Karin Altenberg

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Sweden, UK | 2017

Karin Altenberg was born in Sweden and moved to Britain in 1996. She currently lives in London. Her first novel, Island of Wings, was nominated for the Orange Prize, the Saltire Award and the Scottish Mortgage Investment Trust Book Award and named by the Chicago Tribune as best book of 2011; her second, Breaking Light, was also published in the US where it was picked by the Wall Street Journal as one of the books to read in the spring of 2016. She has translated poetry and prose from Swedish into English and judged the Bernard Shaw Prize for translation. She has a PhD in archaeology and her background as a landscape archaeologist has influenced her writing, with landscape always playing a central part in her novels about people on the edges of the world. She holds the 2016-18 Royal Literary Fund Fellowship at Brunel University and the 2017 Eccles Centre Makin Fellowship at the British Library. She reviews regularly for the Wall Street Journal. Her first visit to Santa Maddalena was in 2012.


Returning to Santa Maddalena is easy – Beatrice knows what a writer needs and Andy and Nico have recently joined her to make up a perfect team. The dogs, too, are a comforting, familiar presence, and meeting with old and new friends is as inspiring as ever. It’s a blessing to slot right back in to this magical place where I can rely on the beauty of the landscape and the solidity of the tower to free my thoughts and words.

 

March and April are months of flux, full of appearances and disappearances. Nadeeka left and Roberta arrived and although the last of the chickens – la ultima gallina, La Solitaria – had fallen victim to a faina, a beech marten, the wisteria was in full bloom and, in spite of its transience, the honey scent lingered in the courtyard. At the end of each day I folded myself into (the rather short) bed in the candy-striped room and fell asleep to the fog-horn hooting of owls. One night I was woken by what sounded like the howling of a wolf, but as I opened the window to look into the night there was only darkness and the usual sounds of the forest in the valley below. (The following day we were told that a wolf had indeed been sighted near Tosi).

 

I would wake to the dawn chorus and loved that earliest hour, climbing to the top of the tower, stopping to look out of the tiny porthole on the stairs, which neatly frames the landscape as it slowly appears out of the morning mists, and then walking in to the study and the satisfaction of finding the large desk exactly as I had left it the day before. As the first rays of the sun hit the tower, ladybirds started coupling on the windowsill and lizards peered in through the open window. Sitting down in the beautiful chair, my papers spread out before me and my thoughts collected, words, sentences, characters – perhaps even a whole world – started to appear, as if by miracle. Thank you again, Beatrice, for conjuring such possibility.