Erland Larsson shares a moment with Ali Karim
With less than a month to go now, before the British release of an English-language edition of Stieg Larsson’s second posthumous novel, The Girl Who Played with Fire, The Rap Sheet is proud to host the very first interview with Erland Larsson, the late journalist-author’s father. Our discussion took place earlier this fall, after the initial installment of Larsson’s “Millennium Trilogy,” The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, won the Best International Thriller Award sponsored by ITV-3. Thanks are due to publisher Christopher MacLehose and Mark Smith, CEO of Quercus Publishing, for making this interview happen.
Ali Karim: Can you begin by telling us a little about Stieg Larsson when he was young? For instance, was he a big reader?
Erland Larsson: Stieg’s mother and I were anxious that our children should read--you have company with books. When Stieg was 13 or 14, he read [Selma Lagerlöf’s] The Ring of the Löwenskölds. I have never read that book, but both my sons did in their early years. I think it is vital that you have the company of a book. But today, children spend all their time on computers, I am afraid.
AK: Where do you think Stieg’s fascination with crime fiction came from? I noticed that his protagonist, Mikael Blomkvist, is always reading crime fiction.
EL: Stieg’s mother and I both read crime novels by Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö, and there were many others, such as Mickey Spillane. I don’t feel we encouraged Stieg and his brother to read this kind of book, but maybe we did.
AK: Maybe it was influenced by your own reading.
EL: You may be right, as my wife and I were both big readers.
AK: So where did Stieg’s interest in journalism spring from?
EL: The Vietnam War, and even before that I think. When he was 12, I read a novel he had written in a notebook. It was then that we gave him a typewriter. It was for his 13th birthday, and I remember it was very expensive at the time. It was also very noisy, so we had to make space for him in the cellar. He would write in the cellar and come up for meals, but at least we could sleep at night.
AK: When was it that he decided he could make a living from writing, in journalism?
EL: It was [during] the Vietnam War. Steig was young and he leaned toward the left-wing, and in Sweden at the time, every town in Sweden, every Saturday, the young people would be marching, shouting “Out of Vietnam!” Stieg was one of them and he started writing about the Vietnam War.
AK: I read his work first in Searchlight, a British periodical devoted to monitoring the politics of the radical right. How did his fascination move from opposing the Vietnam War to fighting the extreme right-wing and neo-Nazi groups?
EL: His grandfather was a communist and I worked with him in a factory, and soon I was a communist too. In those days, in that type of factory you had to be a communist to survive. It was a dark place, like a Nazi camp. Today the factory is good, but then it was a terrible place. Stieg was never a communist. His mother became a very well-known Social Democrat. Maybe Stieg became fascinated with politics because we were a political family.
AK: Did he ever discuss his fiction-writing with you?
EL: To begin, we discussed very much politics at the dinner table. When Stieg was 14, it was the first time I lost a discussion. He just had better arguments than his mother and I. The young learned to argue and put together their arguments during the Vietnam War time. He didn’t write fiction during these times--at least, he didn’t discuss [any of his stories] with his mother and I then. It would be much later [that he did that].
AK: I read in the press that your son wrote the Millennium Trilogy privately and didn’t tell anyone. Is that true?
EL: He did discuss the Millennium books with me, but I don’t know if he discussed them with anyone else. He told me about them, and sent me the manuscript for the first book and asked me for my opinion. I told him at the time that there was too much violence and sex in them. He told me that sex is selling. Then he sent me the second manuscript.
AK: And you saw his talent?
EL: Hey, I saw his talent when he was a boy, that is why we bought him the typewriter. Two more years he continued writing the Millennium books, but all the time he was working to expose the dangers of the Nazis in our midst. He used to come to London often and speak to Scotland Yard, as well as [speaking] in Germany and Sweden--even speaking to ministers and politicians.
AK: Have you any idea where he crafted his characters, such as Blomkvist and Lisbeth Salander?
EL: He met all kinds of people. He was very social, and he could befriend everybody.
AK: So his characters are a mixture of everyone he’s met?
EL: Lisbeth Salander is a little mixture of his niece. Yes, his niece Terese had anorexia nervosa, and she has a tattoo. Stieg and Terese meant a lot to each other, they were very close, they used to visit each other a great deal. When Terese used to go to Stockholm, she’d visit Stieg and they used to socialize on the computers. When there was a crash on Terese’s computer recently, we lost all their e-mail correspondence, which is sad.
AK: So is Terese a computer expert, like Salander?
EL: Terese helps me when I have a problem on my computer. She’s a little dyslexic, but she manages in her job well and can read, works hard; but she fights for her existence, if you understand. Once in a Swedish newspaper they made a big story, saying Terese is actually Salander, but in reality Salander is a mix of people.
AK: Salander is a terrific character. Were you and your family surprised at the success of the Millennium Trilogy?
EL: Of course, the editors told me that they sell in the millions, so many copies everywhere. ... Of course it was surprising.
AK: And are you surprised at how popular the Millennium books are outside of Sweden?
EL: [Smiling] Not anymore.
AK: Very good answer!
EL: Try to see it from my point of view: I thought it was wonderful when the editors wanted to publish [Larsson’s novels]. Then I thought it was wonderful seeing the books selling so well. And then I thought it was wonderful that film people wanted to make them into movies, so now nothing about Stieg’s books surprises me.
AK: There are three volumes that MacLehose Press has signed up to publish into English. But I have heard a rumor that there is a fourth volume. Is that correct?
EL: When Stieg died, ... they called me from Stockholm and I went to the hospital, heartbroken. Then we go home to Stieg’s apartment, and his partner, Eva, and I found about 250 pages of a manuscript for the fourth book.
AK: Has anyone read it?
EL: Of course.
AK: So are there any plans to publish it in the future?
EL: No. We have the rights, but there are problems, as Eva has the manuscript and she does not wish to share it. In fact, there are family problems. She won’t talk to us.
AK: Finally, how did you feel standing here in London accepting the award for Best International Thriller Novel on behalf of your son?
Erland Larsson’s tired eyes stare into my own, and then he looks down at the floor, then he stares at Christopher MacLehose and I see his eyes mist. He utters one word only, which will conclude our discussion about his late son’s work.