The German crime fiction author, who has urged writers to maintain cultural ties in the wake of Brexit, discusses her Hamburg heroine Chastity Riley.
What was your reaction to being picked as an Author of the Day?
I was delighted but also surprised, because I don’t think German authors are necessarily so "important" in the UK. But with the Brexit issue, maybe there is more awareness of the European idea at the moment in the UK. What I have been saying lately, in my events in Germany, Italy and the UK, is that it's up to us as readers and writers to maintain the cultural ties that exist between us, even as our leaders are pulling us apart.
You've written eight books starring Hamburg police detective Chastity Riley. How has the series developed?
I worked for 15 years as a freelance journalist, mostly writing for women’s magazines. I got to the point where I had written enough on fashion, culture, sex... There is only so much you can write about love.
I was always a crime fiction reader, especially noir—I love [Raymond] Chandler and my all-time favourite is Jakob Arjouni, who has this great Turkish-German private eye. I thought it was important to not have a strictly German main character—partly because Hamburg is very diverse, it's a harbour city—so Riley is half-American. The idea came from my childhood: I grew up outside Frankfurt, where there are a lot of US military bases, so many kids at my school were the children of American soldiers and Germans. It was appealing to have a main character that was not so sure about her identity, and was questioning who she is.
I had a reset during the series: After the first five, I changed my German publisher. When I did, I stepped back and thought of a new way to write the characters and look at the series.
Is there a difference being published in the UK and Germany?
It’s new for me to be with an indie [in the UK]. In Germany I’m with Suhrkamp, a big, established company, and it’s wonderful. But [Orenda Books founder] Karen [Sullivan] is so vibrant and she works so hard to bring her authors everywhere.
It’s like being part of a big family. I’ve done Orenda roadshows with other authors and we go from city to city, all talking English though we come from other countries. It’s great. I think [Sullivan] is into team-building, thinking about how the authors fit with the company as much as how the books do.
My newest will be about drug deals between Hamburg and Colombia. I like to write about organised crime because I think it’s capitalism in its purest form: a few people earning a lot of money on the back of a lot of people who work very hard to survive. It's important to show the parallels between the supposedly respectable and the criminal, as both are respectless worlds.