Interview with Fredrik Backman

Posted by Goodreads on April 24, 2017
In Beartown, Fredrik Backman sees the world in a hockey team. It's not just a group of men playing a sport, he says. It's about loyalty. It's about self-worth. It's about the local economy, and politics, and heroes, and human weakness. "It all starts with the hockey team," the bestselling author of A Man Called Ove says of his new novel.

In the case of Beartown, it's also about the title locale, a small Swedish village where hockey is the dominant subject—until a star player is accused of a crime. The book takes on multiple points of view, giving a kaleidoscopic sense of a place that's much deeper than it appears. Fredrik Backman talked with Goodreads' Todd Leopold from his home in Stockholm about his inspirations, the challenges of translation, and the effect Ove has had on his life.

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Goodreads: What inspired Beartown?

Fredrik Backman: A lot of things. I've been around sports my whole life, so first of all it's a novel about the love of sports.

At the same time I'm trying to tell a story about the darker parts of sports and the darker parts of male groups. If you're valuable to the group, then you have value as an individual. If your value to the group diminishes, then your value as an individual diminishes as well. We're taught from a very young age that if you're good at something, your value as a human being will increase. That thinking is everywhere.

So from that came this idea to write this story and try to tell all the best parts of sports that I know, all the things that make me love it, and also tell the difficult questions, the things that are really hard to get a grasp on and try to show that it's complex.

GR: Was there a reason you told the story from a multifaceted point of view instead of with one or two protagonists?

FB: [Originally] I tried to write it as a TV show. I wrote four episodes and tried talking to TV people, and I got really tired really fast and I didn't want to go to meetings and sit in a conference room, so my agent—who knows me really well and my wife really well—my agent said to my wife, maybe you should tell him to write it as a novel.

GR: Here's a question from Jennifer: "As a Canadian 'hockey mom,' I found your description of life in the competitive amateur hockey realm fascinating. How much of that did you learn from experience, and how much did you have to research for Beartown?"

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FB: Both. A lot of it comes from experience because I've played a lot of sports. [But] I never played hockey. I was really fragile as a child, so I could never learn how to skate properly. I kept twisting and breaking my ankles all the time. So I never played hockey. But I played sports for a number of years. So that comes a lot from experience—the locker room mentality, the love of a group, the loyalty you feel to your friends on a team.

I also did a lot of research. I talked to a lot of people. I sat in a lot of bleachers. I talked to former NHL players. And most of that was just fun for me—I had a reason to call people and say, "Do you want to talk hockey for two hours?"

GR: Here's a pair from Steve and Chelsea: Steve wonders "how the author works with his translator to work together to preserve the same meaning and nuance in the English language." And Chelsea asks, "Do you think your Swedish humor translates well into the English versions of your books?"

FB: I don't work as close with my translator as people might think. There's a feeling for a language that a translator has that the writer often doesn't have. If I sat down with my translator, if I started to nitpick, I would very soon come into problems because if you start doing it, you have to do it consistently, and then you're writing the whole book again. What I do at this point is let the translator do his job.

The jokes sometimes can be lost in translation. I use [puns] a lot less because now I know it has to be translated a little bit. But the story remains the same. People ask, Why is Scandinavian literature so popular abroad? I think it's because Scandinavian writers—Swedish writers in particular—have this tradition of storytelling which is very straightforward and character based. Our language is rich, but it doesn't have a lot of adjectives or synonyms. In English you have a great deal of synonyms for "walk." In Swedish there's like two or three that really work. So it's a lot easier to translate something, since it has fewer synonyms and adjectives than the one you're translating to.

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GR: Who are some of your favorite authors?

FB: My biggest hero is Astrid Lindgren, who wrote Pippi Longstocking. She [also] wrote The Brothers Lionheart, which is my favorite book of all time. It's just extraordinary.

There's another Swedish writer, Selma Lagerlöf, who was fantastic and one of the first female writers in Sweden to really be recognized. I compare her to Charles Dickens, who's also one of my favorite writers.

And then there's a lot of writers I take bits and pieces from. I really like Margaret Atwood, I really like Joyce Carol Oates, and I really like Stephen King. And I like them for different reasons. I like Joyce Carol Oates because she's such a fantastic writer. Margaret Atwood—you can pick up any of her books and you know it—it's this punch in your chest. And then you have Stephen King, just this fantastic storyteller, who has this production capacity I'm really fascinated by. I write fast, and sometimes you get a reaction from people that by default it has to be bad. [But] that's not how creativity works. It's not linear. It can come in bursts. So Stephen King has been important to me for that aspect.

GR: How has the success of A Man Called Ove changed your life? Is it intimidating, or did it give you freedom?

FB: It's a lot of things. It's been a blessing for me because I can write all day. I don't have to have a real job. That's been fantastic for me because I enjoy being alone. I get the chance to really stay at home with my kids a lot. They're three and six. I might not have had that opportunity if I worked in another field.

