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Interview Monday! Whoops!

I got to know Lilach during a reading round with the author on readers' rounds.de - we had a wonderful discussion about the structure of “The Seventh Swan”. Then I took all my courage and made friends with them on Facebook. Lilach is not very present online - with a job and writing I am amazed that she can still find time for anything ... Nevertheless, the contact stayed. Maybe also because we both come from the north and share a great love for fairy tales. When I wrote to Lilach for this interview, she was immediately hooked!
Lilach has read “The Seventh Swan” so far - you have to read it! It is magically beautiful in the truest sense of the word! -, "Winterkind", "Seacrest House" and another short story published by Rowohlt, "Cirque Indigo". Sometime this year, an Irish variation of the “Beauty and the Beast” motif will also appear on U-Line, the title so far has been “Wolf and Rose”. I am looking forward to that!
More about Lilach Mer can be found here.

And off we go with the interview Monday!

When did your love for books begin? Who or what sparked your passion for stories? And was there an initial spark, a very special event or has the relationship grown slowly?

Books have always been my companions as far back as I can remember. I practically grew up between shelves. When I couldn't read them myself, I at least colored them in beautifully (cough) - especially my mother's textbooks. Well, she will have been happy ...!

What was your favorite book or books as a kid? What was the reason for this love? Which book or books did you love as a teenager? What was it that fascinated you so much? Did fairy tales play a special role in your life?

I've actually read everything I could get my hands on, and I'm afraid that my preferences weren't particularly original: Astrid Lindgren's beautiful, sad, cheeky stories were all of my best book friends. I can't really say what exactly made her magic at the time; maybe that's why it still works today. But I remember well that I actually thought myself and Lisa from “Bullerbü” were more or less the same person. Although it would never have occurred to me in my life to wipe dust and knock out the carpet in my children's room ...
As for fairy tales, they were basically the basis for my own reading adventures: at home they were read aloud or simply told freely, along with ballads and nonsense songs (my father in particular had an almost unsettling talent for the latter) . I no longer know whether the gruesome passages in the fairy tales were somehow embellished; as a child you are surprisingly not bothered by mothers-in-law in nail barrels and the like. I guess I took the fairy tales and everything that happened in them to be some kind of oral history lesson. Basically they are - at least as far as human nature is concerned.

Did you have a lot read to you as a child? What did you particularly like about reading aloud? Is there a special reading moment in your life? And do you read aloud yourself today? And who

I had it really well and had something read to me practically every day; at the latest when falling asleep. That brought the day to rest and closed it off, so to speak. In addition, it is of course wonderful to have mom or dad all to yourself for a little while, in the peaceful twilight of the nursery, where nothing can happen to you. My father even had to read to me over the phone for a while when he was not there - I have the purple fairy tale books that he used with me today.
I love reading aloud myself, but unfortunately not very well. Sometimes I do this with friends when we've unearthed new treasures. In addition, of course, always small snippets while eating (I don't even sit down without a book ...). Can lead to potato pellet accidents, but is still highly recommended.

Which books do you think belong in every child's room? And which do you think should be on every youth shelf? What do you think defines the classic books for children and young people? Why are they so special?

Lindgren belongs in the nursery, of course, preferably every single book by her. There is simply nothing better for the child's soul, nothing that corresponds so closely to it and sees the enigmatic, wondrous, painful world so completely through its eyes. The very sad stories like the “Schafe von Kapella” and “Klingt mein Linde”, however, I would put the first few years back. Plus a lot of “easy reading” that is just as fun as candy. And the “Taran” books by Lloyd Alexander. And the "Little Hobbit"! In the meantime there has long been a different cover than that of the dtv edition, which made me believe for a long time that the hobbit was a dragon (was shown in bold in the middle - the man who was doing gymnastics somewhere on the edge seemed completely unimportant to me). Oh, and of course the Schnurpsen book, and a good copy of Greek sagas for children. Besides that - oh, actually all the books I read back then belong to it. In any case, I don't want to miss a single one. I guess that's exactly what makes good children's books.
When it comes to books for young people, I'm unsure. I never really liked typical books for young people, i.e. books that were written especially for young people. I found “Outsider” by Susan Hinton very touching, I remember that. And I don't think you can start early enough with Terry Pratchett.

Which character from a children's or youth book would you like to have a visit? What would you do with her for a day? And what would you two do in your book on a return visit?

