Photo: Johanna Jeansson
Anna Lihammer has a PhD in Historical Archaeology. In January 2014 her first fictional novel ”As darkness is falling” (note: direct translation from Swedish) was published. It was critically acclaimed and received prestigious awards. In March 2015 the sequel was published.
Welcome Anna Lihammar!
You are an author and an archaeologist. What made you combine these careers?
I think the reason is my curiosity. I am driven by curiosity in my work as an archaeologist and in my writing. I have a will to learn more, a will to understand, and a will to find surprising connection between different things.
How did your writing career begin?
Everything actually started with a popular science book about archaeology that is about exciting finds. But after another fact book, that time about the Viking Age, I wanted to write about something else…
Do you think that your career as an archaeologist was why you wrote a historical crime novel?
Yes, I do. Maybe it has also affected my way of writing as a whole, or at least the way I create a story. I usually describe archaeology as a way of looking at the world, a way where you put fragments and material relics together to create a story about what once was.
Crime fiction is a genre that is characterized by good environmental descriptions, something that also is true for archaeology in a way.
In one sentence – How would you describe your crime novels for someone who had never heard of them?
You could maybe say that they are about what you are prepared to do to reach your goals in a world that is torn apart, but also about what you are prepared to do for others.
The main character Carl Hell is a special person. Can you tell us a little bit about him and how you created the character?
Carl tries to be a good person. He probably is a good person, but at the same time he is a pretty introverted and quiet person and others do not always realize that he has good intentions.
Carl and Maria Gustavsson work together because he wants to. He has never really asked her what she wants, which is typical for the time. Maria thinks that he has given her unexpected opportunities, but their relationship isn’t free from friction, rather the opposite.
What is it that fascinates you about the era that both your novels take place in?
The main question I ask myself when I look at the 1930s is: How could this happen? And how was it to live in a society with growing Nazism and threat of war.
How well do you know the places in the novel in real life?
I have visited most places that the novels cover (if they exist in reality). Stockholm, Uppsala, Berlin, Torshälla… I know some of them better than others.
How long did it take to finish your novels and how much of that time was research and how much was writing time?
It is really difficult to say how long it took. The writing probably didn’t take that long, but then again I have been thinking about them for a very long time. As an archaeologist I worked with relics from that time, e.g. refugee camps for people who come to Sweden to get away from WWII, with city blocks from the middle ages that were bombed to pieces in Germany, and with remains of people who were institutionalized at what would have been called “mental hospitals.”
I get the feeling that your novel is dealing with the standards of the time, that from our point of view are fairly obsolete; how did you relate to, e.g. the views of sterilization, gender discrimination, etc.? Did you want to explain things like that to a modern reader?
I think it is difficult to imagine what life was like in the 1930s society, and how different it was, especially when it comes to personal opportunities. Most people did not have the choices we have today, where gender, class and race do not dictate the conditions of one’s life. On the other hand, I think you can imagine what it would be like to be subjected to such repression. To not be able to be whoever you want and be categorized by others. And in a society that is changing in such a way that it has devastating and appalling consequences for your entire life.
The title ”As darkness is falling” (note: direct translation from Swedish) can be interpreted as a metaphor for the novel; how did you decide on the title?
For me the title reflects how darkness fell over Europe. How it was to live during that development, what you chose to see and what you chose to close your eyes to.
Do you have any writing role models? And if so, who and why?
I like Christopher Isherwood, who in his books succeeds in combining a distance with a presence that is so palpable. His stories about the late 20s and the early 30s in Berlin – collected in Berlin Stories – are fantastic.
I am always curious about authors’ working places. What does yours look like?
I write a lot of notes by hand, preferably walking in those places the book is about. When I write I prefer to do it on the couch with the computer on my lap.
What is the most fun about writing? Figuring out the intrigue, creating characters, creating environments, or something different?
I think I like everything. It is fabulous to figure out the intrigue and create the characters, but as the writing progresses it’s like they take on a life of their own and break free from the roles I have given them. More often than not the result is something very different from what I had in mind in the first place.
What kind of books do you read?
It is quite a mix: non-fiction, fiction and most genres. Variation makes it fun.
What do reviews (of your novels) mean to you?
Of course it’s fun with positive reviews. But it’s above all exciting to see how others have perceived what I have written. Have I successfully communicated what I wanted? Have people created their own stories/pictures based on what was written and how do they differ from my own? What can I learn?
What is your advice to our readers who are aspiring writers?
My advice is to dare.
We are eagerly waiting for your next novel. Will there be any more historical crime novels with Carl Hell and Maria Gustavsson?
Right now I am working on the third novel in the same series.
Thank you so much for answering our questions and good luck with your future projects!
Please note: This interview has been translated from Swedish. The original interview was published on July 7, 2015 on Deckarhuset.