After reading, and loving, ‘The Blinded Man’, for which you can read my review here, I was honoured to be given the chance to sit down for a conversation with author Arne Dahl during this year’s Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival in Harrogate.
My thanks to Arne, his wife (who kindly took the photograph) and his publishers for arranging the meeting.
KBW: I absolutely loved your first book, but now I have to wait until next year for ‘Bad Blood’ is that correct?
AD: Yes, it seems to be coming out in the summer of next year – I’ve had to wait a little bit for the English translations to be done.
KBW: So, how far behind are we on the Intercrime series? How many of them are there?
AD: I was supposed to write ten, and I did. And then I had some kind of anxiety about leaving them and wrote number eleven. Then I started the new series which will feature some of the characters.
KBW: Great news – good to hear that we have a good back catalogue to look forward to here.
AD: Yes – you have read one of thirteen!
KBW: So, when you finished ten books was that a finished arc for you, and then you decided to add one because you missed the characters?
AD: It was. The books are really individual, you can’t really plan ten years ahead because of changes in society, so the arcs are more on a personal level and are to do with the characters. I use lots of characters, with Paul Hjelm (pronounced Yelm) at the forefront.
KBW: Having only read The Blinded Man, I would say that I found it’s style with a team of cops similar to Ed McBain’s work with characters moving in and out of the foreground.
AD: I completely agree. When I started out Ed McBain was somewhere in the background, not least because he influenced my own Swedish ancestors. I read all of their books and when I finally started to write crime fiction at around the age of thirty five, they returned as big inspirations.
KBW: The Blinded Man is your first crime fiction book? Or are there any previous books lurking in a bottom drawer somewhere?
AD: Yes, that was the first one. I had written some books in my real name, Arne Dahl is a pen name, so I was a pretty experienced writer and I had this feeling that I would be able to cope with the special crime fiction structure, because it suited my mind.
KBW: It’s often discussed on panels how crime series authors have to provide their readers with something new in each book, whilst still providing enough of the familiar that constant readers want and expect, and need to balance that with making sure a new reader can jump in at any point of the series.
AD: Yes, I guess that’s the necessary basis. You can’t force people to start from the beginning. But there is a disadvantage in that the books are ‘old’ and they need to be translated but it doesn’t disturb me too much as I think it’s good and the level of my books I think is about level, they don’t get much better – when I read The Blinded Man back I thought oh thank goodness, it reads okay still.
KBW: When was it published?
KBW: I loved the fact that, for certain readers, you will have made them go to google to look up words like ‘cassette tapes’ and ‘walkman’.
I love it when something in a novel makes you reflect on how quickly technology has progressed in certain areas.
AD: Well, the first five books have been filmed and made into a tv series in Sweden and they will be aired in the Autumn.
KBW: Excellent – will we get those here?
AD: I hope that you get them here, but I’m not sure, there have been discussions. Each book has been made as a 2x 90 minute shows, I like the format.
KBW: Do you also still work as a literary critic?
AD: I have been so for about twenty years, but I’m turning myself more and more into a crime fiction writer, because there is just too much other stuff to do.
KBW: Are you on a tour right now, or just for Harrogate?
AD: We had an event at Heffers bookshop in Cambridge, but just that and Harrogate for this visit.
Being published here didn’t used to be a big thing for Swedish crime writers, with a few exceptions, but now all of this has happened and it’s like an explosion with all the translated crime fiction. So, I am here as a debutant – which is a bit surprising to me –I am young again !
KBW: What do you need in terms of starting a book? Can you tell me how you go about your writing?
AD: I have always been a big outliner. I don’t want to get stuck. That’s the worst kind of writer’s cramp/block, when you don’t know where you are going, so when you know exactly where you are going in each chapter then you can be very free, that’s why I use jazz as the sort of rhythm metaphor for crime writing. It allows me to improvise along the way.
You need certain stereotypes in crime fiction, certain solid elements which I have never wanted to break from, but there are other stereotypes which you can break from and change, certain characterisations etc. I love crime fiction because it is very allowing – you can do almost anything within it.
Keith B Walters