Slightly differently on Linda’s Book Bag today I’m interviewing two authors, Sarah Sugery and Emma Vestrheim who write collaboratively and have just released A Presence of Absence.
A Presence of Absence is available for purchase in e-book and paperback from your local Amazon site.
A Presence of Absence
The Odense Series is a new Nordic Noir/Brit Crime series that blends humanist stories and family drama with gritty crime in the central Danish city Odense.
British detective Simon Weller escapes the fallout from the recent suicide of his Danish wife, Vibeke and heads out to her home city of Odense. But once there he is paired up with a local detective, Jonas, who is also about to hit rock bottom in his home life and they must overcome their differences and personal problems to try and catch one of the worst serial killers Odense has seen in many years.
The case takes them back into past decades as history starts catching up with some of the local inhabitants.
When Simon realises that his wife’s suicide may not be all it seems and her name appears in the case, his integrity within the case is compromised, how far will he go to find out the truth of Vibeke’s past and hide it from his already troubled police partner?
Back home in London Simon’s family are struggling with their own web of lies and deceit and the family is falling apart.
With one family hiding a dark secret, the whole case is just about to reach breaking point.
An Interview with Sarah Surgey and Emma Vestrheim
Welcome to Linda’s Book Bag ladies. Without spoiling the plot, please could you tell us a bit about A Presence of Absence?
Sarah: A Presence of Absence is the first book in The Odense Series. It is a crime novel but also deals quite openly with grief and the fallout within families from this.
A British detective is struggling to deal with the suicide of his Danish wife, Vibeke. He heads back to her birth town of Odense (also the birthplace of Hans Christian Andersen) where he finds himself being partnered up with a local detective, Jonas, to try and track down a killer on the loose there.
Alongside the crime we find out about the demons in each detectives lives, how two suicides, decades apart are linked.
London and Odense are two cities united by grief, lies and revenge.
This book really focuses quite highly on our characters development and blends Nordic Noir with Brit Crime.
You’re writing collaboratively. How does that work on a practical level?
Sarah: It actually works out well for us. I live in the UK and fit my writing around having 4 daughters, so quite often my writing times are early in the morning or later on at night. Emma fits hers around her magazine and work so slots it in between days off. This allows us to both write and then send to each other to look over. We email every day i think and usually a few times a day, we skype and manage to meet up when possible as although Emma is Australian she now lives in Norway, so not as far!
Emma: It was also good when I was living in Australia and Sarah was in the UK, so I could write during my day and then Sarah would write during hers! The book was being worked on 24/7.
When did you first realise you were going to be writers?
Sarah: Always. I’ve always written, but alongside everything else it wasn’t until you start having your work published that you realise you can actually give yourself that title.
Emma: I’ve been writing short stories since I was a kid, but have spent most of my time writing scripts. I’ve always been more interested in telling stories on screen, and it’s been a real learning process writing a novel.
What are your writing routines and where do you do most of your writing?
Sarah: I have four daughters so anywhere and everywhere, quiet time for me to sit down and write uninterrupted is not always a luxury I am offered!
Emma: When I worked full time in an office I’d use my lunch break (and sometimes when I was supposed to be working) writing, but now that I am self employed I try to allocate one day a week to the novel. Though for the blog tour it’s been almost every day.
Which aspects of your writing do you find easiest and most difficult?
Sarah: For me the creative writing and descriptions are the easiest, it just seems to flow from my hands as I write because it is always playing out in my mind.
Emma: I’d say I’m better at dialogue as I’ve been taught how to write scripts. I’m not the best at explaining emotions, settings, and objects in full detail, but Sarah is incredible at it!
If you hadn’t become authors, what would you have done instead as a creative outlet?
Sarah: I have really got into photography, my father is a professional photographer and i think it’s laid dormant in my blood. I am most active on Instagram because I think with all the writing I do, it’s nice to just put a photo on to speak a thousand words.
