Thursday, June 15, 2017

Where Ideas Come From: Guest post by Carl-Johan Vallgren

Carl-Johan Vallgren is one of Sweden's most loved writers. He has been awarded the Swedish August Prize for Best Novel of the Year, and has been translated into 25 languages. He's also a talented musician with Warner Music. 

Carl-Johan Vallgren:

Some five or six years ago I had an experience that changed the direction of my writing. It was a Friday in May, and I’d been working hard the whole week, trying to get a grip on the novel I was writing. This day was no exception. I lost track of time and place, and when I looked at my watch I got a shock. It was 5 p.m.

The kids! I’d been supposed to pick them up from daycare two hours earlier! Twenty minutes later I arrived. My six-year-old daughter and three-year-old son were the only kids left—and exhausted after a long day. I apologized to the daycare attendants, looked at my cell phone, and saw that it was full of texts from my wife: ”Where are you?…Have you picked up the kids?…It´s Shabbas tonight and we need some groceries for the meal.”

I slipped my son into his stroller, grabbed my daughter by the hand, and walked hurriedly down to the Kristineberg metro station. It was late afternoon and the station was full of commuters on their way home for the weekend. I showed my ticket and entered the gate for strollers, stress running through my veins.

At Kristineberg station, the tracks are elevated, and the best way to reach the platform is by using an elevator—at least with two small, tired kids and a stroller. But my daughter had different ideas; she wanted to take the stairs! A quarrel started. I tried to tell her that it was impossible with all the people and her little brother in the buggy, but she insisted, got angry, and started to scream at me. In that very moment, a woman turned up from nowhere. Apparently she had overheard our conversation.

”You can walk the stairs with me if you want,” she said to my daughter with a smile. ”And then we can wait for your father and your little brother upstairs until they come in the elevator.”

She was in her sixties, well dressed, and her voice was soft and friendly. Used to grandchildren, I remember thinking.

And for a moment I was on the verge of letting my daughter go with that friendly middle-aged woman, following the law of minimum possible resistance—until my ”father instinct” kicked in a second later. After all, the person in front of me was a complete stranger.

”Thank you for your sweet offer, but my daughter comes with me!” I said.

I grabbed my little girl by the hand and dragged her into the elevator with her brother, and I pushed the button for the platform level.

The elevator ride took about ten seconds. And in that time the writer inside me ran completely amok: What’s is the situation here? What is the worst case scenario?…What could have happened?…A stressed father leaves his child to walk the stairs with a friendly older woman at rush hour in the subway. And by the time he reaches the platform in the lift, the child has vanished!

I knew it immediately: It was the first chapter of a book—and not just any book. It had to be a crime novel.

I had the whole first chapter in my head before we got home that afternoon. And about a year later, after finishing my other book (a ”normal” novel), I sat down and started to write the first book in the Danny Katz series: The Boy in the Shadows—which starts with the abduction of a child in the Stockholm subway.

Now I’m incredibly proud to present the second book in the series, The Tunnel. Danny Katz is still the main character. And Katz, too, was born that Friday in May. It was Shabbas, and I remember thinking in the elevator: The man to solve the mystery has to be a Jewish guy. I owe that to my children and their mother, because they seem to constantly provide me with literary ideas.

1 comment:

Betty Tyler said...

Wonderful anecdote!