Fragments: A Conversation Between Neil Smith and Liza Marklund About The Long Shadow

LongShadowThe following is an email exchange between Liza Marklund, author of the Annika Bengtzon series, and her translator Neil Smith

Neil to Liza:

3 September 2012
Hi Liza!
I’m about to start the translation of The Long Shadow, and was wondering if I could run a few things past you before I get going? Obviously the book picks up where Lifetime left off, but the tone feels completely different – partly because of the shift away from Sweden, of course, but also because everything is seen from Annika’s point of view this time. I was wondering why you chose that approach in this book in particular – and if you think that’s one reason why The Long Shadow is the longest book in the series so far? I’m also kind of curious about why you felt the time was right to send Annika outside Sweden!
I’m intrigued by the ‘interludes’ in this one – they remind me a bit of the cutaways in Eyvind Johnson’s series of books about Olof: terrible events presented in a dreamlike, fairytale way. I’m tempted to try to draw some parallel about you both being from Norrland, but maybe that’s going a bit far!
Right, time to get to work…!
Neil x
Liza to Neil:

6 September 2012
Darling Neil!
You sure know how to flatter a girl (well, hrm, middle-aged woman) – comparing her to a Nobel Prize literature laureate! One thing’s accurate, though: me and Eyvind are truly from the same godforsaken part of the world, his birth village (Svartbjörnsbyn) being about an hour away from mine (Pålmark)…

Right now I’m quite far away from Norrbotten, I’m in my house in Marbella, looking out
over the Mediterranean. (I can actually see the coastline of Africa today, the Rif mountains where they grow all the cannabis in the Shadow…)
You’re definitely right about the Annika perspective, it’s new to me, I’ve never tried this before, telling everything from her point of view. And yes, it got a lot longer. I basically wanted to tell this story without taking the short cuts that a change of perspective allows (I mean, if you want a cliff-hanger, just cut and switch, right?). It really surprised me how much more physical work it was, writing out every step of the storyline. I kind of like the result. It became a very closely woven piece of material, a detailed fresco of our time…  (pretentious, who me?)

Annika herself should be like we both know her, though: a lone ranger, a cowboy in sneakers, a human being even though she is a woman. My aim has been to give her the same broad range of characteristics as always: intelligent, ambitious, unpleasant to some of her colleagues and loving towards her children, clumsy and embarrassing, brilliant and relentless, she is crying too much and in the wrong places – and she gets away with it! (and she has sex with two different guys, both in other relationships – will the British readers still like her, you think?)

A lot of the story takes place in the south of Spain, as you’ve noticed – please let me know if there’s anything that’s fuzzy or unclear in the description of the Spanish society (some things might be strange for the British readers). I’ve been here so long now that I’m afraid I’ve turned blind to some of the strangeness…
Please also see if you find one of the characters (Carina) too racist towards British people (there is quite a tiredness towards drunken Brits here, I have to admit, driving on the wrong side of the road and refusing to learn Spanish – when they’re not understood they just speak louder).

Alright, that’s all for now. Over and out.

Neil to Liza:

15 September 2012
Hi Liza!
Sorry to be so slow replying – I had a copyedit of a translation I submitted eighteen months ago show up completely without warning, with the usual ‘we need this back in two weeks’! I completely understand that publishers need to focus on their own schedules, but I sometimes wish they’d remember that we have other stuff to do, and aren’t just sitting around waiting for copyedits to show up! Anyway, now I’m supposed to remember exactly why I made a particular translation choice on p. 317, and to be able to defend it…
But I’m guessing this is just a minor version of the queries you get the whole time? I mean, with your books being translated all round the world, and at different rates, you must constantly be getting bombarded with detailed queries about each and all of the books, all at the same time?! Which got me thinking – what’s the question you’ve been asked most often? And what’s the one question that no-one’s ever asked about the books, even though you’ve been expecting it right from the start?!

