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Interview : Tapani Bagge


Do you remember when you first decided to become a writer?
I wrote my first story, some six or seven pages, as I was seven years old. My father had taken me to the local library in Kerava, the little railroad town where we lived, and I had read my first couple of books. At once I felt the need to write a story of my own. I'm sure it was no good, but it was my very own and I was proud of it. Since then I have always been writing something, preferrably fiction. From 1983 I have been a professional writer.

Was it an easy choice to make?
Very easy. After high school I had gone through quite a many odd jobs with no future, plus I had done my compulsory army time. I was once again working as a postman, when I was asked if I'd like to try my hand at writing pulp fiction. I knew the editor of Finnish Jerry Cotton magazine, Seppo Tuisku, who also lived in Kerava, and I knew that he knew everything there is to know about writing thrillers, after writing a couple of hundreds of them for the top Finnish pulps from the '50's onwards, namely Pekka Lipponen and Jerry Cotton. As you may know, Jerry Cotton is originally a German series about an American G-man, a special agent of FBI, but here in Finland we have for a long time preferred to write our own Cotton stories. In the ´70´s, when I was young, the Finnish series was a huge success. The Finnish Jerry Cotton has always been more lighthearted and funnier than the German one, and I'd like to think our stories make more sense, too.

During my ten-year stint with the pulps I wrote almost sixty magazine-length stories for Jerry Cotton, all of them 110 pages or more when I typed them, and over thirty westerns for the FinnWest magazine.
When Tuisku retired, I became the editor of the magazines for a couple of years, but then I went on to write books and television screenplays and radio plays. This latter part of my professional writing career has continued for over ten years now. I've also translated from English to Finnish over fourty books, both crime novels and science fiction, and during the last five years I've written scripts for the Moomin comics magazine.

Writing is still the number one obsession in my life.

What writers did have a major influence in your work / life?
If you think the crime novels I'm writing nowadays, you could say Elmore Leonard and Donald E. Westlake. They can both be funny and tough and touching in the same sentence, and their characters are always excellent and life-like.  I also like Joe R. Lansdale, and his dark sense of humour. From the old masters my favorites are Hammett, Cain ( both Paul and James M.), Fredric Brown, David Goodis and Chester Himes.

What are the positive and negative aspects of being a writer in Finland?
It's hard to compare. I haven't tried this in any other county. But of course the Finnish
population is not too big, so you don't easily get big figure sales, unless your books are
translated to bigger languages.

What are the themes that you like to explore in your books?
I think the central theme in my crime novels is betrayal. Cheating in family, between friends, between business associates and lovers, the way it goes through the whole society. You cannot really trust anybody. Not even yourself.

How could you define your style?
So far I have written three crime novels about the more or less small-time crooks and cops of my present home town Hämeenlinna, Puhaltaja ("The Booster", 2002), Paha kuu ("Bad Moon", 2003) and Kohtalon tähti ("Flaming Star", coming out in 2004). They are hard-boiled and darkly comic. Cynic and compassionate. Heavy on dialogue and with quite a lot of action. My aim is to leave out the dull parts, as Mr. Leonard put it.

Have you ever considered the possibilty to totally change your style?
Well, during the last ten years I have written over twenty books, most of them for children or the young, and many of them are warm and humorous with very little violence, if any. But when it comes to crime fiction, novels or films, forget about it. I has to be tough and dark. Nothing but "noir" for me, please.

How do you write? Do you try to follow some strict rules or do you only write "when it comes"?
When I write a book, I write one chapter a day, usually about five pages. When I wrote Jerry Cotton, I made ten pages a day, so maybe I've become old and lazy. Or maybe, just maybe, I have become more critical to my own work.

When you're working on a book, what is the stage / moment that you prefer?
The best part comes when the characters take the story and run, and leave you wondering if they really know where they are heading. That's the most high I've ever gotten, and it leaves no hangover whatsoever.

What books or authors have you read recently?
I'm just reading George V. Higgins' last book, At End of Day. One his best, I think, and that's something. The man really knew his dialogue. And everything else, too.

If there is one...what is your favorite book? For what reasons?
There are so many favorites. But the first hard-boiled crime novel I ever read was The Lady in the Lake by Raymond Chandler. I think I was ten years old at the time, and that book really started my never-ending love story with tough guys and dangerous dames, at least in fiction.

How do you consider Internet as an author?
I use it a lot as a way of checking things out. I think it is an important media, and getting bigger and bigger all the time.

Do you think that Internet could somehow change the traditional publication process?
I'm not sure about that. But at least we can get the foreign language books we want much easier now, with Internet.

What are your actual and future projects?
I plan to write more books, both criminal and otherwise. I wouldn't mind a chance to translate my crime novels to movie screenplays or a television series.

Interview by Vincent Lefrançois - 2003




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