Melbourne Writer’s Festival – Ice Cold Crime
Date and Time: 01/09/2012, 14:30
With: Sue Green and Åsa Larsson
The last time I went to a paid author event was when I went to see Michael Connelly at the Wheeler Centre last year in September. At the time, I had never been to an Author Event before and, being a massive fan of Michael Connelly, my gut consisted of nervous anticipation with a side order of giddiness. However, when I climbed the stairs to the ACMI Cinema 1, I did not have any feeling of intrigue or curiosity. To me, this event was all business, just another topic for my blog.In addition,
I had no idea who Åsa Larsson was. I had never heard of her before or her books and I had no knowledge of “Scandinavian Crime Fiction” (yes, Sweden produces so much crime fiction that they have their own genre). I have heard of Stieg Larsson (who is of no relation, apparently Larsson is the Swedish name equivalent of Smith) and the Millennium trilogy, and the consequential movie adaptation The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.
However, because of all the hype surrounding them, I have never read the books or even seen the movie and, to be honest, whenever I heard mention of Stieg Larsson, I thought, “Isn’t he the person in the white suite that rides the motorcycle on Top Gear?”
When the auditorium started steadily filling up with people, I decided to put aside my preconceived notions. Åsa Larsson grew up in a small mining town named Kiruna, which is the setting for her novels, and it’s 150 metres from the Arctic Circle. On average, winter can get to as cold as -17°C (“You don’t hang out in the streets and meet people. You meet people in your home, your kitchen”).
She has previously worked as a Tax Lawyer and writing was her escapism (“I wanted to have fun inside my head”), however it was only until she became a mother that she began putting words. For Åsa Larsson, when she entered motherhood, it felt as though time had stopped, and became a period of reflection upon what she had accomplished.
Åsa Larsson confessed when she first started out she had no prior knowledge or skill about writing, which was the reason why she gave her heroin the same occupation as herself, “I did that to be easy, it was the only thing I felt I knew”.
Previously, I had always objected to authors giving their characters the same occupation as themselves, I had thought it lazy, however when Åsa Larsson explained why she had done it and spoke about how difficult it was to even finish a manuscript draft (a pain I am familiar with), it started making sense.
When trying new things, Humans latch to the tasks or objects that they are comfortable or have the most knowledge. It would also create an authentic portrayal of said occupation. I know I have lost count of how many times I have pointed at a TV or at a book and declared, “That’s wrong! That would NEVER happen!”
When the topic of religion was brought up, Åsa Larsson said “The church has been a big part of my family so it shows in my novels,” It was fascinating and amusing to hear her talk about the fascinating but conflicting dualities of Violence and Love that are presented throughout the Old Testament and New Testament. “Don’t laugh at me, you read it, at least I get paid for it.”
Her family is also where she receives the most support. Her father was a librarian and would not allow her to read “bad literature” but was very encouraging of writing. I could tell by the joy on her face when she spoke of her father that writing was something that bonded them. Despite her father’s objections, Åsa Larsson spent her adolesce reading murder-mysteries (“Is her name Nancy Drew in English?”)
“What you feed yourself as a child and a teenager,” said Åsa Larsson, “comes out as an adult.”
When it came to the topic of writing, she was very generous with sage advice, “If you have a protagonist who has lots of flaws, you need to have a normal person who your audience can relate to. They will also form an anchor for your flawed character. You can’t write like someone else on purpose, you just need to write! Then, when you finish, you can look back and say ‘wow, that wasn’t so original’”
The session made me realise the importance and value of the chosen setting for a novel. In the past, I had always thought plot and characters were the two major problems a writer had to deal with, that I could always add or expand on the description and setting later. However, I realised that setting can be a big part of a plot, how isolation, climate and atmosphere can affect people.
I was surprised she based her books on her hometown Kiruna. I had thought that the residents of Kiruna would be pissed off, but apparently, it’s not the case. “They love it,” said Åsa Larsson, “I get so many suggestions of where to put bodies.”
The session also confirmed something I had always thought, research of your setting is essential. “Always do research, as an author, you collect things, and the collections are a piece but the brain wants the whole picture. Research does take over, you want to show how much you’ve learned, but you must remember to write the scene first.” Åsa Larsson and her father would actually go out to the location that matched her description necessary for the plot and would measure the distances and take photographs of the area.
“Readers are curious people, they want to know about different countries, different people. If you read a piece of literature from a specific place and time period, you will learn about it.”
If you’re thinking of reading her books, it’s vital that you read them in order, unfortunately publishers have come to bizarre conclusion that the best way to market Åsa Larsson’s books is to translate them out of order. Here are the books in reading order.
1. Sun Storm (USA), The Savage Altar (UK)
2. Blood Spilt
3. The Black Path
4. Until Thy Wrath be Past
Fun fact: The Savage Alter has also been made into movie and was filmed in Kiruna.
Alas, “So little time and so many books.”