I was thrilled when I heard that Jo Nesbø would be doing an author chat under the Aye Write banner. Jo Nesbø is a bestselling Norwegian author and musician. He was born in Oslo and grew up in Molde. Nesbø is primarily famous for his crime novels about Detective Harry Hole, but he is also the main vocals and songwriter for the Norwegian rock band Di Derre. In 2007 Nesbø also released his first children’s book.
Even better, it turned out that he was going to be interviewed by Denise Mina, author of The Long Drop, an outstanding read and a very strong contender for my book of the year.
I was introduced to Jo Nesbø by my sister, an excellent judge of good writing and have been addicted to the Harry Hole books ever since. The Thirst appears as a Harry Hole book after a 4 year drought.
The Thirst continues the story of Police, Harry Hole’s last outing in 2013, which saw the maverick cop protecting those closest to him from a killer wreaking revenge on the police. The Thirst sees Harry drawn back to the Oslo police force when a serial killer begins targeting Tinder daters with a signature killing method that leads Harry on the hunt of a nemesis from his past. It is the eleventh Harry Hole book in the series.
Denise began by asking Jo if Harry Hole is addicted to misery. This made Jo laugh. He said that while not necessarily addicted to misery, Harry is certainly a man who seeks out the blues. Like Nesbo himself, he seeks out danger and is drawn to sadness.
Why the long break between Hole novels? Simply because although Jo had had lots of ideas for stories, they were simply not cases for Harry, just other stories that have to be written.
Sometimes ideas just come to him – he told a story about some colleagues asking him to suggest a title for a film they were making. He thought about it and suggested The Snowman. Yes, they said, it is a good title, but there is no snowman in the film. Well, said Jo, perhaps there should be. And from that title alone, Jo went on to write the novel, The Snowman.
One book, The Devil’s Star, was written after he bought a new waterbed to aid some problems he was having with his back in the late 90’s. He failed to put enough chlorine in it to kill all the potential bacteria and his bed started to make noises. As it did so, he started to think about what could be in there and that was enough to spur him into writing that crime novel.
He is driven by ideas – he says they are his boss and he has to stay true to them. He feels he has no choice, he has to write inspired by his ideas; these are stories that he has to get out.
Jo talked a bit about coming from a family where stories were told all the time – usually stories from memories of things that had happened and which were re-told every time they met as a family. Listening to these stories, he realised that they were told slightly differently each time, with a new detail, or something he had not heard before, which was when he realised that it isn’t about the punchline, it’s about how you get there.
He said that writing lyrics for his band was probably the best training he could have to be a novelist. When you write, he says, you have to trust the reader to fill in the blanks, to make the chain connection after the writer has pointed you in the right direction. He talked about the relationship between the writer and the reader being like a dance – the writer has to offer the reader a fair chance to work out where the writer is trying to go – almost a social etiquette.
He told other great stories in response to audience questions. The one I liked best was when he described his attic room. He has a custom designed desk, a state of the art coffee machine, a great view of Oslo and his music all set up. And it’s the one place he just can’t write! So he takes his laptop to a nearby coffee shop and bags a comfy seat, then plugs in his earphones and writes away. That’s a story that I’m sure will resonate with loads of writers.
He talked a bit about his re-working of the Macbeth story for Shakespeare’s 400th anniversary, with Macbeth as a young policeman and Lady Macbeth as a cougar running the local casino. She wants to become respectable, hence she is driving Macbeth to greater ambition.
It was a fascinating evening, very well conducted by Denise Mina, and a rare privilege to hear directly from a master of the genre.
The Thirst is published by Harvill Secker on 20th April 2017