‘Sweden is such a wonderful place, I’d find it difficult to write anything set in the UK’

How does a Brit with Polish roots end up writing novels about Sweden? By spending more than 40 summers there, author Robin Porecky explains.

'Sweden is such a wonderful place, I'd find it difficult to write anything set in the UK'
Author Robin Porecky pictured in Sweden. Photo: Robin Porecky

Porecky is someone with a genuinely international background. Of Polish origin but born and raised in the UK, the Englishman also served in the British Army in Nigeria, so he has seen a lot of the world. It was in Sweden, however, that he found the inspiration for his books:

“I would find it really difficult to write anything set in the UK, because Sweden is just such a wonderful place and I'm very much an outdoor man. The forest, the lakes, it had to be about that.”

So how exactly did the Brit come to Sweden in the first place? That story is a familiar one.

“I came to Sweden because, well, is there any other reason? I fell in love with a Swede,” he laughs.

“I went over to Sweden and married her. And that's a very long time ago, more than 50 years. So, that gave me all the contacts I needed and I got help with the language. We've been tied to Sweden ever since. Now one of our children, and our grandchildren are there.”

Since he was a child Porecky has always had a big imagination, but he didn't find the time to focus on his writing until he retired in 1990. Then, all he needed was the ideal place to get inspired, and Sweden provided it.

“Once I started writing we got a 'sommarstuga', a Swedish summer cottage, up in the north, up in Jämtland. That’s where I wrote and that's where I was doing all my novels.”

A photo Porecky took of a valley in Indal, Sundsvall. Photo: Robin Porecky

The Swedish inspiration worked: Porecky's first novel, “A Pathless Land”, was longlisted for the Authors Club Best First Novel Award in 2010. Once he had his second book under his belt, he decided to focus on crime stories set in the place he was drawing inspiration from.

“My agent persuaded me to move from historical novels, which the first two were, to Swedish crime writing,” he notes. As a result, Porecky created Swedish inspector Magnus Trygg, the main character of his five following books.

What sets the Magnus Trygg series apart from other Swedish crime novels according to Porecky is the hero's unique perspective. “I made him half Thai and half Swedish. So he himself has a different viewpoint, which I felt might be a good thing, because I also have, as I suppose, a half English half Swedish view point,” he says.

The Brit's international history is particularly apparent in the latest book of the Magnus Trygg series, Benin Bronze, where the story links Sweden with Africa.

“I spent quite a lot of time in parts of Africa, Nigeria and what was then the Gold Coast (now Ghana). I'm a military man, I was in the army, so I had a huge amount of experience of all that sort of things. So, the book starts off in Nigeria and the Gold Coast, in colonial times, and then it has something nasty happening in Sweden, which can tie into it.”

Preparation is particularly important for the author when writing his books. With his first novel, the research phase gave him a reason to explore the northern parts of Scandinavia, Lapland, or as it is known in the native Sami language, Sápmi.

“I went up there and I walked all over the parts I was going to use, so that every step the characters took, every suffering step, I've taken as well. And I did that with all my books. If it was going to be, as in the last one, a murder at a lake, I'll go and walk all round this lake and fish there and find out everything about it and the roads that lead to it,” he reveals.

A poster advertising one of Porecky's Magnus Trygg books in Bispsgården, Sweden. Photo: Robin Porecky

Porecky's love of nature is not only apparent in his books. His other passion is making knives, something he would also do at his beloved summer cottage in Jämtland:

“I made about 34 knives and every single one of them was utterly different. People who wanted a knife could come to me. In one case, they came and actually chose the tree, from which I would cut the wood from a year later.”

Benin Bronze is currently being considered from the Crime Writers Association International Gold Dagger Award, and it seems the author has decided to go out on a high note. After tying up the story of his Swedish inspector Trygg in the last part of the series, Porecky now has no plans for a further book.

“It’s sad really. But I brought it to an end and it gets harder when you get older. I was trying to bring out one a year and I achieved that over seven books. I think probably that'll be it.”

One of his few regrets is that the Trygg series is not better known in Sweden, he bemoans, but his love of Sweden continues regardless:

“I'm still spending some time in Sweden, with my family there and my wife wanting to go back, we are all across Sweden anyway,” he notes.

Looking back at his experience as an author, he encourages anyone considering writing to give it a try.

“What I would say is: always go for it, just do it! Don't panic, just get a pen, start writing and keep going! You probably have to throw it all away and start again, do that several times and lose a lot of it, but in the end, you will get there!”

And if all else fails, sitting in a lovely sommarstuga in Sweden helps when it comes to finding inspiration, he concludes.

Article written by The Local contributor Christian Krug.

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Reader question: When am I eligible for a Swedish pension?

A reader got in touch to ask how long he had to work in Sweden before he was eligible for a pension. Here are Sweden's pension rules, and how you can get your pension when the time comes.

Reader question: When am I eligible for a Swedish pension?

The Swedish pension is part of the country’s social insurance system, and it can seem like a confusing beast at times. The good news is that if you’re living and working here, you’ll almost certainly be earning towards a pension, and you’ll be able to get that money even if you move elsewhere before retirement.

You will start earning your Swedish general pension, or allmän pension, once you’ve earned over 20,431 kronor in a single year, and – for almost all kinds of pension in Sweden – there is no time limit on how long you must have lived in Sweden before you are eligible.

The exception is the minimum guarantee pension, or garantipension, which you can receive whether you’ve worked or not. To be eligible at all for this, you need to have lived in Sweden for a period of at least three years before you are 65 years old. 

“There’s a limit, but it’s a money limit,” Johan Andersson, press secretary at the Swedish Pension Agency told The Local about the general pension. “When you reach the point that you start paying tax, you start paying into your pension.”

“But you have to apply for your pension, make sure you get in touch with us when you want to start receiving it,” he said.

Here’s our in-depth guide on how you can maximise your Swedish pension, even if you’re only planning on staying in Sweden short-term.

Those who spend only a few years working in Sweden will earn a much smaller pension than people who work here for their whole lives, but they are still entitled to something – people who have worked in Sweden will keep their income pension, premium pension, supplementary pension and occupational pension that they have earned in Sweden, even if they move to another country. The pension is paid no matter where in the world you live, but must be applied for – it is not automatically paid out at retirement age.

If you retire in the EU/EEA, or another country with which Sweden has a pension agreement, you just need to apply to the pension authority in your country of residence in order to start drawing your Swedish pension. If you live in a different country, you should contact the Swedish Pensions Agency for advice on accessing your pension, which is done by filling out a form (look for the form called Ansök om allmän pension – om du är bosatt utanför Sverige).

The agency recommends beginning the application process at least three months before you plan to take the pension, and ideally six months beforehand if you live abroad. It’s possible to have the pension paid into either a Swedish bank account or an account outside Sweden.

A guarantee pension – for those who live on a low income or no income while in Sweden – can be paid to those living in Sweden, an EU/EEA country, Switzerland or, in some cases, Canada. This is the only Swedish pension which is affected by how long you’ve lived in Sweden – you can only receive it if you’ve lived in the country for at least three years before the age of 65.

“The guarantee pension is residence based,” Andersson said. “But it’s lower if you haven’t lived in Sweden for at least 40 years. You are eligible for it after living in Sweden for only three years, but it won’t be that much.”