Monday, 11 June 2018

Countless characters by Gunnar Staalesen

I am delighted to be today's stop on the blog tour for Big Sister by Gunnar Staalesen. Gunnar talks about 'Countless characters' below! Big Sister is published by Orenda Books, and will be published in paperback on 20 June 2018.

Countless characters
By Gunnar Staalesen

Big Sister is the eighteenth novel in the Varg Veum series. The first one, which hasn’t been translated into English yet, was published more than forty years ago, in 1977. Number nineteen is almost finished and will be published in Norway this autumn.

During all these years and across all these books, I have created more characters then I can remember – and I have never counted them. Some of them I have lived with on and off over the years; others have disappeared – some dying and some retiring from police work. But if I leaf through one of my books and read a page here and there, I can still recognise my characters – mostly by name – even if it is almost forty years since I invented some of them. I can still see them clearly in my mind, too, often because many – at least in terms of their physical appearance – are modelled on people from real life, such as a local politician, an actor or a football player I have seen, a writer colleague, or even a publisher or a journalist that I have met, even women that I have fallen in love with from a distance…

When I started to write seriously, at seventeen years old, there were several writers who had a significant impression on me: Jack Kerouac, Albert Camus, some Norwegian writers – although still not Sjöwall & Wahlöö and Chandler (they came some years later). Similarly, during my childhood I read and loved the great storytellers: Dumas, Hugo, Jules Verne, Stevenson, Scott – and, of course, Charles Dickens. What impressed me with Dickens was the way he created his characters: funny names that were easy to remember, their way of speaking, and their set of physical characteristics. All his characters are painted so vividly, you can see them before your eyes as you read – and at that age I read a lot of Dickens’ novels. Although I didn’t go on to write books in his style, I tried to work like him when creating my own characters. In fact, there is a lot of Dickens in crime fiction – for example, you can easily see how Chandler builds character in the same way in his books. And there is a huge character-creating tradition in English-language writing, from Shakespeare to Dickens to Chandler, and a lot more names I haven’t the room to mention!

The action in the Varg Veum novels starts in 1976 and Big Sister takes place in 2003. Clearly, Varg has grown older during these years – he was thirty-four at the beginning and now he’s sixty-one. The same has happened to all the characters around him, of course. The police officers he meets in the first part of the series are all retired now, apart from Hamre, who will retire after the book I am writing now. Women have come and gone too. His wife, from who he was already divorced in the first book, has a girlfriend now; his son, who was a small child in the first book, has a son himself, making Varg a grandfather. (His son is a professor in literature at the University of Oslo, and we do not meet him much in the later part of the series.) His journalist best friend died some years ago, after playing an important role as an informant in many of the books, and Karin, his girlfriend and wife-to-be, died in one of the most recent books published in the UK. During all the books I try to keep track of these characters – their ages, their occupations, their looks etc. – so that I do not make any mistakes. But it is not a failsafe archive, so some smaller mistakes have occurred over the years.

In 1997-2000, when I wrote my trilogy about Norway, Europe and the world in the twentieth century – some years before Ken Follett and Jan Guillou did the same – I told the stories of several families in Bergen. One of these was the tale of Varg Veum’s parents: what happened to them before they met, how they came to meet, and the story of their marriage. As in most families, they had their secrets. One of these was about Varg’s older half-sister, who was born in another town before his mother went to Bergen and met his father, the tram conductor from the fjords. This secret is one of the elements in my most recent Varg book, and is one of the reasons that the novel has the title Big Sister.

Varg’s sister’s name is Norma. She was a character who I loved creating and I hope all my readers will like her too.

About Gunnar Staalesen
Gunnar Staalesen was born in Bergen, Norway in 1947. He made his debut at the age of 22 with Seasons of Innocence and in 1977 he published the first book in the Varg Veum series. He is the author of over 20 titles, which have been published in 24 countries and sold over five million copies. Twelve film adaptations of his Varg Veum crime novels have appeared since 2007, starring the popular Norwegian actor Trond Epsen Seim, and a further series is being filmed now. Staalesen, who has won three Golden Pistols (including the Prize of Honour) and the Petrona Award, and been shortlisted for the CWA Dagger, lives in Bergen with his wife.

About Big Sister

Big Sister
By Gunnar Staalesen
Published by Orenda Books (E-book- available now; Paperback - 20 June 2018)

Publisher's description
Varg Veum receives a surprise visit in his office. A woman introduces herself as his half-sister, and she has a job for him. Her god-daughter, a 19-year-old trainee nurse from Haugesund, moved from her bedsit in Bergen two weeks ago. Since then no one has heard anything from her. She didn't leave an address. She doesn't answer her phone. And the police refuse to take her case seriously. 
Veum’s investigation uncovers a series of carefully covered-up crimes and pent-up hatreds, and the trail leads to a gang of extreme bikers on the hunt for a group of people whose dark deeds are hidden by the anonymity of the Internet. And then things get personal…

Here's a snippet of my review: 'Big Sister is perfectly packaged Nordic crime fiction, with its amazing sense of place and chilling plot - one particular scene left me feeling cold (not many books have that effect on me).'

Click here to read the whole review.

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