In Scandinavia there are no taboos when it comes to writing, even for children and young people. Books for teens exploring sexuality with explicit language are not censored. It’s so normal for us. There is nothing I can’t cover as a teen writer and I know my publisher would stand by me no matter what.
Here are a couple of examples to explain what I mean. The book Fittekvote by Axel Hellstenius and Morten Skårdal, about young girls in the military, won a literature prize in 2011. It would be called “Cunt Quota” if translated into English.
Another book, Tjuven (“The Thief”) by Rune Belsvik, is aimed at children around eight years old. In it, the main character, Jolver, learns how to masturbate from his friend Bob. The friend tells him how it’s good to touch yourself while looking at naked women in a magazine. I can’t quite see this happening in the UK… yet.
In Scandinavia, and in Norway in particular, it’s possible to make a living as a YA author, even if you aren’t a bestseller. It’s OK to write a debut novel, fail and still get another chance. My debut book was published in 1998 – it was a decent debut, promising, said the critics. The most inspiring sentence was, as I still recall it: “Ingelin Røssland has written her first novel but it will not be the last”. I took it as a sign that I had potential to grow and improve. So I kept on writing and book by book I reached out to more young readers.
In 2006 and 2007 I started to win awards and my books started to be translated, first into German, then French and now, with Minus Me, in English. To be published in English feels like a miracle, but in reality it is hard work. Having a publisher that believed in me really helped, letting me write the books that I felt I needed to write, not what the market wanted. This has been a huge privilege for me and many other Norwegian writers such as Jostein Gaarder, who wrote the bestseller Sophie’s World, Johan Harstad, who wrote the brilliant sci-fi/horror novel 172 Hours on the Moon and Lene Ask, whose beautiful graphic novel Dear Richard was recently published in English.