Interview with Amanda Hellberg

Amanda Hellberg’s first novel “Abomination” was very well received by the critics, and her latest novel “Death on a Pale Horse” has also received good reviews.

Amanda, welcome to TheCrimeHouse!

Thank you so much!

In addition to writing suspense novels with supernatural elements you also make children’s books. Quite the opposites, don’t you think?

For me it’s fun, but it’s somewhat of a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde existence. It’s like I need to do both dark and sugarsweet things. But my English children’s book editor says that the characters in my children’s books also have dark undercurrents. Suspense and children’s stories is a good combination though, just look at Roald Dahl, Gunnel Linde and Selma Lagerlöf!

Where do you get inspiration for your books, and how do the stories develop?

The inspiration can com from a small thought; the feeling for “Death on a Pale Horse” developed after a visit to the Tate Gallery in London where the Turner painting that inspired the book’s title is located. I had just finished the novel “Abomination” and I knew that I wanted to explore a hidden trauma in Maja Grå’s family background to get to know her better. And the fact that Turner worked on the painting during a breakdown after the death of his father, well, that got my fantasy going regarding parenting and artistry issues. I also used a lot of my own experiences from studying art and literature at English universities.

Some of the most fun research I did for “Abomination” was to learn more about old methods that so called mediums and clairvoyants use to trick people. I talked a lot to a professor of parapsychology, and he taught me a mindreading trick that I did during a festival. It was an important emotion that I used in the book; the fact that I had experienced the delusion of grandeur that can occur when you’re on stage deliberately misleading an audience.

How much of your own life do you put in your books? For example, you live in Oxford, was it a natural choice to let Maja move there?

I am very inspired by the environment around me and even though I don’t write about myself I use some aspects from my own life. I have worked as a janitor and I studied art in England just like Maja Grå, but I decided that she was going to study in Oxford before we even started thinking about moving here. Back then we lived in Brighton (who is included in “Death on a Pale Horse” as well). We were invited to a wedding in Oxford and one night we stayed at my husband’s old dorm (he studied there many years ago) and it was a much denser atmosphere there, like a different world. That is where I got the inspiration for Mill Creek Manor, and the room we stayed in became Maja’s and Nikita’s room.

What does your writing process look like?

I always write on my laptop, preferably in my office, and if possible in daily shifts of about three hours or so. In addition to the manuscript I always have a scrap document open in Word where I can “paste” things I delete, or just loose phrases and feelings I thought of during the night and wrote down in a little book I have on my bedside table.

Do you have a particular reader in mind when you write?

Yes, me! If I don’t want to surround myself with the story, then I wouldn’t be able to keep my interest alive for as long as it takes to finish the project.

How did you manage to get your first novel published?

I wrote “Abomination” in some kind of nightmare/euphoria state during a few months in the summer of 2006. I have always written short stories, but for the first time I thought of an idea that I felt “wow, this is meaty enough to build a novel around, this is a story I’d like to tell.” Then I worked on the manuscript, went through a few refusals of which one was very encouraging, and in the spring of 2007 the novel was accepted by h:ström text & kultur. I knew that this small publisher in Umeå, Sweden, likes suspense, that’s why I sent it to them, and they did a fantastic job with the novel.

What advice can you give to our readers who are aspiring authors?

Read my blog (in Swedish)! There are some fantastic writing guides from several authors, plenty of good advice, and you can ask me anything in the comments section. Several of my blog readers have had writing projects accepted the past year (I am SO proud) and several authors, editors and publishers also read the blog and often share their best tips.

What do you choose to read when you want to relax with a book?

There must be a dark element, otherwise I won’t be interested. Åsa Larsson and Håkan Nesser are two contemporary Swedish authors that I really like. Louise Welsh and Megan Abbott are two English speaking authors I’m inspired by. They succeed in being entertaining, well written as well as thought-provoking, which is something I also try to do.

How does the crime fiction culture in England differ from the one in Sweden?

No critic in England would ever dream of criticizing the fact that easily read, exciting novels become best sellers. It would be like pointing out that people like chocolate, and be appalled by it. Historical crime fiction seems popular right now, e.g. Mark Gatiss (who wrote “Sherlock” for BBC) writes peppy and funny crime novels about an Edwardian assassin.

I really like the character Maja Grå. Will you continue to write about her, or will we get to know new main characters in the future?

Thank you! Maja is always with me, I see her like some kind of protégé and at the same time I admire her. I act goofy, but I’m a real wimp on the inside. Maja is the complete opposite; pretty fragile, but when it comes down to it she’s really tough, tougher than she thinks. I definitely want to write more about her!

Can you tell us what you are working on right now?

Se above… Maja has a lot left to experience, both nice and scary things. And she has such a wonderful talent for attracting spooky stuff! But right now I am on maternity leave with my second child; Greta, 12 days old.

Thank you for the interview and we at TheCrimeHouse wish you a wonderful maternity leave and good luck in the future!

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