Born in 1978 in Marseille, France, and a graduate of Political Sciences, Johana Gustawsson was a journalist for television and French press. She now lives in London, England.
You are originally from Marseille, why write about London and Sweden ?
These places define me as a woman and writer: I'm not only Marseillaise and French, but I am also a Londoner and an aspiring Swede! I arrived in London in 2009, after seven years in Paris. At the time, I was a journalist, freelancing for French magazines. I immediately felt at home in this city of various villages steeped in history, great parks and ancient pubs, all mixed with a cosmopolitan culture that inspires you. Hampstead is my favourite part of town. It is truly a haven that feels just like Miss Marple’s St. Mary Mead. As for Sweden, it was my husband who brought the Scandinavian influence to our family. He introduced me to the rough beauty of the west coast, the Nordic folklore and the divine chokladbollar !
Who put you on the trail of crime novels?
My parents. I come from a bibliophile family. My father built bookshelves after bookshelves to accommodate the family collection, enriched by regular trips to secondhand bookshops. My father is a fan of detective novels, with a preference for Simenon and Exbrayat, but it was my mother who introduced me to the genre. The writer from Nice Nicole Ciravégna assured that reading the prose of Agatha Christie was an excellent workout for beginner readers. My mother placed “The Mysterious Affair at Styles” in my hands when I was seven, and I fell madly in love with a certain moustached man with an egg-shaped head! The pleasure of reading then gave me the desire to \"tease with the pen,\" like my grandfather would say. My work as a journalist led me to write the biography of the French actress Laëtitia Milot. Our collaboration resulted in a second book, this time a thriller. Through this novel, I met Lilas Seewald, my editor. It was she who guided me on the path of \"Block 46\".
How did you get the idea of “Block 46”?
Block 46 is the outcome of a set of needs and wishes that I carried with me for a long time. I felt the need to exhume the years of deportation of my grandfather at the Buchenwald concentration camp. Perhaps the need to mend something that was broken, or to forge a link that I had not been able to forge during his lifetime... I also wanted to get into the mind of a serial killer and that of a profiler, to accompany them in their respective manhunt, decrypt the murderous impulses of the former and the investigative nature of the latter. Finally, creating a duo of investigators was something close to my heart. Two women who, each in their own way, by pen or psychology, live to track down and hunt serial killers.
When and how do you work? Do you have a writing routine?
I write as much as I can and as often as possible; even on holiday, to the despair of my husband, my family and friends! But the actual writing is, in my case, the final phase in the construction of the book, and by far the most difficult. I begin to think of a next novel when I approach the corrections of the previous one. As soon as I agree on the subject (don’t think it is that easy!), I begin the research. I lace up my journalistic sneakers and I read, highlight, take notes and make thematic indexes to easily find the fruits of my research when writing. I also contact experts in the field and harass them with my profane questions. For \"Block 46\", I had the opportunity to meet with some peerless professionals (and to my benefit, also blessed with extreme patience) like profilers Lee Rainbow and Carl Sesely, crime scene technician Lars-Åke Nordh or the forensic specialist Sonya Baylis. Whilst progressing in my inquiry and research, I create what I call the \"skeleton\", a detailed map of the book. Then follows the writing, which is setup not unlike a military routine! I am alone with my computer from 9am to 6pm and later in the evening from 9pm till 11pm. I am unable to work in coffee places: I like the silence of my office with my thermos nearby. In busy times, one of my drawers even becomes a temporary fridge, to save me from the many frequent runs to the kitchen with the added risk of choosing a cheese sandwich over an apple!
What do you like to read?
My relationship to reading is quite obsessive: I cannot sleep without a few pages of a detective novel and I have the urge to read every day, regardless of my tiredness or even the sleepless nights caused by my little son... I am reading several books at once. Right now on my bedside table, I have a thriller by Jussi Adler Olsen, a book by Peter Vronsky on serial killers, a book on positive discipline for the education of my son, and one about the trial of the \"witches\" of Salem. As for Agatha Christie’s novels, I have read them all and I read them for fun again, from time to time!
What were your sources of inspiration for Emily Roy and Alexis Castells, your duo of investigators?
Emily and Alexis represent a patchwork of impressions caught from many different circumstances: a way of talking, a certain look, borrowed from a friend or a person across the street. I always have a notebook and pen in my bag to record these seeds of inspiration from various places and walks of life. But I would be lying if I did not admit that Emily and Alexis are also, each in their own way, a fantasized version of myself...
Will Emily Roy and Alexis Castells be in your next book?
I asked them the same question! You will have to see...
For the last words: a word you hate?
A favourite word?
Mama, as said by my son.