Interview With The Swedish Crime Novelist Arne Dahl

Arne Dahl is now one of the most well-known names in Scandinavian crime. His novel Misterioso, which was recently translated into English, was one of the best novels we reviewed last year and definitely a 2011 favorite (Read the review here). We had the privilege of having an interview with Arne about this book which we hope you enjoy.

How did you come to write Misterioso?

It was a long process, really, that led me to the decision to start writing crime fiction. Misterioso is my firstborn child, and also it was the birth of Arne Dahl. My real name is Jan Arnald, and Arne Dahl is the pen name I chose to signal an essential  change in my writing (Prior to Arne Dahl, I was writing for 10 years under another name). I used to write pretty introspective stuff, but the world was distinctly changing around me. The fact that I became a father made me more acutely aware of the surrounding world, and I wanted to tell intriguing and captivating stories of a changing Sweden in a changing world. It turned out that crime fiction was the perfect genre for doing just that. We had a financial crisis rolling in the mid-nineties, and I wanted to try to study the effects of this crisis on people’s private lives in a thrilling way.

What was most difficult about it?

To be honest – nothing. It was pure pleasure. I had written difficult stuff before, difficult literary stuff, but crime fiction or specifically police procedurals, was a form that suited me perfectly from the beginning. I had obviously read enough crime fiction in my youth to have a clear picture of the way that the genre is structured. But if you really push me, I can tell you the one hard thing about crime fiction is balance. You can’t kick out the depth of characters to gain efficiency in the dialogue. You can’t focus so much on the plot that you lose touch with style and language, the essentials of all literature. In the crime fiction you have to have it all, but in balance. If one of the fundamental ingredients – plot, character, dialogue, environment, mystery, thrill, style – gets too dominant, that will hurt the whole story. It’s about balancing all of these ingredients. And the really good meals never stem from a strict recipe.

How long did it take?

To me, writing crime fiction is to a large extent the story of writing without writing. You have to postpone the actual writing until the book is practically ready in your head (or your notebook or your whiteboard). So half of the time of writing is avoiding writing, to collect ideas, plan, plot, research, re-plot. I would say that it took ten months, five months avoiding to write, five months to write.

What has changed for you since it was first published?

I am now a very established crime fiction writer in Europe, having recently finished my thirteenth book as Arne Dahl (the second in a new series, after the Intercrime series about the A-unit). It’s worlds apart – and yet, the actual art of writing never changes. I still have to invest a large part of myself in every book, never cheat, never make it easy for myself, never write the same book over and over again, always look for new angles, new ways of telling a story, well, to find completely new stories every time. Thanks God, it doesn’t get any easier. It has to be a big challenge every time. You have to start writing with the notion that this time, this time for real, it will be the ultimate piece of crime fiction. The fact that it never really is, is what keeps you writing.

Who’s your favourite writer?

Would it be horribly boring to say Shakespeare? I do believe that every crime fiction writer should read Macbeth once a year. Just never to forget what it’s really about. Killing is and remains the most horrible thing in life, and no one shows us this better than the master himself.

Give us a writing tip.

Don’t start writing too soon. Think it through thoroughly before actually starting to write. Make sure the basic plot is thoroughly stuck in your head before the act of language takes place. That should give you plenty of room for language and style, without which the book – however great the plot may be – always dies.

What are you working on now?

Right now I am in the research and thinking stages of a new thriller. Keeping my eyes really open to what is happening in the world. Soon enough the unwritten book will tell me when it’s ready to be written. That’s when the real joy starts.

Thank you very much for your time.