Interview with Torsten Pettersson
November 07th, 2010
Stilton author Torsten Pettersson is doing great in Italy with his debut novel L'Alfabetista. The following interview with Torsten Pettersson was done by Irene Pecikar, who writes on Italian book blog

Welcome to the blog “Tutto sui libri” (Everything about Books) and thank you for your availability.

Thank you for your kind interest.

Your debut novel is a cruel and ruthless thriller which has obtained great success in Scandinavia and is now due to be published in other countries: “A – The Alphabetist”, the first part of a trilogy. How did the idea for this enthralling plot originate?

I have always enjoyed well-made plots, whether they occur in a nineteenth-century French “well-made play”, a “Racconto romano” by Moravia or a film like Seven. Some five years ago I was inspired to start constructing plots myself. One of the beginnings was a single situation: what happens if a person finds a newly dug grave in the forest and realizes it has been prepared for a dead human body? He reports it to the police but they do nothing so he has to do something himself. What kind of a person does he need to be in order to have the courage to watch the grave himself, waiting for the killers to bring the body? That was one starting point, adn then this plot was combined with the actions of other people to produce a complex pattern of interfering wills and aspirations. The result, after years of work, was A. L’alfabetista.
It gives me pleasure to develop such plot patterns and then, during the writing, try to be like the detective and the reader and forget that I know what is going to happen. At the same time I find it fascinating to get to know my characters: the mysterious feeling that, although I have created them, they are independent live people whose personalities I gradually uncover.

Yours is a very original point of view, is the narrating voice really that of the killer? How has it been to penetrate and analyse the mind of such a pitiless killer?

Yes, the first narrating voice is indeed that of the killer and it occurs more than once in the novel. This means that the reader is placed in the mind of the killer but without knowing who he or she is! It is an unusual and a scary effect but I believe that the human imagination, both the writer’s and the reader’s, can stretch that far. Perhaps all human minds contain something of other minds, good and bad; in novels we share that secret.
In this book, the imagination stretches in other directions too: one narrating voice is that of the main detective, but two others are those of the killer’s victims, a young woman and an elderly man who narrate their life stories. In this way readers can really enter into their lives and feel the tragedy of those pulsating lives being brutally cut short.
Generally speaking, I feel very close to the readers when I write. I experience a constant dialogue with them, a need to take them through the world of the novel in a way that offers as much as possible of excitement, astonishment and human insight. It is in fact a misunderstanding that the writer’s profession is a lonely one. In a superficial sense, I am alone at my computer, but in my thoughts I communicate with the readers all the time, much as a person writing a letter thinks of its recipient.

An obligatory question for the blog: Who is Torsten Pettersson in everyday life?

My life is to a considerable extent defined by my involvement in literature. I am a professor of literature at Uppsala University in Sweden, the oldest university in Scandinavia. This means that I read and analyse literary works from many countries on my own, to produce research on them, and together with my students, to train them do the same. I also produce literature myself: nine collections of poetry before I was inspired to start writing novels some five years ago.
Thus my life is very much taken up with writing books and planning new books in my head. I am happy when this goes well and less happy when I have difficulty writing. However, I also have a precious hobby: music, and in particular opera. I spend a lot of time listening to CDs and going to the opera. Among other works, the great operas of Rossini, Bellini, Donizetti, Verdi, and Puccini, are a constant and important presence in my life. Not many days go by without my listening to them or at least thinking about them.

As a reader and a professor, which book do you carry in your heart and why?

Let me take the liberty of giving an answer that embraces both my great interests, literature and music: Don Carlo by the German eighteenth-century writer Friedrich Schiller – and by Giuseppe Verdi. It is a great classic play of bitterness and lost love, of political oppression and revolt, and it is a very great opera. In terms of music, it has competitors like Rigoletto and La Traviata, but in terms of complex, convincing, and deeply moving human characters and destinies, it has a unique power.

Have you any other literary project in progress? Can you tell us anything in advance?

I continue work on the trilogy of which A – L’alfabetista forms the first part (original title: “Give me your eyes”). The second part called “Hide me in your heart” has just been published in Swedish. Here Police Commissioner Harald Lindmark and his team are confronted with a new disturbing case: when the mother of a nine-year old girl goes to wake her for school, she is not in her bed. I also have another literary project, that of translating Finnish poetry into Swedish to create an anthology which allows Scandinavian readers access to a rich tradition of which they are now unaware.

Thank you very much for your time; I send you my best regards. Do you want to add anything else?

Merely to offer many thanks for your questions which have encouraged me to reflect on aspects of the things that I care about.