An interview with Johan Rundberg in partnership* with The Children’s Book Review and Amazon Crossing Kids.
In this insightful interview, award-winning author Johan Rundberg takes us on a journey into the creation of his gripping Moonwind Mysteries series, with a special focus on the first book, The Night Raven.
From the initial spark of inspiration to the meticulous historical research that breathes life into 1880s Stockholm, Rundberg shares the secrets behind his immersive storytelling. Discover the unique qualities that make Mika, the series’ brave young protagonist, stand out, and gain a deeper understanding of the themes that drive this captivating narrative. Join us as we delve into the mind of the author, uncovering the threads that bind this haunting mystery together.
Be sure to enter the giveaway below for a chance to win a copy of The Night Raven!
Let’s begin with hearing about your inspiration for The Moonwind Mysteries series and, specifically, the first book, The Night Raven.
Johan Rundberg: I had a pretty loose idea about a child from the lower parts of society being forced to help the police with a serious crime. Though I could not really figure out how and why the child would be noticed by police in a credible way. Back then I had no intention on writing a historical novel, I just assumed the story should be contemporary.
Then, by coincidence, I visited the Långholmen Central Prison which is built on a small island near central Stockholm. It was a prison until the 1970s, but now it’s a museum and a hotel. When I walked into one of the cells, I was affected by the feeling of despair oozing from the stone walls, and I got the idea to move my story to the 1800s. Back then the society was much more divided than today, and being at the bottom meant absolute poverty and exposure to danger. When I had the idea to make an orphan child my main character, inspiration hit me like a train.
The Night Raven is ultimately a murder mystery for kids, set in the Victorian era. How would you rate the scariness level of this book? Who do you imagine will enjoy reading your book (and the series) the most?
On a scale from 1-10, I would say 11. Haha, jokes aside, although it’s pretty scary it was important to me that the scariness level was motivated by the story, and not attention-seeking. When I wrote the book, I assumed the readers would be most creeped out by the murder details and the presence of a serial killer. (Note: the historical setting gives the story a hint of fairy-tale feel.) But when The Night Raven was published, the readers taught me a lesson.
When I visited schools and libraries to talk about the book, it became clear to me that although serial killers are indeed scary, the worst thing imaginable to a child is being an orphan. The readers really care for Mika, and the most frequent question is if she ever finds her parents. The Night Raven is written for the mystery buffs, and for the fans of thrilling adventure stories. Even though the recommended reading age is about 10–14, readers of all ages seem to like the book, which of course is fun.
The story takes place in the year 1880 in the frigid city of Stockholm, with death lurking around every corner. Why 1880? And why Stockholm (I’m assuming because you know it well)?
I live in Stockholm, and I know the city pretty well. But the city described in The Night Raven is quite different from contemporary Stockholm, and I really had to study how life was in the 1800s to make it truthful and believable. The story is set in 1880 for a special reason.
The Långholmen Central Prison that I mentioned earlier plays an important role in the story (exactly how I won’t reveal…). But the building was finished in 1880, and at the time it was considered very modern and assumed impossible to escape. All the places mentioned in The Night Raven are real, except for the shabby pub “the Chapel” where Mika works part time—that I made up. But all others places exist, or have existed, for real. That is not really necessary for the reader to know; it was more of a challenge to myself, and I wanted the surrounding history to be as accurate as possible. I think it gives the book a realistic and gritty feel.
If you come to Stockholm, there is a map you can follow to visit the places from the book. For example, you can visit the Långholmen Central Prison and the cell that gave me the inspiration for the story in the first place. Also, there is an exciting place in the final chapters that some readers might think is made up, but it is real to this day… (no spoilers, haha!).
Mika, the main character, is not your average twelve-year-old. What do you want readers to know about her?
Mika is not who she was meant to be. If she had grown up with her parents in a loving home, she would have been quite a different person. But due to the hardship of her life, she has been forced to be very analytical and attentive, simply to stay alive in a dangerous city. My own favorite side of Mika is her humor, like when she tells gruesome stories to the other orphans to make them forget their hunger for a minute.
When I wrote the character of Mika, I wanted to make her both exposed and timid, as well as brave and inventive. She is not a fairy-tale heroine; she is brave sometimes simply because she has to be. Another thing about Mika is that she does not really know her own story. She only knows that she was left at the orphanage as an infant.
Some of the best and most popular books ever written for children are about orphans: Oliver Twist, Anne of Green Gables, Pippi Longstocking, The Graveyard Book, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone—I could go on. What is it, to you, about orphans that you believe make extraordinary protagonists?
That is a really good question! I think it’s because an orphan represents the extremes of life. They represent both a fantasy of total freedom and the fear of absolute loneliness. Mika’s biggest dream, a fantasy so unattainable that she is ashamed to even think about it, is her longing for unconditional love. It’s the core of life, I think.
What do you think will be the first impression of The Night Raven that sticks with readers? A sentence, a paragraph, or a feeling? I hope you’ll elaborate on your answer.
