Finland Swedish writer Eva Frantz answers HLA’s questions about writing and literature.
– This year has been very successful to you on many fronts: your debut in children’s literature, Raspberry Hill, was awarded the prestigious Runeberg Junior Award; the second book in detective Anna Glad series, The Eighth Maiden, won the Crime Novel of the Year. Do awards change the everyday life of a writer? And if yes, in which way?
I am currently on maternity leave with little Oskar, 6 months, so my life has been quite different this spring. But funnily enough, I expected this year to be rather quiet for me as an author, and then all of a sudden, these awards appear out of the blue! I have never expected to receive a single award for my writing, and then I got these two really cool ones! The biggest change has happened in my self-esteem as a writer. I am slowly starting to grasp that I actually seem to know what I’m doing …
– You are mostly known as a writer of crime literature. However, in parallel with exciting plots, you also approach many acute problems of our society, such as hate speech and aggressiveness on the Internet (The Blue Villa); Me Too and young women in a modern society (The Eighth Maiden) etc. How conscious is the choice of these topics? Why do you think it is important to consider them in crime novels – often regarded as a lighter, entertaining genre?
I think that crime novels are perfect for casting a light on current problems. However, the plot is always the most important thing to me. If the plot doesn’t make sense, the novel is worthless. But if I happen to approach certain topics while writing, then that’s wonderful. I think many readers perceived The Eight Maiden as a Me Too novel. But I had almost finished writing it when the Me too movement escalated.
– Could you tell a little bit more about Anna Glad, the main character of your crime series? She’s not a typical superhero type of detective. How did she come to you? Pure imagination, or perhaps, you had some prototypes? How much of yourself do you see in Anna?
I wrote the first half of The Blue Villa several years ago. Then, I suddenly hit a wall. I kind of knew how the novel was supposed to end but I simply couldn’t get there! So, I took a timeout with the project and finished my debut novel The Summer Isle instead. A year later, I very sceptically opened the Blue Villa file on my laptop, expecting it to be really bad. But it wasn’t! And amazingly, this female police officer suddenly appeared in my mind! She wasn’t particularly beautiful, clever or successful. She wasn’t even happy, living as a bit of an outsider in a small town and stuck in a boring relationship. But I fell in love with Anna Glad, and really enjoyed finishing the book! Writing about Anna is almost like hanging out with an old friend.
Anna and I are about the same age, but we don’t have very much in common. However, to some extent, we do struggle with the same things. Trying to be professional, keep fit, be more organised (and we both tend to fail).
– Would you be able to reveal a little bit of your writing process? It is characteristic for your novels that powerful and fast plot intertwines with interesting, sometimes even contradictory main characters (for instance, Anna Glad as opposed to her new co-worker Märta). Where do you draw the inspiration from? And generally, how did you come up with the idea for such crime series?
Creating the characters is my favourite bit of the writing process. Usually the characters just pop into my mind. As an example, that really annoying police officer called Ståhlmann came to me as I was sitting on a subway, feeling a bit irritated after a long day at work. People often ask me if the characters in my novels are based on existing persons. Well, as a journalist, I meet a lot of people, and sometimes I do tend to borrow certain characteristics. My mother, for instance, is really pleased about the fact that Rolf, Anna’s closest colleague, loves advent calendars and Christmas markets as much as she does.
The crimes themselves evolve slowly. Usually, I do not know who committed the murder when I start writing the novel. I may have theories, but the solution comes to me about halfway through.
– Your crime novels are often described as belonging to a “Cosy Crime” genre. Do you agree with such definition?
Well, not quite. Of course, life in a small town when Christmas is around the door is a rather cosy setting. But murder is never cosy, nor is sexual assault, eating disorders or abuse.
– Last year, you made your debut in children’s literature. However, also in this case, you followed a rather unusual path: ghost and horror novel for the middle grade readers! How did you think of such a wild idea? Did you have any fears while writing Raspberry Hill, or after it was published?
My only thought while writing Raspberry hill was: “Oh gosh, how I would have loved a book like this when I was a kid!” As a young reader I adored scary books, especially the ones set in creepy castles or forests. Before the novel was published, we did discuss whether it was too frightening for children. I even started working on an alternative ending. But then I decided to go with the original plan and I’m really happy I did.
– The book was received very well among the critics, a good example of that being the flattering Runeberg Junior Award. Have you personally received some feedback from the young readers? What was it like?
Oh, lots! I sometimes do readings in schools, and the pupils are really enthusiastic. In one school in Inkoo they even did a Raspberry Hill themed exhibition! They created the entire sanatorium, all the nurses and patients, the operating rooms, the morgue etc., out of cardboard and yarn. It was gorgeous! And the kids often want my autograph afterwards.
– What are your plans for the near future? What can the readers expect? A new Anna Glad book, or perhaps, you are planning to try yet another genre?
My aim is for the third Anna Glad novel to reach the readers in the spring 2020. I haven’t actually written that much yet, but I think a great deal of murders and mystery when I walk around with my baby in his stroller… oh, that sounded a bit strange, didn’t it? Well, us crime writers are a bit eccentric.
Finally, a version of the famous Proust Questionnaire, used by the legendary French journalist Bernard Pivot at the end of every broadcast of his literary television talk show Apostrophes.
What is your favourite word?
Sprakasticka! The Swedish-Finnish word for sparklers.
What is your least favourite word?
What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally?
Music, old buildings, swimming in a really cold water.
What turns you off?
Feeling stressed out.
What is your favourite curse word?
Perkele. All the best curse words are in Finnish!
What sound or noise do you love?
Ice and something yummy being mixed in a cocktail shaker.
What sound or noise do you hate?
Styrofoam rubbed against cardboard. Oh god, my eyes a watering as soon as I even think of it…
What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?
What profession would you not like to do?
If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?
“Have a glass of champagne, your loved ones are waiting for you on the terrace.”