Emma: I spend most of my time working on a Nordic film journal, Cinema Scandinavia, so that’s my main job. However, I am currently working on a script for a feature film, which is based heavily on my childhood. Film will always be my first love and I hope one day to see A Presence of Absence on the screen.
You’re self- publishing A Presence of Absence with an ambition to take on the world of BritCrime and Nordic Noir by combining the two genres. How have you set about achieving this goal?
Sarah: We are both used to working at our computers as freelance writers and know that the process doesn’t end there. When you write something, as good as it is, it can just sit there unnoticed unless you put it out there, market, contact people and use social media. Through these forums we want to spread the word that we have created a slight twist on what is out there at present! blending the two together works because they both rely on a certain gritty undertone that people are fascinated by.
Emma: I was heavily inspired by Nordic film and television. When I was writing the book, I wanted to be sure I could picture it as a television series on the same level as The Killing and The Bridge. Those television series were so popular in the UK that it made sense we blend the two worlds.
You’re funding A Presence of Absence through Indiegogo. Can you explain a bit more about that please?
Sarah: As with self-publishing there are of course, costs. So crowd funding is a great way to cover these whilst being open and honest with the pledgers how this money will be spent. But, crowdfunding isn’t just about making money to publish your work and you may very well not reach your target, it is also an important way to again promote your book, speak to people and market. We chose Indiegogo because this has an art/creative fan base.
Emma: When you’re self publishing a book, it’s all about finding the right method of getting it promoted. We wanted to try everything and see what stuck, basically. We tried Indiegogo and had some success with it, but we’ve found that the bloggers have been so inviting and it feels like we are achieving more through a blog tour.
I know you’re interested in reliance in the face of adversity. How have you incorporated this theme into your writing?
Sarah: This theme is threaded through the book. People often ask why we write crime, are we interested in gory murders, well no, it’s more for us the interest with how us as humans deal with death, fear and extreme adversity. So the reactions of friends and family and behavioural changes is just as important in our books as the crime which sets off these events.
Odense is the setting for your fiction. Why here particularly?
Sarah: We knew that we wanted to have a British Detective travel to Denmark so we could incorporate Nordic Noir and Brit Crime. We felt Copenhagen was a bit too obvious so looked further afield, when we came to Odense, birthplace of hans Christian Andersen, it just felt right. Emma actually visited there in the beginning a got a feel for the city, so we have made the stories geographical locations as true to life as possible.
Emma: Odense is a fascinating city. Whenever you see a Nordic Noir setting, it’s either a capital city or it’s far away from society. We knew having either of those stories would be slightly cliche, so we chose Odense as something in between. It’s surrounded by farms, but is also the third-largest city in Denmark. It’s so brown and dull like a major city, but in the narrow alleys are old wooden houses that reflect on its history. It’s a beautiful place and needs more attention.
There are some pretty weighty themes in A Presence of Absence such as grief, combating personal demons and cultural identity. How far did those elements arise naturally as you wrote and how far were they consciously selected to be themes?
Sarah: These actually arose naturally as we went on through the book. Of course we right not to order and don’t know what each other has written to begin with, so when we started putting it together we could see that we had both incorporated these heavier themes and that felt and sounded right.
Emma: I think we knew early on that we didn’t just want to write about gruesome murders and crazy killers. Neither of us are particularly interested in that aspect; we prefer looking at the person behind these crimes. Also with many detectives they are beaten down by life, have issues with their family and so on. In a way, we gave Simon a more legitimate reason to be so miserable. Using grief as a central element was a way to bring out the complex human character.
A Presence of Absence is the first in what is set to be a new series. What can we expect next?
Sarah: Our next book The Enlightened is the second in the series and follows on from where we left off with the characters, but of course a lot of the first book is their introductions, back history and development which doesn’t need to be added in as much detail in the second. So, it’s grittier and darker whilst still keeping in touch with the characters journeys and woes. We see our detectives head up to Norway after a young girl’s body is discovered in a burnt out church in Odense and the clues point up to the most northern point. There are some good twists in this book already and we focus quite heavily on Norse Mythology because of course, Odense used to be called Odin.
