The DON BARTLETT interview: part three

Posted: September 11, 2011 in Norway, notes, Scandinavia

The concluding part of my interview with Don Bartlett.

14] What factors do you think are responsible for the popularity of Nordic crime fiction? 

The UK has been slow to pick up on foreign writers, but perhaps it took Peter Høeg’s  “Miss Smilla” to act as the catalyst. That became a million-seller and allowed the door to be opened.  It was the first book to counter the deeply-held view among some publishers that translated fiction does not make serious money. Yet it took more time, entrepreneurial spirit, Henning Mankell and Stieg Larsson, to prove the case. All eased by a willingness on the part of Scandinavian Arts Councils to part-fund translations, support translators and promote authors. Now the door is well and truly open. 

Nordic crime, in general, does offer something different though: 

First of all, breath-taking scenery and dramatic climates, which are not just a backdrop to the plot but can be deeply intertwined with it. Snow, ice, precipices, fjords, dense forests, geysers, volcanoes, sea. A real sense of place. 

Then, societies which are smaller, more egalitarian, in many ways more liberal than our own, facing their own demons: extreme beliefs, the Past, drugs, alcohol, etc.  

With strong literary traditions and a variety of crime-fiction models to build on, writers have come up with enough intelligent plots, innovative characters and memorable scenes to provide a serious challenge in a competitive market. 

15] Why do you think German crime fiction hasn’t become as popular in the UK and USA? 

As for good German-language crime fiction, I can only say there is a lot, some on my shelves at home and much of it un-translated. There doesn’t seem to be a very big name, as yet, and perhaps this is what is needed? Or is there a lack of state support to promote German-language literature abroad? Pass. 

16] Can you tell us what you are translating now, and what work is in the pipeline? 

I have just finished Gunnar Staalesen’s COLD HEARTS, the follow-up to THE CONSORTS OF DEATH, published by Arcadia Books. Now I am working on Jo Nesbø’s GJENFERD (Ghosts), number nine in the Harry Hole series.  Then I change tack, with Ida Jessen’s CHILDREN, followed by the second of Karl Ove Knausgaard’s six volumes. And a break.

That is very good news. 

Many thanks for this interview and for giving us so many interesting insights into both your work, and the success of Nordic crime fiction. 

  1. Karen says:

    Thanks Norman and Don for this very interesting interview.

  2. Margot Kinberg says:

    Norman – Thanks for this; I’ve really enjoyed this interview! And it is good to hear there’s a new Harry Hole in the works :-).

  3. Philip Young says:

    Thanks for this, Norman! I presume the Knausgaard Don is working is Min Kamp, which I am keen to read. I wonder if it means that he has already done Vol 1 and we can expect it soon…

  4. Maxine says:

    Very interesting, Norman, thank you. I’m looking forward to the Staalesen in particular. There are about 20 more to translate, I believe! Not sure if the “lack of big name” is true for Germany? Eg Sebastian Fitzek and Andrea Maria Schenkel are very popular there but I think not so over here (I’ve read 2 of the former and 3 of the latter, and can see that they are more of a niche taste – different niche in each case!). And, eg, Petra Hammesfahr’s The Sinner is probably too dark and not “thriller-” enough to appeal to the mass market of S Larsson. French crime fiction has its big name in Vargas, yet I get the impression that France has not caught on in the eng lan any more than German has. We seem to go for the Nordics and the Italians, in the main 😉

  5. Norman says:

    Thanks Margot and Philip.

    Thanks Maxine, I have found reading German crime fiction [Petra Hammesfahr and Andrea Maria Schenkel] so dark and depressing that I have avoided other writers. Perhaps it was the total lack of any humour? 😦
    And no food mentioned. 😉
    I will always remember Inspector Grazia Negro kidnapped by The Pitbull, who admits to killing over 50 people, and she is concerned about what filling is in her ciabatta sandwich.

  6. forensics4fiction says:

    Great interview!

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