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Wednesday, 26 November 2014

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Cumbria-based author takes inspiration from visits to Sweden

It used to be Rebus, Morse, Jane Tennyson and Wexford who we couldn’t wait to read, watch and help solve crimes. Now it is the detective work of Wallander, Lisbeth Salander and Sarah Lund that grips us in our millions.

Torquil MacLeod photo
Torquil MacLeod

Nordic noir – it’s the hot new literary scene from the land of long winters and cool blondes.

Except there’s a British name elbowing it’s way into the bookshelves alongside Henning Mankell, Stieg Larsson and most recently, Jo Nesbo.

Torquil MacLeod is hoping that the beautiful Anita Sundstrom is next to join the list of must-read Scandinavian sleuths.

So are the people of Malmö...

“They’re pleased that I’ve put the city on the crime-writing map,” he grins over a coffee.

Meet Me In Malmö. is the first novel from the advertising copywriter but he’s already working on the follow-up.

Murder In Malmö. should be finished by the end of the year.

There’s a theme developing here, so what makes an advertising copywriter who lives in Cumbria and spends half his week working in Newcastle write about a little-known and mostly overlooked city in Sweden?

The answer is visits by Torquil and his wife Sue to see their son Fraser.

He made his home in Malmö after meeting, falling in love and marrying a Swedish lass.

There is even a Wallander connection here.

Fraser’s in-laws both happened to be police detectives and worked out of the Ystad police station where Mankell sets his Wallander novels.

Though Torquil is keen to point out that Scandinavians, and Swedes especially, are not a bunch of miserable people who live constantly in snow and spend all their time in divorce courts and committing suicide or nasty crimes.

“You get this impression that Sweden is a seriously depressing place with a lot of snow,” frowns the 57-year-old who lives in Hesket Newmarket.

“But it’s really not like that. The Swedes have a great sense of humour. Yes, there’s a lot of divorce, but everyone stays friendly and they’re not miserable.

“The British version of Wallander was filmed in summer, but it was all bleached out with hardly any colour and Kenneth Branagh’s Wallander is constantly on the verge of tears when in the original books he is not like that.

“He’s dour, but not emotionally wrought, there’s a lot of spark to him.

“When I wrote the book I wanted to show the sort of people I and Fraser have met in Sweden.”

Torquil started his career far from Malmö and crime writing.

After meeting wife Sue at university, they settled in Malvern where he taught at a prep school and she at a state school in Droitwich.

She gave up work to start a family (they have two sons: Fraser and Calum) and they moved to Worcester where Torquil tried to sell life insurance.

He only managed to sell one policy – to some friends – and quit the job after just a few months.

“The most exciting part of the job was the fact that above the insurance offices was the rehearsal room for the cast of the soap Crossroads and you might come across Benny in the toilets wearing his bobble hat!”

As he enjoyed writing, Sue suggested he try for a job with an advertising agency and he joined recruitment agency Austin Knight in Birmingham as a copywriter after submitting a “totally impractical idea” as an ad.

“They sent me to London for some psychological tests, but the night before them, I was ill and felt feverish and awful the next day when they gave me all these patterns to interpret (a rorschach test).”

The verdict was that he was imaginative and he got the job.

Over the years, the list of companies he has provided ads for include: Cadbury, Michelin, Lucas, Chrysler, Bells Whisky, and Sealy Beds of Aspatria.

He moved on from Birmingham to Glasgow and then Newcastle where he worked for five years in the Chronicle newspaper’s promotions department before joining the Robson Brown agency in the city.

He gave that up to go freelance in 2000 after becoming fed up providing ads for a sofa company.

“Everything was a sale. there was no creativity because there were sales throughout the year. you had to make the latest sale better than the last one, which was just a few weeks before.”

Since then, Torquil has written film scripts and treatments, including one for the Vindolanda site on Hadrian’s Wall called Eagle’s Eye.

One script was for a supernatural thriller based in Durham for Miramax, the other was for Cumbrian director Neil Marshall who directed cult horrors Dogs of War and The Descent.

Sadly, neither made it into production, but he is more hopeful of a one-off comedy drama called Et Tu Brian about a modern-day group of Romans.

It’s with Dene Films in Newcastle and may be turned into a comedy series.

Originally, Meet Me In Malmö was based on an idea he had for a film script but then decided to turn it into a novel.

It is a twisty-turny police thriller.

It sees second-rate journalist Ewan Strachan from Newcastle caught up in a murder when he goes to the city to interview an old university friend who is now one of Sweden’s leading film directors.

Inspector Anita Sundstrom arrests him for the murder, but will Strachan be able to convince her of his innocence?

The idea was born on his first visit to Sweden in 2000 to see Fraser and the Wallander books of Mankell.

“ I was captivated by the landscape of Skåne, the southernmost region of Sweden,” he explains.

“At the time I was interested in writing film scripts and after a couple of summer visits I had written a screenplay for a mystery story and come up with the treatment for a crime story, which I set in Malmö.

“Then I discovered Henning Mankell, quite by chance, in a bookshop in Newcastle. At the time he only had a couple of translated novels out over here.

“ I was amazed to discover that they were centred in Ystad and the surrounding countryside that we were becoming so familiar with. Soon the trickle of Scandinavian crime novels became a steady stream. So I decided to dust off my old film treatment and try and turn it into a novel.”

The other main character in the story is Malmö itself which could be transformed into the crime capital of Europe if Torquil’s dreams come true: “It’s a pleasant city – particularly in the summer with all its beautiful parks. It’s also a cultural melting pot.

“Thanks to the opening of the Öresund bridge in 2000 linking it to Copenhagen, it has transformed itself from backwater town into cosmopolitan city.

“It also has a large immigrant population that has been brought into focus with the spate of recent shootings which I’ve included in the new book.

“I’ve got ideas for another two after that at least.”

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