The Glass Key: The best Nordic crime authors crossing swords

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The Nordic cooperation when it comes to crime fiction is blossoming – and the countries are contributing to each others’ publications like never before. But on the stage at the crime festival, Krimimessen, in Horsens, there was also room for a fierce sense of competition between the candidates for the Scandinavian crime award, The Glass Key, which is handed out in June.

On the stage, we have three out of the four candidates for this year’s crime award representing Sweden, Norway and Denmark, as well as last year’s winner from Norway, Jørn Lier Horst. At the head of this battle of crime fiction is the Danish critic Bo Tao Michaëlis who asks them questions about their candidacy as well as the international interest in Nordic crime fiction.

This year, the battle is between Swedish Christoffer Carlsson (Den osynlige mannen från Salem), the Norwegian Gard Sveen (Den siste pilgrimen), the Finnish Reijo Mäki (Sheriffen) and the Danish Simon Pasternak (Dødszoner). Iceland has not submitted a candidate this year.

There are plenty of smiles, humorous remarks and friendly banter on the stage. But The Glass Key is not a pity award; as a consequence, there are no room for the selected authors to rest on their laurels. There is a general consensus among the candidates that The Glass Key plays a huge part in opening doors for the nominated authors as well as the winner.

According to the Norwegian candidate, Gard Sveen, the Nordic crime fiction achieves its massive international popularity due to the outside world’s romantic notions about the Scandinavian countries, where the crime fiction is able to take you behind the scenes of this rosy picturesque image. However, the Swedish candidate Christoffer Calsson has a more cheeky and direct suggestion: “Because we are better than everyone else.”

But the remaining question begs to be asked – who is best? As Bo Tao Michaëlis ends the panel by saying: “May the best man win.”

And speaking of being the best. After this year’s crime festival in Horsens, one of Denmark’s most popular crime authors, Jussi Adler Olsen, complimented Krimimessen on being the best in the world – even when up against big book fairs and festivals in the rest of world, including USA etc.
“We are happy and proud,” says Vibeke Johansen, program director for Krimimessen.

Photo: Willy Wegner. From the left: Gard Sveen, Simon Pasternak, Jørn Lier Horst og Christoffer Carlsson.

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Crime Story – a weekend festival for crime writers and readers

Spend a weekend getting under the skin of a fictional crime with top crime writers, criminologists, lawyers, police and forensics experts. New Writing North and Northumbria University invite crime writers (aspiring or established) and readers to Crime Story – a weekend of discussion and workshops focusing on a fictional crime and how it would be investigated in real life.
Ann Cleeves, prize-winning author of the Vera Stanhope series (now a major ITV series) and Shetland Island Quartet series, has created a crime especially for this weekend. (To read the crime click here.)

Throughout the Crime Story weekend criminologists and forensic scientists will give insights into how labs work, experts in policing will talk you through scene of the crime procedure and journalists will discuss the moral responsibility of reporting on heinous crimes. There will also be prize-winning crime writers at the festival – Louise Welsh, Margaret Murphy (AD Garrett) and Ann Cleeves – who will talk about how to incorporate the forensic facts into fiction. Participants will be guided ably throughout the weekend by author and former crime fiction critic for The Observer Peter Guttridge.

This is an unmissable opportunity for any lover of crime fiction, whether you’re an aspiring writer or want to dig deeper into your favourite fictional world. To find out more about Crime Story, and to book your place, go to www.crimestory.co.uk.

New Writing North is the writing development agency for the North of England. We work with writers, publishers, libraries and bookshops across the region to promote and encourage regional writing. You can get more information about us at www.newwritingnorth.com.

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Criminal peripheries: Dahlberg’s Memory Wound and the national trauma of Utøya, 22. July 2011

I wanted to share the introduction to my research paper on Criminal Peripheries in Scandinavian Crime Fiction with the Nordic Noir Book Club, as I think many of you have also seen and been impressed by the winning project for the Oslo/Utøya memorials.