I don’t know if it’s because of the way you chose to write this book (entirely from Annika’s perspective), but I like Annika even more than usual this time round – even if I was mentally yelling at her for the way she behaves with Thomas! I really like what you did with Annika’s relationship with Lotta, the photographer – luring readers to join in with Annika’s frustration, then switching it completely and giving us Lotta’s perspective of the stroppy cow she’s having to work with!
I think you’re on pretty safe ground with the Spanish setting as far as British readers are concerned – it’s far more familiar territory than Stockholm is to most people. But not to me, I’m afraid – I may need to pick your brains about some of the details! I’m guessing that the village in the hills where Annika and Niklas go for a meal is more your kind of Spain than the coastal strip?  You’ve said before that visiting the locations of the books is very important to you – so this one must have involved plenty of trips to Gibraltar and Morocco? I usually try to do the same before I start a translation – the trip out to Frihamnen in Stockholm for Vanished on a dark, rainy, windswept day in November remains a highlight! – but the Rif mountains may be a trip too far. (And from what you’ve said about Borderline, I doubt I’ll be going to Kenya either!)
Everything that Carina says in the book about British expats in Spain seems fair enough to me – given the slightly hysterical tone of the debate about EU migration in the UK these days, I reckon it’s actually pretty healthy for us to be reminded that Brits aren’t universally adored in other countries! In a way, I’m probably more intrigued to see what the reaction is to the details in The Long Shadow about Gibraltar’s financial affairs: it’s always rather sobering to be reminded that an awful lot of the world’s tax havens are remnants of the British empire, given that we’re very fond of lecturing other countries about financial probity.
More soon!
Neil x

Liza to Neil:

9 October 2012
Neil, darling,

Don’t work yourself to death. You’ll be such a disappointment to the editors. This is what I keep reminding myself when shit gets piled up: If I do die, I’ll never get it done…
I’ve actually learned to say no. I really don’t have a problem with it anymore. If I don’t want to do something, I just don’t. This includes interviews, TV-shows, promotion trips, you name it… This gives me much more time to do really useful stuff, like thinking and reading.
I intend to be around for some time. This requires development.

The question I’ve been asked more than anyone else is: “Are you Annika? Isn’t it just yourself that you’re writing about, really?”
I’ve started replying: “Oh jeez, you’ve exposed me! You must be so clever! Yes, she’s me! Totally. I killed my boyfriend. My father drank himself to death. My mother’s an unemployed alcoholic… I’ve been mistreated at the same shitty newspaper in Sweden my whole career, and I’ll do absolutely anything to get a good headline!”.
(But to tell you the truth – I do borrow stuff from my own experience in all my books. I have, for example, worked with “Lotta” on numerous occasions. Give me strength!!!)

Glad you’re intrigued about the Gibraltar part! It’s such a weird place, sitting on that rock on the European-African shore… It’s really quite an ugly place. No trace of all the money there in the architecture or the city parks. Here are some research photos I took while writing:
lawyerTo the left, the entrance to a lawyer’s office in Gibraltar. Fancy, eh…?










Street view.




tunnelThe Land Port Tunnel, the entrance to the city.
The architecture around Puerto Banus and Nueva Andalucia (where more of the book takes place) is a lot more extravagant, take a look at this view from my usual morning walk:

Wouldn’t call it tasteful, but maybe exciting…?





palacioThis, by the way, is the Palacio de Ferias y Congresos de Málaga where Annika meets up with Thomas in the book:

Ah well, back to work…
Keep it up!


Neil to Liza:

11 October 2012
Thanks, Liza – that’s all really helpful. (Love the picture of the lawyer’s office!) And I shall do my very best not to work myself to death before we get to the end of the series!! 
I’m sure plenty more questions will crop up as I work my way through the book, as usual, but I’ll try not to bother you with anything too silly! More soon, no doubt, but I’ll let you get on with the next book while I get on with The Long Shadow. Until then, take care, and have fun!
Neil xx

(PS – by the way: what is the question you’ve always expected but never been asked?!)

Liza to Neil:

15 October 2012
Neil babe,

I’m off to the savannah in the Masai Mara for a few months. You can always reach me on my cell, but the internet reception is a bit slow out there (but we do have wireless in the lounge).
Just howl whenever you hit something too weird or incomprehensible, but it might take a day or two before I can get back to you.
Enclosing a picture of my favourite pet:pet
Now – off to Nairobi!

PS. I DO have a question I’ve never been asked and always wanted to be – I’ll tell you next time we meet in Stockholm!


Reviews of The Long Shadow may be found at Crimepieces, Crime Scraps , FictionFan’s Book Reviews, The Game’s Afoot, and Reviewing the Evidence


One thought on “Fragments: A Conversation Between Neil Smith and Liza Marklund About The Long Shadow

  1. Pingback: review roundup | Scandinavian Crime Fiction

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