Thursday, 27 June 2013

Crime Fiction Week Debut Spotlight: Nele Neuhaus

Nele Neuhaus is one of the most widely read German mystery writers and now we get to discover her talent for ourselves as next week sees the publication of Snow White Must Die, her first book to be published here in the UK. 

In a small town in Germany a boy is accused of murdering his beautiful girlfriend. But this is no fairy story . . .

On a September evening eleven years ago, two 17-year-old girls vanished without a trace from the tiny village of Altenhain, just outside Frankfurt. In a trial based on circumstantial evidence 20-year-old Tobias Sartorius was convicted and imprisoned for the murder of his childhood friend Laura and his beautiful girlfriend Stefanie – otherwise known as Snow White. After serving his sentence, Tobias returns home. His presence in the little German village stirs up the events of the past. Events that the locals would prefer to remain hidden.

When the Sartorius family is subjected to a number of attacks, Detective Inspector Pia Kirchhoff and DS Oliver von Bodenstein are tasked with monitoring the tense atmosphere in the tight-knit community. As the village inhabitants close ranks it becomes apparent the disappearance of Snow White and her friend was far more complex than imagined. 

Then history starts to repeat itself in a disastrous manner when another pretty girl goes missing. The police are thrown into a race against time. Can they solve the mystery before it’s too late? 

Nele has also kindly answered a few questions so here's what she had to say...

Tell us a little bit about yourself and how you came to be a crime writer?
I started writing stories when I was 5 years old. When I grew up it became my hobby and my passion, I was always dreaming about being an author. After school I started studying, but then I met my former husband on a horse show. I was 21, he was twenty years older than me and he owned a company, a meat producing plant. 

When we married I quit my studies and started working in his company. In the afternoons I took care of his showjumping horses, we went to competitions almost every weekend. There was very little time for my writing, but I always found some hours inbetween, because I never stopped believing of my dream coming true one day. My former husband didn’t really like it. He never read books and he was a kind of jealous of my writing, so I worked on my computer only when he was off. It took me over 8 years to finish my first novel “Swimming with sharks”.

The reason why I decided to write crime fiction is that I always loved reading crime stories.


Can you tell us a little bit about your latest book?
Big Bad Wolf has been published in Germany in October 2012. It is the sixth part of the series with my main characters Oliver von Bodenstein and Pia Kirchhoff and the plot is set in the Taunus-Area, close to Frankfurt.

One hot July day, the body of a 16-year-old girl is pulled from the river Main near Frankfurt. She has been brutally attacked and murdered, but no one seems to miss her and no one seems to know who she is. Investigations lead to a rural childrens home in the mountains, and to a TV presenter whose research took her too close to the wrong people. As investigators Pia Kirchhoff and Oliver von Bodenstein dig deeper, they uncover a pit of evil and cruelty in the midst of a middle class idyll. And then the case gets very personal for Pia.

Where do you get your ideas from for your stories?
Inspiration mostly come from an article in a newspaper, a TV-documentation or something somebody tells me. At the beginning, there is only this little idea, a subject which makes me curious. Then it takes some time to develop the plot and the characters. A very good example is “Skin deep”. The idea for this plot came to me while I was watching a documentation in TV about a massacre of the Red Army in East Prussia in fall 1944. I started reading and researching, it was fascinating! I began to think about a story, which connects the year 1944 with the present time. It was a very interesting, often repulsive and shocking work, it took months until I had all the information I needed to invent the plot. A subject has to fascinate mebecause I have to work on it for months and months.   


Percentage-wise, how much time do you spend researching and how much time do you spend writing?
60 % researching, 40 % writing ...

Are there any writers that have influenced you as a writer?
There is no specific model, but I am sure that there are a lot of authors who influenced my writing over three decades of my life because I read very, very much since childhood. After 13 books I consolidated my own style. US crime writer Elizabeth George was one of my favourite authors some years ago and I guess that George’s Inspector Lynley was a kind of model for Oliver von Bodenstein, who also is a nobleman.  J

How do you relax/unwind after writing gruesome scenes?
My secret is not to get too much involved. It is important to keep a distance to the subject I am writing and researching about, to keep it abstract. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be able to write about killings and murderers, child abuse and all those abysses of people without having nightmares and a kind of paranoia. And as a relief I am writing Young adult books inbetween.  

Are you one of those writers who wake in the middle of the night with ideas for plots, new story etc.?
Yes! Sometimes I have great ideas for the plot in the middle of the night, but I am often too lazy to get up and write them down, hoping that I remember next day. Sometimes I do, sometimes not. Maybe I should have a writing pad next to my bed ... J

Have you ever had writer’s block? 
Not really. Sometimes it doesn’t really go on. Then I do something else or I take one or two days off. While writing “Big bad wolf” in 2012 I stopped working on the manuscript, because I felt, that I pursued a wrong direction. I wrote something else, just for fun and not to be published – and after some days I found the solution and work went on. 

If you weren’t a writer, what career path would you have chosen to follow?
I have been writing for all my life since I was a child. Becoming an author was a big  dream, which seemed out of reach for many years. That time, writing was a hobby and I worked as a secretary and later on I ran my Ex husbands company. I am sure I would have chosen a creative job or something with film or TV.   

How long did it take you to get your first book published? 
It took me almost 8 years to finish “Swimming with sharks” and then all the publisher I sent it to, rejected it. So I printed the book by myself. 500 copies were printed in 2005 and I made strong efforts to sell them. It was a nice success and people started asking me for another book. So I wrote the first crime novel about Oliver von Bodenstein and Pia Kirchhoff (Un unpopular woman), which I published in 2006. One year after I published “Friends till Death”. One copy was picked by a representative of Ullstein publisher house in a bookstore and so it came to an editor who was quite enthusiastic about it. In 2008 I undersigned a contract and – finally – in 2009 I started my career as an author with the third part of the series, named “Skin Deep”.

Do you have a set daily writing routine?
I try to invent a daily routine but it’s not so easy ... J I try to sit on my desk at 10 a.m., but there are so many things to do: answering E-Mails, housework, accounting, my dog ... You need a lot of discipline especially when you have no pressure by a deadline and the sun is shining outside! J But when there is a deadline I am working very concentrated, for example in April. I finished the manuscript of a YA-book within 4 weeks , because it is going to be released on June 17. Unfortunately, my Publishers don’t exert any pressure, so it is on me to put me under pressure by myself.  

If you could write another style of genre, what would it be and why?
I do write YA-books about girls and horses, because I love horses from childhood on. Right now I am writing something else then crime fiction, it is a kind of family Saga and it will be published under a pen name next spring. What I could never write is fantasy and science fiction, because I don’t read  things like that.

If you could give one piece of advice to an aspiring author, what would it be?
Be self-critical! Don’t think about bestseller-charts while you are writing. Read, read, read as much as you can!

It sharpens your mode of expression.  And keep on writing – not only with the intention to published - that helps to find your own style. Don’t let you discourage by other people and try to find someone to read your manuscript, who is able to give you an honest opinion (no family, no close friends). Revise your text again and again, it becomes better every time! 

Are there any crime fiction books that you wish you’d written?
There are no special books, but sometimes when I am reading a crime novel I admire phrasing or wording and wish I could write like that!

When you’ve finished writing a book, do you treat yourself to a reward?
Yes! I take my darling out for a great dinner with champagne and spend some days without my computer! J

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