Henrietta's Corner

Talk About Writing Facts, Fiction, and Fears in Zenobia with Morten Dürr

I always believe that it is okay to fear something. Even feeling sad, or maybe losing hope sometimes because it is a part of life. We may have a long time to live, but I believe that sadness and fear are part of it – at least once or in small things, as they get older. Someone once told me about this – I know him as a Danish children book writer, Morten Dürr. The man behind the fantastic graphic novel – Zenobia.

First time I know him as a Japanese learner. I, as a Danish learner, asked and conversed a bit about learning a new language. I was impressed by the passion he has to learn a new language. He also expressed his amazement when he found out that I want to learn Danish.

When I said that I am interested in reading one of his books, he gave me a chance to read his book. Because I know that I have to swallow the bitter fact that Indonesia doesn’t have any access to get his book. I feel honored that I can share with him. Zenobia is the first of his book that I read, which helps me improve my Danish.

Now I feel honored to talk about one of his books, Zenobia, while also talk about his other works directly with Morten Dürr himself.

Let’s Talk About Morten Dürr First, Shall We?

Morten Durr - Zenobia

Morten Dürr is a children book writer who was born in 1968 in Copenhagen, Denmark. There are about 59 books he already published – local and also worldwide. But, long before he decided to be a children book writer, He took his study in Media and Journalism. After he finished his study, he took a job as a journalist – for a while.

Morten also told me about his interest in writing for the first time, “As a child in the 1970’s, I did not have any digital entertainment access that is available today. If I were a boy that lives nowadays, I would probably have become a gamer and never seeing daylight.”, said Morten. He told me that he spent his childhood reading a lot of books of many genres, one of them includes comics

This hobby leads him to his field right now, “Having a passion for books also made me want to be a writer.”

He also said that in his late 30’s, he found that fiction literature is interesting. Even that kind of text is more interesting than his works in journalism. In 2001, the time his first daughter was born, he said to me that this moment throws him into his childhood – the time when he spent his time with books. It was the moment when he started to write children’s books.

The Day When The New Start Begin as A Children’s Book Writer

Fiction made with surprises and conflict. Childhood provides these things – which makes it very interesting to write.

Morten Dürr

Furthermore, that is the time when he met his first daughter. He also had his purpose for why he decided to write a children’s book. “I think being a child is a period of your life filled with many first-time experiences,” He said. “It is also a time of your life when you do not have control or power over your situation.”, he also said that a childhood phase provides a fiction story full of surprise and conflict. This case is interesting to write as a book.

He added that, even though it is a children’s book, he noticed that the book he writes is a book about childhood, not a book for children. Which in this case, I too noticed this, the first time I read Zenobia. He brings me to the lead character’s childhood life and thinking like the lead character.

Live in Two Different Realm – Facts in Journalism and Fiction in Children’s Book

I understand, when we talk about children’s books, people must be thinking about a fairy tale or fantasy story. That would be nice if children – even the mature one, can see a beautiful fiction story, and let their mind imagining the story. It is different from journalism when we; as a writer, describe facts that we hear or see in real life.

He told me so; like when I always think that journalism and fiction are black and white, he said that it is a principle to see journalism as truth and fiction story as a lie. But, there is another fact that makes this statement has a new sight. He told me that, in recent years – maybe because of social media, people have changed their perspective on fiction and look for truth in fiction.

I couldn’t agree more with him, even I am always wondering why this phenomenon happens. “They want authors to be very close to the stories they tell.”, he said. Morten also adding, that identity and representation are seen as something extremely important. Moreover, an author also represents a segment of society.

Morten also stated, “That might be good in many ways, but on the other hand, it also does away with something important; the author is an outsider that can question anything.” This is a new highlight statement, especially for the fiction writer. “So to me, fiction is still a lie, it is hypothetical, and there is great power in that. With a fiction story, you said, ‘What if … ‘ not ‘this is it!’“, he continued.

