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 Axel Thormählen 


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Born in Germany in 1945, Axel Thormählen has lived in Sweden since 1968, writing fiction and working as a translator. He has published three novels in German and one in Swedish, and two story collections in Swedish. Six of the stories in A Happy Man were previously published in English as The Water Tower (Holmby Press).

Short Story Collections

A Happy Man
Les Figues Press, 2008
(translated by Marianne Thormählen)

Reviewed by Scott Doyle

 Interview with Axel Thormählen  

The Short Review: How long did it take you to write all the stories in your collection?

Axel Thormählen: Every story calls for a different process of maturity. Some have been polished from time to time over a period of several years. Also, the translation process sometimes brings out individual points which need to be clarified or refined. It’s hard to say how long it takes me to write a single story. The basic idea normally requires a period of "tasting" before I launch into it. The degree to which the completed story ‘hits home’ only becomes clear after I’ve finished writing, but I can usually tell soon after completion whether it will stand up or not. Very occasionally, a story comes into being in its entirety in the course of a single afternoon, as happened with the story called A Happy Man – a rare piece of good fortune.

TSR: Did you have a collection in mind when you were writing them?

AT: Not, not to begin with. Whenever it turns out that a number of stories coalesce, the notion of forming a collection becomes appealing. But most of the time it’s hard to find a common denominator for the individual stories.

TSR: How did you choose which stories to include and in what order?

AT: I have my own system of A, B, and C stories. In a C story the idea might be all right in itself, but apart from that it’s unworthy of print (posterity, please note!). For A Happy Man and Other Stories, the publisher’s editor suggested an excellent order in which very serious stories and more relaxed ones relieve one another without breaking up the total atmosphere.

TSR: What does the word "story" mean to you?

AT:  A story is the form in which an idea expresses itself, and if things go really well – this is the creative part – other ideas join it. Length and tenability are the results of that process.

TSR: Do you have a "reader" in mind when you write stories?

AT:  No. Only when I move on to the revising stage, where the whole thing becomes a matter of craftsmanship, I sometimes wonder what my wife will say. She’s always the first reader, and she’s merciless.

TSR: Is there anything you'd like to ask someone who has read your collection, anything at all?

AT: Was it worth your while?

TSR: How does it feel knowing that people are buying your book?

AT: Are they? I haven’t seen it happen, so it’s hard for me to believe they’re actually doing it. Of course, it would be flattering to imagine that what you’ve written has an effect on what goes on in other people’s minds. But in my experience every reader reads and judges a story in his or her own way, and no two readers feel the same.

TSR: What are you working on now?

AT: I’ve spent months working on the last chapter of a novel, but I keep being seduced by new short stories. To a novel you’re married; you see each other every day and talk. If something like a short story intervenes, time disappears, and you may find yourself in trouble when you want to get back to the novel.

TSR: What are the three most recent short story collections you've read?

AT:  Dickens’ Christmas Stories, Donald Anderson’s Fire Road, and a collection of stories by Joseph Conrad. Conrad’s Youth is my favourite story.