The cold! Throughout the Moonwind Mysteries series, the season in which the story is set has a strong impact on the atmosphere. And in The Night Raven, the winter is absolutely merciless. All the roads are snowed in, so no one can enter the city—or leave. This basically means that the inhabitants are trapped inside the closed city with a serial killer on the loose. Day by day the orphanage’s supply of food and firewood gets smaller, while the cold gets worse. (Sounds cozy, right?)
The cover of a book serves as the greatest marketing asset and should catch your reader’s attention while conveying the essence of the story. What are your thoughts on the cover, and what do you appreciate about it?
I absolutely love the “classic mystery” look of the cover. The illustration by Edward Bettison and the art direction by Michael Jantze really comes together in a way that reflect the atmosphere of the story. I like that the cover is sort of an “easter egg” with clues to the story, for example the full, blood-red moon. Another thing that is super important is the translation. Since the book was written in Swedish with many old-fashioned words and expressions, I can imagine the translation was quite a challenge. And Annie Prime did an excellent job capturing the tone of the original.
For example, I really love the names she gave Mika’s friends, my own personal favorites among the characters—the semi-criminal gang of brick carriers called “the Girls” (to be revealed in book 2, The Queen of Thieves).
Since The Night Raven is your first book in the Moonwind Mysteries series, what do you want readers to know about the series on the whole? How many books will be in the series? Will readers need to read the books in order? Or will they stand alone as individual mysteries?
All the books have a stand-alone mystery that is solved in the end. But there is also a storyline that runs throughout the series, so reading the books in order really gives the reader a bigger experience. For example, Mika’s journey to find out about her past is one such storyline, that is revealed bit by bit. Also, both Mika’s character as well as her relationship with Constable Hoff develops during the series, and that is another reason to read the books in order, I think. But it’s all up to the reader. The Night Raven works really well as a stand-alone, but I hope it will make the reader curious to continue.
As of now, I have written five parts in the Moonwind Mysteries series; and although I haven’t started writing the sixth book yet, I have a really good (and scary!) idea for the plot…
When a reader has finished The Night Raven, if they were to take away just one thing, what would you want that to be?
The feeling of hope, I think. I’ve been asked many questions about the scariness level of the series, and what children think of it. It has become clear to me that a book for children can be dark and grim, as long as there is a glimmer of hope. When I ask young readers what they liked about The Night Raven, they usually mention the atmosphere and the mystery riddle. But most of all they want to talk about Mika, how they find her brave and wish her a better life. They have hope for her like she was a real person, and that really moves me. Hope is more important than anything else.
Is there anything else you feel we should know about The Night Raven, your writing, or yourself?
Well, I am easily scared, haha! I write really scary stuff, but I can’t watch a horror movie if I am home alone. But please don’t tell anyone.
Thanks for the questions, I really enjoyed answering them!
About the Book
Written by Johan Rundberg
Translated by A. A. Prime
Ages 10+ | 192 Pages
Publisher: Amazon Crossing Kids | ISBN-13: 9781662509582
Publisher’s Book Summary: Mika is not your average twelve-year-old―and she’s about to prove it.
It’s 1880, and in the frigid city of Stockholm, death lurks around every corner. Twelve-year-old Mika knows that everyone in her orphanage will struggle to survive this winter. But at least the notorious serial killer the Night Raven is finally off the streets…or is he?
Mika is shocked when a newborn baby is left at the orphanage in the middle of the night, by a boy with a cryptic message. Who is he? And who is this “Dark Angel” he speaks of? When a detective shows up, Mika senses something even more sinister is going on.
Drawn in by Mika’s unique ability to notice small details―a skill Mika has always used to survive―the gruff Detective Hoff unwittingly recruits her to help him with his investigation into a gruesome murder. Mika knows she should stay far, far away, and yet…with such little hope for her future, could this be an opportunity? Maybe, just maybe, this is Mika’s chance to be someone who matters.
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About the Author
Johan Rundberg is an award-winning author of children’s books who lives in Stockholm. He has written picture books, early readers, and middle grade, including Kärlekspizzan, Knockad Romeo, and the series Häxknuten. In 2021, he was awarded Sweden’s most prestigious literary prize, the August Prize, in the children’s and YA category for Nattkorpen, the original edition of The Night Raven, which was first written in Swedish. Nattkorpen was also the winner of a Swedish Crimetime Award in the children’s and YA category. There are now four books in this series published in Sweden.
About the Translator
A. A. Prime (Annie Prime) is an award-winning translator of Swedish literature. She was born in London and traveled the world studying a number of languages before settling in the English coastal town of Hastings. She now works full-time as a translator, specializing in the weird, witty, and wonderful world of children’s and young adult fiction. She holds an MA in translation from University College London and has published more than twenty books in the UK and US. In her free time, she can be found belly dancing, folk singing, horse riding, and sea swimming.
Book GiveawayThe Night Raven: Book Giveaway
This interview—Johan Rundberg Talks About The Night Raven—was conducted between Johan Rundberg and Bianca Schulze. Presented in partnership with Amazon Crossing Kids.