Thomas Enger and Jørn Lier Horst on balancing partnerships

October 12, 2023

Posted by Daniel Eggleston

To celebrate the release of Stigma, we sat down with authors Thomas Enger and Jørn Lier Horst to discuss how they met, their process, favourite characters and more.

Listen to a sample of Stigma below:

How did your writing partnership arise?
It started a long time ago when Jorn – after having finished one of his Wisting novels – gave me a phone call asking if we maybe should do something together. At that time, I was in the middle of my Henning Juul series, so there was no time to do anything else, but the idea of us working together started then. The actual brainstorming of ideas back and forth began when we were in Ottawa, Canada, for a festival back in 2012. We spent a lot of time together, giving us time to bounce some ideas off on each other, and we met on several occasions after that as well, festivals here and there, and in our ‘free’ time as well, talking and planning. It wasn’t until August 2017, though, we both had openings in our schedule to start the actual writing.

How does the co-writing process work? Do you each take sections or is there more crossover?
I’m (Thomas) usually the one who starts, and then I send Jørn some chapters for him to read and edit and add or deduct, then he can go on from there writing the next chapters, before sending those to me.

We work on our joint projects when we have openings in our schedules, meaning that sometimes it can be sitting on my lap for a little while, then I send it over to Jørn. And vice versa. So it ‘s a highly dynamic process.

What do you think each other brings to the series? Do you each have different strengths?
We have different backgrounds, education, and careers before taking up writing, so of course we have different expertise and a lot of different experiences that formed us as people. All writers bring parts of themselves into the books they write, and we are no different. Jørn has been a police officer for twenty years or so, whereas I worked as a journalist for ten years. What we know from our professions, we bring into our stories.

What do you think the benefits are of working on a novel jointly?
Four eyes read better than two, no? At the very least it’s a good thing to have two crime authors with experience concoct a plot. The chances are – if we both are happy with it – it’s going to turn out pretty well. It’s also a very nice thing to be able to call someone, if we have written ourselves into a corner, and discuss the matter. We have both done this for a little while, so our level of creativity is quite high. It’s fun to create something with another person who is used to thinking in the same ways.

Do you ever disagree on which direction the narrative should go?
We have, knock wood, never disagreed or argued in any way. We discuss our plots and characters a lot, of course, and if we don’t like or feel comfortable with the direction things are taking, we say so. What we strive to do in situations like that is to always come up with an alternative route instead of just saying ‘I don’t like this’. That way, the process, hopefully, can move forward.

How do you go about researching the police procedural elements behind your books?
We are lucky in this respect, as one of us (Jørn) is former Senior Investigating Officer. Of course, we need to stay on top of developments police procedure, but we do that as and when required.

Where did the inspiration come from for the Blix and Ramm series?
We originally had an idea to have a police officer and a journalist – given our backgrounds – and write our own characters, so to speak. And when the idea appeared that they should have a history before meeting again many years later, it quickly snowballed after that.

For those who might be new to the series, introduce us to Alexander Blix and Emma Ramm.
Alexander Blix is a police officer, a very good man, righteous, hardworking, but he has never got over the fact that he shot and killed a father in a hostage situation nineteen years earlier – an incident that shaped his career and character, and in effect also ended his marriage. He also has a troubled relationship with his daughter Iselin because the case and its implications.

Emma Ramm is an up-and-coming journalist fed up with what she’s covering (all things celebrity related). She has had a tough upbringing, both parents dying when she was only five, and she had to learn how to take care of herself from early on. She has a talent for being an investigative journalist, and – guess what – that’s what she gets to do as this series progresses.

What’s the dynamic like between them?
Emma is a bit more direct than Alexander, maybe a bit more carefree and reckless as well, while Alexander is the voice of reason and moral accountability. That, though, may be about to change … (not saying anything more).

Do you each have a favourite character in the books?
Thomas: Mine is Emma, I think. I really like her. She’s scarred and feisty.

Jørn: For me its Chief investigator Alexander Blix. He is a man of conscience and integrity, without too high an opinion of himself. He doesn’t seek the limelight … in fact, quite the opposite. Therefore, his co-work with Emma is a perfect vehicle for contrasts and conflicts.

There’s a real appetite for Nordic-set crime fiction around the world, what is it about the setting that timelessly draws readers in?
This is a question we get a lot, and it’s never an easy one to answer – because there probably are many answers. But the extreme climate is a factor, for sure, and the fact that in some parts of the north people go months without even seeing daylight. What does something like that really do to people? How do they cope? And, of course, there is wealth and prosperity here, but at the same time we have almost all the issues and types of crime that occur anywhere else. How is that possible? But there’s especially one element that, in our opinion, stand out, which is: The books are good.

Does James Lailly’s narration bring anything to the series and characters that you didn’t expect?
It’s always fascinating to listen to someone else bringing our characters alive. It adds layers to them, and life, which is such a treat for us authors to experience.

What are you looking forward to most about hearing your work as audiobooks?
First, we write in Norwegian. To have our novels translated into English is an honour and a privilege (thanks to Megan Turney), and to hear them in the audio format as well… it makes us very proud.

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