I spoke to debut author Joakim Zander about his writing process. Zander’s debut novel, The Swimmer, was released last month.
Joakim Zander was born in in Stockholm, Sweden in 1975. As he grew up, he also lived in Syria and Israel and was a high-school exchange student in the USA. After completing his military service in the Swedish Navy, he studied law at Uppsala University and later earned a PhD in Law from Maastricht University. Cambridge University Press published his dissertation, The Application of the Precautionary Principle in Practice, which was awarded the Rabobank Prize. Zander has worked for the European Parliament and the European Commission in Brussels, Belgium. He currently lives in Lund, Sweden, with his wife and two children.
The Swimmer has been hailed as a “full immersion into the classic spy story, masterfully written” and a “dazzling debut”. Set in Damascus in the early 1980′s, The Swimmer tells the tale of a nameless American spy who abandons his newborn child to an uncertain fate. His inability to forgive himself for what he has done leads him on a life-long quest to escape his past, which will take him to Lebanon, Afghanistan, Iraq – anywhere where danger and stress allow him to forget.
The Swimmer is an action-packed thriller filled with unexpected twists and turns in a world of shifting allegiances and questionable bonds. But it is also a story about guilt and atonement and the fact that, in the end, you cannot hide from your past.
I wanted to know what inspired Zander to become a writer.
‘When I was a kid I loved mysteries and adventures like Enid Blyton’s the Famous Five books. In the house where I grew up we also had what I remember as a full shelf of the Biggles books that my father had read as a child. I think the idea of being a writer was born close to that shelf on some rainy Sunday afternoon when I was maybe nine or ten.’
Zander’s ideas usually start with a theme, or several disparate themes, that he then begins to explore.
‘In The Swimmer I was interested in saying something about the world of young careerists in Brussels, as well as exploring the West’s involvement in the Middle East and the priviatisation of war. The ideas stem from my own experiences but also from the news, literature, etc. I think that I am pretty curious. I like to try to understand things.’
Keep writing, is Zander’s tip for aspiring writers.
‘Keep writing, eventually the story arrives. I had written regularly for as long as I could remember, but struggled to find a story that would last longer than twenty pages. When it finally happened it was intoxicating.’
It’s probably better not to know what the publication process is like, according to Zander.
‘It was probably good that I didn’t know how hard it was going to be to make a full novel work, or how time consuming and painstaking the editing would be.’
Zander is currently working on a follow-up to The Swimmer, in which some of the characters will return and some new ones will emerge.
‘This time I am interested in the global economic crisis, civil unrest, and who might stand to gain from all of that… Let’s leave it at that for now.’
The sequel sounds just as fascinating. I know many readers will be eagerly awaiting its arrival, myself included.
Having just finished ‘the mesmerising Gretel and the Dark by Eliza Granville’, Zander will move on to reading either Outlaws by Javier Cercas or The Cairo Affair by Olen Steinhauers.
Zander was in London just before the book was published, but has no current plans to return, to my dismay.
Photo credit Sofia Runarsdotter