One of the great perks about being an author, is getting to travel around the world meeting readers. Meeting you. I love to meet people who have read my novels or people who haven’t, people I hopefully can persuade into giving me a chance.
Readers tend to have a lot of questions (keep’em coming), but some questions are more frequent than others. I have assembled a few of them here and tried to answer them as I see things today.
Where do you get your ideas from?
This is the FAQ gold medal winner by a mile. That rings true for any author, I guess. I wish I could tell you that I’m so bright and clever that I just decide to write about, say, the oil industry, and boom, an endless stream of brilliant ideas just pop into my head. In reality; I can’t actually give you any spesifics as to where my ideas come from. The idea for Henning Juul, for instance? I have no idea how or when he appeared in my head. He just did.
Plots or twists, characters or locations, they all somehow just appear, out of the blue. I can be out running or fishing or whatever, and all of sudden – a thought just presents itself. Sometimes it’s a good one. Sometimes it’s complete and utter rubbish. But the key for me is to have an open mind to it, whether it’s plot devices, twists or characters, just to program my brain into being receptable to ideas, good or bad, all the little things that float around us every day and how they somehow can fit into a story. And before I know it, I have the beginning of a story, or a scene in it, or an end. The point is; everything around me can be a trigger (hah, that sounds soooo Criminal Minds) as long as I am receptive to it.
If I have written myself into a corner, I often go for a run without being conscious about having to resolve the issue. My subconscience often kicks in and works for me, and all of sudden I know what to do. Quite a few of the key twists and turns in a novel have been resolved that way. And when they do, it’s the best feeling in the world. Plus; I have gotten a good excercise out of it. Win-win deal.
For me a story often begins with the question what if. What if the situation I just witnessed in the park or whatever – what if something completely different happened instead? That can set me off. There are stories to be found everywhere around us. We just have to be receptive to them.
And then there’s the occasional dream, of course. The opening scene in Burned, where the old man is out walking his dog and stumbles upon a tent with a dead woman in it? That actually came from a dream I had. Crazy thing to dream, right? I actually think that’s quite cool. It says something about how my head works. I have been thinking about plots and plot devices for almost 20 years now. It’s such a natural part of me that even when I’m sleeping, I’m somehow working. Now, there’s a win-win deal if ever I saw one.
What’s your writing routine?
The best thing for me is to start writing as soon as I wake up. Just put some coffee on and start scribbling away. My mind works best when it has yet to be corrupted by the trivialities of a day. But that rarely happens. I have to get up at four in the morning in order to have that cleanness or tranquility. Although I quite like to get up early, I also like to sleep. It’s kind of vital.
But an ordinary working day for me begins after I have walked my daughter to school. I have an office that I go to, and I seclude myself there for six or seven hours. Then I go home and do the things a husband and a father do. When I’m working towards a deadline, I often pick up my computer after the kids have gone to sleep as well. But I try not to.
I can pretty much work anywhere, anytime. I find it refreshing to work in an airport or an airplane, for instance, because it’s so boring to wait for a boarding, and while I’m on board there’s nothing else to do. As long as I have my head phones on, I can work anywhere. I can work while my kids are running around my feet. It’s not an ideal working situation, but I can do it if I have to.
How much research do you do and how much is pure fiction?
I do a lot of research. A lot. I try to write about society today, about things around us, and I want that to be as accurate as possible. If a character is imprisoned, I’ll go to that prison and see what his surroundings are like. If a character goes to Ustaoset by train, I’ll do that same journey. It’s all about creating characters and surroundings you believe in. I haven’t been a politician, therefore I have to talk one and figure out how an ordinary working day can be for him or her.
Having said that; I write fiction. That means I invent stuff. Make things up. If I need a bridge over a fjord, then I create that bridge. Henning Mankell once said that he intentionally does that, write things in his books that aren’t there in reality. In Ystad, for instance, where his Kurt Wallander books are set, people tend to take these Wallander walks, they follow the trail in one or more of his stories. But when they get to the end of the road in the novel, and they do the same in real life, they realise that hey, there’s a forest right in front of me. It’s not a river. It’s not a gas station. That huge tree over there is supposed to be a birch, not a pine. Mankell does that to remind the reader that he is writing fiction. That’s an ideal for me as well. Keep it real, but at the same time: don’t be afraid to make things up. At least not if it fits the story.
Are your characters based on someone you know?
Yes and no. One of the things I discovered while I failed to make it as an author, was that I hadn’t written about anything or anyone I really knew. When the idea for Henning Juul came to me, I realised that I had to make his life quite close to my own. So Henning is a journalist, which I used to be. He likes to watch football, like I do. He likes to play the piano, like I do. He composes the occasional song, like I do. He lives in an apartment that’s almost identical to mine. And he has an attraction towards the darker things in life, which is something I can relate to a lot. Sad music, for instance, makes me happy. Don’t ask me why.
But Henning is different from me on a lot of levels. For one, he is a lot smarter than me. In many ways he is the kind of journalist I never was, but wished I could have been.
It’s inevitable that people I have met throughout the years, experiences I’ve had, somehow find their way into my books. But no character is entirely based on a real life person. I tend to pick different characteristics from people I know and mix them together. Or I can just make them up.
