I’m delighted to welcome Johana Gustawsson to the blog today, having finished reading her latest release, Block 46 only last week.
A harrowing read that has been meticulously researched, the novel is a compelling page-turner that will remain in your thoughts for a long time afterwards. Like many other readers before me, I think this is one of THE books of 2017.
Johana, what attracted you to writing in the crime/thriller genre? Was there a particular author that inspired you to do so?
When I was 7 my mother gave me The Mysterious Affair at Styles to read. She was a teacher and had been told that reading Agatha Christie was a wonderful exercise for new readers. That first literary encounter left me completely in love with her Belgian detective, the unforgettable Hercule Poirot, his little grey cells and his well-groomed moustache, but also completely mesmerised with the crime genre and the whodunits.
Your latest novel, Block 46, is capturing readers’ imaginations everywhere – how did the idea of splitting the narrative between two timelines evolve?
I actually merged two stories I wanted to write for a while: the one of my paternal grandfather, who got deported to Buchenwald Nazi concentration camp in 1943, a page of our family history that we kept on turning without reading it; and a crime story, set both in London and on Swedish frozen grounds, my two adopted lands.
Block 46 grew out of your own interest in your family history, and must have been incredibly harrowing to research. As a crime writer, how do you let yourself recover after researching such dark material?
Do you outline/plot, or do you prefer to start at the beginning and see where the story takes you? Why do you prefer this method of writing?
Oh I definitely outline and plot, and I do it twice as my books have two storylines which eventually intertwine. As I write whodunits, it needs precision and as spend a lot of time planning where I will the clues for my readers, and elaborating the psychology of my characters, to make them “more real than nature” as we say in French.
How do you structure a typical day to ensure you avoid distractions and hit your word count targets?
As soon as my boy leaves for pre-school, I grab a quick breakfast listening to the French news and then, after leaving my mobile on our entrance table so not to get distracted, I isolate myself in my office with my thermos, to avoid having to go back to the kitchen again and again to warm my coffee. I disconnect from my mailbox and begin my day of work. I take a short break for lunch and then work until my mini Viking comes back from his day at school.
We all occasionally hit a brick wall with our creative endeavours – what do you do to overcome any stumbling blocks?
I used to get completely nuts and a tiny beat drama queen when it used to happen. Now, I just leave my office and go for a walk in Hampstead Heath. And I let my thoughts buzz around me, like bees looking for the hive. I then make a call to my father and we chat about the plot and what is blocking me. I can be sure that, a few hours later, sometimes at a very unexpected moment (like when I give a bath to my son or have to sing a song to persuade him to eat green beans), the solution just pops into my head!
What have you got planned for the rest of 2017?
I will give birth in October to two baby boys, so I will take a few months off in the autumn, but before that, I have to write my third novel in the Roy & Castells series, which will be published in France at the end of 2018, if not, I think my French publisher may just kill me!
Johana, thanks for taking time out of your hectic schedule to chat with me today, and congratulations again on the success of Block 46.
Thank you Rachel, it was wonderful to chat with you!