Wednesday, February 5, 2014

The Taste of Apple Seeds - Interview, Giveaway, and Excerpt

Big treat for you today! I have an interview with Katharina Hagena, author of The Taste of Apple Seeds, plus a giveaway and an except of the book. You get it all today!

I was initially attracted to The Taste of Apple Seeds, because the main character has the same name as my beloved great-grandmother, Iris, and because Iris is a librarian. I thought this was fate! Only after a little digging did I find out that The Taste of Apple Seeds was originally published in German and has been making a splash all over Europe! Also, look at the beautiful cover! I have also been a big fan on contrast in photographs and the image of the young girl's blue coat and stockings against the brown is absolutely stunning to me. Ok, enough about the cover and on to the interview. 

Interview with Katharina Hagena 

1.The Taste of Apple Seeds is a beautifully written book full of love and loss - what originally sparked your interest in writing?

My interest in writing has been sparked by reading. I don't think I am one of these writers who feel that their life has been so interesting that others have to know about it, too. But I have always had an insatiable greed for stories. However, sometimes there are stories that I urgently want to read but, unfortunately, they don't exist. And so I have to make them myself.

2. Can you tell us a little about your average writing day? 

It takes me a long time, years in fact, to finish a book. The writing stage comes last and since I don't want it to be interrupted by further research, by major changes of maybe the structure or the ending, I have to be very well prepared before I start writing. Indeed, I only allow myself to write when the pressure has become so high that it will push me through the whole book in one go. This means that after all the research is done and the narrating voices are chosen, the characters and the plot have been sketched and the net of images spread out I need a certain amount of time all by myself so I can do nothing but write. I write from morning until the early afternoon. In the late afternoon I prepare for the next day's writing. It is wonderful, torturing, intoxicating, dead boring, exhilarating, hard work.  I can only do this during the school holidays when I can throw the whole family out of the house for a week or so. It is quite amazing what one gets done when one knows that one's unfragmented time is so limited! After this intense beginning I have usually found my stride and can or have to adapt my writing hours to the school hours of my children. I won't write when there are people in the house.

3.      This book is full of many different female characters with a wide range of personalities. Was there any inspiration from any women in your life?

Yes, of course. The story-telling in my family has always been undertaken by women - at least the stories one wanted to hear. There are usually several versions of family stories, one official one and one or two other ones.
In this particular novel, the grandmother Bertha looks a little like my own grandmother. In the book Bertha gradually loses her memory - so maybe as a writer I am also something of an archivist. Only a deeply unreliable one - after all, I invent things, I don't write " true stories" with "real people" in them - indeed nothing would bore me more. I do try to write truthful stories though.

4.      Could you give readers a closer glimpse into Iris Berger?

Iris is a young librarian who does no longer read. She has lost her faith in the written word. She thinks that what you write down is what you no longer need to remember. Like a shopping list: You write it down so you can forget about it. And Iris is afraid of all that not-remembering that has gone on in her family for decades.
Every character in the book has his or her own individual story of forgetting.  But it is Iris who inherits the big old family house and all the stories that come with it. And while Bertha is slowly losing her memories Iris, in the course of the story, is forced to confront hers.

