Interview with Zora del Buono on Gotthard (2015)


Picture by, and Copyrights of, Lisa Nalven

Zora del Buono is a Swiss author, born in Zurich in 1962. She graduated with a degree in architecture from ETH Zurich in 1990 and worked as an architect until 1996. That same year she co-founded mare – Zeitschrift der Meere ( — a magazine covering maritime topics that are both journalistic and historic. She published her first novel Canitz’ Verlangen in 2008. The magazine 12 Swiss Books listed her fourth novel Gotthard as one of the best twelve Swiss books of 2016. Gotthard tells the stories of different people brought together by the construction of the Gotthard tunnel. Workers, prostitutes, cooks, and even a train lover — all of them from different parts of the world — meet and establish interesting and unusual relationships. Each of the characters in Gotthard reveals his or her problems and most intimate thoughts on women, marriage, men, and professional relationships. All these reflections are defined by the characters’ own personal connection to the Gotthard tunnel. In this interview, Zora del Buono discusses issues of culture and identity, architectural experiences, and the unexpected turns our lives can take through architecture.


Zora, you are an architect and a writer. How did you shift from building to writing?

After I studied architecture in Zurich, I went to Berlin before the wall fell, which actually did fall after finishing my studies. I worked in a small, all-female office. My job revolved around design, and I spent a lot of time on construction sites. I liked the smell of concrete. I did that for five years, and then I took a postgraduate course on film design. After that, I started a magazine. My first story was on a home for retired sailors in Italy. That was the beginning of my writing: I found many topics in that place. I think it was my architectural work in a mostly male domain that inspired me, as well as that report. So I began to write. In the sailors’ home, I was able to observe hierarchies and different classes, which are important themes in not just my first, but in all of my books. Gotthard is a working-class novel, whereas many stories today are set in offices.

In Gotthard you articulate the narrative around an architectural space: the construction of a tunnel. Was that a conscious choice? Do you construct your novels in this way?

Writing and construction are similar: you start with a blank sheet of paper and in the end, you have a book; like a house that you built. The rhythm of the novel is very similar to the construction process itself: everything happens in a consecutive order.

When I gave a reading of my first book, no one had heard of me, only my friends were there. One of them was a worker. Everyone else was an intellectual, or highly educated. We sat around the table, and that blue-collar friend of mine started talking about working in the tunnel. He said: “When you put your hand on the rock, it’s too hot to keep it there, especially because scorching water emerges from it.” Everyone stopped talking and listened to him. We talked about the tunnel, and I remember thinking “This is great!” He knew about life inside that darkness, where it’s hot and humid. In fact, it’s unbearable. Then I thought: “I need to go ahead and tell his story. He can’t write a book, so I’m going to do it for him.” The Gotthard tunnel is the longest in the world. It’s the third tunnel to run below the mountain range. The first one—also a railway tunnel—was built over a hundred years ago. It was very important for Northern Europe because it was a means of connecting to Italy – to the sun, and to the sea. Almost two hundred people died during the construction. It was unimaginably hard work. Today, there is sophisticated technology, but it’s still hard work. It fascinates me because it’s entirely different from building a house or a bridge.

 The tunnel seems to function as a place where people from many different countries in Europe and professions meet. Is the tunnel something more than a simple tunnel?

Of course! It’s a place where different cultures clash. My intention was to show people from different countries working together. The metaphorical aspect of the tunnel has something to do with everyone’s dark side. The characters in Gotthard experience surprises because they don’t know everything about the project (the tunnel), and things happen unexpectedly. In the same way, we think we know ourselves well, but then we surprise ourselves. There are secrets, like the murder. This, however, doesn’t turn the novel into a thriller: it remains something different. And I wanted to tell the process of how things suddenly turn into something different: how in the end you find out the bad secret, and everything comes out as an eruption. The tunnel and the stone are fixed and hard for years but still something can break.

 All characters have a different relationship with the tunnel: some hate it and some love it. Does the tunnel have an emotional function as well?

Yes; during my research about the tunnel, I realized that the guys really loved their job. It’s hard manual labor, but when they’re done, they have something to admire. But these men also cry inside the tunnel because they spend hours there, and it‘s so dark and hot. These men really are a physical part of the rock. That means that they have a really strong body too. Everything happens inside the tunnel: it’s hard work, but they also feel protected. I once wrote an article about a journey from Southampton to New York on the Queen Elizabeth 2. There was a woman there who was part of the cleaning staff, and she felt like she was part of the ship because she felt safe inside of it. She didn’t go ashore to go shopping or do other things. I think the tunnels are a little bit like that: you can be in a relationship with them. That can be a good relationship or a bad one. That’s why I created the eight characters. Everyone has a different relationship with the tunnel.

