Article published on August 8, 2011.
Thomas Enger (b. 1973) previously worked as a journalist. Burned is his first novel. As well as writing, he also composes music. He lives in Oslo and is currently at work on Pierced, the next novel in the Henning Juul Series.
Are you a bookgeek?
Well, I love to read, and I read as much and as I can as often as I can. That’s not easy when you have young children. Like I do.
What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever been given (and do you follow it)?
Write. Just write, try to invent stories, characters, plots. And never stop. Slowly you will find that you improve, like I did. I wrote for fifteen years before I finally made it with Burned. So yes, you can definitely say that I have followed my own advice. I have one more piece of advice that I find absolutely crucial in order to gain insight into what makes a book a good book. And that is to read. Read, read, read. Try to discover what the masters do and how they do it, and then try to implement the techniques into your own style of writing.
Which authors do you find most inspiring as a writer?
Right now I am completely blown away by the skill and talent of Harlan Coben. He has such an amazing eye for twists and turns, and he always creates plots that keep you guessing. And on the final page he gives you one last slap in the face that totally changes everything you have read. He is just amazing.
Do you have an audience in mind when writing, or do you just write for yourself?
I primarily write for myself. If I like what I’m reading, then I have this firm belief that others will too.
Where do you write, and why?
I used to write in my kitchen, but I have a small office now that I normally go to each day, primarily because I become so much more efficient and productive when I don’t have the distractions of home around me. But I love to write at cafes, airports, or at some nice place with a nice view. Sometimes I just write in bed, with my computer on my lap. I often put headphones on with no music, just to shut everything out.
Tell us the book you most wish you had written.
Ah, there are plenty, but I have just finished reading “The Woods” by Harlan Coben for the second time. It blew me away. Again.
In a genre full of traumatised heroes, Henning Juul is one of the most traumatised there is. Was exceeding the norms something you set out to do?
I wanted to create a character with a strong motivation, and I thought to myself: what’s the worst thing that could happen to me? What would really give me the motivation to search for the truth? The answers to those questions were easy. I have kids. But it wasn’t a conscious choice to create a character with more scars, literally, than any other character. Henning Juul simply took form that way.
The finale of Burned left us desperate for more. Can you tell us anything about the next Juul book, Pierced?
I’d love to. A man has been sentenced to 14 years in prison for a murder he says he didn’t commit. A few weeks before his trial once again is scheduled for court, he makes contact with Henning Juul and tells him that if you help me out of jail, if you can find the real killer, then I will tell you what I know about the fire in your apartment. And Henning, who is questioning his own gut feeling after a frustrating summer with few answers, realises that he was right. Someone did set fire to his apartment. And that gives him all the motivation he needs to pursue the truth. A truth that someone is desperate to protect.
You’re also a composer of music. Is there any overlap for you between the creative processes of music and writing? Does one inform the other?
Writing music is a lot more instinctive for me. I usually just let my fingers find their own paths on the piano, and when they discover something interesting or beautiful, I grab hold of it and develop it. I have to work a lot harder to create something readable than something worth listening to. But I love both processes.
Almost every Scandinavian crime writer is automatically compared to Stieg Larsson at the moment, and as a former journalist you’re more likely to draw this comparison than most. Do you think it’s helpful?
Every Scandinavian crime writer has a lot to thank Stieg Larsson for as he certainly has opened a lot of doors for us. Although it’s a bit unfair to be compared with one of the most successful authors of all time, especially being a first book author, I know there is good chance that people perhaps will remember my name and decide to give me a shot as well. And if I sell just a fraction of the numbers Larsson has done, then I probably will do pretty okay.
In Burned, you take on some misconceptions about Islam and Sharia law. Do you plan to address social issues through your work, or is this just another facet of the story?
I don’t have a certain agenda to what I’m writing. The characters and the plots will always come first, but if I at the same time can say something about modern society that hopefully will give the readers some new insights, then I certainly won’t let that opportunity slip through my fingers.
Additional questions by Mike Stafford