Category Archives: Interview

Christoffer Carlsson – neither pink nor fluffy

Here is what you’ve all wanted to read; my little chat with Christoffer Carlsson, where we talk far more about schools and immigration, than we do crime novels. But it’s not every day ‘a boy from home’ comes to Stirling.

Having successfully caught the last coffee cup in the Bloody Scotland green room, Christoffer apologises, but I point out he’s better to have it than I am, since I don’t drink coffee. Anyway, he’s the guest.

It’s very noisy in the green room, after three events have come to an end and people have gathered, chattering away. In fact, Christoffer has had quite a conversation with Denise Mina, who didn’t run away as fast as I’d expected, seeing as she was in a hurry.

Christoffer Carlsson

Promising to talk loudly into my recording device, he bends his head halfway down to the table. I ask about his new, Swedish book, which he mentioned during his morning event. I’ve been wishing for something set in or around Halmstad, and now it seems he has already written it. ‘It will be published in the spring,’ he says, ‘but I’ve not started talking about it yet.’ He’s been afraid that the place he’s from won’t be considered interesting enough, for a novel. It’s the hardest book he’s written. It took two years to write, and when I ask where it’s set, I get a very exact description, which I won’t burden you with here. I know. That’s enough.

It’s close to where he grew up, where he and his brother used to play. And then, halfway through writing the book, his parents sold up and moved away from his childhood home, moving into a flat in town, enjoying their new life on the 13th floor with marvellous views. ‘The novel became some sort of farewell. It was pretty hard. It’s as if part of my past has moved out of reach.’

From his parents’ high rise, to the ones Christoffer wrote about in Salem, the Stockholm suburb in the Leo Junker series, I wonder if he knew enough about that kind of existence, after such a rural childhood. He giggles. He’s lived in various parts of Stockholm, including Hagsätra, which is his fictional Salem. He tells me about a smash and grab at a pawnshop, saying that the crimes in the more disadvantaged areas are different from those in the posher parts of the city. To be honest, he felt more at home there, enjoying being recognised as a regular in the newsagent’s. He felt he belonged.

My next question is about schools, as he and I attended schools in small-town Sweden, whereas Leo went to a troubled school in one of the capital’s suburbs. Christoffer’s primary school was Snöstorpsskolan; which had one non-white pupil and no library, in a cute and quiet area on the outskirts of Halmstad. Secondary school was Östergårdsskolan where, thirty years after I should have gone there but didn’t, immigrants made up 50%, which Christoffer and his Snöstorp friends loved. Not so much the parents. It was a well integrated school, where the white pupils only noticed that the cool kids from Andersberg were good at football, or that someone had a great collection of [ice] hockey cards. Christoffer reckons this background helped with his writing.

Christoffer Carlsson

I ask about the many immigrant names in his books. I’m not used to this. There are obviously still a lot of Carlssons, but they have company now. Christoffer mentions the books by Arne Dahl. ‘They are bloody interesting,’ he says. His A Unit was pretty homogenous at the outset, but as society changed, so did the group. ‘There are still more -sson names, numerically.’ In his new book the names come from former Yugoslavia. It was the mid-1990s, and the war meant people came to Sweden. Now it is people from North Africa. ‘But they go from being refugees and immigrants, and ten years on they have ordinary jobs.’ I mention my childhood immigrants; one from Hungary and one from Finland, and he grins. ‘How exciting.’

We compare sixth form colleges. Christoffer says mine was old and posh, so I point out it was brand new in my day. He retorts that the teachers had all moved from the town’s posh school. He cackles some more when I mention that my head teacher was considered rather infra dig by the other teachers.

We talk about the Chileans, some of whom come to sticky ends in his books. ‘A bit sad,’ Christoffer admits, but tries to reassure me that most of the Chileans did fine. One of his professors at university comes from Chile. ‘The young are in a vulnerable situation, looking for excitement.’

And you miss the new integration in more expensive areas, because the newcomers simply can’t afford to live there. ‘People just want to survive. They are neither potential terrorists or angels. They are just like us. Some are idiots, some are good. They are just people.’ Christoffer reckons crime novels have a role to play in showing us this. 

