They call Karl Ove Knausgǻrd a "rock star" of writers, and standing in the foyer at the Sky City Grand Hotel — all 1.93m of him, lion-like with a mane of tousled grey hair, matching beard and piercing blue eyes — he looks like one.

His books have sold in numbers more commonly racked up by rock albums, too, so it was big news when the Auckland Writers Festival announced he would be one of the 230 authors — local and international — at this weekend's event.

Now Knausgǻrd's arrived, run a workshop and is preparing to discuss his writing life with what will surely be an intimate crowd of hundreds — after all, the Aotea Centre's ASB Theatre seats around 2139.

Of course, it's far from the first time he has bared his soul; indeed, Knausgǻrd's made his reputation based upon six autobiographical novels, My Struggle, which were published from 2009-11 totalling some 3600 pages.


They became a literary sensation in his native Norway, where it's estimated one copy was sold for every nine Norwegian adults, and not just because the attention-grabbing title is the same as Adolf Hitler's autobiography, Mein Kampf.

That they were so brutally personal fuelled a frenzy of newspaper articles, TV interviews and online comment especially when members of Knausgǻrd's own extended family came out swinging, claiming events in the books were not as they remembered.

As the writer himself realises, that's the nature of memory for you but he says he pities families who have someone, like him, who is simply driven to write.

"One thing I know is that it's probably a curse for a family to have a writer in its midst."

Readers couldn't get enough of the private thoughts of a man struggling to balance ambition — he wanted to write great literature — with the mundanity of everyday life especially when children arrived.

He says he switched from trying to be a great writer to one simply trying to get time to write. In his twenties when he wrote Out of the World (his first novel, published in 1998 which was the first debut novel to win the Norwegian Critics Prize for Literature), he thought he had to isolate himself.

"I don't know where that idea came from, maybe the romantic idea of the artist, but when we had children, that changed completely and my writing became much more grounded and the thing was that I realised that I can't write the great novel, that was impossible and I had to just write without ambition.

"That was such a liberating thing for my writing and for my life. You know, when you have to pick up children from nursery at 4pm and you have maybe four hours, well, in those four hours you write. I stopped thinking about quality and being good, and I just wrote."


He points out that those women who are writers and mothers do it all the time without comment.

Then the books went global, translated into 22 languages and propelling the father-of-four to global literary stardom. He gets letters from elderly women and young men in prison who say the books are about their lives; a Native American woman once told Knausgǻrd he had written about her.

"I had not but she saw herself and that is very strange to me," he says.

"My experience is that, with these books, it's for the readers; it is like the book becomes about them but that's very strange because the books are so much about me.

"My fear was that they would be too uninteresting, too boring, too many details and really a story of a life that is a very common life; there's nothing much going on in these books so I was completely taken by surprise when they started selling in Norway …"

When Knausgǻrd finished in 2011, he said he wouldn't write again. He's since written the Seasons Quartet, four books comprising essays about concepts and objects, and now has plans for another book which will be completely different to everything he has done before.

Pure fiction, he says; writing from other points of view.

• The Auckland Writers Festival is now on, finishing Sunday.