I am delighted to have novelist David Young visit my blog today! Author of the award-winning debut thriller “Stasi Child“, David has graciously consented to an interview.
Thanks so much David!
- Congratulations on your three book deal with Bonnier Zaffre! What was the most instrumental factor in your success as a debut novelist?
Rejection! Stasi Child was rejected by UK publishers in the first round of submissions by my agent, which at the time was a body blow. But this was softened when French publishers Fleuve Éditions said they wanted to do a deal irrespective of whether it got published in the UK, and Euston Films took out an option on the TV rights. Then without warning me in advance, my agent – Adam Gauntlett at PFD in London – did a small second round of submissions. Bonnier had just launched their UK adult fiction arm – and signed up Stasi Child as one of their launch titles. So I got the benefit of a new publisher wanting to make its mark and putting their full weight behind my book. They persuaded the big retailers in the UK to take it, and the paperback broke into the official top twenty chart.
- How long did it take to get “Stasi Child” published?
Notwithstanding that first round of rejections, I was quite lucky. I signed up for a two-year Creative Writing MA at City University London in autumn 2012 and before the end of the course had an agent for Stasi Child – which started as a chapter written for an exercise in Setting on the course. The book was shortlisted for (and subsequently won) City’s crime fiction novel prize and at that point Adam said he wanted to represent me. The TV option and French deal followed swiftly afterwards, with the UK book deal a few months later. Idea to e-book publication was exactly three years.
- How long did the writing process take? And… how much of that time was spent researching the novel?
I completed the first draft in about two months, while on sick leave from the day job. I’d suffered a serious DVT in my leg after a push-bike accident – although, to be honest, sitting writing at a computer was the worst possible rehabilitation! The dose of warfarin blood thinner I was on was fairly strong, and it made me feel awful. Like constantly having flu. So Stasi Child was written in a warfarin fog. I researched as I wrote – I didn’t stop until the final draft.
- Are re-writes part of your writing process?
Unfortunately, yes! I’d much rather get it right first time and have done with it. Does anyone ever achieve that?
- Did you have family and/or friends proof-read your novel, or did you depend on your publisher’s editorial staff?
The actual proof-reading was down to the publishing staff and myself. But the book passed through many hands and rewrites before it saw the light of day. On the MA course, crime authors Claire McGowan and Laura Wilson were my tutors and had huge input. Fellow students swapped full drafts on the MA, and an East German who now works in BBC News also kindly read it and offered comments. Even after all this, my agent and publisher still had lots of changes they wanted!
- Your book is set in 1970s East Germany. Why did you pick this time period?
As a distraction from the increasingly unfulfilling day job as a desk-bound broadcast news journalist, I’d started writing songs and performing with my own indiepop band. We blagged a tour of Germany and most of the places that booked us were in the eastern part of the now re-united country. I was fascinated about how the legacy of the GDR was evident everywhere, and read Anna Funder’s excellent non-fiction Stasiland between gigs. That later sparked the idea I developed on the MA course.
- Did you visit Germany whilst writing “Stasi Child”?
Absolutely! The research trips are vital. It’s the part of my new life I enjoy most.
- I live in the democratic and privileged country of Canada. Learning about the social structure and culture of East Germany was quite an eye-opener. Have you always been interested in German culture and history?
Up to a point. I specialised in modern history in my undergraduate degree and developed an interest in the communist world then – although it was more the Soviet Union, rather than the GDR. But I never visited either of them. I wish I had!
- Although you are a debut novelist you previously had a career in journalism. How did your journalistic experience help with the writing of “Stasi Child”?
The writing process is very different. But it’s still writing – and so you do get a lot of journalists becoming novelists. I was working in the BBC World Service newsroom when the Berlin Wall fell, and still remember the looks of confusion on the faces of communist leaders. So it helped in that way.
- Your protagonist is Karin Müller, a policewoman in communist East Berlin. Was it difficult for you to write from a female prospective?
I had two female tutors on the MA course at City, so they pulled me up on a few things. I enjoyed doing it, but it’s for others to say whether I’ve pulled it off. I think there’s been one review saying Karin has a very ‘male’ sexuality. But then I’ve met women like that …
- “Stasi Child” alludes that Karin Müller has a traumatic past. Though some of this was divulged in “Stasi Child”, will we learn more about her past in your next book?
