Today I have not one but two authors answering my spotlight questions. Emma Vestrheim & Sarah Surgey have co-authored A Presence of Absence, the first in The Odense Series, a new Nordic Noir/Brit Crime series that blends humanist stories and family drama with gritty crime in the central Danish city Odense. You’ll find buying links at the bottom of the page
Thanks for joining me ladies. First of all, would you tell me a little about yourselves?
Emma: I’m an Australian expat living in Norway where I own a journal called Cinema Scandinavia, which publishes information about Nordic film and television in English. I’ve been working on that publication for the last three years, and get to travel to film festivals, interview famous Scandinavians and watch lots of movies!
Sarah: I am Sarah Surgey, a British freelance writer, specialising in Nordic culture who has taken the leap into the literary world as an author. I am married and we have 4 daughters. I love to write and travel, alongside my daughters, these are my greatest pleasures.
What inspired you to start writing?
Emma: I have been writing short stories since I was a kid, but have spent much of my adult life writing scripts as I have always been into filmmaking. I’ve always been more interested in creating worlds on the screen, so it’s been a huge learning experience adapting my film background for the literary world.
Sarah: I’ve always written, always, so I can’t remember what inspired me but, becoming an author is a different thing! Interviewing lots of famous authors inspired me to finally pen a novel!
Tell me about your journey to publication
Emma: Sarah and I were in the same circle of those writing about Nordic talent; I was focused on film and she wrote about literature. She approached me with this idea to write a novel, and after we discussed it the book felt like it was writing itself. We spent eight months writing the book, which included me flying from Australia to Denmark and the UK to meet Sarah and visit Odense, and then after writing the book we’ve spent a year finding its voice. We started by looking for a publisher, but have since decided to be self publishers. It’s crazy that it’s been two years since we started writing!
Sarah: We knew going into publishing that it is a hard circle to break. You need a literary agent to even approach publishing houses and literary agents on take on around 2% I think of submissions. We wanted to test the waters and although we had very positive feedback, we just weren’t lucky enough, it wasn’t our time. But, we are hard working and have broad shoulders so we decided to self-publish, work hard, get it out there, write the best we could, not sleep and continue, until we published it ourselves or were eventually picked up! We’ve only just begun and already the reviews we are getting are amazing so we are confident we may eventually be an attractive writing duo to an agent.
In a nutshell, what is your latest book about?
Emma: It’s about a British detective called Simon Weller who ups and moves to Odense, the childhood home of his wife, Vibeke, who has recently committed suicide. There he finds work at the Funen Police Station and is immediately thrown into the most gruesome crime the small city has ever seen. Simon soon discovers that the case is closely associated with his late wife.
Sarah: A Presence of Absence is the first in The Odense Series, it has been described as a softer crime novel which is woven in between strong character development, the issues of dealing with grief and cultural differences. It’s a humanic story which goes back and fourth in time and stretches from the gritty streets of London to the cobbled stones of Odense, Denmark. We really wanted to have the first book for the characters, so the reader knows them inside out and WANTS to read more about them and have a general interest but the crime is just as important because for some of the characters, it will define them.
The second book The Enlightened will be very gritty and dark.
How did you come up with the title for your book?
Emma: Throughout the whole process, we had a completely different title for the novel. As we were finishing it up, Sarah was watching television and heard the phrase ‘A Presence of Absence’. We knew we wanted a large part of our book to be about grief and family relationships, so it just made sense.
Sarah: I heard a man speaking about the death of his son, he was in his 80’s but said for the last 50 years he had lived with a very real presence of absence of where his son should have been.
How do you plan to celebrate publication day?
Sarah: Not sure to be honest, how do you celebrate? I guess with having all the people around me who have put up with my manic writing over the past year!
Emma: I imagine wine will be involved! I may be heading over to the UK soon, so we’ll go out for drinks. And then start chatting about book two.
Do you have a work in progress just now?
Sarah: Yes, the second book. Same character and still in Odense and London but, also venturing up to Norway!
Emma: I’m very excited about book two. England and Denmark are like Sarah’s two homes, and in the second book we feature bits of Australia and Norway, which are my two homes! I’m glad we are including Norway, which is often the forgotten/lesser known Scandinavian country. We are heading north and incorporating elements of Sami culture, Norse mythology and the Northern Lights. Also, the book cover looks amazing! It’s based off a series of crimes in the 90’s where Norwegian heavy metal bands burnt down churches around the country.
What’s your favourite book you’ve read in the past few months? Or favourite three if you really can’t choose!
Sarah: I’ve said this before but I personally am a huge Agatha Christie fan and just can’t fault her or move away from them but, I do read others in between, I love Anne Holt and Jussi Adler-Olsen
Emma: I’ve just finished Hannah Kent’s new book, but my favourite one of hers is Burial Rites. I couldn’t put down The Girl on the Train and my favourite books of all time are the Harry Potter series. I own one of the first edition copies of The Philosophers Stone that I got when I was nine. I was a huge Harry Potter nerd growing up.
What are you reading just now?
Emma: Lion by Saroo Brierley (as of March 2017).
If you were on Desert Island Discs, what one book would you take with you?
Emma: Oooh that’s a good question. Probably something huge so I don’t get bored, or The Snowman by Jo Nesbø if I want to be entertained.
Is there a book you’d like to see made into a film? Who would be in your dream cast?
Emma: Well they are about to release my dream choice, The Snowman, as a film. They have Michael Fassbender as Harry Hole but I really wish they’d gone with a Norwegian actor. Perhaps Trond Espen Siem.
How can people follow you or connect with you on social media?
Emma: I’m pretty terrible on social media, but use Instagram (if you love photos of cats) at @emmavestrheim169 and then there’s my film journal Twitter at @CineScandinavia.
And finally, if you could be a character in any book you have read, who would it be and why?
Emma: That’s tough. I was always told as a kid that I could be Hermione – frizzy brown hair and all. I was the exact age for it but I can’t imagine them hiring an Australian to play a Brit, though it would be funny to hear Hermione tell everyone off with a thick Australian accent. At least there’s another Emma in the part!
Amazon USA: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B06XFS75LT
Amazon UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B06XFS75LT
Amazon Australia: https://www.amazon.com.au/dp/B06XFS75LT
Amazon Canada: https://www.amazon.ca/dp/B06XFS75LT