He also has a fear of camels, but he doesn’t like to talk about it. Thankfully he's not as reticent when it comes to The Killing of Emma Gross, his debut novel.
The Killing of Emma Gross is a historical police procedural based in Düsseldorf in 1930. It’s about a detective who gets caught up in the case of a notorious serial killer – based on the real-life Peter Kürten murders of the time – and who risks his career to uncover the truth behind a murder that most of his colleagues are happy to let said serial killer take the rap for.
What was your motivation for writing it?
I lived in Berlin for several years and fell in love with the place. Having done a history degree that ended up dampening a lot of my enthusiasm for the subject, living in Berlin awoke my passion for the past and made me want to write about what happened there. I was also reading a lot of noir and hardboiled crime at the time, and I wanted to marry the sensibilities of American hardboiled literature with the expressionist movies and art of early 20th century Germany. When I decided to look for a real life murder case to base my story on, the most compelling one was that of Peter Kürten – the so-called Vampire of Düsseldorf – so I ended up pouring all of my inspiration about Berlin into a novel about Düsseldorf instead.
How long did it take you to complete?
The version of the story that ended up being published probably took around four months to write and another three to edit. But the research and the aborted earlier versions and stories that didn’t come off? That’s gotta be three years. Maybe more.
What's your favourite part of the creative process?
Coming up with story ideas is the most important – that is, taking an idea from just being an idea to being a workable plot. But also the research – I like finding out stuff that most people don’t know and then trying to work it in to the story. Of course, an awful lot of the research ends up being cut out, otherwise it would unbalance the story. It’s a tough one to call for historical fiction: some readers will always want more historical detail while others will find it intrusive. Getting that balance right is the biggest challenge of historical fiction.
I think print publishers have been shitting on customers by making them pay the cost of the VAT on e-books. After all, all the cost of that book has gone into producing the print version, with very little extra cost involved in producing an electronic version. Adding VAT on top is inexcusable and just shows contempt for e-book readers.
What aspects of marketing your book do you enjoy?
Turns out my favourite bit is blogging. The networking angle of Twitter and so on is good too, but for me writing interesting blogs that people want to read is most gratifying. After all, I am a writer and I like it when people enjoy reading what I write.
How do you feel about reviews?
Important to help readers work out if a book is the sort of thing they might like, and it’s good when people take the time to give their opinion of a book. It’s interesting how Amazon in particular has changed the way reviews work. Individual reviews are much less important than they used to be and now it’s all about the aggregate view or score. In fact, we’ve got to the point where reviews don’t really matter unless they’re on Amazon, which is convenient in a way but also kind of scary. Thank God for the book bloggers out there willing to do both – write reviews for their blogs AND post them on Amazon.
What are you currently working on?
Right now, a novella about a dirty little murder of a Nazi brownshirt in Berlin in 1932 that threatens to ignite the city in an orgy of street violence if detectives can’t solve it in time …
How can we keep up to date with your news?
Best way is either to follow my blog or @Damienseaman on Twitter, or to check in with the Blasted Heath website.
Other than writing/being published, do you have a claim to fame?
When I was nine years old, I came second in a national poster design competition arranged through schools. I won a cheque for £50 which was presented to me in person by the late British TV presenter Bob Holness. My gran had a framed photo of this for years.