The Breaking of Liam Glass – Charles Harris

Standard

Charles Harris is an international award-winning writer-director and a highly-respected script consultant, writing and directing for cinema, television and theatre. He is also a best-selling non-fiction author with titles including A Complete Screenwriting Course, Police Slang, and Jaws in Space. Several of his short stories have been published, with two shortlisted for awards.
Charles has a black belt in Aikido and teaches police, security personnel and the public, self-defence against street violence, including knife attacks.
He has a wife and two cats who live with him in North London and two sons who don’t.

Today as part of the LifeOfCri.me Theakston’s Crime countdown he’s writing talking to us about the inspiration for his book.

At the start of my new novel, The Breaking of Liam Glass, Jason Crowthorne, a keen young journalist, about to lose his job on a local paper, comes across a teenage footballer, stabbed and hospitalised in a coma.

Believing he’s found a way to save his career, he pitches his story to a tabloid. Unfortunately, the tabloid wants more of a celebrity hook – a hook Jason doesn’t know if he can provide. But maybe he can tweak it a little…

And so he’s led, step by step, into the dark and dangerous world of fake news.

Where does inspiration come from?

When I started Liam Glass, seven years ago, I wasn’t actually looking to write a novel, let alone a crime-satire.

At the time, there was a general election in full swing and the level of political debate was reaching a new low. Politicians repeated slogans until you wanted to tear your ears off. Newspapers either parroted the party line or were confused and ineffectual.

We didn’t yet use the phrase “fake news” but there was definitely a lot of it around.

At the same time, there was serious, real news, not least a spate of tragically fatal stabbings here in North London, almost all involving innocent young men who were in the “wrong” place.

I recalled a time I spent in Portugal, writing the screenplays for two feature films. Portugal endured the longest fascist dictatorship of any European country in the last century – forty-eight years – from 1926 to 1974.

But one of the most important causes of the collapse of democracy in the first place was the fact that nobody could rely on the newspapers to tell them the truth.

The next piece of the jigsaw, unexpectedly, turned out to be a short story I’d written many years before. It told of a teenage boy who was attacked and left in a coma and the effect on his single mother, who contrived more and more desperate plans to get him to wake up. The story, ‘Cash Card’, was short-listed for an award, but I hadn’t thought about it since.

But I needed one more piece to make the novel work – and that fell into place when my comatose teenager was joined by a young local journalist, stuck in his job and desperate to work on Fleet Street, whatever it took.

Into my young, frustrated journalist, who was to become Jason Crowthorne, I poured my own conflicted feelings and frustrations – as writer, certainly, but also as a reader of news.

I’ve always admired British tabloid newspapers, even as I’ve watched their actions with deep suspicion.

It’s easy to hate their easy cynicism and looseness with the truth, but there’s also something attractive about the red-tops’ energy and audacity. On a good day, a tabloid can mount a vibrant campaign to improve public life in a way that the broadsheets simply can’t match.

Near the end of my novel, two otherwise cynical editors on my fictional tabloid (The Post) reminisce about the great campaigns of the past – “obesity and body image, postcode health, MPs for sale, rip-off trains, graduates who couldn’t spell.” They have much to be proud of.

I spent some days at the Daily Mirror researching Liam Glass in their massive open-plan newsroom, and was struck by the sight of enormous blow-up front-pages around the walls, each commemorating a memorable headline. Often these were major campaigns.

Of course, not everything that the tabloids have done has been so admirable – from phone hacking to bribery to doorstepping the innocent.

On the one hand, Jason is a figure of satire – ready to sell his soul, if only he can find a Fleet Street editor to buy. On the other hand, Jason is truly horrified by this apparently unstoppable flow of knife crimes and wants to do something about it.

And if in the process it helps his career, what’s the problem?

Jason’s problem is that he suspects that Liam may well have a celebrity connection, secretly fathered by a major premiership footballer. But he can’t prove it. How far will he go, how much is he prepared to trick, cheat and finagle to get that front page?

