If you were to give three writing advice what would they be?

I live by this quote: "Write a little every day, without hope, without despair." (Isak Dinesen)

"Write a little every day..."

To manage to live in the world your writing creates - thus making it come alive - you have to visit every day. Goals such as word count seems less helpful to me as the writing waxes and wanes and there are periods which are very productive quantitively and others – more reflective ones – which are as productive qualitatively. But the writing must be revisited daily. 

"...without hope..." 

The moment you start writing “to be published”, you have lost it. You must remain true to yourself, to what you have inside you and not look at what people will like or at what will sell. This becomes so clear once you know you are going to be published. There is so much noise and if you let yourself get distracted by it, your writing peters out in the same pace as your confidence.

"...without despair."

Writing is hard, but you must trust in ‘the muse,’ or in your subconscious who is at it all the time even when you don’t sit at your desk. When you get stuck, go for a walk, cook a lovely meal or play with your children. The answer will come when it’s ready. 

You were born in Northern Sweden and your parents come from Lapland. How much did this influence the setting of your book and your ability to recreate it on the page?

Massively!  I think my childhood is in this story in the shape of the setting, the culture and drivers such as the Church. The stories of my parents and grandparents are in there. The fear we felt growing up is in there. The characters are spun from people in my past. The plot is all imagination. 

Swedish Lapland in the 18th century - you paint a picture of hardship and suspicions of witchcraft. Did you research old Swedish folklore for the book? (any stories in particular?)

A lot of the folklore is still there. I researched – read everything I could find, but the most valuable information I got from the interviews with my grandmother and her friends. And I remembered stories from my childhood. We grew up with tales about sprites and fairies, like the ones about ‘the boy on the bog’ who would steal your things if you had bad thoughts…— or Santa Claus who was not a large, jovial man dressed in red but a small, grey goblin who lived in the barn and who would punish you if you did not treat him right.

Is Blackåsen Mountain based on a real place in particular? Where in Lapland do you envisage the mountain and the landscape?

Blackåsen Mountain doesn’t exist as a physical place, but its nature is something I remember from my childhood: a combination of the places and memories I have from Hudiksvall, where I grew up, Knaften and Vormsele, the two small villages in Lapland where my grandparents lived, and Sånfjället, a mountain close to the Norwegian border, where our family had a cabin. Blackåsen is the embodiment of what I felt like growing up in the north of Sweden. It represents the fear, the doubts, the religious fervour, the loneliness and the need to fit in and to belong.

I imagine the mountain to be 70 kilometres inland of Luleå town – as I state in the very loose sequel I am writing right now and where maps are an important part of the tale.

Tell us more about the existence of the homesteads

As part of its nation-building in Lapland in the early 17th century, Sweden encouraged colonialisation and a lot of land that had previously been used by the indigenous people, the Sami, (referred to as ‘Lapps’ throughout Wolf Winter, as that was the name used at the time) was distributed to new settlers. Today a ‘homestead’ is more about the ownership of forest rather than houses. These estates are inherited, and it can be a hugely emotional issue in families – who gets to take them over.

Setting is vital to your story. How important do you think setting is in fiction in general? How did you go about recreating Swedish Lapland on the page?

My grandmother used to say, ‘I don’t think I’m living in Lapland as much as Lapland is living in me.’ And growing up in northern Sweden, its setting has made its mark. The long winters, the six months darkness, and the seemingly endless forest landscape – contrasted with the summer midnight sun, the hot weather and the absolute explosion of flora and fauna; one season is lived as quietly as the other is, exuberantly. This, our setting, governs, to a large part, the rhythm of our lives and imprints itself on our psyches. I am not certain I had to recreate it on the page, as much as just ‘let it flow,’ if you see what I mean?

Perhaps because of how powerfully we are marked by it, place—in the broadest sense of the word—has taken on a big role in Scandinavian crime writing and contributes to its uniqueness. The location where the scene is laid—the architect of the experience in the mind of the reader—is more than simply a supporting element in much of our fiction. I believe that this is why Scandinavian crime writing has such a broad appeal, blurring the line between highbrow and lowbrow forms of literature

In WOLF WINTER, I wanted 'place' - the mountain - to be almost a character in its own right. It felt right to give it a voice in the interludes. Blackåsen Mountain watches the settlers. It doesn't care. It is dispassionate. It has already seen many of them come and go and it will see many more come and go after them. I brought this ‘place’ down onto the characters and let it impact them to the full. 

