Writers on the whole are (in my opinion) a brave lot. It takes a measure of courage to put words on display for viewing and assessment of the general public. I can only imagine it takes a heightened sense of commitment and courage for one such as our own Andrea Heiberg, who chooses to write in a foreign language: English.
In addition to writing and posting poetry online, Andrea has published a fictional book of short stories, centered around folks on her beloved Sejer Island (Next Stop: Sejer Island). In this English tongue that is foreign to her, she manages to engage and move the reader to truly feel, know and (yes) love the characters she draws. Her stories speak to everyday life as experienced on a tiny island, complete with life perceptions and subtle take-away lessons from ordinary victors. I applaud Andrea’s efforts, and highly recommend this book.
MARIE ELENA: Andrea, what prompted you to begin writing in English?
ANDREA: Arab, Spanish, and English are the main languages in the world, and since I like to be part of the world and speak English, I picked English. It’s been quite a journey for me, though. I knew I needed an editor, so I looked for an editor in Britain since I write in British English, and I found a firm. I sent some short stories, and I never understood the corrections. Then I saw an American editor who was so much cheaper, so I sent the same short stories to her and didn’t expect anything considering her low charge for editing.
I will never forget that Tuesday back in 2008 when I got the first short story back from her – it was “A Kingdom for a Kalashnikov.” When I read her perfect edit of my short story, I was shocked because I had wondered whether I could ever accomplish my task, which was and is to preserve my Danish voice in English – and she just showed that I could, that I accomplished it. In a way, my writings in English could have stopped there, but I liked corresponding with her. I still do, so I wrote more short stories.
When I finally had written a lot of short stories, a British publisher wanted them, so a British editor needed to change the words into British English. So my stories needed another editing, but this time the British editor only changed the American expressions so they appear in British English.
MARIE ELENA: “A Kingdom for a Kalashnikov” was well placed as the first of your short stories in Next Stop: Sejer Island, as it shows off your ability to draw in the reader, endear us to your characters, and your extraordinary ability to layer your work.
Andrea, I know your place and date of birth carry great significance to you. Please tell me about that.
ANDREA: I like that my place of birth is near the place where one of my favorite authors lived (Karen Blixen), and since I could couple her with Ernest Hemingway (another favorite author of mine, with whom I share a birthday), I had a chance of making a bit of fun – and so I did.
So here I have to admit there is nothing special about my birth – only that I was born far away from where I come from.
It is a fact that I am born, though, and also that I consider my birth miraculous, just as miraculous as yours, and I see us all like little wonderful wonders all around the earth.
Still, having been born, I live with Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s words. He says in his “Le Petit Prince”: “It is the time you have spent with your rose that makes your rose so important.”
Walt and you share your roses on The Poetic Bloomings, and thanks for that. I’m also so grateful to be given the opportunity to share roses with Ina Roy-Faderman on http://www.inourbooks.com
MARIE ELENA: What a lovely sentiment, Andrea. Thank you for your kind words.
Let’s talk about Sejer Island. It is not your place of birth, so what drew you in, and why did you decide to settle there?
ANDREA: I haven’t settled on Sejer Island, yet. I have a cabin out here, but I still have a house on what we call “the other side.” In my case, I come from Vordingborg. There is a ferry to and from, and the service takes an hour. In my case the ride is around three hours altogether, but since the weather is unpredictable, I might arrive seasick to the mainland, having another two hours to drive. It is quite a journey for me to come home, so very often I stay on the island during the weekends, too, but I guess it’s important for me to know that I’ve got other possibilities.
I admire people from Sejer Island for being able to live on an island permanently, but I’m not sure I could stay here if I didn’t have the chance to go “home” and have a good warm bath, and knowing that the electricity will work 24 hours a day.
MARIE ELENA: My goodness, Andrea. I have such a low tolerance for being seasick, that it is hard to imagine subjecting myself willingly on a regular basis. But when I think of the stories in your book, and I see the photos of your lovely island, I do believe it would be well worth the trip.
ANDREA: Gitte Andreasen (from the island) took these beautiful photos using her cell phone. She is out here, every day, everywhere on the island on her small three wheeled bike, accompanied with her two small dogs.
MARIE ELENA: Your friend has captured such beauty with nothing but her cell phone? Impressive! Please do thank her for us. We are pleased to share her photos here.
So now tell me — what does a typical day in the life of Andrea Heiberg look like?