 For Robert Filz, the tunnel is a sign of masculinity. And indeed the tunnel seems to represent a male world. But there are women in your novel too. What is the function of women in this atmosphere?

The first tunnel was built in 1875. People came to the mountains and there was nothing: everything had to be done. Men came to work, and women went there to clean and cook. That community turned into a little village. They even had prostitutes! Women and men need each other. For example, they have female nicknames for the machines, like Gabi I. Men construct their own female universe. Many of the men don’t want women in the tunnel. Except for Saint Barbara, their patron saint and good luck charm. They have statues of her down there. Everyone adores her, especially the Catholic men. And yet, they think it’s bad luck to share the tunnel with women, like on a ship. But men don’t just need women for sex, but also to feel protected. At the local bar, I met women who were nice and rough at the same time. They were harsh and like big mothers. And then, you have all these prostitutes from South America, lots of them. One of the guys married one of them. After so many years in the village, you have a lot of relationships. It’s a really complex social system that has nothing to do with the average society. I met one girl, a cleaning lady, who made herself ugly on purpose because she didn’t want any attention from the men she was cleaning for.

 The description of Fritz Bergundthal’s flat back in Berlin looks like the tunnel: it is dark with no windows. Is Fritz’s life meant to be a tunnel?

I wanted to portray an outsider coming in. Fritz is not involved in the construction of the tunnel. His hobby is taking pictures of trains. I wanted to show somebody who’s different: Fritz is stuck in a meticulous routine. Everything has to be on schedule. He‘s an accountant; his whole life is about numbers. For him, the freedom to go see the Gotthard tunnel is a big adventure. But he doesn’t expect to get involved in something bigger than that, in something criminal. A lot of people have a desire to get out of their regular lives. They are fascinated by impure lives, but they don’t allow themselves to act on it. All the characters in Gotthard experience change. I wanted to show that every life can be interrupted and changed completely. It’s a big change for Fritz. The workers in the tunnel are much more hands-on people by far, while he leads an abstract life that revolves around money and numbers. He loves trains, which bring you to see the world. Trains are great because they take you to faraway places, but they run on tracks. You know where you’re going; you’re safe. That’s the opposite of a ship, for example. Fritz would never go on a ship. Trains are all he can do. At the end of the novel, the question is: can I take the next step?

Gotthard is going to be performed in the stage next January. Are you involved in the production and adaption?

The composer and the actor wanted to get to know me, and so I had a number of conversations with them. But I’m not in charge of the play by any means. It’s a musical theatre. So far, the Glauser Quintet has only performed the plays of Swiss author Friedrich Glauser. Gotthard is the first one by a contemporary author. With their music and lyrics, the ensemble creates its very own atmosphere, which has a lot do with sounds and emotions. I agree that the construction of the tunnel, with its noise and darkness, makes for a very good show. Adding the connotations of a charged, sexualized atmosphere can create a dense and exciting piece, I’m sure. The first performance will be in Zurich in January. I will not have seen any of it by then, so I’ll just go and be surprised.


Interview with Hanne Ørstavik

hanne-orstavikThe Blue Room is Hanne Ørstavik’s first novel translated into English by Peirene Press in 2014. Ørstavik is a well-established Norwegian author with almost 15 novels published. Her work has been translated into 15 languages, and she received the Dobloug and Brague Prizes in 2002 and 2004 respectively. The Blue Room tells the story of a mother and daughter – Johanne – in her early twenties in an apartment in Oslo. Although the author did not wish to make any extensive comments and interpretations about her novel, The Blue Room invites the reader to reflect on family relationships, feelings of possession, control, sexual submission and religion.

Johanne is concerned about making her mother happy. This seems to lead Johanne into a depending relationship with her mother: she’s not totally free from her. What do you think of this attitude of Johanne?

Are we ever free from each other? Do we want to be? I think the crucial issue for Johanne is her inability to trust herself. She doesn’t have a sense of who she is, she doesn’t know what is real – the original title of the novel is “As true as I am real”: it is a triangle between identity/self, truth and reality. She has not divided herself from the mother, they are still mingled up inside her. Is what I think, the truth, or is what mother says? Those are her questions.