I had to write the novel to find out. And as I wrote, part of me was shocked at what he turned out to be capable of doing. Yet part of me loved his breath-taking effrontery, his naive yet beguiling way of crashing through walls that I would have never dared do.

I found myself wanting him to succeed, somehow to overcome each new disaster, despite all the darker, more corrupt, people around him.

When I first spoke to my (then) agent about Liam Glass and how topical it seemed, he warned me that novels don’t chase topicality. However, it seems that some themes stay topical, and will probably remain so for much longer.

And now today, seven years later, we have another fractious election, with probably yet another to come, with newspapers content to peddle fake news and knife crime on the rise. How things change!

 

Teenage footballer Liam Glass is stabbed on an estate next to London’s Regents Park and, with an eye to the main chance, journalist Jason Crowthorne sets out to make the most of the story and build a crusade against teenage knife-crime.

In the following 24 hours, Jason creates his campaign, hiding a scoop from rival journalists and avoiding arrest. But other powerful figures are determined to exploit the boy’s story as much as they can, and they have fewer scruples! 

www.thebreakingofliamglass.com

Advertisements

#BlogTour Don’t Wake Up by Liz Lawler and the Inspiration Behind It

Standard

As part of her blog tour for her debut novel Don’t Wake up, today on LifeOfCri.me Liz Lawler talks about the inspiration behind the book.

 

 

 

 

Inspiration behind Don’t Wake Up

I wish I could tell you that I heard a particular story or read an article in a newspaper that inspired me to write Don’t Wake Up. But it wouldn’t be true. Something obviously triggered it, but I suspect it was many things that I heard or read or thought or even experienced and my mind accepted and stored a place for all this imagery to settle before becoming fully focused. I use the word imagery, because when I think of a story it is always in full technicolour with people having conversations or crying or running away. I do remember exactly what I was doing when this story came to me, and it came with a bit of a whoosh. The body of the story was inside my head by the time I had vacuumed my house one day. I then needed to give it legs and arms and a head to fully function. I have found that I never think up stories when I’m at rest, it is always when I’m physically busy with my mind at a bit of a wander.

So what triggered it, I now ask it myself? Was it the fact that I have worked in a hospital for so many years and am as familiar with that type of surroundings as I am in my own home? Possibly. It would certainly be a logical conclusion. Or was it witnessing the vulnerability of so many patients as they walk onto a ward and place their trust in you.

Yet as I write that last sentence, my stomach clenches at the thought of how vulnerable we are when we place our trust in people that we are encouraged to trust.

And this thought, I suspect, is the trigger that made me want to write a story like Don’t Wake Up. The horrific story that came to light about Winterbourne care home in recent years, that uncovered acts of abuse being meted out to people with learning difficulties, sadly didn’t shock me. It enraged me that it happened, but I wasn’t shocked. The debase behaviour of humans has always existed and it always will. It pushes me to ask questions and each probe will inevitably begin with – How could someone. How could someone do that, say that, think that. I think everyone is susceptible to carrying out an unkind act, even if it is only in thought, and for most of us it will be only ever amount to that. But for many of us we have met that unkind person, the one that we think or say about, ‘I wouldn’t let her look after my dog, let alone my child, my father, my mother.’

Every form of mental and physical cruelty is abhorrent to me and they take their ugly shapes in so many forms. It is relentless. We are saturated every single day by what we hear in the news of acts of horrendous cruelty being carried out and before we have even processed one shocking story another story has taken precedence. Sometimes a singular story will stay in our minds for ever – the images of the Chinese migrants labourers drowned on Morecambe Bay beach . . . the image of those two innocent babies in the arms of their father having been gassed with sarin. These stories stop us in our tracts, bring tears to our eyes and have us shaking our heads in despair. I am listening to the news as I write this, and in the background Teresa May is speaking of PC Palmer and his colleagues are speaking from the heart about how they felt about this man and my throat is clogged at thought of so many people hurting from this loss.