5.         Do you find solace in the country, the main setting of the novel, or does a big city capture your heart?

Well, I live in Hamburg and it is a big city and it seems that I will stay here for a while. But I was brought up in a more rural part of the country and I cannot deny that I miss it. We used to play in the woods and swim in the lakes at night, climbed on derelict buildings, ran through cornfields and went everywhere on our bikes. But I fear I might just be nostalgic about my childhood. And I push aside how infinetely bored I sometimes was. How oppressive the neverchanging  rituals, people and routines of a village can be. So I shouldn't get too soppy here. But I still miss it.
  1. What advice would you give aspiring writers looking to get into the publishing industry?
I have NO advice to any aspiring writer in the United States! The publishing industry in your country is different from ours. I don't even have an agent - unthinkable in England and probably in the USA , too. To me it seems harsh that a writer has to find an agent, who, of course, has his own interest in mind, before he can find a publisher. I wonder if excellent texts that might not have great economic success, will ever find their readers. Would James Joyce have ever found an agent? Strangely,  I do think he would always have found a publisher. But maybe it is the other way round? As I said, I don't know the American system at all. But I do know this: Parts of Joyce's  Ulysses were first published in the United States and the whole book (minus some "obscene" passages) was first published in Paris - by Sylvia Beach from Baltimore, Maryland.
7.      Is there a particular author or book that has influenced your writing?
Oh yes, many, many books and authors. I believe that reading is the only kind of education you need in order to become a writer. It is tiresome to read books by authors who haven't read much and thus think they have just re-invented the wheel, or modernism or whatever. But before I sound too much like Waldorf and Statler I'd rather list the ones I love: I do hope I have been influenced by Virginia Woolf and by Heinrich Kleist, by Jane Austen and James Joyce, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez and by W. G. Sebald - but influenced not in the sense of imitation but of an attention to language, to sound, rhythm and expression.
  1. Tell us about you - what do you like to do when you're not writing?
I read. I answer questionnaires. I love being outdoors. My mother was a sports teacher so not doing one's sports is like not brushing one's teeth. I am still trying to get some scholarly work done but it is hard not to lose touch - I used to teach English literature before I became a writer. And I have two children, 11 and 14 years old. So I do all that mothers' stuff like cooking and baking and screaming and applying sun screen lotion onto anything that isn't fast enough on the trees.
9.      What can fans of The Taste of Apple Seeds look forward to next?

I hope very much that my second novel "On Sleeping and Disappearing" will be translated into English.

Here is a brief excerpt of The Taste of Apple Seeds 

Great-aunt Anna died from pneumonia when she was sixteen. They couldn’t cure it because her heart was broken and penicillin hadn’t yet been invented. It happened late one July afternoon. Anna’s younger sister, Bertha, ran howling into the garden and saw that with Anna’s rattling, dying breath all the red currants in the garden had turned white. It was a large garden; the scores of old currant bushes groaned under the heavy weight of the fruit. They should have been picked long before, but when Anna fell ill nobody gave a thought to the berries. My grandmother often told me this story, because it was she who had discovered the currants in mourning. Since that time there had only ever been black currants and white currants in my grandmother’s garden, and every attempt to plant a red bush had failed—only white berries would grow on the stems. But nobody minded: the white ones tasted almost as sweet as the red, when you juiced them they didn’t ruin your apron, and the jelly they made
had a mysteriously pale translucent shimmer. “Preserved tears,” my grandmother called it. The shelves in her cellar still housed jars of all sizes with the currant jelly from 1981, a summer particularly rich in tears, Rosmarie’s final one. Once when my mother was looking for some pickled cucumbers she came across a jar from 1945: the first postwar tears. She donated it to the windmill association, and when I asked her why on earth she was giving away Granny’s wonderful jelly to a local museum she said that those tears were too bitter. My grandmother Bertha Lünschen, née Deelwater, died long after Great-Aunt Anna, but for many years she hadn’t known who her sister was, what her own name was, or whether it was winter or summer. She had forgotten what shoes, wool, or spoons were for. Over a decade she cast off her memories with the same fidgety ease with which she plucked at the
short white locks of hair at the nape of her neck or swept invisible crumbs from the table. I had a clearer recollection of the noise the hard, dry skin of her hand made on the wooden kitchen table than of the features of her face. Also of the way her ringed fingers always closed tightly around the invisible crumbs, as if trying to catch the shadows of her spirit drifting by; but maybe Bertha just wanted to cover the floor with crumbs, or feed the sparrows that in early summer loved taking dust baths in the garden and were forever uprooting the radishes. The table she later had in the care home was plastic, and her hand fell silent. Before her memory went completely, Bertha remembered us in her will. My mother, Christa, inherited the land, Aunt Inga the stocks and shares, Aunt Harriet the money. I, the final descendant, inherited the house. The jewelry and furniture, the linen and the silver were to be divided up between my mother and aunts. Bertha’s will was as clear as springwater—and just as sobering. The stocks and shares were not particularly valuable, nobody except cows wanted to live on the pasture of the north German lowlands, there wasn’t much money left, and the house was old.

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THE TASTE OF APPLE SEEDS is available now at Amazon B&N iTunes IndieBound


Allison Moyer said...

As a librarian myself, I am fascinated by the character of Iris, a librarian who no longer reads. I can't imagine not reading.

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