Daily Express


How crime writer Will Dean found inspiratio­n after swapping his poky London flat for a swampy clearing in the middle of a Swedish elk forest

- By Matt Nixson

TIRED of life in their poky London flat and craving the great outdoors, IT worker Will Dean and his wife Emelia took a leap in the dark and bought a cheap parcel of land in a vast Swedish elk forest. A decade on and the couple – now joined by their son Alfie, five, a huge Norwegian forest cat called Monty and Bernie the Saint Bernard – are happily settled in their self- built home and enjoying the glorious isolation.

Some 90 minutes north of the city of Gothenburg, Will, 40, can walk all day in any direction from his wooden house without reaching the forest edge.

Before their son was born, the couple might go a month without seeing anyone, and they didn’t have a television for the first four years. Their nearest neighbour – elks, bears and the odd wolf aside – is two miles away and, although they now have electricit­y, there are frequent power cuts. Just picking up their post involves a two- mile hike through thick forest.

“It used to be a smallholdi­ng,” says Will. “They would’ve had a couple of goats, some chickens a cow, I think there were seven people living in our tworoom shed.

“There used to be about 20 sheds in the forest but ours is the only one that’s not derelict.”

So far, so picturesqu­e, but Will’s unusual tale doesn’t end there. Having grown- up in the Midlands, a self- confessed “geeky” kid who always wanted to be a writer, he took inspiratio­n from his surroundin­gs to reinvent himself as a Scandi noir author.

PUBLISHED in 2018, his debut novel Dark Pines featured a deaf, bisexual young female newspaper reporter, Tuva Moodyson. In between covering run- of- the- mill local stories in the remote fictional town of Gavrik and its nearby forest, Tuva’s nosiness gets her into – and out of – some thrilling scrapes. The claustroph­obia of the setting, highlighte­d by Tuva’s deafness, lends a genuinely fresh feel to the thriller.

The book was chosen by crime writer Val McDermid for her influentia­l New Blood panel at the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival in Harrogate, before being adopted by DJ Zoe Ball’s book club. It became a word- of- mouth success and Mad Men producer Lionsgate has now snapped up the TV rights. Black

River, his third Tuva book, is published today. And much of the inspiratio­n that formed his writing comes from his forest home.

Will recalls: “We found this plot of land on the internet and flew over, the estate agent picked us up and we drove into the woods for an hour. Then he stopped the car and said, ‘ We have to hike now, because there’s no road’.

“So we got out, walked for half an hour – it was February so there was snow on the ground – and we finally came to this clearing where there was a tiny hut.

“I was like, ‘ This is perfect, this is where I want to build a wooden house and live’. It’s completely quiet, there’s no traffic noise or light pollution at night.”

Will and Emelia, who is Swedish, bought the land and began commuting via budget airlines from the UK for the first few years before

REMOTE: The house Will shares with his family and dog Bernie



When they were planning the house, a local government bureaucrat told him they needed approval from their neighbouri­ng landowner.

“We said, ‘ The neighbour’s an hour away,’ but he insisted we needed written approval,” recalls Will. “So we flew over and drove to find him, he was like, ‘ You can build whatever you want, I’ve never been there!’

“I drained the land myself, I dug drainage ditches all the way round. We put down a rough track that enabled the truck to come in with a crane to put the house up.

“We designed the house ourselves but it’s a very simple three- bedroom home, like a little doll’s house.

“A company in the middle of Sweden built it in a factory and delivered it. It’s like Ikea, a flatpack house that goes up in a week. I did all the work inside, I put in the floors, the window frames.”

The family now lives in the comfy yellow cottage, with Will using the original shack as a writ


full- time

in ing den. But isn’t the isolation rather terrifying, if not lonely?

Will laughs: “It’s not hard if you like your own company and you don’t mind not having takeaways.

“I haven’t had one for seven years and we only eat out once every two years because it’s so expensive and it would take two hours to drive to a decent restaurant.

“I did hear a wolf once in mid- winter. I opened the window before bed and I heard a howl. It was close by and it shook me to my bones. It’s such a primal sound.”

Despite the idyllic surroundin­gs, bothered only by the occasional elk snuffling through their garden and the bang of rifles during hunting season, there are challenges.

With sporadic central heating, because of the power cuts, Will

CHOP AND CHANGE: Will’s life consists of writing, adding to the wood pile and spotting elk in his garden

spends s a huge amount of time chopping wood.

“I repaint the outside of my h house every few years, I clear ditch ditches, my road gets a lot of holes and the truck suffers so I have to fill them,” he admits. “But chopping wood is the big one. We get through a lot of firewood.”

cGROWING up on the edge of the Lincolnshi­re fens, the son of an insurance salesman and a special needs nursery assistant, Will was a selfconfes­sed loner from the start.

“I can’t emphasise enough how awkward I was as a kid. I built a lot of dens, read a lot of books,” he says. “My family weren’t readers at all, in fact they were quite suspicious of books. I used to go to the mobile library in the next village and read Stephen King books one after the other.” Having finished his A- Levels and persuaded his parents to let him go to university, Will moved to London and took a law degree. But after graduating, “too terrified” to work in a legal office, he made a living selling discount haircut coupons.

“I was stopping people, asking them where they got their hair cut then pitching them a coupon. They would give me £ 50 for the coupon and that would give them a halfprice haircut,” he says.

“I was doing that for two years, outdoors in all weather. It helped a lot with my social awkwardnes­s.

“It gave me confidence and it helped me understand people. I was good at talking but really bad at closing the sale!”

Moving into IT, he began working in the City, helping to build and run websites used for financial traders. But in his heart, he was yearning to write.

“There was no game plan for writing. I just sat down. I had the visual of Dark Pines, the forest and

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