So I’ve made it to Norway for another crime literature festival. Another three-day affair in the warm confines of the Cappellen Damm publishing house, there’s panel after panel featuring Norwegian writers, and writers from other countries, too. A lot of the panels are spoken in Norwegian (it is Oslo, after all) but one that I did manage to see (and understand) was the one featuring Edgar and CWA Steel Dagger-winning author, John Hart.
So we set off with Asbjørn Slettemark at the helm, and soon discussion turned to how important location is to writers and to story. South African-based author Margie Orford said something interesting: that in so-called Nordic Noir fiction, the places stories are set often have very low rates of crime; South Africa, on the other hand, has high crime rates, so it’s an interesting balance to strike.
Award-winning John Hart, who said he employs a ‘grope and hope’ approach to writing his stories set in North Carolina, commented that he set his first two books in his home town, keeping things very close to home. So much so that people he knew had started to recognise themselves in the stories – some weren’t best pleased. Some even had a go at him because they weren’t featured in the stories. You can’t really win.
He decided to set his third book in a fictional town, which let him off the hook.
Once again Margie made an interesting point: crime novels are, essentially urban stories, and an exploration of how people bump into each other all the time and what happens when they do. If the story takes place in a small town, where everyone knows each other, it’s a more condensed and more intense version of this theory.