‘Go for your passion and see where it takes you’

Stockholm-based British novellist Simon Linter talks to The Local about writing and why he thinks authors should not be afraid of exposing their flaws.

'Go for your passion and see where it takes you'
Simon Linter on a visit to Hungary. Photo: Private

The story of how Simon Linter ended up in Sweden sounds a bit like a novel in its own right.

“I'm what they call a love refugee. There was this band, Puressence, which I was really into. I needed help downloading some of their files on Napster and got chatting to a girl who lived in Amsterdam. After a while she said 'hey, you should really meet this Swedish friend of mine'.”

“That friend is now my wife,” he smiles.

After this unusual twist on internet dating, the Northampton-born Briton packed his bags and headed for Gothenburg in 2003. Today, he and his wife live in Stockholm, where he has just released his novel, 'Let Go', which he is presenting at the English Bookshop on the Södermalm island on April 10th.

“I don't want to give too much away, but it's about a CEO telling his story of how he rose to the top. He wants to write a tale of inspiration, but starts to remember things he probably shouldn't remember. I've worked for a lot of corporations. The bigger they get the more egotistical they get and the less they care about their employees,” says Linter.

He got into writing an an early age, describing how his first attempt at writing a novel came when he was 17 years old, on an old metal typewriter he had bought from his neighbour for £20.

“I then tried to turn it into a screenplay. I thought, if Tarantino could do it, so can I. You have to realize that all these celebrities started somewhere – Quentin Tarantino started out working in a video store – and if you've got a passion for something, go for it and see where it takes you.”

It did not lead anywhere at first for Linter, despite a couple of contacts with filmmakers. But when he moved to Stockholm he joined a creative writing course at adult education centre Folkuniversitetet, where he decided to dust off his work and turn the screenplay back into a novel.

“We had been told to write a chapter for the course. But then my classmates liked it and kept asking me 'what's going to happen next?' and I thought 'well, I guess I'm just going to have to finish the damn thing'.”

It became 'Making Headlines', Linter's first self-published work of fiction. He is refreshingly self-critical for an author, saying there are plenty of words he would change and sentences he would write in a different way today. But to him, the learning process is in many ways part of the creative work.

“There's a fine line there. There's a certain level of quality a story has to have. But there's a lot of self-published stuff that's not great but gets a lot of readers – take '50 Shades of Grey',” he says.

“Even the first Harry Potter book is not very good in terms of grammar, but JK Rowling was a single mum writing in cafes and struggling with money at the time. And again, if JK Rowling could do it, anyone can.”

However, in his role as a freelance editor and English proofreader, Linter admits he sometimes has to read and correct texts of “varying” quality, as he diplomatically puts it.

“I got sent one by a Russian author that was so bad, the grammar, spelling, everything. I couldn't even understand what it meant, so I sent it back to the publishers and said there was nothing I could do.”

Again, he does not want to discourage anyone from trying and emphasizes that flaws are not inherently bad. To prove his point, readers who buy his newest novel from the English Bookshop also get a copy of 'Think Inside The Box', a collection of short stories that were all written as part of creative writing classes.

“Hey, I took my driving test five times, it's an achievement in itself. (…) I want to put stuff out there, the stories might not be perfect, but it's more of an author in progress. I want people to pick it up and maybe find faults with it.”

Simon Linter's novels and other projects. Photo: The Local

Linter, who has also written 'How I learnt to stop missing England and love the herring, or, a decade in Sweden' about his time in Sweden, usually finds his creative material in the surreal aspects of daily life.

He says he still often turns to his childhood hero, British-Norwegian children's author Roald Dahl, known for his dark humour and unexpected twists, for inspiration.

“I like to blow things out of proportion, but within social realism. Stories that could happen, but may not happen exactly that way. You know, I actually saw Dahl once, when I was eight years old, in Boots – the UK chemist. I was too shy to go up and say hello. Do I still regret that? Damn right!”

But if there is one area Linter refuses to stray into, it's Sweden's beloved Nordic Noir.

“Camilla Läckberg seems nice enough, I've met her and I tried to read 'Olycksfågeln' ['The Gallows Bird'] while I was learning Swedish,” he says about one of Sweden's most famous crime writers.

“But why bother, there are already so many detective novels out there, I don't want to be another one.”

His next plan is to do a masters degree in creative writing at Stockholm University, while working on a range of writing and musical projects on the side. But he has no intention of leaving Sweden any time soon.

“I don't like UK politics at the moment, there are too many negatives, and I'm worried about what would happen if it left the EU. And I honestly think I would miss Sweden too much if I left. There's less of a 'the winner takes it all' mentality here, I like that.”

For members


Reader question: When am I eligible for a Swedish pension?

A reader got in touch to ask how long he had to work in Sweden before he was eligible for a pension. Here are Sweden's pension rules, and how you can get your pension when the time comes.

Reader question: When am I eligible for a Swedish pension?

The Swedish pension is part of the country’s social insurance system, and it can seem like a confusing beast at times. The good news is that if you’re living and working here, you’ll almost certainly be earning towards a pension, and you’ll be able to get that money even if you move elsewhere before retirement.

You will start earning your Swedish general pension, or allmän pension, once you’ve earned over 20,431 kronor in a single year, and – for almost all kinds of pension in Sweden – there is no time limit on how long you must have lived in Sweden before you are eligible.

The exception is the minimum guarantee pension, or garantipension, which you can receive whether you’ve worked or not. To be eligible at all for this, you need to have lived in Sweden for a period of at least three years before you are 65 years old. 

“There’s a limit, but it’s a money limit,” Johan Andersson, press secretary at the Swedish Pension Agency told The Local about the general pension. “When you reach the point that you start paying tax, you start paying into your pension.”

“But you have to apply for your pension, make sure you get in touch with us when you want to start receiving it,” he said.

Here’s our in-depth guide on how you can maximise your Swedish pension, even if you’re only planning on staying in Sweden short-term.

Those who spend only a few years working in Sweden will earn a much smaller pension than people who work here for their whole lives, but they are still entitled to something – people who have worked in Sweden will keep their income pension, premium pension, supplementary pension and occupational pension that they have earned in Sweden, even if they move to another country. The pension is paid no matter where in the world you live, but must be applied for – it is not automatically paid out at retirement age.

If you retire in the EU/EEA, or another country with which Sweden has a pension agreement, you just need to apply to the pension authority in your country of residence in order to start drawing your Swedish pension. If you live in a different country, you should contact the Swedish Pensions Agency for advice on accessing your pension, which is done by filling out a form (look for the form called Ansök om allmän pension – om du är bosatt utanför Sverige).

The agency recommends beginning the application process at least three months before you plan to take the pension, and ideally six months beforehand if you live abroad. It’s possible to have the pension paid into either a Swedish bank account or an account outside Sweden.

A guarantee pension – for those who live on a low income or no income while in Sweden – can be paid to those living in Sweden, an EU/EEA country, Switzerland or, in some cases, Canada. This is the only Swedish pension which is affected by how long you’ve lived in Sweden – you can only receive it if you’ve lived in the country for at least three years before the age of 65.

“The guarantee pension is residence based,” Andersson said. “But it’s lower if you haven’t lived in Sweden for at least 40 years. You are eligible for it after living in Sweden for only three years, but it won’t be that much.”