1. For those who do not know much about you, would you mind giving us a bit of background information about yourself?
The best is off course to seek my website www.jussiadlerolsen.com but very shortly:
I'm a Dane, well known on the continent as a bestselling writer, but hasn't always been. With a past as an editor and a publisher for many years I was very close to the readers which I find an absolutely advance in my present job.
I'm happily married to my assistant Hanne and father of a son of 21. Hanne and I are living north of Copenhagen two meters from a nice forest.
My life is so far away from the life of my main character, the crime investigator Carl Morck, as it can be with a lot of turbulence, travelling and fine meetings with my audience, while Carl in the meanwhile is nearly falling asleep behind his desk in the worst office in the cellar of the police yard of Copenhagen. But anyway Carl and I are two persons of a kind. We are the whistleblowers, when needed, and the ones with both feet on the ground that prefers a cold beer and an exciting football-match from champagne and five star hotels.
2. As a child you moved around quite a bit as your father was a rather prominent psychiatrist you have also held a number of varied jobs. Did any of this have an effect on your writing?
Yes, every single job I had was important for me in my writing. I was so fortunate that my father once said to me: "Jussi, you have so many talents, try to explore them all through your life". With these loving and wise words he gave me the opportunity to care a lot about my life and my jobs and studies no matter what I chose for the moment. Also he gave me the understanding that a talent for something makes you responsible for doing not only the best you can, but also responsible for the fight against the first thought that falls into your mind and in addition to that always give your deeds a lot of reflection before it has been done and afterwards always remember to evaluate the results. If any politician had a father like mine the world would be so much more considerate and creative, I sometimes think.
So yes: anything I learned in my life from my fantastic jobs and interests (and due to that the meeting with so many different persons) helped me certainly in finding it easy to put myself in the different situations of my characters. My film studies, my editing period, my struggles in the peace movement, composing music and building houses for fun.
3. Have you always wanted to write?
No, but I've always known I could. It didn't hurt to have good teachers who complimented me on my style and language, combined with a lively imagination. The first time I knew I ought to write at some point was as a 14-year-old, when I sat up in a homemade watchtower for a week with a buddy of mine, telling him made-up stories so he couldn't sleep at night. That's when I knew I could probably become a writer one day if I wanted to. Because it's not merely a matter of being able to write; it's more about having a relevant, meaningful story to tell that can really captivate the reader.
My first attempt at writing an entire novel was in 1980 where my wife, Hanne, and I lived a half year in Holland so I could write the book. And the novel, Russisk Kabale (Russian Solitaire) turned out well, but still I didn't want it to be my first attempt at being published. The story was too gruesome, and I still wasn't fully developed as a writer and as a person. However the desire to be a full-time author was there, ever since I sat up in that watchtower. I just waited a little longer than is considered normal.
4. You started off by writing a number of stand-alone novels. What made you decide to write the thrillers?
All my novels are thrillers. A conglomerate of research, political views, original settings and characters, plus a lot of literary tricks with suspense and cliffhanging, woven into a chain of plot lines that are inevitably connected. Books that deal with preventing a crime as opposed to the crime novel that primarily concentrates on solving an already committed crime. The difference between the Department Q series and my first thrillers is simply that the Department Q universe is Danish and based in a law-enforcement environment, and that together, the series constitutes one, long narrative of 4,500 pages, as opposed to the stand-alones' "mere" 500 pages.
5. What made you decide to write the Department Q series, especially since you started off by writing stand-alone thrillers?
I was encouraged by a Danish film producer to write a Danish counterpart to Sjöwall and Wahlöö's famous Beck series, but it just didn't interest me. I didn't want to be hemmed in by the same limitations that the usual police stories have, in terms of spheres of activity and geographically narrow police districts. The fact that I finally decided to begin on Mørck & Co. is due partly to my wanting to write about Danish conditions in order to get closer to my readers, and partly my desire to create a unique kind of police series where ANYTHING could happen, and especially where the characters aroused the reader's empathy and sense of humour.
6. Can you tell us a bit more about the characters Detective Superintendent Carl Mørck and his colleagues Assad and Rose? They make a wonderful team together. Are they based on anyone that you know?
Carl Mørck contains the same rebellious tendencies, the same laziness and the same habit of being open-mouthed as a certain Carl Valdemar Jussi Henry Adler-Olsen. He is a composite of myself and a mentally deranged patient, who actually was named Mørk (without the c) and whom I came to know as a child at the mental hospital where my father worked, and where we lived at the time.
Carl Mørck is a person who struggles with the dark sides of his nature, but fundamentally restores order and a sense of security, in spite of the shocking experiences in his life. He's the guy we'd like to have as a friend when he's in good spirits, and the guy we speak ill of and point our finger at when he points his finger at us.
7. What makes a character real for you? Must you work everything out about them beforehand or do you just let it flow?
Naturally I have to know the character's entire past before I begin writing. What else? Learn to thoroughly know your characters and learn to love their strengths and be comfortable with their shadowy sides, is what I say. It is only then that you can let your characters react naturally, practically on their own. If you want the reader's full attention you have to let them sense that there is substantially more behind the depiction of the character than mere words that happen to be on the page.
8. The first book in the Department Q Series is Kvinden i buret (The Woman in the Cage) which is entitled Mercy, here in the UK. What was the impetus for the story?
The impetus behind every story is empathy, or the lack of it. In this instance I was originally inspired by an unfortunate Italian boy whom I read about many years ago, who had been kept shut up by his parents for 15 years because they were ashamed of his appearance. My story was written before Natascha Kampusch escaped her imprisonment and before the Fritzl-family case in Amstetten, though it could have been inspired by these incidents. It is a story where I wanted to portray the collision between callousness and a woman who attempts to get the better of an apparently hopeless situation.
Strong women under great pressure makes for a very interesting study, something I began doing in the 70s when I heard about female Cambodian villagers who were confronted by the bestial ruthlessness of the Khmer Rouge. Women like this have a tendency to show up in my universe.
9. Having read Mercy, it is a rather harrowing story. There is also a great sense of foreboding along with a great sense of place. Was this intentional?
10. How did the storyline for the second Department Q novel, Fasandræberne (The Pheasant Killers) - which is to be called Disgrace in the UK - come about?
It's a long story, but I chose the title The Pheasant Killers to symbolize that portion of the ruling class that gets a lot out of meeting with its peers after having performed the ritual killing of innocent animals. A brotherhood borne by the passion to use their power in all its consequences.
These men – and sometimes women – are found in all kinds of nuances in all societies, and when they've also had a childhood bereft of love and care, their reactions can be very incomprehensible and callous. My starting point was the battle between these colossally powerful men and a common bag lady. Little David against five Goliaths. So whose side do you think the reader's on?
11. The third book in the Department Q series Flaskeport fra P (Message in a Bottle) that is due to be called Redemption here in the UK appears to have been your break-through novel. It won a number of awards in 2010 – like The Readers Book Award, which was the first time it had ever been awarded to a crime novel, the Harald Mogensen Prize for the best Danish suspense novel, given by the Danish Criminal Academy, and The Glass Key (Glasnøglen) for the best Nordic crime thriller. With the Glass Key you were amongst authors such as Roslund and Hellström from Sweden, Jarkko Spillä of Finland and Tom Egeland from Norway. Were you surprised about the amount of recognition that it received and did it put pressure on you whilst you were writing Journal 64?
What surprised me most was the diversity of recognition it received – from the readers, the bookstores, the established literary scene and the absolutely choosiest, notable figures dealing with Scandinavian crime literature. In short, from every quarter you can think of. THAT was surprising. But the pressure afterwards - to live up to my previous novels and achieve even more – doesn't bother me. I have always been direct and honest in writing for the reader. What's there to be so afraid of? None of my stories are allowed to resemble the preceding ones, and my readers realize this. They have given me free rein, and therefore I spare no effort when I write. The rest of the time I am just myself, and the things I fear in life have nothing to do with my work.
12. How do you feel about the success of the Department Q novels?
I am extremely thankful for having found a universe where the readers and I go hand in hand, all the way. We love the same characters and we shudder at the same, gruesome situations that these characters are subjected to. How often does that happen? You won't meet someone happier than an author who has found success. If only it didn't take so many hours of the day and night to achieve.
13. How would you describe your novels to someone who is about to read them for the first time?
I would prefer not to; it's up to the rest of you to do it for me. Who would ever believe me if I said the stories were totally fantastic and that laughter carries the reader through plots they've never seen the likes of? People would say I was a born liar. But to be honest, Department Q is the world's longest crime/thriller story, where everything fits together and forms a synthesis, novel for novel. 10 or 12 chapters in a several-thousand-page-long narrative about particular, unusual locations and cases, aberrant individuals, and a maladjusted policeman and an immigrant, each of who has a story that gradually changes our perception of them and of reality as the chapters/books appear. This is simply a kind of War and Peace that unfolds on an everyday, contemporary stage in peacetime.
14. Your books do not exactly make for easy reading and it is clear that an enormous amount of research has gone into them. Has this been deliberate with your writing?
I have two dogmas, as far as my relationship with the reader is concerned:
1) The reader has probably read more than you have
2) The reader is wiser than you may think
That is to say, I owe my readers to give them their money's-worth for their effort, in the form of a well-thought-out plot and a lot of knowledge they probably didn't have to begin with. Preferably the reader will feel wiser after having read my books and at the same time be totally convinced that they've never been enticed into a world that has no basis in reality. But one thing is for sure: The function of research is to give a story the proper starting point, and all too often it is the research that dominates the story. Watch out that doesn't happen, is all I can say.
15. Who were your influences when you decided to start writing? Do other books still influence your writing and if so what other types of writing are you attracted to?
