Hi Joachim, welcome to You’re Booked!
- We like to start our interviews by asking our authors to introduce themselves. Can you tell our readers a little about yourself?
I’m a Swiss born, Iceland based farmer’s son, who realized, while working on a farm in Iceland, that he had a book in him that needed to be written. And then another one, and another one… until, finally, Kalmann came along.
Since I migrated to Iceland, 15 years have passed. Now I’m married with two kids, but it is thanks to Kalmann that I stopped working on farms, in restaurants, in youth hostels and as a tour guide, which was my last “real” work. I´ll never forget hunting northern lights with a bus load full of British tourists. But that was before the pandemic. Since Covid-19 I´m now fully concentrating on keeping my kids alive and writing books at the same time.
- When did you start writing fiction? What made you want to start the long, often arduous, process of writing a book?
In 2003, I spent a winter on a remote farm in Iceland. That was before Youtube and Netflix would steal all my time. I sat down one evening and started writing a book. I was missing Switzerland a lot, you see, and that (still unpublished) book is full of longing. I found a way to tell the things I’ve experienced and needed to get out of my system. To me, writing is a compulsion. A few months later, the book was finished. I was surprised. Did I just write a book? Later I tried to publish it, but nobody was interested. So, I wrote another book. And another. The fourth book I wrote was finally published, and since then I’m unstoppable. I love the process of creating a story, a world, I love spending time with my characters.
- Have you always been a crime writer?
Not at all, no. Although I´ve always had some crime element in all of my books. But Kalmann is closest to a proper crime novel. That’s what I had in mind at least, but some might say that I failed! At some point during the writing of the book, the main character Kalmann took over, and there was nothing I could do about that. And that’s why Kalmann is not just a crime novel, but a character study too.
- Where did the initial idea for Kalmann come from?
My initial thought was to write a true Nordic noir novel. A missing person case in a remote fishing village, a woman detective, and the only witness is the town simpleton, Kalmann. Then I quickly realised that Kalmann isn’t a simpleton at all, but an incredibly complex character with loads of stories to tell. I have no idea, where he came from, but he is in some way a little bit like my 9-year-old self. Kalmann however is a fully-grown man. And he has seen a lot. Too much even.
- We loved being transported to Iceland whilst reading Kalmann. What influence would you say moving to Iceland has had on your writing?
Almost all the influence. Iceland made me write books. This volcanic island is very inspiring, and I couldn’t tell you for sure why that is. Maybe it’s the vast landscapes, or the energy that comes from within. Maybe it’s the loneliness that one can experience here. For sure the bad weather and the dark winter nights help a lot too. Books are celebrated in Iceland, literature is the biggest treasure here. It´s impressive and addictive.
- How would you describe your writing style to a new reader?
It’s very intuitive, but plot driven, humorous in places, but tragic at the same time. I love colorful characters, grounded and grumpy. I love to write dialogues too.
- One thing we always love to know, what does your typical writing day look like?
I wake up the kids, prepare breakfast and make sure they get to school and kindergarten at the right time. Then I go to the national library where I write until noon or longer, if I´m in the zone. The afternoon I usually spend at home answering emails or organizing readings. It’s like working in an office really, but time flies, especially if I take a quick and well-deserved nap on the couch. So, I have a second coffee and run to get the little one from kindergarten.
- What is your writing process? What’s the most difficult part of writing a crime book?
When I start writing a book I have outlined the whole story, but there´s room for unexpected twists. In the best case, the characters develop a life of their own, maybe get even out of hand. Then I trust them, and I let them react to the situations I put them in. That’s probably the reason why Kalmann could be compared to the movie “Fargo”, written by the Coen Brothers. For this book, the most difficult thing was to make the police look believable. I cheated a little bit when I decided to let Kalmann tell the story instead of me. He didn´t need to understand the exact process of a missing case. He was just a bystander.
- Kalmann is quite the memorable character. How do your characters develop? Do you find that your characters take on a life of their own when you are writing? Or are you always completely in control of what they say and do?
I got ahead of myself before when writing about Kalmann. The question is already answered. This shows how I work: I jump into things, without going through all the points beforehand. When writing I want to get excited myself, I want to know what´s going to happened on the next page. Sometimes I have no idea. There´s a scene where Kalmann is going to his favorite burger joint at a petrol station, but just to tease him I let two tourists sit at his favorite table. I had no idea he was going to completely lose it! So, I was laughing out loud when writing this scene. I can be a bit of a jerk to my characters, but that´s how I show affection. I love them dearly.
- We’ve heard of some unusual writing habits over the years, what would you say is your most interesting writing quirk?
I summon my inner demons! No, that´s just a joke. It would be the most boring thing to watch me write. But feel free to make fun of me: Last summer I suddenly had trouble sitting down. My behind was hurting a lot. I must have overstretched the muscles around my coccyx. So, I fixed myself up with a little table for me to write standing up. I know it might sound funny but I am super proud of this invention of mine. It saved my life and here I am, sitting comfortably.
- Which writers have influenced your own writing the most?
Mostly Icelandic writers because since I´ve fallen in love with Iceland I have been reading a lot of Icelandic literature. To name a few: Einar Kárason, Halldór Laxness, Jón Kalman Stefánsson, Steinun Sigurðardóttir, Gunnar Gunnarsson, Hallgrímur Helgason, Sjón … but recently my thoughts often wonder to Friedrich Dürrenmatt who wrote “The Pledge”; a great crime novel that was made in to a brilliant movie with Jack Nicholson. Sean Penn was directing. Now that´s an ending with a great twist! Very inspiring.
- And what advice would you give to any aspiring writers? What do you wish you’d known at the start of your own writing career?
Instead of sending my manuscripts to publishers, I should have tried to find a literary agent first. I didn´t realize that publishers don´t really read all the manuscripts they receive. Also, to get a proper contract it´s good to have an agent. Furthermore, every day that goes by without writing anything is not a day lost. To write a good book one needs some life experience. Therefore I´d say: keep writing and writing, but also go out there and live! Do all kinds of jobs, put yourself in tricky situations, open your eyes and suck it all in. One day it will pour out onto empty pages and it will be a masterwork.
- And when you’re not writing, what are you getting up to?
I have two kids, 11 and 6. We have a summerhouse and I love to read and watch movies. All that keeps me busy. I used to do guide tours, but Corona made me stop doing that, and once I’d stopped, I kind of enjoyed having all that extra time for my family.
- What’s the best book you’ve read recently?
Well, here´s an idea to all English publishers out there, a book that really needs to be translated: “Myrkrið milli stjarnanna”; “The Dark Between the Stars” from Hildur Knútsdóttir. It still gives me the chills. The woman in the book wakes up dead tired each morning. Sometimes with bruises. She has no idea why. At the same time a lot of cats go missing in the neighborhood, and then people too. It’s like “Fightclub” meets “The Babadook”, but without the fist fights. It´s one of those books that you can´t set aside until you’ve finished it.
- Finally, what’s next for Joachim B. Schmidt? What are you working on next?
I’m currently touring the German speaking part of Europe with my new book “Tell” which is a reinterpretation of the William Tell saga. Kind of like a Swiss version of “The Revenant”. I´m not really sure what comes next. There might be a Kalmann Part 2 in the works, who knows! Well, Kalmann knows, that´s for sure.
Thank you for joining us Joachim!