David Hewson is the bestselling author of 22 books published in more than twenty languages. His popular Costa crime series is in development for a series of TV movies in Rome. A regular speaker at international book events, David is appearing at CrimeFest 2012 where he will be celebrating the launch of his new novelisation of the BAFTA-winning Danish TV series, The Killing.
Welcome to Crawl Space, David!
Q. Belated congratulations on being chosen to write the book series of The Killing – were you at all intimidated by the huge success of the TV series and its avid fan following?
Not so much intimidated, more terrified. The day after it was announced I got an email from someone ‘warning’ me that Sarah Lund was her personal heroine and if I dared mess with her… I’m very aware I have something in my hands that’s precious to lots of people. I won’t satisfy them all – readers always complain when one of their favourite books is turned into a movie or TV series and this is the same in the opposite direction. But I hope I’ve done the original justice. It was an ambitious and epic piece of TV and I’ve tried to reflect that in a book that takes on the same sense of scale and narrative drive.
Q. You’re taking part in a panel session at this year’s CrimeFest in Bristol. Before I ask about the session, how do you feel about book festivals in general? Are they fun, or hard work?
They’re usually fun and hard work too. I’ve been very lucky in going to some great festivals from Australia to the US and lots of other places in between. There was the time I was sat next to someone in a green plastic hula skirt and a man in a kilt on the other side… but that’s a rarity and I’m sure won’t happen in Bristol. Festivals are growing ever important these days so it’s great to see how CrimeFest has grown to become what seems to me the biggest and most broadly-based popular fiction festival we currently have.
Q. I’m tempted to put on a grass skirt and Tam o’ Shanter and sidle up to you during CrimeFest..! On Friday 25th, you’re tackling ‘International Cops: Does Setting Affect How Your Characters Do Their Jobs?’ Your Nic Costa series showcases Rome in all its battered beauty. I’m guessing Sarah Lund and The Killing felt a bit chilly, by comparison?
Location certainly affects character. My Romans are naturally garrulous and largely optimistic at heart and congenitally emotional. Lund comes from a cold climate and, like the British, mimics that in her character. It’s interesting that we seem to be more interested in gloomy, dark chilly characters and locations at the moment. Perhaps it reflects the state of the world. We’re pessimistic and look to the north instead of the south. There’s battered beauty in Copenhagen though. And I did hire a bike and pedal round the wood on the city outskirts where the dark credit sequence takes place (it’s actually a very nice nature reserve and not scary at all in real life).
Q. You’ve been praised – rightly – for your skill at writing strong female characters. Did that make Sarah Lund easier, or harder to write? And is there any chance of a crossover, in the future, between Sarah and, say, Teresa Lupo?
People do say that and it always surprises me a bit. I write characters, men and women, the way I meet people in real life. And I’ve never encountered one of those dumb, willing blondes who seem to be the mainstay of some sorts of fiction, so I could never write one. Lund was a challenge but not because she was a woman. It’s more that we don’t get to peek behind the façade much on TV and in a book you need a bit of the internal story too. So I had to imagine that and come up with some kind of explanation for that rather incongruous jumper for example. Funnily enough I read an interview with Sofie Gråbøl later talking about why she picked it for Lund – and we pretty much chose the same reasons. Which is a compliment to her acting talents, not my skills of perception. It was pretty obvious it seemed to me. I don’t see Lund and Teresa Lupo meeting ever. They wouldn’t get on at all for one thing. Lund would drive Teresa nuts.
Q. You’re tackling the first novelisation of a TV series and, at the same time, your Nic Costa books are being serialised for TV. Do you have a strong preference for one media over the other? What do you consider to be the particular strengths of each?
I’ve only ever written novels, though I wouldn’t mind a tilt at TV one day. They are very different media which is why you need to change things, substantially sometimes, when you transfer stories between them. Novels work on the imagination and, if they succeed, take the reader directly into the story. TV is a passive medium in which the screen is the boss and says ‘Watch now’ until it’s done. And you have actors in TV – wonderful actors in the case of The Killing, which means they can get away with unresolved narrative issues which would never be allowed in a book. TV has a visceral immediacy and the ability to mix the visual, the auditory and the dramatic in a way that can root you to the spot. Books are more subtle it seems to me, and ultimately more memorable. My take on The Killing departs from the TV version in some very significant ways, especially at the end. But it’s been interesting that some devoted Killing followers haven’t spotted that. It’s because TV is very much of the moment, I suspect. You’re a spectator, not a participant as you are in a good book. That said I’d still like to write TV before long – it’s such an adventurous and ambitious medium in the right hands.
Q. I love the idea of the reader as a participant – that’s bang on the money, I think. You’re famed for your detailed research and spent time in Copenhagen, and Rome of course. Any particular cities you’re dying to visit/write about next?
There is one city in particular. I went there only a couple of weeks ago and I’m ten thousand words into the first draft now. But I have a strict rule never to talk about work in progress. It always seems a bit presumptuous and possibly bad luck. What I can say is I have my eyes on a new story, set in a different European location (and no, it’s no Scandinavia!) More to follow at a later date I hope…
Intriguing! Thank you, David, really looking forward to seeing you at CrimeFest.
STOP PRESS: Frances Gapper won 2nd Prize in the Flashbang Crime WritingContest – a signed copy of David’s new novelisation of The Killing, plus DVDs.
David Hewson will be at CrimeFest in Bristol on Saturday 26 May, celebrating the launch of The Killing. For full details of the programme and to buy tickets, please go here.