Jo Nesbo in Conversation at Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival, 2019

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by Sarah Morgan

What do the Scottish play and Harry Hole have in common? Jo Nesbo, of course. The Norwegian author created police detective Hole back in 1997 for his debut novel The Bat, and is still writing about him today – Nesbo attended the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival in Harrogate to discuss The Knife, the 12th book in the series.

He’s also written a big-screen modern-day adaptation of Macbeth, but his passion for the story has fuelled his career.

“I saw the Roman Polanski version when I was 13,” he explains. “We don’t see much Shakespeare in Norway, so that was my first experience of it. It was also my first experience of seeing a good guy being betrayed. I found it fascinating how he then becomes a bad guy, by which time you’ll forgive him anything.

“But Macbeth has influenced so many stories – Scarface, Breaking Bad… There are other influences on my work too; I have to mention people like Tom Waits, Charles Bukowski…”

Now heading towards his 60th birthday, Nesbo has led a full and varied life. Before becoming an author he was a professional footballer (his career was curtailed by a serious knee injury) and a stockbroker. He’s also an avid rock-climber and is in a band.

jo nesbo interview in conversation harrogate crime writing festival 2019 stage

“Not just a crime series, it’s a tragedy”

Nesbo wrote his first book over a frenzied five-week period in Australia, working 12 hours a day. When he returned to Oslo, he realised what a life-changing event it was – and that continuing to be a stockbroker just wasn’t for him.

“My father died just as he retired,” he remembers. “He was going to write a novel, but didn’t get to do it. So I went to my boss and told him, ‘I’ve got other things I want to do,’ and left.

I thought I might have to earn money as a journalist, but I got a call to say the book was going to be published and that was it.”

Nesbo claims The Knife is a dark tale, and Hole’s circumstances have changed.

“It’s not just a crime series, it’s a tragedy. In the previous book, Hole was happy, living with the love of his life. I decided this had to stop. So at the start of The Knife, he’s back where he started – or worse – all alone and drinking.”

Some readers might be unhappy about that, but Nesbo isn’t concerned by such things.

“I don’t feel any loyalty towards my readers, perhaps because when I wrote the first novel I had no idea it would be published. I wrote it for me and two friends – and I’m still doing that.”

images: Harrogate International Festivals

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