ANDREA: A typical day for me is so typical. I’m up at 6:30 every day, at work at 8:00, and home at about 2:00. I’m a teacher at the local school. Then there are the meetings on Mondays and Thursdays, and quite often these days I’m “off duty” at around 7:00 or 8:00. In between, there are the poems. If, for instance, you and Walt have an appealing prompt, it might stay in my head so I need to write a poem when I get home. But I seldom write short stories, prose, during the week because normally I’m not satisfied with my writing after a day’s work at the school.
MARIE ELENA: I did not realize you are a teacher. That’s wonderful! Walt and I have been rather amazed (and pleased) at the number of educators who regularly grace our site. Do you teach small children?
ANDREA: My education allows me to teach both children and adults. During my long life of teaching, I have been teaching both children and adults. English is one of my specific subjects, but working on an island requires good computer skills. We cooperate with other small islands, and we use a video conference, Smart Boards, laptops, Ipad –and we connect using a program called Bridgit. So far we only worked together with Danish schools, but an Irish school and a Swedish school (also island schools) might want to join us – and that’s great!
MARIE ELENA: In addition to being a teacher, blogger, poet, and published fiction writer, you are an award-winning playwright. That is just so impressive, Andrea! Please tell us all about it.
ANDREA: Back in 1986 I won a contest. A theater in Copenhagen, Teaterbutikken, picked my play, and I won kr. 25,000 (around $7,000 in today’s money). It was a play about recycling. It’s called “Losse Else,” which means more or less “Trash Else” – “Else” being a female Danish name. This Else is an old woman who collects trash items, and so does a young boy. It is within this bonding that the story runs. On the surface you might think: What is trash? But you might also think: Who is trash?
MARIE ELENA: That sounds so unique and intriguing. On top of that, I understand plays of yours have appeared on Danish television. That must have been such a thrill for you! How did this come about?
ANDREA: Danish television picked one of my plays to air in the beginning of the eighties. It was a play for and with children, called “The Bad Sheriff and His 18 Robin Hoods.” It was quite a success, so we went forward with a story inspired by Danish history called “The Murder in The Finderup Bar.” This was also a play for children and played by children. So much fun!
MARIE ELENA: They both sound absolutely delightful. What diverse experiences you have under your belt!
Let’s concentrate on poetry a moment. I’ve chosen two of your poems, which I believe flaunt your diverse creativity. The first, “ENGLISH,” particularly touches me.
ENGLISH (by Andrea Heiberg)
Though I love the sound of my mother’s voice,
the stories are stories
and the facts are facts
and when told in English,
there’re just as much stories and facts than any Dane could tell them
in any language
and just as much English.
So, please Mom, up in Heaven,
that English bears the signs of worldwide cultures
from the north,
up in Denmark.
And how I love that someone added
Mom, I tell you this in English
though tears drop
down my cheeks
and whether they drop in Danish or in English,
I don’t know.
I just miss you.
MARIE ELENA: This: “… and whether they drop in Danish or in English, I don’t know. I just miss you,” is one of the most touching lines I’ve ever read, in any poem, by any poet.
Another poem is inspired by one of Robert Brewer’s prompts back in 2009 during the April Poem-a-Day challenge.
SO WE DECIDED (by Andrea Heiberg)
So we decided to go home,
only we didn’t,
we kept sitting there side by side, staring at the lake,
staring at the lake’s surface,
we decided to go home, not daring to touch, not daring to even look, just staring at the lake, waiting for us to decide to go home, only hating having nothing better to say and hating the thought of leaving,
leaving for our homes, our parents,
hating sitting like this and desperately thinking of something brilliant to say, only not too brilliant, something catchy, but not sexy, something that could make the ice break.
So we decided to go home.
Stumbling kind of.
“Should we kiss?” you said.
MARIE ELENA: “So We Decided” captures the excitement and awkwardness of “that moment” perfectly!
When did you begin writing poetry? What poet(s) inspire you?
ANDREA: Poetry is my “in between” during what feels like busy days– only I learned that poetry also gives me the feeling of syntheses. Like headlines for stories, or like prompts for short stories or novels.
The Danish poet, Benny Andersen, inspires me a lot.
Most of all, I like that poems unite us. We can write about all kinds of everyday issues, the general truth, so to speak, of our everyday lives, and we don’t need to involve politics and religion. Poems give us this opportunity to say hello, and I believe that this “hello” is a building stone for a world in peace.
MARIE ELENA: I can’t help but share one more poem. “O Magnitude” was the recipient of a “Beautiful Bloom,” and will appear in our upcoming “First Blooms” collection. I was glad to learn that it is one of your own favorites as well as mine.
