Interview with Arne Dahl

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“Regarded as one of the finest literary crime writers in Scandinavia, celebrated author, critic and editor Jan Arnald is the man behind the bestselling Intercrime series, written under the pen name  of Arne Dahl. The highly praised series of ten novels has sold more than 2.5 million copies and has won its creator such distinguished awardsas the premier crime writing awards in Germany, Denmark and Sweden. In 2007 The Swedish Academy of Crime Writers awarded Arne Dahl a special prize for his “vitalization and development of the crime genre through his Intercrime series

1. Your real name is Jan Arnald. Why have you decided for an alias?
A.: I was really tired of my old self, my old writing and the image of me in Swedish culture. I needed to be reborn. I needed to return to the joy of writing, the pleasure of creating. I did this by inventing a new writer.

2. Can you tell us about how your approach to writing and if you have a specific path to follow before publish?
A.: My writing as Arne Dahl is based on close connections to reality. (If that makes my books “realistic” is another question.) This means that it all starts with contemporary crime, real crimes committed today that could somehow reflect the times we live in. Practically, this means that I look for new kinds of crime in the press, on the internet, in all medias possible. When I have found a few interesting crimes, I start to build the story. This is the toughest part of the process. When this is finished, writing comes as a reward, and usually the writing wrecks the structure a bit. But I need the structure to keep the threads together. Still, writing is the essential, not the building of the story.

3. Stieg Larsson has been the one who gave birth to what we could call the “nordic trend”, reaching really high level of popularity in a short time. Do you think that now, for a nordic writer, it could be easier to been known and appreciate?
A.: I even know it. The strange thing is that I started writing crime fiction long before Larsson did, and now I am considered his follower. It’s really the other way around. But it is true that his success has opened new doors to us.

4. Your Group A series has brought you to the top of the international charts. Marsilio (here in Italy) has published just four of them, and now – still with Marsilio – we have read “Viskleken”. What about the idea that’s behind this new book?
A.: Brama is a rather big story about a lot of different crimes in today’s Europe. I have moved my detectives from Sweden to Europe, where a new and secret police force (within Europol) will investigate the possibility of a joint European police. What they meet is a web of interrelated crimes – mafia crimes, environment crimes, financial crimes, internet crimes, money laundering etc – and they all belong together. The book is my personal investigation of the possibilities of Europe in a world that is getting more and more commercial and more and more old-time nationalistic. But above all – it’s a very exciting thriller!

5. Paul Hjelm is the heart of this new series (as it seems). Can you tell us a little bit more about the character?
A.: The book take into account a really big chunk of events all around the world, showing a sort of arena where bankers and gansters fit at least the same suit. Do you think that the thin wire between honesty and criminality has been already broken?
That is a very good observation, since it is really my starting point. The complete focus in our world today upon money makes the grey area between the legal and the illegal bigger by every day. Big business today is almost always conducted within this bigger and bigger gray area. So yes, in a way, the thin wire is broken. The differences between big bankers, big lawyers, big businessmen and big gangsters are practically erased. It’s all about the money, and money smells less and less.

6. You demonstrate to be able to connect fourteen charaters without leave them as simple portraits or even sketches: furthermore all of them are protagonists. You have shown a particular ability in keeping all the wires of the plot together…how did you reach such level of equilibrium?A.: By writing. There are unfortunately no short cuts, no easy solutions, no quick fixes. You learn to master the different aspects of writing simply by writing. The more you write, the more you understand the craft – and the art. First comes composition – you have to compose really carefully – but in performing the piece (“playing”) it comes to life. I learnt that the big compositions and a kind of polyphonic storytelling suited me fine.

7. In my blog we keep a particular attention to the nordic writers and I’ve come to an end that all those books treat – very often – social thematics that clash with our idea of nordic countries as symbols of modernity and liberty. What do you think about?
A.: I guess you have to start digging where you stand – and it becomes quite different in Italy and in Sweden. In Sweden we had to fight this self-image of being in the best society in the world, without corruption, almost without crimes, and dig beneath this surface. And there we found a country that wasn’t all that different from the other countries in the world. With corruption, crimes, violence, dirty business. The difference is, I guess, this surface of “the perfect society” that we always have to get rid of.

8. I’ve created a specific area of my blog fully dedicated to traslators and their work (Carmen Giorgetti Cima, your italian translator is there too). How much of a book fortune depends on a proper translation?
A.: Our dependence on great translators can not be emphasised enough. We stand and fall with magnificent translators around the world. And without doubt, Carmen Giorgietti Cima is one of the very best. In general, we should try to lift up the translators of the world and give them the credit they rarely get. Thank you, great translators!

9. What do you think is the most relevant aspect of your books? Are they complaining about something or just crime novels? Do you have a specific message you want to share?
A.: I have mentioned it a little bit above, but to summarize: Good crime fiction is simply good art. Great literature asks the acute questions of our contemporary existence, and so should great crime fiction – the only difference is the tempo. Things have to go pretty fast in crime fiction, where you have all the time in the world in other kinds of literature. So – the messages are in the books, they can’t really be lifted out and turned into slogans. But of course I want my crime fiction to also be good literature and say something about the state of our contemporary democraties.

10. Ok time for something more “easy”: what do you like and what do you dislike most when writing?
A.: When writing dialogue (very important in crime fiction) I wish there was a really good way to do it without constantly having to say “said Hjelm”. I try to vary it, but we can’t escape the constant repetition of “said Holm”, “said Söderstedt”, “said Chavez”… That I dislike. But in general I belong to the writers that really enjoy writing. It is the only time in your life when virtually ANYTHING is possible. That feeling of freedom can’t be beaten.

11. Which are the writers that have inspired you most?
A.: I actually have to say Shakespeare. He was a magnificent language artist – and managed at the same time to reach practically everybody in his society. He expanded language like nobody else, he wowed great plot webs and wrote magnificent lines – and still wasn’t just for the educated elite.

12. I know that you are working on a new story… anything you want to share in advance?
A.: It is the fourth and last book in the Opcop series that starts with Brama, and since I have been far too slow in answering you, it is now finished and sent to the printers. A lot of the threads from Brama are wowed together. It is really the grand finale, and now I am a bit tired. 🙂

This is the conclusion of my interview. I hope you would have the time to come and visit us in Italy and see by yourself how much you are popular even here!