Few authors have enjoyed such runaway success with a debut novel as Swedish writer Stina Jackson, whose Scandinavian noir title The Silver Road has been sold to 29 countries to date and won a slew of international awards.
Speaking ahead of her appearance at the 5th EU-China International Literary Festival, Jackson said the book’s success had been “pretty surreal”, but said people should not think she became an overnight success. She has been writing “all her life”, she said, but it was only when she completed The Silver Road she felt she had a book that was truly ready to be published.
Jackson’s inspiration for The Silver Road was a road in Canada known as the Highway of Tears where a lot of young women have disappeared.
“When I saw this road, it reminded me a lot of northern Sweden where I’m from and I was very inspired by these disappearances and also by the families searching for these young women. And that’s how my main character came to me,” she said.
In The Silver Road (published in China by Citic Press) a father is searching for his young daughter who disappeared on a lonely road in northern Sweden. She has been gone for three years, and he has lost himself in this search for her, and he spends long bright summer nights searching desperately for her in the Swedish north.
Jackson was born in 1983 and raised in Skellefteå, northern Sweden, and moved to Denver, Colorado, in 2006. Her writing now often returns to her childhood home.
“Living abroad now I’ve realised how beautiful the Swedish north is and I really wanted to capture that and invite the reader to this place. And also how the seasons affect the people that live there so immensely,” she said. “The long dark winters really affect your mood and the personalities of people, and then you have the long lit-up summers where everything becomes kind of very intense and restless.”
Evoking that in The Silver Road, the midnight-sun summers really play a role and in how the people act and how the story moves forward, she said.
Producing a multi award-winning debut was a dream-come-true for Jackson, as the exposure the awards brought enabled her to connect with readers all around the world.
“All I dreamt of was to find my readers and these awards really gave the book that attention,” she said. “Because there are so many amazing titles and so much good work out there, so to breakthrough with a debut is very difficult, but these awards gave me the chance to find my readers, so it was wonderful.”
After the startling success of her first book, Jackson was then eager to avoid any perception she might be a one-hit wonder. Her second novel Ödesmark quickly proved that was not the case, earning rave reviews and getting shortlisted for major awards immediately following its release this year.
Tackling the second novel after the success of the first was “daunting”, she said.
“I was very nervous about how it was going to be received. Luckily, I had already started writing my second book [by the time the first book won success]. I already had a manuscript going, which was very helpful. But it was very nerve-wracking too to send it out into the world and to publish it.”
She was very relieved when it was very positively received and she got mail from many readers around the world who told her they actually enjoyed the second book more.
Ödesmark is also set in the Swedish north and tells the story of a young father who is trying to create a better life for his daughter. But the father has a criminal past, and his good intentions are often destroyed by a brother who keeps dragging him back to that lifestyle.
Jackson sees the second novel as more of a family drama. “It’s more of a dark drama than a detective novel, I would say,” she said. “A lot of suspense within a very close-knit community, so it’s very claustrophobic and atmospheric.”
While her work could be broadly labelled as Scandinavian noir, she doesn’t think about genre at all as she writes.
“I just let the story land where it falls. But I am very intrigued by the darker sides of humanity, so I think my stories will always have a kind of a dark touch to them, and a mystery to them,” she said. “My genre is closer to what they call slow crime, I would say, and also where I let the place be its own character. I really want to bring the reader to the Swedish north.”
After living in the United States for many years, Jackson sees the fact she has both a Swedish and a US identity as something of a double-edged sword.
“I think it has been beneficial, but it’s also been very difficult because I often feel like I am stuck between two worlds and I don’t really belong anywhere,” she said. “But I noticed that in my work, I attempt to go back to the place of my birth and my upbringing. And I think it’s natural because the place where we grow up affects us so much, and I also now have the opportunity of seeing it with an outsider perspective.”
And while she is fully fluent in English, she still chooses to write in Swedish and have professionals translate her books into English.
“I feel like there’s something about your mother tongue, that it goes deeper. And the Swedish always comes more naturally to me in my writing. So, I think I’m going to stick with that for now.”
In Chinese, The Silver Road has been translated by Cao Lanxin (曹兰心) for Citic Press. Jackson has never had the chance to come to China before but she is now eager to visit.
“It’s super exciting,” to have the book out in Chinese, she said. “I’ve never had the chance to go to China myself, but it’s always been of a dream of mine.”