It’s a funny old business, being an author.
You spend months and months scribbling away in notebooks and tapping away at your laptop. In my case, when I get near the end of a book, it consumes all of my time. I have just completed The Long Glasgow Kiss, the second in the 1950s-set Lennox series, and one night last week I worked on until five in the morning to finish it.
As an author, I tend to live the book I’m writing. Because I write alternately about 1950s Glasgow and contemporary Hamburg, the mood in the house tends to change. My kids prefer it when I write a Fabel rather than a Lennox: apparently I become a typical 1950s dad when I’m writing Lennox and they object to the sound of Mel Tormé (God knows why… he was called the Velvet Fog for a reason) and Edmondo Ros issuing from my study. I’ve tried to explain to my kids that I’m not antiquated or out of touch, it’s just that I’m a ‘method writer’ and when I’m not writing a Lennox I’m as hip as the next cat and listen to the same groovy beat-combos as they do.
Anyway, I digress. Suffice it to say that I have been ‘living’ in the 1950s for months. Usually I make a gradual transition to Fabel and 21st. Century Hamburg, but, because I had been invited over to the film set of Wolfsfährte, based on my novel Brother Grimm, I culture-clashed straight into the world of Principal Chief Commissar Jan Fabel of the Hamburg police.
I do a lot of tours of Germany, usually one a year. Before I go, I tend to get my German up to speed by watching more German TV – I have all of the stations at home, by satellite – and by having my German tutor ‘direct’ me through readings from the books in German. This time, however, I didn’t get the chance. Which was unfortunate, because I ended up doing two TV appearances and countless press interviews in German. It makes me a bit of a novelty over there, but I am very self-conscious about my German grammar. I always feel like I sound like the equivalent of Manuel in Fawlty Towers: ‘Hi speak Heengleesh… Hi learn eet frohm hay bhoook.’ But the German media appreciate me doing interviews in German and I feel I owe my readers over there the effort.
I have to say that the Germans treat their authors very well. I have a fantastic publisher in Germany, Luebbe, who take very great care of me whenever I’m there. This time, however, it was Tivoli Films, the producers of the TV movie, who had invited me over and they too certainly rolled out the red carpet for me. I took it as a good sign when I was picked up at the airport in a Mercedes limo, and when I got to my glitzy Hamburg hotel I was delighted to find that my suite had a kitchen. Not that I actually used it, but I mean… a kitchen. After I phoned home to tell my wife that I had arrived safely (and that I had a kitchen in my hotel) I went out for dinner with one of the producers. It was nice and relaxed and set me up for the following day, which was one of the weirdest, most exciting, most memorable experiences of my life. There was a taste of things to come, however, when my dinner companion from the film company showed me stills from what had already been filmed. And that was where it really did start to feel strange. Absolutely every photograph was immediately identifiable as the images that had played in my head as I had written the novel. There was one in particular, of the study-cum-library of a suspect, that really freaked me out a little: it was as if someone had reached into my head and had pulled the image out from my brain. It really was weird to see something that had only ever existed in my head recreated in almost perfect detail.
The next day, straight after breakfast, I was in front of the camera for the filming of ‘The Making of…’ segment for the DVD of the film. Yes… I am Bonus Material. When I say straight after breakfast, I brushed my teeth first. I had a paranoid moment in which I imagined myself delivering a commentary with a tenacious piece of muesli between my teeth for all to see. I did some interior and exterior shots, with the film crew following me to various locations from the book. As Brother Grimm was my second book, and I’m currently starting my eighth, it took quite an effort of memory to recall whom I had killed, where and why. It was a bitterly cold, wet Hamburg day and although it made filming less than comfortable, it all added to the atmosphere of the ‘piece’.
After doing several pieces to camera, we came to the dramatic moment of the piece: when I come face-to-face with Jan Fabel. We made our way to an office building down near the harbour. The eighteenth floor of this building had been stripped bare and then recreated as the Murder Commission offices of the Polizei Hamburg. I was filmed as I made my way through the set and into the office of ‘Jan Fabel’. And there he was: Peter Lohmeyer, a highly respected German film and theatre actor. It was the strangest moment and I have to admit that, overcome with the moment, I did throw my arms around him and cry out ‘Jan… mein Kind!’ (my child!).
I spent a lot of time that day and the next on set. The director, Urs Eggers, was unbelievable welcoming and set up a chair next to his from where I was able to watch the filming from the heart of the action, although I spent most of the time looking at everyone around me and grinning smugly. Actually, ‘smugly’ is too, too small a word for it.
In the evening I had dinner with the director and the principal members of the cast. I cannot emphasize enough just how weird an experience it all was. A couple of the actors were very much as I had imagined them, a couple of the others less so, but I could see how they fitted with the roles they played. Probably the most disconcerting part of the whole experience was seeing the set: being inside the world that until that point had been inside my head.
Now that I am back home and immersed in the next Jan Fabel novel, it is difficult to believe that it all really did happen. One thing that I find surprising is that the Jan Fabel I now write about is the same person he was in the five previous books, and he still doesn’t have the face he will have on-screen, despite the fact that I very much approve of the director’s choice.
Like I say, it’s a funny old business, being an author.
The Valkyrie Song by Craig Russell is published by Hutchinson at £18.99.