“The Second Child” by Jon Stenhugg is a well written and neatly plotted novel – part thriller, part alternate history. It concerns a murder taking place in Sweden in 1996 and the identity of a child in a picture from Germany during the Nazi period. The story takes our investigative team to archives in Germany and Sweden. Thriller fans will be pleaed as the book is well paced and has some excellent suspense.
Although set in fairly recent times the book delves deep into the past and serves some interesting historical details, for example forced sterilisation in Sweden in sync with the racial laws of Nazi Germany.
I personally wished the author had added a concise historical note to let us know how much of the backflashes, archive material and story was fact and what was speculation / fiction but then again, that adds to the msytery and creates curiosity throughout.
That caveat aside, the book’s premise is original and fascinating and should appeal to fans of WW2 fiction and thrillers alike.
I was given a paperback copy of the book for review
Christoph Fischer – Reviewer for the Historical Novel Society
For those of you near Bristol, UK, Jon will be guest at the Bristol Festival of Literature at the Green Lab, Saturday and Sunday afternoon, October 17-18th.The University of Bristol Nordic Society will be featuring a meeting with Jon Stenhugg Oct 17th around 2-2:30 pm, location TBD. Details will be announced on their Facebook site.
And here is my Interview with Jon.
CF: Tell us a little about yourself as writer and as person.
JS: I started writing for a class newspaper in the 6th grade. It was my teacher’s method to make me pay attention to events in the classroom. My mind was otherwise engaged in what was happening outside, birds, insects, or squirrels, whatever. I discovered that writing was not only something that I could do, but it became a way to learn.
CF: Why did you choose to write historical fiction?
JS: It wasn’t an active choice. For me, the story about the girl in the photograph was what compelled me. Without the historical background, it would have been impossible to understand events taking place much later.
CF: What in particular fascinates you about the era(s) you write about?
JS: What fascinates me about history is that we are so adept at forgetting it. We’re very good at not teaching coming generations how to avoid the mistakes of the past.
CF: Tell us about the concept behind your books. How did you get the idea?
JS: I seem to be driven by a generous dose of curiosity. I’m also a little lazy. I seem to look for an event which is part of the public awareness, but where parts are unclear or contested by historical accounts. I research as many sides of the event as I can, and choose the one which fits the core of my story. It becomes an alternate history, but I try to make it a probable outcome as an answer to “What if?”.
CF: Tell us about your writing history. When was the first time you decided to write and when was the first time you did?
JS: As a youngster I was always writing, diaries, songs, short stories, and it all got thrown away, thank God. I studied creative writing at college for awhile, and was introduced to a lot of techniques, but I soon discovered that although I was proficient in the craft, I really had nothing to say. It wasn’t until the story of the girl in the photograph haunted me for nearly decade that I couldn’t help it anymore. I had to write it.
CF: Did anyone influence you / encourage you to become a writer?
JS: I’ve always been a reader, and every time I move I give away boxes of books to relatives, friends or charities. Looking at what’s on the bookshelf today, only a few books have survived. I like J.P. Donleavy’s use of sex to inject humour in the telling of a story. I find Ken Follett’s use of history and technology to create thrillers secondary to his mastery of the English language. The Irish and the Welsh seem to excel in creating engaging yarns.
CF: Which character is your favourite?
CF: Are you like any of the characters (and how so)?
JS: In the three book Stockholm series, of which The Second Child is the first, there is a character who can resemble me at times. My children tell me there’s no doubt who John Hurtree is, at least for his sense of humour. However, my father would definitely recognize himself in that character.
CF: Were the plot and subplots completely planned from the start or did they change during the process, and if so, how?
JS: I always write a very detailed outline for each book, about one sentence per scene. Then I go back and begin filling out the details of each scene. By the time one third of the book is finished in first draft, it’s time to rewrite the whole thing. Details have changed, new characters have been introduced, sometimes the whole plot gets turned on its head. I do this continually. There’s no such thing as writing a book. It’s called rewriting a book.
CF: What are you working on now?
JS: I’m currently in the middle of a third novel featuring the same main characters from The Second Child. It’s a challenge because one of the main characters is dead, but still the driving force behind most of the action in the rest of the novel.
CF: Why do you write about crime?
JS: I think it’s because of where I grew up, a little gold rush town in the Sierra Nevada mountains of California. It was a very violent place from the beginning, and no less so for me as a young boy. I was about ten years old when I solved my first murder. A neighbour tried to make the murder of his wife look like a suicide, a singe pistol shot to the head. Unfortunately for him I was nearby and heard his first shot, which missed, and then her scream. Oh, the name of the town? Paradise.
CF: What are the best and the worst aspects of writing?
JS: What I enjoy most is the flight to another world, a place where only my characters live. It’s a way to escape from the mundane tribulations of remodelling a home, income tax calculations or mowing the lawn. There are times when that journey can be tortuous, however. For example, when a plot implodes because of gross inconsistencies, or characters who won’t behave.
CF: How do you balance marketing one book and writing the next?
JS: I don’t. Once a book is done, it’s done, warts and all. I don’t use the term ‘marketing’ In the same way as publisher do. For me, it’s just a way to meet readers and to see if I can learn anything from the interchange. The work-in-progress is always exciting, but I try to keep that to myself.
CF: How have you found the experience of self-publishing? What were your highs and lows?
JS: Self-publishing was not my first option. When I began writing, there were no such things as agents. Authors visited the publishers with the manuscript under their arm and tried to get someone to read it. With the introduction of the word processor, the sheer volume of manuscripts necessitated the creation of an entire specialist work force, the literary agents. At the same time, mainstream publishers became entertainment giants, and publishing houses had to compete for corporate resources with film companies, record companies and casinos. It’s a tough environment for a single drop in Niagara Falls to be heard. By my experience with self-publishing has been great so far. I was fortunate to find a serious publishing house with a very competent staff (SilverWood Books). It’s true that I’m taking the financial risk, but they are providing excellent help and guidance along the way.
CF: What is your advice to new writers?
JS: I can put it into two words, “Be realistic”. Every time you feel the adrenaline rush from success, slam yourself into the ground with an overdose of reality. Do people like your book? Great! Will it sell a million copies the first year? Probably not. It’s worth remembering that around 7% of all titles sold during any given year sell more than fifty copies. That means that the remaining 93% sell fifty copies or less. I repeat, fifty copies. That should be enough to keep your dreams from soaring into the stratosphere until the next time someone praises your writing.
CF: You use a pen name. Why do you do that?
CF: You were at the Nordicana Film Festival in London to sign books in June of this year. When is your next trip to the UK?
JS: I have been invited to take part in the Bristol Festival of Literature this year, and I will be at the Green Lab, Saturday and Sunday afternoon, October 17-18th.
Jon Stenhugg’s website is : www.jonstenhugg.com
JS: Christoph, I am grateful for the opportunity to be featured on your blog. I also want to inform readers that you have written a very engaging thriller yourself, The Healer. I really enjoyed it.
CF: Thank you 🙂
He taught Education and Psychology to teacher trainees at Stockholm School of Education for thirteen years, with time out for a few years of administrative service at the Swedish National Board of Education and the University of Falun. Following that he worked for a number of years in the private sector, as sole proprietor of a firm in the computer industry. He began to write his first novel , The Second Child in 2005 while living and working in Ireland. After retirement, he and his wife moved to California to enjoy the climate for a few years. Stenhugg now lives a quiet life just outside Stockholm.
His Nordic Noir novel, The Second Child (SilverWood Books, Bristol, UK), the first in a series of three, was published April 30, 2015.