O Magnitude (by Andrea Heiberg)
The days never end but
for the longing of
the damping forest
the on shore wondering,
the red-necked grebe
on its way
with her two heavy babies on her back,
No, the days never end.
MARIE ELENA: One of the most memorable experiences of your life is an event that I’m embarrassed I knew nothing about: The Camino.
ANDREA: The Camino! The Way! People from all over the world walk the Camino every year, and we are following a trail of hundreds of kilometers up north in Spain. There are around 25 kilometers in between the towns and the beds where you can sleep, so for many people the options make it possible. A lot of men wrote about their external sufferings and inner revelations walking these hundreds of kilometers, and I don’t understand this because the majority of people I met on the Camino back in 2006 were women. Women from all over the world losing weight.
I never intended to walk the Camino, but a friend of mine wanted to go there. She had breast cancer, and in a hospital bed without breasts, she cried, “Now I can never walk the Camino.”
And I said, “Of course you can.”
And she said, “Will you bring me?”
And I said, “I’ll carry you all the way if necessary.”
My friend recovered, and every now and then she reminded me of my promise, so one day we were there. “Hello 500 kilometers ahead of you,” I thought one day in Burgos in Spain. It turned out to be a painful nightmare for the first couple of days because I did not know anything else than walking these 500 kilometers (approximately 300 miles) to reach the airport in Santiago to get safely home to Denmark. How would I ever succeed?
I got lost from my Danish friend after two days. Only I met a lot of other people. People from all over the world. People from Holland, Germany, England, Ireland, Canada, America, and Australia.
I walked all those hundreds of kilometers mostly with three Australians, but I met my Danish friend after 19 days in Santiago. When sitting in a restaurant with my Australian friends, whom I walked with for what felt like a lifetime, my Danish friend asked me, “Andrea, why do you speak in English?”
And what did I say? Likely that it was important for me that everybody around the table understood what I said – only the fact was that I felt more or less Australian.
When I returned to Denmark, I started writing about all the experiences with all those hundreds of people that I’d met. I wrote in English, and after three months I ended up with a book manuscript of 72,000 words, now wondering:
Who doesn’t need to follow a long-haired, American anorexic pilgrim walking out there with her plastic bags?
“Being a Franciscan believer doesn’t allow me to own anything,” she said. Only I for one would have loved to buy a rucksack for her. Listening to her endless packing and unpacking of her noisy Spanish plastic bags at 5 o’clock in the morning was hell.
“Sorry, but I need to arrange all my stuff right,” she said.
Or the polite British pilgrim who wore his trekking trousers inside out, explaining to me that the trousers belonged to his dead friend who had wanted to walk the Camino. He promised this dead friend’s wife that he would wear these trousers along the entire journey, and there he was, “saving” these trousers for Santiago where he would put them on right.
“What an odd promise,” I said.
“Yes, you might say so,” he said, “but that’s how she wanted it, and I do it because she promised me his old car when I return to England.”
MARIE ELENA: “I’ll carry you all the way if necessary.” Wow. What a friend you are, Andrea. And what an amusing and amazing experience! It sounds like a very good thing that you brought your sense of humor with you. 😉
And now, as I end all my interviews — if we could know only one thing about you, what would you tell us?
ANDREA: Being a Danish author writing in English, living on a remote island, makes it difficult to get published. My dream is to have my Camino manuscript published. I could go on forever, and I do so in my manuscript. I promise the world a good read and promise any reader a new and extraordinary view of the Camino. Please help me get my Camino manuscript through.
MARIE ELENA: Thank you so much for taking time out of your busy life to help us get to know you better. Your poetry is a welcome asset here at Poetic Bloomings.
Ways to find and support Andrea:
Next Stop: Sejer Island was published by an independent British publisher, and may be found on Amazon (http://www.amazon.com/Next-Stop-Island-Andrea-Heiberg/dp/1844718700) and on Salt Publishing at www.saltpublishing.com .Remember to leave a review, and consider a recommendation on Goodreads (http://www.goodreads.com/) .
“A Kingdom for a Kalashnikov” may be found at: http://www.belletrista.com/2011/Issue14/features_4.php
As Andrea touched on above, she recently connected with another talented writer, Ina Roy-Faderman, to create a delightful blog: “in our books (tales of two writers)” http://inourbooks.com/. Do stop on over and give them a look-see.
One more way in which we can support Andrea is to share Facebook connections with her.
It is wonderful having a diverse poetic community here at Poetic Bloomings. We thank you all for your generous support of one another.