Monday 15 May 2017

A Conversation With Johana Gustawsson

Johana Gustawsson was born in 1978 in Marseille and has a degree in political science. Johana Gustawsson has worked as a journalist for the French press and television. She married a Swede and now lives in London. She was the co-author of a bestseller, On se retrouvera, published by Fayard Noir in France, whose television adaptation drew over 7 million viewers in June 2015. WINNER of Balai de la Découverte 2016 AND Nouvelle Plume d’Argent 2016 he is working on the third book in the Roy & Castells series.

BLOCK 46 by Johana Gustawsson is translated by Maxim Jakubowski and is the first in the Roy & Castell series.

"A real page-turner... I loved it!" -- Martina Cole

Falkenberg, Sweden. The mutilated body of talented young jewellery designer, Linnéa Blix, is found in a snow-swept marina.

Hampstead Heath, London. The body of a young boy is discovered with similar wounds. Buchenwald Concentration Camp, 1944. In the midst of the hell of the Holocaust,

Erich Ebner will do anything to see himself as a human again.

Are the two murders the work of a serial killer, and how are they connected to shocking events at Buchenwald?

Emily Roy, a profiler on loan to Scotland Yard from the Canadian Royal Mounted Police, joins up with Linnéa's friend, French true-crime writer Alexis Castells, to investigate the puzzling case. They travel between Sweden and London, and then deep into the past, as a startling and terrifying connection comes to light. Plumbing the darkness and the horrific evidence of the nature of evil, Block 46 is a multi- layered, sweeping and evocative thriller that heralds a stunning new voice in French Noir. 

"Viscerally brutal yet delicately beautiful, like blood spatter on fresh snow. An unbelievable debut." -- Matt Wesolowski

We'd like to thank Johana, a fellow Agatha Christie fan, for taking part in A Conversation With... and wish her huge success with Block 46, an important book, and her future writing.

Tell us of your journey as a writer

I used to be a journalist for press and television in France. In 2010, I wrote the biography of a French actress, which became a bestseller. We decided to continue our collaboration, and a few years later I wrote a psychological drama, which was adapted into a TV movie that drew more than 7 million viewers. Our editor at Fayard Noir then told me that she wanted to launch my “solo carrier” as she put it. If I wouldn’t have been heavily pregnant with my first born at the time, I would have jumped out of joy and enjoy a glass of divine Barolo! Block 46 was published in France a year and a half later and the foreign rights were sold within a few months to thirteen countries.

How do you see your role as a writer and what do you like most about it?

I see myself as an entertainer. When someone opens my book, I want to hold their hand and make them travel with me. Scare them, make them laugh and cry and make them regret to have to turn the last page, wondering when they will be able to see Roy and Castells again.

Have you ever created a character who you dislike but find yourself empathising with?

I never dislike my characters. I love them and empathise with them. It’s the only way for me to make them exist in the flesh. In a way, it’s similar to what actors do when they have to embody a terrifying character: like Ralph Fiennes who was Amon Göth in Shindler’s list or Bruno Ganz in Downfall who embodied Hitler. To become those men, they had to understand them, without judging them.

What has been your experience of writing about diverse characters?

I feel completely schizophrenic! And I am definitely hearing voices! But how wonderful. I am a social “animal” as we say in French, and when I stopped working as a journalist and worked full time as a writer, I felt extremely lonely at home: no constant noise, no chatter, no laughs, no phones ringing. But all these characters certainly appeased my loneliness!

If you could be transported instantly, anywhere in the world, where would you most like to spend your time writing? And why?

Falkenberg, on the Swedish west coast, seated at my wooden desk, my eyes diving into the sea, wrapped into a woollen blanket and warming up with a fresh brew. My grand father, who used to guide the divers in Marseille, taught me how to look at the sea. He used to say that by looking at this Lady in blue you could see your better self.

What is the one book you wish you had written?

The Silence of the Lambs. Thomas Harris was the first one who explored the by then new profiling behavioural science, and he spent time with John Douglas: lucky him!

What advice do you have for would be novelists/writers?

Write away! And when you are not writing, read, read and read.

What are you currently working on? What can we look forward to reading?

I am working on the third novel in the Roy & Castells series, which will be partly set during the Franco years and will explore the scandal of the stolen children. I am now doing the research, and diving into the female and children jails: it’s absolutely terrifying…

Who is your favourite literary character from childhood and why?

A Belgian detective that I met when I was 7: the distinguished Hercule Poirot. I am a great admirer of his little grey cells and his well-manicured moustache! By making him Belgian (and not French, how brilliant and unexpected!) Agatha Christie gave herself the possibility of criticizing openly the British society, creating some anthological scenes.

Thank you to Orenda Books for the review copy. 

You can follow Johana on Twitter: @JoGustawsson

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