The other side of the world

DSC09985It was a typical winter’s day on the harbour at Bremen, Germany on the 27th of November, 1964. There was an icy cold wind that stung any exposed skin and gnawed right through to the bone.

The ‘Flavia’ pulled out from the dock and struck a steady course towards the line of the horizon as if even the boat was keen to head to warmer climes.

Ilse Hopfengärtner stood on board the liner watching as her home country receded into the distance. She had chosen this when she had chosen her new husband, Heinz. He had arrived back in their small home town with stories of the warm wide welcoming land of Australia and his plans to return there to live. They had been married a matter of months later to secure a twin-berth on the ship, with Ilse’s parents having to give permission because she was not yet twenty-one years old. But the excitement of the adventure was tinged with trepidation as the only place where she knew the language, the culture, the lifestyle disappeared, slowly blending into the fuzzy line of the horizon. She was heading to the other side of the world.

Two years. She’d promised Heinz she’d stay for two years. He’d promised to bring her back if she really wanted to go home after that. It was four years later that they returned to Germany for a holiday and both knew by the end of it that ‘home’ was now on the either side of the world.

They lived in Melbourne, then moved to Queensland’s Sunshine Coast, back when there was only one set of traffic lights in Maroochydore. They raised two Australian children. It was really no surprise when their daughter, aged nearly twenty-one headed overseas for adventure. It was ostensibly to meet all of the German relatives and it was by plane rather than boat. But it still mirrored the journey Ilse and Heinz had taken nearly thirty years earlier.

Here’s where this becomes my story. I am the sometimes-wayward child, the Australian daughter of German migrants. I grew up knowing once my education was finished, I would head over to Germany to meet my family and see where my parents came from.

Both of my parents grew up in the town of Dinkelsbühl. It is one of those picture- perfect medieval towns, with a wall around it and crooked streets of cobblestones inside. My parents had told me stories about their childhood, about growing up in a small town, surrounded by family, where everyone knew who you belonged to. Before travelling to Germany, my idea of ‘family’ consisted of my parents and a brother. I had fifteen uncles and aunts and also fifteen cousins, most of whom I met for the first time. There was so much to catch up on, two family histories to absorb.

I then travelled further afield. I ended up using Germany as a base for international travels. Despite my mother’s fears that I would find love on the other side of the world as she had, I did return home after several years, once again making the Sunshine Coast home. I settled down and started a family of my own, a second generation of Australians.

Last week, I returned to Dinkelsbühl. It’s now been over fifty years since my grandmother hugged her youngest daughter, my mother, in the lounge room of the family home and begged her not to go to the wilds of Australia. My grandparents have long since passed away but my aunt and cousin still live at Wörnitzstraße 5, where my mum grew up. It has changed surprisingly little since last century. The house itself is hundreds of years old, the bricks themselves holding on to times past and keeping the memories in. Somehow it affects me. This history is my history, memories that aren’t mine seeping out through the floorboards and creeping into my bones.

In the twenty years since I was last in Germany, I’ve become an author. My first book has been published in German as ‘Die Hatz’ now and I went there to meet my publisher and publicise the book. My uncle took me to the bookshop in Dinkelsbühl where the proprietor has run the store for decades. Aged 83 now, he peered into my eyes and back through the years, to remember my parents when they were half my age. How strange then, to sign copies of my book for him, set in Australia and translated into German.

I have always been proudly Australian, quick to point out my foreign name did not mean I wasn’t born here. But my family history is part of me. I feel an intimate connection with this town on the other side of the world.

DSC09999

 

Advertisements

A foreign opportunity

DSC09870.JPG

This box is waiting for me at my aunt’s house in Germany.

Exciting times. Today is my first international book release. ‘A Time To Run’ is released as ‘Die Hatz’ (The Hunt) in Germany through Piper Verlag. And it’s double the celebration. Not only is it my first foreign territory but both of my parents are German. They were nearly more excited than me when I told them the book would be published in their native language, and their brothers and sisters would be able to buy it at their local bookstores.