And then there's other things. There are a lot of expectations as soon as you become this idea of a successful writer. Like, you have to go on tour. You have to meet people and talk to them. Why do you think I became a writer? I probably would have chosen another profession if I was social.

When I write, I imagine myself writing for 20 people, and 18 of them like me, and that's my crowd. I want the book to feel like you and I are sitting down at a table, we're having a beer, and I'm telling you a story. I don't want the story to feel like I'm standing on a stage and I'm shouting into a microphone and you're way back and there are 100,000 people. You have to remind yourself that a book is an experience between two people—a reader and a writer.

Read more of our exclusive author interviews on our Voice page.

Comments Showing 1-29 of 29 (29 new)

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message 1: by Jessica (new)

Jessica Sack Nelson Thank you for this interview. I was happy to see this author featured, as he is one of my very favorite. Skal!!

message 2: by Kathiepie (new)

Kathiepie I just began reading Beartown, so skipped over part of the interview, as I didn't want to know too much about the story. Each of Mr. Backman's books has touched my heart. A Man Called Ove took off by word of mouth, and everyone I recommended it to absolutely loved it. So pleased that he is finding a loyal audience around the world! Thank you.

message 3: by Viktoria (new)

Viktoria Thank you for this interview with my favourite author! I love reading about him as well as reading his books. Awesome!

message 4: by Margaret (new)

Margaret "A Man Called Ove" was a wonderful story so rich with detail that I felt like I knew Ove and his neighbors. More evidence that people are people wherever they live! I have "My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She's Sorry" on my nightstand now and can't wait to get started. I am adding Beartown to our library collection as Mr. Backman's books have become popular with our teachers. Look forward to many more stories from Mr. Backman, a compelling storyteller!

message 5: by Elyse (new)

Elyse This is a great interview and all of his books are amazing! I can't wait to read this one!

message 6: by Erna (new)

Erna I have read both A Man called Ove and My Grandmother told me to tell you she's sorry. Both books touched me deeply. I plan to read more. Love the interview and how he came across as a person.

message 7: by Janet (new)

Janet So glad to read this interview! Mr Backman has quickly become one of my favourite authors. Loved A Man called Ove and My Grandmother Told Me to Tell You She's sorry.

message 8: by Susan (new)

Susan I read A Man Called Ove and just loved how I felt like I knew him or someone like him (my book club read this book). I then read Britt Marie was Here and again loved the main character. Have read My Grandmother Wants to Say She is Sorry which I also enjoyed the characters. Also read the novella. I love his sense of humor and his characters are so rich and fully developed. I am reading Beartown now and I was surprised at first there were no older people but I guess he didn't want to pigeonholed. I am enjoying this book and am missing classes so I can stay in bed and read.

Bonnie B. Lewis Thanks for your interview! I just finished Beartown after having read your other books, and I absolutely loved it. I just kept thinking as I was reading it, "This man is brilliant," and told my husband that. You probably don't think of yourself as that, but you truly are.

My sister doesn't read but I knew she'd love A Man Called Ove, so I suggested she read it. She loved it and ended up reading (actually listening to them on Audible) the rest of your books, one of them more than once.

I've read a lot of books, but you are my favorite writer. Thanks for the hours of pleasure you've given me. I'm looking forward to your next book.

Alma Jean Skrzypczak This story is awesome but it's his writing that to me is so amazing. He manages to take you right into the very soul of the characters. I was side by side with everyone of these people. I didn't want the book to end When you finish reading any of his books you feel like you've just spent a very wonderful time with some great friends. I hope he will continue to write these great books and stay true to his writing style. He is the best author I have read in a long time

message 11: by CalifCat (new)

CalifCat This is one author no matter what the book is about or the subject matter, I KNOW I am going to read it. One of my all time favorite authors!

message 12: by F.B. (new)

F.B. Bennett Fredrik Backman sounds like the breakthrough author of the year to watch! After reading all of theses reviews, it has given me the desire to read not only "Bear Town" but also "A Man Called Ove". He chooses subjects and settings that most of us can relate to--a grand achievement in a novel!

message 13: by Abbi (last edited May 08, 2017 06:46AM) (new)

Abbi This was a good interview. I'm currently reading Fredrik Backman's new book, Beartown, and so far I like it. Backman has easily become one of my favorite authors, which is why I made sure I got my hands on a copy of Beartown via my local library. It's definitely different than his other books (I've read all of them) but different in a good way. I'll write a review about it here on Goodreads once I finish the book.

message 14: by Carol (new)

