Tag Archives: Christoffer Carlsson

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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One cushion, two cushions, three cushions, four

Yes! Adding cushions is a recent, popular trend in Sweden. It is driving me bananas. Because while people – interior design magazine journalists – believe they are suggesting just that, adding cushions to make your sofa or home look so much lovelier; what they are really saying is that you add them up. One two three…

Adding isn’t the only thing Swedes do now. Sometimes they express how they feel uncomfortable. You can have an uncomfortable sofa – with or without those added cushions – but the only way you as a human being can be uncomfortable is if someone sits on you. It’s not about how you feel mentally. It’s the sitter who’s uncomfortable.

On the basis that a language changes constantly, I dare say these new pet hates of mine are fully signed up members of the Swedish language by now. I just don’t like them. I know, it’s a sign of being ancient and a stick-in-the-mud. Intolerant, even.

For years Swedes have gone round saying ‘yes’ instead of ‘ja.’ It’s got so I actually say yes as well. A bit ironic.

Yes!

This Swenglish is interesting. The uncomfortable addings puzzle me. Have people heard English native speakers say this, and simply adopted the phrases? Or did they suddenly think ‘OMG, I’ve been saying it wrong all my life!’ and changed?

Linguistically I don’t have a particularly high opinion of interior design magazines. But this half-Swedish half-English language also turns up in real books. I think it depends on how old you are. Christoffer Carlsson used some interesting hybrid words in his crime novels, and in his speech. He talked of ‘kidsen’ which is borrowing the word kids and giving it the Swedish suffix meaning ‘the.’ Or ‘low-lifesen’ which is plural low-life with another suffix.

All this indicates the international way we live, borrowing freely and imitating others we consider to be cooler. Non-native speakers of English also get US and British English mixed up, and that goes for really proficient speakers as well.

Every month Vi magazine asks a well-known person what books they have on their bedside table, and thankfully most have books, and usually several, and often books that make me green with envy. Because they are so intellectual. But they are rarely not in Swedish.

And that makes me wonder. Why all this borrowing and everyday spoken Swenglish, and then not read books in English? It would make the readers so much more proficient in this admired language. And they’d stand a chance of discovering why adding cushions works in English, but not in their own homes.

Or would that completely subtract our Swedish?

The Swedish Crime Wave

‘Nu sätter vi igång, eller hur?’ said Jacky Collins to her three charges Christoffer Carlsson, Johana Gustawsson and Will Dean. They all agreed to some ‘sätting igång’ and did so to a full to bursting Allan Park South Church where people were standing in the aisles.

Christoffer Carlsson books

First she wanted to know about Will Dean’s building a cottage made of wood, in a Swedish forest, somewhere ‘north’ of Gothenburg, so he went ahead and ruined her vision of a strong man with an axe. It was more flatpack, and he mainly supervised the build courtesy of that airline that flies people places for £10. But at least Will and his Swedish wife got out of their tiny London flat.

Will Dean

You will already have gathered not all Jacky’s Swedes were Swedish.

Johana Gustawsson, who is French, and maybe a little Spanish, blames everything on her Swedish husband, as well she should. After all, a man who eats flat pieces of bread with cheese on, squeezing cod roe paste from a tube on top of it all, for breakfast, has a lot to answer for. (It’s probably only my vivid imagination which had him dunk this in his coffee.) The Resident IT Consultant listened wide-eyed to this tale, as not even his extensive Swedish experience ever went this far.

Christoffer Carlsson

Christoffer Carlsson who comes from the same town as Roxette, nevertheless feels it’s natural to write about Stockholm, which is not the same as Halmstad. He didn’t get the promised ABBA number, which is just as well, since he’s far too young for them. Christoffer likes people; is interested in them, even. And he interviews offenders for a living.

Then there was the tale about his childhood friend’s dad who, ahem, created illegal alcoholic drinks at home in the kitchen, when the local policeman called. (He obviously only wanted to buy some.)

