Swedish crime-writing couple Cilla and Rolf Börjlind have gone from writing TV and film scripts for Wallander, Arne Dahl and the Martin Beck series to their own literary creation. Their debut novel, Spring Tide, has been translated into more than 25 languages – and it is one of the 20 books to be given away on World Book Night (23 April) in the UK. Meanwhile, their second novel, Third Voice, has just come out. We caught up with Cilla and Rolf to talk sequels, Swedish weather and their own TV adaptation.
Spring Tide has one of the most arresting openings to a crime novel in recent years with its beach scene. Do you get a lot of reaction from readers to that scene?
Cilla: Yes, we do. Our aim was to hook the reader from the beginning, and I think we succeeded rather well.
Rolf: It’s kind of an iconic scene, you will remember it for a long time. And yet it’s not gory or bloody at all.
The second novel, Third Voice, is set in Stockholm but also takes the characters to Marseille. Why do you like to include international settings – is it partly to get away from the Swedish weather?
C: Ha, ha, yes we take every chance to get away from here. No, I think we do that because we can and because we like travelling, both mentally and in reality. For many years, as scriptwriters, we were so limited by budgets that we never got away from Stockholm in our stories, so when we had the chance we grabbed it! But to be fair to our producer this time, now that Spring Tide is going to be a TV series, they are actually filming in Costa Rica and not in a studio in Stockholm, and that is a luxury.
The books are ensemble crime stories including an investigative duo – troubled ex-cop Tom Stilton and equally troubled trainee Olivia Rönning. Were you inspired by your work on the Arne Dahl TV drama and its team of investigators?
R: No, rather the opposite actually. We have written so many TV films and series about a police force in a police station, including Arne Dahl, that we were tired of that. We wanted to gather another group of people, different in age, sex and status, so that we could explore different layers in society through our characters.
Can you explain how you work as a crime-writing couple?
R: When we write a book, or a script for that matter, we start with constructing the characters and the story. At this stage we talk, talk and walk. When we have the story, we put it down in scenes or chapters, in rough outlines and we put everything on a wall in our study. Then we consider what works and what doesn’t. We spend a lot of time doing this, because everything needs (more or less) to be in place before we start to write. Then we choose and divide up what we want to write about, different chapters or characters. When everything is written, we go through and rewrite so that the text has the same voice.
C: We have been writing together for such a long time now that it would be very lonely to write something separately. You always have someone to talk to and try out ideas on and we are each other’s first readers every time.
R: It’s also very helpful to use two brains when you construct very complicated scenarios.
With your strong characters and plots portraying different social conflicts in Sweden, are you often compared to Sjöwall and Wahlöö (pictured) in your country?
R: Yes, we are, and we are proud of it. Perhaps we use more humour. That is important to us, because we think many crime stories lack humour.
What can you reveal about the TV adaptation of Spring Tide?
C: Unfortunately we are not allowed to say anything about the casting yet, but yes, we do have a Tom Stilton and an Olivia Rönning that we are very satisfied with. The shooting will begin in May and they will start in Costa Rica, and then in Stockholm and Gothenburg. In Sweden it will be shown in February next year on SVT, the state channel, as for the other countries we don’t know yet.
And what can you tell us about the third book, Black Dawn (recently published in Sweden as Svart Gryning)?
R: Olivia has finally decided that she wants to work in the police. She has moved to the southern part of Sweden, to a small town called Höganäs, to do her six months as a police cadet, when she gets involved in an investigation into the murder of a child. Tom Stilton is fighting his own battles in life when he stumbles over a book filled with press cuttings about an unsolved case, the murder of a prostitute, an investigation he was thrown off from before he quit the police force – a case that he has never been able to forget.
Black Dawn is about the dark, unpleasant wind that is blowing in Sweden, and all over Europe – racism, in its most extreme and ugliest form. We have also added internet abuse and sectarianism and what it does to people. It is also about losing a child, a parent’s nightmare… We’ll start writing the fourth book about Tom and Olivia this autumn. Then we will see; we’ll take one book at a time.