A Fortress Full of Stories

Danish writer Anja Klemp Vilgaard works near a castle built by a pirate king – and finds a hidden piece of history around every corner.

A Fortress Full of Stories

Our Hidden History series is all about celebrating the unsung humans of history – sometimes going waaaaay back – as in the case of King Erik VII, the 15th-century Danish “King Who Became a Pirate.” King Erik built Kronborg Castle – the towering fortress later featured in Shakespeare’s Hamlet. It’s also the place where the author of our piece, Anja Klemp Vilgaard, works close to today. Anja is also the author of the just-published Kronborg: Stories Untold, a book about the many hidden histories of the fortress.

Narratively: Kronborg Stories Untold came out earlier in June. How did the book come about?

There is so much heartache and so much joy within the walls of this castle. So many tales of tragedy and love. Of despair and fulfillment. I simply had to write about it. I talked to one of my colleagues, a photographer, who soon decided that he too had to be a part of this. This book is about the hidden places and shared experiences that make us all human and part of the same tribe. The pages of this book are filled with tales that reach across time, echoes of voices past that we are still able to learn from and still see when we visit the castle today. 

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Anja Klemp Vilgaard outside of Kronborg Castle.

Narratively: What sparked your own interest in Kronborg Castle? 

For some reason, I have always found myself in the vicinity of castles. I grew up next door to a castle  – when I moved away from home, I moved into a house that had belonged to a king  – it was being modernized and while they waited for the finances to go through, they turned it into a dormitory. When I got my first job as an editor working for a small local newspaper, my desk overlooked one of Denmark’s most well-known castles; and when I started my business  – the storytelling agency Get Ajour  – a chance encounter landed me my current offices at the foot of Kronborg Castle. 

Kronborg fascinates me. It’s the home of former kings, queens and even Shakespeare’s fictional character ‘Prince Hamlet,’ but it’s even more so a legacy  to all the people who’ve worked there throughout the centuries. People whose lives have been lived and lost without anybody telling them about them. 

Narratively: What did you find most interesting about the subjects you interviewed and the stories they shared?

The passion of the place. The importance of these people’s stories. So much drama, so much food for thought. Imagine the similarities between today’s Heidi the painter and the queen who was imprisoned 250 years ago [two people profiled in Anja’s book]. How they both went against authorities, norms and cultural etiquette by following their heart, choosing to embrace their different-ness and live a life out of the ordinary. I find it inspiring and immensely interesting to see how much other people’s stories and life learnings can affect us all. 

Narratively: Even if someone knows very little about Danish history or Kronborg Castle, why is this still a great book for them to pick up?

The catalyst of this book might be Kronborg – but it’s not only a book about the castle. It’s also about the nature of humanity. How power has always been a drug to some. How the kings and queens of the past have dreamed, speculated and schemed just as well as any modern king, dictator, prime minister or even president. But first and foremost – it’s my hope that in reading this book the reader will learn something about themself. That once immersed in good storytelling, you’ll have lived, loved and lost with the main characters of the book and maybe even felt the need to start telling your own story. 

Narratively: Your company, Get Ajour, produces storytelling for brands, businesses and individuals. How does this work complement or correlate with your work in journalism?

I started Get Ajour Storytelling Agency seven years ago. Back then the businesses here in Denmark didn’t think much about narratives. They looked solely at the bottom line, communicated in numbers, sterile spreadsheets, percentages and top-down-information stripped of people, feelings and shared beliefs.  And then it dawned on me. A company is a lot like a person. It has a narrative, a set of values, a way of reacting when facing stressful situations, learned behavior and an emotional skillset that doesn’t always apply to the situation at hand.

Today – 7 years later – things have changed. Companies now know all of this. A true, tactile and well-told story with people at the center and a heartfelt message matters. A story that has the capability to bring us all together, bring order to chaos and help us make sense of the world and our part in it. 

Narratively: What other projects are next for you?

I’ll finish the novel that’s been brewing since I was a 13-year-old girl, knowing my mother’s and grandmother’s stories needed to meet the world. My next book – The Curse of the Seal Woman – has been underway for a lifetime, my lifetime. I’ve grown up listening to stories from their home, The Faroe Islands in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. I’ve been listening to stories about family, hope, despair, love and loss. To narratives about accident-prone heroines, sea-worn captains and mythic creatures lurking beneath the sea. I hope that this current book – Kronborg Stories Untold – will clear the path for the Seal Woman, bringing her – and my female lineage  – to life in a way that might have something to offer other people as well. 

Read more about the book here: www.kronborgthebook.com – and Get Ajour Publishing here: www.getajourpublishing.com