Will introduced us to Tuva Moodysson, his deaf journalist detective. After his first horrible book, it is fun writing about Tuva. Johana explained that she needed a Canadian character so that they could speak both English and French. Her women characters really have opinions. Christoffer also has some ‘bad’ early books, which ‘unfortunately’ have been published. He wanted to write about friendship, and only reluctantly made one of his characters a policeman.

Christoffer Carlsson, Johana Gustawsson and Will Dean

It seems Will is very keen on ‘sweeties’ and on hearing this Johana emptied out her handbag of a pile of sweets, whereas Christoffer only had cigarettes to offer.

There is folklore in Will’s books; he can’t leave the forest’s mushrooms and bears and elks alone, and his brother-in-law has met a troll… Of course he has. Similarly, Johana discovered a book about Jack the Ripper which placed one of his victims in Falkenberg, where her Kalles Kaviar-eating husband is from. So that had to become a crime novel. And Christoffer might write more crime after his Leo Junker series, but his next book is set very near his parents’ house outside Halmstad, and it’s a ‘very good book.’

Johana Gustawsson

Johana had much to say about us Swedes, and not just on the cod roe issue, but the Scandi hugs, where people hug those they meet for the first time. Having to take your beautifully chosen shoes off indoors, ruining the effect of your beautiful dress – [she] ‘needs to wear her effing shoes!’ – and the question whether Swedes have vegetables (mothers always worry, don’t they?). Then there is ‘lagom,’ and maybe she has said too much, but this was her first weekend away from her young children.

This was a hard act to follow, and Will sensibly didn’t try. It seems his mother-in-law doesn’t like his books… Too negative, they are. Tuva hates the woods. (I’m right with you, dear.) On a brighter note, a deaf member of the audience complimented Will on getting Tuva’s deafness spot-on.

Finally, Christoffer was permitted to have his say, and he reckons that all Swedish crime writers know each other, read each other’s books and they all live in Bromma. They all write the same. So these two fake Swedes are bringing some much needed outside perspective into all this.

Christoffer Carlsson, Johana Gustawsson and Will Dean

By now we’d over-run by ten minutes and the audience wanted more, but we still had to finish. Long and slow queues to chat to the three meant that we were in danger of never leaving, and with the audience for the next event queueing outside, Christoffer was the last man standing and practically had to be kicked out, where he duly lit a cigarette…

It’s tough being popular, isn’t it?

Our truly multilingual chair Jacky chatted in Spanish, as well as Swedish, and even some English, and before departing she wished me ‘hasta luego.’ I can’t wait.

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 Thin Blue Line

Or Den tunna blå linjen, as it is in the original. This is Christoffer Carlsson’s fourth and final book featuring Leo Junker, and like many reviewers have pointed out, it has a rather good last line. But I’ll let you get to that on your own.

Christoffer Carlsson, Den tunna blå linjen

It worked quite well, reading this now, with me having skipped books two and three. I got to know Leo in the first book, and now I was able to catch up with where he’d got to, guessing a few things, about colleagues and lovers. There was enough to tell me what had happened to his school friend Grim, on the other side of the law.

Grim reminds Leo about the young Chilean girl they met years ago, and who was murdered five years before this story takes place, and asks, no, demands, that Leo looks into her unsolved death again. And this really opens a hornet’s nest.

This time Leo isn’t half drugged all the time, so he functions a little better. He’s also been reinstated as a policeman (although, for how long?) so can do what detectives need to do when they detect. Though at times it appears as if Swedish law makes it hard for the police but easy for the criminals. So it’s fair…

Stockholm is as unappealing as it was; the suburbs, but also the supposedly nicer places in the city centre. In the police you have crooked people and stupid people, as well as the hard-working middle ground people, trying to keep the place safe.

I couldn’t help but feel bad about the fate of the Chilean refugees/immigrants, who must have arrived with great hopes, only to end up dead, or very nearly.

