Malin Klingenberg answers HLA’s questions:
Your impressive portfolio of children’s books, from the smallest readers to teenagers, usually has a very humorous approach to life: The Life of Fart, The Senior Squad series – they are all a great fun to read. It is often said that it’s much harder to write funny than sad. Would you agree? And what does one need to know in order to write a fun, speedy children’s book?
I never really planned to write funny books per se, they just turned out that way, probably because of the quirky ideas and funny characters that I usually come up with. When writing, my main goal is to tell a story, not to be funny. But most of my stories and ideas tend to flip out at some point, which is fun for both me and the readers.
I think it is hard to write a story in any style that doesn’t come naturally to you. To me, writing a sad story seems a lot more challenging than writing something humorous. I’m not trying to be funny when I write, which, ironically enough is the reason the humor works. If I really tried to be funny, I think the readers would notice it and get a feeling that I am trying too hard!
I would say you choose rather unusual topics for your books: not everyone would be courageous enough to write about farts, or choose seniors as main protagonists for an adventure series. How do you come up with such topics, characters?
Writing gives me an opportunity to enter the lives and minds of people or phenomena that are very different from me. It’s fascinating to imagine what it would feel like to be a retired motorcycle lady, to belong to a gang of old triplets who love inventions, to be a powerful villain who is vain but afraid of ghosts, or … well, a fart. Writing about farts wasn’t embarrassing to me, but my teenage daughters weren’t too happy about the topic. They’ll get over it.
Over the years, you have tried various genres: adventure books for the middle-graders, children’s verse book, YA… In your opinion, which age group is the most challenging to write for?
Young adults, maybe? The teenage world is different today than it was when I was a teenager. The feelings are the same, but the environment is new. If I started writing without research on today’s teenage world, I think my novel The Elk Girl (2018) would have felt outdated. I have to be humble. Since I am not a teenager, it’s very important that I check my story with someone who is, to make sure that the story is credible.
I have also been a bit hesitant to write picture books. There are so few words, and that makes every word so important. Finally, when I tried, I loved it!
Do you have pre-readers of certain age groups that you ask to give opinions on your work? And what kind of feedback have you gotten from the little readers over the years?
I use my own children for this task. I am the mother of three girls, age 6, 12 and 13, and they have become very good at pointing out what works and what doesn’t work in my stories. They have helped some of my writer colleagues as well, by reading and commenting their books before publishing. They usually comment on words that they don’t really get or on confusing elements of the story. Sometimes they find typos, too! I really appreciate their help!
On the occasion of the International Children’s Book Fair, what would you wish for children and young readers?
I really hope that all children get an opportunity to discover books that trigger their imagination and inspiration. Once they’re hooked, they have a lifelong love story ahead of them.
What are your plans for the near future? What can the readers expect?
Right now I am editing the final book of the Senior Squad series. I have also started a project where I write short stories, just for fun. It’s a a great way to boost my inspiration! My main project right now is a new two-book series: I have written heaps already, but the story is tricky, so we’ll see what happens.
Finally, a version of the famous Proust Questionnaire, used by the legendary French journalist Bernard Pivot at the end of every broadcast of his literary television talk show Apostrophes.
What is your favorite word?
Right now, it’s “virusfrid”, a word someone invented to describe the positive effects of the Corona Virus. It means virus peace, which you can feel when you don’t have to go anywhere, and you can stay at home, watching Netflix, without fear that you are missing out on something.
What is your least favorite word?
“Marra”, which is a word we use in the Swedish speaking part of Finland. It’s the whiny way that people, especially children, talk when they want to complain about something, endlessly. It’s a good, descriptive word, but it sounds ugly, and is very annoying as a phenomenon!
What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally?
Almost anything! But especially other people’s creativity. Or interesting discussions.
What turns you off?
When people on the radio don’t speak properly! Or when journalists don’t know how to write! I guess I have high expectations on professionals who work with expressing themselves.
What is your favorite curse word?
Hmm, I don’t really curse that much, maybe I don’t really like any of them.
What sound or noise do you love?
The Blackbird in our garden, singing in the sunset.
What sound or noise do you hate?
What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?
I’d love to be a baker.
What profession would you not like to do?
Metal worker! Too noisy and dirty.
If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?”
“Welcome! All your loved ones are waiting for you by the cake buffet!”