One of the fathers of Nordic Noir, Gunnar Staalesen was born in Bergen, Norway in 1947. Gunnar is currently doing a blog tour to promote his newly translated novel ‘We Shall Inherit the Wind’ published by Orenda Books and Nordic Noir were happy to be given the chance to interview Gunnar as part of the We Shall Inherit The Wind blog tour.
By the end of the opening hospital scene of ‘We Shall Inherit the Wind’ tears had been shed by this reader. Emotional engagement is always a good start to a tale. I kept reading eager to find out what would happen next. As the tale of environmental terrorism, religious fanaticism and unsolved mysteries developed we get to know a more mature Varg Veum than in earlier books. I enjoyed Gunnar’s descriptive language which painted the scenery and the characters in the book well. I particularly liked his attention to details when it came to food and drink and furniture. Waffles were mentioned, coffee cups described and one particular meal was described so well I was sure I could smell it.
The story has a strong plot and is a page turner that I felt very comfortable with. Don Bartlett’s translation work is held in high regard and he has also translated other Norwegian crime writers work such as Jo Nesbo. I am giving nothing away about the ending but I have bought some of the DVDs of the Varg Veum stories to watch on the back of this book and will eagerly look out for more of Gunnar’s books in English. Gunnar will be appearing at the Edinburgh Book Festival this summer with Doug Johnston so until you can see him live I hope you will enjoy reading this interview and We Shall Inherit the Wind.
How do you feel you have developed as a writer over the years?
Well, I know a bit more about life than I did when I was 29, and wrote my first Varg Veum novel. The style was probably a bit more ‘Chandleresque’ in the beginning, with a lot more colorful similes. There was a pause in the series between 1996 and 2002, when I wrote a big, historical trilogy about Bergen (and the world) in the Twentieth Century. Some people call this my finest work, and I learned a great deal when it wrote it. The most important aspect of any development is, I hope, experience and maturity.
How do you work? Can you tell us a little about your creative process?
An idea can simmer away in my head for years before pen touches paper. For example, We Shall Inherit the Wind took many years of development before it became the book that has just been published in UK. When the time comes for an idea to turn into a book, I sit down and write some sort of synopsis, and when that is done, I start writing. During the writing, the story can take different roads, so that the final book can be quite different from the original synopsis, but the main idea and the theme are still there.
As your work has been made into films over time, what influence does that have on your writing style (if any)?
To be honest, I don’t think that the films has influenced my way of writing at all, but from the beginning I have been a very visual writer; I have always ‘seen’ the film inside my head when I write a book, something I think most readers will notice when they read them. You always get a very clear picture of how everything looks, from interiors and the landscape to the weather and the characters.
What is your relationship like with your fans?
I love my fans, what else is there to say? A writer is nothing without the readers who enjoys his or her work. Most writers believe that the readers are more important than the critics, and I certainly do.
How do you think Varg has developed as a character? What personality traits help him to deal with what he sees and experiences at work?
Varg Veum has grown older, and in the later books, when he is in his fifties, he is perhaps a bit more careful when he confronts bad guys than he was as a ‘youngster’ in his thirties. His most important personality trait is his curiosity, his stubbornness (he never gives up) and his social conscience. Because of his background and education as a social worker, he always takes the side of the loser in modern society.
Why do you think so many detectives are portrayed as loners who find it hard to be at one with those close to them?
In a way this is a tradition of the genre that stems from its very early roots, from Sherlock Holmes to Hercule Poirot, from Philip Marlowe to Varg Veum. Loneliness is a feeling most readers can recognise, and being a ‘lone wolf’ and still able to find the solution to a mystery is a classic way of telling a story. Writing within the genre is important for a writer of detective novels, but there is always room for variations, like in jazz music. It is the long and sad blues, played by a saxophone, which is the background music to most modern crime novels – at least mine!
Does Varg’s personality influence the type of story or scenario that you write in your books or does the storyline come first?
Yes, Varg Veum being a private investigator influences the kind of stories I write. They are never police procedurals. And because he has his social insight and conscience, they are more psychological stories then brutal action thrillers.
You have also written short stories, Gunnar. What do you feel is the place of the short story in commercial modern publishing in Europe?
I am not very fond of writing short stories. I prefer the novel, as it goes into more depth in the storytelling. A collection of short stories is very seldom a bestseller in Europe today, but there is of course a market in newspapers, magazines and other publications. I have not much experience in this, but was happy to see both my short stories collections in the Varg Veum series published in Germany.
How have you seen the marketing of your books change over your career?
Because I am a best selling writer at home in Norway, the marketing is not very difficult for my publishers in that market, but the world has definitely changed with the proliferation of social media. This blog tour for We Shall Inherit the Wind is a first-time experience for me, and very interesting. As far as I know, it’s never been done in Norway.
What do you think of social media? The internet? Does it influence the way you work?
It does not influence my work much, but the internet has made it a lot easier to do background research. But, of course, the sad thing about that is that I don’t visit my local library as often as before, and that’s where I used to do most of my research. There is still some research that can’t be done on the Web, so … I do engage in social media as much as I can because it is a great way to connect with readers around the world, in a way that was never before possible.
What do you think are the positive aspects of an author appearing at a book festival?
As a reader myself I always find it interesting to listen to writers speaking about their books, so I think this is a good thing. It also offers an opportunity to provide background to the stories, and explain motivation. Most importantly, it is a chance to entertain, to engage new readers, and to get feedback from existing readers.
Were you aware of the many comparisons that Scotland should be more like Norway during the independence referendum here in Scotland? What do you think of that?
Yes, I have been to Scotland several times, and the relationship between Scotland and Norway is close and strong, going back to the medieval age. My opinion is that Scotland’s situation with UK can be compared to Norway when it was ruled from Denmark over 400 years. I can easily understand that Scotland longs for ‘freedom’ and ‘liberty’ from that type of rule; however, of course, as a Norwegian, I do not know enough about this to have a strong political opinion.
(Interview by Miriam V Owen and arranged by Karen Sullivan at Orenda Books)
[More information: Gunnar made his debut at the age of 22 with Seasons of Innocence and in 1977 he published the first book in the Varg Veum series. He is the author of over 20 titles, which have been published in 24 countries and sold over four million copies. Twelve film adaptations of his Varg Veum crime novels have appeared since 2007, starring the popular Norwegian actor Trond Epsen Seim. Staalesen, who has won three Golden Pistols (including the Prize of Honour), lives in Bergen with his wife. There is a life-sized statue of Varg Veum in the centre of the city.]