I have two of them. I was born in the Sauerland, here I go to celebrate Christmas and the rifle club’s fair. Apart from the holidays, I have my life in Tübingen, an intellectual world heritage site and a hometown to feel refined. Taking the ownership of books per head as a basis, Tübingen is Germany’s most educated city. On top of this, its university is more than 500 years old. Here I find for even the most complicated question an expert who cannot wait to answer it.
When I was a child I wanted to do the same as my father. He had a shop, selling beds. Then, however, I came to witness a conversation between him and two unknown men who talked about their work. The first of them explained, that he specialised in insurances. The next one replied, he specialised in wire. Then it was my father’s turn. “And I do it in beds”, he said. That was the moment when I decided to become a writer instead.
A little bit of it can do no harm if one wants to write novels. After all, my stories are not set in some fantasy realm, but in a concrete reality, which a writer should know so well that his characters can move around in it convincingly. But at least as important as factual knowledge is knowledge of human nature. And where that is concerned I have graduated from the best school one could wish for: from my parents’ bed shop. While conducting sales talks in a bedroom one comes to know people with all their preferences and quirks incredibly quickly. I am still benefitting from it today.
Of course my studies have formed my relationship with literature. But theory and practice are two different things. A bird is able to fly, but it has no clue about ornithology. On the other hand, not even the most perfect ornithologist will ever be able to rise himself up into the air. This is supposed to mean: If you have studied literature, that doesn’t enable you to write books. It has much more to do with your own personality than with your choice of subject, with the questions you ask about life, with your interest in other people and their stories.
Of course, research is a huge part of my work. I visit the places where my novels are set, I meet up with different experts, and I bury myself within libraries. But that is no burden to me, it is lust, because I learn so much while I am doing it. The publishers like it as well, as it is me who pays for the expenses. And then there is this most important research that comes at no financial expenses at all: The one in the dark rooms of my soul. It costs only nerves.
I thank them almost everything, which is good in my life – from the women who gave birth to me, to the woman who shares my life and the woman our daughter has turned into and who hopefully will present us with grandchildren one day. And last but not least to the women in my novels who earn a living for my family and me.
Writers are people who write about what interests them most. And I always found women more interesting than men. Not only in life, in novels as well. “Real” men act determinedly, consequently, logically. How boring! Women, however are – positively spoken – much more ambivalent, chaotic, emotional. They make life thrilling and colourful. Therefore they are born novel characters.
This was the only sandwich filler I accepted as a child. Because my grandfather always used to say, one should only trust the butcher who eats his own liver sausage – and that was what our butcher did. That is probably the reason why I am still writing my own books according to the liver sausage principle – I write only books, which I would like to read myself.
„... it is kitsch, when the reader is crying.” If this definition by a famous colleague whose name I have forgotten is anything to go by then I like to produce kitsch. Tears are the most beautiful compliment a reader can make me. For example the tears, which an 85-year-old woman cried while reading my novel The Amber Amulet (Das Bernstein Amulett). The novel, so she told my over the phone, mirrored her own life during the separation of Germany – “apart from the sex scenes” she added emphatically.
My own one was a bit out-dated. Although the great success of Oswald Kolle fell into my puberty, my mother supplied me with a brochure by a Jesuit priest. Of course, something like that leaves a mark. In my case, the mark was a dissertation thesis on The Rise and Fall of the Erotic Libertinage. And a novel. The Philosopher’s Kiss, a story about the genesis of the most important book of the French Enlightenment, the „Encyclopédie“ by Diderot and d´Alembert.
I never saw it as a child – the Prange family did not spend their holidays in Rimini, but in Eckernförde. And yet, Italy was the land of my dreams. Because the horse I did my riding test with was called “Florence”. When the gelding died and was buried, my love for Italy came to a standstill for three and a half decades – and it was only in the Holy Year 2000, when on Piazza Navona in Rome I had the initial idea for my The Principessa, that it woke up again. This initial idea came to me from the Holy Spirit in person – that is from my agent Roman Hocke. Next to the Fountain of the Four Rivers, he told me about the rivalry between the two great architects and sculptors of the Baroque age, Bernini and Borromini. He spoke with such enthusiasm that I simply had to turn it into a novel. I hope, “Florence” will forgive me.
„Aut delectare aut prodesse volunt poetae - poets want either to entertain or to delight …” It is for this old-fashioned reason I write historical novels. Because in spite of all changes our lives are undertaking, the relevant motivating powers of mankind will always be the same: Love, Hate, Beauty, Jealousy and so on. But that alone does not make a story from history worth reading. What is important is if it still has some meaning for us today, if it reflects us in our self-understanding. If a writer succeeds in this it was worth all the effort.
They give direction and sense to life. That is what I once claimed in my guidance book 7 Ways into Failure (7 Wege zum Misserfolg). And then I realised that I was so busy making money that I was about to desert my greatest dream so far: To write the story of a family in Germany, as a symbol for the separated nation, from the breakthrough to re-unification. Thank God my conscience caught up with me: Life is too short to waste it on making money. Therefore, I finally lent an ear to my own guidance book wisdom and wrote The Amber Amulet (Das Bernstein-Amulett).
They are still going on. For example when my novel The Amber Amulet (Das Bernstein-Amulett) was made into a film and then as a “film book” finally received its raison d’être. Ovid would have loved it!
“It is art, if you are not able, because if you are able, it is no longer art.”