Does Johanne’s mother blackmail Johanne emotionally?

I think they are both unconscious of their relationship. Maybe, then, there is some kind of emotional immaturity in Johanne’s mother as she cannot really see the consequences of her feelings?

Can a mother be selfish?

I think that the interesting point is the deep and unconscious need which drives these actions. To see someone as selfish is to see them from far away. People do what they do to meet needs. So, in this novel, what are the needs of the mother?

So the mother is concerned about her own needs? And these needs would be to have her daughter with her?

Her needs are complex: she is unaware of them. They can be contradictory, like wanting to have her daughter at home and wanting her to go at the same time. She doesn’t know. And we don’t know when we read the novel. These questions are generated by the novel. I want to keep them open, not answer them. I want the reader to have these questions moving inside her when she reads.

Johanne defines her mother as her best friend. This is an expression that is out there nowadays, being your children’s best friend. But does this lead to an unhealthy relationship between parents and children? Shouldn’t parents be parents?

I think the relationship between parents and children is so deep and intertwined, and with multiple facets. We are always children ourselves, also as parents. We see this in dreams. And language is also blurry, in movement, it’s an action. I think that saying to a parent ‘you are my best friend’ can be one of many candid and impulsive ways of saying I love you, you are close to me.

But when Johanne says it in the novel it seems like a lie, or a futile hope, and it hurts to read, doesn’t it? – because as a reader we see that there is a distance between her words and what the novel tells us about her reality: her mother doesn’t help her by mirroring her back to herself so that she can see herself. And isn’t that what a real friend does?

It is interesting that you mention that Johanne does not mean her words when she tells her mother is her best friend. This is maybe because this ‘best friend’ kind of relationship with her mother is destructive for Johanne herself and she acts somehow defensively?

I can’t really comment more on this.

In which ways does the relationship of Johanne with her mother impacts on Johanne’s relationships with men?

There is not much space for Johanne to have relationships outside the mother-daughter dyad. She is caught inside it; her mother is in a way still always present, even when she is not there.

Maybe the mother handicaps Johanne’s development as woman: the incapacity to break out with her mother and build her own life?

Karin doesn’t want Johanne to leave for the US, like her mother. Are Karin and the mother other kind of blue rooms where Johanne is trapped in?

Good question. I think we are always trapped in each other. It can also be a good thing.

Johanne has very disturbing thoughts. She imagines sadomasochist scenes with imaginary people. What does this tell us about her? Is it fear, insecurity, or something else?

These were images that came when I was writing, and I knew they belonged in the novel. But I didn’t write them with a specific purpose or thought. They were pictures from Johanne’s domain, and they are open for the reader, as they are open for me. Well maybe Johanne is really trapped into some kind of abusive relationship, which originates in the mother.

How does this kind of imagination and Johanne’s strong religiosity live together?

That is one of the questions the novel raises. It’s up to the reader to decide.

 Johanne imagines sexual scenes in quite a tormenting way. What is it with sex?

I think this has to be seen in the context of the whole novel, also in the relationship with her mother. Sex is a mute language that says many things at the same time because it talks for the person through the body, and we often have conflicting, complex needs. It can depict both longing and shame simultaneously.

Johanne also fantasizes being sexually submissive with Ivar. She imagines him hitting her before sex. Why?

I want that to be open to the reader to define.

Maybe your novella explores the idea that after all women long for submission? Or is this submission a consequence of Johanne’s relationship with her mother?

That is one possible way to read the novel. But to me it is not a novel about a longing for submission.

Your novella describes a domestic space without a male figure. This is in line with other contemporary works, such as Véronique Olmi’s Au bord du mer (2001), where the mother decides to kill her two children because of the hardship they are going through. What do you think about the absence of the father at home?

The blue room is a very concentrated novel, it takes place in one morning, with backflashes to the last two weeks of Johannes life, when she met Ivar. The father in this novel is irrelevant. As I see it, The Blue Room is exploring the ambiguity of being locked in against one’s own will, and yet the lack of possibility to break out. This impossibility is at one level practical: she’s on the fourth floor, she can’t just jump out. But also here we see the ambiguity: she could have opened the window and called for help. She could have done something, but she doesn’t. A forthcoming image in the novel is Johanne feeling as if her back is about to break. She lacks force, strength. This is the other level of impossibility in the novel, this inner emptiness. There is no I to break out with.

