You are originally from Marseille, why write about London and Sweden ?

These places define me as a woman and writer: I'm not only Marseillaise and French, but I am also a Londoner and an aspiring Swede! I arrived in London in 2009, after seven years in Paris. At the time, I was a journalist, freelancing for French magazines. I immediately felt at home in this city of various villages steeped in history, great parks and ancient pubs, all mixed with a cosmopolitan culture that inspires you. Hampstead is my favourite part of town. It is truly a haven that feels just like Miss Marple’s St. Mary Mead. As for Sweden, it was my husband who brought the Scandinavian influence to our family. He introduced me to the rough beauty of the west coast, the Nordic folklore and the divine  chokladbollar !

Who put you on the trail of crime novels?

My parents. I come from a bibliophile family. My father built bookshelves after bookshelves to accommodate the family collection, enriched by regular trips to second-hand bookshops. My father is a fan of detective novels, with a preference for Simenon and Exbrayat, but it was my mother who introduced me to the genre. The writer from Nice Nicole Ciravégna assured that reading the prose of Agatha Christie was an excellent workout for beginner readers. My mother placed “The Mysterious Affair at Styles” in my hands when I was seven, and I fell madly in love with a certain moustached man with an egg-shaped head! The pleasure of reading then gave me the desire to "tease with the pen," like my grandfather would say. My work as a journalist led me to write the biography of the French actress Laëtitia Milot. Our collaboration resulted in a second book, this time a thriller. Through this novel, I met Lilas Seewald, my editor. It was she who guided me on the path of "Block 46", "Keeper" and "Blood Song".

How did you get the idea of the first book of the Roy & Castells series, “Block 46”?

 

"Block 46" is the outcome of a set of needs and wishes that I carried with me for a long time. I felt the need to exhume the years of deportation of my grandfather at the Buchenwald concentration camp. Perhaps the need to mend something that was broken, or to forge a link that I had not been able to forge during his lifetime... I also wanted to get into the mind of a serial killer and that of a profiler, to accompany them in their respective manhunt, decrypt the murderous impulses of the former and the investigative nature of the latter. Finally, creating a duo of investigators was something close to my heart. Two women who, each in their own way, by pen or psychology, live to track down and hunt serial killers.

When and how do you work? Do you have a writing routine?

I write as much as I can and as often as possible; even on holiday, to the despair of my husband, my family and friends! But the actual writing is, in my case, the final phase in the construction of the book, and by far the most difficult. I begin to think of a next novel when I approach the corrections of the previous one. As soon as I agree on the subject (don’t think it is that easy!), I begin the research. I lace up my journalistic sneakers and I read, highlight, take notes and make thematic indexes to easily find the fruits of my research when writing. I also contact experts in the field and harass them with my profane questions. I had the opportunity to meet with some peerless professionals (and to my benefit, also blessed with extreme patience) like profilers Lee Rainbow and Carl Sesely, crime scene technician Lars-Åke Nordh or the forensic specialist Sonya Baylis. Whilst progressing in my inquiry and research, I create what I call the "skeleton", a detailed map of the book. Then follows the writing, which is setup not unlike a military routine! I am alone with my computer from 9am to 4pm. I am unable to work in coffee places: I like the silence of my office with my thermos nearby. In busy times, one of my drawers even becomes a temporary fridge, to save me from the many frequent runs to the kitchen with the added risk of choosing a cheese sandwich over an apple!

What do you like to read? 

My relationship to reading is quite obsessive: I cannot sleep without a few pages of a detective novel and I have the urge to read every day, regardless of my tiredness or even the sleepless nights caused by my little son... I am reading several books at once. Right now on my bedside table, I have "The Bridges of Madison" by Robert James Waller, a book about the French Belle Époque by Michel Winock, and King’s "Misery". As for Agatha Christie’s novels, I have read them all and I read them for fun again, from time to time!

 

What were your sources of inspiration for Emily Roy and Alexis Castells, your duo of investigators?

Emily and Alexis represent a patchwork of impressions caught from many different circumstances: a way of talking, a certain look, borrowed from a friend or a person across the street. I always have a notebook and pen in my bag to record these seeds of inspiration from various places and walks of life. But I would be lying if I did not admit that Emily and Alexis are also, each in their own way, a fantasized version of myself...

Where will you be taking Roy & Castells for their next investigation?

Back to the flamboyant Paris, at the beginning of the Twentieth century.

For the last words: a word you hate?

Impossible.

A favourite word?

« Mama », as said by my sons.

© 2019 by Johana Gustawsson. 

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