I am a Norwegian author, journalist, political scientist, and aid worker – with emphasis shifting between those areas depending on urges and opportunities.
I was born and grew up in the northern town of Mo i Rana. Oslo has been my base for three decades, although during this time I have also lived and worked in many other places (San Francisco and Sana’a, Kiev and Khartoum …)
In my late teens, I decided I wanted to be a journalist. The way I explained it, ‘Journalists know everything about everything’, and I was eager to be one of them. To engage with the world that was out there, and write about it. Pursuing this romantic vision, I earned an MA degree in International Journalism from City University, London, in 1987. I went on to do stints at Altaposten (a local newspaper), Verdens Gang, Dagens Næringsliv, and Dagbladet. I was also Editor-in-Chief of Nordisk Østforum (a quarterly journal of Russian and East European affairs) in 1991-1994.
In 1988, I began studying political science at the University of Oslo (I still remember the thrill I felt browsing the reading list in international relations and political theory). In 1993, I earned my MA.
While writing my thesis (on Russian nationalist ideology), I had a student scholarship at the Peace Research Institute, Oslo (PRIO). PRIO was a fabulous place to be, and I ended up staying there for a full 14 years: first as a junior researcher, then as a PhD candidate (including one year as a Fulbright Research Associate at the University of California, Berkeley), and finally as a senior researcher completing a post-doc and other projects.
I defended my Dr Philos dissertation, Pains of Partition. Nationalism, National Identity, and the Military in Post-Soviet Russia, in 2002 (University of Oslo). By then, I was ready to do something very different. That became possible thanks to a post-doc project that included fieldwork in Afghanistan, East Timor, and Kosovo, and research on peacebuilding, ethnic relations, and security sector reform.
Throughout my years at PRIO, I kept writing a lot of op-eds and features, in addition to academic journal articles. And I still had feelings for journalism – my professional first love. In 2008, I left PRIO to be a freelance international reporter. In the years that followed, my writing appeared in publications including Jane’s Intelligence Review, La Vanguardia Dossier, The Independent, and Aftenposten Innsikt. I reported from more than a dozen countries, mainly on issues of conflict and conflict resolution.
In 2011, I changed pace once again, going on my first mission for the United Nations – six months with UNICEF in Yemen. Since then, I have done four more such missions, three to six months long, in Sudan, Ukraine, Kyrgyzstan (UNICEF) and Kenya (FAO) – all in the field of communication. Today, I cannot imagine my life without those experiences.
I have also continued to serve occasionally as an international election observer, as part of the NORDEM roster, which I first did as early as 1997.
I can’t say precisely how long I’ve wanted to try and write fiction, or when I started working on my first novel. But at one point I created a text file on my laptop which I called ‘Phrases’, which I kept renaming as I added content, until I stopped worrying about being pretentious and called it ‘The manuscript’. Eventually, the manuscript got a name, I finished writing it, shared it with others, and revised, revised. And in 2018, I was so fortunate that Forlaget Press, a Norwegian publisher with a very nice catalogue of titles, accepted it for publication. Entitled Risiko (Risk), the book is forthcoming in February 2020.
Partly in parallel, I wrote my first non-fiction book in Norwegian. Over sperregrensen (Over the Threshold) is my attempt to target a general audience with an introduction to the world’s electoral systems. Books on this topic often get too technical to be of interest to non-specialists, and so this is my attempt to convey all the ‘wow, cool!’ things about elections, with the dull stuff left out. Over sperregrensen was published by Norwegian University Press in May 2019.
When I have free time, I engage in sports that challenge gravity: I do climbing (mostly indoor), although I’m nowhere near as good as my crime novel’s heroine Liv Eriksson. And I’ve recently made a modest comeback in competitive powerlifting, which was a mainstay in my life from early teens to late 30s.
I have always had a love of languages, and I’ve spent a lot of time learning them. My mother (who was Swedish) read crime novels in five different languages; that was an early inspiration. What’s more impressive than how well I speak various languages, is how much I’ve managed to forget. But over the last 20 years or so I’ve attended 20+ language courses around the world, and besides Norwegian (and Swedish) and English, I have skills ranging from decent to basic in Spanish, Russian, German, French, Bosnian, and Italian.