Crime, suspense and thriller is a genre that I’ve always loved, but sometimes it takes a little while for authors to find their way to the dark side, if you will. Brona Nilsson is a long-time author but a debut crime novelist, and I was delighted to work with her on her first mystery: The Sound.
So, it was a privilege to be invited to work with Brona on this new path on her writing journey.
A man overboard on a ferry. A shooting in a cinema. Is ex-policewoman Lyra Norton’s best friend next?
When her best friend’s father-in-law dies in the Sound between Sweden and Denmark, Irish forensic linguist Lyra Norton rushes to Sweden to comfort her. When Olive’s own father is murdered, Lyra realizes that the case is much bigger than anyone anticipated and nowhere near solved.
Piecing together clues with the help of a local policewoman, Lyra establishes several twisted motives for the murders. When the authorities lose interest, she must choose between the quiet life of an academic or a return to solving crimes.
Can Lyra find the murderer before Olive becomes the next victim?
The Sound is available now.
Read on for an exclusive interview with the author, Brona Nilsson.
Brona, welcome! The Sound is your latest novel. Tell us a little more about it.
Hi Rebecca, thanks for inviting me.
The Sound introduces Lyra Norton, a thirty-seven-year-old Irish forensic linguist seeking a sense of realignment in her life after leaving the police force due to a personal tragedy. The story kicks off when her best friend, Olive, calls to say her father-in-law has mysteriously drowned in the Sound between Sweden and Denmark. Lyra travels to southern Sweden to comfort Olive, but a murder follows, then another death. Lyra needs to solve the cases before more people die—and she’s sure they will–but this means getting dragged back into the crime-solving life she thought she’d left behind.
It’s a Celtic-Scandi crime mystery blend that has kept readers guessing until the very end
The book is very much focused on setting, with Lyra jumping from her native Ireland to Sweden and back again throughout the course of the book. The settings are almost like characters in themselves. Is there a reasoning behind why you chose to base your novel here?
It was very deliberate. I set out wanting to write Scandi-noir, but through the prism of an Irishwoman, exploring how characters deal with difficult circumstances when they’re somewhere they don’t fully belong. The beautiful Scanian region, positioned on the sea border between Sweden and Denmark, is itself steeped in history of power struggle between two countries, and contributes to this feeling of liminality. The story switches between the frozen Swedish landscape and cosier scenes set in less-frozen rural Ireland and this has a deliberately unsettling effect on Lyra who’s trying to negotiate her next step in life as well as solve the crime.
Who inspired you to start writing? Have your influences changed since then?
I hadn’t grown up really wanting to be a writer. I suppose I had a half fantasy of being a film director—that was the closest I got before I headed into a life of corporate research and development. The turning point, a good decade later, was reading Alex Garland’s The Beach… that opening where he likens the Khao San Road in Bangkok to a decompression chamber between East and West just killed me. It was the first time I’d read something that mirrored my own observations so closely that I felt I could have written it. Of course, I couldn’t have—he’s too unique, but I wanted desperately to have written that book. So that got me started on the journey of becoming a writer.
This is a new genre direction for you. So why did you choose to write thriller/crime?
I think we all have to be honest here, as crime writers. It’s because we love getting one over on the reader!
Crime is so complex. And while the detective-murder genre has seen so many pass through its gates, it remains something that draws readers in again and again. So many readers exclusively read crime back-to-back, and as a writer interested in writing all things — I mean, I’ve already written in sci-fi, fantasy, dystopia, romance — crime was going to come around eventually. And now that it has, I’ve found a new love for it that I didn’t realise was there!
Crime readers are passionate, too, and getting to tap into that readership and have such enthusiastic readers is something you can’t help but find addictive.
What is the biggest challenge you faced when writing your first novel? How did you overcome it? And now you’ve got a few under your belt, do you still face the same challenges?
In my other genres, science-fiction and romance, my readers responded well to the suspense elements, so I decided to write straight-up crime. Crime lends itself to exploring darker themes like loneliness, vulnerability, procrastination, and revenge. Not that you can’t do that in other genres, but crime gives them a certain immediacy.
And how about now? Were there any new obstacles you faced writing THE SOUND?
Crime has its own expectations, and is in some ways more exacting than other genres. For example, you don’t want the reader to guess the ending, but you do need to give them enough information for them to work it out for themselves, possibly even before the protagonist—it’s a delicate balance. So that was a challenge. Also, police procedural is a challenge, so I kept that aspect deliberately light and focused instead on the tension and the mystery.
Do you like to plan the action of your novels or do you just let them write themselves?
The Sound was plotted out beforehand in minute detail. It simply couldn’t have been written in pantsing fashion. However, I have written other books by pantsing it. I’m not religious in that way. I do need to have an idea of the ending though before I set out. Anything less would drive me crazy.
As this is a new genre for you, did you have to do a lot of research for the novel? Was it difficult getting the details right?
Yes, the fun type of research – reading the best crime authors out there. Luckily, I had first-hand experience of the locations, as I’ve lived in both Ireland and Sweden, so I didn’t have the burden of research there–in Covid times this would have been impossible anyway. I’ve crossed the Sound on that ferry more times than I can count and visited the castles mentioned. I even got married in one! In a way, the novel is an ode to my homeland and my adopted home.