‘Why did you write your YA novel?’

He laughs. ‘The truth, the truth, Ann, is so bloody banal,’ he almost chokes on his coffee. ‘Book three about Leo Junker was so hard to write. It’s the longest, and in the middle of it I just said “I’ll do something different now.” So I went from writing about a middle aged man to a female teenager. Writing about crimes from a 16-year-old’s point of view, I didn’t want it to be too Kalle Blomkvist (an Astrid Lindgren child detective). I was, “what is it about? Is she staying put, or getting out?” Get out, or get stuck. It’s her choice.’

Christoffer Carlsson

‘Then when it was written I wondered what to do with it. The publisher felt I was in the middle of a series, so maybe make it a YA novel. I wrote it for myself; what I would have wanted when I was a teenager.’ There weren’t many changes, other than perhaps shortening the sentences. He was challenged on the flashbacks, that they might be too hard for young readers. ‘They’re into Game of Thrones! They see flashbacks all the time!’

‘So, Stirling High School, where you went yesterday. Did they really let you in?’ He giggles. ‘Yes, of course. They were great.’

Our conversation moves to October is the Coldest Month; his UK publisher Scribe calling it ‘almost transgressive fiction,’ while the Norwegians, the French, the Spanish and the Italians said the violence was sort of OK, but asked if he could ‘make the sex more pink and fluffy.’ Christoffer refused, and he asks, ‘pink and fluffy, what does it even mean?’

He isn’t sure what role fiction has today, but when he was young, fiction shouldn’t lie, there should be no whitewashing, and it shouldn’t be doing your parents’ job. Young readers can tell very easily.

‘But, in short, I was allowed to go there, and they were fantastic. We talked about books, about what they read, which is everything from Rankin to John Green to Virginia Woolf.’ Asking if people tell them what to read, Christoffer advised that they should decide for themselves. ‘Maybe not the best thing to say in a library…’ After a quick aside from me regarding Melvin Burgess once being asked to leave a school, we both say, ‘but you’re/I’m so kind and sweet looking!’ He reckons his image is really ‘sweet’ and I suggest perhaps he’s quite horrible, behind that innocent facade, and he cackles again, slapping his thighs. ‘Exactly, it’s what I’ve got going for me, I’m so kind and sweet.’

Christoffer Carlsson

Anyway, it had been good, and the students stayed to chat after the bell went. He moans that school periods are too short. He’d have liked to get there earlier, to talk for longer, but is grateful he was able to go at all.

When abroad he usually says ‘you either take me to a school, or you take me to a prison.’ And it works. Apparently it’s much harder to get into prisons in Sweden. (Although I can think of one way…) He’s been in the UK twice now, including when we first met in Edinburgh last year. He hopes to attend Newcastle Noir in the spring, with Jacky Collins, and if Scribe agree, Christoffer would like to visit a prison there. ‘Are there any?’ he asks, and I admit to not being an expert on prisons. More cackling.

We decide we’ve been sitting in the green room for quite long enough. It’s now very quiet, or would be, if it weren’t for us. Leaving the Golden Lion, Christoffer goes up the hill to his hotel and an evening of working on his book, and I go the opposite way, ‘promising’ to look him up in Newcastle if I end up missing him too much.

And that’s it. Let’s hope we can find him a prison…

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Another Bloody Saturday

After a caffeine disturbed night’s sleep I walked down to my first Bloody Scotland event on Saturday morning. Got my left pavement mixed up with my right, but a witch can always cross the street twice. And this time we were invited to enter the Allan Park Church through what was last year’s wrong door.

Christoffer Carlsson, Johana Gustawsson and Will Dean

It was a ‘Swedish’ event, with one real Swede – Christoffer Carlsson – and two fakes, but equally lovely – Johana Gustawsson and Will Dean. And, because someone had tagged me on Facebook, I’d looked up the other tag-ees, and decided that the one I vaguely recognised should be looked out for. I didn’t have to look long, as it turned out that Jacky Collins was chairing the Swedish event.

