Interview with SARA B. ELFGREN and MATS STRANDBERG

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Let’s start with an introduction: Who are Sara B. Elfgren and Mats Strandberg?

Sara: I was born in 1980 in Stockholm, Sweden and I still live here. I surround myself with books. I tend to rant about stuff I love, and stuff that annoys me. What We Do in the Shadows made me laugh and I saw it twice in the cinema. I like people who are empathetic and sarcastic.

Mats: Well, I am 38. I grew up in a small town with some similarities to Engelsfors, minus the apocalypse. I now live in Stockholm. I watch way too much reality TV. I am horrible at remembering people’s names and it’s very embarrassing. I never finish books that I don’t like after 100 pages.

The third novel in your Engelsfors trilogy, The Key, will be published in the UK by Hammer in January 2015. How would you introduce the series to a potential reader, and what can fans of the first two novels expect here?

Mats: The trilogy is about six very different girls, who find out that they are witches, and have to work together to stop the apocalypse.

Sara: Meanwhile, they have do deal with the problems of their everyday lives: parents, partners, friends, bullies and homework. In The Key, the fans can expect answers to all the big, and many of the little, questions. The plot will thicken…

Elfgren&Strandberg-ChosenTrilogyUK

The Chosen Trilogy (UK Covers)

What inspired you to write the series? And where do you draw your inspiration from in general?

Mats: These books are like a melting pot of everything we both love! Most of all, I think we inspired each other.

Sara: Definitely. We realised that we shared the same love for teen drama combined with the supernatural, and that both of us had a longing that we hadn’t been aware of: to write in that genre. But we needed each other to do it.

How were you introduced to genre fiction?

Mats: I always loved the Grimm Fairy Tales. Does that count? The first book that really opened my eyes to the genre was probably Michael Ende’s The Neverending Story. And then Stephen King. I started reading his novels when I was ten. I had constant nightmares, but I loved it.

Sara: I also read a lot of fairy tales when as a child, for example Andrew Lang’s collections. Peter Pan was very important to me. And I adored Roald Dahl because his stories were so imaginative and scary at the same time. Edith Nesbit was another favourite of mine at that age. Then I found Ursula K. Le Guin’s Earthsea-books. They blew me away.

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How do you like being a writer and working within the publishing industry?

Sara: It’s amazing. But we’ve been very lucky.

Mats: I love it. We are both very aware of how lucky we are. There are so few writers who get published, and of them even fewer who can actually make a living out of it.

Do you have any specific working, writing, researching practices?

Sara: I honestly must answer: no, I don’t. We developed a routine for writing the Engelsfors books, and then I went on to write the screenplay for the film adaption of The Circle and worked closely with the director Levan Akin. During the past years the routine has been pretty much: work all the time and get the job done. And I got the job done, but it’s not possible to work like that in the long run and stay healthy. I’m kind of curious of what my routine will be like when I write my first own novel. I haven’t really started yet.

Mats: It depends on the project. I find that in doing research on a setting or a time period, you often find lots of ideas for the characters and the plot. So if it’s a novel that requires research, I start with that.

As far as writing goes, I have to actually start writing before I understand my own ideas. Before that, plotting and developing characters is too abstract, it’s too easy to find faults with everything. Sara is much more of an architect. She can plan so far ahead in advance. Her brain is going to end up in a museum.

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When did you realize you wanted to be an author, and what was your first foray into writing? Do you still look back on it fondly?

Sara: I started very early, and wrote stories about big families with lots of weird aunts and uncles. Ghost families and human families. When I was in my teens, I wrote a lot of fantasy, SF and historical fiction. I could craft a story, but I wasn’t grounded in what I wrote, mainly because I wasn’t grounded in who I was. Not many teens are (of course, there are exceptions). When I was 18, I wrote and directed a play as a special project at the end of high school. Looking back on it, I can see its faults, but at the same time it’s so much better than most of the stuff I wrote before and much of the stuff I wrote later (until Engelsfors), because I was truly passionate about writing it and I put a lot of myself in it, without even realising. Then I got into screenplays and short stories mainly. Some of them were bad, some of them better. I received a lot of encouraging rejections.

Mats: I think I always wanted to be a writer. I was always writing as a kid. I wrote my autobiography when I was like, six. But my first real try at a novel was when I was 17. It was a hot mess of everything I loved at the time; Bret Easton Ellis, V.C. Andrews, Stephen King and The Secret Diary Of Laura Palmer. So lots of cocaine snorting ballet dancers and brutal murders. It almost got published, actually. I am so happy it didn’t.

What’s your opinion of the genre today, and where do you see your work fitting into it?

Sara: I think that there are a lot of exciting things going on in the genre today and there are lots of great writers. In general, I think that main characters in fantasy today are allowed to be more human and less heroic in the classical sense. Also, many readers are looking for more complex story lines – and also more diversity.

Mats: We have this group of six very different girls, from different backgrounds, and all of them are both awesome and full of flaws. And even though they have to save the world, me and Sara loved to explore how this fact, and their new found magical powers, affects their everyday life. The books aren’t only about the apocalypse, it’s also about friendships, self confidence, parents. They have to deal with a lot of existential issues as well; what sacrifices are they willing to make? Does the end justify the means?

Do you have any other projects in the pipeline, and what are you working on at the moment?

Mats: My next novel comes out in Sweden this fall. It’s a horror novel, that takes place on a cruise ship between Sweden and Finland. I’m also working on a trilogy of children’s books.

Sara: I’m writing a graphic novel called Vei, which is very high fantasy and full of Nordic gods, vikings and monsters. Karl Johnsson is the artist. I have a picture book for children coming out this autumn, illustrated by Maria Fröhlich. If the movie version of The Circle does well, I may spend the rest of this year writing the screenplays for Fire and The Key. If not, I’ll start on my next book series which is in the same genre as the Engelsfors books.

What are you reading at the moment (fiction, non-fiction)?

Sara: The Bone Doll’s Twin by Lynn Flewelling and A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness.

Mats: An old Agatha Christie mystery, A Pocket Full Of Rye.

Elfgren&Strandberg-Reading

What’s something readers might be surprised to learn about you?

Mats: Maybe that I have reverse vertigo? I get really dizzy when I’m on the ground, looking up at a tall building, or if I’m in a church and look up at the ceiling. I love Manhattan, but the first days there are always a nightmare.

Sara: One of my favourite things to do is listen to live classical music and opera and cry.

What are you most looking forward to in the next twelve months?

Mats: So, so much! The premiere of the film adaptation of The Circle, of course. It’s so amazing. And then I’m getting married in March. And I look forward to the release of my next book, even if it also makes me really nervous too – there’s still so much left to do!

Sara: February is an exciting month since The Circle has its world premiere at the Berlin International Film Festival, and the week after that in Sweden. After that I’m looking forward to going to Mats’s wedding, and spending lots of time with family and friends. And I look forward to writing whatever projects I will be working on.

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Sara B. Elfgren & Mats Strandberg‘s Engelsfors trilogy is published by Hammer in the UK and The Overlook Press in the US (covers below). For more on the authors’ work, be sure to check out their website.

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