Maja Lunde
Photo by Oda Berby

Maja Lunde: “I never start with a message”

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Short Profile

Name: Maja Lunde
DOB: 30 July 1975
Place of birth: Oslo, Norway
Occupation: Author

Maja Lunde's books, The History of Bees, and Blue, were published in Germany by btb Verlag, and in the US by Simon & Schuster.

Ms. Lunde, your novels provide a lot of possible answers about environmentalism; where do you get your personal answers from?

I actually feel that my books raise a lot of questions, you know? (Laughs) And when I’m done with the book, I’m not wiser. I just have more questions going through my head. I only want to learn. And I hope I will continue to be like that. But to answer your question, I am a very frequent library user. I always read, I always listen to the radio, I see a lot of documentaries… I mean, The History of Bees started when I saw a documentary and I quite quickly got the idea for the different characters and the different stories. And my books are always driven by the characters. I need to be inside the people I write about and they are always the core for me. I never start with a message.

Why not?

I’m a fiction writer. My interest for these topics comes from my own anxiety. In Norway, we say “right where it burns.” And this is where it burns for me, so this is where the stories come from. And then when I’m writing, I try not to think about the message or visions or topics even, I try to think about the stories and the characters and to be inside my characters, to feel what they feel, to be afraid when they’re afraid. If I started with a message, I would be a politician.

“Maybe one day if I had no stories anymore, I might do something else but right now, the stories are too important to me.”

Have you ever thought about going into politics?

You’re not the first to ask that question! But the writing is so important to me. And if I don’t write, I get depressed. Maybe one day if I had no stories anymore, I might do something else but right now, the stories are too important to me. I have a lot of other stories that I want to write, too, and as long as I feel that it is necessary for me to write, I will continue. I have stamina. I have a sixth gear, so to speak. I’ve always loved to work, I’ve always loved to write so I guess it’s an inner motivation. And I’m happy this success didn’t happen any earlier in my life.

You were already 40 years old when The History of Bees came out, right?

Right, and it was a good point in life. I wouldn’t let success change me. I’m glad it didn’t happen before that because by then, I had had my kids already, I was old enough to decide and stay with it. In Norway, we both work, both mum and dad. And society is arranged for that. So the children go to school at eight, I start to work, they come home at two or three or four, and then the youngest has his after school clubs. It’s not a problem. I have three children and we talk a lot about environmental issues.

Woody Harrelson said that young people are the true leaders when it comes to activism because their concerns come from pure heart.

The oldest, he is 14 now, so of course we talk about it, but I think everyone should talk to children about this. We’re leaving all the trouble in their hands. it’s their future after all.

What does that future look like in your opinion?

I think you need to ask an expert on weather and water and endangered species. They know the numbers. What I do is I try to imagine how it can be. The lack of water is also a main issue in my book, Blue, which takes place in 2041 and the bees have started to disappear already. So, I start out with just trying to imagine how things can be and can look — but it is fiction.

And do you consult with experts when you’re writing?

Yes! For example, I spent a lot of time with a hydrologist, a water expert, and we looked at numbers and we looked at different scenarios… But these were the questions I started to raise: what if? What if we have a much higher temperature, and what if we get five years with almost no rain at all on top of that, what will happen? And how will people take care of each other? Will they take care of each other? Will northern Europe take care of southern Europe, or will we actually get an internal European refugee situation?

And what do you think the answer will be?

We can only imagine what we will do and how we will solve the problems. On my optimistic days, I think that we might be able to figure a way to handle global warming, and to stop it because alternative energy is happening now. It is happening a lot.

“Those questions are why we like books. They mirror something of importance, something human.”

What kind of “what if” scenarios are you concerned with now?

I’m writing about endangered animals in my third book, that is something I’ve been thinking a lot about. I am really afraid of what will happen to all the other species on this planet. We tend to forget that we are not alone. Even now in Germany, for example, there has been a 70% drop in the number of insect in the last 15 years or so. Humans have already killed so many mega fauna, this is what we have been doing for thousands of years. There were all kinds of fantastic animals on this planet 10 or 15 years ago that are no longer here because of us.

Although humans are the most powerful animals in the world, it is perhaps fair to say that we are also the one of the most stupid.

That’s the kind of thing I think a lot about when I write, and I think one of the reasons why I choose to continue writing about these issues: I still try to find answers to all these questions. How can we be so smart and still so dumb? I don’t have the answer. But I think those questions are why we like books. They mirror something of importance, something human. I think whatever I write, there will be something in it that is not just fun and light, or else I would not be drawn to the project. I need there to be a ground of something of importance.