How do you go about selecting which books you publish then?
NB: Good question. When I first began publishing I was focussed on books that I’d read and enjoyed myself and trying to introduce others to them. That’s still important but equally important is having an idea of what I think readers will find interesting. I try and work with books that I think have quite strong and interesting themes or give the reader a real sense of connection to place.
NW: And is it a case of you approaching the original native publishers or as you grow are you starting to get approached direct?
NB: When I first started out it was more me doing the approaching but as we’ve grown and more and more people are becoming aware of what we’re doing, I’m now lucky enough that people have started to come to me with options.
NW: And do you have a goal in mind for how many you’d like to publish? Per year for example?
NB: I’ve always said I’d like to get a position where I was publishing one a quarter so four a year. For various reasons it hasn’t quite happened yet but I think we’ll get there.
NW: Turning to your latest release then, what can we expect from Cigarette?
NB: Well, it’s set in Stockholm in 1989 and follows Johan, a young waiter at the Hard Rock Café. He spends his time partying, drinking, taking drugs, having sex and watching music videos but as it progresses you get a sense he’s not finding it all quite as fun as he used to. There are definite themes of loneliness and a lack of purpose in there.
NW: Finally, I like to end with asking about your own favourite authors & favourite books. I appreciate that’s not always an easy one so let’s start with those from the Nordics.
NB: That is a difficult one! In terms of authors, aside from those we’ve published of course, I’d certainly include Tove Ditlevsen who has recently been published by Penguin. Arto Paasilinna’s ‘Year of the Hare’ is just an absolutely fantastic book and I defy anyone who reads it not to wander off into the Finnish woods. ‘We The Drowned’ by Carsten Jensen also has a special place for me, both as a wonderful novel but also as the first book I read in a Scandinavian language.
NW: How about those from outside of Scandinavia then? Is that equally as tricky?
NB: The first names that spring to mind are probably Philip Roth, Richard Yates, Otessa Moshfegh, Sarah Moss and Dave Eggers.
Certainly a few new names in there for me. I’ll have to check them out. Year of the Hare in particular sounds right up my street.
Cigarette is released on 28 April 2022 and, as with all other Nordisk Book releases, can be purchased direct from their website
Interview by Marc Harries