Jacky Collins and Michael Malone

Please don’t consider this a spoiler, but it was the best event of the day, and I’ll tell you more later. It over-ran, and when we finally emerged into the famous Scottish sunshine, I made arrangements to meet up with Christoffer at the end of the day; then went over to sit on my usual sunny park bench, to devour my lunch.

Met another crime fan who sat down and chatted to me, with each of us trying to outdo the other about who we knew and what we read and so on. Well, the Resident IT Consultant did tell me to make new friends… 😊

Frank Gardner

Popped into the signing area of the Albert Halls to take a photo of Frank Gardner. It was absolute mayhem in there, which I deduced meant he’d had a good event and a big audience.

Caroline Mitchell, Ruth Ware, Mel McGrath and Alexandra Sokoloff

Escaped to run – figuratively speaking – to the Golden Lion hotel where I enquired about tickets for the afternoon events. I went for Family Secrets with Ruth Ware, Mel McGrath and Caroline Mitchell, chaired by Alexandra Sokoloff. This was followed by the Kiwis, which like the Swedes consisted of real ones and fakes; Paul Cleave, Fiona Sussman, Denise Mina and Liam McIlvanney – winner of the previous night’s McIlvanney Prize – and chair Craig Sisterson.

Paul Cleave, Denise Mina, Liam McIlvanney, Fiona Sussman and Craig Sisterson

Liam McIlvanney, The Quaker

Unsurprisingly the event over-ran, but as Christoffer turned out to have been there too, I wasn’t as late meeting him as I’d been afraid. Where to conduct an interview, though? The foyer was heaving, as was the bar, so eventually we traipsed up to the Green room, where we commandeered a corner of a table, and Christoffer managed to grab the last coffee cup.

Christoffer Carlsson, Johana Gustawsson and Will Dean

We began our chat with Christoffer talking very loudly into my recording device, to drown out everyone else in there, and when they’d all disappeared we suddenly sounded rather loud, not to mention foreign. I found out what his Friday visit to the Resident IT Consultant’s old school had been like, and that would have been good to have seen.

It was time for me to go home to my dinner, and Christoffer headed uphill to the old High School for some work (and everyone else going to have fun on a Saturday night), saying what a great place Stirling would be for spies…

The #23 profile – Lin Anderson

Bloody Scotland is almost upon us, and they wanted me to ask founder Lin Anderson a few questions. It feels almost like being asked to hang out with the head teacher… I’ve certainly learned a few new things about Lin, who recently upped her level of scariness by getting a Harley Davidson, which is so cool.

I give you the Boss:


Lin Anderson Picture Eoin Carey

How many books did you write before the one that was your first published book?

One,  a drama set in Northern Nigeria entitled Every Secret Thing. It featured a young married couple, who have recently lost their young son and who go to work in the African Bush on an irrigation project to try and escape from their loss and save their marriage.

However before Driftnet, the first of the Rhona books was published, I had already been working on the following two in the series, Torch and Deadly Code.

Best place for inspiration?

A walk in the pinewoods close to home in Carrbridge. Also standing under the shower.

Would you ever consider writing under a pseudonym? Perhaps you already do?

I became Lin Anderson instead of Linda Anderson when Driftnet was published. There was another writer called Linda Anderson and it was to avoid confusion. I didn’t like it at first since I’d been avoiding a shortened version of my name forever. It was a little confusing too and the first copy I ever signed of Driftnet, I signed Linda!

What would you never write about?

I don’t have a subject or a list I wouldn’t tackle. I usually write about things that scare me. If you read my openings you’ll see what they are. I find tackling my fears through fiction is a good way of facing up to them.

Through your writing: the most unexpected person you’ve met, or the most unexpected place you’ve ended up in?

When researching Follow the Dead in Stavanger Norway I met Mohammad Habib, a Syrian translator and author who had, with his family been rescued from imprisonment in Syria by ICORN (8 years for writing about human rights). His story was remarkable and informed Follow the Dead.

The other and more recent event was my taking part in the mass ride out of Harley Davidsons at Thunder in the Glens, Aviemore. Sins of the Dead features four Harley Lady riders and the Dunedin Chapter of Harley Davidson helped me extensively with my research. I loved the ride out so much, I purchased a Black Harley Custom 1200.

