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Writing a Chiller-Thriller: Red Snow by Will Dean

Will Dean © 7 January 2019.
Posted in the Magazine ( · Crime · Interviews ).

Red Snow is the second Tuva Moodyson thriller. In the first book, Dark Pines, the elk hunt was the constant threat in the background. The sheer number of rifles, hunters, killing. The vastness of the pine forests. In Red Snow extreme cold is the silent killer: always there, always dangerous.

I love reading atmospheric books: gripping stories that immerse you in particular time and place. I relish that magical childhood feeling of stepping through the back of the wardrobe for the first time. Entering a new world. That’s what I like to read so that’s what I write. In Red Snow you are anchored to February in small-town Sweden. It’s colder than you have ever experienced. A blizzard is moving in. And a broken body is lying frozen in the snow.

The inspiration for Red Snow came from several roots.

First, I was influenced by my local surroundings. I live deep within a huge Swedish elk forest and my nearest town is about a half hour drive away (when the snow’s not too deep). My town’s largest employer is a biscuit factory. In December the streets smell of gingerbread. In Gavrik – my fictional setting a few hours north of my forest – the town is dominated by a gothic liquorice factory. Those streets smell of aniseed. The ice-cold air is laced with it. Unlike my local factory, the Grimberg Liquorice factory is a place of secrets, unexplained deaths, and toxic co-dependency. The town relies on the factory for secure jobs. Generations of locals work there. And the factory relies on the town for reliable labour. They need hundreds of people to work every day in spite of the dark threats, the rumours, and the strange feel of the place. The locals and the factory are locked together in a death spiral.

Second, Cici Grimberg, mother of the factory’s CEO, is inspired partly by my grandmother, and partly by my great-grandmother. My nan is wild and fun, she doesn’t take any nonsense from anybody, she’s hilarious and she’s still very much into her clothes. My four-year-old son tells me ‘nanny is very naughty’. He’s right.  And my great-nan was an incredible woman. Extremely superstitious. She lived in a ‘two-up two-down’ and her gas fireplace was covered with black cats and horseshoes. As a kid, I’d spend hours with her searching for four-leaf clovers; both of us on our hands and knees in some random field. She was poor but her one extravagance was bingo. She was fierce about it well into her eighties. One time, when I was about nine-years-old, she babysat me and my younger sister. Bedtime was eight pm prompt, so said my parents. She let us stay up way past midnight, till headlights appeared through the window. She allowed us to watch A Fish Called Wanda (positively encouraged it). She laughed so hard she cried. Two amazing, original, tough women. They both inspired Cici. I wanted to write a character in her eighties who had a sense of fun. Cici has challenges and sadness’s, many of both, but she still has a lust for life.

Thirdly, I’m obsessed with small towns in general. I grew up in the East Midlands around several market towns, never inside, always on the edge looking in. I find them fascinating. Where you have one main employer, the town dynamics can be extreme. The factory or warehouse or manufacturer can be as important to local people as a school or church. In Gavrik, the Grimberg family feel a tremendous burden. They have a weight of responsibility on their shoulders. Their ancestors attracted people to the wilds of rural Värmland in the early 1800s, and now they need to keep the jobs alive. The constant threats of modernisation, relocation, mechanisation, cause the family ongoing angst. There’s tension in the community. Rumours and gossip and job insecurity. In some local families five or six individuals work for the Grimbergs: stampers and tasters and delivery drivers and quality control inspectors. The factory can’t survive without the town and the town can’t survive without the factory. They live or die together.

Writing Red Snow was a joy and a curse. I loved the four weeks when I wrote the first draft. An immersive, exhausting month spent inside Tuva Moodyson’s head. The way I live – out here in the deep forest through long, dark winters relying on logs for heating and cooking, relying on our own well – it helps me to understand the inherent dangers of life in February. Those observations made it into the first draft. The threats from driving on black ice, from wild elk, from crashing into a ditch, from succumbing to hypothermia out in the frozen pines.  The first draft is a joy. It’s the next twenty that take their toll. It’s only then that I understand the story myself. It’s only after months and months of rewriting and rethinking that I see the motives of each character, no matter how small their role. You never know – they may be a key suspect in book four or book seven.  The process is similar in many ways to moving to a small unfamiliar town. It takes time to connect the dots and understand the grudges, secrets and myths that knit the story together.

(c) Will Dean

Author photograph (c) Rosalind Hobley

About Red Snow:

Red Snow is the eagerly awaited follow-up to Dark Pines, selected for ITV’s Zoe Ball Book Club.
One suicide. One cold-blooded murder. Are they connected? And who’s really pulling the strings in the small Swedish town of Gavrik?
Black Grimberg liquorice coins cover the murdered man’s eyes. The hashtag #Ferryman starts to trend as local people stock up on ammunition.
Tuva Moodyson, deaf reporter at the local paper, has a fortnight to investigate the deaths before she starts her new job in the south. A blizzard moves in. Residents, already terrified, feel increasingly cut-off. Tuva must go deep inside the Grimberg factory to stop the killer before she leaves town for good. But who’s to say the Ferryman will let her go?

Order your copy online here.

Will Dean grew up in the East Midlands, living in nine different villages before the age of eighteen. After studying law at the LSE, and working many varied jobs in London, he settled in rural Sweden with his wife. He built a wooden house in a boggy forest clearing and it's from this base that he compulsively reads and writes.