Weird Sex with Readux (You’re invited. 21 October.)

Invite Series 6

When Readux Books publisher Amanda DeMarco told me about their upcoming onex series, I had to submit something. Ideally a forgotten or little known Swedish eroticist or a writer deeply engaging with sex and power. Someone like Else Jersualem, whose 1908 novel The Red House examines prostitution and moral hypocrisy in Vienna through the eyes of a woman who grew up in brothels. It was a smash hit then, but she has since slipped into relative obscurity. I revisited The Red House, worried that my brittle copies of the novel and its 1932 English translation would turn to dust in my hands. The novel is sumptuous and political, but not sexy. And I wanted to find something that had never been translated before. Amanda’s deadline was looming. Little known eroticists don’t just fall from the sky…usually.

Where to start my search? I typed “forgotten Swedish eroticist” into Google.  And there she was. Rut Hillarp. Sweden’s Anaïs Nin. Pictured below.



23s04hillarp2__mngl_20110923ab5x004,kul_1.indd_6388I tracked down a copy of her first novel online (Blood Eclipse, 1951), one of only two for sale at the time, and when the brittle book arrived in the post, it was love at first sight. The cover was hand-painted by Hillarp herself: a visual representation of the book’s central images: the black and the red curve. It was one of 50 hand-painted covers of a print-run of 500. Her lyrical exploration of masochism blew me away with its whirling imagery and meditations on the origins of romance. We follow a writer as she engages in a complicated power play with a composer, in and out of the bedroom. It has some of those 50 shades and delves deep into the psyche of a female masochist.


66I’m not sure how to describe how special it feels to bring Rut Hillarp into English for (as best I know) the first time ever. I’m immensely grateful to Amanda for taking a chance on the sample I sent her and to Andreas Hillarp for giving us permission to publish his aunt’s work in English.

Now, come celebrate the publication of The Black Curve, a standalone extract of Hillarp’s debut novel. I’m thrilled to be taking the stage with Joanna Walsh. I haven’t been able to stop talking about Grow a Pair: 9 1/2 Fairytales about Sex. It begins: “A girl passed a penis-bush growing in someone else’s garden, and picked a ripe dick because she couldn’t resist it.” Novelist Ryan Ruby will also be presenting his translation of a deliciously dirty literary tale with a twist by Grégoire Bouillier.

Shop the series here.






The Quietus!

A big thanks to Jen Calleja, Amanda DeMarco, Karl Smith for making this happen! Here’s the start of The Quietus interview. Read on, lovelies.

This month’s column swings the focus to the unsung hero – the literary translator – but just as much on contemporary Swedish literature and inventive ways of publishing literature in translation. (Portrait of Saskia Vogel by Richard Phœnix)


This month I read a book in translation every day for a fortnight. It might sound impressive/obsessive, but – as Berlin-based publisher Readux brings out single or groups of very short stories and essays, mostly in translation from German, French and Swedish in pocket-sized books that can be read in one sitting – it was close to effortless.


When founder and publisher Amanda DeMarco started planning Readux she was twenty-six and funding the project herself, so publishing four short books (of around 5-10,000 words) three times a year rather than full-length books was a ‘no-brainer’, though she actually regards Readux as ‘a magazine – incognito, exploded’.

Instead of telling you about all of the books – from Felicitas Hoppe’s absurdist nightmares, to Roger Caillois’ surrealist piece of psychogeography, to the revelatory story of a British poet becoming pen pals with an incarcerated Czech poet – I wanted to focus on Readux’s Swedish Series: not just because their short-form mini-book format is based on the Swedish publisher Novellix, who published the stories in Swedish, but because the three stories in this set were translated by the same person. They just so happened to also be the translator of another text that had recently made a real impression on me.

The trio of short stories that make up the Swedish Series was selected and translated by Saskia Vogel. Amanda Svensson’s Where the Hollyhocks Come From (excerpted above) was the first Readux book I read, drawing me in with the strangely menacing pink ice-cream on its cover.

