Berlingske Tidende has visited him at his writer’s retreat in Jutland where he is just starting work on his fourth book about Department Q.
-By Jeppe Bangsgaard
At the moment, readers both at home and abroad are wild about Jussi Adler-Olsen! This week the 59-year-old author is an impressive number nine on the German bestseller lists. In just a few months after it's German publication he has sold 105,000 copies of the first volume in the Department Q series. This is not bad in a country that loves crime novels, has a very active book market and a population of 83 million. Back in Denmark, all three volumes - Kvinden i buret (The Woman in the Cage), Fasandræberne (The Pheasant Killers) and the new Flaskepost fra P (Bottle Message From P) – have spent the past months on the top-20 list of best-selling fiction. So far, the series - published by Politiken Publishers - has sold around 200,000 copies in Denmark.
But recognition is a two-way street – of the reader by the author, as well as the other way around.
"The respect I have for my readers is almost paralysing," says Jussi Adler-Olsen, when Berlingske visits him at his writer's retreat, the beautifully situated Hald Hovedgaard (Danish Centre for Writers & Translators) in Jutland, outside the town of Viborg. It is here that he is presently writing the synopsis for the next book in his Department Q series
"Many of my fellow authors think I take my readers a bit too seriously. As for their own writing, they often say: 'The way I write is my originality, my base. Those who like it are welcome, and those who don't, needn't read it!' I'm simply not like that," proclaims Jussi Adler-Olsen, firmly. "There has to be an accordance between my interpretation of the book and the reader's. It ought to be possible to find a common denominator." In the foreword to Flaskepost, published in October, he actually thanks the readers who have encouraged him to do more, as he puts it.
As he shows us around the lovely, high-ceilinged rooms at Hald Hovedgaard, Adler-Olsen also confides that he always answers his e-mails. He has resided at Hald while writing every one of his novels since his second, the thriller Og hun takkede guderne (The Company Crusher), published in 2003. Our interview takes place in the fireplace room, with large, small-paned windows facing the garden grounds, comfy, old-fashioned sofas and a grand piano. It is here authors meet in the evening and read aloud what they have just written.
"I feel best when I'm visible while I work," says Jussi Adler-Olsen. "People needn't stare at me, but by sitting here I can work myself up to believing this is something that has to be gotten over with – something people are waiting for. Of course, if I sit all alone, I can be doing anything." The readers demand a new book per year, says Adler-Olsen, so it's matter of keeping his nose to the grindstone
"To come downstairs in the evening and say I've written two pages would be pitiful. It would be simply impossible. So I am very productive when I'm here," says Jussi Adler-Olsen. He has been out to ring the bell in the courtyard several times, which is the tradition at Hald Hovedgaard when one has written 100 pages of a book or completed a work.
As Jussi Adler-Olsen sees it, the success of Department Q has also had a negative side. He hates labels, despises being categorized and confined. And with the crime series, he has been stuck with a new predicate.
"After about seven minutes, you're suddenly a crime writer," says Adler-Olsen. "Somehow the ten previous years of work I put into my three thrillers is forgotten." It is not that he has anything against crime stores, but he refuses to let himself be limited and has a number of projects in his desk drawer that are not crime novels.
Before his writing debut 12 years ago with the novel Alfabethuset (The Alphabet House), Jussi Adler-Olsen had many different kinds of jobs. He wrote manuscripts for Disney comics and music to the animated feature film Valhalla. He opened the second-hand comic-book shop Pegasus in Copenhagen, started his own publishing company and was administrative director of Interpresse Publishers, just to name a few. Each time he became accomplished at doing something, he moved on to something else. But being an author will never become a profession that runs out of challenges, so he is not letting go of it.
For the next couple of weeks his wife will be staying with him in "the Chapel" – a small house that includes a library, study and kitchen, next to the main building at Hald Hovedgaard. She has just recently quit her job as a social worker in order to help him.
"That is what success has done for me – given us the opportunity for my wife to become my assistant." Among other things, she helps procure research material, plans lectures and keeps track of contact with the publisher. But most of all, Adler-Olsen's spouse is his most important reader.
"I won't say she's my most proficient reader, because that's a distinction she must share with my editor, but she is very good at reading my work. In other words, she doesn't let me get away with anything. The moment things become two-dimensional or the empathy disappears, she stops me," says Jussi Adler-Olsen, and adds:
"She shields me against unintentional foolhardiness."