The Lion & The Unicorn

By Tom Ward

A policeman sets out to investigate a murder in a near-future where bad taste is illegal.

Sunday, 1 March 2020

Meet The Author: Josephine Greenland

My 'Meet The Author' series continues with Josephine Greenland whose novel Embers is now available to pre-order, and sounds fantastic. Billed as a story in which "two siblings investigate the slaughter of reindeer in northern Sweden", Embers immediately caught my attention, and I had to ask Josephine about the book's origins, folklore, and Sweden's isolated communities.

Embers has a brilliant elevator pitch “Two siblings investigate the slaughter of reindeer in northern Sweden.” Where did the idea come from?

The idea came from an incident I read about in the Swedish news three years ago, when two teenaged girls discovered a circle of mutilated reindeer bodies in the forest. It was never discovered who committed the crime. I found myself wondering who could do such a thing, and why, and so a story came out of it. The premiss of the novel (the siblings and the train journey north), is actually based on my own travels with my brother, so the characters of Ellen and Simon are loosely based on us. We stayed in the town that the fictional Svartjokk is based on, and all descriptions and landmarks in the book are based on real places.

Are you a big fan of Nordic/Scandi noir? Which titles inspired you?

Funnily enough, I’ve never been a big fan of crime/noir fiction and have never considered myself a crime writer: in fact I considered that to be the least likely genre I’d ever write in! It was only when I started writing this story that my interest in the genre grew – as I was writing a story more or less in that genre I had to deepen my knowledge of it! What makes Nordic noir/crime different is that its deeply rooted in the Scandinavian landscape. The vast dark forests characterstic of Sweden also happen to be good premises for crime/mystery tales. My main inspiration was probably Wolf Winter by Cecilia Ekbäck, a historical crime novel set in northern Sweden roughly in the same region as Embers. On the detective aspect of the story, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon was a main inspiration, and gave me ideas for Simon’s character too! It was definitely a case of the story and genre choosing me, rather than the other way round.

Folklore is part of the backdrop of Embers. Why do you think people are becoming interested in folklore in recent times?

I think there’s been a big interest in the past years to go back to our roots, rediscover our origins. Folklore is rooted in old cultural beliefs so it’s a way for us to get in touch with a part of our identity that’s perhaps staid hidden from us in the past.

You set out to explore isolated communities in Embers, can you tell us a bit more about that?

Because of the great distance between villages and towns in northern Sweden, isolation happens quite naturally. You could easily go a whole day without speaking to anyone. What I wanted to explore and make visible was how extremist and old prejudiced views can grow, develop, and become cemented in such communities, and what can be done to prevent this. I also wanted to show how these communities protect each other in the case of crime or an investigation, as is depicted in my book.

You also want to raise issues about animal welfare. Can you tell us more about that?

Crimes against the Sami people happen a lot more often than people may think, and more than the media lets show. Their reindeer are stolen, taunted with and butchered. It’s mainly due to the old rivalry and animosity that’s existed between Sami and non-Sami ever since Swedish settlers first arrived in the North in the 1700s. The cause of the animal abuse is land dispute and the fact that the Sami lifestyle, herding reindeer, clashes with the progression Roads are built over old reindeer trails, old grazing areas are deforested to make space for new mines and other industries. When the Sami raise this issue they often face a severe backlash, with the result that their reindeer are killed as a form of hate crime. The animals are the true victims, those who suffer, in these conflicts.

Embers has funded, so people can no pre-order. What does it feel like having a book that’s almost ready to go out into the world?

Very exciting! I’ve wanted to be an author ever since I learned to read and write, so this feels like the culmination of all my dreams and aspirations. It’s especially exciting to be able to share aspects of Sweden and the Swedish landscape to an international audience, particularly young adults who may not be so familiar with the Scandi noir genre. This is just the beginning of my author career so I am very excited to see what the publication of Embers might lead on to.

Pre-order Embers here!

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