Well, Pippi of course! We'd pick up my best friend, grab my tiny, wobbly folding banana boat, pull up a bed sheet as a sail (unfortunately it wasn't enough for more) and roaring pirate songs down the loop. Perhaps our little uncle could tow us from the bank too. We would throw water bombs at all Prusseliesen we meet, eat cream cake out of the cupped hand and experience the greatest adventures in bays that the "stupid adults" would not even discover with a map.
At Pippi's home, I would definitely want to climb onto the roof, that's what I always wished for when I watched the films. And maybe Madita would come by right away, and we could try the thing with the jump and the umbrella again - if Pippi is with us, it will definitely work!

Well, then everything is said for the time being. Until next time!

Posted in Interviews | Tagged Interview, Lilach Mer | Leave a comment

Lilach Mer is the author of The Seventh Swan and Winter Child. A few years ago I took a long break from fantasy. Today I can't even say why it was. Perhaps I had just skipped over myself, but I found everything I read to be unoriginal, unintelligent, and sloppily written. In the meantime the market and with it the offer has changed a lot and I like to read fantasy again. One author whose books are very popular - even if her second novel is not fantasy - is Lilach Mer. She took the time to answer a few questions in great detail.

Your two books have a lot to do with fairy tales. What do they mean to you personally? Do you think that fairy tales still have a meaning beyond “children's literature” for adults and society? And why do you like to use them in your stories so much?

Fairy tales are the thread my childhood was spun from. I'm one of the lucky ones who got a lot read out when, annoyingly, they couldn't do it themselves. Fairy tales, old and new, together with folk songs - such as the adorable, sad "Two King's Children" - are the first stories that I consciously remember. They have always surrounded me, digging in the garden as well as on the way to school, a delicate magical breath over everything. Of course, the more horrific stories made me shudder - just think of the fairy tale of the machandel boom or Bluebeard! But that was part of it, and as a child you don't feel inhuman when people are eaten or put in glowing iron shoes. At least, as Terry Pratchett once said, as long as it hits the "right", i.e. the bad, people.
This basic meaning - that goodness wins in the end - of course, fairy tales still have today. Even if it has perhaps been transported more via Disney films than books for a while now. In the end, that doesn't make any difference. Fairy tales can also apparently have very direct and sometimes rather unpleasant effects on societies: When researching the "winter child", which is linked to Snow White, I read, for example, that this particular fairy tale is considered enormously harmful by American psychologists - because it encourages girls (at least when reading for the first time) to always lie there lying there inactive until the prince rescues them (who of course usually does not come in real life). There is even a “Snow White Syndrome”.
One of the reasons I personally like to use fairy tales so much is because they, together with myths, are our “primal stories”, something to which we all have a relationship, even today. And because they are just devilishly good stories.

You like historical novels. Was it therefore the obvious choice for you to let your novels take place in the past as well? Both books are set in the 19th century. Why in this age of all times? What is it about time that fascinates you? The "classic" is Victorian and Great Britain ... But you settle the stories in the Germany of the empire. Why? And why in Schleswig-Holstein and Lower Saxony?

To be honest, even my short story "Cirque Indigo", which I was allowed to do with Rowohlt last year, takes place around this time again ... But it's actually not the 19th century that appeals to me so much. The “seventh swan” also takes place a little later, shortly before the First World War. This war is, I believe, the crucial temporal turning point for me. You often read that European society lost its innocence with the First World War - and much of what we sometimes want back today was also destroyed or began to fall apart. Above all, the world of manor houses came to an end. None of us will ever drive through fragrant avenues to dinner with our neighbors in an open single horse-drawn car, with a pointed parasol and fine gloves - unless “in the game”, which is of course not the same. Even so, we somehow long for it, even though we know that for some this beauty of life was bought at the cost of terrible drudgery by others. Maybe because of that - life was so simple then, seen from today. A maid was a maid, and hardly anyone gave much thought to whether it might not be inhuman to treat a girl like a work machine. The social order was not questioned. Nothing was actually questioned, not even the tremendous scientific knowledge of that time. If you then take the leap forward a few decades and see how elegant parasol companies kill each other with poison gas ... then you wonder how things could be related to each other. At least that's what I ask myself. That is why I am fascinated by this time. It is the direct basis for so much that shapes our lives today, for good as well as terrible. And, to say something less profound: It has produced some of the most beautiful houses I know ...

In addition, there is a little more leeway for magical or maybe-magical things at this time, because there was more nature and less technology than today. That is also one of the reasons why I like to let my stories take place in the north. The settlement is not so dense here, and the sea and the wind, mighty forces of nature, can always be guessed at. A good climate, you could say, for the kind of crazy tightrope walk I like to do.

How does it look when you write? Do you sit at your desk and lock yourself in or do you go to the park with your laptop? You once said that your novels always have a soundtrack. How do you make your music choices? Do you hear the same music over and over again in the same scenes? Do you have any literary role models? And why this in particular?