So in the writing of this blog, I have kind of worked out what inspired me to write Don’t Wake Up – a fictional story of psychological torture – I am not anaesthetized by the atrocities that the human race carry out. I am not numb to that tone of voice I hear when a child is harshly rebuked for crying, or to that heavy sigh of impatience given when that elderly woman or man asks for the toilet again.

Death should never be a cruel act. It should be natural and where possible, surrounded by love. I was very privileged to nurse my father at his home, because I had the ability to carry out this care and if death can be a beautiful thing to witness when someone is ready to face it, I was fortunate to witness it with my own father. He died in the early hours as dawn was breaking at the age of 96 with his wife beside him and me merely there as their interpreter. There is humour even in this memory as in their last conversation to each other neither were wearing their hearing aids and so I had to shout clearly the messages they gave to each other.

Alex Taylor wakes up tied to an operating table.

The man who stands over her isn’t a doctor.

The offer he makes her is utterly unspeakable.

But when Alex re-awakens, she’s unharmed – and no one believes her horrifying story. Ostracised by her colleagues, her family and her partner, she begins to wonder if she really is losing her mind.

And then she meets the next victim.

#blogtour Lie In Wait – GJ Minett

Standard

Today as part of the blog tour for his latest release, Lie In Wait, author G J Minett talks to LifeOfCri.me about the unexpected amount of extra work that comes with being a newly published author, while we readers are all sitting at home expecting them to be hard at work on their next book…

 

 

What They Never Told Me

OK. So this is how I saw it at the time. Please don’t snigger at the simplistic way in which I viewed things back then because I can guarantee that most of those authors you follow religiously and who now appear like demi-gods on the literary stage will have been no different when they first started. At least, I hope it’s not just me.

So you finally get your agent and, in due course, your first deal with a publisher – in my case, a two-book deal. All downhill from here on in, isn’t it? The publishers welcome you with open arms, promise to take care of everything from now on. You just go away and get on with writing the next one and don’t worry about a thing. Leave it all to us. 

In your dreams.

I am at present 57,000 words into book 3, which probably equates to two-thirds of the way through. I have another 6 weeks to finish the first draft which, a few years ago, would have been a stroll in the park. Not even 1000 words a day. Piece of cake. But . . . what they didn’t tell me is that finding time to write the next book is not the simple matter of choice that it was before I got a publishing deal. New writing time has to fight its corner against serious incursions from a number of other areas which are also very important and fall within the author’s remit. In case you’re not aware of these competing demands, let me list some of them for you – and please be aware that this is far from a comprehensive list.

  • Social media. When I had my first meeting with Bonnier Zaffre my editor asked me what I was like with social media and I gave him my best smug expression and announced in true authorly fashion oh, I don’t do that sort of thing. His response was you do now. I spend something in the region of two hours a day, creating my own tweets and posts, re-tweeting others, sending direct messages, deciding which people to follow, thanking others for kind comments or RTs and, inevitably, watching that panda clutching the zookeeper’s leg.
  • Website. Didn’t have one. Do now. And it needs to change every so often or no one will come and look at it. And it doesn’t change itself.
  • Blogs. I’d heard of them but wasn’t sure what purpose they served. Now I’ve discovered a whole world out there of bloggers who are prepared to include you and your book and anything you want to say about it for no better reason than that they love what they do. But they have to be fed.
  • Reviewers. In my naïve way, I assumed you write your book and wait to see what the reviewers in the national press think of it. The answer is they don’t – or at least they haven’t so far. You’re very fortunate if they even read it. But there’s a community of reviewers out there who not only read as many as 250 books a year – I thought I was doing well with 70 to 80 – but also write wonderful reviews which play a significant role in getting your name and your book out there. They need to be reminded how much they’re appreciated.
  • Personal appearances. Not complaining for one moment. I love these and having the chance to talk about your book with people who’ve been good enough to buy it and invite you along is one of the real joys of being an author. Just saying . . . if you go to Liverpool to meet your readers, it’s probably a couple of days out of your writing time.
  • Editing. You don’t just write your book once. You do it about half-a-dozen times with rewrites that can take weeks. Then you read it again for line edits and final edits and by the time everyone agrees it’s as good as it’s going to be, you’re starting to have doubts about whether it’s as good as you once thought
  • Life. Whether it’s work or bringing up young children or working at your own relationship, life has a way of tapping you on the shoulder and reminding you that it’s there, waiting not always very patiently for you to get your priorities sorted out.

