Photo: Michel Widenius
Mikaela, welcome to TheCrimeHouse!
For our readers who may not know who you are, can you please tell us a little bit about yourself?
My name is Mikaela Bley and I am 36 years old. I live in Stockholm, Sweden, with my husband Dag and our two children Hermine Lily (5 years old), and Douglas (3 years old). My first crime novel Lycke was published in March 2015 and I am writing the sequel Liv right now (it will be published in Sweden after the summer). My series about the willful TV4 reporter Ellen Tamm is sold to ten countries, so far. My dream is to continue to write for a living.
How did your writing career start? And how did it happen when Lycke was published?
I have always dreamt of writing and creating stories. The writing has always been there and I have always had many stories, characters and scenarios in my head.
I worked as a purchaser at TV4 and bought movies, TV-series and documentaries and when I could decide it was often well-made crime documentaries. I have always had a fascination for dark stories. I think it’s because I want to understand. Find nuances and grey areas for the good and the evil and in that way process my fears. There is nothing black or white. To understand the reason for an action does not make it right, but it can increase the understanding, and there somewhere was the seed for my series. There are so many things I want to bring about and even more I want to explore and find out and I do that by writing fiction.
A story developed. A story that was so so strong I had to do something with it.
I signed up for a writing class, which was one week long, and it was a good way of getting started. I received some basic advice on how to structure my work.
When I felt that the story could actually turn into something I decided to go for my dream, so I quit my job to write full-time. I needed that pressure and I needed to decide. If not, there would have been a semi-finished manuscript in a drawer now.
When I finally finished, which took longer and was much harder than I had thought, I sent the manuscript to a few publishers. Then a horrible wait followed. It took several months before they responded and there was nothing I could do to influence the situation in the meantime. That is when I started writing the sequel. And then I googled, kind of like you do when you have a symptom, but I googled how difficult it is to get published, how they handle all the manuscripts they receive, how they barely read them and different stories of how writing dreams were crushed and how terrible it is to get a refusal letter.
I received a couple of refusals, and that was tough. A no is a hello, my husband (who works in sales) said to encourage me. I started thinking about how to change the manuscript when Lind & Co contacted me and not only wanted the novel, but a whole series! It still feels surreal.
How long did it take to finish the novel and how much of that time was research and how much was writing time?
It took approximately three years to finish Lycke, but during that time I had our second child, so I did not write full-time. It is difficult to say how I have divided the time. I have spent a lot of time doing research, and since Lycke is my first novel I have also spent a lot of time on the writing and the dramaturgy.
Can you please tell us a little about the main character Ellen Tamm and how you came up with the character?
Ellen came to me bit by bit and when she was clear enough I started writing her story.
I am often asked if I have a lot in common with my main character Ellen, and I think I do, probably more than I had intended when I started writing her story. Ellen has a dark past, something she has not faced and that impacts her daily, I call it a frozen grief. Ellen handles her frozen grief by working with things that hurt, so she doesn’t have to face her own pain. She focuses on things that distract her to try to suppress the memories of what happened. That’s why she works with terrible crimes and death.
I do too. I write about terrible crimes and death. I also process things in my past, things I have experienced in one way or another. But not to the same extent as Ellen, for me it’s mostly about fear of things that could happen.
Ellen Tamm works as a criminal reporter for Swedish channel 4 (TV4). How have you used your own knowledge and experiences from your time at TV4 in your writing?
A lot. You should write about what you know, and I really like TV4 and I am happy that I can use my old workplace as a believable setting for a fictitious story. It is an exciting world and I think many are interested in finding out what is going on behind the cameras.
Where did you get your inspiration? (Ellen Tamm reminds me of Liza Marklund’s reporter Annika Bengtzon, and the environment reminds me of Denise Rudberg’s crime novels.)
I am inspired by everything and everyone. It can be a conversation at a café, a movie, something I see on the street, an event or a feeling I want to understand. I am inspired by all people I meet.
I really like both Denise Rudberg and Liza Marklund, so I am honored to be mentioned in the same context as them. But I don’t think Ellen Tamm and Annika Bengtzon has anything more in common than the fact that they are both female reporters.
When it comes to crime, they exist in all social classes. Denise and I partly use the same environments. I think it’s an exciting setting to write and read about.
If (or when) Lycke is adapted into a movie, what actors would you like to see as the main characters?
WHEN Lycke is adapted to a movie in Sweden I would like to see Aliette Opheim playing Ellen. And Zlatan as Jimmy (Translators note: Swedish soccer player Zlatan Ibrahimovic)
Do you have any writing role models? If so, who? And why?
Many. All writers are role models, but in different ways. I can find something to be inspired by in almost everything I read. I like when there is a structure in the way the story is told. The language and characters are often more important than the story, even though I need to find out early where I am going when I start reading. If not, I will be bored, unfortunately. Right now I almost prefer to read preliminary investigations ( förundersökningar) than fiction.
What advice do you have for our readers who are aspiring authors?
Visualize a goal and be prepared to work hard to get there. Don’t give up! For me it was important to decide that I would succeed. I think that if you want something badly enough you will get there eventually, but there are no shortcuts and it takes a lot of hard work. At the same time it’s important that you write because you think it’s fun.
Then it’s also important to believe in yourself and your story! I quit my job and bet all on my writing. I was focused and a clear goal of succeeding, there were no other alternatives. You need to have a comprehensive faith in that what you do is right and that is a big challenge when you work alone. I believed in myself and my story, even though there were many sleepless nights and much concern.
How is the work on the sequel going? And can you please tell us a little bit about it?
Liv, the sequel to Lycke, will be published after the summer. Liv takes place in the part of Sweden where Ellen grew up and begins the summer after Lycke disappeared. In Liv we get to know more about Ellen and her history. In parallel we find out about Liv’s destiny. It has been and exciting journey to write Liv and very emotional. I have laughed, cried, been scared, in love, angry, sad, mad and had panic attacks just like Ellen. Death, death, death. The pressure to perform has been brutal at times, but now, I am so happy with the novel and look forward to seeing it in stores.
Thank you so much for taking the time to answer our questions. Good luck with the next novel!
Note: This interview has been translated from Swedish.