It charts a young man’s melancholy liaisons with a Lolita-like girl in the countryside of southern Sweden and comes to a quietly traumatic conclusion. The story’s pull and that the girl’s looping speech snaps together so satisfyingly with the man’s preoccupied narration left behind the sense that this was translation at its best.

The narrator of Malte Persson’s Fantasy is a self-absorbed artist who infiltrates the team behind a failed fantasy film in an attempt to make a piece about their egotistical existences detached from real life; at times recognising her own hypocritical denial of how close she is to her subjects, her own self-importance and who’s using who. In The Lesson by Cilla Naumann, the most tense and ambiguous of the stories, a teacher’s inexplicable hate for a new pupil causes his control to slowly slip and has the threat of violence permanently hovering on the horizon.


I had come across Saskia a few weeks before when I read her translation of this excerpt from Pojkarna or The Boys by Jessica Schiefauer on the great platform Words Without Borders, and was left with a mournful wish that I had had the chance to read it when I was younger. The extract left a mark and the text itself was popping and as lively as the young girls in the story. Then I read the Swedish series and recognised Saskia’s name; this recognition felt like something to celebrate.

Literary translation is all too rarely considered an art, rather something more like an administrative task. It is part science, part mystery. It is engaged and impressive creative writing in its own right, and hopefully one day that will go without saying. Until then, I want to refract this idea through the prism of Saskia Vogel.

Saskia learned Swedish in her early teens when she moved from Los Angeles to Gothenburg to attend high school and went on to study English and film, followed by Masters degrees in creative writing and comparative literature in both the UK and the US. Her first editorial job was at AVN, a publisher’s weekly for the adult entertainment industry, but wanting to return to literature she found a job at Granta magazine in London, running their global events, PR and promotions. Now based in Berlin, she translates Swedish literature, is a writer in her own right, and is the co-founder and director of strategic communications at Dialogue Berlin.


Read the rest of this in The Quietus.

from “The Boys”

Liten Momo

Here’s an extract from Jessica Schiefauer’s young adult novel Pojkarna (The Boys). It was originally published by Words Without Borders. There’s a movie of the book coming out next year and the picture above was taken on-set by Karolina Pajak. Now, onward to masquerades and magical flowers…

It was a balmy night, spring had started to slip into early summer, the trees’ leaves were thick and bright green. We didn’t speak, we only looked each other in the eyes and received the paper bags that Momo ceremoniously handed to us. And when I opened my bag in Bella’s room, my heart started beating so fast it hammered in my ears.

She had made me a tiger costume. There was a hooded coat and a pair of elbow-length gloves, the tip of each finger adorned with a golden claw. There was no mask, no plaster to hide my face, but she had taken a thin nylon stocking and painted it with dark-brown filigree. I pulled the stocking over my face and lifted the hood onto my head. Then I looked in the mirror.

A shriek escaped from me and hit the glass, it bounced sharply between the walls of the room. I couldn’t get a proper look until it died away. Shere Khan shimmered in the mirror. He glared at me, yellow eyes glowing, his face dark and threatening. The broad coat and hood concealed my usual mannerisms and when I moved, he moved too, but not like a girl with a pimpled back and a body full of worry. He moved like a king, and we were one and the same, he and I.

Yes, Momo had really outdone herself. As I walked toward the garden with the weight of the coat upon me, I realized that she had planned this evening down to every last detail. Lanterns illuminated the greenhouse and apparently she had managed to get hold of a large stereo because pounding drums and dark rhythms spilled from the greenhouse, an undulating melody that made me think of gold and glinting eyes. She greeted us inside the greenhouse where the party was to take place, and as I came closer I saw an explorer standing by the wooden table, sporting a white safari hat and a waxed mustache. I glimpsed the mysterious flower’s head through the doorway, it nodded gently as if she were craning her neck to get a good look at us. The terrace door opened and the explorer laughed with delight as a silverback entered. He supported his steps with his knuckles and when he was very close he unleashed a howl, and I couldn’t help but join in on the laughter.

The explorer bowed, and with a sweep of his gloved hand he gestured to the table.

“Welcome to the tropics, my friends. Dinner is served.”