The Best Things to be a Writer

I am pretty sure, having one worldwide published book translated into more than ten languages is the best thing that happens for every writer. He feels that likewise, especially when he launched Zenobia for the first time. Until today, he confirmed that Zenobia is available in 18 languages – including English.

“I am happy that our (with Lars Horneman) graphic novel “Zenobia” is so well received, and it has been publishing in many languages – 18 so far.”, he said. Even last month – in June, he confirmed that Zenobia is already available in Turkish.

However, to enjoy his work besides Zenobia, you probably need to give a lot of effort; by learning another language other than English. I don’t mean to joke about this, but I mean it. Because most of Morten’s books only release in the European language.

So, blessed you if you can speak French or any European language. Even I read his book in Danish, and I can prove how beautiful his narration in each of his books.

Once I ask if there any book that he published in English except Zenobia, he said, “unfortunately, it is hard to publish in English. English-speaking countries are more used to exporting cultural products than importing them.” Still, he has 15 books published outside Denmark, which is also fantastic facts to know.

There is Nothing Wrong to Feel Tedious Sometimes

Writing can be something that brings joy. Nonetheless, somehow writer needs to take a break sometimes, especially when writer’s block is coming. He admits that writing can be tedious sometimes. “Writing can be tedious, so there is no way I can sit at home just writing.”, he said.

Taking another task that is related to something that you do is good to do when you’re out of writing ideas as he does “I do talks at schools and also have a micro-publishing business. So if I run out of writing ideas, I turn to other types of tasks – related to my profession.” He continued.

Also Read: The Ugly Truth Visual of Life by Thomas Vinterberg

About Zenobia and Fears Between a War

Morten Durr - Zenobia

I have already told you before that I have read Zenobia, right? I am glad that his book is the first Danish book that helps me to learn Danish. My first impression about Zenobia; it’s heartbreaking, hurtful. I can imagine this painful feeling into something that I can control.

Zenobia is a story of a little girl from Syria called Amina who caught up in a war. To escape the war, she has to get on board a small boat crammed with other refugees. Amina is always thinking about Zenobia – the great warrior queen from Syria. She remembers that her mother always said that she has to be strong like Zenobia. I guarantee you, Amina is strong more than the warrior queen.

Because of this hurtful story, of course, I want to know everything about this graphic novel. I am glad that Morten Dürr can share everything to fill up my curiosity (Bless you, Morten!)

Before Zenobia

The idea of making Zenobia was pop-up in 2015. It is the moment when many refugees from the war in Syria reached many European countries. “There was a lot of discussion about those unfortunate people on social media and the general media.”, he said. I believe this war issue has become a worldwide topic – on many social media platforms. “Where Danish people were divided, some very critical, and some very welcoming.”, he continued.

Morten also highlights the fact that both sides forgot. If we talk about war, that means we also talk about people’s life. “…it was a terrible war, that made people flee.”, he briefly said. This is the main idea to build a strong story about Zenobia. “So I just wanted to make a very quiet story about the war, which could serve as a few minutes of silence in honor of the victims of war.”, he told me.

About Children Female Leading Character

Besides the background story, I also kept my eyes on the lead female character in this story. Amina is a little girl who has to face a big issue in her life – a war. She has to face a big fear in her eyes by imagining Zenobia in her thoughts. She is sweet, pure-hearted, and she is an innocent child. That is why I am amazed that Morten Dürr can develop her character flawlessly.

I also ask him about children females leading characters in a story, and the answer is quite clever “I wanted to take a child’s perspective on war – 100 percent. Any child will tell that war is stupid and wrong.”. He also said that while all grown-up will debating whether war can stand justified, children’s point of view is a narrow and one-sided worldview.

He also pointed that; this case is something that we change as adults, even in some cases, we shouldn’t have to. “So I wanted Amina to be sweet and innocent, and the war should come as a surprise and as something beyond her comprehension. I want the reader to take a one-sided view and just think: just is wrong.”, he continued.

