Gunnar Staalesen Q&A: ‘Most crime writers are very nice people, although I am not entirely sure about Chandler’

‘The first books of Sjöwall & Wahlöö told me that it was possible to write the sort of crime fiction that later became known as Nordic Noir’

One of the fathers of Nordic Noir, 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 more than 20 titles, which have been published in 24 countries and sold more thaswn 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. When Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II visited Bergen, Staalesen was appointed her official tour guide. There is a life-sized statue of Varg Veum in the centre of the city. We Shall Inherit the Wind, a Varg Veum crime thriller (translated by Don Bartlett) will be published in June by Orenda Books.

What was the first book to make an impression on you?

The Norwegian version of Winnie the Pooh (Ole Brumm).

What was your favourite book as a child?


I had several, but perhaps The Three Musketeers.

And what is your favourite book or books now?

Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez; Hellemyrsfolket (The People of Hellemyr) by Amalie Skram; and The Long Goodbye by Raymond Chandler.

What is your favourite quotation?

I would probably say “Love is a lonely thing”, from Norwegian writer Agnar Mykle.

Who is your favourite fictional character?

Depending on my age, it has been, variously, Winnie the Pooh, Sherlock Holmes or Philip Marlowe.

Who is the most under-rated Irish author?

All of the many Irish authors I know are famous, so I am sorry, I don’t know!

Which do you prefer – ebooks or the traditional print version?

Definitely the printed book!

What is the most beautiful book you own?

An edition of the classical Swedish poet Carl Michael Bellman’s Fredman’s Epistles, illustrated by the artist Peter Dahl.

Where and how do you write?

I write in my own home office.

What book changed the way you think about fiction?

The first books of Sjöwall & Wahlöö, which told me that it was possible to write the sort of crime fiction that later became known as Nordic Noir.

What is the most research you have done for a book?

Weeks and weeks in the library of Bergen when I wrote my big trilogy from this city, 1997-2000.

What book influenced you the most?

Most likely one of Raymond Chandler’s (The Little Sister was the first) – and certainly, when I was 12 years old, The Hound of the Baskervilles.

What book would you give to a friend’s child on their 18th birthday?

Probably Love in the Time of Cholera, so that he or she can understand that love can survive all.

What book do you wish you had read when you were young?

There are many books that I would have loved to read, but I was and remain an avid reader, and was influenced by and enjoyed everything I could lay my hands on.

What advice would you give to an aspiring author?

Read, read, read – and then try to write. Find your own voice.

What weight do you give reviews?

I am happy when I get good reviews. The bad ones do not worry me.

Where do you see the publishing industry going?

I’m not sure, but I hope we will all survive.

What writing trends have struck you lately?

Some very impressive, encyclopaedic novels, like 2666 by Roberto Bolano.

What lessons have you learned about life from reading?

Almost everything. But you have to live your life, too!

What has being a writer taught you?

That I am lucky to have the talent for writing stories that a lot of people seem to enjoy.

Which writers, living or dead, would you invite to your dream dinner party?

Most crime writers are very nice people, although I am not entirely sure about Chandler. Perhaps Ross MacDonald in his place, and a range of guests that might include everyone from Arthur Conan Doyle and Agatha Christie to Ian Rankin and Jo Nesbo. But the place of honour I would save for the female Norwegian writer Amalie Skram (1846-1905), my literary heroine beyond all.

What is the funniest scene you’ve read?

When I was very young, I read several books by PG Wodehouse. A lot of fun there.

What is your favourite word?

Humanity, understood as compassion.

If you were to write a historical novel, which event or figure would be your subject?

It would be from Norwegian history, in the 12th century, and would have to do with some important historical figures from both Scotland and Norway.

What sentence or passage or book are you proudest of?

I am very proud of the Bergen trilogy. As a sentence, the opening sentence of a Varg Veum novel, called Face to Face: “There was a dead man in my waiting room”.

What is the most moving book or passage you have read?

I’m not sure. I’m moved by most of what I choose to read.

If you have a child, what book did you most enjoy reading to them?

The same answer as the very first: Winnie the Pooh.