Joakim Zander on writing

As a teenager I lived for a year in Damascus, Syria, since my father worked for the United Nations at the time. That year was hugely important to me as a person and also, as it turned out, as a writer. All the parts of The Swimmer that take place in the Middle East are influenced by my own fading memories from my time there. It is safe to say that I would have written an entirely different book without that experience. Later I was an exchange student outside of Washington D.C. in the United States. Many of my friends had parents who worked for “the Government”. In my mind the vagueness of that meant that they must be spies. When I began writing The Swimmer I found it interesting to explore the duality of a person who lives a normal, suburban life while at the same time being sent on secret missions around the world. Also, I grew up largely on the east coast of Sweden and spent a lot of time in the archipelago. It was obvious that that would find its way into the book as well.

A difficult episode in the book to write…

There is a scene in the book that involves a homosexual encounter between two characters. I didn’t find that particularly hard to write, but it has led to me having to answer a lot of questions from my wife…

A character from my novel I’d most like to meet…

George was a funny character to write. Despite his obvious flaws, I think it would probably be quite entertaining to have a few drinks with him.

For obvious reasons, I don’t think I would like to spend too much time with Mr. Reiper.

On research for the novel:

A lot of the locations and characters are based on my own experiences. I read a lot about spies and working at the CIA in order to try to understand how that world actually works and what can be considered plausible.  

Places I like to write:

Since I wrote The Swimmer while having a full time job as a lawyer and two small kids I kind of gave up on the thought of finding a place where I “liked” to write and instead tried to find somewhere I could write at all. Mostly at the kitchen table. But also in meetings, hotel rooms, airplanes, trains… Anywhere I had half an hour to myself. My ultimate dream is to have my own office where I can spend more than 45 minutes at the time concentrating on my writing. And preferably during the day and not at night….

A typical day when writing...

When I started writing I decided to keep a strict discipline and always write at least 1000 words every day, no matter what. However, since I was working and have a family I would struggle to find the time to actually write them. In the end I mostly wrote at night, when everybody had gone to sleep. I hope that I will have the chance to write during the daytime in the future.  

The most surprising part of the writing process...

Since I had forced myself to write one thousand words every day, I had a lot of editing to do. Some days those thousand words were not very good at all. I constantly rewrote and restructured the book. And once I was finished, the original draft amounted to well over five hundred pages, which I painstakingly reduced in order to improve the pace and immediacy of the novel.

A character I wish I had created...

I often think of Cayce Pollard in Gibson’s Pattern Recognition. I find it deeply unfair that he came up with the brilliant idea of making her allergic to brands and marketing.

About my next project...

I have begun writing a new book and it will involve some of the characters I introduced in The Swimmer. However, it will not be a straight follow-up and I am exploring some new themes and locations. I am very interested in the fall-out from the financial crisis, public discontent and who might stand to gain from that. Let’s leave it at that for now…


ON READING

Favourite books:

Franny and Zoeey by J.D. Salinger

The Spy Who Came in From the Cold by John Le Carre

The Anatomy of a Moment by Javier Cercas

Salinger: I have always loved how Salinger never really explains his characters or plotlines. We only ever get to see snapshots of the Glass family and are left to piece the incomplete picture together ourselves. That approach is not possible or even desirable when writing a thriller. But I think the idea of having different distinct voices comes from there. And from Faulkner, maybe.

Le Carre: Is it possible to be active in the spy novel field and not reference the Master?

Cercas: The Anatomy of a Moment is an incredibly detailed account of the failed fascist coup in Spain in 1981. The coup only lasted minutes but in his book Cercas lays bare the inner workings of politics and the personalities involved in a way that I have never seen, neither in political biographies nor in fiction. The thought of writing poetically about politics and its failings is very inspirational to me.

If I were a fictional character I’d be…

Maybe Nick Carraway? But that might go for every author in the world…

How do you find your next read?

I follow the reviews like everybody else.

Which book do you wish you’d written?

William Gibson’s Pattern Recognition. I wish I could see as far ahead as he. And I wish I could make the present feel like the future.

Top ‘non-book’ piece of writing:

I have subscribed to the New Yorker for many years. Few things give me more pleasure than the thought of an hour to myself, a cup of coffee and a fresh issue of that magazine. 


The Swimmer by Joakim Zander publishes 3rd July 2014. It is an electrifying thriller about a deep-cover agent racing across Eurpoe to save the daughter he never knew. 

Will you love this book as much as we did? Share your reading experience newvoices@headofzeus.com or via @HoZ_Books @JoakimZander #theswimmer