the inside story on how co-authors make it work

Humans are not created to be alone. We need each other, not just for love, but to evolve. To think and imagine… to grow and to be.

There was a writer in the small town where I grew up in the seventies; no, actually, a man who tried to write books, as I have never seen his name on any book spine. He was a man with thick glasses, tousled hair and crooked fingers. If we walked close enough, we could hear the sound of the typewriter through the window of his study of him. In any case, it was important that he was not disturbed but he was allowed to sit quietly alone with his thoughts and creativity.

It is easy to imagine that art is created that way, but great accomplishments are rarely the work of a single person. Creativity will often have a better starting point when bright people pair up and complement each other, such as John Lennon and Paul McCartney. Two heads undoubtedly think better than one.

Around the same time as The Beatles made their breakthrough, the Swedish author couple Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö, with their policeman Martin Beck, created a new literary genre: Nordic Noir. All of us Scandinavian crime writers who have come afterwards, stand on their shoulders, whether we write alone or with others.

Thomas Enger and I belong to the new generation of Nordic crime writers. Each of us published books with the same publishing house and, over the years, we were able to help each other. I benefited from inside information from Thomas’s background of him as a journalist when I needed him in my work, and I was happy to share my experience of him as a police investigator with him.

When we met, we often talked about the books we had recently read – what we liked and didn’t like, and discovered that we had a lot of shared preferences. From this came the germ of an idea to write something together. We had had success individually, and were confident about our own writing, but it somehow felt more exciting to challenge ourselves by doing something new and different. It was only natural that we would create a series with a police investigator and a journalist in the lead roles.

The crucial thing for a good collaboration is the rather diffuse expression “good chemistry” between two people. At the same time, creative collaboration involves the art of balance. Part of the success behind our crime series about police investigator Alexander Blix and news blogger Emma Ramm is that we, as writers, have dissimilar writing styles and, yet, not so different that we cannot disagree without getting into conflict. Both of us are open to the idea that things can be done differently, and neither of us is so precious that we demand changes. Differences are important, and some self-sacrifice – an absence of ego – is absolutely necessary to achieve a successful result.

Finding the right collaboration – a plot we both liked and characters we cared about – was a long process. The story – the plot itself – needed to be created, and also negotiated, experimented with, and then adjusted. Over the years, we discussed possibilities, plots and characters before we found time to realize our project. Finally, in 2018, the first Blix and Ramm book was published in Norway. This novel – Death Deserved, in English – was different from the books we had written alone. There is more speed, pace and drive across the story. There is a greater energy and there is far more at stake – because being two makes you more fearless as a writer. You can set bigger goals, expand your ambitions and aim higher.

Unhinged is the third book in the series, and the pace has been increased even more. We wanted readers to be surprised – even shocked – and the main character to face even greater risks and torment.

One of Blix’s colleagues has uncovered a strange connection between several Oslo murder cases over the previous 18 months. She tries to call him, not yet wanting to involve anyone else. But before Blix has time to call her back from her, she is shot and killed in her own home from her. Just a few pages later: Alex Blix and Emma Ramm are locked in separate interrogation rooms. Blix has shot and killed a man, and Ramm saw it all happen. There is immense jeopardy and emotion in this book; and we’ve taken collective risks that we might not have done individually.

Some collaborations are dying out, while others are growing stronger, and this is interesting to witness. Writing together is about thinking together. By editing and writing in each other’s parts of the book, matching each other’s diction, prose style and turn of phrase, we learned a lot about the writing craft itself. For us, it has been so rewarding and inspiring that we’re committed to continuing! And the next book will be out next year!
Unhinged is published by Orenda Books, and translated by Megan Turney

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