I am giving the paper at the annual SASS 2014 conference at Yale University on Thursday. My introduction discusses the recently revealed memorial commemorating 22. July 2011, and in the paper I wonder about why the Swedish artist wants to cut up the landscape.

Last week the winning project for the “Memorial Sites After 22. July” was revealed in Norway. These are the site-specific memorials that will commemorate the most notorious criminal periphery in recent Nordic history, the terrorist attacks on the government quarters in Oslo and the Worker’s Youth League summer camp on the island of Utøya in 2011, attacks that claimed 77 lives. 

The Swedish artist Jonas Dahlberg’s memorial to the Utøya massacre entitled “Memory Wound” has been met with almost unanimous positive reactions in the global and social media – which by no means was a given, since such national memorials are more often than not widely contested sites, since they inevitably make a claim for representing a particular and permanent version of what is in essence a complex collective memory.

For the memorial the artist proposes to ‘slice a three-and-a-half-metre-wide slit into the Sørbråten peninsula, which faces the island of Utøya and to transfer “one hundred cubic metres of the stone cut from Sørbråten to the governmental quarter in Oslo, where another memorial will mark the spot where a car bomb was detonated”. Dahlberg explains that his concept for the memorial: “[…] proposes a wound or a cut within nature itself. It reproduces the physical experience of taking away, reflecting the abrupt and permanent loss of those who died. The cut will be a three-and-a-half-meters-wide excavation. It slices from the top of the headland at the Sørbråten site, to below the water line and extends to each side. This void in the landscape makes it impossible to reach the end of the headland.” (see www.bustler.net)

It is in many ways an evocative memorial that produces in the visitor an immediate emotional response – not least when one is reading Dahlberg’s almost clinical forensic description of an autopsy on memory and the landscape. The memorial inscribes into the very landscape, so central to the Norwegian national imagination, the immediate shock and permanent trauma of the mass murder experienced by the victims’ families, the survivors and the nation as a whole.

The void in the landscape replicates a mode of representing collective traumas that we recognize in Daniel Libeskind’s architectural voids in the Jewish Museum in Berlin. As Libeskind’s voids represent the absence of Jews in the heart of the German capital, Dahlberg’s Earthwork clearly signifies absence, the permanent absence of the victims. As a void that fractures the landscape and precludes access, it also signifies history: “a broken history without continuity” (Andreas Huyssen, Present Pasts, 68).

It suggests that just as the void visualizes the permanent trauma and loss experienced by the survivors and those who lost a child or a friend, it also points to a more collective impossibility of “going back to” a time before the events, and as such, the Memory Wound figures the history of Norway itself: a secure, trustful, modernised and wealthy welfare society, whose peripheral self-perception had left the nation untouched by the evils of global risks, now wounded and exiled permanently from its innocent past.

Only a few days following the attacks, the Norwegian bestselling crime writer Jo Nesbø wrote an article entitled “The past is a foreign country” that was printed both in The Guardian and in the New York Times. While the article ends with his hopeful belief in the resilience of the Norwegian people to resist becoming fearful and lose its social trust, the title also suggests that merely a week following the attacks, the innocent Norway had become but a memory, imbued with nostalgia and a deep sense of loss. “Until Friday,” Nesbø writes, “we thought of our country as a virgin – unsullied by the ills of society”. His anxieties for the attacks’ effect on life in Norway are expressed in the compulsively repeated phrase “There is no road back to the way it was before”, which reveals the traumatic condition under which the article was written. Nesbø’s Norway after the attacks is a country whose extraordinary sense of security and innocence has been forever lost, a past in which the prime minister could cycle the streets and chat with the public with security guards safely in the background while wearing a cycling helmet.