But could you try to think more specifically about the absence of the father at home? Is this a contemporary issue? Is this unconsciously depicted as a bad thing after all? In the context of the novella, maybe a father figure would had helped Johanne to get some distance from the mother?

All these questions are good questions. I’m interested in questions. I have few answers. I know nothing about contemporary issues, nor do I have general thoughts about the father in the home. I write my novels. They are an open field where questions like these can be discussed. They are open. You make your own thoughts, your own questions, as you read.

Interview with Meike Ziervogel on Clara’s Daughter (2014)


MeikeZiervogel_portrait4_rbMeike Ziervogel (1967) grew up in Germany and came to Britain in 1986 to study Arabic language and literature. She is the founder and owner of the London based publishing house Peirene Press. In 2013 she started her career as fiction writer with the novel Magda, which was listed as one of the books of the year 2013 by the Observer and Irish Times. Magda explores the story of Magda Goebbels, wife of Hitler’s propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels, and the psychological intricacies that might have led her to kill her own six children. Meike Ziervogel brings the reader of Magda back to the character’s childhood and relationship to the mother in order to decipher the female psyche. In Clara’s Daughter (2014), the author continues the exploration on the mother-daughter relationship, this time in contemporary London. This book focuses on Michele’s life, a successful career woman, wife, and mother of two, but who experiences a complex relationship with her aging mother. The unresolved psychological issues between Michele and her mother Clara undermines Michele’s very existence. In this context, the complexities of mother-daughter relationships are openly expressed, and the roles of mother and daughter are represented in their contradictions. At the same time, motherhood is not represented as an ideal; nor is the figure of mother presented as an example of virtue and self-devotion. Clara’s Daughter is, thus, placed within a wider European, literary context that polemicizes the topic of motherhood such as in German Verena Friederike Hasel’s Lasse (2015), French Véronique Olmi’s Bord de mer (2001), or Spanish Jenn Díaz’s Mare i Filla (2015). The following interview also looks at stereotyped female feelings such as pity, guilt, and sacrifice, as well as the construction of ‘daughter’ and ‘mother’ as western concepts. Besides these, contemporary experiences of home and the aging female body, as potentially erotic and sensual (in defiance of western media stereotypes), are also important topics of the novel that the author discusses here.

The novel’s title suggests that the text is mostly about a mother-daughter relationship but it deals with many other things that seem equally important (Michele’s marriage, or the representation of the female body in middle and late age, for example). Why the title Clara’s Daughter? Why did you choose to focus on the role of Michele as daughter and not as mother, or wife?

Before a woman is a wife or a mother, she is a daughter. And if she wants to become the wife or mother she imagines then she must alter the meaning of “being a daughter”. In literature there are many stories about how sons break away from their fathers in order to become men. Unfortunately, the necessity of daughters to break away from their mothers in order to become a woman has been rarely addressed in fiction. Often the relationship is idealized. A mother is supposed to want the best for her daughter, and the daughter is supposed to look after her mother. But the mother-daughter relationship is far more complex, far more fraught with negative feelings, such as envy, rage and guilt. In Clara’s Daughter I wanted to tell the story of an outwardly successful woman, Michele, who feels blocked by her mother. I wanted to explore that sense of being blocked and feeling stuck.

 Why does she feel stuck?

Michele’s mother Clara can no longer look after herself. Michele has found her a place in a good nursing home. But under pressure from her sister and Clara herself, who doesn’t want to move out of her own house, Michele agrees to convert her basement into a flat for Clara. She does it against her better instinct. She knows that she can’t live with her mother again, nor that her mother can live with her. Still she goes ahead with the move, convinced that she has decided for the best.

I found the representation of Clara’s experience of her own body later in the text very interesting. It is difficult to find representations of old female bodies, especially, from her own perspective. Your passage evokes a sensuality which usually is not associated to old women. Could you tell us a bit about this scene? Is the scene trying to tell something new about womanhood?

Clara is a woman whose life lacks fulfilment. She feels unable to express herself. She’s probably been depressed. In the scene you mention we are inside Clara’s head. We see her walking through the park, arriving at the lake, taking her clothes off, lying in the grass and finally swimming in the lake. It’s the first time she has ever dared to do that. She feels free. In reality of course something very different is happening to her body: There, she is still sitting on the park bench, lonely. And she is dying. I don’t know if I’m saying something new about womanhood with this scene. What I am saying, however, is that the reality we build in our imagination is the real for us as individuals. And the outside existence often doesn’t matter at all.

