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
with Axel Thormählen
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
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
does the word "story"
mean to you?
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.
have a "reader" in mind when you write stories?
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
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?
Stories, Donald Anderson’s Fire Road, and a
collection of stories by Joseph Conrad. Conrad’s Youth is my