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A Northern Light

Petterson went home and finished a story.

It won a contest.

"You got more?" the editor asked.

Within a year, he had published his first collection. The stories featured a character named Arvid Jansen, a version of himself Petterson calls his "soul mate," to whom he would return again and again.

* * *

Petterson was a published writer now, and he kept writing. But there was no reason to think a book of his would ever be noticed in English-speaking countries, much less contend for an international prize.

"If you're a Norwegian writer, you are not visible in the world," he says. "The door of the English language is very hard to open for a Norwegian writer."

Yet after the ferry fire -- and the books he wrote as a result -- a crack appeared in that door.

It's not easy to prove cause and effect here. After his IMPAC Dublin win, a journalist Petterson respects wrote that "the tragedy changed the way he was writing," but the author himself isn't so sure.

"It was a very, very hard blow, but I do not think that it changed me as a writer," he says. He had already made a crucial artistic choice -- to write in the first person -- before the accident occurred.

Yet there's no question, he says, that he "wouldn't have written the same books" if it hadn't happened.

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