Helle Helle Interview: Inside a Writer's Process



”The writing of a novel can be therapeutic.”

“Can I use grammar to show the pain and the sorrow? Can I create a narrative position, which means that as you read, you can feel the pain without me making it explicit?” Follow the award-winning Danish writer Helle Helle as she invites us into the mind-boggling process of writing a novel, with “no such thing as inspiration. It’s the writing itself which makes everything come alive.”

Helle Helle’s prose depicts quiet existences in the provinces, everyday people who are easily overlooked. In her work study she often pauses to look out the window “between sentences and passages, sometimes between words,” she says. All goes on in between the lines in her novels which has often been compared with Ernest Hemingway due to their ‘iceberg technique’ leaving the most important untold in the text. “I feel like telling stories and writing novels where I can make giant leaps between sentences and passages,” she states.

At the time of this interview, Helle had just delivered a new novel to her publisher, leaving her to think about the recently ended process. She explains how “editing rounds have really evolved over the years” where she searches through her manuscript to discover words that are not precisely put. Her novels evolve from language and during the writing process she asks herself: “Can I use grammar to show the pain and the sorrow. So that language and plot intertwine? And similarly with the narration: Can I create a narrative position, which means that as you read you can feel the pain without me making it explicit?””The writing of a novel can be therapeutic.”

Helle Helle also explains how her writing process is reflected in the writing: “I spend a lot of time waiting. And sometimes I wonder if all the waiting during the writing process is reflected in the storyline of the books. There are so many pauses and different paths to follow. And ways of letting yourself get swept away. In terms of the storyline.” The writing of a novel can be therapeutic, but not in the way one should think: “the therapy doesn’t lie in writing about a daughter whose mother becomes ill. […] The therapeutic effect comes from the writing itself. The feeling of shutting out everything else. Creating this intense presence between yourself and the words. That feeling of time expanding when I’m writing.” “It brings more hours into your day. The world gets bigger, and I forget myself and any worries I might have.”

To Helle writing offers great satisfaction: “It’s as if the space you create when you’re writing literature brings more hours into your day. The world gets bigger, and I forget myself and any worries I might have. The feeling of being so present gives my life tremendous meaning. It’s so meaningful to me, that I couldn’t wish for anything more.”

Helle Helle was born in 1965 and is one of Denmark’s most celebrated authors. Her novels have been translated into more than 15 languages. She published her first book of prose under the title ‘Eksempel på liv’ (Example of life), in 1993. Since then she has published a long list of novels and she has received numerous awards for her writing.

In this video Helle Helle reads from the novels ’Hvis det er’, (If You Want), 2014, ’de’ (they), 2018 and ‘This Should Be Written in Present Tense’, 2014, translated by Martin Aitken

Helle Helle was interviewed in her work study in Sorø, Denmark, by journalist Tore Leifer, August 2020.

Camera: Klaus Elmer and David Schweiger

Edit: Kasper Bech Dyg

Produced by Christian Lund

Supported by C. L. Davids Fond og Samling

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