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Hjorth & Rosenfeldt: The Writing Process

Hjorth and Rosenfeldt are highly acclaimed in the world of television – and they’ve now put their heads together and turned their talents to books.

Michael Hjorth is one of Sweden’s most famous film and TV producers and has written screenplays for Henning Mankell’s Wallander films, while Hans Rosenfeldt is Sweden’s leading screenwriter and the creator of one of our favourite shows – The Bridge (‘Bron‘).

It goes without saying that when two brilliant minds like these come together the results are not to be missed, which is why we’re so excited for their new novel The Man Who Watched Women. We asked Hans to tell us about their experience of writing together.

Over to Hans:

‘The most common question we get is “how do you write together?”

The simple answer is, we don’t.

At least not in the sense that we sit side by side, sharing a computer screen and keyboard until we send a completed draft to the publisher, do a high-five and go grab a beer. We work together in a focused manner at the start of each book. Break it down, almost chapter by chapter. The plot. The personal histories. The character development. Start and finish. Then we begin writing. By ourselves. We call, text, e-mail, but we rarely see each other in person. Almost never, in fact. Not until the end. Then we see each other, and really sit down side by side. Make sure that the book is ours, not Hans’ or Michael’s.

Above: Hjorth & Rosenfeldt

Another question we get is “from where do you get all your ideas?”

Well, that’s our job. That’s what we know and can do. And – we won’t try to deny it – there’s nothing more conducive to kick-starting your creativity than a deadline!

And we really do mean that. If we hadn’t had commissioners waiting on the other side of our e-mails, we probably never would have succeeded in sitting down long enough to actually produce anything.

Not that we don’t love writing, we do!

We’re just… lazy. Or unfocused. Or too busy with other things.

But that’s not the entire truth. We do other things than write as well. When we aren’t doing books it’s TV or film. Or books and TV and film. We rarely do only one thing at a time. So many fun projects, so little time.

That’s why we don’t sit together and write: we’re both busy doing other things. It’s hard to make our calendars match up. The last few years I’ve been busy with writing and being the showrunner for The Bridge’s three seasons, amongst other things. Michael’s been busy running and writing for his successful production company. But we need each other. Each other and a deadline.

Because sometimes it’s tough. To sit there. Facing an empty screen and trying to come up with something. Without a deadline every word might be a battle. With one, every word becomes a necessity. That’s the difference. We know, it’s not very romantic, is it?

We sometimes read about authors who talk about the absolutely compelling urge to write, how they enter a vacuum and neither eat nor sleep, obsessed with creating something. Authors that wouldn’t be a complete person if they weren’t allowed to tell their story. Authors who suffer for every word, every sentence, every page.

That’s not us.

We don’t enjoy the suffering.

We like the joy of it.

We’ve lived off of writing for the majority of our grown lives. You might think that was part of a greater plan. A carefully planned career. But the truth is that it was serendipity that brought us here.

Michael actually wanted to direct.

I actually wanted to act.

Neither of us got very far with either of those.

Instead, we had the good fortune to get to write for TV. We love TV. It was a great teacher. The best. There were deadlines. We met at Swedish National Television over 20 years ago. Everything was produced there. It was creative. It was full of joy. I was working on a soap opera and wrote an episode for a sitcom Michael was doing, and we liked each other. Said that we really should work more together. But it took until 2007, when the Wallander films reunited us, before we actually did. Then we were reminded of how well we actually go together. How similarly we think despite being so different. How much we enjoy each other’s company. And that we’re good at telling stories.

Our goal has always been to entertain. Sometimes more. But never less.

But it wasn’t a plan. Not an inner compulsion. It was luck. Serendipity. And a small measure of talent…

Now we’ve had the benefit of doing other things as well.

Michael got to direct.

I stood in front of the camera.

But there’s something we always return to. The writing.

Above: Rolf Lassgard as Wallander

So after our Wallander adventure, we decided that 15 years shouldn’t have to pass till our next collaboration. We would find a common project. So we had the idea of trying something new. See if what we’d learned from TV could be used somewhere else. See if we could translate our dramatic thinking, scenes, characters and histories into a book. Into a suspense novel, like it’s so nicely labeled. A crime novel. It was fun, but hard work. The difference between TV and literature was greater than we’d thought. The possibilities were greater. The characters so much more vital. And the time. The time you had to tell the story. The in-depth explorations you can do. The digressions you can afford. The inner voice that can get so much closer.

What a luxury.

So we did it. Several more times, even. And we can in all honesty say that writing these books has been one of the most fun things we’ve done in many years.

So we’ll keep writing. Our fifth novel will be out in Sweden this fall. We’re sure of it. After all, we have a deadline…’

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