Carol F. wrote: "Fredrik Backman sounds like the breakthrough author of the year to watch! After reading all of theses reviews, it has given me the desire to read not only "Bear Town" but also "A Man Called Ove". H..."
I'm in the middle of Beartown right now, and I can barely put it down. However, my unsolicited advice is to start with A Man Called Ove. Beartown doesn't depend on you reading the other books first, in fact the only thing they have in common is Sweden and Backman's writing; it is, however, a harder book. Harder in the sense that the dark side of sports is really dark at times. And I want you to fall in love with Backman's writing before you get into the grit. Honestly, though, Backman is so good it probably doesn't matter...

message 15: by Mehrukh (new)

Mehrukh Nasim A dear friend did me an enormous favour by introducing me to Fredrik Backman last year. Since then, I've read four of his books, 'A Man Called Ove', 'My Grandmother Asked Me To Tell You She's Sorry', ' Britt-Marie Was Here' and now 'Bear Town'.
Each book is a masterpiece in itself, depicting the range, depth, and nuance of human nature & the inter-personal relationships of the characters.
The sensitivity and love shown by the author for each of his created personality is conveyed to that the reader so that one can empathize with even the 'villain' of the piece!
And now: on to 'And Every Morning the Way Home Gets Longer and Longer'.....YUM!!

message 16: by Kasa (new)

Kasa Cotugno A few years ago I said in a review that the connection between author and reader is directly brain to brain. Mr. Backman has become my go-to for insightful fiction that features totally unexpected turns and outcomes. Bravo.

message 17: by Sofie (new)

Sofie Strömvall Great interview! Always fun when authors from my own lovely country is recognized :)

message 18: by Cindy (new)

Cindy Carol wrote: "F. wrote: "Fredrik Backman sounds like the breakthrough author of the year to watch! After reading all of theses reviews, it has given me the desire to read not only "Bear Town" but also "A Man Cal..."

Britt-Marie Was Here is a based on a character from My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She's Sorry and while you don't have to read them in order I do think reading them in order gives context into her life that helps with Britt-Marie Was Here.

message 19: by Roberta (new)

Roberta Sweet I just bought "Beartown" and am excited to start it. I liked "A Man Called Ove" very much but LOVED "My Grandmother Told Me to Tell You She's Sorry." Also enjoyed "Britt-Marie was Here." Hoping Mr. Backman updates us with another story about those characters. I love his stories.

message 20: by Toni (new)

Toni I've read all Mr. Backman's books, and enjoyed each one, but when I read Beartown as an ARC, I knew this one was different, special and would have a profound effect on everyone who read it. It's a book of its time certainly, but so well done, so beautifully told. Thank you.

message 21: by Walleye23 (new)

Walleye23 Margaret wrote: ""A Man Called Ove" was a wonderful story so rich with detail that I felt like I knew Ove and his neighbors. More evidence that people are people wherever they live! I have "My Grandmother Asked Me ..." This is one of the most eloquent books I've read in a long time save A Man Called Ove. I hope you love it as much as I did!!!

Erin *Proud Book Hoarder* I enjoyed the interview. As a kid I loved Pippi Longstocking, so I have added your other recommendation from that author on my wishlist and will be checking it out soon.

Erin *Proud Book Hoarder* The book also sounds interesting. I'm not a sports fan but I like stories of teams and the town feel and focus on sports. It's an interesting culture.

message 24: by skketch (new)

skketch Something in the way Mr. Backman writes just appeals to my sensibility. It's clean, funny and moves at a pace that not only keeps you engaged but doesn't bog you down. I am immediately drawn into his story at once. I read "A Man Called Ove" and adored it. I know nothing about hockey but that doesn't matter entirely. What matters is how he builds the story and how matter of fact he is in his storytelling. His books should not be missed!

message 25: by Bianca (new)

Bianca I've read all Backman's novels. I adore them all. He's become one of my favourite writers. His books are smart but also full of humour and heart.

message 26: by ejs (new)

ejs Mr. Backman, I think that you are an incredible writer. I could not put down "A Man Called Ove", "My Grandmother told me to tell you She's Sorry", "Britt Marie", and "Bear Town"! Your characters are so real, and the stories pull me in....I cannot stop reading and do not want them to end. You cover so many areas of life in each one, THAT has me in awe of your writing style. "Bear Town" really is an amazing story - I don't have the proper adjectives to praise it. I live in WV and this story could very well have been written about a small town here (maybe with basketball or football). I have also read

message 27: by Sam (new)

Sam You have to remind yourself that a book is an experience between two people—a reader and a writer.

Wonderful description!
As awesome as your journey is, I love that you remind yourself (and us) how important it is to think about what truly matters. :)

message 28: by Savvy (new)

Savvy Beartown is sticking with me!...Wow!...what a fine crafted novel!
The main characters are all so well fleshed out!.... I feel as if I know them personally!

Mr. Backman is indeed a master storyteller!!!

I've heard that this may be the first of a trilogy ...anyone else hear this?
I sure hope so!!! :-)

message 29: by Wendy (new)

Wendy Mccarthy Does this author have his own web site?

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