Tone Almhjell is the author of The Twistrose Key. She was raised in Norway with her two siblings and received a master’s degree in English Literature from Oslo University, where her thesis was on J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. Prior to writing her debut novel for middle grade readers, Almhjell worked as a journalist. She lives in Oslo with her husband and two children.
What inspired you to write The Twistrose Key?
Tone Almhjell: The inspiration came from two sources: First, my life in Norway, where I drew inspiration from landscapes and people and childhood memories from my grandmother’s farm; and second, every story I’ve loved, from classical fantasy to fairy tales. Together those made up the raw material, the logs of the fire, if you will. But the spark that lit everything up was the death of my gerbil. She was a fantastic little friend, very funny, very mischievous. I missed her, so I invented a world where she could be a hero.
There is certainly a fairy tale feel to The Twistrose Key, and reviewers have made comparisons to both the Chronicles of Narnia and Norse mythology when describing the book. Who (or what!) most influenced you?
TA: I do think that everything you read becomes part of your imagination. Tolkien compared it to a compost heap — a rich, fertile pile of stories, from which your own seeds can grow. And though I wouldn’t say Norse mythology has been a clear influence, there are many fairy tale motifs in The Twistrose Key — the lost slipper, the giant hedge, the pricked fingertip, the cat in boots, the birds pierced by thorns, and the queen of ice, to mention a few.
Were books an important facet of your childhood? What book(s) did you read as a child?
TA: My parents were teachers, so I was lucky enough to grow up in a house crammed with books. I went exploring in their shelves and read everything. Children’s books, adult titles, whatever caught my eye. I loved all of Astrid Lindgren’s books, especially the fantasy novels, and also another Swedish author named Maria Gripe. Then I discovered The Lord of the Rings at the age of 11, and nothing was ever the same. That story felt true to me, and I cried inconsolably when I finished it — not because of the ending, but because it was over.
What advice would you give a young reader interested in writing?
TA: Write what you love! Write something you would like to read. Don’t worry about structure and rules, not to begin with. Just keep a notebook and scribble down little snippets. They can be pieces of dialogue, descriptions, or lists of things that inspire you. One day, one of those snippets may grow into something more. Maybe you will have found both your story and your voice.
Did a particular teacher foster your interest in writing?
TA: My texts have been met by a lot of head-scratching over the years, but also quite good grades. So I think I owe all my teachers a thank you for not reining me in! But my most important teacher was a professor at the University of Oslo. I was so used to getting smiles and nods, and he returned my essays completely covered in red. I was furious! But it made me a much better writer, and today we’re the best of friends. In fact, he inspired the character of Teodor in The Twistrose Key. (My professor is a lot nicer, of course, but he does expect the good.)
Are you working on anything now?
TA: Yes! I’m writing another middle grade novel set in the same universe as The Twistrose Key. It’s not a direct sequel, and you won’t have to have read The Twistrose Key in order to enjoy it. But if you have, it adds another layer.
If you were a bookseller, is there a book you would say every child just has to read? (Besides your own, of course!)
TA: I want to say The Lord of the Rings, simply because it was so monumental for me. I know it’s long and complicated, but I didn’t mind that at all at 11. I just disregarded anything I wasn’t quite ready for. The hobbits won my heart, you see. They were small and sometimes lost, just like me. But even so, they were the heroes of their world. I do see, however, that not all kids are quite ready for a book that length. And I wouldn’t want anyone to miss out on Harry Potter.
If you could meet any author, past or present, who would it be?
TA: Astrid Lindgren. Not only was she a brilliant and brave author, she was also a wonderful editor and a great human being. She never stopped playing; she never lost the gift of the children’s perspective. I know I could learn so much from her — and I would love to tell her how much her books have meant to me.
The Twistrose Key, by Tone Almhjell (Dial Books for Young Readers, Hardcover, 9780803738959) Published: October 22, 2013.
For more on Tone Almhjell, visit thetwistrosekey.com/#author.
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