Here are some questions answered by the authors.
- How did you two meet?
MATS: We met in 2008. Sara was working as a script editor at a film production company. Her friend, book blogger Helena Dahlgren, recommended my earlier novels to her.
SARA: I liked Mats’ writing style, and when Helena was going to interview him at a book signing in a department store I tagged along and introduced myself. I asked if he was interested in writing for film.
MATS: I was very impressed, and said ”yes” immediately.
SARA: We had a meeting and Mats presented some ideas for movie scripts. But mostly, we talked about horror movies, Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Twin Peaks and Veronica Mars.
MATS: We soon realized that we shared a lot of likes and dislikes.
SARA: Not long after that, I quit my job and started freelancing as a script writer among other things. That was when the idea to write together was born.
MATS: We had great ”work chemistry” from the beginning. My third novel, Half Lives, had just been published. I was tired of working on my own and was itching to try something completely new.
- How did you come up with the idea for The Engelsfors Trilogy?
MATS: It was a long and winding road to get there. But the ingredients of ”depressing small town” and ”teenagers” were there from the beginning.
SARA: Yes, and some kind of mystery. It was when Mats said: ”What if they are witches?” that everything just fell into place. And I said: ”Yes! We should write three books, three thick books!”
- How did you write together?
SARA: The first thing we did was to get to know our characters, and to figure out the major plot lines for all three books. We wanted to create long archs, and write books that are rewarding to reread. For example there are many clues in the first book to things that happen in the third book. And we wanted our characters to evolve throughout the whole series.
MATS: This was basically our method; we broke down what happened in the next four chapters, in as much detail as possible. We wrote two chapters each, then switched chapters with each other and started editing with no mercy. After that, we switched back and looked through the changes, and then had a meeting (live or Skype) to discuss them.
SARA: Sometimes we had pit stops when we read the books from the beginning to see if any major changes needed to be made. And when we had finished a complete first draft we edited it again and again. We also used beta readers.
MATS: The first book, The Circle, completely devoured our lives. It was crazy. We would call each other in the middle of the night, and send the chapters back and forth, back and forth … But we had to in order to find our voice as a writing duo.
SARA: It was much easier with Fire and The Key. We had found our voice and the characters. And knew each other inside out. In the beginning we needed a strict set of writing rules. When we wrote The Key we were more flexible. But we stuck to our most important rules: 1) What’s good for the story always came first. Our egos were not important. 2) If we disagreed on something and neither of us managed to convince the other, we had to think of a third idea that both of us liked.
- Did you ever argue? If not – how did you avoid it?
MATS: Of course we had bad days and could become annoyed with each other. Especially when we were tired and stressed out and had been editing for 18 hours a day for a week. But we never had any real fights.
SARA: Sometimes you just had to let things slide. You were allowed to be a bit grumpy if you pulled yourself together after a while. And if one of us was truly bothered by something, we made sure to talk about it. It’s important to not let conflicts fester.
MATS: Both of us were aware of our own and the other person’s weaknesses. We tried to take responsiblity for our behaviour and take care of each other.
SARA: Our therapists would be proud.
- Did you split the characters between you?
MATS: No. Sara and I are equally fond of all our main characters.
SARA: Being allowed to alternate between different characters’ points of view was part of the fun of writing this trilogy.
- What was the best thing about working as a writing duo?
SARA: Your ideas became twice as good twice as fast! And it was nice to share everything that happened with someone who was just as invested. Both the good and the bad.
MATS: And when one of us was tired, or was going through a crisis, the other person could be a support.
SARA: Yes, we supported each other. Plus you always had company at book signings and book fairs.
- What was the worst thing about working as a writing duo?
SARA: I honestly can’t think of anything.
MATS: Me neither. But I’m realizing more and more how HORRIBLE it could have been with the wrong person.
SARA: Exactly. Someone who is too prestigious, or doesn’t care about details. You have to make sure that you share the same vision and the same work philosophy before you start a project like this.
- What was the hardest part of writing a trilogy?
SARA: You had to save some of the good stuff. Of course the first book should be thrilling and exciting, but there had to be room for development and raised stakes in book two and three.
MATS: And of course, there was so much to keep track of. All the characters, what they looked like, what their homes looked like, who knew what about who.
SARA: Not to mention the supernatural aspects. We didn’t want our characters to become too powerful too early in the trilogy. Because then they could solve too many problems with magic. And once you have set the rules for magic, you have to try to be consistent and keep track of what you’ve decided.
MATS: Excel documents were our best friends. Even I learned to love them.
- How long did it take to write the books?
SARA: We thought of the idea for the Engelsfors trilogy in the summer of 2009. We wrote a synopsis then, and later that fall a couple of chapters. But really got started in the beginning of 2010. About a year later the book was finished.
MATS: It took about a year to write Fire as well. The Key took a year and a half.
SARA: And we also worked with the comic book album Tales from Engelsfors while we were writing The Key.
MATS: We worked all the time.
- Where did you find inspiration for the Engelsfors trilogy?
MATS: Other books, music, film, TV, art … Buffy The Vampire Slayer was an important source of inspiration for both Sara and me. We love the mix of the realistic teen drama and the supernatural.
SARA: Other sources of inspiration were Twin Peaks, Let the Right One In and Curtis Sittenfeld’s Prep. And the movie The Craft!
MATS: But mostly we were inspired by talking to each other, realizing that we really could build a world together. And that we had shared views on many important issues.
SARA: When we started writing we read our diaries from when we were teenagers.
MATS: Yes, we discussed our teenage years a lot during the writing process. A lot of our own experiences went in to the books.
- Have you always known that you wanted to become writers?