The first guess is correct, I actually need some rest to write - ideally when nobody is at home but me or everyone else is already asleep (can you see my dark circles?). Then I can walk down the hallway from my desk and back again and mumble to myself without having to be embarrassed (or scared roommates). When the story is halfway in motion, however, the need for rest diminishes a little and I can even withstand the rattling of dishes from the kitchen if necessary. So maybe I should just try it out with the laptop in the park? Especially at the moment when my tiny study is unfortunately occupied by a rabbit run ...?

As far as music is concerned, I often need it to be able to switch from the “main work day” that I spend with lawyers to my stories. It helps me to get back into a certain feeling, a certain scene more quickly - so it really has to be the same music that is playing in a scene. And yes, the two novels actually each have their own music. I mostly rummage through my classical CDs (vocals must not be included under any circumstances) until I find something that seems to fit the current mood in the story. You just have to make sure that the music doesn't virtually take over the direction - good classical pieces bring so much of their own emotions with them that they can shift the focus of an entire scene without you noticing it.

Maybe musicians are more my role model than writers in general. Music transports feelings more directly than any other medium, I think. And she paints pictures in my head. I would also like to achieve that with my stories with the reader. Otherwise, I mean, the first and foremost two names that come to mind when it comes to writers: Astrid Lindgren and, even more presumptuous, Thomas Mann, especially in the “Buddenbrooks”. Both wrote just perfectly in their very different ways. There's no wrong word, no wrong comma. No crooked picture, no misunderstanding thought. Such texts leave me speechless with awe. Anyone who joins the modern writers is definitely Terry Pratchett. Nobody is as weird as he is, and nobody is as smart about human nature at the same time. Unfortunately, I have absolutely no talent for funny writing, so I can only admire him from a distance.

What's your next project Have you started writing yet? How do you develop your ideas? And is there already a publisher and possibly even a publication date?

Actually, I'm currently working on two projects with two different publishers - I'm always not sure how much of them can be revealed. So just this much: Both are again something rather fantastic; one is a novella, the other a short novel; the novella is set in Germany (at least so far), but in the present, the short novel, on the other hand, in the past, but - surprise! - in Ireland. And if everything works out, both books will be published relatively soon, at the end of 2013 and beginning of 2014. In this respect, I not only started writing, but urgently need to make some progress ... The ideas for the stories either develop by themselves, by the way unasked, while I stand dozing at the traffic light, for example; or a basic idea comes from outside, like from a publisher, and then I turn it back and forth in my head until something clicks into place and says: This could be it. That could be the story.

And finally: What are five of your favorite books and what exactly do you like about them so much?

Oh cheek, that's such a tough question. There are so many great books that I love dearly.Of course Mann's “Buddenbrooks”, as I said before - a kind of Bible for every writer, I think - and from Astrid Lindgren most of all “Mio, my Mio” - I mean, how can you not love that? The cruel knight Kato with the stone heart! The sad child birds! And the loyal friend Jumjum, whom you find in a distant, wondrous country, which you have always felt that it is just waiting for you ... At Pratchett I think “The Night Watch” is the best thing at the moment, it has one great, insane plot and manages at a tremendous speed to handle really difficult topics such as torture sensitively. In addition, like so many others, I fell in love with Banks “The Bright Days” - such a gentle and at the same time idiosyncratic story, something very rare, I think. It shines. And number five? "Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norell" by Susanna Clarke, where magic is unceremoniously declared a historical fact and elves finally show their true - quite cruel - nature.

And if I may mention something lyrical about it: I'm crazy about old Anglo-Saxon poetry like “The Wanderer” and “Wulf and Eadwacer”, which could be translated as “Wolf and Guardian”. Precisely because they are perhaps so strange, these poems have a great magic. They make me shudder, how good literature should actually always do that now and then.

Thanks for the answers!

More about Lilach Mer's books and her writing can be found on her blog.

Well, then everything is said for the time being. Till next week!

Posted in Interviews | Tagged The Seventh Swan, Interview, Lilach Mer, Winter Child | Leave a comment

When Lilach announced that she was writing a new book, I was very happy. The Seventh Swan is one of the books I've really, really enjoyed over the past few years. So I was full of anticipation - even if Lilach was very reserved about the subject of her new project. “It doesn't matter,” I thought, “that can only be good!” And - to anticipate - that is it.
I did find out a bit about what it was all about when Lilach nibbled on a question about toxicology and I was able to find a friend for her to solve the problem. Sometimes it pays off when you know dear people with bizarre knowledge 500 ...