Which of your characters would you most like to be?

None of them… I put them through hell!

I wouldn’t mind some of their finer qualities though.  Rhona’s passion and determination. Chrissy’s humour. McNab’s loyalty. Magnus’s kindness.

Do you think that having a film made of one of your books would be a good or a bad thing?

I’m about to find out with Sins of the Dead, although I’m writing the script so the characters are unlikely to change. I’m a screenwriter as well and am aware the two mediums for telling the same story demand different outcomes. The book will always win in the space you have to give layers to the character. A film tells a story visually and has less time to do it in. And you can’t always pop into someone’s head to learn what they’re thinking. You have to show it.

What is the strangest question you’ve been asked at an event?

How do you get the sex so right?

Do you have any unexpected skills?

Not sure what is regarded as unexpected these days, although when Peter James asked me something similar in a TV interview, I told him I was a wild swimmer, which certainly surprised him!

The Famous Five or Narnia?

Even stevens… Although The Famous Five probably made me want to be a writer.

Who is your most favourite Swede?

Peter Hoeg  for writing Smilla’s Sense of Snow.  Since then I’ve learned that Scots have over 400 words to describe snow. Who told you that in school?

How do you arrange your books at home? In a Billy? By colour, or alphabetically?

Books on Scottish History all together, the rest higgledy-piggledy.

Which book would you put in the hands of an unwilling eight-year-old boy reader?

Okay I would have to do some research on that. For my son at that age, he liked anything adventurous where children outwit adults, and anything on ‘how things work’.

If you have to choose between reading or writing, which would it be?

Writers must always read, so they go hand in hand, although it’s easier to read than to write, for me anyway.

I will allow the Peter Hoeg comment. At least he’s not from Norway. And, erm, I’d have been interested in Lin’s response to the sex question. Maybe she will share, for those of us who make it to Bloody Scotland next week. It’s on from September 21st for three days. Don’t miss it!

Bloody Scotland blog tour 2018

Ghost launch #2, take #2

I completely forgot the Mars bar. I’m the kind of witch who gives authors in need Mars bars.

Che Golden and Helen Grant

We launched Helen Grant’s Ghost last night. This was the second Edinburgh attempt, after the snow in March, and this time we were successful. Author Che Golden had mentioned the need for a Mars bar in her reverse psychology sort of invitation to the event on social media the day before. Che was chairing, so clearly felt the need to entice people to come. Online, Helen and Che have been known to call a spade a spade. And worse.

In person, Che is disappointingly polite.

Helen Grant and Ghost

We had a full room at Blackwells, and not just because both Daughter and the Resident IT Consultant came. There were a few authors, like Alex Nye, Joan Lennon, Philip Caveney and Roy Gill. Also a Ghost, except it was just some lunatic covered in a bedsheet, who later turned out to be Kirkland Ciccone gone bananas. And some perfectly normal people.

The bananas were later visible on his shirt, which he’d teamed quite nicely with a sequinned jacket. So while everyone else was also beautifully turned out, no one was quite as bananas as Kirkie.

Kirkland Ciccone

Once the silly photographs had been tweeted, Che went to work with a host of questions. Helen continued the fruit theme by mentioning The Pineapple, where you can stay for a holiday, and the deserted ruin nearby, which is one of the many places to have inspired her.

Helen Grant

She said again how hard Ghost had been to write. The dream would be an agent who reads her new novel immediately, loves it and calls with a book auction offer of £5 million. Helen doesn’t want to write more YA, but prefers to work on traditional ghost stories.

Che reminisced about how on their first meeting Helen took her to Innerpeffray Library, and showed her the leper squint. It’s what she does for her friends, I find.

Che Golden

Che also pointed out that while she has read every single book Helen has written, Helen has not read any* of Che’s. This is possibly not true, but a sign of how they insult each other. I occasionally wonder if I shouldn’t have introduced them, but then, where would I learn such a varied vocabulary?

Helen sets herself an amount of words to be written every week. If she has worked hard, she might get Fridays off. That’s when she relaxes by visiting solitary places, for the atmosphere. She can recommend graveyards.