As for setting in fiction in general, I think it is always important. Setting impacts characters, their drivers and mood.

The role of the church and the priest in the community was fascinating to learn about. Where did you learn of this?

Again, I read whatever I could find – history books, local books, such as Om Tider som Svunnit [About Times Past – author’s translation of title], by Wolmar Söderholm, 1973, produced locally in the town of Lycksele to celebrate its 300th anniversary. 

I wanted one of the characters to have direct links to what was going on in a broad national context and the priest Olaus Arosander is thus someone who has been close to the king. Olaus would have been very influential in his local community. Priests taught, preached, punished, conducted national registrations (from 1686 priests were required to conduct yearly catechetical hearings and keep records of births, marriages and deaths in church books) and also played a vital propaganda role. They had to explain the necessity of the wars to their parishioners and draw links between the parishioners’ sins and poor war performance, and vice versa. The wars would later come to have another consequence for the church. Pietist tendencies were reinforced by Swedish soldiers who returned after having been prisoners-of-war in Russia with a more personal kind of faith, enjoying meeting at home, leading each other in worship and Bible study. In response, the Konvetikelplakatet, a law forbidding ’unofficial’ religious gatherings was passed, with fierce punishments for those who dared to defy it. 

The character of Maija who is Finnish is a tough and fearless woman. Do you think she embodies the qualities you would have needed to survive in such an environment?

In so many ways, yes. Maija has a number of traits from the women in my family – stubbornness, strength, wisdom – qualities indeed needed to survive in a harsh world. But she is also flawed, human.  She wants well, she is passionate, but proud and so much remains unsaid. I resonate with her – as a mother, as a daughter and as a woman.

What book did you make your parents read and re read to you when you were younger?

I began reading when I was 4 – or at least that is how the story goes in our family. I read like I was short of time – never the same book twice. I read all the books in my parents’ bookshelves, our neighbours’ bookshelves, my teachers’ bookshelves... (it was a small community). When I was 6 my parents began leaving me in the local library after school and pick me up at closing time. You could borrow 10 books a week. I was the only one allowed to borrow as many as I wanted. And I was allowed into the adult section…

What one passage from any book you have read has always stuck with you and why?

I was raised in the Pentecostal faith and one of the constant books in my childhood/youth was the Bible. Me, I was an Old Testament reader – the stories, the violence, the moral dilemmas! I think this is partly why I have grown to love thrillers and crime writing so much. Though few beat the Bible. The passage about Abraham and Isaac has always stuck with me, for what can be crueller than tell a subject you can love but one.

We know you are not meant to judge a book by its cover but we all do, so confess…tell us which book you read purely down to aesthetics, and did it live up to your expectations?

Through Black Spruce by Canadian author Joseph Boyden. Perhaps I picked it more for its title, than its cover – its title is something I felt I knew. The book surpassed any expectation I might have had. The portraits are beautiful, the language rich, the story riveting.

My Five Top Reads

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

I read and reread this book. You can pick it up, flip to any page and step right into the story. To me, this is Mastery with capital ‘M’. I love the imagery, how “writers’ rules” are broken in a way that makes you smile, and the wry humour. 

Artful by Ali Smith

Fiction or essays. Both. Intense grief that doesn’t leave me feeling sad, but invigorated and inspired. The wisdom, the musings – it makes for a very compelling read. 

Gilead by Marilynne Robinson

This is such a beautiful portrait of a man, his family and their world. It is impossible not to be moved. And once you have read this, you have to continue with Home and Lila – to see the story told from other perspectives.

Purge by Sofi Oksanen

Sofi Oksanen, a Finnish-Estonian novelist and playwright, takes on Estonia’s history and its relationship with Russia in Purge. A terrible crime, human frailty, love and obsession. It’s not an easy read, but disturbing and thought provoking. 

Cloudstreet by Tim Winton

Cloudstreet is a wonderful read: beautiful, hilarious and so human. It’s the tale of two families who move into a rickety house on Cloud Street and the story of each of their family members. It’s impossible not to be moved.