Interview: the Extraordinary Danish Crime Writer Jakob Melander

I ended 2014 for Nordic Style Mag with my end of year Christmas Nordic Noir book recommendations. So it is only fitting that I start 2015 by introducing you to some Nordic Noir authors who are the ones to watch in 2015.

I didn’t have to look far until I was introduced to my first Nordic Noir must read author for 2015, Jakob Melander.

Melander, Jakob 1 farve_Foto Robin Skjoldborg, lav opløsning

A Danish writer who is causing a stir with his book ‘The House That Jack Built’. It is being talked about on the Nordic forums, synopsis clips are on YouTube and this of course had me wanting to interview the man behind the hype.

Jakob Melander, who is 49 years old, was born and raised in Copenhagen, which by now has affirmed itself as a place of culture and artistic nurturing. Moving into crime writing has been an interesting transition from his previous work.

In the early eighties Jakob was a part of the Copenhagen punk-scene, playing bass guitar and violin in various bands. By the mid-eighties he’d switched to guitar and changed style from punk to rock’n roll.

His band, Redlands, toured all over Denmark and in Germany, and played the main stage at the Roskilde Festival, Northern Europe’s largest music festival, in 1991.

Jakob began university in 1996 and studied Comparative Literature at the University of Copenhagen. He also studied for half a year in Berlin, Germany, and took part in the Danish/Greek collaborative excavations of the ancient Greek city of Chalkis, in the summer of 1999 and again in 2000. After graduation he worked as a dramaturg at various theatres in Copenhagen and wrote plays.

In 2010 he wrote the first draft of The House That Jack Built, and two weeks after submitting it to his Danish publisher, he signed a three-book deal. 

The rights to The House that Jack Built and it’s sequel, The Scream of the Butterfly, which has just been published in Denmark, has been sold to eight countries. You can buy The House that Jack Built from Amazon UK from the 12th of May 2015. The book is published by House of Anansi.

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Can you tell us about your journey of becoming a published writer ?

I’ve always wanted to write since I learn’t to read. But in my teens music got the better of me. Music is such a powerful art form and you get an instant reward from listening to it and playing an instrument, that is very strong. This of course multiplies many fold if you play on stage in front of an audience. So I put writing aside and played rock’n roll for the better part of 15 years.

When I didn’t get the break my bands needed, I started university (comparative literature), finishing my MA in 2002. I’d begun considering taking up writing by then, and thought that maybe theatre would prove to be the perfect fusion of literature and rock music. And it was great and interesting. I worked as a dramaturg and researcher for several theatres in Copenhagen. But the urge to write wouldn’t go away. So when the spark to the narrative in The House that Jack Built presented itself to me, I used some of the skills I had acquired when working in theatre and fleshed out the story. It took a couple of months to write up a rough draft.

After half a year of refinement I sent it to the first publisher in June 2011. They were too busy, apparently, and some time later, I sent the manuscript to another publisher, who returned two weeks later with a contract. Then the rights were sold abroad, Germany, Italy, Holland, Norway, Canada etc.

So in short – if you look at it from one perspective, it’s been a very short trip, but seen from another, I think I tend to view it as almost 40 years of preparation and rehearsal to get to where I am now.

Your latest book ‘The House that Jack Built’ is a story of malice and love entwined around horrific murders taking place around Copenhagen, how do you train yourself to dig into the darker sides of people’s minds and how do you switch it off?

I’ve always liked popular genres, horror, SF, Fantasy, comic books and rock’n roll. And I thought – and still do – that the setting of a serial killer thriller worked particularly well with the story I wanted to tell – how to be a good father ( my own daughter was three when I wrote the book).

In the novel there are three fathers, that I call “The good, the bad and the ugly.” And to offset the good father, there had to be an ugly one!

Another reason might be that I try to write very sensuous, in order for the reader to be able to smell, taste and feel what my characters are going through. This of course goes for the more thrilling parts of the novel as well.

As for training myself to dig into the dark side? – Well it has always interested me. And also, it has to do with logic, I think. From the back story from  WWII it was clear that it should have something to do with eyes, and from there it was really only a question of following the (albeit twisted) logic of the killer and his story.

Switching off, I don’t really need to do that. I think you could say that writing about it allows me to switch off from it. Having said this, the next three novels (I’m currently writing the first draft of the fourth novel, and the third will be out in Denmark on the 6th of February 2015) will not have the same horror element. Maybe I’ve done what I want to do in that department for the foreseeable future, who knows?

Melander, Jakob 3_farve_Foto Robin Skjoldborg, lav opløsning

As a Danish Nordic Noir author, how important is it for you to be accurate when describing the Danish crime system? Do you think you would write differently if you weren’t based in one of the ‘intriguing’ Nordic countries?

I can say that I don’t try very hard to be truthful here. It’s more important for me that the universe in my books feels real and true to my characters than actually being so in relation to reality.

But my father-in-law is a retired police officer from the narcotics division, so I’m lucky in that I always have him to ask if there’s anything I need to know – and of course there are things I need to check with him. In The House that Jack Built, for example, the question of the very fast DNA-analysis. And that, he assured me, is something that can be done, and has been done.

Scandinavia is a dark and cold place for most of the year, and I think that fuels our stories. There’s a certain amount of melancholia in Scandinavian crime fiction, which I like a lot. So in other ways my nationality influences my books. Also one could point to Danish informality and my detective’s background as a punk. So yes, I’m sure I would write differently if I was from, say, Spain or France. Maybe not so much if I was from England, since much of the  music I listen to – and music is extremely important to me, as one can see from my books – is English or American.

What are your plans for 2015 with regards to your writing and career?

My third novel is out in Denmark in early February 2015, so I will spend some time promoting that at home. At the moment I’m also writing the first draft of my fourth novel, which I hope to finish by late April (the first draft, that is). Then The House … will be out in the US in May, I’m going for a short trip to the US in February to promote the book to independent bookstores at The Winter Institute in Asheville, North Carolina. Then it’s on to editing the fourth book.

My second novel, The Scream of the Butterfly, will be out in Norway in March, in Germany in August and in Canada in October. There are no plans yet to travel to promote the book in either of these countries, but that may still come.

 

Jakob Melander is definitely on the right track. Publishers are excited about what he is offering and Nordic Noir fans can rest assured that he is offering quality reads which will leave us wanting more.

www.jakobmelander.com

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