An Interview with Fredrik Backman
I was so excited when I was asked by Nikki Barrow at Sceptre Books if, I would like to meet Fredrik Backman, author of ‘A Man Called Ove’ and ‘My Grandmother Sends Her Regards and Apologises’. Both books are amongst the best I’ve ever read.
It’s slightly disconcerting when you are about to meet a writing hero. Will they be as wonderful as their writing suggests? fortunately yes – and more. It turns out Fredrik Backman is not only a highly talented writer whose books are some of my most favourite ever, but he’s also charming, witty and a fabulous raconteur in real life too.
Here are some of the things he told me:
Fredrik began writing seriously in about 2007 when he was working in a fruit and vegetable warehouse in a friend’s business and driving a forklift truck. He knew he loved writing and wanted to do it more and more so he even offered to write for free for publications. Bit by bit he began to be paid for his efforts and became quite proficient in writing about tanning salons!
It took him about a year each to write both ‘A Man Called Ove’ and ‘My Grandmother Sends Her Regards and Apologises’ and at one time he was working 14 hours a day at weekends to fund his time to write during the week.
It was whilst attending a book fair in Sweden, that Fredrik got a call telling him a German publisher wanted to publish his book and give him an advance on the next. This meant he could write full time.
It wasn’t long before Fredrik Backman had gone from offering to write for free to having books published in at least 32 countries with a film of ‘Ove’ being made and a third novel ‘Britt-Marie Was Here’ (to be published in the UK in 2016) on its way.
What I found so delightful about Fredrik Backman is that he doesn’t see himself as an intellectual craftsman. He just likes to tell stories. He begins with character and loves to have a joke or some humour to start. If you find yourself in the same space as Fredrik watch out – he may be observing your traits for a new book. The opening of ‘A Man Called Ove’ was suggested by overhearing a conversation in a store.
I asked Fredrik if there was an autobiographical element to his work. He said there definitely is. He’s rather like Ove in lots of ways as he can respond in a disproportionate way to problems and he feels Ove would regard him rather as he regards Patrick in the book. In’ My Grandmother Sends Her Regards and Apologises’, Elsa is very much the seven-year-old going on eight child Fredrik was too. It was interesting to hear that Fredrik is completely involved with his characters, laughing and crying with them as he writes. Fredrik also told me that there are other members of his family represented in the story. His wife had a similar experience to Parvaneh when learning to drive and the character of Parvaneh might just have a bit of his own wife and her aunts in her! Ove’s reaction to Parvaneh’s inability to derive echoed Fredrik’s own when he found his own wife couldn’t drive. It was beyond comprehension.
I loved the notion that Ove’s is a love story with one half of the couple absent. When I asked if it was difficult to write a story from two such different perspectives in his books – a young girl and a middle aged man – Fredrik said that they are people, not genders, and he finds these age groups interesting as they are less likely to conform to social norms through embarrassment and he believes that accepting reality is not your only choice. Fredrik Backman cares about his characters as people so that we care about them too.
What struck me as typical of this self effacing and generous man was his comment about the books when they are completed. He said ‘The book doesn’t belong to me once it’s left the printing house. It’s yours.’
I thoroughly enjoyed meeting and talking with this warm, lovely man who has his feet firmly on the ground but his imagination flying freely. I can’t wait for his next book to be released in the UK. In the mean time, as he wrote in my copy of ‘A Man Called Ove’, along with Ove and Fredrik Backman, we should ‘remember to always read the signs!’