Interview with Roslund & Hellström

Anders Roslund & Börge Hellström, a Swedish crime writing duo, consisting of a journalist and a criminal justice debater, released their first crime novel “The Beast” in 2004, for which they received the prestigious award the Glass Key.

Welcome to TheCrimeHouse boys!

Anders, you have a background in television and Börge, you are an active supporter of KRIS (an organization supporting criminals’ return to society) – where did the desire to write come from?

Anders: We usually have common answers to most questions we get, since many of them concern morals and values and we agree on those issues, but this is a very personal question. Personally I have written something every day since I was 14-15 years old. I had a literary dream that flourished until I was 26 years old and got my job in television and then I became focused on working with sound and picture. That was sufficient as a creative outlet until I had done most things over and over again. My desire to write was rekindled again when Börge and I met. It all came back to life again; the circle was complete. I became a late so called debutant. I got the chance to realize my dream and it feels so great to experience that I could do what I really wished for when I was younger!

Börge: I have never had any real desire to write. It is only now that I have become interested. I think it is a lot of fun to write, even though I did not have the dream to be a writer like Anders did, but that is how it turned out anyway.

How in the world did you get the idea to write crime novels as a team?

Anders: The idea was born after our meeting, and it started with our work on the movie about KRIS. We both have a lot of experience, e.g. being probation officers, and the result of all of our long talks turned into crime novels. The frustration of writing and doing a lot of work with interviews, texts and having conversations with people that would be reduced to 6-7 minutes at best was not enough to express what we wanted to say. We did not have any commercial motives, but we love the genre, have experiences that fit well, and it just seemed like a perfect fit.

Börge: We simply dug where we stood.

How does it work practically to write together?

Börge: Our writing process is maybe a little different. It takes about 24 months of fulltime writing to finish a book. It is a lot of writing.

Anders: Unlike other authors we write the story twice, and merge the texts together until it feels right.

Börge: We also discuss what we have written. I may point out that something that Anders wrote is not right, since “Ewert would never do that.”

Anders: There are some writers who brag about the fact that they write quickly, and produce so many pages per day. We can never do that, quite the opposite, because we write so slowly! We write by hand, and rewrite several times. We put layer on layer to the story.

Börge: We have to do a lot of work twice, just because there are two of us.

Anders: When Ewert is supposed to react to something, e.g. be happy, offended, curious, well, then we need to sit down and discuss how we want his reaction to be!

Börge: Maybe we avoid repetition by writing in this way too.

Anders: Unfortunately I think that many good authors get stuck in their thinking and write the same story over and over again because it’s familiar. There is less risk for us to fall in the same trap since we have to talk about everything. Another thing that is different is that many colleagues supposedly start with a blank piece of paper without knowing who will be killed on page 152. We cannot work like that since there are two of us. The benefit is that we see what threads are loose and why.

So the synopsis is extra important?

Anders: It is crucial otherwise our process would not work at all. We write in the same way as when you write a movie script, we write, 4 pages become 40 pages, become 140 pages, become 400 pages.

Börge: It is very time consuming, but when you have the final manuscript in your hand it is all worth it.

How about the plots, how do they develop?

Börge: If we take it from the beginning; when Anders and I met he was making a movie about KRIS where I was one of the main supporters. We met quite often, and talked about making a TV show about different forms of crimes. We came up with a number of themes, topics we wanted to discuss. Then when we started to write we just used the topics we already had identified. You can say that it turned into novels instead of TV shows.

Are there any left?

Börge: Yes, we have several themes left to work with. But how we turn them into novels is not something I can answer. We weave it together until it becomes something we can work with.

Anders: If you work at a newspaper like I have done, you brainstorm in a group what the piece is going to be about. Now we’re only two, and we bat it back and forth in pretty much the same way until we have a decent story with good plots.

Börge: The benefit of working in a team – brainstorming.

Anders: We finish the skeleton pretty early, the beginning, middle and end, and then we brainstorm the rest. It’s simply classic story building.

Why is Ewert Grens blogging? Is that an addition to the debate?

Börge: He actually doesn’t blog anymore. He doesn’t have the time.

Anders: Of course he did it to add to the debate, a fictional person who blogs didn’t exist before. It was a challenge not to write as Anders or Börge, but to write as Ewert. There are many things we think, but that Ewert reasonably wouldn’t think.

Börge: Then we needed Ewert’s help to solve a few problems in our fifth book, and then he had to stop blogging. He simply didn’t have the time. But it was so much fun, because several influential people in the police force commented on his blog posts. It became really exciting.

Anders: And I must say that it was a classy thing to do, to comment using your own name in a fictional characters blog. It shows how serious the topics we write about are. Another fun thing about feedback, reviews in this case, was that a Swedish newspaper that let a Detective Superintendent read a bunch of crime novels and then pick the one that was most believable, and he picked Ewert! We thought that was really fun.

Ewert is not the classic Swedish problem solver, opera loving drinker with a bunch of personal problems. Why not?

Börge: Oh no! We decided on that right away.

Anders: What is our view of the opposite of opera?

Börge: Sivan! Siv Malmkwist. And the opposite to a drinker?

Anders: Yes, someone who never drinks. Even though I love Mankell and his Wallander, but everything that happens go through Wallander, is solved by Wallander where he wrestles someone and wins in the end.

Börge: Ewert has never wrestled with anyone, and other people than Ewert are allowed to come up with solutions too.

How was the character Ewert created?

Börge: He is a mix between my and Anders’s experiences of what a Detective Superindendent is. I have a picture of several different types that have questioned me in different context during the years, and Anders, well he has different pictures of police than I do.

