From his home office window, Jo Nesbo has a stunning view across Oslo, the Norwegian city where his dark and compelling Harry Hole series is set, but it fails to inspire that vivid imagination that has captivated millions of readers across the globe and triggered a Hollywood scramble for film rights.
Instead, when a hectic schedule promoting his books around the world leaves him with a few spare hours, he prefers to write in hotel lobbies or airport lounges. That’s when making up stories feels like fun and not work.
“When you are in an airport, you don’t have to write. Most people would just sit and read the paper or a book and wait for the plane so I guess it feels like a bonus that I get to wait for the plane and write at the same time.
“I just like feeling that writing is not work, it’s a privilege. It’s what you did as a child, if you were bored and sitting in the back seat of a car with your parents, you would look out and just come up with a story about the people in the house you just passed.”
Today, that aforementioned hectic schedule has brought Nesbo, 54, to a West End hotel, where he drapes his lithe frame across a chair in the restaurant. As a teenager in Norway, he was a premiership footballer before his career was cut short by a knee injury. He then studied business administration because he “did not know what else he wanted to be” and worked as a stockbroker, while writing song lyrics for friends’ bands in his spare time.
To escape the day job, Nesbo became the singer and songwriter for chart-topping Norwegian rock band Di Derre. Their second album went to number one and he still tours with them.
These days, he uses an eclectic mix of bluegrass music, jazz and Eighties and Nineties indie groups Echo And The Bunnymen and Supergrass to create the right atmosphere for writing, saying: “I think it’s easier to concentrate if there is not silence around you. I use music to shut everything else out.”
Nesbo was 37 when he first tried his hand at writing a book and he instantly felt he had found what he was supposed to be doing with his life. The result was the first Harry Hole book, The Bat, about an Oslo detective who battles police corruption and serial killers while trying to keep his alcoholism under control. The series is now 10 books strong. Nesbo’s books have been translated into 40 languages and sold more than 20 million copies worldwide.
The last two books in the series, Phantom and Police, were a double-header seen as the end of the epic series. However Nesbo gave the Sunday Express his strongest hint to date that the tortured detective will return for more stories.
“I knew all along when writing Phantom that it was not going to be the end but that it would seem like it was the end and that is just playing with the nature of a series.
“I do have the story that I planned that I wrote for Harry, that is not finished yet but on the other hand I need breaks from Harry, as it’s a dark and mentally tough universe to spend too much time in.
“I realised after Police that it could be the last book in the series and although, if I ended there I would not have written all the stories I had in mind for Harry, it would not be a bad end to the series.
“I am just giving myself that possibility so that I feel I could leave it there but normally what happens is some time will pass and I will feel that I want to hang out with Harry again, so that is probably what will happen.”
In breaks from Harry Hole, Nesbo has also written four Doctor Proctor children’s books about a crazy professor and his friends, which have been compared to Roald Dahl’s stories.
He started writing these books to amuse his daughter Selma, who was seven when the series started in 2007, but he then found the funny tales were a way of escaping the dark places he goes to when writing the Harry Hole stories.
Nesbo has also written two stand-alone books, Headhunters, which was made into a Bafta-nominated foreign language film, and The Son, which was published last month and immediately topped bestseller lists. Hollywood studio Warner Bros has acquired the film rights to The Son, with actor Channing Tatum reportedly keen on producing and starring in it.
The same studio has acquired the rights to the Tom Johansen trilogy that Nesbo is currently writing, set to be published in the UK next spring, with Leonardo DiCaprio linked to the lead role in the first book Blood On Snow.
The clamour to secure film rights to Nesbo’s books was sparked by him allowing The Snowman, the seventh Harry Hole story, to be made into a film.
He says: “I turned down offers for a long time because, as long as I was writing the Harry Hole stories, I did not want them to become a TV series or movies.
“When I turned down the offers they said, ‘Are you always going to say no?’ I replied, ‘Well, yes, unless Martin Scorsese calls,’ and in the end that was more or less what happened. He is not going to direct it but he is going to be a producer on the project so I’m really excited about that.”
Swedish director Tomas Alfredson, who took the helm of critically acclaimed spy drama Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, will direct The Snowman, with The Killing creator Soren Sveistrup writing the screenplay.
Nesbo has also been commissioned to write a crime noir novel of Shakespeare’s Macbeth, to be published in early 2016, which he says will be about the fight to be the next chief of police in a corrupted city in the Seventies that’s a cross between Glasgow and Oslo.
Filming is also underway of his first TV series, Occupied, which sees Norway invaded by Russia.
Faced with such a volume of work, most people might be tempted to take a break but not Nesbo: “I don’t need to take a break from writing, sometimes I feel I need to take a break from touring but not writing.
“Bruce Springsteen has a great line in one of his songs saying, ‘I have been paid a king’s ransom for doing what comes naturally’ and I think that is exactly how I feel.”
Michael Fassbender and Rebecca Ferguson are in pursuit of an elusive serial killer in first trailer for “The Snowman,” based on the thriller by Norwegian author Jo Nesbø.
Fassbender portrays crime squad detective Harry Hole, who discovers a beheaded victim on the first snow of winter. He’s told at the start of the trailer, “A woman vanished last night. We just found the body. And the head is missing.”
Fassbender is aided by a brilliant recruit, played by Ferguson, in his efforts to connect cold cases to the new one. “I’m thinking that he’s going after women that he disapproves of,” she notes.
The killer appears in the trailer to be tracking Fassbender and sending taunting notes. “He’s been watching us the whole time,” Fassbender says. “If we don’t find him, he’s never going to stop.”
The film is directed by Swedish helmer Tomas Alfredson, whose credits include “Let the Right One In” and “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.”
“The Snowman” is produced by Working Title’s Tim Bevan and Eric Fellner, Robyn Slovo, and Piodor Gustafsson. It’s a Working Title Films production in association with Another Park Film and is executive produced by Nesbø, Niclas Salomonsson, Martin Scorsese, Alfredson, Liza Chasin and Amelia Granger.
Universal will release “The Snowman” on Oct. 20. Watch the trailer below: