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Gunnar Staalesen - Author

About the Author

Gunnar Staalesen was born in Bergen, Norway in 1947. He made his debut at the age of 22 with Seasons of Innocence and in 1977 he published the first book in the Varg Veum series. He is the author of over 20 titles, which have been published in 24 countries and sold over four million copies. Twelve film adaptations of his Varg Veum crime novels have appeared since 2007, starring the popular Norwegian actor Trond Epsen Seim. Staalesen, who has won three Golden Pistols (including the Prize of Honour), lives in Bergen with his wife.

Below is a Q&A with this author.
 
1. You have written over 20 crime thrillers in the Varg Veum series. Did you ever think it would go on so long?
It is almost 40 years since I started the series, and at that point I never thought as far the 21st century! The first one was an experiment, to see if the formula about a classic PI would work in Scandinavian context, but when that was a huge success here in Norway, it opened the door for me to continue. In light of that – yes, I hoped it would be a long series.
2. is a statue of Varg Veum in the heart of Bergen, a celebration of his birthday, and a myriad of branded merchandise. Are you surprised at the ‘fame’ of your protagonist?
Yes, I must admit that the size of the interest for my detective is much bigger than I could dream of. To day he is almost the Sherlock Holmes of Bergen! I just wanted to be a happy crime-writing storyteller and to have readers for my books, but see what it developed into! Almost an industry!
3. A missing child is at the heart of the plot. What inspired you?
In Norway, as you surely have in your own country, we have some famous cases of little children (mostly girls) who disappear without ever being found again. I can’t think of a worse situation for the parents (very often a single mother). I have written about a similar situation in an earlier Varg Veum novel (Bitter flowers, still not translated into English), but this time I wanted to go even deeper into the reactions such a disappearance would create in  not only the parents, but also in neighbours, friends of the family, other children, the police. And I wanted to give an answer to the mystery – not as in real life, where there are often no answers at all!
4. In Where Roses Never Die, Varg is recovering from the death of his long-term partner Karin, and a period of serious reliance on alcohol. Your descriptions of his dependence are stunningly authentic. Did you have to research this?
Well, thank you for that. I am not a very hard drinker myself, even if I do enjoy the taste of most sorts of alcoholic beverages. But I have met some alcoholics during my life time, there is a great deal of literature about it (not at least in crime fiction), and, as a writer, you have to use your imagination.
5. There are numerous twists and turns in this book, and a completely unexpected ending. How do you plot your books? Do you know how it will end before you start writing?
I attempt to have an ending in mind before I start writing a book. The opening and the ending are the two most important elements of a crime novel. Many people can write a good opening, but not that many can create a satisfying ending. But there is a lot of writing to do between these two points in the story. Some of the twists in the plot are planned beforehand; some of them surprises even me, when I get the ideas during the writing. This time, the ending was the most definite element of them all: I had it in my head many years before I wrote it!
6. As a father and grandfather yourself, did you find the storyline troubling or distressing?
Yes, I feel that crimes against children are one of the most horrible things to think about. I do not like to write about it, really, but since it is part of real life and I have chosen to write about real life within the frame of more or less classic crime mysteries, I have to write about it in some of my books. But I try to never get too close to the victims. As Varg Veum worked as a social worker earlier in his career and, in particular, safeguarding children, it is also an important part of his life and his character: to care for children and try to protect them.
7. Does Varg ever direct the action? Take the story in different directions than you had planned?
I will not say that Varg directs the action in the books, but it happens of course that the writer gets some new ideas during the writing that can change the direction slightly. But the ending is still there, as a goal to reach.
8. Tell us about your ‘road’ to publication.
I started writing seriously when I was 17: poems, short stories and a short novel, but very few of the poems and stories were published. I published my first novel when I was 22, another one when I was 24, and at 27 I published my first crime novel, a police procedural, the first of three about two police detectives in Bergen. In 1977, when I was 30, I published the first book about Varg Veum, and the rest is history. I have also written 10/12 dramas or adaptations for the theatre.
9. Jo Nesbo calls you the ‘Norwegian Chandler’. Was he an influence?
It is very nice of Jo to compare me with Chandler, and of course he is an influence, as I believe he is for most modern crime writers. Chandler is the Shakespeare of crime fiction, and we all have to relate to him. As for plotting, my biggest influence is Ross Macdonald, and I have also learnt quite a bit, I think, from the Swedish founders of Nordic Noir, Sjöwall & Wahlöö.
10. What’s next?
Answer: After Where Roses Never Die, which was published in Norway in 2012, I have written two further Varg Veum novels. The first one is Ingen er så trygg I fare (No one Is So safe in Danger, which, like Where Roses Never Die, has a title taken from a religious song), published in Norway in 2014 and to be published by Orenda in UK in 2017, and I am just finishing the second one, Storesøster (The Big Sister, with a bow to Chandler), to be published in Norway in September this year, and the UK in 2018.

 

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