One of Nordic Noir’s founding fathers speaks ahead of his appearance at Bloody Scotland International Crime Writing Festival
Best known for a series of crime novels featuring the detective Varg Veum, Gunnar Staalesen made his literary début in 1969 with the novel Seasons of Innocence. One of the most successful crime authors currently working in Norway, he has sold over four million books in 24 countries. Orenda Books recently published We Shall Inherit the Wind and has scheduled two further Varg Veum novels for 2016 and 2017.
You’ve famously been described as the Norweigian Raymond Chandler. Do you mind the comparison? Would you rather be compared to a Nordic author?
No writer would mind the comparison with Shakespeare, I imagine, and Chandler is the Shakespeare of crime literature. To be compared to him is a great honour, but how fair it is, is not for me to judge… My private eye, Varg Veum, is certainly a Nordic relative of Philip Marlowe – and, I will add, Lew Archer of Ross Macdonald – so in a way I can understand the comparison. But the most important Norwegian writer through all times is the drama writer Henrik Ibsen, who wrote plays with the same feeling of plot as a detective writer, and I would not mind a comparison with him, either.
We Shall Inherit the Wind has been warmly reviewed. Orenda will be issuing the next instalments in the Varg Veum series (Where Roses Never Die, No One Is So Safe in Danger). How closely do you work with the translator?
I do not work closely with any of my translators, but Don Bartlett I know from several translations, and I know that he is very, very good. I get a mail from him from time to time if he has a question to ask – and it happens – but mostly he is on his own, and very safe there.
Which is your favourite book available in English and why?
I have to say The Consorts of Death, because it tells he life story of a young boy, later man, that ends up with a very tragic fate, and I think that is one of the most important stories I have told. But I am very happy for the many goods reviews of We Shall Inherit The Wind, and the reviews have given me a new look on that book, too. But the next one to be translated into English, Where Roses Never Die, is a favourite by many of my Norwegian readers, and I think that is one of my very best, too.
Which is your favourite book not available in English?
That must be Fallen Angels (Norwegian title: Falne Engler, French translation: Anges déchus), because it tells the story of a generation, the one that grew up after the Second World War, and the birth of rock and roll, and Varg Veum is confronted with his own childhood and youth in the search of the guilty person behind the crimes in the story.
Has it become easier for Norwegian authors to attract the interest of UK publishers?
Of course, the Nordic Noir wave and the success of Jo Nesbø and other Scandinavian writers have helped, but my first book was published in UK in 1986, so I was in some way one of the fore-runners.
Location is important in your writing. Would the Varg Veum novels have the same dramatic impact if they were set in another city?
Bergen is a perfect city for a noir writer, with its wet, rainy streets, the local fjord, the mountains surrounding the city … The Varg Veum novels would be quite different if they took place in Oslo or another Norwegian city, in short: they would never have been written.
What are you working on at the moment?
I am a playwright, too, and at the moment I am polishing a new drama, that I hope will be produced in a year or two. But I will start writing the 18th Varg Veum novel in a month or two, when I have developped the idea I have for the plot.
As a reader, what crime novel has had the most profound effect on you?
Well, the very first crime novel I read was The Hound of Baskervilles, and that was a great event in my reading life, but reading my first Raymond Chandler, which was The Little Sister, and the first of Sjøwall & Wahlöö, Roseanna, made an even stronger impact, I think. Chandler’s The Long Goodbye is still my favourite, though, and when it comes to plot-making: Ross Macdonald, several of his novels.
What’s been the most rewarding experience attending a crime fiction festival?
Meeting readers, meeting good collegues – it is always a pleasure to be part of a good crime fiction festival, and I am really looking forward to Bloody Scotland.
Thanks to Gunnar Staalesen and Karen Sullivan at Orenda Books for making this interview possible.
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