Q+A: Steen Langstrup

Meet one of Denmark's most clandestine authors.

Feb 26, 2021
Dimitris Passas

Steen Langstrup is one of the most inconspicuous and talented, underground authors in the Nordic literary world today and his experimentation with various genres over the years has offered a wide array of excellent short stories, gangster, Pulp-fiction-like novellas, and some great horror novels that have even been adapted into feature films (Kat, Finale). I got acquainted with his work by reading some of his chilling horror short stories and got instantly hooked due to their visceral atmosphere and ingenious storylines. Then, I read his two gangster novellas, (Russian Dope, In the Shadow of Sadd), that were heavily reminiscent of films made by directors such as Quentin Tarantino or Nicolas Winding Refn, and literally rocked me. The characters were alive and three-dimensional and the plot was tight-knit and gripping. There was nothing further for a crime fiction addict like myself to ask for and the Danish writer, who has already published more than 20 novels, novellas, short stories anthologies, and non-fiction, became one of my personal favorite crime authors. A few days ago, It was delighted to receive a message from Steen informing me about the publication of his new book. I downloaded it instantly and delved into a haunting fictional universe that features a fine combination of two distinct fiction sub-genres, police procedural and serial-killer thriller, added by some splashes of genuine horror. We asked him 7+1 questions and he was kind enough to accept the challenge.

1) Your latest novel, The Whispering of the Flies, signifies a departure from the themes featured in your previous work like Russian Dope or The Shadow of Sadd. Was it a conscientious choice to write a more typical police procedural/thriller or do you simply write the stories that you have in mind regardless of genre categorization?

S.L: More less the latter. I obey, what I feel, would be best for the story, I need to write. I do not regard myself as a genre writer nor do I obey the rules for any genre. I mix them, I break them, I try to blend them into something new. Writing is after all creative work. I believe you, as an author, need to challenge both the readers, the notion of genres and your own method as well, in order to not just produce products to soothe the know needs of the market. Writing is still an art form, I hope. However, you are right, I don’t do many police procedure stuff, nor do I do many stories about reporters or private detectives I don’t really believe the world are in any danger of having too few of those kind of stories. Still, I had to bend my own pride at that point to write ‘The Whispering of the Flies’ as I couldn’t see any way around having police officers as the two main characters of the story. The story is my master in that way.

2) The flies are the major protagonist in your book. What do you think about the insertion of the supernatural/paranormal element in thriller/horror stories? Does it offer a more symbolical aspect to the text?

S.L: Most often there is a symbolic aspect to the supernatural elements in horror stories. Still, it’s not like I knowingly use them in that way, I think it’s more a subconscious thing even for the writer, as it often also it for the readers. Besides that I do like to explore those areas from time to time. In Danish I believe around half my books have supernatural elements. What most thrillers and horror stories do is they challenge your beliefs and the things you think you know about the world, your shell of security, and as this shell starts to crack, and you feel something sinister staring at you through the cracks, the horror begins.

3) Did you do research on actual police work in order to be able to describe accurately the procedures of an active investigation or you just used your imagination? Do you believe in the importance of research for a -crime- writer?

S.L: I do more research than people tend to think, and I do believe it is important to do so, however I try to avoid splashing my newfound knowledge all over the pages. I am interested in how to for instance in this case police officers work and talk, how is the police force managed, how do hospitals work, how does nurses talk, and so on, and I try to use that research to give the story an edge of truth. I try to limit the urge to explain these things and just use them. I am all for Show don’t tell.

4) The ending of the book is shocking and unexpected. Is there perhaps more to the story? Do you plan to write a sequel?

S.L: Maybe, I already did. In some way at least. Most of my work is connected in some way. One of the two leading characters in ‘The Whispering of the Flies’, the police officer Egon Kjeldsen, also appeared in my debut novel, ‘Kat’, and the major fire at the discotheque Heaven that play some part in ‘The Whispering of the Flies’ takes place in another of my novels called ‘Pyromania’. And without spoiling the end of ‘The Whispering of the Flies’ I can say that what happens in the final pages of the book are picked up in some of my latter works as well. So far, however, none of these books have been translated into English.

5) This is a very cinematic novel. How is it like to see two of your novels being adapted into feature films? I am talking, of course about "Kat" and "Finale". Do you think that The Whispering of the Flies would make a successful film?

S.L: People always says that. That my writing is cinematic. I am a visual person, I was a cartoonist before I started to write. So, I do tend to see my stories visually and I write them like I see them. As a child I was told in school that I had no talent for writing and I should avoid any future goals that had to do with languages. I had an obvious talent for drawing, some said. Funny still, now I have made a living writing books for more than 25 years.
Regarding movies. I was called to my first meeting with a film director a few weeks after my debut in 1995. Since then there have been several, maybe around twenty, attempts on adapting my books for both tv-series and motion pictures. Only the two mentioned have succeeded in the process, all others have failed for several reasons. Making a film is a long, hard journey, and most projects fail long before the director gets a chance to shout: “Action!”
To see your work adapted into films is both very exciting and thrilling and yet terrible. To see actors bring life to characters and stories you have made up is sure something, and I have been lucky to be offered a part in that process, yet your books are kind of like your babies and it is not always that pleasant seeing what to they do to them in the process. A wiser man than me would take the money and run. I find that hard to do.
I would love to one day see ‘The Whispering of the Flies’ as a film or even a TV-series. I have had some meetings with directors and producers and to be honest I believe ‘The Whispering of the Flies’ to be a much more mainstream story than ‘Kat’ or ‘Finale’ (aka ‘The Ringmaster’ in the English speaking parts of the world) and more sophisticated as well, and I think it could gain a much broader audience than those movies did.

6) Name your most significant influences from the literary and cinema/television universe.

S.L.: Ira Levin more than anybody. I owe a lot to him. Short, focussed, intense writing. They don’t writer like that anymore. I try. I like shorter books, get to the point, don’t waste my time. He was a master of just that. Other significant influences would be Jack Ketchum, the Danish author Grete Roulund, Bram Stoker and Robert Louis Stevenson. From the cinema universe: Quentin Tarantino more than anyone, David Fincher (you may spot notes of ‘Seven’ in ‘The Whipering of the Flies’), and Nicolas Winding Refn.

7) Tell us about your future plans. New publications etc.

S.L.: I have at least one other book in English coming up later this year called ‘Island’. It’s a short novel, or a novella, that plays out like an interrogation. Very show don’t tell. Like the TV-series ‘Criminal’ in some way but then again not. It’s a much more sinister tale of love, backpacking in Southeast Asia, murder and superstition.

BONUS QUESTION: Why did you choose to include two prologues and two epilogues?

S.L: Oh, I like working with the form as well. To me every story I tell is unique and I try to tell it in its own form. ‘The Whispering of the Flies’ was a story that I felt need two prologues and maybe more than that two epilogues. I don’t want to spoil the ending here, so let’s just say no more.

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