Crime fiction readers and publishers alike continue to ride the popular wave of Nordic noir, ever scanning the horizon for the next Stieg Larsson. Newcomers Jerker Eriksson (right) and Håkan Axlander Sundquist, collectively known under the pseudonym Erik Axl Sund, are making their own waves with the atmospheric debut the Crow Girl. Originally published in Sweden as a three-part trilogy, it’s already a hot property in 30 markets worldwide, and has been combined into one book for its release in English in April 2016.
Crow Girl has garnered a special award from Swedish Academy of Crime Writers, and is already being developed as a television series in the US. The story centers around the investigation of a series of child murders and the drama plays out as a psychologist comes to the aid of a detective dealing with issues of trauma caused by abuse, paedophilia and human trafficking.
It’s new Scandinavian crime fiction, so we just and to know more. Let’s meet Jerker and Håkan, answering our questions jointly as Erik Axl Sund…
You’re both musicians, and have collaborated over the years. Does being rockers lend itself in any way to writing?
Yes, at least for us, because as two people who write we must be able to compromise and that is something we have learned through playing music together. In a band, the roles are clear. Drums and bass keep pace. The guitar creates the nuances and the singer is the band’s star. When we write, we take turns and change our roles, but it is rare that we both want to be the star at the same time.
Our musical references are in the punk and new wave, and that is reflected in our short chapters and unadorned language. We avoid drum solos and other artistic excesses while trying to compress the language to the essentials.
Do you ever imagine a soundtrack accompanying the scenes you’re writing?
Absolutely! We sometimes amuse ourselves by putting together a soundtrack to our novels. But during the actual writing process there’s a difference between us. Jerker wants silence while he writes, while Håkan prefers to write in a sonic chaos. Radio, television and music in the background. Preferably all at the same time. Håkan usually listens to film soundtracks as he writes and chooses songs that reflect the mood of that chapter. Sometimes it almost feels pretentious.
How do you collaborate in your writing?
Once the synopsis is complete and the outlines of various chapters have emerged, we write each one individually, then we swap and edit each other’s text. Change, add and delete. Jerker tends to write too much about very little, while Håkan writes too little about too many things. Jerker writes in a blue font and Hakan in red. When we consider the text to be done, we change it into black and then it becomes text where we cannot determine who wrote what.
That’s when Erik Axl Sund steps into the picture. He is a person with two brains and two- people’s experiences. Confident and very contradictory. Unsure, but occasionally cocky.
During certain periods, we divide the characters between us, often because we feel very differently about them, and it’s best that the one who likes a character most also writes about him or her.
Jerker, you were a librarian working in a prison, did this inform your crime fiction writing in any way?
Jerker Eriksson: Not directly, but the experience of encountering criminals influenced me in a wider sense. The realisation that a criminal looks and mostly acts just like you and me. Before, I thought that you could tell who is a thief and who is not. Maybe I was naïve, but I had a notion that all the villains looked like Walt Disney’s Beagle Boys.
Where did the idea for this series come from?
Håkan played in the band I Love You Baby! while Jerker produced the band and followed along on tours in places like Poland, Ukraine and Belarus. It was during these trips that the idea of writing books together was born.
We had already done so much together: music, art, web projects and film, so writing seemed a natural next step. We both have a great interest in literature.
The book started in the spring of 2008. It was a turbulent period in our lives, with drastic changes. Life turned upside down and both of us felt that we wanted to do something new. We had a good story that we wanted to share with as many people as possible and we chose to do it in the form of a crime novel.
Håkan wrote about 40 pages that he was very pleased with. Jerker took them and went out to his parents’ island in the archipelago. There, he wrote, in solitude and without electricity, an additional 40 pages with pencil and paper.
Without getting too personal, we can say that we dug where we stood. We used our own and our friends’ experiences. Reality often tends to exceed the poem. Truth is often stranger than fiction. And we have obviously been inspired by real events and done a lot of additional research.
The Crow Girl has two strong women characters in the lead in the detective Jeanette Kihlberg and psychologist Sofia Zetterlund. Do you find it challenging to create female characters?
We have more female friends than male so it was not that difficult to take the female perspective. Much easier than one might think. And because we believe that sex is largely a social construction we just took our thoughts and ideas and put them inside a female character. Sometimes it’s that simple.
The Crow Girl is dark, graphic, and contains a fair amount of social commentary, like other Scandinavian crime fiction. Do your novels follow the Nordic noir tradition in that sense, do they differ in others?
Tricky question. Of course our books contain social commentary and in many ways, they are a part of the tradition of Nordic noir. But in some ways they differ. From the start, The Crow Girl wasn’t even a crime novel. It was a psychological experiment between us both and that is probably still visible in our text. It’s personal stuff. Elements of poetry, music, even mental illness as we were not very happy guys when we wrote it.
What’s in the pipeline?
We are now working on our next project. The first part – Glass Bodies – was released last year in Sweden and we are now well into the second part. In some ways it is even darker than The Crow Girl. Beside this, we have an art gallery in Stockholm where we show contemporary art and also work with paintings and artists. Hopefully we can also show our own art in the near future.