Interview: May 15, 2014
Camilla Läckberg is a #1 bestselling author in Sweden, as well as the #1 bestselling female author in Europe last year. Her latest novel is THE HIDDEN CHILD, the fifth installment in her Fjällbacka series, featuring the husband and wife team of Detective Patrik Hedström and crime writer Erica Falck. In this interview with Bookreporter.com’s Joe Hartlaub, Läckberg discusses the powerful image that inspired THE HIDDEN CHILD: a gravestone marked "Tyskungen" (“The German Child”). She also talks about writing the endings of her books first, her method for keeping track of all the complicated storylines in her novels, and how she finds time to continue writing international bestsellers while balancing countless personal and professional obligations.
Bookreporter.com: THE HIDDEN CHILD is the fifth installment in your Fjällbacka series featuring the husband and wife team of Detective Patrik Hedström and crime writer Erica Falck. It also features one of your most complex plots to date. Where did the book begin, as far as your writing process was concerned?
Camilla Läckberg: The idea for THE HIDDEN CHILD came to life when I once passed a gravestone marked "Tyskungen" --- the Swedish title for the book. Tyskungen, or "The German Child" in English, revealed a sad consequence of the Second World War. Children with a German parent were often treated as outcasts and a disgrace to society.
It triggered a very strong emotion in me and later the core for the novel.
BRC: The opening sentence of THE HIDDEN CHILD is one of my favorites of any book that I have read this year. It immediately creates an atmosphere of grisly foreboding and suspense while tugging the reader irresistibly into the book. When you were writing it, was this sentence the first thing that came to your mind? Or did you develop it later in the writing process?
CL: The funny thing is that I always write the end of a novel first. Hence, the first sentences that I actually write are those on the last pages. In that way, I formulate the plot and the murderer from the start and let it be the base for the rest of the story and what builds to that particular scene. The actual first sentence of the book is added later on as the story comes together.
BRC: A significant part of THE HIDDEN CHILD is set in Sweden and Norway during World War II, when Sweden attempted to help neighboring Norway after Norway was overrun by the German army. Why do you think that World War II and the events that comprised it continue to be fertile and fascinating ground for stories, fictitious and otherwise, after seven decades? And were you able to talk to any veterans of the conflict during the course of your research?
CL: The events and acts of the Second World War traumatized the entire world and should never be forgotten. Stories about the war, whether captured in fiction or nonfiction, are an important way of reminding us what happened and of preventing it from ever being repeated. Research is an extremely important part of my writing, and I consulted people with great knowledge about Sweden’s history during WWII.
BRC: Erika and Patrik continue to fine-tune their relationship now that they are parents, but the most interesting catharsis belongs to Mellberg, who begins two very different relationships and uncharacteristically mellows just a bit. How do you decide which of your characters will have their personal lives changed in each book? And how do you decide how much or how little change should take place?
CL: In every novel, I like to explore new sides of my characters, which I feel gives them more depth. The particular story and circumstances will decide how much will change and what.
In Mellberg’s case, it was important to give him other characteristics to make him feel more human. There is more to him than being grumpy; he is a complex individual, just like any other human being.
BRC: In addition to moving backward and forward in time, THE HIDDEN CHILD frequently shifts perspectives among a number of characters, though the story always remains on track. How do you ensure that details and characters don’t get lost during these shifts? Do you outline extensively? And do you have what some authors refer to as “beta readers,” who read your story drafts and offer suggestions?
CL: While I'm writing, I always take notes to show how my characters move in my novels. For example, for each different episode, I write a status for my characters to keep track of them. This is also useful when I start the next novel.
I share my early manuscript with my publisher for input. Everyone needs feedback in order to achieve the best results possible.
BRC: THE HIDDEN CHILD was translated for U.S. publication by Marlaine Delargy. We often forget or take for granted the labors of literary translators whose efforts bring reading experiences to wider audiences. How closely do you work with translators? How are they selected? Do you coordinate this, or does your publisher?
CL: I have been very lucky to work with great translators; they are important in conveying my text and protecting the essence of my books. It’s not an easy task, especially when it comes to local elements in my novels. My publishers do a great job in finding good translators.
BRC: When did you start writing? What got you interested in the process? And when did you first decide to begin writing professionally?
CL: My dad introduced me to the world of literature when I was very young, and his unconditional love for great books was contagious.
I’m been writing since I can remember. I wrote my first piece at the age of five called "The Santa Claus." It was a short story that ended with murder. However, I never thought of writing as a profession. That was like an impossible dream.
It was during my maternity leave that I could devote more time to writing. While taking care of my first two children, I finished my first manuscript and built up a network of contacts for a career change.
BRC: You are involved in a number of different business and charitable activities of which writing, at least for our purposes, is first among equals. Since many of our readers are also aspiring authors, they are often curious as to how a successful author like yourself sticks to a schedule. How do you keep on track? Has your schedule changed significantly since you began writing professionally?
CL: Writing will always be my core, but I love challenging myself with new projects. I have a very curious mind, and I like it when lots of things are happening around me.
It’s always a challenge to balance family life with professional life. Right now, my lifeline is a family calendar that keeps track of both my children’s and my activities. Planning is everything!
BRC: Do you plan to visit the United States in support of THE HIDDEN CHILD? Is there any place in particular you would like to visit in the U.S.?
CL: I love the U.S., and I'll actually visit Las Vegas in August --- but not to promote the book. I'll be competing in a Pro/AM ballroom dance competition together with my fantastic dance partner, Stefano Oradei. Hopefully, I will have the chance to meet some readers while I’m there!
I have visited NYC a couple of times now and have absolutely fallen in love with the amazing and inspiring city! I would like to see the rest of the country soon.
BRC: You have also written two cookbooks and three children’s books. Do you have any desire to write novels that would be classified outside of the mystery/thriller genre?
CL: I love writing, and I find that testing new formats means both a way to become a better writer and to get a creative boost. Sometimes it’s good to step out of your comfort zone to gain a new perspective.
BRC: Many of our readers, myself included, are always seeking out new authors to read, especially within the genre that has come to be known as Nordic noir. Who are some of your favorites? And what authors --- past or present, regardless of geographic location --- have influenced your work?
CL: Right now there are many great writers out there, and Stieg Larsson was one of them who opened the world’s eyes for Nordic noir.
A very early inspiration in my life was Agatha Christie. By the age of 10, I had read most of her work and she remains a great source for motivation.
BRC: On a related note, all of us are always looking for new books to read. What have you read in the last six months that you would care to recommend to our readers?
CL: I really like Siri Husvetdt and Michael Connelly.
BRC: While THE HIDDEN CHILD is just being published now in the United States, it first appeared in Sweden in 2007. You have published a number of other books in the Fjällbacka series since that time. Do you plan on continuing the series for the foreseeable future, or do you have an ending volume in mind? And will we be seeing any significant changes in the lives of your primary or secondary characters?
CL: As long as there are habitants left in Fjällbacka to kill, it will still be possible to write another book. Jokes aside, I will continue writing the novels as long as I enjoy it and I have a story to tell around my main characters and the surroundings of Fjällbacka.
My characters are vital for my novels, and changes will most definitely continue to happen to them. Domestic drama is as much central as the crimes in my stories.