Cecilia Ekbäck’s debut novel is coming out on January 27. We got the chance to speak with her about the upcoming thriller and what inspires her to write.
Cecilia Ekbäck courtesy of headshotsuk.co.uk
The Reading Room: Congratulations on your first book! What made you want to start writing?
Cecilia Ekbäck: Thank you! I wrote a lot when I was young – as a teenager I worked evenings and weekends at the local newspaper and the local radio. I even won a short story competition at one point!
Through the years, I kept writing – mainly small portraits of people, or landscapes, but I kept feeling I missed a language. My Swedish had remained the Swedish of a young adult in the mid-1990s and my English wasn’t good enough. But when I moved to London in 2007, I knew I had to take it up properly again. I missed it. I wasn’t a whole person without it. Once I started – I realized this was it: I would continue to write and not stop. I chose to write in English which has been a struggle, but it has also given me a certain freedom writing in what is not my mother-tongue. I can use the language more freely, I think, which does give my writing a certain texture.
TRR: Wolf Winter deals with a brutal murder. Do you enjoy reading crime & mystery as much as you enjoy writing it?
CE: I love crime and mystery novels, but I am becoming more discerning with age. A good crime/mystery novel must now have more than just an interesting crime to solve – it must have an intriguing protagonist, a luring place, and the writing has to be good, it must make its mark… I am also more sensitive to violence and react against ‘violence for violence’s sake’.
TRR: Your main character, Maija, is a mother of two like yourself. Do you resonate with her?
CE: Very much so. Maija has a number of traits from the women in my family – stubbornness, strength, and wisdom – qualities needed to survive in a harsh world. She is passionate, but harsh. So much remains unsaid. She wants well, but she is flawed, human. Yes, I resonate with her – as a mother, as a daughter and as a woman.
TRR: The book can be particularly thrilling. Can you give our readers a sneak peak of one of these such moments?
CE: There is a snowstorm which I am told by readers is quite haunting. It takes place early in winter and it is the first time Maija is pitted againstBlackåsen Mountain and begins to understand the extent of the brutality and harshness of the landscape. In this storm it dawns on her that it is not a given she and her family will survive.
TRR: A “wolf winter” is an unusually long and brutal winter that can also have a second meaning to describe a dark time in one’s life. Have you yourself ever experienced a “wolf winter”?
CE: The expression “Wolf Winter” in Swedish (Vargavinter) does refer to an unusually bitter and long winter, like you say, and is also used to describe the darkest of times in a human being’s life – the kind of period that imprints on you that you are mortal and, at the end of the day, always alone.
My father was my best friend. The period preceding and just after his death (he died in 2008) was my Wolf Winter. As he lay dying, I interviewed him about his life. He died and I continued speaking, with my grandmother, her sister, their friends, my mother…Wolf Winter came out of those conversations. Thus Wolf Winter was not as much an idea I had carried around with me for a long time, as a reaction, or a riposte, to a life event.
TRR: Can you tell us more about the other characters in the book? How does Maija’s family fit in with the locals in Sweden?
CE: Maija is a strong woman and that causes some upset. But I think, had there not been the murder that forced the settlers together and Maija’s subsequent inability to let go, people would have thought no more of it. The settlers on the mountain keep to themselves; they are busy surviving.
TRR: You’re so well-traveled! What is your favorite place (besides home) that you’ve visited?
CE: I have loved travelling. Nowadays I love the small routines and the silence of a life spent at home.
I lived in Moscow for a long time and absolutely adored it – the way history lives in every street corner, the roughness of life, the resilience of the people. I felt very at home there.
I loved living in the Middle East too – for its people and its many rich cultures across the region.
For visiting, the town I come back to again and again is Paris. Perhaps it is my memories of being young there, perhaps it is the “joie de vivre” which I still feel Paris has. I just love going there, walking the streets, sitting in cafes, seeing the people.
TRR: You now live in Calgary. What brought you to Canada?
CE: I am from the north of Sweden and my husband is from Toronto – when we had our twin daughters we wanted to give them some of what we had growing up related to nature, space and silence. One day one of our 2-year olds said she was scared of the rain, the wind and birds, and that’s when we decided – we had to move. My husband got a job offer in Calgary, I wanted desperately to write full time – it all came together. We were very fortunate.
TRR: Who are your biggest inspirations in the creative process? Any writers in particular that move you?
CE: I get inspired by many different things.
As for writers, Hilary Mantel is the one who moves me the most. You can take her books, pick any page and just step into her world. She is remarkable.
I read the writings of a number of Swedish thinkers (Ylva Eggehorn, Olof Wikström, Tomas Sjödin) and find inspiration there. I work a lot with photographs as my mind is quite visual and I want to “see” quite literally the characters and the landscapes I am to write about.
People watching is another thing that inspires me – in London it was sitting on the tube, or on one of the big train stations. I do miss this now in Calgary.
TRR: What are your top ten favorite books and why?
CE: Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel
Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel
House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski
Cloudstreet by Tim Winton
2666 by Roberto Bolano
Gilead by Marilynne Robinson
The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro
Purge by Sofi Oksanen
Artful by Ali Smith
Our Kind of Traitor by John Le Carre
These books are all different from one another and I could tell you for each one what it is about that book that I find amazing, but if I tried to find one common thing amongst them that I love I think I would say it is “voice”. In each of these books, the author has managed to create a unique voice – one that captures you and holds you through the duration of the story. It is storytelling at its very best.
There is one book I keep on my bookshelf and that will perhaps always only be half-read. It’s Saul Bellow’s Herzog. Every time I start reading it, I think to myself that, surely, this is the most brilliant book ever written and then I can’t continue reading. What if I will never find anything better? And thus I put it back on the shelf.