In a brief author note, Gaute Heivoll describes the incredible inciting events that propelled him to write Before I Burn
It all started with a forest fire at the beginning of May. A few weeks later two old stables burned down. In the end, there were in total ten fires, three of which were houses, and all were razed to the ground. Four people were a hair's breadth from death. All this occurred within a radius of ten kilometres from my childhood home. I was only a few months old at the time, so you could say with some justification I was born into this drama. All of a sudden a small parish of eight hundred inhabitants became national front page news. Even the national TV news carried a big splash when things were at their peak. The investigation involved the murder squad, and the police set up a base in the local village hall. In the weeks of the arson attacks people were likening the situation to wartime, and it really was like being at war. People sat guarding their houses, the church, with guns. Most assumed the perpetrator was someone from outside the area - after all, who would do this type of thing to their own?
Eight of the fires were started over three days, over a weekend, from a Friday morning until the Sunday night. That same Sunday I was christened in Finsland Church. There had been big question marks as to whether there would be any christening. The night after was also the worst night of all. So there is a connection between the pyromaniac and my own hot seat, so to speak, which in the end is what shapes Before I Burn.
As far as this novel is concerned, everything started with the pyromaniac, and charting what actually happened in the spring of 1978. During my research I found myself becoming more and more involved, not least through the people I spoke to who told me their fire stories, people I have known all my life and who appear to varying degrees in the novel. In that way my story became a part of the story about the pyromaniac, and cast a new light over both him and me.
Unless otherwise stated, this interview was conducted at the time the book was first published, and is reproduced with permission of the publisher. This interview may not be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the copyright holder.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
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