Wednesday, 21 September 2016

Snapshots from... Stockholm

In our regular series, we go exploring, finding out about the writing life around the world. Today Luna Miller (aka Monica Christensen) shows us around the Swedish capital of Stockholm.
Images by Peter Luotsinen

By JJ Marsh

What´s so great about Stockholm?

When in Stockholm, within walking distance there is always a green spot, a park or a big stone on a hill with a magical view. Built on 14 islands and with few high buildings the capital of Sweden is a picturesque and green city. Although the city shows itself at its best during the summer, with the bright nights, it can also be enjoyable to have a walk along the streets when big snowflakes are doing their best to cover the city in its winter dress. The cold wind bites your skin and the colourful city lights up the dark days and it gives the feeling of Christmas.

Compared with other capitals Stockholm is a pretty small city. The city of Stockholm does not even have a million citizens. That makes it a nice city for walking and biking, because distances are not big.

And then there is all this water around. You can both swim and fish in several places around the city. Not to mention all the areas where you can take a break during your walk beside the water and sit by the quayside, dangle your legs and just enjoy the view.

There are many boats taking you out in different directions into the archipelago. It´s actually one of the world most island-rich archipelagos, 30 000 islands. Too many to imagine, but it is amazingly beautiful.

Tell us a bit about the cultural life of the place.

Stockholm has a long tradition of theatre. As well as the royal theatre and the city theatre there are several small theatres with financial support from the city. There are also free, outdoor programmes in the summer. Mostly theatre, but also dance and music.

As all big and proud cities, Stockholm of course has a Royal Opera. But there is also a public opera that is more about experimenting with the art form and always singing in Swedish. I still have a problem to hear what they are actually singing but I really appreciate the thought.

The Cullberg Ballet have been world famous since the sixties. And it seems like, during recent years, more and more Stockholm contemporary dance companies are becoming established on the international scene.

The music scene is of course one of the biggest and a big part of the city’s pulse. Compared to the number of citizens Sweden has great international success in music. And of course, Stockholm is the centre.

The most conspicuous development in recent cultural life must be the explosive growth of new film festivals. Niched by ethnicity, gender, LGBTQ or thematic. Everyone wants their own festival and that is really exciting.

What´s hot? What are people reading? 

I believe that crime stories are the most popular genre. There are a lot of famous crime writers in Stockholm. And I think there is something very special about reading a book from your own environment. It makes it easier to build up the “inner picture”.

But there is also a big interest in other culture or just other ways of doing things, like the books of Jan-Philipp Sendker. “The art of hearing heartbeats”, about a romance in Burma, have made more than one Swede cry over the relentless faith of a loving couple followed by decisions that are really hard to understand. A Swedish book that got a lot of attention a few years ago was the true story about Katarina Taikon, a Roma woman, and her struggle for both her artistry (she was a writer) and the human rights of her people.

There are big investments being made into getting children to read. Modern technology and communication are still the most attractive alternative for many young people, compared to the slower art of reading. But when they read they enter the world of fantasies; anything from Harry Potter, vampires, space wars, dark angels to tiny creatures that live underground. Being a child of the sixties when social realism dominated children´s books I totally love fantasy stories for kids (and adults) to explore.

Can you recommend any books set in the city?

The most famous book is of course “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”. The City Museum even offers very popular hikes, with a guide who leads you in the footsteps of the characters. As if it had happened for real. A really interesting phenomenon.

Per Anders Fogelström has written a series of books, starting with City of my Dreams, about a family in Stockholm from 1860 to 1968. An important piece that helps you understand the city’s development during the last few centuries. Reading these books, you learn to know these families so well that you mourn the one who dies and eagerly welcome new-born family members.

Jens Lapidus takes the reader, with his books Easy Money and Never Fuck Up, into the violent and criminal world of Stockholm. Where a mistake is never forgiven and drugs mess up too many minds.

And of course I have to mention the most famous of them all, even if dead for many years. August Strindberg. One of his books, Röda Rummet (The Red Room), describes Stockholm more than a hundred years ago and the city’s hottest spot both then and in the early eighties. A place with red-velvet covered furniture and big mirrors, where me and my friends used to hang out as much as we could afford.

Who are the best-known local writers?

In crime the queens and kings are: Camilla Läckberg, Lisa Marklund, Jan Guillou, Jens Lapidus, Maj Sjöwall & Per Wahlöö, Arne Dahl

Famous novel writers: David Lagercrantz, Lena Andersson, Jonas Hassen Khemiri, Klas Östergren, Katarina Mazetti, Ernst Brunner

And the classical writers who are long gone: August Strindberg, Astrid Lindgren, Hjalmar Söderberg, Stieg Trenter, Lars Widding

Is the location an inspiration or distraction for you?

When I first moved to Stockholm, from my hometown in the far north, I was amazed by all the nice and beautiful inhabitants. That first summer I got to meet a lot of new people, just by walking the city. I was saving for a trip to Europe and had nearly no money to spend. But the summer was fantastic with the bright nights, new friends and never knowing if the evening would end in a party somewhere or just chatting hours away with some inspiring person.

I went off to southern Europe around late August and returned in November. I could not believe it was the same city. This was long before the iPhone entered the world. So I did not have any phone numbers of my new friends. We just used to meet outdoor in the city centre. In the cold November, filled with rain or snow, they were no longer there. At this time of year, you were no longer met by curious eyes and friendly smiles in the street. Everyone was more or less in their own bubble — pale, tired and avoiding eye contact when stressing towards work or home again. All the magic was gone. Until the next summer.

So summertime it is amazingly inspiring to live in Stockholm. I no longer hang around meeting new friends as I used to. But I love to walk the city, especially close to the water. During winter, when there is only daylight between ten in the morning and two in the afternoon, it´s harder. All these hours of darkness make me exhausted. It’s hard to get up in the morning, hard to get out into the cold, hard to muster energy for writing.

What are you writing?

I am writing my second book about Gunvor Ström, a woman who started to work as a private detective in her mid-sixties. She lives in the suburb of Fruängen, in the outskirts of Stockholm. She engages two young friends that have always seen themselves as losers until they start working together. They are not always good at what they do but they struggle to develop and sometimes they really succeed.

My best news today is that my first book “Three Days in September” will soon be published in English. It’s a story about friendship, love and adventure but also manipulation, infidelity, violence and death. As it says in the text on the back of the book: After three days in September there is no way back.

Sum up life in Stockholm in three words.

Beautiful, contrasting, challenging.

Luna Miller is a pretty new part of me that has been living my passion for writing over the last few years. I published my first Luna Miller novel, Tre dagar i September, in Swedish, towards the end of 2015. A few weeks later I followed it with Den som ger sig in i leken (Playing with Fire) – the first book in my crime series, which has been translated into German as Wer sich auf das Spiel einlässt and Spanish as Quien juega con fuego.

Right now, I am working on my second book in the crime series, but at the same time, I am really excited about the imminent release of my first book in English. You will soon be able to find
Three days in September on Amazon and other major e-book distributors.


  1. What a lovely piece on one of my home towns! I lived in Stockholm when I was a child, and my mother still has a flat in Lidingö, where I stay when visiting. I am a little obsessed with Strindberg and always visit his old apartment which is now a museum dedicated to his life at the top of Drottninggatan. I can't wait till my next visit, but in the meantime I'm going check out your books, Luna!

    1. Thanks for the nice words Helena.
      Do you know that there is also a Strindberg theatre (in the same location as it used to be in the early 1900)? /Luna

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