As part of our month-long partnership with Stockholm Text, The Rogue Reader’s Edward Weinman chats with blockbuster Swedish crime writer Mari Jungstedt, recently hailed by Harlen Coben as ”one of the best writers of Scandinavian crime fiction.” Here’s Part One of a Weinman’s Three-part Rogue Conversation.
Weinman: You once worked as a news anchor, right? That came to mind immediately when you introduced one of your characters, reporter Johan Berg. And of course you write about the island of Gotland, where I know you spend a lot of your time. All this made me wonder, how much of your novels are inspired by your real life experiences? As with most writers, I imagine you write from a personal place, or at least begin there. How did you become a writer–and how did you choose the direction of your writing?
Jungstedt: I had three thoughts in my mind when I started my first attempt to write a book – I wanted it to be a crime novel, I wanted it to take place on Gotland and I wanted it to be about something more than “just” a suspenseful crime story – I wanted to tell something else, some human problem that people can relate to and find interesting, I wanted to have a depth in the story.
I chose to write a crime novel because I have always loved reading them myself. Even during my childhood I always loved suspenseful stories and mysteries. When I started to write I thought it was a big challenge to see if I could write in such a suspenseful way so the reader cannot stop reading. I have always been reading a lot of mysteries and crime novels, since I was a little girl and I loved Sir Artur Conan Doyles books about Sherlock Holmes and Enid Blyton novels about “The five” – “Five has a mystery to solve” etc…
I fell in love with the island of Gotland at the age of nine when I saw the sea for the first time and 20 years later I fell in love with Gotland again through my ex-husband who I met in journalist school (we were in the same class). He is from Visby and he has a big family – seven brothers and sisters and they have many children themselves – one sister has nine, one brother has seven, one sister has five – so our children have 28 cousins only on the island of Gotland! So through my ex-husband I have a big family on Gotland, we have a house on the island and I spend a lot of time there. I also thought Gotland would be perfect as a crime scene.
The rest of the year I live in Stockholm and I also rent a house on Gran Canaria where I write, especially in the wintertime. My husband and I were divorced in October last year, after 22 years together, but it was a very easy divorce and we are very good friends!! We keep the house on Gotland together and share it. Our children are turning 20 and 21 this year.
Weinman: So what drives your storytelling? What’s the engine behind your creativity?
Jungstedt: I do not only want to write for entertainment, even though I want my books to be very entertaining and suspenseful, but I also want to tell something else, something about humanity, how we people work and I do have a focus on the childhood and how it effects us. In my first novel I wanted to use my experiences of having been harassed in school and how that affected me in my life.
Since I was used to write only short television telegrams I asked myself – How do I start? I had never written anything longer before, so I decided to start in a very easy and modest way and with no big ambitions. First of all I wanted to see if I could write only one page. I thought it must be easiest if I tried to describe something concrete from my every day life.
I started to write about a memory I had from Gotland. One beautiful summer day in July I went to the beach on my own, a quite wild and deserted beach with no restaurants or cafeterias. When I got there it was sunny and warm and lots of people laying on the sand, swimming in the sea and children playing in the water. I laid down in a dune and fell fast asleep in the sand. When I woke up there was a completely different picture around me. All the people was gone, it was empty and quiet around me and a thick and huge mist had come in from the sea . The beach was suddenly abandoned and quiet and I could hardly see my hand in front of me because of the mist. It was beautiful, but also scary and it was completely silent. I started to write about this memory and it was like pushing a button, the words came floating out of me like a neverending stream. Then the story went on and I was writing whenever I got the chance – on weekends, after work, late at night and early in the morning. And then it became my first novel . And the mist is the same mist in the beginning of the novel, my first “Unseen”, when the young woman Helena Hillerström is walking to the beach with her dog early in the morning and suddenly she is in the middle of the mist that is coming in from the sea and her dog disappears in the mist and then she meets her murderer…
When I had written about half of the manuscript for my first book I contacted the biggest publishing company in Sweden, Bonniers ( Albert Bonniers Forlag). I had no contact with the publishing world and I did not know any authors. I asked to speak to a publisher. He listened to my story ( he also knew who I was from TV so that probably helped a bit). He told me I had to finish my book and then I could send the manuscript directly to him. It took me three months to finish the script and after sending it he called me after three days and said – this is a pageturner – we will publish this! It was like a dream – I was at the furniturehouse Ikea with a friend when he called and I just screamed of joy and almost fell into a shelf with lamps!!!
That is now eleven years ago and I have written eleven novels in the series so far. I just finished my eleventh novel and it will be released in Sweden in the middle of May – and I love writing!
Read more of Weinman’s interview with Jungstedt later this week here at The Rogue Reader. And buy Jungstedt’s latest ebook Killer’s Art bundled with Weinman’s Icelandic crime thriller The Ring Road, for one low price right here–it’s a deal you won’t find anywhere else.