Would you murder your brothers to keep them from telling the truth about themselves?
On a long, cold Icelandic night in March 1920, Gunnar, a hermit blacksmith, finds himself with an unwanted lodger – Sigurd, an injured stranger who offers a story from the past. But some stories, even those of an old man who can barely walk, are too dangerous to hear. They alter the listeners’ lives forever… by ending them.
Others are keen on changing Gunnar’s life as well. Depending on who gets to tell his story, it might lead towards an unwanted marriage, an intervention, rejoining the Church, letting the elf drive him insane, or succumbing to the demons in his mind. Will he manage to write his own last chapter?
Bjørn Larssen’s award-winning, Amazon #1 best selling novel is an otherworldly, emotive Icelandic saga – a story of love and loneliness, relief and suffering, hatred… and hope.
“These strange, sad, funny, murderous people will stay with me for a long time.” – Annie Whitehead, author of The Sins of the Father
Eric Hoffer Grand Prize Award – Finalist
Readers’ Favorite Gold Medal – Historical Fiction
Discovering Diamonds’ Discovered Diamond Winner
Coffee Pot Book Club Historical Fiction (Modern) Book of the Year – Finalist
Readers’ Choice Best Cover Award Winner
The story of Storytellers
In 2015, I was selling my apartment. It was already completely empty, except for one thing – a giant Ikea kitchen unit. The buyers, who paid €100, asked me not to take the thing apart – together we would carry the whole thing into a truck. I agreed.
The problem with accidents is that they don’t send advance warnings.
When the buyers arrived and turned out to be rather svelte, I had a…feeling that something might go wrong. I tried to avoid taking part in transporting the thing onto the truck, but there was no way they could lift it on their own and I was the strongest. As we struggled with the weight, one of the boys dropped his corner just for a moment, and the weight of the whole thing pulled me down just for a moment. You know how sometimes one moment can change your life?
I knew I hurt myself, because my lower back radiated pleasant warmth. This had happened twice before, both times at the gym, both times because I had been trying to impress someone who hadn’t noticed they were being impressed. Oh well, I sighed. I guess I could do with a week of a break before going back to the gym and the forge.
It would be six years before I came off opiates.
I had two spine injuries. The one that limited my mobility the most took eight months to diagnose. The other, which caused the worst of pain – another few months. I didn’t want to give up blacksmithing, though. I kept pushing, between visits to all sorts of doctors, physiotherapists, dry needling, restorative yoga, until I realised I was dreading it. 10-15 minutes with the hammer would result in two weeks of unbearable pain that was only alleviated by lying down on a hard surface or sitting in a profiled chair from – oh, the irony – IKEA. I could read on my lightweight Kobo e-reader for a while before the pain intensified. I could also use my laptop.
I’d spent the first 39 years of my life saying things like “oh, writing books is super easy, I would totally do it if I weren’t so busy.” I had lots of time now. I also had a story – a dream from a few years earlier that just wouldn’t leave. On January 1, 2017 I started vomiting the words onto the page. There was no reading or editing (I didn’t know what editing was anyway). Sometimes tears blurred the screen when pain was too brutal. I didn’t stop, because then I’d have to think about it.
Two weeks later I had… definitely not a book. An obsession, more like. As I pondered over the right setting (the original draft took place in a village called “a village”) as Ásgeir’s Dýrð í dauðaþögn played on repeat, a revelation struck. Iceland, where Ásgeir came from, was an actual place, not just Björk’s home. I picked my first research book, Wasteland with Words by Sigurður Gylfi Magnússon. I couldn’t believe what I was reading. Iceland was clearly created so that I could set my story there… or, perhaps, I was given the story by the Gods to bring me to Iceland?
I pestered Icelandic historians and academics, blacksmiths and clergy. Some of them were willing to help. I got the entire staff of Reykjavík Open Air Museum to debate the worth of my protagonist’s farm in 1920. Not everything was possible to answer in writing, though. I needed to experience Iceland – and get out of that chair. I had my painkillers, muscle relaxants, a special pillow, and a life to live, even if it was my protagonist’s life.
Before leaving, I asked the runes what to expect from the trip. The answer was – you are going to the land of your spiritual ancestors, you will lose something there, and you’ll never guess what that something will be. (Obviously, I spent half of my waking time trying to guess.)
I felt I was home the moment I entered the airport. I couldn’t understand a word. I couldn’t figure out where the toilets were. All I knew was that I had come home. Midnight sun shone in Reykjavík when I placed my hand on the cold metal of the Sun Voyager and felt the heat of the elhaz rune the artist incorporated over and over into the sculpture. Elhaz – life force, protection, and connection with the Gods.
(Runes are NOT nazí symbols any more than a cross is a symbol of pedophiles.)
We were back and I still puzzled over what it was that I lost in Iceland. This time I hadn’t thrown my ID card away with recycling (different story). All chargers, keys, books I bought, cables, slippers arrived safely. I even brought a “gift” I didn’t want – never eat anything an elf gives you. Another arrived a few months later in form of my miracle of an editor, Megan Dickman, who would teach me things that I didn’t know I didn’t know. What I did know was that I had to go home, go to Iceland again. I often get obsessed with something, only to get bored with it once I have it. We booked an off-season four-week trip we couldn’t really afford. All the corners were cut. There would be no restaurant meals or tourist attractions, except free ones.
You don’t need to pay to watch a waterfall, soak in a hot tub far away from everything, or stand in the rain listening to the ocean’s roar and shrill screams of the birds. I did a lot of standing (or sitting) still in those four weeks. We did go horse riding and I knew I would pay for that, and I have – I doubled the painkillers for a few days, because I couldn’t breathe – and it was worth it.
One night I did something completely out of character for me – I opened my laptop right before going to sleep and looked at my Facebook messages. Our landlady was asking what we thought of the Northern lights. I nearly forgot my boots on the way to the Sun Voyager, the only place we could think of, the only right place.
The green, blue, violet flames danced to the music of the spheres for 45 minutes, and we stood still, and we saw, and I understood. When we got back home I told Husby he could go to sleep, but I had a scene to rewrite immediately. Readers and reviewers would call it “cinematic” later. They have no idea how spectacularly I failed to describe the experience. In my defence, you can’t write magic down.
As we waited for the plane that would take us back to Amsterdam, the weather was horrible – it was cold, windy, and wet. I was feeling horrible, too, because I wanted to stay. I finally found out what I lost in Iceland. It was my heart.
By the time Storytellers was published on March 28, 2019 – the last words of the book are “March 28, 1920” – the pain that forced (caused? helped?) me to devote myself to writing was still disabling, but no longer crippled me. That one life-changing moment brought me much more than just suffering. The only thing chronic pain teaches you is that you never get used to pain and that what doesn’t kill you sometimes makes you wish it had. I was fortunate, though, blessed with rewards I couldn’t list. Do I regret lifting that kitchen unit? Yes. Do I regret anything that happened after January 1, 2017? No.