How would you describe Hamburg and the Kiez to the readers who have no impression of this wonderful city?
Hamburg is foremost a seaport, which are usually a bit grimier than other cities, but also extremely cosmopolitan. Hamburg is a modern city full of libertines – maybe not as much as Berlin, but a lot more laid back. All of that is even more localised on St. Pauli: the harbour, the sincerity, the freedom. Add a dash of insanity, red light district and cosiness. I’d say the Kiez is more like a colourful village than a district.
Blue Night has a lot of different characters from many nations, no matter if cops, criminals or just normal people. Why do you think these various cultures live so well together in Hamburg compared to other places?
I’d say again that is due to Hamburg’s ancient status as a seaport. People here – and especially on St. Pauli – have been used to people coming here from any corner of the world for centuries. And some have always stayed. People have automatically learned to think outside the box and to get along with others. I think the St. Paulians enjoy contact with interesting people. I also wanted to depict the world a bit like I want it to be or how it is for me. I am married to an Italian, I have lots of Turkish friends and neighbours and the school of my son is filled with kids whose parents are from France, Spain, Hong Kong, Russia, Turkey, Yemen. My life is filled with diverse cultures. I guess that’s one of the reasons I feel at home in London. I love hearing different languages on one table.
You use a very clever stylistic device in Blue Night, managing to give the readers a lot of information about the emotions and the backgrounds of the characters with very short passages. Was that something you’ve picked up from another novel or did you think of that?
I thought of that while I was writing the book. Blue Night is already the sixth part of the Chas Riley series and with Blue Night I changed publishers. I needed to come up with a trick to tell new readers about the characters without being too boring and tedious.
Every author has got the biographies of their characters memorised so I thought I’d write that down. But the books are told from Riley’s perspective and it wouldn’t have worked like that and so I let each character tell their own story. I was surprised how well that actually worked in the end. Since then I’ve been letting different characters have their say in my books. It allows me the possibility to vary the tone and the form of the story.
Your debut was published when you were in your thirties though you had been working as a journalist before. Did you always wanted to write books? And why the crime genre?
My first book was published in Germany in 2008, I was thirty-six then. I hadn’t seen a possibility to make a living with writing books before and I never wanted to be a hobby writer. I either do things right or not at all.
I’ve always wanted to write since I was a young woman but I was very happy with my job for journals and magazines. I learned a lot there, tried different things, found my voice. I always liked the certain tone of crime novels. I love Chandler, Hemingway, Dorothy Parker, I like the lean, clear voices of these authors. And dark stories fit that style better. I can’t imagine ever doing anything else again. I shine a light into the darkest corners of society, showing the readers there are real people in that darkness. That’s interesting and I am contributing to civil society, which I always find important.
I found an article about the drug krok mentioned in your book. I had never heard about it and had first thought you had made it up for the story. Is krok still a thing? The side effetcs sound horrifying.
Krok hasn’t made its way to the western world, it’s not interesting enough for the big dealers because the consumers are dead in a matter of two years. It shows up every now and then in the Eastern part of Germany because it’s very cheap and easy to cook up. But I heard it’s a big thing in Russian prisons. It was very hard getting any information about this drug because it’s such a far out, fucked up mixture.
Are your protagonists/antagonists based on people you know in real life?
Riley’s circle of friends is laced with my own. Klatsche, for example, is based on a former football player from the FC St. Pauli, an old friend of mine, who even played footie for a British club later in his career. The cops that I personally know are an influence for my police characters. Even the antagonists I write about are often based on people I met, which doesn’t necessarily mean they are criminals. It’s enough to be a disgusting capitalist to be featured in my books.
Are there any plans for a movie or telly series about Chas Riley?
I think my characters are too unruly for Germany television, that is in large parts very very boring. I am waiting for the BBC to give me a call.
Your writing is very entertaining. Is that a part you brought over from the time you wrote your column?
Maybe it’s about what I learned as a journalist: If you want your texts to be enjoyed they can’t be boring. Writing columns is surely a very good training because you have to pack a lot of information into a very limited text.
For all the readers who have read Blue Night and now want to visit Hamburg next, do you have a few insider tips?
The Northern part of St. Pauli between the Reeperbahn and the Millentorstadium is a fun, colourful community with lots of little shops, restaurants and bars, just like the Karolinenquarter behind the halls of the trade fair. Everyone into cheap beer and singing along to the jukebox should visit the Silbersack, an institution on the Kiez. The ones who like it on the independent side should visit the Nachthafen. You get the best fish buns at the Brücke10 at the jetties. The best view of the harbour, a beach and the best potato salad to go with a beer you get at the Strandperle in Övelgönne.