About Karin Alvtegen

Before writing Guilt, I had not written a single word. I hadn’t even thought about becoming a writer. I knew that I could write since I went to school, but I never realized it was a talent that I should use.


How it started

I was born in 1965 and grew up in Huskvarna. My parents are teachers and I have two brothers, a big brother and a little brother. But since 1993 I am the oldest. On June 21 of that year, my big brother Magnus fell on a mountainside and suffered a mortal head wound. Just at that moment, when the phone rang and I received the message that Magnus had killed himself, I did not realize that it was just such a moment in life when a thick red line is drawn in the calendar and nothing will ever be like before. It was impossible for me to understand that there was nothing I could do to make everything be as it had been again.

I was in my ninth month with my second child and as a pure survival instinct I pushed the grief aside. I tried to be a good mother and imagined that all the strength I thought Magnus would have shown in my situation had been transferred to me instead. For three years I struggled against the growing darkness within me, and for every day that went by during the next three years I became increasingly restless, discouraged, afraid. I was able to successfully conceal how I felt for my family and my friends, but in the end I was constantly on the run. I had no idea that it was myself and my own darkness I was trying to escape from. I just felt such a consuming fear. How could I protect my children, now that it had been proven to me that anything could happen at any time. In a second everything can suddenly be too late. Then it truly hit me. After a year of insomnia, chest pain and difficulty breathing, I collapsed at home on the kitchen floor. I myself was convinced that I had a heart attack, but in the emergency room all tests showed that I was in excellent shape.

Someone has called panic anxiety “the soul’s way of vomiting,” and that is exactly what my soul did then. Once I had glanced at the door of that darkness that had taken over inside me, there was no turning back. I was sick for six months, didn’t even dare go outside my own door. The shame of losing control was total.

From idea to book

So one morning I woke up with a story in my head. I imagined someone who felt like me, but who still ventured out of the fortress of his own home, and who was confronted by an intrusive person. That person, whom I had woken up with in my head, became Peter Brolin, and without knowing it, I wrote the first chapter of Guilt that day. But what would happen next I didn’t know and it felt like it was necessary for me to find out. Finding my writing was like suddenly discovering a secret room I had never been to before. I wrote and wrote and found the story in the meantime, and five weeks later I saw on the number of written characters that I had almost written a book. By then I had regained my will to move on, and now I also knew what it was I wanted to do. I wanted to write! The feeling of having regained the desire, the belief in the future, the joy of living, was amazing. I searched the Yellow Pages of the telephone directory and sent my script away…

Of course, I can never feel that it was worth losing Magnus if that was what I needed to discover my writing. His place is forever empty and we miss him constantly. However, strangely enough, I can feel gratitude for what the grief after him has taught me. I know now what is important in my life and what is not, and I have learned what are real problems and what is not. Grief also taught me that death is a reminder of life. That these are the moments we should take advantage of, because no one knows what will happen next. The only thing we know will follow us through the rest of life for sure is the consequences of the actions and choices we are making right now.

Questions & Answers

What is your full name?

Karin Anna Alvtegen.

When and where were you born and raised?

June 8, 1965; grew up in Huskvarna, (Sweden).

How does it feel to write about subjects such as shame, deceit and guilt?

I’m very interested in human psychology. Since I, myself, suffered from a deep depression and panic attacks in 1996, I know from experience how strongly our psyche affects our consciousness and our behaviour. The older I get, and the more I learn, the more I am convinced that we, ourselves, in many respects can affect how we feel by how we choose to think. However, sometimes certain conditions and other things make us loose track and require help.

I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that it sometimes feels rough during my writing. I rarely work with depicting surroundings in my texts, but rather always find myself in the mind of the character I’m writing about, and at times that strongly affects me. However, since these books also aim to bring understanding into why my characters feel and act the way they do, I always end up feeling good afterwards. That’s when it sometimes f eels like I’ve learned something important.

Where do you like writing most?

I have an office at home. Sometimes I go away for four to five days and I completely reverse day and night and write from lunch until four o’clock at night. These usually end up being very productive days. I’ve realized that I shouldn’t take my creativity for granted. Instead, I try to give it the best possible conditions required to keep it flowing. That’s why I clear out my calendar when I start writing a new book, and keep it empty until I’m all done. Only my closest family members are allowed to demand my time. In other words, I become quite isolated during my periods of writing and that gives me the chance to stay in the minds of my characters; something that more and more is becoming a prerequisite for my telling their story. Naturally, I set my standards higher for every new book I begin to write, and I don’t write a word until I have a sufficiently interesting idea that has developed in my mind. It can take seven to eight months of just thinking, and when I finally start writing a large part of the story is already planned out in my mind.

What do you enjoy the most: writing film scripts or books?

Writing books versus film scripts is really two completely different things. In books one can describe people’s thoughts, backgrounds, and moods, page after page. In a script everything should preferably be drawn out in images. One has to think in a different way when writing. Another difference is that I have complete control over a book. Down to the last comma, I am responsible for the result. In the making of a film, many people are involved and one has to be able to compromise, sometimes for the better and sometimes for the worse.

What do you, yourself read?

I often read specialist/technical books or biographies. When I write, I don’t read any fiction at all, partially because I have a hard time following another story, and partially because I don’t want to affect my own use of language.

What inspires you?

A short news-item in a paper, conversations with people, apartment buildings with illuminated windows, walks in the cemetery, and personal thoughts.

What makes you happy?

Genuine kindness.

Have you taken any writing courses?

No, I haven’t taken any writing courses or other writing instruction. I follow no rules or guidelines whatsoever, and try to constantly surprise myself in order to keep my writing enjoyable. My ambition is to try to write something different and that’s why I don’t really have a desire to learn how one is supposed to write. It starts with an idea or two. These ideas then begin to develop somewhere inside my head and grow to become more clearly detailed. I never write a synopsis for my books, and when I finally do begin to write (which can take up to a year from when a first, minute idea has begun to form) I pretty much have the whole story set in my mind: a beginning and an end, and in between that a multitude of semi goals. Often, unexpected things occur on one’s path through the story. Sometimes even new characters that I haven’t helped create, materialize. In the end, it is always these characters that prove invaluable to the story. I often refer to this as the “divine moment” when something like that happens. It is when the subconscious treads forward and takes over the creative process.

I always write in chronological order, from the first page to the last. Nobody besides my husband is allowed to read a single word before I’m ready. To begin writing a new book is, for me, like taking off on a long journey. I know where I’m going but not how I’m going to get there. During my work I am driven forward by pure desire to return home, but not until the book is complete do I know that I made it back in one piece.

Which type of readers do you write for?

During the writing itself I only write for myself and for my own personal satisfaction. If I were to sit and think about my potential readers while writing, I wouldn’t get much work done. I don’t believe that I can change the world through my books, but if I can get one person or another to ponder over concepts of empathy and respect for the human kind, then I’m more than satisfied. Because I become all the more convinced that in order to change the big things in the world, we must start by changing the small things.