Tove Alsterdal, welcome to TheCrimeHouse!
How did your writing career start?
With an idea that was so good I had to write it. I was a freelance journalist writing drama, and I first imagined the story as a movie, but it would’ve cost at least SEK 40 million since it takes place in six countries, so I decided to write a novel instead. It was partly about those who die in the Mediterranean, and was published in 2009. It has been sold to several countries and will become a British TV series. With that novel I discovered I could do it.
How would you describe your novels for someone who has never heard anything about them?
They are crime novels without a traditional detective, international thrillers without spies. The victims are the main characters, and they have to solve the mystery to survive. The stories always have elements of reality and love is often the driving force, not evil.
How do you react if I say that I don’t experience your novels as crime novels, but more like contemporary history?
I like to combine the present and the past and be inspired by reality, but never at the expense of suspense. I hide another story within the crime novel, a classic destiny drama. It is more about life than death.
What does your writing process look like, how much of your time is spent on research vs. writing?
I do a lot of research. Even if the story is fictional I want it to feel real, and much of it is. I read a lot and travel to all the places where my characters are active, find the houses where they will live and often even meet the people they will meeting. But the biggest job is always the writing and once I write I must forget about the research, it just needs to be there as knowledge in my body, as if I have experienced it myself. You should never write about something just to show off how much your know.
Do you have a synopsis or do you just write?
Both. I created a detailed synopsis, my stories are too complex so they demand it and I need to know where I am going. But when I start writing I always make changes and I have to be open to new things.
In what stage of the process do you let someone else look at your work and who is it?
I let Liza Marklund in even at the idea stage, we have always discussed our stories and read each other’s texts from the first 30-50 pages until the end. No one else gets to read it until she has finished, she is my extra set of eyes and the one who ensures I don’t get blind and get lost.
Do you have any writing role models? If so, who? And why?
John le Carré, he is the master of international thrillers. You can say I follow in his footsteps but without major politics and spies. In my novels it is the common people that cross borders and they are driven by the dream of a better life, not power.
Joyce Carol Oates is another role model, her novels usually begins with death, but without being crime novels, and she also blurs the line between the genres, which makes me feel at home.
Let’s say that you would write the next novel with another author, who would that be?
No idea. I happily work with others when I write for theatre and film, but I have a difficult time imagining writing novels with someone else. If I were to do it, it would have to be with someone passionate about the same idea and the idea would have to be stronger than my will to decide everything on my own. Maybe it will happen, but with whom I don’t know.
What advice do you have for our readers who are aspiring writers?
Write! If your idea is strong enough then spend the time and do the job that is needed. It takes several years, so get started. A novel doesn’t write itself. Sometimes it has to be bad before it gets good, it’s not magic, it’s a process. And don’t glance too much at others, write what gets you started, what affects you.
Our readers are, as always, very eager to get to know our fantastic Swedish crime writers, so many thanks for taking the time to talk to us!
Note: This interview has been translated from Swedish. The original interview was published on Deckarhuset Oct 13, 2016.