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Maria Gustafsson On hometown history and her taste in books

Today we have my Internet friend Maria Gustafsson sharing how an event in her hometown turned her onto spy novels. Her new novel, The Asset, isn’t just the usual accomplishment, it’s her first novel in English. As in she’s from Sweden and speaks English as a second language. I’m impressed.

Hello Dear Readers!

Image of Swedish author Maria Gustafsson
Maria Gustafsson

I am excited to get to address you!

My name is Maria Gustafsson, and I write spy novels. There are 3 of them in Swedish, and my first in English, The Asset, was published this January.

Though I have written a romance novel together with another author, spy stories really are my thing, and there is a reason for that.

You see, I was born in a little town in the north of Sweden—about two hours’ drive from the Arctic Circle—Boden. It was called “The Northern Lock” or “Fortress Boden”. At the time, it had 13 000 inhabitants and 8 000 young men doing their military service. Boden was the Swedish stronghold toward East, meaning the Soviet Union. There were five enormous fortresses cut deep into the mountains surrounding the town, built to hold thousands of soldiers for months, and equipped with state-of-the-art communications and weaponry.

Big signs told foreigners they were not allowed anywhere near the town, and all roads could be blocked in a moment, to make it impossible for unwanted vehicles to approach.

Some time in the ’60s and ‘70s a Swedish Intelligence Officer, Stig Bergling, turned Russian spy, sold all intel about my town to the Russians. After that the defense installations turned useless and were dismantled. The fifth and last fortress ceased to be part of our defense system in 1997.

Today one of them is a tourist attraction and the others officially filled with sand.

I grew up there, never meeting anyone from another country until, in my mid-teens, I spent almost a year abroad, with my mother.

Of course, my home town and what happened there influenced me. Add my conspiratorial mind, and my choice of genre was unavoidable.

I love it!

I have another job, because like so many other authors, I can’t really live off my books. Five to 8 days a month I work as an interpreter, meaning you sit in a small glass-fronted and soundproof booth, with a colleague and listen to a speaker through headphones as you render, in real-time, what she/he says in another language through a microphone. Through headphones those who don’t understand the original language can follow what is being said. There are always two interpreters and you work half-hour shifts because it is exhausting.

It is a must, but not enough, to know the languages. To be able to do a good job you have to prepare the topic/s for the political or business meeting, conference or symposium, in order to know the specific terms and expressions the speaker/s may use. Words can have different meanings, depending on the context and subject. That part of the job takes at least as many days or more of my time.

I love that job too! It’s a little like broadcasting a live TV show, so intensely and totally ‘here and now’ – and you get to cover a wide variety of subjects.

Cover art of The Asset

The rest of my time, I spend writing.

I share my time between Sweden (Stockholm) and Spain (Alicante) and have lived and worked about the same number of years in each of the countries.

The Asset is a spy novel and low-key thriller where the protagonist borrows my interpreting work. It is set partly in Stockholm, Brussels, where I did an internship at the European Parliament, a little bit in New York and some in the remote north of Sweden. I do feel that the settings are quite original, not terribly exploited.

Klara Andersson was recruited as an asset by the CIA when she was very young, working for the Spanish TV in Madrid. Years later her CIA case-officer appears in Stockholm, asking her to take part in an operation, but now in cooperation with the most secret of the Swedish Military Intelligence and Security Service, KSI, “The Office for Special Acquisition”, whose main task is that of liaison with foreign intelligence organizations and espionage through HUMINT, intelligence gathered by means of interpersonal contact.

Will Klara put her life at stake befriending the enemy?

You can connect with Maria by emailing her at author.mgustafsson@gmail.com, and buy her novel here.

Please talk to me. I'd love to hear from you.

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