Interview with Michael Hjorth and Hans Rosenfeldt
It is not that different to see your book characters come to life compared to see your script characters come to life.
Michael and Hans, exciting thrillers that captivate readers from the start distinguishes you as an author duo. What is special about this genre for you?
Hans Rosenfeldt & Michael Hjorth: It‘s a genre we really enjoy. With a murder to start with, there is a natural story engine from start that makes it exciting to follow – and write. It also is a perfect genre to explore different societies, characters, themes and more. There is also a lot of storyline work to make a good thriller and we really love storylining.
„Inspiration for us comes from the storyline process. Where we both bring a lot of ideas, tweak them, build on them, changes and changes back until we have a story that works.“
How do you create a new novel? When writing a new novel, do you split up so that each of you write separate chapters, or do you write collaboratively?
Hans Rosenfeldt & Michael Hjorth: Our work has evolved. In the beginning we took the next chapter in the storyline and outline and wrote it, no matter what it was about. Then we realized that it was better to follow the characters so we started to divide some of them between us. Never the main characters, those we always shared – even if Hans writes more `Torkel´ and Michael more `Ursula´. Then we started to divide the different strands between us as well. So, every book has had a little different process but we always write separately.
We start a new book by working close together for up to a month. During that time, it’s us and a white board. We beat out the storyline, decide the path and journey for our characters and divide the work between us.
Then we go off and write separately. We phone each other a lot if we have questions and get new ideas. With the last couple of books, towards the end of the writing, we have been sitting together. Still writing separately, but we learned it is good to be able to communicate quickly when the deadline closes in.
Where do you get the inspiration for a new crime novel?
Hans Rosenfeldt & Michael Hjorth: Inspiration for us comes from the storyline process. Where we both bring a lot of ideas, tweak them, build on them, changes and changes back until we have a story that works.
In your books, the ‚idiosyncratic criminal psychologist Sebastian Bergman‘ is the main character in solving the individual, exciting criminal cases. What distinguishes this main character from main characters in other crime books?
Hans Rosenfeldt & Michael Hjorth: Usually the protagonist is relatively easy to like, but not in this case. That is probably the main thing that distinguishes `Sebastian´ from many other main characters. We really wanted to create someone that you would love to hate. The background is that `Sebastian Bergman´ was first developed as a TV-series. Michael had produced the `Wallander series´ on Swedish and German TV with Rolf Lassgård as `Kurt Wallander´. Rolf Lassgård wanted to play someone more unlikeable and we both thought it was a really good idea and started developing Sebastian Bergman.
„Stockholm is our home city, but we enjoy being away from it and discover and learn more about other places.“
All of your crime stories in this series are set in Stockholm. What is so special about this city for you personally?
Hans Rosenfeldt & Michael Hjorth: They are actually not fully set in Stockholm. The setting of `Riksmord´ (Som Man Sår / Die Früchte, die man erntet) is placed there, and our characters live there but the whole idea with our protagonist team is that they travel all across Sweden. So, every book take place in a different location in Sweden. We enjoy moving our team around. Stockholm is our home city, but we enjoy being away from it and discover and learn more about other places.
The 7th volume of the Sebastian Bergman crime series is currently out with the book title `Som Man Sår´ (Die Früchte, die man erntet). What can readers look forward to?
Hans Rosenfeldt & Michael Hjorth: It is been three years since we last met the team around Sebastian Bergman in a novel. There have been a lot of changes. `Vanja´ is now head of Riksmord and gets her first big case straight away. A sniper that is shooting seemingly random people in the small town of Karlshamn in the south of Sweden. Vanja quickly realizes that this person will not stop. But she has no clues, no suspects and soon no time to solve the biggest case of her career.
So that is the case. Then we have the characters, and there are quite a few surprises laying in store for the readers. Not least when it comes to `Billy´…
Many of your books have a large fan base not only in Scandinavia but also internationally. Your crime novel series has already appeared in 34 countries, has been sold over 4 million times worldwide – over 2.2 million times in Germany alone – and it is impossible to imagine best-selling lists without them. When you wrote your first book, did you dream that this crime story would be so popular?
Hans Rosenfeldt & Michael Hjorth: Dream, maybe, but it seemed just like that: a dream. We were extremely happy to be published in Sweden … (both laugh).
The first two books of your crime series have already been filmed as a TV series. Rolf Holger Lassgård, who is considered one of the most famous actors in Scandinavia and who has also played the commissioner `Kurt Wallander´ in the film adaptations of Henning Mankell’s novels, plays your protagonist Bergman. Are there any other books planned to be made into film versions in the future?
Hans Rosenfeldt & Michael Hjorth: No, not right now. We decided to focus on Sebastian as a book character for now and maybe later, when we are finished with the books, we will pursue streaming or TV.
You were both actively involved in the TV production of the Sebastian Bergman crime novels with the script and the direction. Is it something special for you to see the story of your books on the screen?
Hans Rosenfeldt & Michael Hjorth: It is of course, but TV has also been our profession the whole time. It is not that different to see your book characters come to life compared to see your script characters come to life.
„The main difference between writing a script and writing a novel is the amount of words.“
Michael, in your opinion what is the main difference between writing a script and writing a novel?
Michael Hjorth: The main difference between writing a script and writing a novel is the amount of words.
A script is not the finished product. It’s a blueprint. Short stage directions and dialogue. Then there are producers, directors, actors, designers and other team members that build the finished house. Literally hundreds of people involved to finalize the story.
In a novel the writer(s) have to replace all the work those people do, with words. Describing how people and places look, what they think. So, a lot more needs to be written.
You have also written scripts for film adaptations of the novels by the renowned Swedish author Henning Mankell. In your opinion; is it difficult to reproduce the story from a book 1-to-1 as a film version?
Michael Hjorth: It is impossible. The mediums are too different. You can capture the essence of a book, but it will never be a copy. I at least have never seen it.
„I just love stories. Reading them, seeing them, developing them. It is always so much funnier inside my head than it is in the real world.“
Hans, you are also a popular radio and television presenter in your home country of Sweden and have received numerous awards as a screenwriter and creator of the most successful Scandinavian series to date, ‚Die Brücke‘ and the British television series ‚Marcella‘. Where does your fascination for developing new stories come from?
Hans Rosenfeldt: I just love stories. Reading them, seeing them, developing them. It is always so much funnier inside my head than it is in the real world. I love to have total control, that everything is possible and the feeling when a good story falls in to place is hard to beat.
In addition to your joint work as author duo in the Bergman series, you Mr. Rosenfeldt has now also published your own new novel `Vargasommar´ (Wolfssommer), which is the beginning of a new thriller series. What is the content of `Vargasommar`?
Hans Rosenfeldt: `Vargasommar´ is set up north in Sweden, in the small town of Haparanda right on the border to Finland and the protagonist is `Hannah Wester´, a middle aged police officer, going through menopause and a marriage in decline.
The story starts with the finding of a dead wolf that has human remains in its stomach. One can soon link the remains to a drug deal going wrong in Finland some weeks prior, when a man got away with drugs and money worth many millions of Euro. Now they’ve found the man, but where are the money and the drugs? The Haparanda police are not the only one looking. There is `Katja´, a ruthless assassin whose job is to find the drugs and the money and to bring it back to its owner…that is the blueprint of the story of Vargasommar´ (Wolfssommer).
Thank you very much for the great interview, Michael and Hans!
Interview: Andreas Detert | Fotos: Kajsa Göransson, Anders Thessing, Norstedts, Rowohlt Verlag