Today I welcome one of Sweden's bestselling crime writers Mari Jungstedt.
Mari Jungstedt, author of the crime series featuring police detective Anders Knutas and journalist Johan Berg, is one of Sweden’s most popular crime fiction writers with more than 3 million copies of her books sold worldwide. Jungstedt’s stories all take place on the beautiful and dramatic island of Gotland, Sweden. A large island in the Baltic Sea. An international bestseller, Jungstedt's books have been translated into almost twenty languages. and the crime series has been adapted for German TV-films. Six of her novels have also been the basis for Swedish movies.
Jungstedt previously worked as a news anchor for Swedish national public radio and television. She also had a brief career as a fashion model in New York City. However, throughout her life, she harbored the secret dream of becoming an author. Once she dedicated the time to this endeavor, Jungstedt says it was as if she opened a box of stories that had to be written. Jungstedt has two children and lives in Stockholm, Sweden. She spends her summers in Gotland. Her latest novel (and second to be publshed in the U.S.) is Killer's Art.
So – how did I really start?
Since I was used to writing only short television telegrams I asked myself – How do I start?
I had never written anything longer before, so I decided to start in a very easy and modest way and with no big ambitions. First of all I wanted to see if I could write only one page. I thought it would be easiest if I tried to describe something concrete from my everyday life.
I wrote about a memory I had of Gotland. One beautiful summer day in July I went to the beach on my own…a fairly wild and deserted beach with no restaurants or cafeterias. When I got there it was sunny and warm and lots of people were laying on the sand, swimming in the sea, and children playing in the water. I laid down on a dune and fell fast asleep in the sand. When I woke up there was a completely different picture surrounding me. All the people were gone. It was empty and quiet and a thick huge mist had come in from the sea. The beach was suddenly abandoned, and I could hardly see my hand in front of me because of the mist. It was beautiful, but also scary and completely silent. I started to write about this memory, and it was like pushing a button, the words came floating out of me like a never-ending stream. Then the story went on, and I wrote whenever I got the chance – on weekends, after work, late at night and early in the morning. And that became my first novel. And the mist is the same mist in the beginning of my first novel, Unseen, when the young woman, Helena Hillerström, is walking on the beach with her dog early one morning and suddenly she is in the middle of the mist that is coming in from the sea and her dog disappears in the mist and then she meets her murderer…
When I had written about half of the manuscript for my first boo, I contacted the biggest publishing company in Sweden, Bonniers (Albert Bonniers Forlag). I had no contacts in the publishing world, and I didn’t know any authors. I asked to speak to a publisher. He listened to my story (he also knew who I was from TV so that probably helped a bit). He told me I had to finish my book, and then I could send the manuscript directly to him. It took me three months to finish the manuscript, and, after sending it to him, he called me in three days and said – this is a page-turner – we will publish this! It was like a dream. I was at the furniture house, Ikea, with a friend when he called, and I screamed for joy and almost fell into a shelf with lamps!
That is now eleven years ago. and I have written eleven novels in the series so far. I just finished my eleventh novel. and it will be released in Sweden in mid-May…and I still love writing!
Gotland inspires me a lot, with the greyness, the fog and the humidity in the winter. I also think the island is perfect for crime stories – the closed room because it is an island with the coast around it and all the people and places are related to each other. The environment with the flat, wild landscape, the lime stone rocks, the long sandy beaches that lay empty most times of the year, the historical town of Visby with the wall around it (6-10 meters) from the 13th century, the medieval houses, the big old church and ruins in the middle of the town, and small cobblestoned streets. So the environment is of great importance in my books.
What do I want to tell?
There are certain issues I want to address through my writing. Now, after having written eleven novels in this series I can see a pattern – the same theme comes back, more or less in each novel. The theme is first and foremost how our childhood affects us, our relationships with our parents, the vulnerability during childhood, and how exposed we are as children.
I want to address how important it is that we as adults give children support. That we listen to them and take them seriously and give them the help that they need when they are in trouble.
This is actually the main reason why I write, I think.
I had quite a complicated childhood myself with an alcoholic father and unstable mother – there was a lot of fighting at home when I was little. When I was eleven, I was harassed in school during one period, and when I was fourteen my mother became seriously ill with cancer. Actually, she was very close to dying even though she eventually survived. By that time she had divorced my father and was alone with three children, so we were very nervous that she was going to die and there were many problems.
What has struck me as an adult is that no other adults helped us during that difficult period. We were left alone with our fear. and no one asked how we felt. Also, when it came to other problems, we didn’t get much help from people that surrounded us even if they knew about the problems. I think this issue still exists in society, that many children and teenagers have to carry a lot on their shoulders, and they have no one to talk to about their problems. There is a severe lack of contact between young people and their parents or other adults. I think it is important to talk about this and to tell stories about it, and I think you can discover this theme in all my books, more or less – and I think in The Dark Angel it is even more so.
I want my books to be very suspenseful, easy to read, and entertaining. But I also want something to remain with the reader after having read the last page. For me, a good crime story is suspenseful as well as entertaining but also offers something more to think about. I don't want my readers to forget the book after closing it. I want to tell something more, a deeper story. I also think that within the genre of crime novels, you can also tell other stories and criticize society as the Swedish crime novel tradition is so famous for.
What inspires me?
Of course I get a lot of inspiration from my own background, my life today, and the people that I know. Books I read, films I see, stories I hear – I always keep my eyes open and listen to what is happening around me and in society itself.
Also, Gotland very much inspires me with the landscape, the people, and the fantastic history of the island.
In my novels, relationships between people are central and I use different experiences from my own life as well as from the people that surround me.
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