As I said, it’s not a comprehensive list – I haven’t for instance mentioned what it’s like to sit down and try to be creative and sparkling after you’ve just watched Wolves get beaten at home by Birmingham – but it should give you an idea of the many different directions from which distractions descend upon any author trying to meet a deadline.

Just as well we love what we do.

 


A man is dead. A woman is missing. And the police have already found their prime suspect…  

Owen Hall drives into a petrol station to let his passenger use the facilities. She never comes back – and what’s more, it seems she never even made it inside.

When Owen raises a fuss, the police are called – and soon identify Owen himself as a possible culprit – not least because they already have him in the frame for another more sinister crime.

Owen’s always been a little different, and before long others in the community are baying for his blood. But this is a case where nothing is as it seems – least of all Owen Hall…

The Thrillers That Inspired ‘Lies’ by T M Logan #blogtour

Standard

tm-loganThrillers that inspired LIES

Who can say where stories come from? For me, they start with a tiny core, a single idea. Maybe a character or a single situation, a point of crisis or a relationship I want to know more about. Wrap a few more ideas around the core, then a few more, check its pulse to make sure it’s starting to live and breathe. Then sit down and start writing.

The core idea of LIES came to me while we were driving to Brittany for our summer holiday. I was supposed to be navigating but got so caught up with the idea – and scribbling it down in my notebook before it disappeared – that we got lost. We had to go on a bit of a magical mystery tour to pick up our route again, but the story of LIES was already starting to live and breathe (in my head, at least).

Like everyone else, though, I’ve been inspired and influenced over the years by thrillers that I’ve loved and the people who have written them. My favourite authors include Michael Connolly, Harlan Coben, Linwood Barclay, Tana French, Lee Child, Sophie Hannah, Bernard Cornwell, Peter Swanson, Stephen King, Gillian Flynn and Ken Follett. I’ve missed lots out, but that might give you an idea of the kind of stories that I love to read – and write.

In no particular order, here are a few of the stories that inspired LIES:

I remember being bowled over by Harlan Coben’s Tell No One. It was the first time that I’d read one of his thrillers and it featured his trademark combination of a cracking story, great dialogue, compelling bad guys and a protagonist you’re rooting for from page one. Coben is also adept at bringing in technology and making it a turning point in his story, as when the hero sees an image of his wife – supposedly dead for eight years – on his computer screen.

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn was one of many great recommendations from my wife, Sally. I loved this book. The slow unravelling of the truth about Amy Dunne takes the story in ways you can’t predict. Is she alive or dead? Is her husband involved in her disappearance? Is the truth simply what we believe it to be? The blurring of fact and fiction, the creation of different versions of the truth, feature strongly in LIES.

I have lots of favourites by Stephen King but Misery is at the top. It’s so simple, basically two characters in a house for 95 per cent of the story, and yet he manages to make it utterly gripping and terrifying. Stephen King is the master at that sense of ‘creeping doom’, at building the tension slowly, as Paul Sheldon comes to realise that there is something very, very wrong with the situation in which he finds himself.

A Simple Plan by Scott Smith grabbed hold of me in such a way that it became like an addiction. A real high concept premise – three guys find a bag full of money in the woods – but so many twists and turns that it was impossible to put down. At its heart it’s about the terrible things people will do in pursuit of what they think is right, and the crimes they will justify on the way.

