Will Dean has just returned from popping out to collect the post. ‘I do a two-mile hike through the woods every day to get my mail,’ says the 38-year-old. ‘It was -8C today. I got there and the post box was frozen shut again – and empty!’
In a previous life, Dean was a successful gilts trader in the City, named by the FT in 2011 as a rising star. Nowadays, he’s Scandi noir’s hottest new name, his debut Dark Pines fêted by Val McDermid and selected for the Zoe Ball Book Club.
He is what might be described as a ‘method’ writer. Dean lives with his wife and their four-year-old son in a self-built house in the middle of a vast elk forest 90 minutes north of Gothenburg. Their closest neighbours are moose, wolves and wild boar.
In a previous life, Will Dean (above at his Swedish home) was a successful gilts trader in the City. Nowadays, he’s Scandi noir’s hottest new name, his debut fêted by Val McDermid
‘We might see an elk every day for a week, trampling through the garden, eating everything we try to grow. These things are nine foot tall, absolutely immense, and properly wild. They’re not afraid. They walk straight through our walls. I do find it scary sometimes. If it’s dark, I’ve definitely got my eyes open.’
It’s quite a change from his London days, but Dean has always been drawn to open spaces. He was raised in the Midlands, in a series of isolated locations. ‘I was one of those weird, socially awkward kids who built dens. I was in my own bubble, in my own imagination.’
When city life began to pall, Dean and his Swedish wife spied an opportunity to get back to basics. ‘I found this boggy clearing on the internet, at the centre of a big elk forest,’ says Dean. ‘Land like this isn’t very expensive in Sweden, nobody wants to live here! We agreed to give it six months. That was seven years ago. Now we have a boy and a massive Norwegian forest cat, so we’re rooted.’
This mix of hostile nature and extreme solitude inspired his debut Dark Pines which features a compelling protagonist in deaf, bisexual reporter Tuva Moodyson. Above: Dean’s writing hut
The sheer scale of their solitude is mind-boggling. ‘From my house, I can walk in any direction in a straight line for a day without reaching the edge of the forest. Before our son was born, we used to go three or four weeks quite happily without seeing anybody. We didn’t have a TV for the first four years. I love it! There is a frontier vibe. Everybody owns a gun, everybody is a hunter.’
This mix of hostile nature and extreme solitude inspired Dark Pines. ‘Come October, hunting season, we hear gunshots every day,’ says Dean. ‘That’s where the idea came from. Me out in my boggy garden with my little boy, with guns going off all around us. I thought, maybe one of those bullets wasn’t destined for an elk…’
Published last January with a small advance and modest print run, Dark Pines blew up via word of mouth. McDermid picked Dean for her New Blood panel at the Harrogate Crime Writing Festival, while Zoe Ball loved the book’s ‘fear factor’ and Dean’s compelling protagonist, Tuva Moodyson, a deaf, bisexual reporter who hates nature almost as much as Dean loves it.
Moodyson also stars in Dean’s new book, Red Snow. And will appear in at least three more
Did Dean, who has no hearing issues, have any qualms about writing a deaf character?
‘I don’t want to write an able-bodied white straight guy,’ he says. ‘I think there are probably enough of those in literature these days. I wanted to write somebody who was clearly not me, who I needed to empathise with.
I’m trying to see the world from her perspective. She has much stronger and cooler opinions than I do, which is a lot of fun to write. I love being in her head.
‘I do an enormous amount of research. I’m extremely conscious that I need to do Tuva justice, especially with her deafness. I’m quite comfortable to be judged on it, and if I fall short I’ll hold my hands up. I have an accuracy reader who is deaf, who gives me really useful insights, and I’ve met a few deaf readers. Their feedback is quite emotional.’
Moodyson stars in Dean’s new thriller, Red Snow, and will appear in at least three more books. As for Dean, he’s still pinching himself. Spending his days immersed in words in the deep, dark woods is the fulfilment of a long-cherished dream.
‘When I lived in London, every lunchtime I would sit in a sunken garden in the Barbican and read. I would go to W H Smith and look at the pads and pens, and I said to myself, I’m not going to buy them until I move to the woods. On the last day of my job I bought the pad and the pen. We moved to the forest and I wrote my first book.’ He laughs. ‘Which was terrible, and is now locked in a drawer!’
‘Red Snow’, published by Point Blank, is out now, priced £14.99