Monday, 11 April 2016

Debut Spotlight: Beatrice Meier

Today it's my pleasure to be hosting this spotlight feature for Beatrice Meier as part of the blog tour for her debut novel The Vintage Springtime Club which was published last week.

Beatrice Meier was born in Germany and studied literary translation at Düsseldorf University. She then went on to complete a scriptwriting programme at Munich Film School in 2002-03, and attended the Cologne International Film School in 2006. She won the Best Screenplay Award at the German Film Festival in Ludwigshafen in 2013 for the feature film Offside Trap, which was screened at festivals, the European Parliament and at trade union events.

The Vintage Springtime Club is her first novel. A German television adaptation was broadcast in spring 2015. Beatrice Meier lives and works in Strasbourg.

Can you tell us a little bit about your debut novel The Vintage Springtime Club?
Good stories often begin with an amusing or funny incident. Ricarda, a sixty-year-old therapist, bumps into her old friend Philip, who's just returned from thirty-five years with Médecins Sans Frontières in Africa. Ricarda tells Philip that she is in the process of moving out of her house for a few months (ongoing repairs) – but she has nowhere to go. 

Philip, who was Ricarda’s one-time love at university, suggests that Ricarda joins him as his flatmate – in his new flatshare. Unsurprisingly, Philip is taken aback when she says yes. Why? Because he made the whole thing up to get her back in his life. 

Philip quickly scrambles together three other retirees: his old friend Harry – all but politically correct; discreet Eckart – curiously carting around his late wife's gravestone; and last but not least there’s lively and vivacious Uschi. 

This is the start of a real adventure: five retirees with their idiosyncrasies, hopes, wounds. There are friendships and relationships to form; they will need humour in order to deal with the challenges that they will inevitably encounter.  

I liked the idea that a man would set up a flatshare to be close to the woman he always loved. And I liked the idea that this spirited club of friends could be suddenly thrown together.  Overall, I always try to find the comic potential in the small everyday dramas.

Where did the inspiration come from to write a group of retirees rather than say a group of thirty-somethings?
I think post-retirement is an exciting and decisive age. Despite a certain melancholia about the loss of youth, it is actually a crucial turning point in life: working life is nearing an end and children are on their own path. So if you want to reorganize your life and have a fresh start then this period is all about it being: 'now or never'. 

The first seed of inspiration for The Vintage Springtime Club was probably an evening spent with my friends. We regularly discuss the issue of how we would want to live at a later age. All of us can imagine living together one day.

How did the title come about?
The title was suggested by my editor at Little, Brown Books (my publisher in the UK). My book was originally written in German. I like the title a lot. It's fresh with a touch of sentimentality and nostalia. You recall friendship, love and the blossoming (or re-blossoming) of life. Very nice.

If you had to describe The Vintage Springtime Club in one sentence, what would it be?
It's never too late for a new adventure – despite all the difficulties. Or, to put it in the words of one of the more colourful characters in the novel (leotard-wearing, aerobics obsessive Uschi): ‘The shit of today is the fertilizer of tomorrow.’

Do you think your experience as a scriptwriter helped with the writing/editing process of writing a full-length novel?
Yes, particularly in terms of drama, dialogue and the simple facts of knowing how to begin and finish a story. 

It was quite liberating to write prose. Suddenly I could deal with all the backstories and thoughts and doubts of my characters. It is always a little bit frustrating for a scriptwriter because you have to know your characters’ backstories but you can’t always put them in the script. Another interesting thing was being able to write from the perspective of more than one character: I choose to write every chapter from the point of view of another person in the flatshare. It was fun to explore how every flatmate had their own view of events. 

Did you treat yourself to something special to celebrate your publishing deal?
To be honest I was too much in awe and too moved to celebrate it. In the beginning I enjoyed it very quietly. It's such a long way to imagine a story, to write it down and then to convince people to publish you. I really love British culture so I just felt an enormous honour and deep gratefulness when I heard it was going to be published in the UK. 

Finally have you anything exciting planned for publication day?
You know what? I decided to celebrate it with all of my senses. I'll start with an English breakfast. In the afternoon I'll have tea with my colleagues, and in the evening I'll invite some good friends (who have supported me for all these years) for a French ‘apéro’ with British music, an Irish stew and a good Scottish whiskey. 

Newly retired Philip returns home to Cologne and is thrown into emotional turmoil upon bumping into his long-lost sweetheart. In the midst of a domestic crisis, Ricarda confides in Philip that she is looking for somewhere to live. And there and then, Philip suggests that she move in with him - he is setting up a flatshare. Will she join him with his mischievous dachshund named Ralf?

To his surprise, Ricarda agrees, leaving Philip to scramble together a crew of retires in time for spring, for the most unlikely of social experiments. There's grumpy cigarette-smoking grandfather Harry; quiet and discreet Eckart, curiously carting around his late wife's headstone; Uschi, brimming with life, harbouring a passion for leotards and aerobics, along with sausages and outrageous knitting patterns; and then, ever-practical and warm-hearted Ricarda, towards whom Phillip is developing real feelings.

Despite their differences, the flatmates thrive and embark on a series of new adventures. But when Uschi falls unwell, familiar cracks begin to show and this uniquely spirited club of friends must work together in order to survive - and truly blossom.

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