Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Austrian undertakers and pink apartments: an interview with Melanie Raabe

Welcome to the latest issue of 9mm, the long-running author interview series here on Crime Watch. Earlier this year we hit the 150 interviews mark, and I took a moment to reflect on all the authors who have been interviewed thusfar (full list here), and where I could take 9mm in future.

I have some further terrific interviews 'in the can' already, which will be published soon. Among them will be AK Benedict, Marnie Riches, and VM Giambanco, so lots to look forward to. If you have a favorite crime writer you'd love to see interviewed as part of the 9mm series, please do let me know, and I'll look to make it happen. I'm open to requests.

Today, I'm very pleased to welcome to Crime Watch the German crime writer Melanie Raabe, who I had the pleasure of meeting for the first time at last month's Bloody Scotland festival in Stirling. Raabe is one of those people who writes dark, head-spinning tales, but is a very bright and lively soul in person. Like me, she's a child of the 80s who grew up in a small town, loving both sports/outdoor adventures and books/the arts. Though her town was even smaller than mine, a 400-person village.

Raabe is a journalist by trade, and came to the notice of the crime writing world with her excellent debut, THE TRAP (it's English title). The book was sold into several countries and languages before publication, sparked bidding wars, has been optioned by Hollywood, and received rave reviews. In THE TRAP, a famously reclusive novelist whose sister was murdered 12 years before sees the killer on television (or does she?). He's now a respected journalist. Knowing any accusation would be written off as the ravings of a madwoman, she decides to write a thriller about a similar murder, and finally give an interview about her work. Just one interview, in her own house, to that very journalist.

I read THE TRAP in one sitting after Bloody Scotland, on the train journey back from Stirling to London. It's a very good read, a chilling psychological thriller that's much more than it's very clever hook. I can see why it caught the attention of so many people before and after release.

Raabe's second novel, DIE WAHRHEIT, has recently been published in Germany (it's English title will be THE TRUTH), and it sounds great too: seven years after a wealthy businessman disappears in South America, he is found alive to great media hype. His wife has been raising their son alone and has mixed feelings about his return. Feelings that get much worse when a stranger steps off the plane, threatening her and her family if she exposes him. Sounds good eh? I'm looking forward to that.

But in the meantime, Melanie Raabe becomes the 159th author to stare down the barrel of 9mm.


1. Who is your favourite recurring crime fiction hero/detective?
I would have picked Amy from GONE GIRL, but thinking about series, there's a very excellent thriller series from Austrian author Bernhard Aichner - the first book is called WOMAN OF THE DEAD in English. The hero is Brünhilde Blum, referred to as Blum in the books. She's an undertaker, her policeman husband is murdered, and she sets out for revenge and becomes a killer. But you still like her a lot. It's a bit like the movie Kill Bill, but in a more likable way. She's fun, she's a Mum, she has a business, but the loss of her husband sets her off. She's an amazing hero. I like Sherlock Holmes too, but that's too obvious.

2. What was the very first book you remember reading and really loving, and why?
Michael Ende's THE NEVERENDING STORY, by a German fantasy author. I loved that book, read it over and over. Absolutely loved it. They made it into a movie. Bastian is an outsider as a kid, but he loves to read. He goes into a bookshop, and there's a grumpy owner who gives him a book to read. It's a book about loving to read, and stories. I didn't think of that back then - it was just a fun adventure and I loved it. All of his books are great.

3. Before your debut crime novel, what else had you written (if anything) unpublished manuscripts, short stories, articles?
I was a journalist, that's what I did after college. I wrote four complete novels that didn't get published. They were fun to write, but frustrating they didn't get published. So I was writing all day, working for a newspaper in Cologne, then writing my books at night or early in the morning. I was always writing, even as a kid. Poetry and short stories. I loved to do that.

4. Outside of writing, touring and promotional commitments, what do you really like to do, leisure and activity-wise?
I love to read. I always love to do that. I love to cook, to eat, to travel. Before everything exploded with THE TRAP I was also a theatre actress. That was fun, but I don't have time for that now. But it's still helpful when I do lots of readings in Germany - Germans love you o do long readings from your book.

5. What is one thing that visitors to your hometown should do, that isn't in the tourist brochures, or perhaps they wouldn’t initially consider?
What I really enjoyed in Cologne is we have this 'Unsicht-bar', play on words 'invisible' in German, and you dine in complete darkness, and the waiters are blind, so they can find their way in complete darkness. It's cool because everything tastes different, you use your other senses. It's very different. It would be a great setting for a murder novel actually...

6. If your life was a movie, which actor could you see playing you?
I want someone very well looking, obviously. I don't know. I very much like Angelina Jolie, but she doesn't look like me. Oh! Can I have George Clooney, even though he's a dude? Because he's so cool. Yeah, can I have George, in drag, because he's so cool and I like watching him no matter who he's playing. 

7. Of your writings, which is your favourite, and why?
It's definitely the beginning of THE TRAP, the first one or two chapters. It was such an interesting time, because I failed to sell my first four manuscripts. But a publisher said 'if Melanie can give me something that works as a thriller, I'll buy it based on 20 pages and a synopsis'. So it was an amazing opportunity, but lots of pressure. But then I just sat down and wrote those first two chapters, and it just flowed, it was like magic, and they bought the book based on that, and from there everything went well. Those two chapters are basically the same in the book as I wrote them originally.

8. What was your initial reaction, and how did you celebrate, when you were first accepted for publication? Or when you first saw your debut story in book form on a bookseller’s shelf?
When I got the call from my agent that my book had been accepted (for more money and better conditions than I expected), I screamed, and called my mother and boyfriend. And then for whatever reason I went and got some paint and painted my entire apartment pink. I don't know what the English word is, but in German it's 'ubersprungshamdlumg' - when a situation is so overwhelming you can't cope with it, so you do something completely unrelated. Later on in the evening we celebrated like normal people, with champagne

9. What is the strangest or most unusual experience you have had at a book signing, author event, or literary festival?
I've read my books at some bizarre places - hmmm, I'm just filtering out the stories I can't tell people. I once did a reading in a moving bus. I didn't think about it when asked, but even when I was a kid, I got very sick when reading in a moving vehicle (motion sickness), and it was was really hard to get through that reading without anything terrible happening. It was really fun, afterwards, looking back.

What has also been really fun is than in my debut book, there's an interview between a female author and a male journalist. And when I was interviewed for the book, one journalist recreated that scene, which seems obvious now, but no one else had thought to do. So that was really fun to recreate that, But I didn't shoot him, like my protagonist would have done.

Thank you for chatting to Crime Watch Melanie, we appreciate it. 

You can read more about Melanie Raabe and her writing at her Pan Macmillan author page (for English speakers) and her own website (for German speakers), and also follow her on Twitter: @melraabe

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