As I am bilingual, I decided to try to seize this opportunity and make the most of it. I have spent many hours writing content in German and trying to make some online contacts for publicity. And in about two weeks time, I am making a flying visit to Germany to meet my publisher and try to do a little publicity. I was extremely fortunate to secure a Regional Arts Development Fund grant through my local Sunshine Coast Council program, to assist with the costs. I’m also fortunate that my hubby is fully supportive of this plan and will take control of the work/kids/household juggle for a couple of weeks.

There was also a bit of a snowball effect. The book will be released in Spanish on May 17 through Ediciones B. When I told the editor at Ediciones B that I was coming to Germany, she invited me to come and visit her in Spain. So my German trip will include a side trip to Barcelona.

My head is spinning. My stomach is churning. I don’t want to stuff this up.

The thing is, writing is still a hobby for me. It must be. As a mid-list writer in Australia, it is impossible to pay the bills with proceeds from books. The population is too small. The competition for a reader’s dollar is too big. If you sell 5000 copies of your book in Australia, it is considered a bestseller. With a writer usually getting about 10% of the recommended retail price, you can quickly get an idea of what a writer’s finances look like. That’s why I’m still a police officer. The pay is much better, my family lives comfortably. But I dream of quitting, of being a writer and paying the bills as well.

Breaking into the foreign market can make a big difference for me. If the book sells well in Germany and Spain, the publishers will hopefully buy subsequent novels. Other European countries will be more likely to buy the books if they can see sales in neighbouring territories. There is a big potential here. Can I capitalise on this optimistic beginning? Will I crack book markets bigger than Australia? I’m about to find out. Wish me luck.

SCC_2014_Linear_CMYK

 

The trouble with the sequel

IMG_5165My second novel is called ‘A Mother’s Work’ as in the saying ‘a mother’s work is never done.” And that’s the way it made me feel. As of yesterday, the manuscript rests in the lap of my publisher. I gave it a metaphorical pat on the head then booted it out on its own.

Part of me is proud. I actually wrote a second book. It is close to the 80,000 words I was shooting for. It has a sound plot with several twists. It is plausible from a police procedural point of view. I can do this. I can write books.

But part of me absolutely shitting myself. My first story took about three years from when I started writing it to when it went to print (any day now!). The story itself was bouncing around inside my head for a lot longer than that. By the time I actually sat down at a keyboard, it had already been thought through and nutted out. I consistently typed over 1,000 words an hour. Would have been even faster if I could touch type.

During that time, I also took courses, I read widely – things like writing blogs and crime novels – and I sought advice. The manuscript was handed round, edited, and improved on as the result of comments from an agent, a publisher and an editor. It was read and re-read and re-jigged and polished and nurtured and loved. By the time it was picked up by Pan Macmillan, they decided it didn’t even need a structural edit.

On the other hand, the sequel has spent its existence scuttling around behind more important things. I started writing it to distract myself from all the waiting as agents and publishers read and contemplated my first manuscript. And then all of a sudden my debut novel was bought and the sequel along with it. It had an April 30 deadline and they had already paid me some money for it. I had to finish it.

So it was completed on the fly, whilst I juggled the extensive editing of my first novel, plus all the extras requested off me – social media and photos and biographical info. Oh, and then I still had to go to my day job, and my family wants feeding every single day.

I’ve sent off with a bunch of disclaimers. As a manuscript, it is vastly inferior to the first. I know it has errors – big ones like plot holes as well as little ones like people’s names changing halfway through the story. I’ve had a red-hot go, but a snappy six months of broken writing with a looming deadline is just not the same.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not whinging. I wanted this. But can I do this? Was the first one a fluke? Will this one need three years work too? Or am I a writer?

I’m going to find out in due course. But right now you’ll have to excuse me – I have to go start book three…