All That’s Nordic Isn’t Noir, in Scandinavian Rights Action

In News by Marie Bilde

Brisk springtime rights trading is reported from Scandinavia, with nonfiction hits as well as fiction highlighted in Denmark, Iceland, Sweden, and Norway.

Sci-fi in the suburbs: Simon Stålenhag’s illustrated ‘Tales from the Loop’ (‘Ur varselklotet’) mixes “socially realistic backgrounds” with fantasy, based on a childhood in Stockholm’s archipelago. Image: Fria Ligan

By Marie Bilde | @MarieBilde

Crime Drama Has Given Way to More Genres
Book markets in the Nordic countries have much more to offer than their infamous crime novels. Publishing Perspectives asked a selection of literary agents about what trends they see from Nordic authors this spring, many of which were reflected at London Book Fair.


Copenhagen Literary Agency‘s senior agent Esthi Kunz tells us that she sensed a lot of optimism in the market at London Book Fair.

“First of all, narrative nonfiction is a very strong Scandinavian trend,” Kunz says. “These books are engaging and entertaining, while staying serious and authentic.

“Second, we’ve seen quite a few authors present novels and stories about love, marriages and relationships—often complicated. Most often, these have concentrated on modern relationships, but actually the same theme occurs in less contemporary stories.

“A distinctive example of this is Danish writer Ida Jessen’s Doctor Bagge’s Anagrams (Gyldendal, 2017), in which she has an early 19th century doctor describe his marriage. In her 2015 novel A Change in Time, Jessen told the story of the same marriage, only through the words of the woman.”

Kunz proposed at London that publishers consider publishing these books back-to-back and found a lot of interest in the idea.

“Finally, autobiographical writing maintains a strong presence. It can be very obvious and explicit, or it can be present only as a distant echo. We haven’t yet seen the last books taking an autobiographic perspective.”

In London, Kunz had an offer for another novel, Sanne Bjerg’s The Book of Mistakes (Fejltagelsernes Bog), from the Czech publisher Dombrovský.

Some of the popularity of autobiographical work is reflected in Danish author Merete Pryds Helle’s Human Beauty (Folkets Skønhed), a family chronicle following young Marie from her growing up on a small island in mid-20th-century Scandinavia.

Nya Guldberg

Literary agent Nya Guldberg from Danish publisher Lindhardt and Ringhof tells Publishing Perspectives a bit more about Pryds Helle’s book—for which she says she expects now to close several deals, based on extremely high interest in London.

“Merete Pryds Helle,” Guldberg says, “was just awarded the prestigious Danish literary prize The Golden Laurels (De gyldne laurbær). Previous recipients include Karen Blixen, Jussi Adler-Olsen, and Helle Helle.

“Pryds Helle has received several literary prizes and nominations, including the Weekendavisens Prize for Literature, Danish Radio’s Novel Prize, and the Politikens Prize for Literature.”

In addition, Guldberg has returned from London’s International Rights Center talking about Corpse Flower (Ligbomsten) by Anne Mette Hancock. Guldberg has sold the Norwegian rights to Vigmostad og Bjørke in an auction, she says.

And she cites good interest for a debut author, Thomas Korsgaard, whose book is called In Case a Human Passes (Hvis der skulle komme et menneske forbi).


Publisher and agent Pétur Már Ólafsson of Bjartur Publishers is also working with a novel combining several genres.

“In Emil Hjörvar Petersen‘s urban fantasy The Shroud (Víghólar),” he says, “Nordic noir meets Icelandic folklore.

“By applying elements from rich legend, Emil has created an exciting fantasy-crime story that keeps readers captivated.

The Shroud has been incredibly well-received in Iceland. It’s critically acclaimed and the TV-rights have been sold to Sagafilm, a leading film and television producer in Iceland.”

And it’s Petersen’s book, he says, that drew the most interest earlier this month at London Book Fair.


Another illustration from Simon Stålenhag’s ‘Tales from the Loop’ (‘Ur varselklotet’). Image: Fria Ligan

Julia Angelin

Julia Angelin

Based on titles that agents took to London Book Fair earlier this month, Nordic writers also seem to be exploring mashups of form, not just genre.

CEO and literary agent Julia Angelin at Stockholm’s Salomonsson Agency told us tells us how much she looks forward to presenting Simon Stålenhag’s illustrated work Tales from the Loop (Ur varselklotet).

She calls the book—as well as its predecessor Things from the Flood (Flodskörden)—extraordinary.

“Simon Stålenhag uses socially realistic backgrounds with sci-fi elements,” Angelin says, “combining it with nostalgic texts in order to tell the story of his own childhood in Stockholm’s archipelago.

“Through old Volvos, strange machinery, and robots, the author reaches out to the reader who recognizes some things and is fascinated by others.

“Simon has very devoted fans, and his books were heavily supported on Kickstarter. The film rights to both his books have already been sold to Fox in the US.”


Copenhagen Literary Agency’s Anneli Høier tells us about a new documentary on the famous Norwegian polar region explorer Roald Amundsen’s last mission, Amundsens Siste Reise. The book is written by Monica Kristensen, a polar scientist, “glaciology doctor,” and crime author.

A contract for a Russian edition, she tells Publishing Perspectives, has been signed with Paulsen Publishers, and Høier sees more action developing on this one. She says interest was very strong at London.

The book tells the story of the disappearance of Amundsen and the rest of his team during their last mission in 1928.

Another Norwegian, Kaja Melsom, has written a work of narrative nonfiction called Bloody Freedom. Senior agent Åsfrid Hegdal talks about this one, saying, “Philosopher Kaja Melsom suggests that the more freedom we strive to get and the more choices we have, the more unfree we become: if we have lots of spare time, we get more stressed out. The more we focus on romance and sex, the more we struggle with our relationships.

“In this book, Melsom shows through examples from our daily life, how our misconceptions  about freedom lead to ‘unfreedom’ and anxiety. Bloody Freedom provides useful tools to get to the bottom of a problem of our time. The big question here is: What do we do when what was supposed to be the ultimate bliss—maximum freedom of choice—leads only to anxiety and doubt?”

Hegdal adds that Melsom’s book appeals to readers who like to read Denmark’s Svend Brinkmann (Stand Firm) and Americans Brené Brown (The Power of Vulnerability), and Rebecca Solnit.

Another example of that autobiographical trend in Scandinavian work is James Franco Spits When He Talks, written by debut author Erik Eikehaug. The novel follows young Kenneth who, growing up in small-town Norway in the 1990s, struggles with his family and his sexual identity. Twenty years later, he’s studying creative writing in New York City.

About the Author

Marie Bilde

A digital publishing enthusiast focused on disruption, infrastructure, globalization, and new business models, Marie Bilde has spent 20 years in various areas of Danish publishing, holding positions as lexicographer, digital editor, and manager of digital production and distribution. Today she works as an independent book industry consultant.