Having said that, the story has another dimension that I don’t want to give away that required extra research of a historical/literary nature. It was a fun challenge to weave everything together into a fast-paced story.
The novel ends on somewhat of a question mark. Is there more in store for Lyra?
The novel brings the mystery to a satisfying end, so the only question mark really is “what will she do next?” And for those interested, Lyra’s sleuthing continues in second book where she deals with a kind of copycat murder-spree. Readers of the first book will know what I mean by that.
What are your desert-island reads?
I know I should take along something practical like How to Build a Boat, but I also know I’d make a mess of building a boat out of bamboo or whatnot. So, I’ll opt for something very long and obtuse but with profound insights into human nature, something like The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (the Wadsworth edition because it’s got tons of notes).
What is your writing process like? Do you have a routine? A favourite place to write? Etc.
I sit at the same desk all the time for the first draft. Door closed, like Stephen King. For subsequent drafts, I can be freer, taking the laptop anywhere for edits—bed, sofa, terrace, and beyond. I don’t have a daily routine as it depends on what stage I’m at in the process. Some days I’ll get three thousand words done, other days, minus three thousand.
Do you have any writing tips to share?
Kurt Vonnegut said it better than I ever could: “Novel writing doesn’t breed serenity. It is lying, you know, and the novelist has to spend a lot of time during the course of his writing worrying about whether he is going to get away with his lies. If he fails to, his novel isn’t going to work.”
Also most important question. Favourite writing snack!
This changes a lot, but currently it’s Marabou (Swedish brand) dark chocolate bars with coconut filling. So good. You need to try it!
The Sound is available now
If this has whet your appetite to delve into the pages of this icy-cool Scandi-Celtic mystyery, dripping with tension and suspense, read below for an extract of THE SOUND that will have you chilled to the bone, and utterly gripped.
Lyra tried to read the newspaper. The long Swedish words danced before her eyes in convoluted sentences. It was impossible to focus with Ms. Pixie Blonde gawking. She debated leaving, but the bar was warm, the music good, and she had her favorite position—right in front of the serving counter with full view of the entrance via the mirror. If it were a creepy man watching, she would leave. This was merely borderline uncomfortable.
Ten minutes of half-hearted reading attempts later, she gave up, pushed the Helsingborg Dagbladet aside, and asked for the bill. As the bartender returned her credit card, Lyra glanced into the mirror. The mystery woman was gone. She spun around. Where had she gone to? She was only just there— Lyra whipped back around. There was the mystery woman, taking the bar stool next to her, hanging a jacket on a hook, calm as you please.
She had white-blond hair and eyelashes, pale gray eyes, and delicate Swedish features in a face that seemed too big for them. Her sweatshirt was faded pink and boxy with an Under Armor logo emblazoned across ample breasts.
“Will you have a drink?” the woman asked, looking directly at Lyra.
Lyra shook her head automatically. “No thanks, I was just leaving.”
“Hang around. There’s no one upstairs in your room.”
It wasn’t even a question. Lyra frowned. “And you know that how?”
The woman grinned and patted the counter top. “Otto Brydolf, Helsingborg Polis.” She reached into her jacket and pulled out a wallet which opened up to show police ID.
Lyra scanned it, taking her good time to absorb name, date of birth, rank. It seemed legit.
“I know. I’m gorgeous,” the woman said, pocketing it again.
“Otto, you say? Unusual name for a woman.” And it didn’t match the ID.
“Full name is Karlotta, as you probably saw. I didn’t want to be called Lotta, did I?”
“What’s wrong with Lotta?”
Otto’s drink, something clear, had arrived in a shot glass.
“Sure you won’t? I thought you Irish girls drank?”
“So, you know all about me then?”
“Just a little, Lyra Norton.”
Perhaps this was worth hanging around for. She caught the barman’s gaze, pointed at Otto’s drink, and then at herself. He reached for the Absolut vodka.
She downed it in one swallow out of some dumb need to impress, and reeled from the burn. “Whoa.”
“Same again?” Otto asked.
“Not quite yet. Waiting for this to hit.”
Otto shrugged and pointed at the glass to the barman. He was now hovering expectantly, in recognition of serious customers. He dutifully filled Otto’s glass.
“I only drink on Fridays,” she explained. “But when I do, I do.”
“Do you have any Guinness?” Lyra asked him.
“No. We have Murphy’s.”
Lyra pulled a face.
Otto snorted. “Same thing, no?”
“I’ll have a Carlsberg, please.” Lyra side-eyed the policewoman. “What else do you know?”
Otto grinned. “The basics.”
The Sound is available now.
About Brona Nilsson
Brona Nilsson grew up in Ireland and, like most Irish kids at the time, emigrated. She worked for tech corporations in several European countries before deciding that Sweden was the quietest place for a career switch to writing. She writes in several genres, most recently, crime and mystery, blending Irish and Scandi cultures for an international audience. She lives with husband, son, and dog beside a spooky forest near a body of water that inspired her debut crime novel, The Sound. When not writing, she loves making friends and meeting people, and talking about life’s great mysteries