Håkan Östlundh

Facts

Family: Graphic Designer Lotta Kühlhorn. Three grown up sons – Fabian, Sigge and Folke.
Travels: Gotland, Berlin, New York, L.A.
Music: David Bowie. Lottas disco and soul playlists. Some jazz (Lars Danielsson).
Books: The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt, Freedom by Jonathan Franzén, The Given Day by Dennis Lehane.
Film: Only Lovers Left Alive by Jim Jarmusch.
Drinks: Coffee, wine of various colours, home grown cider.
Workout: The gym at the moment due to a troublesome knee.
Out of Darkness will be the seventh and final installment in the crime series featuring detective Fredrik Broman on the island of Gotland. At the same time, however the series is growing in popularity. Why quit now?
I’d rather quit while the readers like what I’m doing, than wait till they’re growing tired of it. When I started out, my intention was to always search for new angles, and not simply serve up a new story in the same format. Now I think I’ve done all I can with that approach.

So Fredrik Broman won’t be reappearing?
If I ever revisit any of the characters, it’ll be in a new context.

In the new book, several people are brutally murdered who have connections to the limestone quarries in northern Gotland. The police search for the perpetrator among a group of fanatical environmental activists. How did you come up with the idea for the book?
I was eavesdropping on a couple of old men in a café in Sudret. That provided the initial spark, and then I developed it on from there. The takeaway from that, of course, is that as a writer you should never discuss your ideas in public.

You’ve turned fifty, how does it feel?
Better and better. It didn’t feel quite so good right around my actual birthday. For months all I could think about was that I was going to die. Morning, noon, and night. Only afterwards did I make the connection with the fact that my father was seriously ill around the time of my birthday. I probably transferred the thought of him dying onto myself. Maybe that made it easier to handle.

In the new book Fredrik’s father falls ill.
Yes. My own father died at the end of the summer. At that point I still had the final hundred pages of the book left to write. It was difficult with his death so fresh in my mind. Should I remove Fredrik’s father’s illness from the book, or do the opposite and use the experience? I still don’t know if I did the right thing.
  My father’s death also affected my attitude toward violence in the book. Suddenly, I was put off by blood and descriptions of violence. My father was found at home in his apartment. He had been lying there for one or two days and the circumstances were rather unpleasant. It was hard, but I had to finish the book.

In earlier interviews you’ve spoken about the dramatic events of your childhood. Your mother tried to commit suicide. How has that affected you?
Parts of my life have certainly been affected very profoundly, although it’s impossible to say whether my life would have turned out differently if it hadn’t have happened. The suicide attempt was very traumatic, taking place as it did on Christmas Eve when I was six years old. On top of that, I was sent to live with relatives in Småland for six months. Good, fine people in every way, but total strangers to me. As a result I experimented a fair bit with break ups and separations in my life, sort of stubbornly scratching at the scab, making my life unnecessarily complicated.

If we look beyond the world of books, what are you interested in?
I like to travel. Since I was a kid I’ve always travelled almost exclusively to big cities. Paris, New York, Los Angeles, Tokyo, Berlin ... And happily returned to them. Some of my best friends live in those cities. But lately I’ve felt myself drawn to nature and the outdoors, even to beaches that I never used to like. I mean, I love the sea, but hanging out on beaches has just never been my thing. This fall I hope to make it to Tadjikistan. The trip of a lifetime.

But there are no big cities on Gotland surely?
No, but I don’t really consider going to Gotland as travelling. It’s more like a second home.

All right, how about other interests?
I like to cook. I think I prefer cooking food to eating it. Sure, I enjoy going to a good restaurant, but there’s something special about the whole process. Planning, shopping, spending a few hours in the kitchen, and then serving it to someone who hopefully appreciates it. Perhaps it’s about seeking an audience, in much the same way that I seek readers with my writing. If I had to choose another career, I think it would still be something that involves reaching out to an audience.
 Then I like movies, photography, and the theatre, but I mostly see that as an extension of writing. Art is different. I’m very interested in art, but not in an organized kind of way. I’m not very knowledgeable, but seeing a good exhibition is important to me. I think it’s connected to the fact that you have to work with the other half of your brain, the one that isn’t quite so active when you write. Then more exciting things happen in your head.

That all makes you sound like a bit of a cultural nerd. Don’t you have any more action-packed pursuits? Like skiing, sailing, building radio-controlled airplanes?
I’ve always dreamt of sailing, even took a course in navigation, but there just never seemed to be enough time. They say that as a writer you have a lot of freedom, but the truth is that you have to spend most of the year with your backside planted firmly in front of the computer screen for anything to come of it. I’m sure there are those who are quicker, but that’s how it is for me anyway.
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