Sara: Yes. I started writing stories as soon as I learned to write. Actually I remember trying to write stories even before I knew how to write. I doodled away. There have been times when I didn’t dare to say admit it openly, but I’ve always wanted to be a writer. So I’m living my dream now. I feel so privileged that I’m able to do this full time.
Mats: I wrote my auto-biography when I was six. I was almost published when I was 16. I’m very glad it never happened. It was an embarrassing attempt to copy Donna Tartt, V C Andrews, Bret Easton Ellis and The Secret Diary Of Laura Palmer: a hot mess of cocaine, murders, sex and ballet dancers.
SARA: I’d like to add that it’s never too late to start writing. Some writers start late in their lives.
- Do you have any writing tips?
MATS: Read a lot, write a lot. Write stories that you’re passionate about. Find characters that you care about. Don’t be afraid to imitate writers you admire and try to analyze stories that you like. What makes them work? I’ve learned a lot about writing by watching the dvd commentary on some of my favourite films and tv shows.
SARA: Write stories that you would like to read yourself. Don’t be afraid of being a bad writer, bad writing is part of every writing process. The more you write the more you learn about your own process and the better you become. Learn to listen to criticism and and never think of the first draft as the finished work. Because writing is rewriting.
- What are your favourite novels?
MATS: Pet Sematary by Stephen King, the His Dark Materials trilogy by Philip Pullman, Bird Box by Josh Malerman, The Hellbound Heart by Clive Barker, Feed by MT Anderson, To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee, Lost Souls by Poppy Z Brite, Elizabeth Hand’s Cass Neary books, I Am Legend by Richard Matheson, Night Watch by Sarah Waters, The Road by Cormac McCarthy, Dark Places by Gillian Flynn, The Fever and Dare Me by Megan Abbott, Dark Matter by Michelle Paver, The Neverending Story by Michael Ende, The Secret History by Donna Tartt, The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak …
SARA: There are so many novels (and graphic novels) that have meant a lot to me, at different stages in life. A few of them are, in no particular order, V for Vendetta by Alan Moore, Lilith’s Brood (the whole trilogy) by Octavia E. Butler, The Age of Innocence and The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton, The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin, The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, the His Dark Materials trilogy by Philip Pullman, The Hellbound Heart by Clive Barker, Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel, Blonde by Joyce Carol Oates, The Southern Reach trilogy by Jeff VanderMeer, Feed by MT Anderson, Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld, We Have Always Lived in the Castle and The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson, Fun Home by Alison Bechdel, Generation Loss by Elizabeth Hand, The Fever by Megan Abbott, The Alexandria Quartet by Lawrence Durrell, The Sandman by Neil Gaiman, The Magicians by Lev Grossman, The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco, Let the Right One in by John Ajvide Lindqvist. I also love short stories by writers like Alice Munro, Anton Chekov, Eileen Chang/Zhang Ailing, Annie Proulx, etc.
- Will there be more Engelsfors books after The Key? And will you continue working together?
MATS: The story of the Chosen Ones in Engelsfors ends with The Key.
SARA: But we may write another comic book album in the style of Tales from Engelsfors. We don’t know if or when when that will happen though. Mats, the artists and I are so busy with other projects.
MATS: We will write together again in the future though.
- Will The Circle be made into a movie?
SARA: Yes – it already exists! More info here!
- What are your interests?
SARA: Many of my interests are job related (did I mention that I love my job?). Books and comics, film and TV series. Taking long walks and spending time with family and friends. I love music and listen to many different genres. I have a great weakness for opera. I also play video games and Skyrim, The Last of Us and Life is Strange are a few of my favourites.
MATS: Reading books, binge watching shows and movies on Netflix, eating good food and drinking fine wine (it doesn’t really have to be that fine either), working out, talking to friends … and working. My work is my greatest hobby.
- Which of the main characters is most similiar to yourselves? What were you like as teenagers?
SARA: I grew up in Stockholm and I was very much like Minoo when I was teenager. But I was probably more cynical.
MATS: I grew up in a small town called Fagersta, and I was quite bullied in school. I was an Anna-Karin. Then I moved to Stockholm in high school and became a Vanessa. But I also had a lot of Minoo in me. Unfortunately a lot of my efforts went into becoming more popular. I wish I had focused on more important – and fun – stuff.
SARA: I focused on studying and wished I would find a group where I felt like I belonged. But I never did during those years. I had some friends outside school though. Something Mats and I have in common from our school years is that we didn’t fit into the usual hierarchies. We were on the outside looking in.
MATS: I’d just like to add that we’ve put something of ourselves in all of the characters.
- Do you have a favourite character?
MATS: No, we honestly love them all equally!
SARA: It’s true!
MATS: But sometimes it could be a relief to write a ”Vanessa chapter” after a chapter with Minoo or Anna-Karin. And the other way around. They complement each other so well. They have such different energies.
SARA: And we have a soft spot for Mona Moonbeam, the shady fortune teller.
- How could you let such horrible things happen to some of the characters?
MATS: We wanted to show that no one was safe in our books. Everyone was in danger.
SARA: But we felt really bad about it when we were writing it. And it actually feels worse and worse every time we reread those parts of the books.
MATS: It’s true. We feel awful about it.
- Which magical power would you like to have?
SARA: Being able to teleport anywhere in the world would be amazing.
MATS: I would like to be immortal. I wouldn’t have to be so stressed out if I had all the time in the world.
- I’ve heard that Engelsfors is a real town. Is it true?
MATS: Yes and no. Our Engelsfors is a fictional town. It’s loosely based on Fagersta, the town where I grew up. But Fagersta is a much nicer place.
SARA: We were so busy when we were writing The Circle that we didn’t think of checking if there is a real place called Engelsfors. Later we found out that there is such a place. But it’s not a town, it’s hardly a village. I’ve been there and it was quite lovely.