Interview with Gaïa Éditions, Paris.
How did you first start writing? What are your memories of your first attempts at it?
I devoured books as a child and adolescent but never really had any dreams of being a writer. Instead I studied journalism and worked as a foreign correspondent. But I used to be involved with song, dance and theatre in my spare time, and when I moved back to Sweden after several years in Germany and the USA I resumed this interest. It may have kick-started something. One evening I was sitting and watching a Woody Allen film, in which there was a scene of Death knocking at the door, disturbing a party and getting thrown out. I was just in the middle of writing an article about genetics and suddenly I had the idea for my first book, “Caipirinha with Death”.
How do you write? Do you need a certain setting?
Sometimes I start the day with some jogging, and I let my thoughts circulate around the writing I’m doing. Then I sit down at my desk with a pot of tea beside me. I am a fairly disciplined writer and every day I decide how many pages I feasibly have time to finish in the time I have available. I don’t always succeed. But experience tells me that it’s easier to go back to the pages from yesterday, even if they don’t end up being as good as I’d hoped, and start tinkering with them instead of staring at an empty screen again.
Who was your first reader?
My mother, who read everything I wrote while I was growing up. She was a secondary school teacher and very strict about my spelling. Apart from that it was my husband who read the first 70 pages of “Caipirinha with Death” and encouraged me to carry on with it.
How do you choose the books you read?
When I was young I read like an Egyptian locust chewing my way through everything in the literary jungle that came my way – high, low, thrillers and relationship stories, poetry, fairytales, non-fiction. Usually there was some small detail somewhere that caught my interest and made me want to keep going. Over the course of the years I realised that I was drawn to a kind of literature that played with its definition of reality and dared make it more spectacular, complex, beautiful, interesting or frightening than it really is.
What books or writers have influenced you most?
That’s a difficult question. Not every book by a writer is inspiring. But because I studied English literature I did go into Shakespeare in some detail, which has influenced me a lot. Here one finds emotions and phenomena in their most distilled form – love, hate, jealousy, greed, passion, sorrow, reconciliation. The supernatural as a logical or illogical aspect of reality. The wise fool. And always a dose of black humour, even in his darkest tragedies.
Do you have a favourite bookshop?
I like any bookshop that is run with passion and conviction, a product of the inspiration and specific interests of the staff. You can feel those things as soon as you open the door.
What sort of reactions do you get from your books?
Critics and readers usually like my language and style which tends to cross genre boundaries. Some have said that I show insight as a psychological realist. Others comment that my characters stay with them. They like reading about strong women who ignore convention and dare take their destinies into their own hands. I’ve also been told that my books have a good factual underpinning and are not so Swedish in their tone. I have had people asking me what’s really going on in my head, after they have read my work. I suppose they think some of my fantasies are a bit drastic. But if I had to please everyone it would get too watered down.
What inspires you?
I usually spend my summers in a small village called Frillesås, on the Swedish west coast. Walking round an island, sitting on a warm rock and picking up the scent of salt and vegetation gives one both serenity and new ideas. At the same time I am an urban person who likes bustling life and strolling about in foreign cities soaking up the atmosphere. Other ideas are taken from articles, song lyrics or something said out of the blue. Books and films have an impact as do people. Fictitious or real people.
Do you have a motto?
The Swedish comedian Tage Danielsson said that one should recognize the suffering of the world but with a retained sense of joy. My grandmother used to say that one should enjoy oneself before pulling the lawn over one’s head. I think these are both wise mottoes.