He also compares this case with meeting climate issues – Greta Thunberg against adults. “A child – such as Greta Thunberg – will rightly say: why did you fix this problem which you knew about since the 1970s. An adult will say: ‘oh, but it is not that simply … economy and all that.’” then he closed the statement with, “But sometimes, the one-sided childish view is justified.”.

The Moment When You Have to be Amina

This writing technique reminds me of writing a screenplay or being an actor. If we really want to describe the characters, then we have to think like them. Of course, I am curious how Morten can achieve Amina’s mind, so the reader (that means, me) is drowning in the story.

“I need to be in a mentally good place without stress to achieve it. I think it is about shutting out all the day-to-day inputs and voices around you. Then you can feel the person you are writing about.”, he said. However, this method is not always working. This case probably can be solved by either you discard the story or write something else.

“I think the voice-over for Amina is artificial. If you are drowning out in the sea you will probably be panicking. But the narrator of “Zenobia” is calm. So I make a deal with the reader: you hear Amina’s thoughts, but you are hearing them through a storyteller.”, he continued.

Artwork Concept and Culture

I have seen his book in two versions, colored and monochrome. I have to say, every visual that I see reminds me of old-school comics – such as Tin-Tin and Asterix & Obelix. Start with font, the picture, color palette, and so on. I am curious about this concept – which is created by Lars Horneman. So, I directly ask about the visual of Zenobia.

He said, “Yes, that is well spotted. Lars Horneman is a big fan of the classic french comic book style”, he also explained that Lars recreated the french comic book style for Zenobia (Also for Morten’s other book, Ivalu).

Another thing that’s interesting to see is Amina’s activity with her mother – including cooking Dolma. It feels like the reader closer to those characters. “I wanted danish children to understand that this story takes place far away in a different country.”, Morten said.

Other than that, I am curious, why he choose Dolma, even it seems authentic too. After I asked that, he said, “Our culture is often best expressed in our food, so that is why I choose Dolmas – something a danish child would only know of if they visited a Turkish restaurant.” Feels good to know that I have the same thought as his thought.

How Children’s Emotion Flows

I’ve wondered, it’s probably easy to define an adult emotion – as a writer. But how can we describe children’s feelings? Because it is easier to express our sadness. As people getting older, the more complex our problem, the more deep feelings that we feel.

Morten also emphasized this point, as he said, “Children’s concepts of time and feelings are different from adults’. For a child, time flows. But for adults, it is something to manage.”, he explained. It leads him to the explanation of Amina’s point of view in Zenobia,

“I wanted to recreate the imaginative leaps in Amina’s mind, wandering from sadness to joy and vice versa while recounting different times in her life just flowing through her.”, he continued. Even I can feel Amina’s emotion flow through the narration in the book.

A Letter for Peace Through the Fiction Story

In my sight, Zenobia is a letter for peace. A message to tell that war is not okay – from children’s point of view. Even it is not arguable that war is useless, from many points of view. He told me the same thing, “We can all read a news story and conclude that war is wrong.”, he said.

But I also highlight his idea when he said this:

“By doing a fiction book, I wanted to have people connect their feelings to that thought by asking them: how would you feel if this was you or your daughter in this situation.”

This case is something that we should aware of about war. If we talk about war, we are not only talking about politics, but we also talk about humanity – including children.

I just learned that basically, children’s point of view is just black and white. Because their emotion is more natural to flow, it is better to keep our ears open to hear their thought.

Who knows, sometimes being shady is not good as being black or white.

Well, even I read Zenobia in Danish, but you can read and get Zenobia in English on Amazon. You can download Kindle apps on your smartphone; it is available on iOS also Google Play, then buy Zenobia. But if you have Kindle, visit the store and buy Zenobia for only $ 11.99. Best deal to get good things to read, right?

Edited by Mayang N. F.