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q & a

Q & A

When did you start writing?

A: I have always enjoyed writing, ever since I was in primary school. Over the years I have written a lot of short stories, poems, travel diaries etc just for fun. It was an ambition of mine to write a book since I was a child, but other things—work and then children!—got in the way. On the day my youngest child started kindergarten in 2003 I finally got down to the business of writing in earnest. I had a maximum of three hours a day, which focuses the mind wonderfully.

How long does it take you to write a book?

A: It took me a year to write the first draft of The Vanishing of Katharina Linden, and probably about another six months to complete all the revisions. The Glass Demon took about a year including revisions. I also spent quite a lot of time on research before I started writing each book. It's hard to say how long the research took. I don't really think of it as "work"—I write about ideas which attract and interest me, and researching them is fun.

Where do you get the ideas for your books?

A: Often one image or a scrap of folk legend or history will inspire me. For example, The Glass Demon was inspired by the real-life story of the lost stained glass of Steinfeld Abbey. It disappeared from the abbey in the early nineteenth century and was rediscovered a hundred years later in a chapel in England. I was wildly intrigued by the story—firstly I would never have thought it possible that such a fragile thing as a stained glass window could be removed from its frame and transported somewhere else without being smashed to smithereens. Secondly the windows were sold for a fantastic sum in the 1920s—the equivalent of over _800,000 in modern money. This set me thinking—supposing there were another set of windows made by the same master craftsman, still hidden somewhere? They would be worth a fortune—and their possession would be a great motive for murder. That's where I get my ideas: from the "what if"s!

Do you have the whole book planned out before you start writing?

A: Yes, but I'm not someone who likes to plan every scene in great detail. I have the skeleton of the plot laid out before I start, but there has to be some room for the characters and events to develop in their own way. Sometimes the characters surprise me! However, I am meticulous about background, because that's critical if you want to avoid making continuity errors. When I was planning The Glass Demon I spent quite a long time creating a history for my fictitious abbey, and working out what was depicted in all the individual windows.

Do you work for a set length of time every day?

A: I tend to aim for a set number of words rather than a set length of time. I normally aim to write 1,000 words a day, ie. 5,000 words in a working week. If I manage to write 5,000 by Thursday I get Friday off!

Do you have a special place for working, a special pen, etc?

A: I use a MacBook Pro and always write in Word. I can't imagine trying to write longhand. I try to be critical as I go along, and I frequently go back and delete or change a line if I think it isn't working. If I wrote everything out with pen and paper it would be unreadable with all the crossings-out! I do, however, use a special type of pen for signing—normally a black Schneider Xtra Document. I also use them for making notes at the planning stage of a book. I don't like writing with an ordinary ballpoint.

How did you get your first book published?

A: When I had finished the first draft of The Vanishing of Katharina Linden I bought a copy of the indispensable Writers' and Artists' Yearbook, which has lists of UK agents and publishers as well as some foreign ones, and loads of really useful advice. Many publishers now only read unsolicited manuscripts if they have been submitted through a literary agent, so I decided to try to find myself an agent rather than go directly to a publisher. Excluding agents who didn't represent the type of work I had written, I simply started at A and worked through the list from the beginning! I relied on the Yearbook a lot for advice about preparing the submission. If an agent wants to see the first three chapters, that's what you send them—not chapter one, chapter seven and chapter fourteen. I was thrilled to be contacted by Camilla Bolton of the Darley Anderson agency, who now represents me.

Why did you decide to write crime novels?

A: I didn't set out to write "crime" at all—I like dramatic stories though, so I was never going to write kitchen sink dramas. When I wrote The Vanishing of Katharina Linden I was trying to tell a compelling story about interesting characters, with some murders in it, rather than a "crime novel". I can't see myself writing police procedural novels because what interests me are the characters' own stories, and the way they perceive events. Because some of them are very young—eg. Pia Kolvenach, the ten year old heroine of The Vanishing—they don't tell the story the way a policeman would, and you have to allow for that. Pia tells you the truth the way she sees it.

Are the legends in The Vanishing of Katharina Linden real ones?

A: Yes, the legends Herr Schiller tells Pia and Stefan are genuine folk tales of Bad Müenstereifel, retold in my own words. The majority of them were collected by a catholic priest called Father Krause around 1910-1914. He published them in the newsletter of the Eifel Club. When I was researching the stories I went to the headquarters of the Eifel Club in Dueren to read the tales in the original versions. This was a horrendous job because not only are they all in German but they were printed in the Gothic typeface that was popular in Germany at that time. It's not impossible to read but it's slow work!

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