"The novel is mostly a product of my imagination, but the forest and setting is similar to where I live. I wanted to draw on my own sense of being an outsider; a person who is new to a place which is all-too familiar to others."
Will Dean, author of Dark Pines.
British author Will Dean moved to rural Sweden in 2012 after studying law at the London School of Economics and working in London for a number of years. He now lives in the wilderness with his wife and young son. Following the publication of his novel, the thriller Dark Pines, which is about a deaf woman named Tuva Moodyson living in central Sweden. He spoke to us about writing in the wilderness and adopting ‘Nordic Noir’ as a Brit.
Dark Pines is about a young Swedish woman who is terrified of nature. How has this protagonist and the setting been accepted by British readers?
It was rather bizarre to launch Dark Pines, which is written in English, from my home just north of Gothenburg. While the area provides all sorts of ideas and inspirations for the stories that I write, it is a fairly remote location and it can feel detached from civilisation. I found that the actual publication of my book only felt ‘real’ when I came to the UK and was able to see it stocked in bookshops. So far, Dark Pines has been really well received back in Britain, and I’m excited to meet readers at UK ‘crime’ festivals this summer, including Harrogate’s Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival.
Why did you choose to launch your writing career in Sweden?
My Swedish wife and I met around twenty years ago when I was starting out as a student at the LSE. I was just eighteen, and it marked the start of a love affair with a person and a country. Visiting Scandinavia once or twice a year until we finally moved there meant that I grew to relish the area’s peacefulness, fresh air, equality, space, and slower pace of life. I always wanted to find another life which was more attuned to the natural environment (compared to London). A sign of this was, perhaps, when I found myself seeking out patches of rough grass to walk upon just to enjoy some connection to nature. In the UK, I never felt far from civilisation, even in deepest countryside. I love cities, but the concrete jungle leaves less time to think, and has many tempting distractions. So on Christmas Day in 2007 my wife and I found some boggy forest land in western Sweden which we decided to buy and make our home. It was then that I decided to try writing as a profession rather than solely a pastime.
How did the local community welcome you?
Growing up in the rural East Midlands meant that I’ve always been pretty ‘hands on’ and know how to fend for myself and also muck in with the local community. Being in London had slightly curtailed that side of me, so I didn’t need persuading to get to know new people but also start working on my own home as a part-time carpenter. This is not at all unusual in Sweden, where people know how to work with wood and other natural materials. I helped build the garage, the floors, window frames, the kitchen, and the staircase with Swedish wood, while extra hands were bought in to help construct the frame of the building. I’ve since discovered that one of my favourite things in life is doing physical work while listening to an audiobook. My family and I have really attached ourselves to the local land by using home-grown produce, foraging in the woods, burning our own logs, and following the seasons. It’s a fairly quiet life and we don’t seek stimulation. Such a way of life is not to everyone’s taste. Some of our guests come to stay with the illusion that it’s all idyllic and relaxing. But it can be hard work chopping wood, clearing ditches, and living with off-grid water. It’s not long before they are bored out of their minds and sleeping until midday!
When did the idea for the book develop?
Despite it being labour-intensive, the building of our house gave me ample head-space to plot and daydream. Because I was already in the process of writing in the early and later hours of the day, especially during the long, dark winter when not much happens, the idea for the book, the characterisation of Tuva and the idea to write ‘Nordic Noir’ as an outsider came quite quickly. The novel is mostly a product of my imagination, but the forest and setting is similar to where I live. I wanted to draw on my own sense of being an outsider; a person who is new to a place which is all-too familiar to others. My rural neighbours have been useful for plot inspiration. For instance, several friends are hunters and hearing them talk about their activities has opened my eyes to a way of life that is particular to this part of Sweden. Of course, many friends who’ve read the book think that they’re in it. They are not!
How did you develop the lead character, Tuva?
I’ve always been surprised at how under-represented deaf and hard of hearing people are in fiction. When I sat down to write Tuva, who is from the city and is terrified of nature, it was this premise that part-inspired her characterisation. But in other ways, Tuva came to me fully-formed. As a newcomer and outsider to a range of situations in rural Sweden myself, Tuva and I do share some perspectives. She observes strange scenarios, encounters, and experiences things for the first time. It was enjoyable writing her and I’ve been very encouraged by feedback from deaf readers – I’m excited to see what people think of the next book in the series!