Yes. Book two is called Stasi Wolf, and it’s due out in the UK in February 2017. Karin’s past – and her childhood – comes much more into play.
- Have you ever been so wrapped up in your characters that you dream about them at night?
I don’t think so, but I did recently devote a whole week to intense writing of the first draft of Book 3. I did four days on the trot of sixteen-hour days of solid writing. So all I was thinking about was the characters and the story. I enjoyed it, but was exhausted by the end.
- I feel all writers must also be avid readers. What type of books do you read for pleasure?
It’s a terrible admission, but I don’t read as much as I should. On the MA course, I was the one trying to negotiate with the tutors to reduce the amount of compulsory reading. I tend to read mostly on holidays, but not solely crime or thrillers. My favourite books of recent years have been Alone in Berlin by Hans Fallada and The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet by David Mitchell. I’m currently reading a non-fiction book about an 18th century English sex scandal with a standalone novel idea in mind.
- If you could sit and enjoy a chat and beer with another crime novelist – who would it be?
I’m quite shy and not a great beer drinker so I wouldn’t be rushing to do it. Perhaps if my football team Hull City beat Arsenal next week (September 17th) I might choose Rod Reynolds (author of The Dark Inside and Black Night Falling, Faber) as he’s an Arsenal fan, and I could taunt him about it.
- What crime thriller novelist writing today do you most admire? Why?
Possibly William Ryan as I love his Captain Korolev series set in Soviet Russia, and also thought his recently published standalone – The Constant Soldier – was superb. His novels are so atmospheric and believable, but are excellent page-turners too.
- What current novelist do you feel is underrated or deserves to be more well known? (I like to ask this question because it gives me and my readers fodder for our TBRs!)
I’d refer you to question 14. Both of Rod Reynold’s books are fantastic. That such authentic American Noir has been written by a Brit is amazing. I love the post WW2 time period they’re set in, too. I’m sure it won’t be very long before he’s a big star of the crime fiction world.
- There is something so appealing about the cover of “Stasi Child”. Did you have any part in choosing the cover?
Yes, my publishers were kind enough to include me in the process and took some of my ideas on board – like the wall, watchtowers and TV tower. At the same time they rejected, quite correctly, some of my dafter ideas (for example I wanted the Berlin TV tower to form the letter ‘i’ of Karin Müller as a kind of trademark for the series!). Bookshops always say what a great cover it is. If you look carefully at the footprints in the snow, there’s also an important piece of evidence which features in the plot.
- What part of your new career as a novelist do you dislike the most?
Although I’ve had some modest success with Stasi Child, I’m not sure I’ve got a ‘career’ as a novelist yet. Let’s see how Books 2 and 3 do first! I feel incredibly fortunate to be doing what I’m doing, but there are still things I dislike about it. Firstly, it’s horribly precarious, secondly (unless you’re a huge star) making a living from it is very difficult, and thirdly, you have to network. And I absolutely loathe networking.
- What interview question have you not been asked yet that you wish had been asked – and what’s the answer?
What’s your favourite song? My favourite song is Rip It Up by Orange Juice. You can watch the video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ESy-Z8vqMrE. You might not think there’s a link to my book, but there is. Rip It Up got me into Orange Juice and their frontman Edwyn Collins. When Edwyn nearly died from two catastrophic strokes, I wrote him a tribute song (Edwyn Collins Is Back) which he said some lovely things about on Myspace. His quote helped us get our little German tour, which in turn sparked the idea for Stasi Child. So it all leads back to Rip It Up, and a great song it is too.
- How do you wish to be contacted by ‘fans’? Do you prefer Facebook? Twitter? Your own blog?
My website www.stasichild.com has a contact page on it. At Twitter I’m @djy_writer. I’m on Facebook but not very good at it.
Thanks for having me, Lynne and Fictionophile!
My pleasure David! I wish you every success in your new career as a novelist and will be sure to watch for your upcoming novels AND the TV adaption of “Stasi Child”! Congratulations!
David’s novel “Stasi Child” can be purchased or pre-ordered at the following retailers:
This is an excellent interview full of thought-provoking and insightful questions. I’ve never heard of the band Orange Juice…think I’ll go check out that You Tube video now. I also enjoyed your review of his book and think it’s one I and possibly my guy would enjoy.
I enjoyed reading this interview. Looking forward to reading Stasi Child.