Jo Nesbø Talk at the Ulster Hall. Belfast
15th September 2013
David Torrans, owner of No Alibis who organised the talk with the publishers introduced the event saying that this was the largest audience of Jo Nesbø's UK and Ireland tour (he later tweeted that the audience was 825 people including press) and that the publishers had originally suggested doing it in the shop.
Initially Marie-Louise Muir (the main arts presenter for BBC Radio Ulster) interviewed Jo about his life and career for about 40 minutes before the audience had the opportunity to ask questions of Jo.
The first question asked by Marie-Louise Muir was where did Harry come from? Jo was a stockbroker by day and a musician by night flying to gigs in Norway when the market closed, performing, sleeping and then flying back to Oslo for the market opening the following day. He was commissioned by a publisher to write a memoir about life on the road with the band which included a tour to Australia which is where he learnt about the Aborigine myths that play a role in THE BAT. After a big tour, he wanted to rest from the band but still wanted to write having been the lyricist with the band and having always written, be it poetry or music. The choice of crime fiction was not driven by an interest in other Scandinavian crime authors but by the fact he didn’t want to return to stock broking and had five weeks to write a novel in – he submitted it under a pseudonym so the publishers didn’t market it as by a major Norwegian musician.
His relationship with Don Bartlett (the translator of all the harry Hole novels) was raised. Jo said that he trusted Don Bartlett as it would be impossible for him to translate the books himself as he knows “a bit of English” (you would not agree with this listening to him as he is fluent and very funny) but there is a “lost in translation” phenomena so he tries not to read the translations trusting Don to do his job as the English translation is important as other languages translate from the English rather than the Norwegian – Korean was given as an example.
Marie-Louise then turned to Jo's first book (THE BAT) pointing out how well it did critically winning the best Nordic crime novel award in 1997 - Jo said that he was so new to the game that he did not realise the significance of the award only realising how exceptional this was for a first time author until later. The critical success did not lead to sales, with sales only picking up with the third book or so; he said that the same pattern followed for the UK – he was not an overnight success as it took 10 years work to get really noticed.
The issue of the Harry Hole name was then discussed before returning to the character of Harry and his origins. Jo said Harry was the result of taking the hard boiled private eye of Chandler & Hammett and taking it one step further with Harry ceasing to function when he drinks – he is a character with flaws which makes him interesting; Superman needing Kryptonite to be interesting was cited as a parallel.
Jo was asked if he likes Harry? – Jo said that he is connected to Harry in the sense that Harry becomes real to him when Jo is writing him as Harry is partially based on himself as he feels most authors long-running creations are to some extent.
Jo feels that the quality of the writing is what attracts us to the Scandinavian crime genre be it in print, television or film - partly due to the number of writers working in the field now, so the best are very good.
He was then asked about where the ideas for the murders came from – as an example he explained that the apple bobbing in THE LEOPARD was adapted from a good childhood memory where him and his brother were told that they could not pick apples but not they could not eat them so they ate them while they were still on the on the tree but one day he got a big apple stuck in his mouth and he thought what would have happen to him as it was still growing. Related to this, he said that he does think that he went too far in the violence on THE LEOPARD but on the whole the violence tells you about the characters and drives the story forward.
He revealed that PHANTOM and POLICE were written in one big stretch so there is lots of linking back to PHANTOM from POLICE.
The session then turned into a question and answer session with the audience.
One audience member asked if the turbulent lifestyle of Harry has ever made him tempted to kill him off – Jo revealed that he does have a plan for Harry's life which he drafted while writing the third novel but that doesn’t mean that he will get there with the series. At the moment, he is a bit tired of Harry so he is writing a standalone novel but in six months time he will miss Harry so will want to sit down and write a new Harry Hole novel.
One interesting comment he made in the Q&A was that he is now writing for the readers as he has enough money for the rest of his life (you can see the Economics training at work there!).
The potential for film and TV productions was also discussed with The Snowman adaptation produced by Martin Scorsese being discussed but Jo doesn’t believe these things are happening until he is told it is being shot – however there is a television pilot based on a non-Harry story being shot in the US and a film based on his Doktor Proktor books for children should be out next year.
He was asked how he wrote the books – he said the process was forming the characters, then deciding key scenes and then tying it all together.
The evening then finished with a book signing with a very, very, long queue.