Karin Altenberg

Novelist, Translator

Karin Altenberg was born in Sweden and moved to the UK in 1996. She is a novelist and occasional translator who lives between Sweden and Britain and within two languages.

Her first novel, Island of Wings (Quercus, 2011), in which a missionary and his young wife struggle for love and existence on the remote island of St Kilda in the early nineteenth century, was nominated for the Orange prize, the Saltire award and the Scottish Mortgage Investment Trust book award; her second, Breaking Light (Quercus, 2014), is another story about unity and fracture set in a wild, threatening landscape. Both books were also published in the US.

After translating a novel for children she realised that this is probably best left to the professionals, yet she can’t quite stop herself. She has judged the Bernard Shaw prize for translation.

She has a PhD in archaeology from the University of Reading and her background as a landscape archaeologist has influenced her writing, with landscape always playing a central part in her novels about people on the edges of the world. She has also worked in the fields of cultural relations and arts and heritage management, and these different professional backgrounds have helped to keep her thinking and writing in two languages.

She has received fellowships to writers’ residencies in Italy, reviews regularly for the Wall Street Journal and also writes for the Guardian, the Irish Times and Slightly Foxed.

For her next novel, she is exploring the river-ways across the US from the Mississippi to the Pacific.

Originally from Sweden, Karin is a novelist, critic and translator. She holds a PhD in Archaeology and her experience as a novelist and academic writer – and of living within two languages – influenced her work as a RLF Fellow at Brunel University, particularly in understanding the writing development of students with more than one language. Karin joined the Bridge in 2019 and recognises that supporting students in becoming more confident writers is a way to enhance their experience of life after school. Karin is the Bridge coordinator for England and, together with her colleagues, she hopes to encourage more schools and students to benefit from the opportunities brought by the project.

More from Karin Altenberg

Karin Altenberg
Image credit: Robin Robertson

Karin Altenberg

Novelist, Translator


  • Brunel University London, 2016–2019