Last but definitely not least (and not a book, either), I tip my hat to Les Diaboliques, a French film about betrayal, obsession, and murder. Check it out if you ever get the chance. It has a killer twist – when it was shown in cinemas, a title screen appeared at the end of the movie asking the audience not to reveal it to others, so they wouldn’t spoil the surprise. I hope the twist at the end of LIES has a similar impact!

What are your favourite thrillers? Let me know @TMLoganAuthor

lies

 

WHAT IF YOUR WHOLE LIFE WAS BASED ON LIES? 

When Joe Lynch stumbles across his wife driving into a hotel car park while she’s supposed to be at work, he’s intrigued enough to follow her in.

And when he witnesses her in an angry altercation with family friend Ben, he knows he ought to intervene.

But just as the confrontation between the two men turns violent, and Ben is knocked unconscious, Joe’s young son has an asthma attack – and Joe must flee in order to help him.

When he returns, desperate to make sure Ben is OK, Joe is horrified to find that Ben has disappeared.

And that’s when Joe receives the first message . . .

The Dos and Don’ts of Crime Writing by G J Minett

Standard

The Hidden LegacyGJ Minett is the author of The Hidden Legacy & Lie In Wait, as part of his blog tour to celebrate today’s paperback release of The Hidden Legacy, he’s taken time from his busy schedule to talk to LifeOfCri.me about his personal Dos and Don’ts of writing crime fiction.

 

 

 

 

Dos and Don’ts of Crime Writing

 

GrahamSo … let’s get all the self-effacing disclaimers out of the way first, shall we?

I’m not entirely sure that a body of work comprising two eBooks and one paperback qualifies me as an expert on how best to go about producing a crime novel. I’m sure I would bristle at the idea of having to conform to someone else’s notions as to what constitutes good practice, so I’m not about to pontificate here. Feel free, as they say, to try this at home but please don’t feel under any obligation to wear the strait jacket. The right way is what best suits you.

I’ll share with you three examples of what works for me, with no significance at all attached to the order in which they appear.

Treat your readers with a bit of respect

I’m a reader. Part of the fun for me, in reading a crime novel, is working things out for myself, following clues, weeding out red herrings and trying to anticipate where the author is trying to take me. I don’t need to have my hand held. I certainly don’t want an idiot guide thrust into my hand. But equally, if I’m going to invest a great deal of time and mental energy into reading a 400 page novel, I expect to be able to believe the outcome. I may not see a twist coming, I may miss one or two crucial clues and shake my head when I think back, wondering how I didn’t pick up on them. What I do NOT want though is to be defeated by some startling coincidence or miraculous intervention I could never have foreseen in a million years that leaps out of nowhere and changes everything. Whenever this happens, it’s difficult to avoid the impression that the author has backed her/himself into a corner and not had a clue how to get out of it without resorting to desperate measures. Keep it real. Avoid shortcuts. Work the plot through beforehand and don’t short change the reader by settling for the mediocre.

Show don’t tell

OK … I know. Very MA in Creative Writing. But there’s a reason why this particular mantra is chanted at every writing course you’ll ever attend. It ties in neatly with the previous section because most readers are quite capable of working out for themselves how a character is feeling if they’re given the right visual clues. It is after all how we operate in real life. If I see someone wiping away a tear, I don’t need to be told “I’m feeling sad”. If someone is twisting the cord of a blind around a finger while gazing out of the window or slamming a glass down on the table so that the liquid slops over the side, I can tell what sort of mood we’re dealing with here without any need for some disembodied voice to tell me she’s sad or he’s angry. Why should these visual clues be any less effective in a novel? Some writers are so gifted in the way they allow feelings to seep through without any need for explanation that they add an extra layer of enjoyment to the whole reading experience. Try it next time you feel the urge to have one of your characters explain how she/he is feeling.

