Nan Inger Östman was a writer of fiction. She primarily wrote children’s and youth books but also published a few novels for adults.
Nan Inger Östman was born in Stockholm in 1923. Her forename Nan was an abbreviation of her nickname, Nennan, given to her by her mother Wendela. Her father, Iwo Åkerholm, was an accountant. Nan Inger Östman grew up in Östermalm, Stockholm. After attending girls’ school she studied at Stockholms högskola (now Stockholm University) where she gained a bachelor’s degree in languages and psychology in 1946.
Following her graduation she was taken on as a volunteer at the newspaper Svenska Dagbladet. She subsequently worked as a journalist at Morgon-Tidningen until 1955. During this time she met the man she went on to marry, Peter Östman, who was also a journalist. He later trained as a teacher and found employment at various schools across Sweden, as both a teacher and headmaster. Nan Inger Östman sometimes also worked as a teacher, initially at Lundsbergs boarding school in Värmland and subsequently at a realskola, a junior secondary school, in Söderköping and at Fryxellska skolan in Sunne. At the same time she began writing books, and from 1980 this became her primary occupation. The couple had four daughters together and the family lived at a horse-ranch in Östra Ämtervik in Värmland. Once their daughters had flown the coop Nan Inger Östman and her husband moved to Stallarholmen on lake Mälaren.
Nan Inger Östman’s written work can be divided into three distinct periods. The first was short, lasting only two years, and comprised joint work undertaken with her husband. Using the pseudonym of Peter Inger they published two jointly authored detective novels, Mördande recension, in 1953, and Med döden i hovarna, in 1954. Her second period of written output was longer, and lasted from 1954 to 1994. During this time she published 39 children’s and youth books, often under the pseudonym of Nan Inger. The third and final period of writing came during her later life: in 1999 she wrote a novel for adults titled Ett slags sällskap, followed up by En varm vänskap in 2003. These two books were published under the name of Nan Östman.
Although Nan Inger Östman wrote over a considerable period of time and appealed to a variety of different reading audiences there are certain elements common to all her output. Most prominent is perhaps her direct, unsentimental style. This style is regularly highlighted by reviewers and readers as a very positive aspect of her work. One female reader has recounted how she and her riding companion were bowled over by Nan Inger Östman’s Sedan red jag Dunet, published in 1968. “Although the events which play out are quite ordinary […] they are so well-written and in exactly the right tone, so we immediately took the book to our hearts”.
The style is often humorous. Nan Inger Östman particularly allowed the humour to flow in her 1958 book for girls entitled Din Christina and in her youth books Att vara flicka och ha egen häst, 1969, and Spöknatt, 1970. She could also be quite satirical. Her satire is particularly cutting as used against modern schooling with its unsure teachers and buzzword-defined pupil democracy, as most clearly expressed in her book Smockan from 1978.
Certain environments and subjects make recurring appearances in her work. Nan Inger Östman’s use of reference points such as Östermalmsgatan, NK, girls’ schools, invitations to tea, formal dances, and school graduations lead the reader to deduce that she grew up within a bourgeois, wealthy, and educated environment. She also portrays an entirely different environment, a rural one including horses and riding, in which she, despite all the enthusiasm she expresses, does not shy away from describing the hard and dirty work involved.
Another recurring theme in these books is her love of England and English culture. Nan Inger Östman spent time in Cambridge and several of the girls in her books travel to England, as in the 1958 book Din Christina and Dyrkade Ebba!, from 1992. There are frequent references to English literature, not least Winnie-the-Pooh. The lead character of the popular series which begins with Sedan red jag Dunet, Piglet, is of course named after Winnie-the-Pooh’s eponymous friend. Another classic that is sometimes alluded to is Enid Bagnold’s 1935 story about a girl and a horse, National Velvet.
Nan Inger Östman also came to specialise in books about girls and horses. As a child she herself had been a rider at Ryttarstadion in Stockholm and her interest in riding comes across in most of her books written for a younger readership. Riding at this time was becoming increasingly popular amongst girls and Nan Inger Östman had skills and experiences in that area. She subsequently became ever more critical about how young girls were being exploited as unpaid workers at riding stables and how parents would push their children to go to any length win races. Her harshest criticism came in her 1985 book, Rosettjakten, in which a young girl finally dramatically rebels against her well-meaning but altogether too pushy father.
Nan Inger Östman received a lot of praise for her children’s and youth books. She had already received the first prize in the 1955 Rabén & Sjögren children’s- and youth-book competition for her Möte med verkligheten, in which a high-class Stockholm girl starts working as a journalist for a local Social-Democratic party newspaper. Nan Inger Östman subsequently became primarily associated with books about horse riding. Her realism and depictions not just of horse riding but of the female characters’ entire lives, including families, schools, friendships, and arguments was considered an innovation. In her children’s books, she also wrote about a love for animals, as well as how younger children could stand up to bullying from older children. For many years Nan Inger Östman was the most heavily borrowed author at Swedish libraries. In 1987 she was awarded the Astrid Lindgren prize.
In 1999, when she was 76 years old, Nan Inger Östman surprised everyone by publishing a novel for adults called Ett slags sällskap. Anna, a “72-year-old career woman, somewhat worn but healthy, hard-working, bookish, married”, places a personal ad which is answered by a widower named Bo. The reader follows their correspondence and growing mutual interest until on the final page they finally meet in person. As the relationship develops the reader is given insights into their everyday lives, thoughts, and memories. The novel gained a lot of attention and was followed up by En varm vänskap in 2003, which tells of “the girls”, namely a group of women who had been friends ever since childhood. The book was described on its back cover as “unusual given that it is a generational novel for those over 70”.
Nan Inger Östman’s books were almost always about girls and women, apart from the two detective novels she had written together with her husband. The first four were lauded as “girls’ books” but even after that label fell out of use by the mid-1960s her children’s and youth books continued to portray the lives of girls. She wanted to write about a subject she was intimate with. “I grew up in a world that was entirely dominated by women”, she has said in an interview. Her only sibling was her sister, all her cousins were girls, she had attended girls’ school, and she herself had four daughters. “Men and boys are a mystery which I know nothing about”, she continues in the interview, believing that no men read her work. Her books have, nevertheless, meant a lot to women of every age.
Nan Inger Östman died in 2015, aged 92.