My debut novel, DARK PINES, is a crime-thriller set in a small, claustrophobic town in central Sweden. On the first day of the elk hunt a body is found deep in the woods and my protagonist, Tuva Moodyson, the sole full-time reporter at the local newspaper, sets out in her pick-up truck to investigate. But this isn’t my first novel. I wrote a bloody awful book before this one. That novel was told from seven points of view and it was set in seven different countries. It spanned two years. It was a mess and it will remain forever locked in my drawer.
DARK PINES is a reaction to that experience. I decided I wanted to write something tight and small and contained. DARK PINES is set during two weeks. It’s told from one point of view: that of Tuva Moodyson. And it’s set in one small town.
I went from writing a broad, expansive novel to writing a small, immersive one. The difference was immediately apparent. I enjoyed writing the first draft of DARK PINES (then called Sweet Rot). It was like an exorcism. It didn’t feel like work and the draft was done in four weeks. I wrote for two and half hours in the morning during my son’s early nap. I wrote for two and half hours in the afternoon during my son’s late nap. I expected that first draft to take around six months but it flew out of me. That was partly thanks to the tightness and simplicity of the story (and partly thanks to my son’s (now long-gone) excellent sleep habits!)
One accidental benefit of writing a closed setting is that claustrophobia comes naturally. As a reader you don’t escape the small town of Gavrik and the surrounding overgrown pine forests. I don’t let you out.
I try to plant landmarks in the narrative early on because that is what I love as a reader. I will tell you the name of the main street in town, and I will explain which shops are where and if they’re doing good business. Through Tuva’s eyes you’ll see who’s getting on with whom and where acid grudges simmer beneath the polite greetings exchanged outside church. As a reader you’ll know what day it is and what story Tuva is investigating. You’ll walk through the deserted streets and you’ll sit alongside Tuva as she drives her Hilux pick-up truck and you’ll watch her replace the batteries in her hearing aids. The setting is small. I do not let you out.
Writing courses tell you not to write weather. I’ve never done a writing course. And I love writing weather. In Dark Pines you’ll experience a Swedish autumn. The last mosquitos and blood-sucking ticks are hanging on, searching for one last meal before the frosts come and kill them off. The rivers and ditches are full to overflowing and the woods smell of decay. Gunshots permeate the perfect silence and hunters trudge past you to their hunting towers without saying hello. I relish the rain and the wildlife. I want to immerse you in this place with these people because I find Swedish nature so exciting. There’s always a hint of danger here.
Tuva Moodyson is no superhero. She can’t hack computers or kickbox or read peoples’ minds. She can’t diffuse a bomb and she has no government contacts. She is you or me. Tuva is a young woman trying to make ends meet, trying to maintain friendships, trying to be a good journalist. She feels a duty of care towards the victims she interviews and she tries to write the best stories she can. Through Tuva you’ll experience a small community reacting to the discovery of a body in Utgard forest. You’ll work out who is related to whom, and that motives are plentiful in Gavrik town. I hope you enjoy the ride.
DARK PINES by Will Dean is published by Point Blank, an imprint of Oneworld, on 4 January, paperback £12.99