To be honest, the greatest influence on my writing has been life itself. All the annoyances one absorbs in the newspapers and other media affect me a great deal. A vigilant eye to the outside world and the odd characters in my life - for me, that's where the secret lies. So, more than acquiring inspiration from other writers, I realized via their work that through literature there was a navigable path into the realm of one's fellow man's inner life that was most vigilant. To be read is a gift, given to you by your readers. They give you attention and invite reflection. Is that not what we all strive for?
Along the way, John Steinbeck, Charles Dickens and contemporary authors like Peter Bichel and Jerzy Kosinsky have been able to give me that experience, just as I presently find great pleasure in reading writers such as the Norwegian, Erlend Loe, and Danish authors like Ulla Taylor. When I read, I seek linguistic and pictorial challenges and surprises.
I sincerely hope that this is sometimes also what my readers seek and receive when they read me.
16. Were you a reader of crime fiction before you started writing it and, if so, can you remember the very first crime novel that you read?
What is crime fiction? I assume that is the question. For me, The Count of Monte Christo and Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde - and other classics like them - are fantastic crime novels. That reading in its purer form was seasoned throughout my youth with especially English crime writers, is another matter. I don't differentiate so strictly between genres, but of course my hair stood on end the first time I saw Basil Rathbone in a Sherlock Holmes film, or when I read The Monkey's Paw by W.W. Jacobs. I suppose the first real crime novel I read was Agatha Christie's Three-Act Tragedy. I was eleven at the time and the story really got to me.
17. Have you got any authors that you prefer to read now?
Yes, absurd authors. I've already named a couple of them. But to tell the truth, I don't read as much as I'd like to, and I never read thrillers or crime stories because I'm afraid of being influenced by the plot, the drive and the language. So, once again: My readers are more well-read than I am, and that's fine with me.
18. Do you still find time to read?
Unfortunately the disadvantage of success is that time is the only thing I don't have. But my plan these days is to take a long break from everything that doesn't deal directly with my writing, and then I'm sure I'll do a lot of reading again.
19. Plot or character? Which do you think is the most important and why?
There is no plot without characters and no characters without a plot. Both elements are totally essential and equally important. The person who thinks out his novel without having both elements in the back of his mind, and a constantly developing plot, has to be very, very lucky to succeed with his project.
20. Where do you find it the easiest to write, and why?
Anywhere where I can sit with my ancient laptop and its WordPerfect 5.1 system, with headphones on, using lovely film music as background noise.
21. What do you enjoy doing when you are not writing?
Life. The closeness to those I love. Spontaneity. And of course a diversity of trips to new places in the world (like the two weeks I just spent in Cameroon, together with the pygmies in the jungle), playing guitar or keyboards in my little home studio, being sprawled out in the sun, or enjoying a football match when of course Denmark beats England on my over-dimensioned flat screen.
22. What do you find the most difficult when you are writing?
Nothing. I sit myself down and don't get up again until I'm satisfied. If there's anything that's difficult for me, it's getting through all the e-mails. Naturally it's also hard to have to choose among all the stories I have in stock, because one thing is for sure: I'll never get written everything I'd like to write. Unfortunately there is not time enough.
23. What in your opinion is the reason for the popularity of Scandinavian crime writers and why do you suppose that it has taken so long for them to be recognised?
Honestly, I couldn't say, because I've read too few of them. But I know that in Scandinavia we're all born with the gene that gets us through many months of long, long, dark winter evenings by telling stories. And what could be better than to invent a really exciting tall tale that can frighten people? That's something we're just good at. And we're quite exotic in a number of ways. In Scandinavia we have all kinds of landscapes and ways problems present themselves. We are also straightforward, ironic and very privileged. It's Hollywood, in a strictly non-artificial way.
24. I understand the film rights to the Department Q series have been sold along with the TV rights and that they are (with respect to the television rights) due to be made into six, forty-five minute programmes. Have they finished filming and when are they due to be shown?
The movie and TV versions – which are a collaboration between the Millennium team, German ZDF and Danish Nordisk Film and Zentropa – will go into production in 2012. That's all I will say. But it will be ambitious and better than good, I'm sure of that. So just you wait, Mr. Higgins.
25. Your literary career has also been quite varied. You have written two books on Groucho Marx, the most widely quoted Danish bibliography on literature dealing with peace and security as well as having composed the soundtrack to the animated film Valhalla. Has having such a varied literary background been a hindrance or a help?
Every experience in life is a building stone toward good literature. I would never have become a writer if I hadn't tackled a lot of other important tasks in life first. So my advice to everyone who wants to be a writer is to experience stuff, see what you're made of, be open to all the people around you, seek out the uncultivated sides of yourself and confront yourself with reality. Once you've done that, you may be able to attempt the first sentence. But please, wait till then.
26. What are you working on at the moment?
Besides expanding my office, I am working partly on Department Q number 5 and partly on a more traditional political thriller, The Illustrated Chinaman.
27. How would you best like your work to be remembered?
As outstanding and very, very entertaining. As the novels you read twice and long to be read once more. Am I a daydreamer? Well, that's an important part of being an author.