I am delighted to be on the blog tour for Faithless by Kjell Ola Dahl (translated by Don Bartlett), with both an author interview and a book review.
Welcome, Kjell Ola, to my stop on the blog tour! Please tell us a little bit about you…
I live with my wife on a farm in rural Norway, dividing the day between writing and farming. I feel very privileged to be able to do the things I love most in life: write stories, work with my hands, enjoy nature and wildlife, and spend time with the people I love and with animals. Most of all, I find that dividing the day between writing and manual labour is very productive: The manual labour gives me time to think, to find inspiration.
When I am not farming or writing, I do research. Like manual labour, I find research provides me with a lot of my inspiration. In particular, it always gets me back on track when I’m lost in my writing, offering me plenty of new ideas. For me, research means exploring: visiting new locations, interviewing people and lots and lots of reading – books, articles, essays and websites. For example, In the novel Faithless, the murder victim has her own business. I needed to know all about the type of business it is, because I had to know this woman better. So I looked into this field of work, and interviewed people who do the job my character does.
Another character in Faithless works as an engineer for the municipal water supply and sewage organisation in Oslo. As part of my research, I wrote to the local authority and asked for permission to interview its workers, and was lucky enough to go on some guided tours around the city’s sewage and water supply systems. However, while this type of close encounter with the stuff I am writing about is important for the work I finally produce, there is a long way between someone’s occupation and their personality. So I have one trick I use when creating my characters: I model them on people I know. I don’t tell the ‘models’ this, and they never find out. But, if the ‘model’ has read the book, I always take great pleasure in discussing the relevant character with them.
Your inspiration for Faithless?
The main inspiration for Faithless was, in fact, the characters I had already established in previous books in the series. These novels are all police procedurals set in Oslo. Why Oslo? Because it’s my city: I grew up there, and I have had a close relationship with it ever since. One reason behind why I write the series is my drive to explore this city, which never stops expanding and changing. I wrote the first book about police inspector Gunnarstranda many years ago. But this time, with Faithless, I wanted to put some pressure on another detective: Frølich. He has played the cool, laid-back guy in the previous books, letting things go too easily. I wanted to make him jump. I also wanted to get to know a female police officer better, and therefore I put one in a leading role. Another thing I wanted to do in this book was have one of my characters personally involved in a case.
Once I’d made these decisions, I started to play with different ideas for plots: For example, what if a police officer makes an arrest, and then gets involved personally in the case? I continued to play with various ideas, creating characters for them and moving them around, and then started to examine these characters more carefully; for example, by writing their biographies (which I normally do. I want to know the people I write about, because I have to believe in their actions and thoughts).
Have you ever read any of your books that have been translated? If so, did they feel like the same book?
Have I read my books in translation? Yes; well, those in languages I know: German, the Scandinavian languages and English. The various publishers send proofs and I usually read them if they ask me to. In general I trust my translators; why shouldn’t I? And most translators will contact me if they come across words or phrases they’re struggling to express in their own language. More often than not, I find that the reason something is creating a translation problem is because it is specific to Norwegian culture. That said, I am always impressed by the translator’s ability to express such terms well in their own language. Whether or not the final translation feels like the book I originally wrote is hard to say. The translated book feels different because of the language, but I know the story, which is mine, of course.
Where and when do you write?
I write in the morning. I have learned that I can write for around four hours a day. That is how my brain works. It took me some years to figure out that the brain is a muscle and that it gets tired. Once I’d accepted this fact, I set myself my four-hour limit. After writing for that long, I know the quality of my work deteriorates. I’m comfortable with this rhythm nowadays, and it means I can write every day.
I once read that Tolstoy had a similar daily routine: four hours of writing, fours hours of manual labour and four hours of reading every day. I am not that rigid. I need time to do other things too, like watching sports and debates on TV; and doing hobbies such as photography, and cross country skiing, which I love.
I write in my study in my house. When I lift my head and glance out of the window, I see Lake Mjosa. From where I live, the lake looks like a fjord: long and narrow, reflecting the colour of the sky, beautiful and always changing.
Are you a planner or a pantser?
Some times I plan my novels beforehand. Thinking it over, though, I have to admit it is a long time since I did that. I didn’t plan my first few novels at all. But then, after the third or fourth book, I started to write synopses before making a start. Now I don’t do that. In fact, I haven’t planned my most recent novels at all. I think this preference has something to do with my fascination with jazz music: I want to be free in my work, free to change things, and follow a good rhythm when I feel the beat. But of course, I do lots of research, both before and during the writing process. So, in some ways the research could be seen as part of my planning. I also think that I plan by reading. I try to read a lot, and every day, both inside and outside my genre. This is because I find that reading inspires me. If I read something good, I want to write something equally as impressive. Or reading about certain characters gives me ideas, as does reading some kinds of dialogue, or even reading about particular settings, ideas – anything, really.
Where does your interest in crime-writing stem from?
My interest in crime fiction stems from my interest in society and politics: For me, reading crime fiction is a good way of studying modern society. This is also one of the reasons I admire Raymond Chandler’s commandment on writing: ‘[Crime fiction] must be realistic in character, setting and atmosphere. It must be about real people in a real world.’
Your author heroes?
Nowadays, there are no authors who I would call my ‘heroes’. I did when I was younger; but now I realise we all are alike, more or less: striving, doing our best. Some times we succeed, and then we can feel satisfied, because we’ve written something good. But sometimes we don’t succeed, so we have to try harder next time. So I guess you could say my heroes are individual books, not individual authors.
Thank you so much for joining me on the blog today.
About the book…
Oslo detectives Gunnarstranda and Frølich are back … and this time, it’s personal… When the body of a woman turns up in a dumpster, scalded and wrapped in plastic, Inspector Frank Frølich is shocked to discover that he knows her … and their recent meetings may hold the clue to her murder. As he ponders the tragic events surrounding her death, Frølich’s colleague Gunnarstranda investigates a disturbingly similar cold case involving the murder of a young girl in northern Norway and Frølich is forced to look into his own past to find the answers – and the killer – before he strikes again. Dark, brooding and utterly chilling, Faithless is a breath-taking and atmospheric page-turner that marks the return of an internationally renowned and award-winning series, from one of the fathers of Nordic Noir.
Dark, intriguing, and pacy, this book is the perfect example of what makes Nordic Noir so popular.
Frølich is called to investigate the death of a woman he has recently arrested and then met again at an old friend’s party, while also looking into the disappearance of a university student. Gunnarstranda is investigating a similar cold case. Is there a connection? What is the personal angle where Frølich is concerned? And the plot thickens…
A police procedural with an edge and a deftly woven plot, this is great crime fiction. But it was the stuccato prose and short-but-page-turning chapters that enveloped the novel and added to the eeriness of the reading experience. It drew me in as I bounced along with the rhythm of the writing – greatly crafted by both the author and the translator. Now excuse me while I go and find the previous installments of this series…
*Thank you to Orenda Books for my free review copy.