By Emelie Krugly | Photo: Courtesy of Liza Marklund
Author, publisher, journalist, columnist and goodwill ambassador for UNICEF. Her books have sold over 11 million copies in 30 languages to date. The majority of us know her as the blonde crime author, and recently Liza Marklund visited London to promote her latest crime novel The Red Wolf, and appeared at this year’s Scandinavia Show.
She is stereotypically Swedish, tall and blonde, but forget about the shy nature of the Swedes, as Liza Marklund is bubbly and smiley and during our interview it feels a little like talking to an old friend.
Born in 1962 in Pålmark near Piteå in northern Sweden, she soon became in her own words, “an itching and restless 16-year-old”. As an antidote, she bravely took off on a round-the-world trip, and in fact for a short while London was her home.
“I worked as a waitress at Adams’s Original Barbeque Rib House on the corner of Earl’s Court Road and Old Brompton Road. I remember how the customers were given a bowl of water to clean their hands after they’d eaten. But instead of refilling the bowl with fresh water for the next customer, I would keep using the same bowl. The water obviously became more and more dirty, and customers would look horrified towards the end of the day. I was probably the worst waitress they had ever experienced.”
Liza Marklund knew she wanted to become a writer from a very young age and began studying journalism on her return to Sweden. She then became a mother to firstborn Annika, whom she went on to name a fictional character after in her crime novels, featuring the passionate and courageous reporter Annika Bengtzon. The first, entitled The Bomber, released in 1998, was the result of a crime novel competition, which Liza thought she would have a good chance of winning. Female crime writers simply did not exist in Sweden at that time, but it was not just a happy coincidence, as Liza had already decided to give crime fiction a go by then.
“It was a political decision as I had seen a gap in the market,” she explains. “The Bomber was far from a success when it came out, only 4,000 copies were printed. My publisher was doubtful, as there was a strong feministic undertone to the book. Soon after I was invited to a talk show on television and the sales figures suddenly went up.”
No rest for Sweden’s number one crime author
Liza has produced 12 books in 12 years, eight of them featuring her most famous character, Annika Bengtzon. Marklund’s literary debut came in 1995 with Gömda (Buried Alive), also known as The Maria Eriksson novels. These caused a real stir as it brought up unknown issues within Swedish society. Partly based on a true story, the book is about a woman who is abused by her boyfriend and forced into hiding. It has become one of the bestselling books of all times in Sweden. A second book in the series, Asylum Granted, was published in 2004. It describes how Maria Eriksson is forced to flee abroad with her family, when she is granted asylum in the United States on grounds of domestic violence. The story received a lot of attention in Sweden, and was even debated in the Swedish Parliament.
Last year Liza was planning a well deserved break with the intention of studying Spanish for a year, when she was contacted by American crime author James Patterson, who had read all of Marklund’s books and was interested in a collaboration. The result, The Postcard Killers, was released in January earlier this year.
“I thought about if for let’s say one second and then I said sure, I would love to! It turned out to be a very successful collaboration, with few hiccups along the way, and a great experience.”
The Postcard Killers reached number one on the New York Times best-seller list, making Liza the second Swedish author ever to have reached the top spot; the first being Stieg Larsson with his Millennium Trilogy. Liza has now released her fifth book in the Annika Bengtzon series, The Red Wolf. There is simply no rest for this busy author.
Secret to success
It is no secret that Sweden is the proud producer of a number of successful crime authors. I ask Liza to shed some insight on this.
“First of all, we’re all privileged to have been brought up in a stable democratic society. Take South America as an example of an opposite, where there is no such thing as crime fiction. If you have grown up in a society handling violence and evil, then you have no need to reflect upon these subjects. We are lucky to have been well educated with the freedom and right to criticize our own society. Also, the long and dark winters definitely have some kind of magic about them, what else is there to do than develop creativity?”
Liza Marklund shares her time between Marbella in the south of Spain and Stockholm these days. She is currently working on the next book in the Annika Bengtzon series. Swedish production company Yellow Bird, together with TV4, Nordisk Film and the German ARD Degeto, has begun developing a series of films based on her books about Annika Bengtzon. And as if that was not enough, she is also putting together an anthology of journalistic work from the past 25 years, which will be released in March 2011. Her series about Annika is soon coming to an end after 12 successful but intense years.
“We need a break from each other,” she says and smiles. “We are both tired!”
Last question, did she ever manage to take that course in Spanish after all?
“Si, Hablas español?” she says with a grin.