Should we, as society, try to make eroticism emerge beyond young beautiful women’s bodies? In other words, should we see the erotic as an important part of everybody’s subjectivity, and as something involving far more than the mere physical body in contrast to common representations of erotic scenes?

To answer this question let me talk for a moment about creativity. In my view, creative and sexual feelings are both erotic. When I’m in a creative flow with my writing, I sometimes feel sexual arousal (that doesn’t of course mean that I want sex there and then, but it is a very similar sensation to desire). Both, creativity and sexuality link to something that goes beyond ourselves. When Clara finally leaves her body behind, she experiences that sensation of going beyond herself, probably for the first time. And so for the first time she also experiences her physical being as erotic. In some ways it’s a contradiction: we need to be able to transcend ourselves, our bodies in the here and now, in order to experience sensuality. I don’t know if it’s true for all women but it certainly is true for me. I often think that I write to experience those moments when I go beyond myself, when I link into something bigger than myself, when I’m no longer in control and something else is dictating the story to me. And that same sensation occurs within Clara as she is sitting on the bench: For the first time ever she takes life as it comes. And suddenly we, the readers, are able to perceive her as a sensual being. But she is dying. Sadly she was never able to experience such transcendence previously. And, maybe, if she had been able to, she might have had a different relationship with her daughter Michele.

Why would she have had a different relationship with Michele?

From experience I can say that I connect with my children if I’m connected to myself. Clara is somebody who most of her life has been disconnected. Who didn’t even know where to look for herself. I don’t think she was ever able to see the world from her daughter’s standpoint. A telling example for this comes from Michele’s memory from when she was little. Her mother is sitting at the kitchen table crying and the little girl offers up her dearest possession – her dolly – to make her feel better. But the mother, wrapped up inside her own sorrow, ignores the gesture. She is unable to connect to the bigger picture around her, outside herself.

It seems to be a kind of holistic perception in your writing: you describe both creativity and eroticism as something that pushes us beyond ourselves, and that make us lose control; and you just mentioned Clara’s inability to connect to the bigger picture, to the whole, somehow. All that seems to be framed by a kind of Freudian-Jungian Weltanschauung, which contradicts a more common positivist approach to reality, especially in the Anglosaxon world. Would you say that the difficulties in having a more healthy experience of mother-daughter relationships are partly due to a view that labels us according to roles, separates our different selves according to those roles, and stops us from integrating all these roles in a singular self?

We stop ourselves from integrating those roles. In order for society and public life to function we need to operate in different, separate roles. But within our own psyche we have to learn to integrate those roles into a coherent self. This task is part of our life’s journey.

 Jim, Michele’s husband, is also a very interesting character. Through Jim, the book introduces the topics of fidelity, trust, marriage expectations, as well as male attraction to young women. There is certainly a male perspective on marriage. Could you comment on it?

At the beginning of the novel we observe Michele and Jim happy together. They go for a swim, are about to have sex. But then Michele remembers that she needs to take her mother to the doctor, and suddenly she is no longer able to make love to her husband. She is now pre-occupied with her mother. And when later on she tells Jim that she likes her mother to move in with them, Jim is opposed to the idea. You could say, he knows his wife better than she does herself. He fears that if Clara moves into their basement, Michele’s relationship to him will change. And he is right.

In my novels, images and scenes always work on two levels: on the literary and the symbolic. So if I talk about Clara moving into Michele’s basement, I’m not only talking about a concrete basement in a north London house. I’m also talking about Michele’ psyche and Michele’s body. If Clara is occupying Michele’s ‘basement’, Michele will struggle to have a satisfying sexual relationship with her husband.

In my view, the mother-daughter relationship plays a vital role in a woman’s sexuality, after all our first intimate relationship with another body is that with our mother’s body. A woman – like a man – needs to separate from the mother’s body in order to find her own sexuality. However, unlike with a son, for a daughter it is often difficult –in psychological terms – to fully comprehend where her mother’s body ends and her own body begins because of their sameness. It’s a very complex separation process which we haven’t examined enough in art and literature.

Returning to the novel, the moment Clara enters into Michele’s private and intimate life, Michele finds it difficult to have intercourse with her husband. The relationship between Michele and Jim does not get worse because he parties, but because Michele starts interpreting his nights out in a way that allows her to begin destroying their relationship in order to make more space for her mother. Of course this is all subconscious. Consciously she is convinced that Jim is at fault. But I don’t think their relationship falters because of Jim’s behaviour – after all it is left open to interpretation if he has an affair or not that night. The relationship disintegrates because Michele can’t cope with her mother moving back into her house.