London is still reeling from the fall out whilst lies are starting to untangle there.
It’s not finished but we feel really excited by book two already.
Emma: I’m very excited to be writing about Norway for the second book. I visited Trondheim last November and did some location scouting, and just loved the atmosphere. During that time of the year it’s snowing and the sun barely goes above the horizon, yet the city itself is just so magical. I really want to combine this northern setting with elements of Norse mythology, which I’ve been reading a lot of lately; in particular, Snorri Sturluson’s Prose Edda. I love Norwegian history and culture so it’s exciting to be incorporating it into our story.
How do you go about researching detail and ensuring your books are realistic?
Sarah: Like I said, Emma visited Odense, I am from london originally and most of my family are, I also have danish family who I am close to so could explore the differences between our two cultures. For the police procedures and terms we had to do quite a bit of internet searching!
Emma: Besides visiting Odense, I really spent a lot of time studying how Scandinavians act. Since I’ve been living in Norway I’ve heard Scandinavians speak English as a second language and have gotten used to the way they behave in conversation with English speakers. They are very direct, sometimes use odd word choices, and so on. I wanted to make sure that we had these elements in our book.
When you’re not writing, what do you like to read?
Sarah: Crime novels, it’s been in my blood since a teen as that is what my mum has always read!
Emma: I’m not the biggest reader; I am a huge fan of Jo Nesbø and also love the Harry Potter series. At the moment I’m reading Lion and Jasper Jones – I’ve always been more interested in Australian fiction than fiction from other areas.
Do you have other interests that give you ideas for writing?
Emma: I work a lot in film, and most of my time is spent either watching movies or interviewing people about their movies. I always look to what film does as a medium and how people treat their works and take inspiration from that.
A Presence of Absence has quite a stark cover suggestive of Nordic Noir to me. How did that image come about and what were you hoping to convey (without spoiling the plot please!)?
Sarah: A good friend of ours Mike Godwin (see here) is a super talented artist and kindly offered to sketch our covers for us. We literally said the words Nordic Noir, crime and Danish barn and he came up with the most amazing cover.
If you could choose to be a character from A Presence of Absence, who would you be and why?
Sarah: Sanne. Our British detectives daughter. Her struggles highlight how strong a character she is. She has to try and be mum to her two whilst dealing with being a grieving daughter. Her character really evolves and changes as we go along and we have big plans for her in book two.
Emma: As with most literary characters, they have such complicated lives! I’m not sure I could deal with that much drama.
If A Presence of Absence became a film, who would you like to play Simon Weller and why would you choose them?
Emma: That is hard! Maybe Hugh Laurie? Someone super British and brooding.
If you had 15 words to persuade a reader that A Presence of Absence should be their next read, what would you say?
Emma: It’s refreshing crime fiction that will take you between two countries.
Thank you so much for your time in answering my questions.
About Sarah Surgey
Sarah Surgey is a 36 year old British feature writer for various magazines. She lives in the UK with her husband and 4 daughters.
She has had an interest in all things Nordic for many years and has written about many genres within this subject for publication. Although British, she has Danish family and enjoys exploring Denmark and its culture whenever the opportunity arrives.
Sarah was brought up with crime books and inevitably has always had crime story scenarios going around inside her head. After interviewing many famous authors for different magazines within the Nordic literary circle and always knowing the answer to her question of “why did you start writing?” she felt now was her time to get her stories out there, for people to read!
About Emma Vestrheim
Emma Vestrheim is the owner and editor-in-chief of Cinema Scandinavia, a Nordic film and television journal that analyses popular Nordic titles. Part of her work includes working with directors, actors and filmmakers, and her numerous interviews with the biggest names in Nordic film and television have given her a privileged access to what makes Nordic narratives so successful. Cinema Scandinavia publishes bimonthly and is available in major Nordic film libraries.
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