In Strange Bird, the first Maria Wern thriller to be translated into English, a strain of avian flu transmitted by a pigeon devastates the Swedish island of Gotland.
Where did the idea for Strange Bird come from?
Mostly from my own life. From the day I was born until I was four months old, I was in an infant home, because my mother had contracted tuberculosis. She was a nurse in a sanatorium. She nearly died. After working 25 years as a nurse myself, I wondered if I would have dared to go to work like she did if it was that dangerous. Would medical personnel be willing to help today if it meant risking infection and death? When I asked my mother she answered: “It was obvious in those days. You thought about the patient first, and then about yourself.” So I wanted to explore how people today would respond to an epidemic.
Did your nursing work help you to write?
I worked as a night nurse among cancer patients. At night, there is more time to listen to people’s life stories. I cannot use what they told me, but the way they opened up their worlds and lives to me helps me understand what life can be like.
Did you do much scientific research to prepare?
I wrote the book in close consultation with several experts on pandemic influenza. One doctor from the Swedish Institute for Communicable Disease Control checked the book’s facts for me. The Swedish Board of Health and Welfare published my viewpoints on their webpage. I have also been invited to talk to the politicians of the Riksdag about the avian influenza and crisis management. I was surprised at how poorly we prepare for that type of crisis.
You also write for children—is that harder?
It is different. You cannot fool a child. If they think the book is boring, they will stop reading it. When I write for children, I am extra careful with which words I choose, because they collect words. When I teach ethics for nurses and doctors, I start by telling a story and then we have a discussion. When I write for children, I do the same thing. When the book is finished, the discussion can begin. And that is also what I hope for when people read about Maria Wern. If a book is good, it´s like a good wine—it has a taste long after you swallow it.
Would you distinguish Swedish crime fiction from other Scandinavian crime fiction?
That is a question for an expert of literature, I am a nurse. But in my opinion, the difference is between authors, not between countries.