By Linnéa Mitchell | Photo: Bingo Rimer
Only a decade ago, Camilla Läckberg was a 20-something Stockholm woman with a good job and a boyfriend, expecting her first child. Ten years later, she is Sweden’s top-selling crime novel author with her tenth book out on the shelves. She is also a mother of three and has just been crowned “Woman of the Year” by the influential tabloid newspaper Expressen, as well as taking part in the Swedish version of Dancing with the Stars, Let’s Dance. Scan Magazine met her to reflect on her success.
The first half of 2012 held the release of Läckberg’s eigth crime novel Änglamakerskan (The Angel Maker) in Sweden, while in the UK her sixth and current book The Stonecutter will shortly be followed by The Lost Boy, all holding a new mystery for the couple Erica and Patrik, taking place in the rural coastal town of Fjällbacka in western Sweden. Yet Läckberg has already moved on to the next thing and is, at the time of speaking, completely consumed by dance practice ahead of her next challenge: this season’s Let’s Dance on national television. She is the first to admit that dancing is not one of her strongest talents, but as history shows, she never fears a challenge. After all, it was only a few years ago that she had a successful career as an economist, only to jack it all in to fulfil her dream of writing books. Her first novel, Isprinsessan (The Ice Princess), was accepted the same week her first child was born. She went on to write her next two novels during her maternity leave. She has since sold five million books in 30 different countries worldwide, and she is also one of Europe’s bestselling novelists. “It has cost me plenty of hard work and not much rest or café lattes with other mums, but it was my chance to see if I could do this,” she says.
From finance to fiction
The novels all take place in her hometown Fjällbacka, a Scandinavian rural idyll turned crime scene, on the Swedish west coast. It was here that Läckberg grew up eating fresh seafood, playing on sun-bathed cliffs and writing horrific crime stories from an early age. Horror stories and crime were always an obsession and writing a book a deep dream. Instead, she went to the School of Economics and Commercial Law at Göteborg University, picked up a Masters in Economics and moved to Stockholm. But a couple of years into her career, she spent every Sunday dreading going to work the following morning and failing to see a way out. “I only saw one big hamster wheel,” says Läckberg. Meanwhile, she spent all her free time dwelling on her dream of writing a book until one of her friends had enough and tipped off Läckberg’s then husband to give her a crime-writing course for Christmas. He picked up on the idea and sent Läckberg off. Unsurprisingly, she thrived and there was no going back. “It was thanks to my big mouth that it happened,” she laughs.
Some have called it an overnight success but Läckberg disagrees. “It was great to get my first book published, but it didn’t sell more than 3,000 copies, which was considered good for a debutante writer, but I couldn’t live on it,” she says. Realising she had to work harder to be able to write for a living, she went on to write two more books during maternity leave with her first two children. “I’ve been extremely active marketing myself, changing publishers and generally working hard, so it hasn’t all been easy,” she says.
And it paid off. Apart from selling millions of books, Läckberg also picked up the Folket Literature Prize in 2006, and in 2010, she set up a film company with existing film production company Tre Vänner (Three Friends) to take the books to the big screen as Fjällbackamorden (The Fjällbacka Murders).
There are similarities between Läckberg and one of the books’ main characters, Erica Falck: hard-working author and mother of three, who rises to the challenge (for Erica that happens to be her husband’s job). As the wife of police constable Patrik, she struggles to stay away from confidential police investigations, but nothing stays secret for very long in a small town. With some of the senior police officers failing to live up to expectations, and thanks to her own keen investigative mind, she ends up playing a major part in unveiling the gripping secrets, often going back decades in history. Parallel to the enthralling mysteries, Läckberg focuses on the home life of the main characters; they are like any other family with small children, striving for work-life balance and sharing responsibilities. “I think female authors perhaps focus a bit more on relationships and everyday life,” she says.
From being unknown even to most Swedes, Fjällbacka quickly became a hot spot for holidaymakers and tourists. To use one’s hometown as a crime scene came naturally to Läckberg. “Things fell into place when I made up my mind to use Fjällbacka. I know how people talk and think. And in many countries people tell me how they recognise things from their own small towns. It’s fantastic that it’s so universal,” she says. Luckily, the residents of her hometown have been very forgiving. “They think it’s great! I was a bit worried at the start as I don’t always write nice things, but they have been fantastic.”
So much have her roots inspired her that she even wrote a cookbook, Smaker från Fjällbacka (Tastes from Fjällbacka), inspired by local culinary tastes, together with childhood friend and celebrity chef Christian Hellberg in 2008. She also wrote a children’s book called Super-Charlie the same year.
Twelve books in nine years with three small children is what some would call overly ambitious, but for Läckberg, it is the result of doing something with lust, not must. She even claims she is a lazy person who could easily lie on the sofa all day watching Oprah. But how many crime stories can one possibly squeeze out of one single small town? “I’ve never understood the concept of setting a target of how many books to write,” she explains. “How am I supposed to know that? I write for as long as it’s fun, it’s as simple as that.” She has no routines (apart from nursery time being writing time) or writer’s block tricks, or a special source of inspiration. “Everything I do springs from random events,” says Läckberg. “I don’t really think about what I’m going to do in the future, it kind of just happens by itself. But perhaps I’m good at picking up on opportunities and making something out of them. Life gives you lots of opportunities and then it’s up to you to be a bit alert and grab them,” she smiles. “Many people think about things they would like to do when they get the time, but the thing is that this might never happen, so you just have to do it – now.”
One of those opportunities as a result of fame has been Let’s Dance (she is still in the competition with only three weeks to go, at the time of writing). Looking beyond that though, she does have one dream in mind. “I would love to end up on the New York Times bestseller list,” she says.
Well, she has already received rave reviews from across the Atlantic and has featured in the New York Times, the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal. Time shall tell.
The Angel Maker is out in the UK next year.