Voted Sweden’s most successful author in 2013, Fredrik Backman has traveled to Chicago from Sweden for his first U.S. book tour to promote his latest novel, Britt-Marie Was Here (Atria, May). Socially awkward and set in her ways, Britt-Marie—a 63-year-old woman who walks out on her husband of 40 years and successfully reshapes her life in a fictional northern European town full of misfits—manages to disarm the people she meets and endear herself to the reader in this affectionate story. Backman reports that he himself may be the real-life counterpart of his unlikely heroine. “My wife read the manuscript from front to end, put it down, and said: ‘Well, Fredrik, I’ve never read anything you’ve written with a character that is so much like you before.’ My wife finds me very passive-aggressive and a bit socially challenged.”
Britt-Marie, like the characters in Backman’s two earlier bestsellers, A Man Called Ove and My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry, did not jump full-blown onto the page. “All characters evolve as I write them,” he says. “It’s a process of getting to know each other. I start out with a character, but if that character hasn’t evolved into a real person that I truly care about at the end of the novel, then that would be a huge failure. If I don’t care about Britt-Marie as I’m writing, I don’t think any of the readers will either.”
Backman’s affection for his “people” has garnered him many fans; his books have been translated into more than 25 languages. The best thing about his success, he says, is that he now gets to write as much as he likes. “It’s the only thing I’ve ever really enjoyed doing.
He doesn’t, he elaborates, consider himself “just” a novelist. “I consider myself a writer. I write whatever people let me write, and that includes my blog and my books, as well as scripts and short stories and letters and a game I play with a friend where we take turns trying our very best to write ‘the worst first chapter of a novel ever.’ There are a lot of stormy nights and butlers and mysterious strangers.”
Backman will be busy at BEA: today, signing at the Simon & Schuster booth (2016, 2017), at 2 p.m., and tomorrow, at both the “Favorite Book Group Authors from Abroad” panel, on the Downtown Stage, 2–2:30 p.m., and an AAP Library Reads Librarian Lunch, by invitation only, noon–1:45 p.m.
This article appeared in the May 11, 2016 edition of PW BEA Show Daily.