The auditorium was filled with a lively buzz of expectation which was not disappointed. Guttridge’s skilful interviewing produced a session to remember, and Dahl wooed the audience by expressing a love of Scotland and mention of a whisky trip.
Discussing the first book he wrote, he talked about how he came to choose to write about a serial killer, using an American in the role. He explained how the how changes in Swedish culture have moved towards an Americanisation of the country.
He reflected on how an isolated country with certain well respected social values, and an effective welfare state, changed to the country with the fastest growing gulf between rich and poor. Sweden had imagined itself to be a little apart from the rest. (To the outside, indeed, it did seem at times that they were the moral conscience of the world.)
The assassination of the Swedish PM was a turning point. Swedes had believed that their PM could walk safely anywhere in his country. This event turned Sweden around, becoming just another country, with its share violence. As he said ‘we lost our innocence’. The murder of the PM was not solved so ‘everyone became a detective in Sweden’. They began to think more about crime, and this influenced Swedish writing 6 or 7 years on.
Wanting to talk about this, he uses his novels to explore how Sweden changed, and lost its sense of being an isolated self confident state which took care of everyone. Such change has given Swedish crime fiction a melancholic edge
As the interview progressed, it produced many little unconnected, and yet connected, insights which can perhaps best be shared as individual notes:
The decision to write crime novels…
Going back to how his career as a writer evolved, he explained that he started off as a poet, writing experimental stuff. He had read Maclean and Forsyth when young, and thought that writing wasn’t really a job. He amused us with a story of how, when suffering from a fever, he had tried to read some Kafka, which was not a success! A visit to a bookshop led him to grab a book written by Mankell. Reading it, he realised that it was possible to write really good literature in the form of the crime novel.
Building the plot
Where does he get his inspiration from? He explains that his books are always based on real crimes. Crime says something about the times we live in and we must speak about things behind the crime; about evil. He always aims to get a balance between philosophy, entertainment, etc and tries to smuggle in philosophical content.
Once he got started, he realised that building a story was easier than he thought it would be. He made us laugh with a story about how he used postits, putting them on the floor, and how having small children meant that the line of the plot got mixed up.
The production of the series for TV
When asked how he felt about the series, he talked about how characters he had lived with for 13 years would become real. How did he feel about this?
Well, the Paul character was tried several times by different actors until they got it right. Aarto, on the other hand, was exactly how he had imagined him to be. The idea of Gunter was based on a football player and it was difficult to find an actor who fitted his description so in the end they approached a sportsman who did – so the Gunter in the series was not an actor originally.
How worried was he about fidelity to his books? It turned out ok but the one big difference was that the ‘ boss’ was turned into a woman – he accepted Jenny after much consultation.
After book 11 (an homage to Agatha Christie’s ‘and then there were none’), he has moved a new series into Europe, and it has to do with the big crimes of today. The bad news… he talks of stopping writing about these characters at end of the year, intending to move on to writing stand-alone books.
He does his ‘other’ type of books in the normal slow pace of an artist; one every 5 years.
Finally… the Cleaner…
The Cleaner is only in the TV series, not in the books. It was a way to try to concentrate a sense of humour and mystery.