Monday, June 6, 2022

Q&A with Joachim B. Schmidt


Photo by Eva Schram



Joachim B. Schmidt is the author of the novel Kalmann, now available in an English translation from the German by Jamie Lee Searle. Schmidt was born in Switzerland and emigrated to Iceland in 2007.


Q: What inspired you to write Kalmann, and how did you create your protagonist? 


A: My initial goal was to write a true Nordic noir crime novel; a missing person case in a remote and rundown fishing village, a middle-aged detective woman, and the only witness around is the town simpleton, Kalmann.


But as soon as I started writing I quickly realised that Kalmann isn’t a simpleton at all, but an incredibly complex character with loads of stories to tell. The detective had to take a step back because Kalmann took over and I followed him wherever he wanted to go. 


Q: The novel is set in a rural community in Iceland--how important is setting in your writing? 


A: Very important. I would go as far as to say that the setting, the landscapes, the scenery, and the weather are acting as a real protagonist. Here in Iceland, people have to listen to the weather, it controls their lives. The local politics, the fish in the ocean, all these circumstances have formed them in a particular way too. 


Q: Did you know how the novel would end before you started writing it, or did you make many changes along the way? 

A: I knew how it would end from the beginning – but then I changed the ending. And then I changed it again. I did it out of intuition; the main protagonist Kalmann went in a different direction than I first had in mind. I think that this way of writing made the crime element, the twist ending in the story, hard to foresee.  


Q: What do you hope readers take away from the book? 


A: Usually, I would simply hope that the readers are well entertained. I hate to bore people. After all, I´m in the entertainment business.


But in this case, as Kalmann has taught me a lot too, I would hope that readers take away some sort of understanding, empathy even, for people that are different then you and me.


Just because someone seems to be intellectually disabled doesn´t mean that this person is somewhat less of a person, has less to offer to this world. No. Everyone is unique, everyone is beautiful. Kalmann is a hero. 


Q: What are you working on now? 


A: I’m currently touring the German-speaking part of Europe with my new book, Tell, which is a reinterpretation of the Wilhelm Tell Saga, kind of like a Swiss version of The Revenant. I´m not really sure what comes next. However, there might be a Kalmann Part 2 in the works, who knows! Well, Kalmann knows, that´s for sure. 


Q: Anything else we should know? 

A: Just in case you plan a trip to Iceland, remember that Raufarhöfn, the little fishing town way up north, right below the Arctic Circle, is a real place you can visit. Just be aware of polar bears!

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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