You obviously speak excellent English, but it’s not your first language and you write in Swedish – do you ever read the English translations of your books? You possibly don’t have time!
No, I don’t, and I never even read the Swedish books are they’re finished because by the time it’s been sent off to be printed I’ve read the manuscript, like, eight times so I’m so sick of the book by the time I’ve finished it that I don’t want to read the Swedish or the English or Hawaiian or any other language. You have to trust that the translators are doing a good job, but I always get a copy of the foreign editions at my house and sometimes I could get the Finnish edition of one book and it’s 300 pages long and the next day I get the Polish edition of the same book and it’s 500 pages long. And you kind of wonder what happened with the 200 pages in between.
It just highlights the beauty of language – there are some things you can say in one language that just can’t be said the same way in other languages.
Some languages are more rich in words and you have to use more words, but it’s kind of funny when you put the two books next to each other and think, ‘Something’s missing here’.
Do the English editions tend to come in the same length as the original Swedish editions?
A bit thicker, actually. That could be the font, as well.
What you’ve just said about those different editions highlights the fact that you have a global audience, but do you think of your Swedish readers first or do you just think of communicating with as many people as possible?
No, I actually don’t think about the reader at all when I write my books. I write for one reader, and that’s myself – so I write the kind of books that I would love to read. So I’m very selfish when I write my books. I don’t even think about a global market. When I wrote my first book and created the whole characters and the environment, and found my style of writing, I never even thought I would be read outside of Sweden. And I think that has been one of the success factors – that I really, really write in a very Swedish setting.
It’s the setting of where you grew up – is that right?
Yes, it’s my home town, and my mother still lives there.
Is the setting a way of paying tribute to where you grew up or almost a way of changing the story of where you grew up, or did you just think it was a terrific setting for your novels?
I just thought it was a terrific setting because I’ve always found a small town more interesting than the big city. And I think I started feeling that way when I was seven and found my first Agatha Christie books in my father’s bookshelf and my personal favourite was the stories with Miss Marple and the setting of St. Mary Mead, and I really, really loved that – it was a quaint, small town and a lot of secrets buried underneath the surface.
Secrets and lies are a good foundation for any story, particularly crime fiction. Do you ever feel, though, because of the stories you’re writing and the world you inhabit in your mind, when you go out in the street and look at people walking around, do you look at them and think, ‘You’ve all got secrets’?
I kind of do. If I’m on the subway … I always love to sneak peek on people’s conversations, especially if they’re on the phone I will try to look like I’m not listening but I’m very, very much listening. When I go to a party, when I leave the party I know everything about everybody. For some reason people telling me – or I get away with asking very, very personal questions. So when I leave I always know about their dirty divorce or the problems they’re having with their mother-in-law – things like that. Bad break-ups. I know all about it.
You must ask questions of them in a way that they don’t suspect an agenda – probably because you don’t have one.
I always also say, ‘Is it okay if I ask this? Do you mind me asking this? And you don’t have to answer if you don’t want to.’ But then they always want to answer, so I get away with it.
You mentioned Miss Marple books that you read when you were younger – which books have you read lately that you’ve loved?
Well, some of my personal favourites in the last years are … An old one is Donna Tartt’s “The Secret History,” but I also loved Siri Hustvedt’s “How I Loved” and Lionel Shriver’s “We Need to Talk About Kevin”. So I really like those kind of psychological [stories], but I do read quite a lot of traditional crime as well, like Peter Robinson, Reginald Hall, Val McDermid – lots of the English crime thrillers.
Do you tend to read them in English, or in translation into Swedish?
A little bit of both, actually. Usually in Swedish but now I’m reading Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn in English. I picked that up in English and it works fine for me to read it in English.
Our thanks to Camilla Lackberg for taking the time for this interview.