Christoffer’s knowledge of criminology is what makes the plot so believable. It’s different to many other crime series where you suspect that the author just made stuff up. This really does feel like the inner workings of the police force, where the law in its eagerness to protect everyone, makes it impossible to corner criminals in a way that they can be tried in court and jailed.

There is also remarkably little violence. It’s the lack of hope that gets to you.

The Invisible Man From Salem

Except I read it in the original, so it’s really Den Osynlige Mannen Från Salem. But at least this way you know that you, too, can access Christoffer Carlsson’s award-winning first crime novel featuring Leo Junker. Because I think you might want to.

Admittedly, I hate the kind of society he’s writing about, but firmly believe that this is what people in other countries find so charming about Swedish noir. Life is dark and dismal, but because it’s not your dark and dismal, it’s all right.

This is an adult crime novel, but with enough flashbacks to Leo’s youth in a concrete-covered Stockholm suburb in the mid-1990s, that it can almost double as YA. Almost.

Christoffer Carlsson, Den Osynlige Mannen Från Salem

Leo has been relieved of his police badge after some dubious goings-on on Gotland. Not his fault, but a scapegoat was needed. And now a woman has been murdered in the flat below his, and he feels he could do with something to occupy himself with, in his half-drugged, sad state. And then it turns out it’s all much closer to home than he thought.

Maybe something to do with his friends from sixth form college? The police don’t like him much, nor do people from his past private life. It’s been tough, and the drugs are just about understandable.

There are no charming vicarages here. Very little that is nice at all, in fact. There is so little hope, even. I was glad I’d got out. Despite this being set 30 years after I was that age, it felt as if nothing had changed. I could have gone to that school. Those teenagers could have been my classmates.

It’s awful.

And it’s also very well written, and after a while I sort of liked Leo. A little. When I reached the end I did what any sane person would do and started on the attached sample chapter for the second book. Apart from having other books to read too, there is the slight conundrum of me only having the fourth, and last, book to hand. On Christoffer’s advice.

What to do?

(There are more than a few nods to Sjöwall & Wahlöö’s Martin Beck series.)

This year’s Bloody [Scotland] plans

If you thought that rubbing shoulders with crime writers at the Coo in Stirling, during the Bloody Scotland weekend in late September, sounds like fun, you can forget it. The event sold out in no time at all.

But there’s other daft stuff you could do, unless you delay so that these other events also sell out. Personally I fear this might happen more than I’d find convenient. You know, I don’t want to commit just yet. But I don’t want to be left without, either.

Bloody Scotland

There’s more than one event where crime writers do something else, like sing. Or pretend to be a television quiz show. There is even a musical, written by Sophie Hannah and Annette Armitage, which to begin with I believed to last seven and a half hours, but it’s just two ‘sittings’ so to speak. Or there’s the cast and crew of Agatha Raisin. You can go to the football. I haven’t yet, but there is no saying how long I can hold out.

If you fancy more ‘ordinary’ events where authors talk about their books, look no further. Bloody Scotland has a lot of them. I see James Oswald has a new detective. (I don’t like change!) There’s an event on breaking barriers with three Asian authors and one Icelandic one. Or there are more Icelanders in a separate event, if you prefer.

They have Swedes. Well, they have one real Swede, Christoffer Carlsson, from my neck of woods. He’s nice. Although not so sure about his murders. Then there is a French fake Swede, but who writes about Falkenberg, which I highly approve of. And someone else foreign who at least lives in Sweden.

It’s 2018, so violence against women has to be addressed. Our favourite pathologist is coming back. So is Pitch Perfect, where they let the hopefuls in. The Kiwis are coming, and Chris Brookmyre has got a new name as he writes with his wife.

They also offer some of the biggest names in the business, but you’ll need to read the rest of the programme yourselves. And come and see the torchlit procession on the Friday night!

Bloody Scotland Torchlight Procession