Where we come from

Time travel into the future is all very well, but for people who disregard their past and where they come from, travelling in space and time will rarely be a character-forming or mind-altering experience.

Where we come from as writers – physically, emotionally, spiritually and philosophically – determines very much what type of writers we will be and what genre we might be best at – or at the very least enjoy writing in that particular genre.

An urban dweller, who grew up in a vast, sprawling metropolis, might be best placed to write urban fantasy fiction, while a country pumpkin will be more likely to weave nature and village life into the fabric of their stories – or would they?

I was born in the historic city of Lübeck in Northern Germany. A city with so much history – and so many famous literary names to its credit – is a strange place for a child with a writer’s imagination to grow up in. It is often hard as a teenager to see beyond the medieval façade, the walled fortifications, the ancient turrets and half-timbered beauty. When we are young, such a place feels like a stale environment, a prison of sorts.

Small, provincial towns that are still resting on the laurels of their golden days, when the likes of Heinrich and Thomas Mann or Willy Brandt used them as background to their creative output, can turn a young person into a keen observer of the faintly ridiculous…the pretentious teachers with literary ambitions, the rich landlord with political aspirations that would put Heinrich Mann‘s Untertan to shame, the salesman with the dream of building a mansion for his family that could rival those of Thomas Mann’s fictional Buddenbrooks any day.

I feel more comfortable writing about things I know intimately – although there are no limits to my writer’s imagination and no restrictions other than my own laziness to do research. Village life and growing up in antiquated, provincial townships is something that I can write about without thinking.

Oddly, the many years I worked in London, that vast, sprawling metropolis, don’t seem to come into my writing very often. Since I equate London with the unhappiest time of my life, I guess it’s a place I like to forget, despite the fact that there is such rich fodder for writing satire…bearing in mind I worked in magazine publishing and later in advertising sales, both areas that attract some oddballs and eccentrics.

Deutsch: Altstadt von Lübeck

Deutsch: Altstadt von Lübeck (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Where we come from must have considerable influence on our writing, no matter how much we want to create a fantasy world with goblins or spaceships or distant alien planets. Philip Pullman’s Dark Materials seem at their best when he describes rural landscapes and isolated figures in them or the Oxford college buildings he knows so well – but he seems less at ease describing urban alien realms or polar bear kingdoms. Some writers, like Colin Dexter or Reginald Hill, simply stick to the place they know best, the place they’ve lived in all or part of their lives.

In my first German language crime novel I’m combining two small towns into one fictional, provincial seaside town in Kent. Writing about what I know best, remembering where I come from, looking forward to where I want to go, meanwhile heading sideways like a crab, then forward and back again like a seagull turning over seashells at the beach…is my very own, unlimited way of travelling in time and space.

The small world of “Mumsgate” is therefore peopled with many of the slightly eccentric characters I’ve encountered over the years, while living in small towns and villages. I’m less interested in police procedure in the years of WWII or indeed the actual solving of the murder; instead, I’m trying to get to the heart of the relationship between my main characters, Inspector Beagle and his trusted Sergeant Beanstalk, and how solving murders in the middle of a world war raging all around them influences their lives and outlook on crime in general.

The fact that this German author is writing about life in provincial England in the 1940s – in the German language – is just further proof that we do have a sense of humour 🙂

12 thoughts on “Where we come from

  1. Your home town sounds just up my street. Okay, which one am I – Inspector Beagle or Sergeant Beanstalk? Don’t say none of them or I won’t play any more – you know how I am a detective in my mind.

        • Sorry, there’s no cat in my novel. Monty’s very contrary. He’s an elderly beagle who makes life for Inspector Beagle and Sergeant Beanstalk very difficult. Monty’s lady owner gets murdered and Monty moves into the police station to join the hunt for the killer.

          • Just think, you get a tail to wag with and teeth to bite with, too. One of these days I must translate the story where Monty comes into Inspector Beagle’s life (Dogs don’t Lie is the title).

          • Goodness, I didn’t know you learned German at school – I’ll have to watch what I write about Monty now:)

            I hated school and thought it mostly a waste of time. Would have been better off being schooled at home with my gran.

          • I’m afraid I started learning it at 14 and was so bored and fed up with school that I didn’t listen to any of the German lessons, which was a bit stupid as it was one of my choices. So, I am ashamed to say, I know a few words only. I think that is why I didn’t want Will to go through the same experience. Did you love being with your gran?

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