Listen to your dialogue

If you wrote a song, you’d probably want to play it and hear what it sounded like. I wonder sometimes how often writers apply the same principle to dialogue because all too often it clunks, for want of a better word. I read a novel recently that was excellent in many respects but whenever the police officers decided to go to the pub for a drink my heart sank because I knew what to expect. What was supposed to pass for male banter sounded more like  cheeky chappie dialogue from 1920s Music Hall minus the boom boom and it simply didn’t ring true.

Dialogue is very important in most novels as a device for ‘nailing’ a character, making sure that she or he comes across as an authentic person you might encounter next time you walk into a bar. If it isn’t quite right, the reader will quickly pick up on any inauthenticity and the spell can be broken just like that.

Try recording your extended passages of dialogue and playing them back or maybe getting friends to read them out to you. Also try recording others when they’re speaking so that you can pick up on any nuances. Not many people string together whole sentences without digression, hesitation, repetition, sudden changes of subject. If you can work some of these subtle differences into the speech patterns of your characters, they will appear more authentic.

As I said at the outset, these three examples matter greatly to me and have helped me enormously. I hope they will be of some use to you too.

And I just know someone is already trawling through my novels right now in search of instances where I haven’t managed to practise what I’ve preached. I’m sure they’ll find them!

 

Generating Geraldine – Leigh Russell Talks About the Inspiration For Murder Ring

Standard

imageimg_2554.png

As part of the blog tour for the latest Geraldine Steel novel ‘Murder Ring’ Leigh Russell talks to LifeOfCri.me about where some of her inspiration came from.

 

 

 

 

My inspiration for Murder Ring

Inspiration comes from all sorts of places, in various guises. Agatha Christie famously said that the best time for planning a book is while you’re doing the dishes. Even though nowadays most of us have dishwashers, we all know what she meant. I can be sitting at home, or out and about, when an idea occurs to me and off I go. Ideas can come from anywhere. It might be a person I’ve noticed who sparks off a story, or an atmosphere in a strange place, or just a large suitcase, large enough to hide a body…

The inspiration for Murder Ring came about in a slightly unusual way for me, more calculated than in my other books. Usually I’m inspired to write about something that interests me, but this time, ironically, my starting point was  a topic that didn’t interest me at all. In the fourth book of the series, Geraldine Steel moved to London. By the time I started to think about Murder Ring, the eighth in the series, I decided I couldn’t continue setting a detective in North London in the present day without ever mentioning guns. The problem was that not only did I know nothing about guns, they aren’t a topic that inspires me at all. Nevertheless, in the interests of authenticity, I decided to bite the bullet, if you’ll excuse the pun. So tackling the issue of gun crime was a conscious choice, rather than an idea that inspired me.

One of my advisors is a police ballistics expert, but his information was not what interested me the most once I began to look into the subject.  My research led me in a different direction, looking into the kind of people who were likely to be in possession of guns in London. Most of them are not criminal masterminds, but dysfunctional people. Older teenagers in gangs frequently give their firearms to young siblings to look after in order to avoid detection, knowing the children are too young to be prosecuted if found in possession of a gun. It was in the news recently that children as young as ten were among fifteen hundred children held over alleged firearm offences in the UK in the three years to January 2016. Such statistics are worrying, and are only likely to worsen as guns are so readily available.

The more I looked into the subject, the more I realised that while guns themselves don’t interest to me, what they represent fascinates me as a writer of crime fiction. People often use self-defence as an excuse for owning guns, but guns are essentially a means of exerting power. And for a crime writer, villains seeking to control or eliminate their victims is always interesting. So although guns in themselves are merely mechanical instruments of death, introducing them into Murder Ring opened up new possibilities for creating villains. Because what makes guns frightening is not the weapons themselves, but the people who use them.

 

David Young On Trabants, Ketwurst and Blue Stranglers

Standard

Debut novelist David Young’s first Oberleutnant Karin Muller novel, Stasi Child is out now for Kindle, and here as part of his blog tour, David talks to LifeOfCri.me about a few of those things particularly loved by the East Germans.

