How did Harry Hole come to be?
He was a sort of a mix between some Norwegian characters and a bit of the American hard-boiled detective. I thought I had to decide whether I should avoid the typical police detective clichés or embrace them. I chose the latter because I really like those clichés.
He is like some other detectives, an alcoholic, a loner and that must have some appeal for readers because some of the best known contemporary detectives like John Rebus or Kurt Wallander share some of Harry's traits.
They do. I think writers are looking for conflict, all stories are about conflict and so you want to have conflicts on different levels. And you want your main character to have inner struggles. And the crime itself, because it's day-to-day work, it may not be the most important conflict in their life. So you want them to have a sort of moral conflict
I try to give him all sorts of moral dilemmas. His self-hatred also has to do with his alcoholism, he's not a happy drinker like the American hard-boiled detective cliché, a guy who wakes up in the morning and he's hung over and he's making cool remarks about it. Here you have a guy who can't stop drinking and stops functioning when he's drinking. It's his Achilles Heel. It's his Kryptonite.
Why do you think readers are drawn to these sorts of stories. They're psychological stories, but there are so many ways to tell them … why are we drawn to see the world through crime?
I think there are many reasons. One reason why people like crime is that it's an established way of telling stories. What you're looking for in a story you don't want the unexpected, you want what you're expecting but you don't know that's what you're expecting. It's like timing in humour. A famous Norwegian comedian told me that what makes you laugh is not the unexpected, it's the expected, but you give the punchline one second before you arrive at the punchline yourself. That's why the classic crime novel in some ways is like the comfort of your own apartment. Here in Toronto, you have rush hour, heavy traffic and you have a perfectly good public transportation system. So why do people ride in their own cars? Why don't they take the bus? It has to do with the comfort of their own cars, you can do anything, and with the crime novel, you have all kinds of great novels. Why do intelligent well-educated people turn to the crime novel? I think it has to do with the comfort of their own vehicle, they know what they'll get, in a way. Though that sounds a bit depressing, it's why they like crime novels.
It also sounds like you're saying that they're lesser books … and they're not, though they have been perceived that way.
Yeah, but writing a good crime novel is like the 100-metre dash of literature. It's quite easy, it's just the first man across the line wins. But that also makes the competition so fierce, so it's hard to succeed in that genre because so many people are doing it.
Why are Scandinavians so fond of crime? There are so many Scandinavian crime writers.
There are so many readers, also. But I think it's more complex, I think perhaps it has to do with the safety and comfort you have in the Scandinavian society, they're so well organized. Politically, it's a system of consensus. If you look at the political parties, they all agree. They disagree on details and that's what they bring to the elections, just very small differences. So it's not actually about politics, it's about administration, how will they administer the same policy that everybody agrees with. And in this society there's almost nothing left to rebel against. The only rebels are the criminals. They are choosing to stand outside society, and so the criminal is both the rebel and the exotic individual. Of course, you have drug addicts who commit crimes because they have to get drugs, but apart from that the criminal is a very exotic creature that people want to study and look at. If there is murder in a Scandinavian city, if it's not related to drugs, which the police will find out very early, of course, then people are very curious about what makes a person kill another person. What is the motive?
Your career is quite unusual. I can't believe you were a soccer player, then a stockbroker and a musician. Did you want to be a writer all along?
Yes probably, my mother was a librarian and my father was also a keen reader, in my home we always had a lot of books all over the place. I started reading at a young age. But I remember when I was 17 or 18, all my friends, and probably myself, we wanted to become writers, we'd read Hamsun and Dostoevsky, well, actually we just talked about Hamsun and Dostoevsky, maybe we'd read a few pages and I can remember then that everyone was so pretentious about it. So I I started writing lyrics for a couple of bands. At that time I was working both as a stockbroker and I was playing with my band and I promised my mother I wouldn't quit my day job, so it was strange because the rest of the band were full-time musicians, and I wrote the songs and was the singer. I was the only one who had to go back after every single gig to go to work on the stock exchange.
How could you? That's a mentally demanding job and you must have been up late playing?
Well, we used to play on weekends. So it was okay. But then we had a breakthrough with our second album and suddenly in one year we had 180 gigs playing all over Norway. The band was touring on a bus and after every gig I would go back the hotel. They went to the parties with all the girls and drugs, I went to get a few hours sleep and then I took the first plane back to Oslo, hopefully I would be in my office by 9 a.m. when the stock exchange opened and I would be there until 4, when the exchange closed, and I would take my bag and take a taxi to the airport to get wherever the band was. Hopefully in time for the sound check or hopefully in time for the gig. It was like that for a year. Sometime during that year, this friend of mine asked me, "Why don't you write a book about the band travelling, because everybody's interested in that," but I don't want to reveal what's going on on the road.
And you were missing all the parties, so you didn't really know.
Yeah, I missed all the parties. I'm working, so ask all the other guys in the band to write that book. But she started the process for me of thinking about writing a whole book, so after that year I had to take some time off, so I went to my boss at the brokerage firm and said I have to have six months off and I told my band that I don't want to tour for a while, so I am off to Australia, see you in a year. I brought a laptop and I was thinking and constructing the plot on the plane and I started writing the first night I got to Sydney.
Are the Harry stories going to be on TV or movies? There's something very visual in them. There are scenes that end with a line that is opening the next scene which reads like a jump cut in a movie and there is a very visual element to The Snowman.
It's not because I have been thinking that this novel could be a movie. It's more the other way around. It's my generation. Although I have been a book reader since I was very young, I've probably seen more movies than I've read books, and so the influence of the dramaturgy of the movie is very much part of the way we think how a story should be told. I've been influenced by movies, so that's why I use visual style of writing.
But someone visual reading this, like a movie producer, must have come and asked you about a film or TV show?
I've had a lot of offers for the Harry Hole series. I've turned them down so far. That's because I am still writing the series. I love movies, but the medium is so strong that I am afraid that if someone was to start filming it, the way they adapt it and the person playing Harry Hole it would sort of destroy the novel, or for my readers it would be disturbing and probably for me too. So I turn it down and say instead of having one Harry Hole up on the screen I'd rather have a thousand Harry Holes in the heads of my readers. But then again when I am finished writing the series, if you're still interested, come back then.
When will you be finished the series?
I do have an idea for the storyline of Harry, I have an idea of how many books it will be. I don't know the exact number. I will not reveal it or how it's going to end, but it will have an ending, Harry will not have eternal life, he will not rise from the dead. I promise.
But I have written a standalone thriller, Headhunters. They offered me a movie deal, I said yes, but that was a different reason, because the money from the books and film rights is going to fight illiteracy. I set up a foundation and right now from the money from Headhunters I think we are going to help 400 Indian girls to have 10 years of education. So they are going to start shooting that movie in August.
And one day Harry will be on film?
Well I say, if Martin Scorsese wants to call, I'll listen.