We catch up with writer Claire Duffy, the creative force behind “Life is Swede” – a fictional blog and living book about expat life, love, loss and a murder mystery in Stockholm.
Originally from Scotland, writer Claire Duffy has been a serial expat since she was seven years old. Having worked in the film and TV industry for many years, she’d always wanted to try her hands at writing prose fiction.
Her American protagonist, Regan, moved across the world to live in Stockholm with her Swedish boyfriend Anders. Now Anders is suspected of murder and Regan’s quest to find the real killer and clear his name is the main plot.
Before you tag “Life is Swede” as another Swedish crime novel in the making, here’s how Claire Duffy is pushing boundaries by writing her story live online with each post…blogging as a fictional character.
STS: What/who inspired you to create this style of fiction? What elements of Swedish culture come into play in your plot?
Duffy: I absolutely love living in Stockholm, but at times over my first year or so, I felt I was going a bit mad. I struggled to read people – I kept thinking I’d made a friend, then they would disappear, or someone would seem very stand offish or unfriendly, then suddenly invite me to something. It was confusing at times – but great material for fiction!
It sounds like it is an living book in progress with each new blog post serving as a new page in the virtual book as it were. Is this correct?
Something like that. The main character, Regan, blogs a daily diary as she lives through a murder mystery.
So in some respects it is like a serialized novel with bite sized chapters posted every day, though the blog format makes it a little bit different.
It is in real time – so is ‘happening’ right now – and also readers get to post comments and interact with Regan.
How is this different from a typical Swedish crime drama or mystery novel?
Regan isn’t a professional investigator.
She is trying to find out who the killer is to protect her boyfriend – who is under suspicion – but she doesn’t know anything of the DNA evidence or post mortems, so has to rely on good old fashioned talking to people.
She has an advantage in some ways as she can play the clumsy outsider, but on the other, she couldn’t over hear anything incriminating unless she had a Swedish dictionary to hand.
A prominent theme is that Regan is an outsider always two steps behind everyone else – she gets suspicious of things that would seem perfectly normal to a Swede, and often feels she has said or done something wrong without knowing what – feelings that I think a lot of ex pats would identify with!
Any thoughts on Stockholm’s literary scene, how it’s changing, and if it’s inspiring authors to be more innovative in the way they write/deliver their stories.
My background is in film and TV, and I’ve found that producers in Stockholm are very intrigued by and willing to take risks in figuring out how to tell stories on the internet – it’s the new medium that is challenging everyone! I think that writers in all mediums are being inspired by the particular demands of social media platforms – stories must be immediate, interactive and snappy – to write and deliver entertainment content.
The same basic elements apply whether you’re a caveman telling stories by candlelight or a 21st century writer creating fiction on Facebook – characters you care about, intrigue as to what happens next – so as everything changes, it also stays the same.
Are there any prominent places (attractions, neighborhoods, cafes) in Stockholm featured in the book?
Regan and Anders live in Södermalm, and very early on Regan discovered Gildas. “No matter how bright the sunshine outside, it is always shadowy and cozy, and kind of feels like a little old grandma’s living room in a fairy tale.” It became her sanctuary in her first few jet lagged, disorientated days as a cozy escape from the world – as it was for me!
Regan often returns to Ersta Park, “the still, hazy, summer’s afternoon was punctuated by screams from the freefall ride at the funpark across the water.” It’s only a little patch of grass surrounded by buildings really, but the view of the water and Djurgården makes it one of my favourite places to spend a lazy summer’s afternoon with a good book, and I decided Regan felt the same way.
Recently they ventured across the water to have dinner at Vau de Ville – “It was that kind of place, a swanky open air restaurant/bar/club kind of place on a square in the city center, filled with impossibly glamorous people.” in the hopes of tracking down one of the suspects.
It’s one of my favourite restaurants, just swanky enough to feel special, but not too scary, so I decided that’s where the aristocratic possible-murderer would be found that night.
What are your goals for this project? To be published into a hard copy book?
I didn’t really have a specific goal in mind when I started the project. I’ve always wanted to experiment with the concept of blogging fiction, which I haven’t really seen done quite like this before, so I set out simply to see if I could pull it off – would people be interested in coming back every day to read a little more? Would they comment and interact? Would they believe that Regan was a real person and the blog authentic – and how would they feel when they discovered it was fiction?
The response has been fantastic and as we are nearing the end, I’m starting to think about what might come next.
As I’m a screenwriter by trade, adapting it into a TV series – or web series – is a definite possibility, though for now I’m going to see how the last couple of weeks go, and take it from there.