A very very cool lady – Swedish crime star Camilla Lackberg

Dennis and Camilla LäckbergMe and my Dad like to go and listen to writers. We’ve been to Lee Child, Rebecca Macfie, and last night we saw Camilla Läckberg, Swedish crime writer. She has written 8 crime novels (and cookbooks and kids’ books), sold 12 million copies, been translated into 37 languages. Camilla is in New Zealand for the Auckland Writers Festival, and appeared in Christchurch courtesy of them and The Press Christchurch Writers Festival.

We claimed our spot early, and chatted to a Timaru couple who are big Camilla fans. In a librariany diversion, the woman talked about the crime writers she liked, and how she remembers what library books she’s read (initialises the book).

Camilla proved to be a funny, smart woman (in fabulous vertiginous shoes) with as many good stories in life as on the page. She is a gun Latin dancer, courtesy of an appearance on Sweden’s version of Strictly come dancing (see her in action at her first pro-am competition). She writes about Fjällbacka, a small fishing community on Sweden’s west coast – her real-life hometown. Fjällbacka is proud of her, and there are even guided tours related to her books. Journalists occasionally visit and ask for Camilla, and her Mum goes to meet them and poses for photos.

Buried angels

Camilla spoke to Ruth Todd of the PlainsFM show Bookenz and kicked the evening off by reading the opening few pages of her latest book Buried Angels. Describing the process of writing it, she said the story began as a picture in her head – a huge dining room table set for Easter, empty, where did everyone go?

Cover of Buried AngelsThe other crucial strand of the book germinated after a guided tour of Fjällbacka. The guide talked about the Swedish connections of Hermann Göring. Camilla stumbled upon a real life mystery. Göring had been married to a Swedish woman Carin von Kantzow. She died in 1931:

Her death came as a great blow to Göring. He named the baronial hunting lodge he built from 1933 Carinhall, in her honour. It was there that he had her body re-interred from her original grave in Sweden, in a funeral attended by Adolf Hitler.

After the breakup of Göring’s estate, Carin’s Swedish family were sent her cremated remains in the 1950s. But in the early 90s, another coffin was found and it was identified as Carin. Discovering this was “one of those moments when you can hear angels singing” – who was the other body? What happened? Perfect fodder for a crime writer who incorporates history into her work.

Detective Patrick Hedstrom and Erica Falck

Buried Angels and Camilla’s other books feature Detective Patrick Hedstrom and Erica Falck, crime writer and researcher. She sees the couple as “one main character”.

Patrick is ordinary, he “doesn’t listen to opera, doesn’t listen to jazz, likes Bruce Springsteen”. He is based on her first husband, an economist, not her second ex-husband who is a policeman.

The couple were dating in her first book – the “five times a night thing” and eight years later: “It’s Saturday night, maybe we should?”

She “started lending her own life to Erica” and considers the pair her best friends:

It’s embarrassing to turn 40 and have two imaginary people as your best friends.

Writing career and style

Camilla LäckbergCamilla’s dream was always to be a writer. And it seems crime writing was her destiny. Her first book – when she was 4 – was about Santa and his wife. It started off happy, but in four pages “it goes straight to hell” and “Santa’s wife is beaten to death”.  She was infected with the “book bug” by her father and from the age of 7 was a big Agatha Christie fan:

I liked to be in her universe … she was a very very cool lady.

She still reads mostly crime fiction, citing Peter Robinson, Val McDermid, Denise Mina and Michael Connelly as her favourites.

Camilla started her working career as an economist, but did a crime writing course when she was on maternity leave and her first book started as an assignment. Her writing style is to write the historical sections of her book sometimes in between, sometimes all together. But the parts set in the present day she writes chronologically:

When I am on page one, I don’t have a clue what’s happening in page 70.  I know about 2% of the book at the start … I know my final destination.

When the manuscript is finished, it goes to her editor who Camilla proclaims is strict but amazing.

She writes mostly at home, sometimes in pyjamas and her best time is writing is when the kids are at kindergarten and school:

In my view, inspiration is a myth … my best writing advice is “Glue your butt to a chair”.

Scorpio books at Camilla Läckberg

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