 

imageEast Germany – or more properly, the German Democratic Republic (Deutsche Demokratische Republik in German) – is now a lost world, and many would say that’s for the best, trapped as its citizens were behind the fortified Berlin Wall and the inner German border.

But twenty-five years after the two Germanies reunited (the anniversary was earlier this month), there are still some things from the communist state that its former inhabitants hanker after. It’s spawned a form of nostalgia with its own name – Ostalgie. In my novel Stasi Child there are plenty of references to products and brands which were peculiarly East German. Some were so popular they still survive today.

Cars

My detective, Oberleutnant Karin Müller, and her deputy, Unterleutnant Werner Tilsner, drive around in an unmarked police Wartburg. But the most iconic East German car was the much-maligned Trabant. The Trabi can still occasionally be seen on the streets in eastern Germany today, even though it was made out of a strange product called Duroplast – a mixture of recycled cotton and resin. It had a horribly inefficient two-stroke engine, a top speed of 62 mph, and emitted between five to nine times the pollution levels of even an average 2007-vintage western European car. Nevertheless, they were much sought after, with citizens often on a years-long waiting list, so lucky owners maintained them meticulously. Wartburgs – a step up from the Trabi – were made of steel, and were even exported to the UK. Müller and Tilsner in Stasi Child would probably have driven a Wartburg 353 – nicknamed ‘Farty Hans’ because, like the Trabant, it was a two-stroke with copious exhaust emissions.

Food

In the original draft of Stasi Child, I had Müller eating a Ketwurst – a ketchup wurst (the German name for sausage) bought from an outdoor stand. The Ketwurst was an East German ‘invention’ – developed by the fantastically-titled State Gastronomic Research Centre – to rival the American hot dog. Then I discovered it didn’t come into being until 1977 or ’78, while the novel is set in 74/75. So instead she wards off her hunger with a quarter Broiler. The broiler was simply grilled or fried chicken and an East German fast food staple.

Other famous East German food products include the ones listed by my teenage characters in the second, parallel narrative of Stasi Child. For example, Nudossi (sometimes nicknamed Ost-Nutella) – a hazelnut and chocolate spread which actually has a higher proportion of hazelnuts than its western equivalent and is still produced today (it’s delicious!). Another is Spreewald pickles – pickled gherkins in glass jars produced in a wooded area 100 kms south-east of Berlin, which famously feature in the film Good Bye Lenin! Then there was the GDR’s answer to Coca Cola: Vita Cola, advertised as a ‘carbonated soft drink with fruit and herb flavoring’ and like its more famous western cousin, produced according to a ‘secret recipe’.

There are still restaurants in the eastern part of Germany where you can sample traditional East German dishes. One of them – the restaurant attached to the DDR-museum in Mitte – serves the favourite dish of Müller’s husband, Gottfried, Gebackene Apfelringe (baked apple rings). This features in a particularly harrowing scene in the novel.

Alcoholic Drink

Drinking alcohol was almost a national pastime in East Germany. The GDR’s official youth movement, the FDJ, even had a song about drinking beer. In the mid 1970s – when Stasi Child is set – an East German medical specialist estimated that 5% of adults in the GDR were alcoholics: four times as many as in West Germany. In my opening scene, Müller and Tilsner wake (in Tilsner’s marital bed!) with hangovers after downing too much Blue Strangler the night before. Blue Strangler in the early days of the GDR referred to 40% proof crystal vodka, and got its nickname from the blue label of the bottles (a later version actually branded as Blue Strangler was actually a grain schnapps of lower alcohol content). Although former East German detectives I spoke to insisted there was no drinking on duty or during a case, alcohol was part of daily life. East German women’s magazines even advised a special diet for those wanting to lose weight: the wurst and vodka diet!

Interestingly, when the 1989 protests which led to the dismantling of the Berlin Wall and East Germany began, alcohol consumption slumped to historic lows within a matter of weeks.

 

Stasi Child by David Young is out now in ebook. The Paperback will follow in February 2016.