Yesterday I posted my review of Fatal Crossing, a novel translated from Danish and Lone Theils’ debut. First, that cover. I have not been able to get it out of my head — it gives me the shivers, and sets the tone for the book.
The book itself is filled with menace, but the kind that sits in the background. It gave me a feeling of expectation — that something was always on the cusp of happening — which I think is a hard thing to manage, but Theils manages it admirably.
Here, she answers some questions for me about writing, how her journalism influenced her writing and how it’s a little like kissing a guy in a bar…
How did being a journalist inform your writing, besides the obvious of course, that Nora is a journalist herself.
Being a journalist for twenty years has helped me in so many ways. First of all, it has given me discipline to write. But it has also taught me to watch and describe a scene, listen to dialogue and how people really talk and try to see the true meaning behind it. I use that a lot when I write fiction now. Also, the curiosity and ability talk to people in all stations of life has been a great help. In my time as a London correspondent I have interviewed homeless people and gone to a garden party hosted by the Queen at Buckingham Palace, so that is quite a span.
What are the differences you found as an author and a journalist?
Whenever I wrote a piece of journalism, I could rely on my skill and experience. I could vouch for the facts and the quotes and even if people disagreed with what I wrote, I could always point to the facts being correct. As a writer of fiction I do not have that fall-back and it is much more vulnerable. I invented this world and if people don’t like it, it is a matter of taste and I can’t really argue with that. As an author of course I sit for ages with the same text and I sometimes miss the daily life of journalism, where you write an article a day and then the next day it is a new thing, a new topic. When you write articles, it is a bit like kissing a guy in a bar. With a book, you have married him. And with that commitment comes joy, frustration and sometimes just hard work. Like most serious relationships, I guess.
What inspired Fatal Crossing? I thought a photograph was such an inspired unusual choice to kick Nora’s investigation off.
Thank you so much. It was a piece I read in a Danish paper about an American serial killer. He had been convicted of four murders and confessed to another two, so was as a minimum responsible for the death of six people. He was a stalker type killer, so would take photos of his victims. Once he was put on death row, police discovered a storage room of his containing a box with more than 200 photos of unidentified girls and young boys. One of these photos had without a doubt been taken in Denmark. It showed two girls, about 15 years old, staring right at the camera and the signs behind them gave away that the picture had been snapped at the central station in Copenhagen. I read about the story, because Danish police had been contacted by their American colleagues in an attempt to verify if these two girls were alive and well. Danish police in return asked the press for help. This story fascinated me a great deal and for some weeks I followed the news closely to see how it all ended. After some time, there was a very disappointing short item in the paper saying that the girls were alive and had no wish to speak to the press. The End. I was so frustrated. I wanted so much to know what happened, and it was this frustration that made me think: What if… And then I wrote my own story. I made the serial killer British and moved the photo session to a ferry and that created Fatal Crossing. A year after my book had been published, I was contacted by one of the girls from the station and I went to her house and had coffee and she told me the story of what happened in real life. Very gratifying.
Can you describe for my readers Nora, from where she begins in the book to where she ends – what is her character’s journey?
Nora is the London correspondent for the Danish magazine Globalt and she is the daughter of two historians, her mother is British and her father Danish. They are divorced and Nora also has a brother who is very clever, but socially challenged.
She works hard, she is very independent and very stubborn and emotionally not as mature as she ought to be at times. She tends to solve problems by kickboxing or simply getting out of any situations that tend to get emotionally messy.
She does not have much spare time, but when she has some, she loves to cook , listen to Nina Simone and read nerdy books on the politics of Africa or history.
Her best friend and sidekick is the photographer Pete, who by the way is Australian. I kind of gave him a few traits from an Australian guy I used to know. I think that Danish and Australian humour is very similar. Dry, and understated. So I loved that I got to play around with that. People often ask me if I am Nora, and there is a large chunk of me in her, for sure. But if you listen to Pete´s dialogue, you get pretty close to how I often talk.
Nora also has a love interest in Andreas, her old friend from high school who used to have a crush on her, which she did not want to know about at the time (very typical of Nora). Now he is in London after they have not seen each other for several years, and that forces her to reassess how she feels about him.
On purpose I did not make Nora perfect, because deep down perfect people are pretty boring, I find. It is the flaws that are interesting and leaves room for development.
What can we expect next for Nora?
In the next book in the Nora Sand series she is faced with the kind of love that people are prepared to die for. And I am currently editing book three which deals with both faith and evil. So hopefully Nora will continue to grow and learn that impatience is not always the right way in personal relations.