An interesting thing to observe is that people I know tend to read themselves into my characters. For instance, I think I know or have met about ten Heidi’s during my time. Quite a few of them have come up to me and expressed some form of indignation because the Heidi in my novels isn’t particularly nice. She is, in fact, quite horrible. But let me make this clear once and for all: Heidi Kjus isn’t based on anyone I have met or worked with. She is purely a work of fiction, although I believe there is a Heidi Kjus or two out there in the real media world as well.
You say you have planned for six Henning Juul novels. How’s that even possible?
When the idea for Henning Juul came to me, when his background became apparent, I quickly realised that the character and story was really, really strong. I realised that I could build a series around him, so I started to think of a way to make that happen. I spent about six months just trying to figure out what I wanted to tell. And when I was finished, I realised I had enough material for six novels.
It sounds easy. It isn’t. It wasn’t. And it certainly isn’t easy as the stories develop. I think that’s true for any author. You have a plan when you start out, but a lot happens after you start writing. The story takes on a life of its own. That was the case with Burned, and it certainly was the case with Pierced and now with Scarred. Things change. Characters somehow turn out a bit differently than I first imagined.
A just question is, of course, how that will effect the plans I have made for the whole series. The truth is; I’m not quite sure yet. As the characters have progressed, as I have progressed as a writer, I see things a bit differently now than when I started out. But the good thing about having planned for six novels is that if I make some changes, I immediately know how they will affect the bigger picture, the storyline. All the changes I have made, although some of them have really given me a headache, they have all been for the better. The whole universe is a lot clearer to me now than it was when I started on this project. I am almost half way there now. And let me just say this: I am done with the warming up. Things will really get intense from here on in.
Has any of your novels been made into a film?
The rights to each of my six Henning Juul novels have been purchased by the brilliant Norwegian film production company 4 ½. Karin Julsrud is producing the films, but they are yet to be released.
Do you have any particular actor in mind for Henning Juul?
Yes. But I won’t tell you his name. I can tell you this much, though: He’s big. Hollywood big.
Your books have been translated into many languages. How close do you monitor the translations?
I don’t. Not at all, at least not anymore. I read the first 60-70 pages of Charlotte Barslund’s translation of Burned, and I quickly realised that I was in the best of hands. Charlotte’s just brilliant, as I’m sure all my translaters are. I am very reassured by the fact that most translaters send me a list of questions as they go along, and of course; I can’t read finnish or russian or french or korean. So I can’t really check, can I. But I have every faith in my publishers.
I want to become an author myself. Could you please read my novel and tell me if it’s any good?
I would really love to. If there’s anyone who could understand the need to have an insight or two as to what it takes for a novel to be published, I’m the one to talk to. But my life is so busy, I don’t have that many spare days. In 2011 I think I could count my days off on two hands. I try to do my best as a father, husband, friend and author. And trust me; if I were to give a work in progress a valuable insight or feedback, it would take days rather than hours. But here’s what I say to everybody that have an ambition to write. In order to become good at writing, you have to – drum roll – write. Yes, it’s that simple. Just write, write, write, write. It is with writing as it is with anything else. You have to practice if you want to get good at it. Oh, and here’s one more brilliant insight. You have to read a lot. Read, read, read, read. Find your favourite author and see how he or she writes. See if you can implement some of their techniques into your own way of writing. Send me a thank you note when your first novel is released.
Which authors have been your greatest influence?
Ah, I have many. Since I was 13-14 years old, I have been reading constantly. As I am a Scandinavian, a lot of the Scandinavian crime writers have been favourites of mine. But I think Henning Mankell stands out. I remember picking up one of his novels (One Step Behind) on a flight from Heathrow to Mexico, I think it was in the year of 2000. I read during the whole flight, and it was almost as if I didn’t want the flight to end. It made for such an intriguing read. At that time I had been trying to write for quite some time, and I realised that Mankell’s way of grabbing hold of the reader and never letting them go, was something I needed to implement in my own style of writing. After I finished that novel, I quickly bought other books from the brilliant Swede.
But I have had great company from the likes of John Grisham, James Patterson, Michael Chrichton, Dan Brown, Jo Nesbø and more lately; authors like Harlan Coben and John Hart. Brilliant, brilliant authors.
You are also a composer. What is more important to you, the words or the music?
That’s almost like answering «which one of your babies do you like the most?» I can’t answer that. But music is important to me, also when I’m writing. I listen to music all the time. And I try to compose music whenever I can, but I wouldn’t go so far as to call myself a real composer. Yes, I can write some songs, but my technical skills are nowhere near the skills of a real composer. Having said that, and this is a rather stupid thing to say after my books have been sold to 21 countries, but I actually believe that I have a stronger talent for making music, for writing musical themes, than for writing novels. The music comes more natural to me, I can sit for hours just playing at random, whereas the writing, for me, is a lot more work. I have ambitions with my music as well, and hopefully a musical that I have been working on with a friend of mine for quite some time, will see the light of day some time soon. And if there are any film makers out there who need some melancholic, instrumental piano themes? Give me a call.
Do you read e-books?
Yes I do. In fact; most of the novels I read nowadays, are on my iPad. But I still like to turn and fold.
Will you ever write anything else than crime fiction?
I hope so. I have every ambition to. I want to get better at writing, and one of the tools in order to make that happen, is to try to write different things. I could never write poetry, but as I’m getting older and, hopefully, a bit wiser, I think I’ll have it in me to write a novel without blood in it. Although it is a lot more fun to kill someone.
When I’ll get around to it, I will finish a suspense novel for young adults that I have been working on for quite some time. I guess we’ll see when that will be.