Philip Caveney and Susan Singfield

And on that cheerful note it was time to buy copies of Ghost and to mingle and chat. There was wine.

Roy Gill

After I’d given Mr Grant a quick Swedish lesson, it was time to go home. Which, is easier said than done on a Thursday, with still no evening trains. We lured poor Kirkland to come along with us, which meant his debut on the Edinburgh trams as well as probably getting home considerably later than he’d have done under his own steam. But we meant well.

*I can recommend them.

Ghost has launched

‘Are you turning left?’ I asked, as my kind driver for the evening, Moira Mcpartlin, indicated. In the end we went right. And it went right, all the way to Perth, where Moira parked the car twice. I’d not had my walk for the day, so that was good. We even asked a policeman where we were. Or at least, where we were going.

Clare Cain, Helen Lewis-McPhee and Helen Grant

To Helen Grant’s launch for Ghost, in case you have been left wondering. Our host at Waterstones ran between unlocking the shops’s front door, to unstacking chairs, serving drinks and selling books. We provided advice as to whether we thought the banner for Ghost was likely to topple and hit the Helens as they talked.

Because you can’t have too many Helens. Last night it was Helen Lewis-McPhee who grilled Helen Grant on her ‘often dark and shadowy mind.’ After an intro-duction from publisher Clare Cain, Helen Grant read from her book, choosing the windowsill chapter early on, to avoid too many spoilers.

Helen Lewis-McPhee and Helen Grant

Ghost has been the worst book to write, taking first one year, and then another year to rewrite when Helen’s agent said she should. (Personally I have some strong words to say about that. But this is not the place.) As she put it when asked by someone in the audience, some of the changes were good, others merely made it different. And she’s now ready to write something really cheesy, for a change.

I’m not sure this ‘rather dark’ author does cheesy. Helen believes in ghosts in as much that she expects to run into some old, but dead, friends in the street one day.

She starts and ends her days by going on social media, but between that Helen feels it’s important to experience the day happening, maybe by visiting one of the many falling-down houses she enjoys so much, or other ruins. Helen often takes her son when exploring, whereas her husband is unable to ‘sneak around enough.’ She likes being alone out there, too, being quiet.

Helen Lewis-McPhee and Helen Grant

Asked what she’s working on now, Helen said it’s several different things as she can’t make her mind up. And she ‘cannot say anything briefly.’

Another question was about a sequel to Ghost. Probably not, but she admitted that certain things must happen after the ending to the current book, so…

Helen Grant, Ghost

After all this people mingled and bought books and drank wine and were cultural. (I find Perth a little more grown-up than Stirling. Maybe I ought to go more often.)

Ghost launch Perth

When my copy of the book had been signed, my driver walked us back to the car and drove us safely all the way home, and only once suggested I might be interested in taking up singing.

The late interview – Maria Turtschaninoff

If I employed me to work on Bookwitch, I’d have to give myself the sack for slacking and being late.

But here, at very long last, is my interview with Maria Turtschaninoff, in English. The Swedes – and the Finns – got her ages ago. Well, like two months ago. Right in time for Finland’s national day. The only thing special about today, is that it’s the day before tomorrow.

Maria Turtschaninoff

Ferryman goes to Hollywood

‘I bought her a cookie,’ said Daughter when informed about Claire McFall’s new film deal for her Ferryman books. This – the cookie incident – happened during our interview with Claire in August.

Claire McFall

And now Hollywood wants to make her books into films for both the western world and for China, where I imagine there could be ‘a few’ fans wanting to see the film version of their favourite Scottish novel.

I’m not surprised by this, and I’m sure neither are you, as I’ve been busy telling you about Claire and her romantic Ferryman since then.

Successes like this are far too rare, and I’m just very pleased for her. Besides, it’s not every YA author who ends up as a page three girl, even if it was in the Guardian. Much more respectable, and the photo was by Murdo Macleod, which is a bit of an honour.

Although I’m grateful I didn’t know Tristan was a Leonardo DiCaprio sort of boy [when I read the book]. In my mind he was much more handsome!