Anders: Ewert is actually part my own father, who rocked out to old tunes in his underwear in the living room.

Börge: I know almost all of her songs, I used to play in a band (that play that kind of music), and she was my mother’s idol too.

Anders: We were a bit worried about what Siv would say but it turned out that she had commented on it in Piteå’s newspaper: “you know what, I’m mentioned in a crime novel, and there is a policeman who likes me.”

Börge: Yes, she had apparently read all of the novels!

To use crime fiction to shine light on the moral debate, which the crime fiction genre really is about, was that a planned strategy or was it an automatic consequence of the writing?

Anders: I guess it’s our silly desire to tell a good story to convey knowledge about what is happening around us today. It’s the niche we have chosen, and that we feel set us apart from other crime writers. Otherwise there would not have been room for us in the genre, because there are already so many good writers.

Börge: You have to stand out to get a spot, which I think we do. We use the specific knowledge we have, and that’s what makes things happen. Reality is sad, black and sad. It is serious dark topics we bring up, and I think you have to make it lighter in form of a novel for people to be able to absorb the message.

Anders: A weird thing is that we have been invited to debates, to discuss the sex crime law with politicians after “The Beast” was published. We were invited to travel with Anna Lind’s Memorial Fund to discuss societal problems, and we were there as knowledge providers, not authors of fiction.

Are you afraid that your descriptions may be too detailed, so that you inspire young “entrepreneurs” to commit crimes?

Börge: We have actually discussed that, but we never describe all the details, I think we have a good balance and avoid describing certain things.

Anders: A good example comes from our fourth book where the character Leo made a living of knowing where all the hospital’s keys were kept. When we did research for that scene we found out exactly how you find out all the entry codes as well. We wrote about that and soon realized that we could not include that section, and deleted it. Plus, the information was completely irrelevant for the story.

Börge: We also have detailed information about bank security, which we never would write about.

Anders: It is actually the opposite in book five, where we tell how you actually smuggle drugs into the prisons, both funny and not so funny ways. The Department of Corrections does not have a clue about this, but they will after reading the novel. Then they will stop it, which is good! We can, and will, never name the people who gave us the information. They are currently in prison and would get into big trouble.

Börge: We prevent crimes! And the Department of Corrections will never admit that they did not know…

Anders: That’s on us.

Your novels have been translated to several other languages, and are very successful internationally.

Anders: Yes, that is fun. The novels have been translated to 17 different languages.

Börge: I have a package with the first Russian manuscript in my car! It is written on old yellowish paper, and has paper string around it and a note with Cyrillic letters.

Anders: It is very flattering. And it is interesting that people around the world are so interested in how we view sex crimes in Sweden. They have the same problem, and maybe the same way of solving them. Who knows? It is a global problem.

In the U.S. we have a contract with a publisher who does not publish crime fiction, just “fiction”. That feels good. You do not have to put labels on everything.

SVT (Swedish National Television) has bought the movie rights to your first four books – when will the first movie be released?

Anders: With the risk of sounding cocky; it didn’t take long before we were offered a bunch of attractive movie contracts that we kept turning down. We felt that they hadn’t understood what we wanted with our books. And it wasn’t important for us to “become a movie” and especially not when it was the “big company” who wanted to make ten movies quickly. But when Daniel Alfredsson called and said “NOW I have understood what you write, and it’s not police novels.” That was after three books. Then we felt that this was fun, we were prepared to throw him in the air and kiss both of his cheeks. He had understood! We accepted immediately. The manuscript writing for the first two movies are in progress. We’ll see how it turns out. We chose not to be involved in the manuscript writing. Reduce 15 hours to 90 minutes…

Mi: But Ewert! What if they cast the wrong person…

Börge: Aha, but we have a veto!

Mi: Not Persbrandt, can you promise that?!

Anders: No no, we promise!

Börge: What do you think about Peter Haber?

Anders: No, not Haber, he has no experience playing a police. Morgan Freeman, maybe?

Mi: Perfect!

(Translator’s note: Since the interview was made, Peter Dalle has been cast as Ewert in the first movie “The Beast” and the movie will be shown in late 2011. In addition, 20th Century Fox has bought the movie rights to the fifth novel “Three Seconds”)

What do you think about the crime novel’s status in Sweden today?

Anders: I have to answer this one! I have written a lot about this and the crime novel is superior to other genres in my opinion. Today, for some reason, the “other novel” has left all descriptions of societal problems to the crime novel. All societal reflections are left to, and taken care of by, the crime novels.

The Swedish crime novel is very much alive. There is not a crime fiction wave, which is sometimes said, but there is a crime fiction segment. A wave has peaks and valleys, crime novels are evenly demanded. I think the establishment will have to live with that. The crime novel is a part of the Swedish narrative tradition, together with the classic novel about today’s society.

What makes a really good crime novel?

Anders: The first rule, which many unfortunately forget, is to find out if this has been written before.

Börge: And the second question you have to ask, which not everyone remember either, is if I have written this before…

Who do you want TheCrimeHouse to interview next?

Börge: Arne Dahl.

Anders: Yes, we actually agree on this. Or Jan Arnald which is his real name.

What question should I ask this person?

Anders: He produces a lot; ask him how he has the time. He writes excellent crime fiction as Arne Dahl, and he writes equally brilliant literature as Jan Arnald, then he writes reviews in respected magazines, and he writes travel pieces with his wife, and…like I said I want to know how he does it!

Thank you for the latte and our nice chat at a lively café! TheCrimeHouse and our readers are grateful that you took the time to answer our questions.