Author’s Interview: Lars Kepler on The Hypnotists

Lars Kepler is a pseudonym for Swedish writers Alexandra Coelho Ahndoril and Alexander Ahndoril, well-established names in the writing world with several published books. They teamed up professionally for the first time to write The Hypnotist by this pseudonym, allowing them to separate their earlier, independent works, from this new common authorship.

In this interview, the duo talks on “The Hypnotists” and their experiences as a team to follow common authorship.

You are pretty eloquent and successful in writing psychological and suspense thrillers. Would you like to share the secret behind this?

Lust and fear are the keywords for us. If our hearts beat faster while writing we’re on the right track. We write about what scares us, we really want to be scared, but only because we’re safe. We have three children of our own and like all parents we send them to school and activities. We’re trying to give them some space, letting them be on the Internet, bring friends home, close doors and so forth. We know that they need their integrity, but the loss of control is at the same time frightening. Children have secrets, they’re supposed to, but The Hypnotist deals with our fear of really bad secrets. Even though we know before we even start that everything will turn out good in the end, we’re always scared during the writing process. We’re sitting by our computers with high pulse and tears in our eyes. Maybe it sounds silly, but that’s the way it works. We’re dealing with our fears and follow our lust. We create stories we would love to read ourselves. To us crime fiction is a very optimistic genre. Horrible things happen, just as in real life, but in fiction we have the possibility bring in our hero and stop the perpetrator, find out the riddle and save people we care for. That’s pleasant. Reading or writing crime novels is a way to control or disarm our fears for a moment, in the same way a roller coaster transform the fear of heights and speed into something fun.

It had must been quite comfortable as well as exciting for you to work as duo on The Hypnotists. Please share some tid-bits regarding this.

We have been married for a long time, we met twenty years ago, and we love to do things together, but writing together is quite different … We’ve tried it several times over the years, but every attempt has almost immediately turned into huge arguments. We started to write a play together, but it didn’t work out and then a children’s book – it was a minor catastrophe. It was in fact because of those fights we came up with the idea of creating a brand new writer. And since we started to write as Lars Kepler we haven’t had a single fight – it has actually been a wonderful, creative rush.

  Many authors who work together write alternate chapters, or divide the characters in the story between them. We don’t do that, we write everything together. Most of the plot is set before we start to write, but strangely enough, something always happens when you actually write and the story comes alive. It’s strange but also the most wonderful and exciting part of being an author. It’s like controlling a boat on a fast river. You can plan the ride, you can try to steer, but you also have to follow the stream. As a writer you always have to be open to what the story itself wants during the writing process.

  We’re always sitting side by side and we swap texts with each other maybe twenty times a day. We write and rewrite over and over again, fill in the gaps, change things, cut out things, adding things and trying new angels. After a while we don’t even know who wrote what in the first place. That’s when Lars Kepler has taken over.

  One thing we did when we wrote the Hypnotist wasn’t very smart: we copied our flat for the home of the hypnotist and his family. But then we became so afraid of the dark, had to check if the door was properly locked every night. Finally we realized we had to move from that apartment.

Our readers would love to read about “The Hypnotists” in your words. Give us a brief outline of the story. 

The Hypnotist is a thriller about families, both good and dangerous; it’s about strong bounds, dark bounds, love and possession. And of course it’s a crime novel about hypnosis. We happened to have several years of direct insight into professional hypnosis – so the idea of using a hypnotist as a key character came natural to us. Many crime novels are about getting as close as possible to victims and perpetrators.

  It’s just a week before Christmas when there’s a horrible triple homicide in a suburb of Stockholm. The killer is still at large and there’s only one surviving witness – the boy whose family was killed before his eyes. He’s badly injured. With almost one hundred knife wounds on his body, the boy lies in a state of shock, traumatized, not able to tell the police anything.

  We thought it would be exciting to bring in a hypnotist, because he can actually see other people’s memories. In reality it’s not rare that investigators are using hypnosis while questioning witnesses and perpetrators trying to prove their innocence, but we wanted a hypnotist to play an important and visual roll in our first thriller.

What inspired you to write this book?

We read a lot of course, but most of our inspiration comes from film. We watch at least one movie a day and we were actually watching Bourne Identity when it just struck us that it would be exiting to examine if it’s possible to lift out the thing we love about movies – the way we completely immerse within the story – and transfer it to a novel. We wanted to be a part of the Scandinavian tradition, but change the ordinary police investigation into a thriller and bring in the fast paced feeling from cinema. We used the present tense for the narrative and tried to create a presence in every scene.

What made you come up with the character of the prolific Detective Inspector Joona Linna and how did you create that? Tell something about him.

We write a series of eight books, each book is independent and includes a completely new story, new mystery and new protagonists. It’s our detective inspector Joona Linna that connects the stories with each other – he is the main character of the series.
We think of him as some kind of Jonah in the Bible being swallowed by a whale. Each mystery is a new whale.

   Many detective Inspectors in fiction are miserable, tired, divorced, whisky-drinking pessimists. We wanted to do something different. Joona is a hero and we needed him to dare enter the dark world of Lars Kepler. Joona is very stubborn, he never gives up and he’s really brave, but of course he has a mystery of his own and a dangerous past that is caching up with him.

You must have had some interesting experiences whilst conducting research for this epic. Could you share those with the readers?

We did a huge research about police work, tactics, forensic medicine, crime scene techniques and Alexander’s big brother is a professional hypnotist and writes books about practical hypnosis. We also read a lot of other works about hypnosis (from Sigmund Freud and onwards) and Alexander did actually get hypnotized himself. It was a strange experience of losing control when you believe you still have it. One thing that we were inspired by was the fact that many hypnotists put themselves in a kind of trance during hypnosis. They use different images for this trance, such as riding escalators down. It was from this we created Erik’s picture of sinking into a deep sea, which also influenced the final scenes when he meets his old patient under the water again.

Which writers have been your role models to whet your passion of writing towards this Crime series?

There are so many wonderful writers – Stieg Larsson, Sir Conan Doyle, Dürrenmatt, Graham Greene, Cormac McCarthy, and Dennis Lehane.

Tell us something about other books of this series.

Our sequel, The Nightmare, begins with two strange deaths that do not appear to have any connection. The General Director of a Swedish weapons committee is found hanged in his apartment. The room is unfurnished. There is nothing to climb on. That same night, the body of a woman is discovered on an abandoned boat in the Stockholm archipelago. The autopsy reveals that her lungs are filled with brackish water yet she has drowned on a boat that is still afloat. We wanted to fill this story with music, beautiful dreams and horrible nightmares. As in The Hypnotist, we are still obsessed with the dark bonds between people, Freudian nightmares and dysfunctional families. The Nightmare is about highly dangerous contracts that you should not sign; contracts that cannot be broken even by death. Those who want to break the contract must reap their worst nightmare.

  The Fire Witness – our third book – has just been published here in Sweden. The book begins in northern Sweden at an institution for girls with violent and destructive behavior. A girl is found murdered in an isolation room. She lies on her bed covering her face with both hands as if she were playing hide and seek. There are no witnesses to the murder. Nobody has seen anything, but just one day after the killing, a woman is getting in touch with the police. She gives false information. First she demands money for the information, but then she asks the police just to listen, more and more desperate.

What message do you have for your readers?

Both men and women are welcomed into the Lars Kepler world. Let us entertain you! Our novels are meant to be exciting, but at the same time we think that crime fiction is a genre very suitable for social criticism, it’s almost inevitable to write about and discuss the failures of the society. We investigate the psychological depths of violence while the welfare society is slipping through the fingers of the people.

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