Fans of Will Dean’s evocative, fiendish and compelling writing have been waiting for the latest instalment of The Tuva Moodyson Mysteries which follows Dark Pines, Red Snow and Black River, and the standalone novel The Last Thing to Burn. Ahead of the publication of Bad Apples this week on 7th October I am delighted to share Will Dean’s thoughts and musings about nature and surroundings that inspire him.
It only takes one…
A murder: A resident of small-town Visberg is found decapitated
A festival: A grim celebration in a cultish hilltop community after the apple harvest
A race against time: As Visberg closes ranks to keep its deadly secrets, there could not be a worse time for Tuva Moodyson to arrive as deputy editor of the local newspaper. Powerful forces are at play and no one dares speak out. But Tuva senses the story of her career, unaware that perhaps she is the story…
Here’s what Will Dean says:
I’m a reader first and foremost, and I enjoy atmospheric books: gripping stories that immerse you in particular time and place. I like to feel as if I’ve fallen into a story. Like I’m living it. I still relish that magical childhood feeling of stepping through the back of the wardrobe for the first time. Entering a new world. Stepping into fresh snow. That’s what I like to read so that’s what I try to write.
Before I begin a first draft I spend many hours inside my own head, walking around the streets of Gavrik (a fictional town in Värmland, central Sweden). I reacquaint myself with the layout of the place, the small police department, the one bar, the recycling station, the gothic liquorice factory, the hunt store, and, of course, Tuva Moodyson’s employer, the Gavrik Posten newspaper.
Gavrik (and now Visberg, its Twin Peaks-ish hilltop neighbour) feels as real to me as any town in Scandinavia. But what inspired me to dream up these places?
First, I was heavily influenced by my own surroundings. I live partly off-grid, deep within a huge Swedish elk forest. We use wood for heating and cooking and we take water from our own well. Moose regularly trample through our land (because it’s actually their land). My nearest town is about a half hour drive away (when the snow’s not too deep). On a Friday night there’s nobody out on the streets. It’s a quiet place where people tend to keep themselves to themselves. My town’s largest employer is a biscuit factory. In December the streets smell of gingerbread. In contrast, Gavrik’s streets smell intensely of aniseed; the ice-cold air is laced with it. Unlike my local factory, the Grimberg Liquorice is a place of secrets, unexplained accidents, and toxic co-dependency. The town relies on the factory for secure jobs. Generations of locals work there. And the factory relies on the town for reliable labour. The locals and the factory are locked together in a slow death spiral.
Second, I’m obsessed with small towns in general. I grew up in the East Midlands around several market towns, never inside, always on the edge looking in. I find them fascinating. Where you have one main employer, the town dynamics can become extreme. The factory or warehouse or manufacturer can be as important to local people as a school or church. The Grimberg factory in Gavrik can’t survive without the town and the town can’t survive without the factory. They live or die together. And the cocktail of myths, secrets and grudges you find in any small, cut-off community is an electrifying set-up for a story. I’m fascinated by the lives of ordinary people living in ordinary places. It is their stories that I want to tell, and a small town setting helps me to focus and go deep.
Finally, I find the nature here utterly intoxicating. Distinct seasons. True wilderness. A crime series set in Scotland or Ireland can bring a sense of isolation, but we also have bears, wolverines, lynx and wolves to contend with. Those elements (Åsa Larsson writes bears especially well), combined with extreme seasons, lend a backdrop of menace. When I imagine the beginning of a Nordic tale I sometimes visualise the opening scene of The Shining. A grand vista. One car driving along a snaking road in the wilderness, venturing further and further from safety. Add a blizzard in to the mix (as Ragnar Jónasson and Peter Høeg do to great effect) and you almost create the sense of a locked room mystery or a closed set. It’s a delicious landscape for suspense.
I’ve been here for over a decade now. Rural Sweden is home. As long as I continue to find this world (and its inhabitants) fascinating, I’ll continue to tell these stories. Each one is a real pleasure.