Tuesday, October 5, 2021

Who is Maud? Guest Post by Helene Tursten

Helene Tursten: Who is Maud? 

The first time Maud and I met was in the spring of 2011. During fall and winter I had a stressful schedule with tours, book fairs and the work on my new book. I was feeling pretty worn out as spring began. On a dreary Monday morning at the beginning of April, I looked at my calendar to see if there was anything special I had to do during the coming week. Then I saw the notice “deadline Christmas novella”. The date made me freeze. It was coming up in two days! I had completely forgotten my promise to contribute a short story for an upcoming Christmas anthology. When the first panic had subsided I said to myself, “you have written many short stories, both crime and ghost stories, so it won’t be a problem for you to put together a little Christmas novella”. 

Before I begin a new project I always think through what it should be about. When I have decided that, I continue with how I plan to build the story. Then comes research. If I am writing a novel it can take several months. 

It also takes time to turn a novella into a good story. Since the format is shorter, the story can’t be too complicated, which means that it doesn’t demand as much research. But it must always maintain a high quality, both when it comes to content and language. Therefore you must be very careful. The slightest mistake shows up much more in a short story than in a book of several hundred pages. In the book the mistakes can hide among the large amount of text. 

Now I only had two days to try to create a Christmas novella. There was no time for research, so I had to write it immediately. That shouldn’t be so difficult since at my age I had memories from at least fifty Christmasses. Full of optimism I sat down in my most comfortable armchair trying to come up with a good story. 

My head was empty. Totally empty! For the first time as an author I was hit with a case of total writer’s block. For several hours I sat in the chair and looked out at the large birch tree outside our house. It had leaves the size of mouse ears... Soon the new leaves would open up… No, concentrate! Forget spring and focus on Christmas! 

It was hopeless. My thoughts went in all directions. Christmas felt, mildly said, distant. Towards evening I tried to write down some different plots, but none were worth developing further. 

The night I slept badly. Santas, Chrietmas trees, decorations and shining eyes of children kept dancing inside my eyelids. Family holiday. Relatives that gather to celebrate Christmas, tensions that result in arguments and perhaps even murder. No! A used up theme that had often been filmed. 

Now I know! Christmas foods! You can poison it, Great idea, I thought, and fell contentedly asleep. When I awoke at dawn there was still nothing more than poisoned Christmas foods in my head. What was I to do with it? Sigh! 

The day dragged on. I had to think of something within a few hours. If no idea appeared I would have to contact the publisher and try to get a few days extension. Towards afternoon I made a cup of tea and went back to the armchair. The scent of the good Darjeeling tea at least gave me some comfort. When I had finished the tea I leaned back in the chair and tried to relax. 

Then she suddenly was standing right in front of me. 

A slim older lady with snow white hair in a smart updo. She was dressed in a stylishly cut medium blue dress and comfortable pumps. It was hard to make out her age. The look in her cold grey blue eyes was sharp. No sign of dementia there! Around her thin lips she had a look of discontent. 

“Why are you sitting there? Write about me”, she said. 

With a start I sat up in the chair. The lady was gone. 

It took me three hours to write “An Elderly Lady Seeks Peace at Christmastime”. The Usual Santas, Soho Crime, 2017. 

It was with an enormous feeling of relief that I sent the story to the publishing house. Inside myself I sent a grateful thought to the old lady who I had named Maud. How lucky that she showed up! The thought that we would see each other again never hit me. 

But we met again. Several times. The secretive, lonely old lady in the gigantic apartment fascinated not only me, but also my readers. More novellas followed, which now have been turned into two books. 

Who is Maud? Why did she become a murderer? Those are appropriate questions. One reason is probably because she has had a strenuous life with lots of responsibilities. After her father died she learned that his company had gone bankrupt. All that was left was the family’s large apartment. Maud was then eighteen and had just started her education to become a language teacher. The Second World War was raging in Europe and she had to care for her neurotic mother and her mentally ill sister. The mother died after two years and the sisters were alone in the big apartment. Because of the sister’s serious mental illness the two sisters lived very isolated. It was also very difficult to make ends meet. 

But that is not the whole explanation. Maud has a very special personality. She has always had difficulty with social contacts. Other people create problems for her. When a problem comes up that threatens her existence she solves it in her own way. 

Maud’s solution is to eliminate the person who she sees as a threat. It is not always that the victim dies, but they are always rendered harmless. 

Some critics have called Maud a serial killer, which she is absolutely not. She is not actively looking for victims, or a certain type of victims, has no rituals or sexual fantasies about them. She quite simply solves her problems with very coldblooded methods. 

But the answer to the question of who Maud is, I don’t think anyone can really provide.

***

Helene Tursten was a nurse and a dentist before she turned to writing. She is the author of the Irene Huss series, including Detective Inspector Huss, Night Rounds, Who Watcheth, and Protected by the Shadows; the Embla Nyström series; and the short story collection An Elderly Lady Is Up to No Good, which also features Maud. Her books have been translated into 25 languages and made into a television series. She was born in Gothenburg, Sweden, where she now lives with her husband.

***

Guest Post translated by Kerstin Trowbridge 

1 comment:

Priscilla said...

What a fabulous post about the character who just appears to an author, perhaps fully formed but still intriguing and mysterious. Tursten is one of my favorite writers. Had she not been, she would be after this post!