News from Denmark - feel-good trilogy with an edge

26th of May 2023
News from Denmark - feel-good trilogy with an edge

Lotte Printz in Denmark talks to Estrid Dyekjær, a novelist who criticise tender systems in her books.

“I have this song in my head, ‘When I’m Cleaning Windows’ (1936 song by George Formby)…,” Estrid Dyekjær bursts out enthusiastically when I first get her on the phone.

“And it makes me so happy whenever cleaners are being acclaimed, instead of being portrayed as in ‘A Touch of Frost’ for instance where the cleaner kills a patient when pulling the plug to the respirator while hoovering at a hospital.”

So, there was no doubt in the now 43-year-old author’s mind that a cleaner should play a more positive part in her works. While the cleaner is the ‘heroine’, although not a lucky one, the way tenders are being made by ‘the suits’ far from the people they affect the most is, if not the ‘villain’, then gets a severe slap on the wrist.

The criticism voiced in her novels is triggered by her own experiences. For years, Dyekjær herself worked in the industry and saw how corners and prices were constantly cut in tenders, leaving cleaners with unrealistic quality demands and stopwatches attached to their behinds, as she puts it.

“I met so many amazing people in this business who felt washed-out and were deeply distressed. I saw supervisors crying because they had to put more pressure on their cleaners who were already running 750 square metres an hour. And none of them could allow themselves to quit their jobs – even when unable to cope,” she says.

While working for a large FM service company, Dyekjær felt compelled to write a letter to the editor with her honest opinion about the system. A system she compares to “a tooth rotten to the core.” Before sending it, she showed it to her manager who was inclined to agree with her but warned her it would be the end of her career in the industry if she went ahead.

So, she didn’t. Dyekjær stayed in her job, wrote two other novels before she made her move, quit her job and was ready to publish her criticism – and even the letter to the editor in almost the exact same words – wrapped up in feel-good fiction, a trilogy.

The main character of the trilogy finds herself, not unlike Dyekjær, fed up with her job submitting tenders at the fictional company TBCC, short for The Big Cleaning Company.

”The first word I wrote in the novel was the F word because that was the feeling I had myself just before I left. It felt so unpleasant to be a part of it all, leaving my children in childcare at 6.30 in the morning to go to work and make decisions that basically ruined other people,” Dyekjær explains.

Having a cleaner as the main character wasn’t a great idea, she was told, so instead her main character crosses paths with a cleaner. An immigrant worker, who – spoiler alert – is laid off as a result of a take-over bid made by TBCC. The cleaner is already worn-out, ends on early retirement benefits, is basically sent to the dogs and finally dies! In short! A terrible story of course - but not unrealistic - and in fact the storyline that moved most of the readers who sent her feedback.

Dyekjær concludes: “I have so many more words in me, and several stories lined up in my head. And even though my local librarian thinks I should pack up the cleaning bit, I’m not done with that. There’s a lot more to be said and I haven’t had any negative reactions so far.”


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