Saturday, 31 March 2012

In Denmark, in Prison.

 I was in Denmark last week, where the book, (called "Før jeg lukker øjnene", which means "Before I Close My Eyes") has just come out. I certainly had a great time, beginning in Copenhagen, where I'd been invited to the studio of "Go'Morgen Danmark" to record an interview. It was very odd to be sitting in front of a huge screen with a picture of my book on it, talking about the characters and the inspiration for the book, but very gratifying. You can see the resulting interview here.
From there I went on to my publisher's offices, where I was given a hearty (and very caffeinated - the Danes like their coffee, and they like it strong!) welcome by the whole team. It was really nice to meet everyone - writing is so solitary, but publishing is not, and there's a whole team of people behind the scenes working really hard on the books - and to say hello. I then filmed a short video on the roof, with the glorious sights of Copenhagen in the background.

I then moved on, by train, to Horsens. The Krimimessen festival is a celebration of all things criminal (in writing, at least) and fittingly enough it'd held in a disused prison. It was certainly atmospheric, and I was lucky enough to be given a guided tour of the prison itself, which is in the process of being turned into a museum. I went into some of the cells, many of which felt like they'd been vacated only a few days ago (in fact the last prisoner left Horsens a few years back). There was graffiti on the walls, abandoned toothbrushes and so on, and one could even see the marks on the doors where the paint had been scraped off by the jailer's keys. It was all enormously evocative - I saw the venue of the last execution to take place in Denmark: the prison yard. It was a beheading, and apparently the person charged with that gruesome task was the city's butcher. The execution took place in 1892 - Denmark has not had the death penalty since the1930s, even for 'war' crimes.

The prison itself was maximum security, for the worst offenders - rapists, murderers and so on. I was told that there was a complicated hierarchy in the prison - the more powerful offenders charged the newer or weaker inmates rent for example, and it was not uncommon for people to owe tens of thousands of Kroner on their release. With no way to repay that debt (and presumably in fear for their life), these people's only recourse would be to commit further crimes in order to obtain the money. It was easy to see how in many ways a prison is actually a breeding ground for crime, almost a training school. People who leave prisons have a depressingly high likelihood of offending again and finding themselves re-incarcerated, and for those who are not habitual offenders and who would not ordinarily be a danger to society, this is a shame. Wouldn't it be better if the end product of an offender's punishment was a responsible, person with a place in society?

Anyway, I wasn't there to spend the whole day wandering round the cells, but to talk about the book. Here I am with Nana Goul, who interviewed me, and the next day I talked onstage with Barry Forshaw. It was a lot of fun, and I left Denmark very happy, especially as a few days later the book hit number 4 on the chart over there. I can't wait to get back, and I hope one day to return to Horsens to have another look at the prison museum, once it's officially open.

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