Interview: Joachim B Schmidt

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Joachim B Schmidt crime author

Sometimes, it seems, magnetic north has a pull that is more than just ionic. For Swiss crime fiction author Joachim B Schmidt, this was certainly the case and after falling in love with the place as a teenager he emigrated there in 2007. It’s where he was inspired to write novels and he is the creator of Kalmann, a charming, quirky neurodivergent man who has been told he has the academic capacity of a six-year-old but equally has the capacity for heroism, acting as Sheriff in the tiny community of Rauferhöfn in northeast Iceland, where he hunts arctic fox and Greenland shark with his grandfather.

If you were lucky enough to have met him in Kalmann, the first in the series to be translated into English back in 2022, then you’ll know his qualities and it’s likely you’re looking forward to the sequel – Kalmann and the Sleeping Mountain, out 18 July. It’s a book in which Kalmann learns a great deal more about his family’s past, embarks on a madcap journey to America, gets arrested at the Capitol insurgence, and faces all sorts of other music when he returns to Iceland. We just had to find out more about the author and Kalmann himself, so we sat down for an interview.

First of all, please can you give us a little background about yourself and about how you became a crime fiction author?
I grew up on a farm in the Swiss Alps, but I was born with a longing for the wide world, fell in love with Iceland as a teenager and decided to emigrate in 2007. I´ve always been a creative person, making music, writing short stories, but Iceland inspired me so much it made me write books. After publishing three novels, I decided it was time to write a crime novel. Enter Kalmann.

What do you think crime fiction lovers will love about Kalmann and the Sleeping Mountain?
Hopefully everyone will have read the previous book Kalmann and therefore will have experienced the joy of meeting Kalmann once again and accompanying him on a new adventure. The story is rooted in reality, more than one would think actually – after all it’s a crazy world out there – but thankfully Kalmann keeps his feet on the ground at all times: no need to worry. The plot is twisted, but Kalmann keeps it together.

Kalmann is an unusual fellow – tell us more about him, about his challenges, and about how he views the world?
Kalmann is a neurodivergent young man, yes, unusual to say the least. If you saw him walking down the street in the Icelandic fishing village of Raufarhöfn you would recognise him immediately: he wears a cowboy hat, he’s got a sheriff’s star on his chest and he smells of rotten shark; a delicacy in Iceland. His way of thinking is rather childlike, but because he was brought up by his grandfather, his worldviews can be old fashioned. I just love the guy.

How would you say he’s developed since the last book?
Kalmann went through a lot of drama and trauma in the last book. On top of his neurodivergence he might have developed a case of PTSD. And his grandfather dies. At the beginning of Kalmann and the Sleeping Mountain we meet our hero in a state of confusion and grief. If there’s one thing he can’t handle, it’s strong emotions.

Who or what is he up against in this second novel to appear in English?
I’m trying to avoid ‘good’ and ‘bad’ in my books. Even Kalmann has some violent energy in him. After his grandfather’s death Kalmann is invited to visit his father in America, only to find out that the man is an enthusiastic Trump supporter planning to participate in the January 6th Capitol attack. There, Kalmann is picked up by the FBI. Kalmann is up against the whole Western world it seems for a moment. Yes, I do think that the rioters were terribly misguided people, and I’m not a Trump supporter, but Kalmann is not a judgemental person, he simply observes. In the end, the sequel of to Kalmann is once again a book about outsiders and bullies. 

We discover there’s quite a polarity between his new found father’s political views and those of his maternal grandfather. What did you want to explore when it came to politics (or even history) when you came up with the story?
The story simply reflects a reality in Iceland that I find fascinating. Iceland is a founding member of NATO, the US Army has been stationed in Iceland for decades – that explains  Kalmann’s father’s presence in Iceland. Not everyone in Iceland is happy about the Americans, not only because the US Army has a history of leaving behind a mess wherever they show up. The political views of rural Icelanders can be very extreme, running the whole spectrum from supporters of uncontrolled capitalism to old fashioned communism. And in the middle of it all is Kalmann. Wonderful, don’t you think?

What has it been like for you as an emigre to Iceland from Switzerland? Is any of that experience reflected in your Kalmann books?
To me writing books is a form of integration. I study Iceland every day, I want to understand it, I want to be part of it. In my books I offer a different perspective on Iceland, and at times a critical view. Also, integration is hard, it’s a lot of work and it can be frustrating at times. Writing helps.

Kalmann by Joachim B Schmidt front cover

What has the response been like from readers in the English-speaking world, since the first book appeared last year? Have you had any interesting feedback?
I have to admit, I have been mostly interested in the response from my Icelandic readers. Both Kalmann books have been translated into Icelandic. And the responses have been, to my relief, very positive. As we speak, an Icelandic production company is preparing to bring Kalmann to the TV screen. The responses from the English-speaking world have been very positive as well, but not very loud to be honest. I’m hoping for more feedback with this second one, since Kalmann himself is wandering into the English-speaking world – and is getting lost in it!

Readers will discover that he faces certain difficulties. Can you spell out what condition he has? Was this something you researched to create his character and what you wanted to show or explore through Kalmann?
In the books, his condition is never spelled out. Purposefully. I wanted to leave it to the readers to fill in the blanks. Everyone should have the chance to create his or her own personal Kalmann, based on everyone’s life experience. I’m sure that my Kalmann is different from your Kalmann, and that is wonderful. In the end I meant to say that we are all individuals, and as individuals we should be treated equally seriously. 

What crime fiction authors do you read; who has inspired you most?
I have a confession to make: I rarely read crime fiction! But I do read a lot of Icelandic literature in general. Still I would like to mention Gunnar Gunnarsson, one of my favourite Icelandic writers who has written The Black Cliffs: Svartfugl which is considered to be the very first Icelandic crime novel ever written. What a wonderful, inspiring, but sad piece of literature!

What’s next for Joachim B Schmidt and what’s next for Kalmann?
I’m working on a book about a historical figure who lived in Iceland around 1900. After that I want to find out what Kalmann has been up to since The Sleeping Mountain. Whatever trouble he will have gotten himself into, I’m sure there’s no need to worry… I hope.

Kalmann and the Sleeping Mountain is out on 28 July in the UK and US. Use the buttons below to order a copy.

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