It was a clear, starry night. We lay on the lawn outside the greenhouse, resting our heads on each other’s stomachs. Momo had taken off her safari hat, her hair rippled over my tiger-chest. The flowers around us had opened up, their soft interiors glowing in the darkness. She looked at us through the doorway, her face was open and smooth and it made me think of butterflies, how their pointy proboscises pierced sacs of nectar, how they sucked it in. I propped myself up on my elbow and raised my glass of tea with a practiced gesture.

“Would it please the gentlemen to add some true drops to the brew?”

I moved Momo’s head off my stomach. She looked up with surprise when I wrapped my coat around me, walked up to the flower and started inspecting the teeming vessels in the center of its head. They were like small blisters protected by petals, straining and aching and filled with something that had to get out.

Bella, in her unwieldy gorilla costume, stood up. She had been in high spirits the whole night, alternating between her gorilla howl and howling laughter, and now she was so hoarse and tired that she swayed as she made her way to the greenhouse.

“Oh yes! New life will course through our bodies, and the stars will take our secrets to the grave!”

Then Momo giggled. She couldn’t help it with Bella striding so comically across the flagstones. The pants of the gorilla costume had hitched themselves up, revealing the tube socks she was wearing. But Bella gave her a stern look and Momo got hold of herself and said:

“Let us make a pact, gentlemen. Let us brew a Magical Potion and drink together. Let us never speak of our drink to any mortal, whatever may come!”

And as she spoke, she raised her glass of tea to the heavens, and we raised ours as well. Bella skipped forward toward me and carefully pulled the flower’s head down.

“Yes, I swear, I swear!”

We swore our oaths and I pierced one of the small blisters with the claw of my index finger. Thick nectar seeped out.

One drop for each glass.

We toasted. Then we gulped the tea down because suddenly it tasted irresistibly sweet and spicy. And when we looked up from our glasses, when we looked at each other’s faces, a deep silence fell over us.
Read the rest of the extract here:

Ways of Submission: an essay

The White Review published a vignette-burst essay of mine in their July e-edition. It represents some of the thinking I’ve been doing about my book on coming of age in the 21st century, in terms of voice, theme and tone. The White Review is a fantastic literary publication, and I’m mad for the work of Landon Metz, the artist whose painting is featured on their latest cover. Do check it out. Meanwhile, enjoy! 


By Saskia Vogel


Like me, my friends rehearsed womanhood. One friend would lead me to her mother’s closet and pull out the silks and laces for us to wear. Another drew a brassiere, stockings and garters on her Barbie doll. Barbie and Ken slept naked. I pressed them together and held them still. I imagined this cool, dry embrace was the path to ecstasy.

The hair jarred me out of this fantasy. I was dreaming in the dusk of a blanket fort, my arm behind my head. Springing from my underarm was crooked, pale brown wire. I felt too old for my t-shirt – painted birds in puffed, bright colours. If I ignored the strands, would they disappear?

My first menstruation came on Easter Sunday. And the next at Christmas. Then again at Easter, Christmas and in some years at high summer. I felt connected to something great, God or otherwise, yet wanted nothing to do with the blood. I wanted only to be an effigy. Now, I tried to will it away. I thought the dry time between bleeding meant I was succeeding.


My father and I hiked up the hill behind our house, past where the fires burned, past the horse stalls, past the fire roads and to the strip mall where I took karate lessons. I felt strong, free, free again. Free as one can only feel in suburban Los Angeles when one realises it is possible to live without a car. I loved my breasts, small, nonetheless there, my strong legs. The way the fabric clung to me, the yellow dust and sweat on my skin. My shadow sliding up the path ahead of me. At the hillcrest, I surveyed the golden land, the ocean spilling into sky blue. I felt at home here and in my skin, growing into the women of the fountains. I felt beautiful, full of life, ready. At the karate studio, my father said to the sensei, ‘She’s growing up fast.’ I felt the man – the man who taught me how to yield a katana, who taught me about breath control, the man who knew how I moved – looking at me with something other than sensei eyes. I felt cold and stood still. When I called my body out from the fountain’s ledge and atop the dry-brushed hill, I never expected an echo.

To read the rest, click here.