You mentioned the house in relation to Michele’s psyche. Is the house also a psychic space?

On the surface the story has to work in a literal sense, and therefore, there are realist descriptions of the house. But because ultimately these characters are inside my head, I also think, that I am talking about somebody’s internal house. And my internal house too. Michele is the daughter aspect within myself, Clara is my mother aspect, and Jim my husband aspect.

Clara feels herself treated as a madwoman when she is pushed by her daughter to live in Michele’s cellar. I think there is an interesting re-appropriation of the nineteenth-century topic of the madwoman in the attic. Are old women undermined in our society? Is Clara some sort of modern scapegoat?

Who is ultimately the madwoman in this novel? I would say Michele. Because Michele if she had wanted to, could have made different choices. But she decides not to and instead jeopardises the life she has built with her husband. I am not blaming the mother for the failure of Michele’s marriage. Instead, I explore in this novel Michele’s inability to say to her mother ‘sorry you cannot move in’. Michele is a successful business woman and she wouldn’t have got there without the ability to say ‘no’. So why can’t she keep a clear head when it comes to her mother? Why is she willing to let her marriage fail? That to me appears quite mad – and sad.

But if Michele says ‘no’ to having her mother in the house, wouldn’t we accuse her of cruelty?

Women often face the issue that if we want to be kind to ourselves it can look from the outside as if we are cruel to others. Clara is unhappy in the basement, Michele is unhappy, and Jim leaves. When Michele decided – against her husband’s wish – that her mother should move into their house, their lives fell apart. Who knows what might have happened if Michele had insisted on taking her mother to the old people’s home which she had already found and which looked very nice? My feeling is that Clara would have been as unhappy or happy as in Michele’s basement. On the other hand, Michele might have been happier. But Michele would have needed the courage to say ‘it is important that I keep the house to myself for my life to function’. However, how would have such decision looked from the outside? Society – and probably the reader too – would have judged her as an unloving daughter.

For Clara, domestic space is very important. There is a sense of alienation when she needs to leave her house to move into Michele’s basement. What is the meaning of home for Clara? And for Michele?

For Michele domestic space is only one part of her identity, she has been able to define herself in many different ways. For Clara, on the other hand, the domestic space represents her entire identity. She has never been able to step outside her domestic space.

In the novel I therefore describe these two domestic spaces very differently from each other. Clara’s is depicted in very concrete, detailed images. I describe how she moves through her house, how she opens cupboards and sorts through drawers. Michele’s house is less tangible, I’m deliberately vaguer with my descriptions. The different techniques point to the different meanings of Clara’s and Michele’s domestic spaces.

 Then, Clara and Michele have different experiences and understandings of home. What is home for Michele?

Michele ends up in a home she does not like. She has moved out of the house that she used to share with Jim and moves into a small flat, with a wardrobe where she hangs Jim’s old clothes in the hope that he might come back one day. She keeps her mother’s ashes in an urn on the mantelpiece. Despite all the ways in which she managed to define herself, she ends up being surrounded by things rather than the actual people to whom those things belong. How did she end up in this situation? In my view it all boils down to her inability to address one fundamental question: how to be Clara’s daughter while safeguarding her own space.

Over the last 100 years women in the western world have gained many freedoms and rights that now allow us to shape our lives – and the lives of others – increasingly according to own ambitions. However, our psyche has been formed by millenia of patriarchy where we as daughters had to behave in certain ways – towards our families and society. Such behaviours and attitudes are difficult to alter. Outward freedoms are more easily gained than psychological freedoms. It might take generations. Michele ultimately failed to step out of her role of merely being her mother’s daughter. Like her own mother she was not able to set herself free.

Are you continuing exploring family ties in your last novel, The Photographer?

Yes. This novel is loosely based on my own family, who fled during the Second World War from former East Prussia to West Germany. It once again explores a flawed mother –daughter relationship. Agatha doesn’t like her son-in-law and when war breaks out she arranges for him to be sent to the front. The family is eventually reunited in a refugee camp near Hamburg where her daughter Trude will have to confront her mother in order to save her husband.

My first three novels have dark endings. The darkness comes from within the main characters. In The Photographer, on the other hand, the backdrop behind the characters environment is dark indeed: war, flight and refugee camps, while the characters themselves possess the potential for courage, compromise and love.