Name: Johan Theorin
Born: 1963 in Gothenburg
Occupation: Author and Journalist
Throughout his life, Johan Theorin has been a regular visitor to the Baltic island of Öland, where his books are set. His mother's family – sailors, fishermen and farmers - have lived there for centuries, nurturing the island's rich legacy of strange tales and folklore. A journalist by profession, Johan lives in Gothenburg, Sweden.
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What is it about Öland that inspired you to set Echoes From the Dead and The Darkest Room on the island?
JOHAN: Well, if Öland was a person it would have a split personality. For us Swedes, the island is well-known as a popular summer place with lots of sun, sailing and sandy beaches. More than 200 000 tourists visit Öland in July and the Swedish royal family has a summer house on the west coast of the island.
But the rest of the year very few people live there, and especially up in the north where I live there are many villages which are completely empty most of the year. These contrasts have always fascinated me, and in both these novels I speculate about the sinister and spooky things that can take place in isolated villages during the winter on Öland.
Do you do much research for your books? How much would you say is based on reality and how much is fictitious?
JOHAN: The island of Öland is very real, my mother’s family comes from the island and I have lived there every summer since I was a baby. I have also met many people there who were similar to some of the characters in my books. So that experience is one kind of research, but I also like to read all kinds of non-fiction books and newspapers, and talk to police inspectors, crime scene investigators and doctors to get the facts right. Writing a novel is like making a mosaic of fiction by collecting lots of factual pieces and putting them together.
Have you always loved writing?
JOHAN: Yes, but it is actually the thinking about the stories that I love the most. I have always been a daydreamer. My mother said that I started telling her adventure stories in the kitchen long before I could write, when I was 4-5 years old. So I daydream a lot about the characters and places in my novels before I start writing about them.
What made you make the move from journalism to writing fiction?
JOHAN: I actually wrote fiction before I became a journalist. I have published short stories in Swedish newspapers and magazines for twenty five years, but they have had very few readers. It was only when I started writing novels that large numbers of people discovered me.
How would you describe your books to those who yet have the pleasure to read them?
JOHAN: They are sort of a combination of dark crime stories and Scandinavian folklore and ghost stories. They are not horror or fantasy stories, really -- the supernatural mostly stays in the background, and I leave it up to the readers to decide if there really are such things as ghosts and premonitions. I’m not sure myself!
Are any of your characters based on people you know?
JOHAN: There is an old man in the novels, Gerlof, who used to be a sea captain in the Baltic sea, but is now retired. He is based on my grandfather, Ellert Gerlofsson, who sailed his own ship in the Baltic sea for thirty years and told me lots of great stories. But Ellert died when I was young, so I guess that writing about him is my attempt to bring him back.
The Darkest Room was winner of the Glass key award for Best Nordic Crime Novel 2008, and Echoes from the Dead won Best Swedish First Novel 2007 and the CWA Dagger for Best Debut Crime Novel 2009. How does it make you feel to hold such prestigious awards?
It fills me with great joy! The award ceremonies in Sweden, Iceland and London were great fun and it’s always nice to hear kind words from jury members about the books. But awards are not something you should think about when actually writing a novel, they are just a great bonus.
Have you always lived in Sweden?
JOHAN: No, I lived for two years as a student in the United States, in Michigan and Vermont. But the climate there was very much like Sweden. And last year I lived two months in France, which was much warmer than Sweden.
Who are your favourite writers?
JOHAN: I have very many. One favourite is Peter Straub, who I think is mostly known for having written two novels with Stephen King. But he has written several strange and beautiful novels on his own. I also like crime writers who care deeply about their characters, such as Karin Fossum, Dennis Lehane and Ruth Rendell.
What are you reading at the moment?
JOHAN: I am halfway through reading a thick book by Dan Simmons called Drood. I liked his novel The Terror last year, so I picked up Drood last week. It is a novel about Charles Dickens, told by his friend and rival Wilkie Collins who starts suspecting that Dickens is actually planning a murder. But Collins himself was an opium addict, so he may not be very reliable as a narrator.
Can you give us a sneak preview of what you are currently working on?
JOHAN: I have just finished the third novel in my island quartet. This one is called A Place of Blood and takes place on Öland in the spring, when the snow has melted and the sun is shining and all the birds come back to Sweden from Africa. But some bad people and dark secrets return to the island as well.
What scares you?
JOHAN: Old, dark houses in the countryside, and the thought of sleeping in them. I would never do it – at least not alone!