Welcome to the first in a series of articles entitled: Awesome Women with Awesome Jobs.
I was looking at my friends list on Facebook one day and it suddenly struck me that I know so many absolutely awesome women with rather special jobs. Jobs that are not just about pulling home a paycheck. No, these women work with passion. They have a mission. And that – to me – is interesting. I hope you will find it interesting too.
My guest today is Mette Finderup.
C: What is your job?
M: I’m an author and my job is to write thrilling stories, primarily aimed at children in the 4th to 6th grade. Since it is difficult to make a living from being an author alone, I also have ”bringing-home-the-bacon”-jobs, where I give lectures, have workshops etc. – all that is also part of it.
C: Did you always know that you wanted to do this when you grew up?
M: I’ve always known that I wanted to do something with texts. If you had asked me when I was 10, I would have said librarian, writer or teacher. My mother taught Danish and sometimes she’d be really pissed when she got home from work – and she’d spend her Sundays grading papers – so pretty quickly, I figured that wasn’t for me.
C: What is your formal education?
M: I have a master’s degree in literature from the University of Aarhus, Denmark.
C: What does a really awesome day look like in your job?
M: Well, the days when my job is the very-very-very MOST interesting, are the days when I get up, send off my kid and then spend the entire day, flat on my ass, writing until it is four o’clock and then I go pick up my kid again. But lots of days look completely different from that. I have days where I get on a train to go somewhere and meet up with 50 fans. But really, those aren’t the most awesome days. The most awesome days are the ones where I can just sit at home and completely immense myself in my text.
C: So you have fans? What is that like? Who are they?
M: They are sweet girls in 4th to 6th grade. When they get older, they turn a bit more shy but when you are in the 4th to 6th grade, you aren’t afraid to tell people that you think they are cool. Or sending emails, asking: ”When does your next book come out?” or say: ”Do you know you named your character’s mother something else in volume 5 than in volume 3?” So as opposed to so many other target groups, mine is not afraid to drop me an email.
C: So what does a really boring day look like?
M: Well, I have very few of those. (Pause…) No, I don’t have REALLY boring days. I do have days where I am writing ”up hill”, and that can get pretty tough. But then I know I’ll have time to edit all that crap I’ve written, so… I really don’t have bad days at work! I just don’t.
C: Ok. So what are the perks?
M: Hahaha, ehm, difficult to spot? Well, in my one-person-business, it is really easy to become ”Employee of the Month”!
C: HAHAHA, ”YAY, I WON!!”
M: Well, one of the perks is that I get to meet other authors. And the good thing about writing for children is that generally this isn’t a business people enter if they are bad. Other authors, publishing people and librarians – they are just very sweet people! So it is nice to meet up with other authors in this business… Kind of a strange perk, but I really see it like that.
C: How much do you earn?
M: It varies a lot. As opposed to ”normal people”, authors don’t earn the same every month. And is quite a challenge for us creative people to manage our economy because we’re bad with numbers. Last year, I made a total of 4,000 DKK in January, February, March and April combined. But in June, I made 185,000 DKK. So I really couldn’t say because it varies so much. It can vary with 150,000 DKK from year to year.
C: What is your biggest success?
M: It depends how you look at it. The book I made that sold the most copies is a book I made for ”Christmas in Valhalla” (a Christmas TV-show for children, C.) – it sold more than 60.000 copies. But I wrote that on a flat fee, so I didn’t earn a lot on that.
C: Flat fee – what does that mean?
M: It means you write it for a company and they don’t pay you royalties. It was early in my career, so I accepted. Well, I fought for it, but still. And the fee was OK. Usually, I earn royalties, meaning I get money per sold copy.
C: It is probably like asking a mother to choose between her children, but which book are you most proud of?
M: It is almost always the one I am currently working on. So if you ask me now, I’ll answer differently than if you ask me in six months. When I am working on a book, I am so wrapped up in it that sometimes, I sit up in my bed in the middle of the night and say: ”Oh, no, it’s all wrong – she has to carve wood instead of ride horses..” Being so close to a book for six to twelve months, it sort of becomes your best friend. It has to, or you wouldn’t be able to stand spending so much time with it. But things that I’ve made up myself are perhaps a bit closer to my heart than things I’ve written on commission. Not that I am not proud of the work I’ve done on commission.
C: Who orders stuff on commission?
M: Publishing houses. The editor says: ”We’ve seen our fall program and we need something fun for girls, which takes place in Denmark” – as opposed to all that American literature that is just translated.
C: Do you have a mission?
M: A mission? Well, I want to write books that kids will pull off the shelves by themselves without admonishing adults interfering – books that at the same time have a certain literary quality.
C: Tell me about your work process. How do you write a book?
M: I always set up a challenge for myself, so that there is some kind of focus on my development, an element of ”I’m moving forward”. For instance, I just wrote a book that takes place during the Viking Age and I wanted to do away with the archaic language because we really don’t know how they spoke – they did not say ”Come hither” and ” I greet thee” – so I just wanted to let them speak a modern language. My books always stem from some little tiny thing I saw and then it grows from there. It can be overhearing a conversation in the supermarket, a piece of jewelry or a sign in a window – anything. I use different techniques to build a skeleton. Once the skeleton is ready, I fill in the rest – so I’ve always got an ending ready. It would be horrible to write 400 pages and then get to a crappy ending…
C: Ok – so you always know how it is going to end?
M: Definitely! And I also have milestones on the way. So I know that once I’m here, this and this will have happened – and between these milestone, that’s where I allow myself to flip out.
C: So what happens when you flip out?
M: Nothing much if you just look at me. But inside of my head, there is a bunch of things going on. When I look at my text years later, I think: Where the hell did that come from – did I really write that? – I don’t understand it! The text just kind of slides through me. Naturally, I use things that have happened to me – well, or rather emotions I’ve had – but how it is all filtered out and can turn into a book, I have literally no idea.
C: It’s like a ”black box”?
M: Yes, I think so. And it is very thrilling!
C: Indeed. So who else is really good at what you do? Who are your role models?
M: Well, some people are good at one thing and others a good at other things. I’d like to – as always – mention Lene Kaaberbøl because she is so good at writing characters. It’s crazy how awesome she is – she writes warm, credible characters that we care about and that have these crooked angles – and she tells us so much about these characters in very few words. What she does is very impressive! Other authors are good at other things. One of my personal favorites is an English write name Joe Abercrombie – he is just so good at twisting things and being really mean towards his characters.
C: What is the latest book you have read – not aimed at children?
M: “Du forsvinder” (‘You are disappearing’) by Jungersen. It is a nasty book. You can’t read it without thinking that you and all of you friends are insane.
C: That doesn’t sound very pleasant?
M: Yes, well, now I look at my kid and see all kinds of signs… haha..
C: So this was cool. That’s about what I wanted to know.
M: It’s funny, I do loads of talks with kids and they ask me exactly the same questions as you have.
C: Really? Well, I’m pretty childish!
M: Well, I think it’s just the essential questions. But it is pretty funny.
C: What piece of advice would you give someone, who wanted to do what you do?
M: Have another job on the side – one that you can scale up and down. The first many years it is completely unprofitable to be an author. Lots of writers have to have a job on the side all through their careers. Make a deal with yourself, like: “I’ll try it out and in 5 years it will have to look like it is going to be possible to live of it or I’ll quit. On the other hand, I WILL give my dream 5 years!” This is super important on those evil days where you’re about to quit – and you WILL have those. And finally: Write! There is a huge difference between those that want to be authors and those that are. Authors write. Even on those days when inspiration does not descent from the sky in generous flakes.
See more about Mette at: www.finderup.dk
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