Henning Mankell also wrote about the loss of innocence in an article where he refers to Hannah Arendt’s studies of the Holocaust: “The distant and in many ways idyllic Norway, the country with the oil and the wealth, is suddenly exposed to the banality of evil”.
Dahlberg’s memory wound, the void in the landscape, concurs with Nesbø and Mankell’s early conclusions: Norway is no longer “unsullied by the ills of society” – this is a wound in the very foundation of the nation that cannot heal. The crimes in Oslo and on Utøya have made this geopolitical periphery a great deal more like the rest of our globalised ‘runaway world’. And soon, with Dahlberg’s monumental Earthwork, Norway will have a memorial to match the global craze for large-scale memorials to, for instance, the Holocaust, the World Wars or 9/11.

The Memory Wound is particularly interesting in the way it and its artist engage traumatic memories with the age-old confrontation between nature and culture, which is, of course, always central to Earthworks or LandArt. And it is with the following cluster of phenomena that my paper will explore an example of the literary Nordic criminal peripheries: nature, landscape, forests, crime, trauma, the welfare state and ecology.
After revelling in the sublime site of the Memory Wound, an environmentally inclined spectator may wonder why the artist has found a violent attack on nature to be a fitting commemoration for the youth who fell so numerously as victims to the violent acts of, granted, a very different man. Jonas Dahlberg recounts that one “emotional observation” has informed his overall concept:
During the initial site visit to Utøya, I noticed how different the feeling was of walking outside in nature, compared to the feeling of walking through the rooms of the main building. The experience of seeing the vacant rooms and the traces of extreme violence brought me — and others around me — to a state of profound sadness. In its current state, the building kept close within it the memory of the terror acts of July 22, 2011. Like an open wound. But while the building produced these feelings, nature was somehow different. Although we stood directly on the very place where many people had lost their lives, nature had already begun to obscure all traces.

The emotional experience of absence and the void left by the traces of extreme violence on Utøya is produced in the buildings on the island – it is when going through the vacant rooms that the visitors are faced with the “open wound” of the events. But what seems almost as horrific is the difference, or should we say indifference of nature towards the location in which people had lost their lives: “nature had already begun to obscure all traces”.

The Memory Wound, as other memorials, is only partly about remembering the events that happened here and the people who died, the memorial is only partly about the traumatic event itself. It is, however, as much a work attacking the very nature or precondition of memory, namely forgetting. By revenging itself against nature, on behalf of those in mourning, the memorial fights against cyclical time, regeneration and the healing of wounds, against forgetting, by inserting a man-made fissure into nature itself. Nature has to be interrupted in its growth lest it should forget what it has witnessed as a passive bystander to the atrocities.

[...]

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Forshaw explores the sounds of Nordic Noir TV drama

Danish composer Halfdan E has scored all three seasons of ‘Borgen’. His music won the Fipa d´Or Grand Prize in 2012 for best score.

Barry Forshaw has published a fascinating article on the CrimeTime blog, and wanted to tell us in the Nordic Noir Book Club about it.

Barry Forshaw: “I met the talented composer Halfdan E at a meal at the Danish ambassador’s for the stars and creative team of such shows as Borgen and The Killing – and I discovered we had a connection. I’d written the introduction for the Norvik Press edition of Dan Turrell’s Murder in the Dark, and Halfdan had collaborated with the late writer on the CD ‘An Introduction.’ I asked the composer about his work on Borgen.”

Read the interview on CrimeTime.

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Nordic Noir goes to prison in Denmark

Did you know that the biggest crime festival in Northern Europe takes place every year in Horsens, Denmark? Its name is Krimimessen, and since 2007, it’s been held at the old state penitentiary called Fængslet.

This year the crime festival will take place on April 5 and 6, 2014. 

The crime festival gives you the opportunity to witness interviews with authors – some even delivered as interrogations – and there are plenty of criminal interactions such as book fairs, award ceremonies, theatre, music and children’s activities. Every year, around 5000 crime enthusiasts visit Krimimessen, and approximately 100 Danish and international authors and lecturers meet their readers on 6 different stages. Maybe you want to meet your favourite author and dissect his/her brain? Or maybe you’re curious to find out what goes on behind closed doors at the criminal investigators in real life? It doesn’t matter if you’re the biggest crime nerd or simply curious – they have something for everyone.

