Earlier this year the Dutch translation of Död för dig by Mikaela Bley was published by A.W. Bruna Uitgevers as ‘Sterf voor mij’, translated by Corry van Bree. We asked Mikaela some question on nerves, true crime and motives.
Thanks for letting us ask you a few questions, Mikaela! I hope everything is alright over there. For anyone who might not know you yet: can you tell us who Mikaela Bley is? What should we definitely know about you? And what’s really kind of a secret? ?
I live in Stockholm together with my husband, our three kids and our puppy. I am terribly afraid of the dark and sleep with lights on and a baseball bat next to my bed.
How would your best friends describe you?
I think they would say that I work too much and sleep too little – and that I am loyal, funny, happy, creative and interesting – I hope so! ?
And your kids?
I think they would say that I am a bit too strict sometimes and that they don’t like it when I force them to read.
Before you began your writing career, you were a buyer for Swedish TV station TV4. What did your job entail? What kind of programs did you buy? What did you enjoy most about that job?
I worked as an acquisition executive at Sweden’s largest commercial TV broadcaster, buying content in all genres, documentaries, drama and reality. It was incredibly fun in so many ways, but there was also a lot of business involved, negotiating long deals with major TV networks in the US to individual films from small, European independent companies.
When did you start writing, and why?
I acquired the rights for an American true-crime tv-series called Snapped, which is about women who commit murder. The series captivated both the viewers and me, and I started reading everything I could find about female perpetrators. This is where the idea for my first book in the Ellen Tamm series was born, and I began writing the book. Fairly early on, I decided that I would finish writing it and to be able to do that I quit my job at TV4 to focus entirely on my writing. I set a deadline for myself and worked hard on my story. My first book, Lykke, was published in Sweden in 2015.
Did you consciously choose the thriller genre? If so, why?
I love crime fiction and always have. I’ve also always had an interest and curiosity about crime and what drives people to commit them. I want to know more about the forces behind it, what drives a person to kill another, and the psychology behind a crime is what interests me the most. How did these people end up where they did? I don’t believe in evil; I want to try to understand and find the nuances to peoples actions.
When you started on your first book starring crime reporter Ellen Tamm, did you know it was going to be a series? And for Henrik Hedin? Do you have a certain number of books in mind for this series? Will we see Ellen Tamm again?
Ellen Tamm will come back as soon as I have the time to write. I miss her and want to continue her journey as soon as possible. I have just started on the third book in THE KILLER series and there will be many more to come.
How long did it take you to write the first book? What was it like to send in your manuscript for the first time? Does it still feel like that when you send in a manuscript now?
I write a book every year and when I submitted my first manuscript, it was terribly nerve-wracking, and I probably didn’t fully understand how difficult it was and how tough the competition was. Publishers receive so many manuscripts every day – but I still felt hopeful when I submitted manuscripts to a few publishers. At first, I received some rejections, but after a month or so, there was a publisher who was interested, and I remember it as completely unreal.
I’m still nervous when I send my first draft of the next book to my editor. The creative process makes you doubt yourself, your manuscript and your story several times before the book is finished. But it’s a part of it, and I think the doubt is needed for you to develop and become a better author.
How did you create Ellen? Is she based on someone you know? And what about Henrik?
Ellen is a headstrong reporter with a heavy baggage. When she was a child, her twin sister died in a tragic drowning accident. Ellen remains a shadow of her sister and carries around a trauma she has never processed. She is drawn to death, works with death, lives with death and tries to understand – just like me – but Ellen has a much heavier baggage than I do and a completely different life situation. She grew up in a castle, single and lives in an attic apartment on Skeppsbron in Stockholm.
Henrik Hedin emerged when I wrote the story of Caroline and Gustav in DEAD TO YOU. Henrik is a former football pro and on the field, he was called “The Killer”. He crushed all resistance, no one wanted to meet him in a duel. Henrik often crossed the line, both on and off the field. If he saw behavior he didn’t like, he took matters into his own hands and used violence. He was suspended from various football clubs. In the end, he quit and trained to become a cop – to make up for all the shit he did. He still suffers from impulse control and goes his own way when he doesn’t think the law is enough. Henrik is still known for his football career and is a macho guy that everyone looks up to and respects. Even now that he is one of Sweden’s best investigators, no one wants to meet him in a duel. Henrik grew up with an alcoholic father who beat him several times a week. Something he hasn’t processed, so in a way, Ellen and Henrik have something in common. Unprocessed traumas that affects them daily.
Why did you choose the topics incorporated in your books, like a young girl going missing, polygamy, the disappearance of a pregnant woman and her daughters and ADHD? Did you base these stories on real events?
All my stories are based on a lot of different true stories mixed into new stories – to lift something bigger in our society.
How do you research for your stories? In Flickorna utan namn, for example, you write about a boarding school for troubled girls. Is this something you have experience with? Have you ever visited a boarding school like this?
I have many friends who have attended boarding school, but here I have done a lot of research and found different variations of test groups that have been isolated in history. The Girls Without Names is about how narrow the norm for women is and how society views girls who do not fit into the given structures
Ellen’s private life isn’t exactly running smoothly. Was it a conscious choice for you to write about a troubled woman? Why? And why a crime reporter, rather than a woman in the police force, for example?
I find it interesting to write about the cynical pressure and what the media is willing to do to get clicks on their articles. It’s an interesting perspective and I think Ellen also gives us an interesting portrait of a woman who doesn’t fit into any societal class or live the way a woman of her age and background is expected to, and that just because you grew up in a beautiful castle – it doesn’t necessarily mean life will be easy.
Are you working on your next book? If so, can you tell us what it’s about? When might we expect your next book?
I’m currently writing the next book in The Killer series, and I still don’t dare to reveal much, except that it’s about false identities that threaten the security of the realm.
Do you enjoy reading? If so, which genre?
I love reading and I read one book a week and I enjoy all different genres.
Who’s your favorite author?
I have many favourite authors and one of them is Toni Morrison. I love all her books and how she gave us new perspectives when she so brilliantly portrayed the African-American history from different women’s lives.
Is there a book that you think everyone should read?
Beloved by Toni Morrisson is one of my favorites of all time.
Is there a TV-series you would recommend to everyone?
Again, there are so many great TV shows, but if I had to choose a few, it would be two timeless shows: The Wire and Six Feet Under.
Coffee or tea?
Sweet or savory?
Physical book or e-reader?
What’s your favorite food?
Italian food. Pasta, pizza cheese and wine!
What’s one thing we’re always allowed to wake you up for, even in the middle of the night?
New stories that will take me to places I have never been or make me understand something form another point of view. Good music, friends and family.
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