The times they are a changin’

When Bob Dylan sang his classic song in 1964, he couldn’t have conceived how much the world has changed in 2017.  Politically, economically and socially we’re facing huge upheavals.  Things are changing fast.  It was only when I was writing Menace in Malmö that it dawned on me that our cities are, too.  I’d set a scene in the big university building next to the Inner Harbour in Malmö and I described the characters looking out towards the iconic Turning Torso.  Fortunately, before the book was published, when I was changing trains one day and wandered out of the station, I suddenly realised that another huge building had appeared since I’d last been there, which blocked out that particular view entirely.  Since my son and his family moved to Ystad a couple of years ago, we’ve naturally spent more time there than in Malmö.  So, when I was planning Malice in Malmö, I thought it might be an idea to thoroughly reacquaint myself with the city and we took an apartment near Värnhemstorget (where the first ever Anita Sundström murder took place).

The fortnight reaffirmed what a wonderful place Malmö is; a city of contrasts, from stylish old buildings to ultra modern designs.  A stone’s throw from the elegant facades on Norra Vallgatan (including the Savoy Hotel where Lenin dined on his way to St. Petersburg and ultimate power) are the soaring structures of Malmö Live, an events centre consisting of a concert hall (home of the Malmö Symphony Orchestra), conference centre, the Clarion Hotel (with views to rival those of the Turning Torso), offices and housing.  It’s situated close to the old docks, Västra Hamnen.  Incredible, outstandingly designed new housing is springing up in the whole area with the most desirable residences right on the sea front overlooking the Sound and Denmark beyond.  From my point of view, it was a case of finding new locations which I can work into future books.

In fact, our trip helped to introduce us to a number of sites that are being used in Malice in Malmö.   I find that I often get inspiration for stories from visiting locations during the ongoing writing process and thinking about how they can be utilised.  In this case, visiting so many interesting locations before I’d even begun to write the story, I found that I was firming up a lot of the plot in advance.  I don’t usually work like this.  I usually just begin somewhere and see where it leads, having no fixed idea about how it’s going to end until I get there.  So, it will be interesting to see if this change of method works.  My readers will be the final judge!

And it’s not only the smarter parts of Malmö that are changing.  For five years of my son’s decade in the city he lived in an area called Sofielund, part of the Seved district.   It’s where I’ve located Hakim’s parents.  What we didn’t know at the time was that it was one of fifteen districts in the whole of Sweden that was on a high-profile police list of “especially vulnerable areas”.  It was one of Malmö’s most troubled districts with shootings, car burnings and an open drugs trade.  Apparently, the postal company, security guards and property contractors didn’t dare go there.  Over five years of frequent visits I never once felt in danger and we took our little grandson for walks around these infamous streets.  I shopped regularly in a great Turkish-run supermarket a couple of blocks away and found everybody very friendly.  I was obviously naïve and saw nothing to alarm me, which probably shows that I would make a useless detective!  However, I read recently that the area has changed itself completely through a wonderful community effort.  There has been a crackdown on crime, dodgy landlords have been driven out, a local football team has been set up – Seveds FK – by Mohamed Abdulle and Ahmed Warsame, the area is kept cleaner and street festivals have been organised.  There’s still a long way to go before Seved will be taken off the police authority’s list but it shows that the times they are a changin’ and that ordinary people can make things happen and transform the environment in which they live.  The people of Seved should be very proud.