Names to die for… Among the bigger names on the 2014 program there are a lot of international authors. This year, Krimimessen has visitors from USA, Israel, England, Germany, Norway and Sweden. The popular English author, Robert Goddard, will be joining in; his latest thriller Fault line, has been praised by critics worldwide. Scottish-born Philip Kerr will be accepting the award for the best piece of crime literature in 2013, and Chris Carter from USA/London will be telling you about his work in criminal psychology in the state of Michigan, and how he uses his field experiences as a criminal psychologist in his crime writing. From Israel, we have the gripping author, Dror Mishani. The Norwegian crime authors will be represented by Jan Mehlum and last year’s winner of the great Scandinavian crime award Glasnøglen (The Glas Key), Jørn Lier Horst. You will have the opportunity to make both new and old crime acquaintances from Sweden with authors such as Carin Gerhardsen, Nini Schulman, Mons Kallentoft, Sofie Sarenbrant, Dan T. Sehlberg, Mattias Boström, Christoffer Carlsson and Joakim Zander. From Germany, you can meet the gothic coroner Mark Benecke and listen to his entertaining lecture, Horrible crimes and Hitler’s teeth. Also from Germany, author Mertchild Borrmann will be introducing his novel, Wer das Schweigen bricht, to the Danish crime audience.

Nordic Noir. Nordic crime literature has been flourishing in recent years, and this is definitely reflected in the program this year. We’ve attracted a lot of Nordic authors and will be going into depth about the phenomenon, Nordic Noir, during our panel discussions. There will be investigations of the Danish crime success in the USA and UK from a feministic standpoint. A lecture will be given on Scandinavian crime history, and we’ll set off a discussion on how crime literature functions as a social commentator. We’ll also be directing the spotlight towards topics such as love, sex and eroticism. We’ll also get an insight into what villainology is all about – how do you recognise a villain in literature when you see him (or her)?

Criminal deals and young hearts. The prison will not only give you the opportunity to get locked up behind bars with your favourite authors. At the book fair, you can also make deals that will almost seem criminal to you. Around 25 publishing houses and book stores will have enticing offers at their booths – when we get to Sunday afternoon, the discounts will be to die for. Krimimessen is not just for grown-ups. There will be a crime festival for children and those young at heart with free entrance. Here, you’ll find lots of thrilling and crime-filled entertainments. Take a look at the entire programme here.

If you have any questions regarding a particular event – please don’t hesitate to get in touch with the organisers. It would be a crime to miss out on this thrilling event!

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London obsessed with Scandinavia?

The Nordic Noir Book Club was mentioned in an article published on London Loves Business for which I was interviewed. The article captures many examples of the current interest in all things Scandinavian in Britain and London these days including food and design (with a good selection of Scandinavian hot-spots in London).

In the interview I claimed there might be a relationship between the recession and the wave of interest in the Scandinavian countries:

“I think there’s a reason that this has coincided with the recession. British people are familiar with Scandinavian values of social equality and social justice, which are some of the biggest issues in this country at the moment. There’s a sense of the nostalgic values of home, family and nature too, which is what Scandinavia seems to represent.”

Visit London Loves Business or access the article directly here.

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Petrona Award for Scandinavian crime fiction shortlist

Petrona Award Judges Karen Meek, Katherina Hall, Barry Forshaw & Sarah Ward

Petrona Award Judges Karen Meek, Katherina Hall, Barry Forshaw & Sarah Ward

 

The judging lunch for the 2014 Petrona awards for Scandinavian Crime fiction has taken place with judges Barry Forshaw, Dr Katherina Hall, Karen Meek and Sarah Ward. A wide range of Nordic Noir crime was considered, and on March 6 the shortlist will be released. The winner will be announced at Bristol CrimeFest on the 15th -17th May (www.crimefest.com).

Visit Petrona Remembered

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