Interview: Katarina Bivald, author of The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend.


Katarina Bivald. (Photo by Cecilia Bivald)
Katarina Bivald. (Photo by Cecilia Bivald)


Following my review of the beautiful The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend, here’s a little interview I did with the author:

-First let me ask the obvious, Why Broken Wheel, Iowa?

I made up my mind early on that if I was going to make things up, I might as well do it properly. And I have to think about my own amusement as well – part of the charm in writing a book is to get to visit the places you make up. So I chose Iowa precisely because I knew nothing about the state. Or almost nothing – I knew that they had once had a library cat named Dewey Readmore Books

-Have you been to Iowa before writing the book?

No, I haven’t. I haven’t even visited the United States. Although in a way it felt like I had still grown up there – with Fannie Flagg and Annie Proulx and Louisa May Alcott and all the other great authors and books I’ve read all my life.

-You worked in a bookstore for almost 10 years how did that influence your writing? Are there any books that inspired The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend?

I did indeed. At the time when I worked in the bookshop, I thought it was all about the books. I used to look upon customers as just a crude interruption in my reading. But when I set out to write The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend and looked back at my time in the bookshop, I realized it was just as much the people I remember – who came in looking for books, sometimes, or just someone to talk to or a way to make time go by a little bit more quickly. 

-Where did you write the bulk of the book? And how long did it take you to finish it?

I wrote the first draft while traveling in Ireland. I spent three weeks alone there, going from Dublin to Belfast to Galway and spending time with Amy and Sara and George and the rest of my new-found and imaginary friends as I went along. Then I rewrote it when I was back in Sweden, sent it to some publisher, and got universally rejected. Rewrote it again. Got rejected. Rewrote it. And so on, until finally, there it was – a finished book; all my imaginary friends in other people’s head as well. 

Sara and Amy’s friendship is special.What inspired these characters?

Amy was always there. In the first draft, she was alive when Sara got there. Unfortunately, that meant that nothing ever happened. Sara arrived, they met, they drove from place to place to place, sat around talking, and so on. I was talking about it with my sister one evening, and then we sort of just turned to each other and said: “Amy has to die” – “You have to kill Amy.” It was sort of a sad time, but in the end, I think she became more alive because of it – allowing her to speak directly through her letters, all the while knowing she wouldn’t be with them for much longer. 

– Do you think writing books makes you happier or unhappier? 

Short term: happier. Long term: I don’t know. They can help you distance yourself from life, which I think is a bad thing, but they can also allow you to experience it more thoroughly.

-If you could go on reading holiday like Sara and you had to choose 13 books only to take with you what would you choose and why?

Some for comfort; old friends that I’d read before (Bridget Jones or Jane Austen, perhaps). Some for distraction; a new crime novel from a reliable author (e.g. Lee Child). Some for slow thoughts; an interesting biography or non-fiction. 

Sara describes Terry Pratchett as one of the most reliable authors. What would Sara recommend to someone who has never read Pratchett before?

You can jump in anywhere you want, but books with the witches are always great (Witches abroad are about how stories work, so that is always a favourite)

– Shelves are different in Sara’s bookshop. Sex, Violence and Weapons shelf. Small-Town Life. Chick Lit to Curl Up With. For Friday Nights and Lazy Sundays. Short but sweet, Reliable Authors. Happy Endings When You Need Them.  Name one book you think is a must on each shelf.

I think some of my ideas are already in the book (Hemingway for Short but sweet, for example, although he’s not exactly sweet, is he?). I’m always more interested in what other people would place – I’ve had a great week on Twitter reading other people’s suggestions when my publisher @vintagebooks made a campaign about it. 

Amy says in one of her letters: “There’s no author I admire more than Joyce Carol Oates.” Which author can you say the same about?

So many of them. Since becoming a writer myself, I tend to admire anyone knowing how to write and sticking to it. Agatha Christie, Georgette Heyer – all those women who wrote book after book after book and here’s me struggling with my third one. But of course, I have to mention Fannie Flagg. Her Fried Green Tomatoes at Whistle Stop Café is a work of art. 

Amy has several copies of an old fashioned girl and Jane Eyre. Do you have multiple copies of a certain book(s)?

I often do; I tend to by many copies so as to be able to force all my friends to read it. At the moment, I own three copies of The Great Mortality – an Intimate History of The Black Death, the most devastating plague of all times. Haven’t really got anyone to read it yet.

Sara cries while reading Jane Eyre. What was the last book that made you cry?

I love crying when reading, so any sad part can set me off. I cried to H is for Hawk, and We are all completely beside ourselves.

Broken Wheel is a town of non-readers until Sara finds the right book for each person, well everyone except Tom. Sara promised to find him a book one day. What could that book be? 

I think she’s still working on it. Perhaps The Great Mortality? I can imagine the look on Tom‘s face when she suggests it. 

Which books might we be surprised to find on your shelves?

I have so many bookshelves that there’s hardly room for any surprises. I have art books (mostly my sister’s), novels, classics, chick lit, romance, vampire novels, fantasy, biographies, feminist political theory, scientific methodology… but perhaps you would be surprised at the entire shelf dedicated to books about the first world war, including many collections of war poetry and a book about slang used by British soldiers. 

– Who are your favorite Swedish writers

Very difficult question. I love some of the working class authors, such as Moa Martinsson. But I guess my favourite author probably has to be Astrid Lindgren.

– Books or people? 

I used to say: books. Books every time. Like Sara, I argue that even if you prefer people, they are much more interesting in books. But since I became an author, I’ve started to realize that there are a lot of interesting, strange people out there. People you meet, talk to for a while, and think: “I could never have made him or her up” or “If I put this in a book, no one would believe me.” 

– Your new book is coming out in Sweden this August. *congratulations* Tell us a little bit about it?

Thank you! It’s called Life, Motorcycles and Other Impossible projects. It goes like this:

The summer Anette Grankvist turned 18 she set herself three goals in life: to learn how to drive a motorcycle, to buy a house and to become completely self-reliant. 

Now, nineteen years later, though she’s managed to become self-reliant, the other items on her list remain elusively uncompleted. The state of things was endurable – enjoyable even – while her daughter lived at home, but when Emma leaves home to start university, Anette soon realises she has an abundance of what she’s been missing for the last couple of decades: time. 

What better way to spend her time than to start taking motorcycle lessons; jump straight into an impossible project; get to know her own slightly senile mother; and throw herself head of heels into romance? 

As it turns out, looking for ways to spend one’s free time and searching for adventure can lead to the most unexpected complications… 

Thank you Katarina for your time & your answers.


2 thoughts on “Interview: Katarina Bivald, author of The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend.

  1. Great Q and A. I especially enjoyed the horror of ‘Amy has to die’ revelation! I clapped my hand ove my mouth and cried ‘ oh no!!’ and laughed because of course that was so true, as Bivald said, nothing could have happened if Amy were alive. But I bet Bivald suffered a pang or two at her dastardly deed! Though of course it’s a tribute that I felt so shocked and horrified at the killing of a character who is imaginary, and already dead at the start of a novel, but, as Bivald says, is probably much more present and central that way, in the book’s trajectory.

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