Last weekend, I had the absolute pleasure of attending Iceland Noir, a crime fiction festival in Reykjavik. One of the best parts of this all-around amazing weekend was being introduced to crime authors and their books for the first time! In my Iceland Noir Journal, I mentioned one such author - Thomas Enger. I got to listen to Thomas on a panel called "Darkness: What Frightens You?" and was so impressed with his description of his crime series, I just had to speak with him. Thanks to his new publisher (Orenda Books) and of course Thomas himself, I got to do just that! Read on for background information about Thomas, and what I learned from our conversation.
About Thomas Enger:
Photo credit: Ingrid Basso
Thomas Enger (b. 1973) is a former journalist. He made his debut with the crime novel BURNED in 2009, which became an international sensation before publication. BURNED is the first in a series of 5 books about the journalist Henning Juul, which delves into the depths of Oslo's underbelly, skewering the corridors of dirty politics and nailing the fast-moving world of 24-hour news. Rights to the series have been sold to 26 countries to date. In 2013 Enger published his first book for young adults, a dark fantasy thriller called THE EVIL LEGACY, for which he won the U-prize (best book Young Adult). Enger also composes music, and he lives in Oslo.
I was thrilled to sit down with Thomas after his Iceland Noir panel to learn a bit more about his career, his series, and the future for his books! But first, let's take a quick moment to appreciate how fantastic the cover for his upcoming novel, CURSED is...
Gorgeous, right? Yet another beautiful Orenda Books cover. But back to business: I had a great conversation with Thomas, and am so excited to share what I learned with you!
- As mentioned in his bio, Thomas worked as a journalist for 10 years before beginning his fiction-writing career. He felt compelled to transition from journalism to fiction because he wanted to tell his own stories, rather than reporting others'.
- He spent years practicing writing fiction - 15 years, to be exact. He considered it an educational exercise, and wrote 4 "practice" novels before he began writing fiction professionally.
Path to publication:
- In 2008, with his newspaper downsizing, Thomas decided it was the perfect moment to finally give fiction writing a try. He quit his job, wrote a young adult novel, and... it didn't work at all. Thomas suddenly found himself without a 9-to-5 job, and without a good idea for a book. Needless to say, this was not the start he had imagined for his writing career.
- But he found a silver lining: during this stressful period of time, he was forced to really push and challenge himself - and it was only then that he had the idea for Henning Juul. As soon as Henning popped into his head, he knew he had a good idea.
- Not only did he have a good idea, he had a great idea - an idea that was enough for a 6-book series! He approached a publisher with all 6 novels in Summer 2009, and ultimately got a deal. The series ended up trimmed down to 5 books, 3 of which have now been published in the US and UK (BURNED, PIERCED, and SCARRED), and the final 2 (CURSED and KILLED) which will be published by Orenda Books.
About the Henning Juul series:
- This series is set in Oslo, which Thomas considers essential to its success. Remember those 4 "practice" novels that Thomas wrote? They were all set in locations other than his home country, and dealt with professions in which Thomas had no personal experience. He realized that these were huge barriers for these books, and that he had to write about what he knew for it to feel authentic. Enter Henning: a character who works in Thomas' industry, and lives in Thomas' city.
- Thomas sees a lot of himself in Henning. From listening to Thomas speak at Iceland Noir, it's clear that much of this series is so personal to him. The series deals heavily with the loss of Henning's young son in a tragic accident, and on his Iceland Noir panel, Thomas explained that he used his novels to explore fears that are deeply personal to him as a parent.
- Yes, this is definitely a series which is intended to be read in order - but each book does enough re-introduction of key themes and characters that new readers will be able to jump in. (This is especially relevant, as I've read a sample of his forthcoming CURSED, book 4 in the series - and it's awesome!)
Any advice for new or aspiring authors?
- Write what you know. This goes back to a previous point - Thomas felt his writing took off once he set his stories against a backdrop he knew personally.
- Read widely - find authors whose work you admire, and analyze what it is about those books that resonates with you. Thomas specifically mentioned loving Harlan Coben for his attention-grabbing first sentences. (Side note: I totally agree! It takes a special talent to beat Harlan at the "first line" game.)
It was such a pleasure speaking with Thomas and learning more about his Henning Juul series! After our conversation, I went out and bought a copy of BURNED, and read it on the flight from Iceland home to New York. Henning Juul is a fascinating blend of hard-nosed journalist and burdened man with a tender heart - while reading BURNED, I wished I could take him out for a drink and just give him a hug. You can read my full review of BURNED here - suffice it to say, I loved reading about Henning, and can't wait for CURSED to release from Orenda Books in 2017!
Huge thanks to Karen Sullivan for setting up this interview, and to Thomas Enger for taking the time to speak with me!