Author: Lilach Mer
Title: Winter Child
Published by Dryas Verlag
Pages: 279

Lower Saxony, around 1880. In the dead of winter, Blanka von Rapp's problems escalate. Actually, she could be happy: she is beautiful, her husband is rich. But that's just a facade: She is being eaten away by fear and cannot leave the house. In the manor house savings are made on servants and the workers in the glassworks finally want their wages. Then when her husband goes away, the daughter becomes ill and a snowstorm lets no one escape, a moment of truth comes. Thank heavens there is still Sophie, the governess ...

I read the book when the snow was falling outside and it was freezing cold. That certainly helped to put me in the place of the scenery, but I'm sure that actually isn't necessary, because the wonderful language also pulls you under the spell of history! Some passages are downright poetic and gave me so much pleasure that I simply had to read some sentences twice.
The structure with flashbacks to the past creates tension that makes the reader excited. At the beginning you don't even know who you are talking about, in the end the terrible secret is the past and you understand the present. And then there is the fairy tale structure, which determines the plot, and which appears again and again in many small hints - names, the mirror, the deer - on the one hand creating a fairytale atmosphere and on the other hand making the reader feel at home be to know all this and therefore to be able to feel homely and safe, even if the action is anything but calming.
Winterkind is a historical novel, despite the fairy tale structure you look in vain for the fantastic - even if you have the feeling that something fantastic is about to happen. The atmosphere of the novel is dense like the swirling snow that cuts off the estate of the von Rapps from the outside world and the two women with the terminally ill child, the betrayal of loved ones and the ever increasing resentment and anger of the workers demanding their pay leaves alone. The trick of letting the atmosphere be both magical-dreamy and gloomy-threatening is easy for Lilach. As in the Seventh Swan, the author mixes different subjects without being disruptive; rather, the result is a homogeneous, but wonderfully multi-layered work: Winterkind is at the same time a historical novel, a gothic novel, a fairy tale adaptation, the fate of women and a psychological novel.
The description of the life situations of women and the working class are precisely researched and can teach you a lot, at the same time all descriptions flow into the novel and have a function: They increase the tension when it comes to a possible uprising, they characterize the characters and give them their room for maneuver, which may or may not be broken. They are never an end in themselves. (And that's something I really hate about historical novels, when you can see that the author has found a great source here and that she absolutely has to incorporate this knowledge, even if it in no way "advances" the novel.) Personally, I find it particularly pleasant that Lilach addresses her sources in the epilogue and thus gives interested readers the opportunity to find out more themselves.
The characters are convincing across the board. All are lovingly characterized and even the secondary characters seem to have a life of their own; As a reader, one firmly believes that the cook, for example, goes on living her own life when the door closes behind her. Although men do appear in the story, the focus is clearly on two women: Blanka von Rapp and Sophie. The former is the lady of the house and just as delicate and beautiful and ethereal as the time would like a lady. Sophie, the governess of Blanka's daughter, on the other hand, is pragmatic and sensible, friendly, but not overly pretty - just as society would like it to be. Both could hardly be more different, both have to nibble on their past, together they have to face the escalating situation in which the men let them down and in the end become as good friends as time allows. The fact that a lot remains unspoken and only hinted at is one of Winterkind's great strengths. Not only do the characters and their relationships with one another have “blanks” that the reader can fill as he likes, the end is also open. The problems are not all solved, but the protagonists now know what they can achieve - and the reader is left with the feeling that they will now take their lives into their own hands and will help determine their fate.

More about Lilach Mer can be found here.

Well, then everything is said for the time being. Till next week!

Posted in Reviews | Tagged Lilach Mer, Review, Winterkind | Leave a comment

I took quite a long break from fantasy a few years ago. I can't even say exactly what it was. Maybe I had overlooked myself, but maybe my feeling was right that all of the stuff was unoriginal, unintelligent and sloppily written. In the meantime the market and with it the offer has changed fundamentally. Many, many German authors are and are being published and there is also more and more “female” fantasy. A wonderful example of this is Lilach Mer's The Seventh Swan.

Author: Lilach Mer
Title: The Seventh Swan
Published by Heyne Verlag
Pages: 556

In 1913, fourteen-year-old Wilhelmina Ranzau lives on her father's estate in Schleswig-Holstein and is a dreamy girl who prefers to spend her time in the attic to the music of an old music box. She is on the verge of becoming a young lady; her confirmation will be soon. More by chance she overhears a conversation between Dr. Rädin, the doctor she has known all her life, and her parents, and learns that she had two brothers who were taken away as crazy, and that the doctor also thinks she is crazy and that she should be taken away too.
Mina runs away, more by accident, and with the help of Mr. Tausendschön, a cat, escapes her captors. When she hears the cat speak, she too begins to doubt her sanity, but she arrives at the perpetrators - traveling people - and finds help and compassion, but also resentment and danger. Because she chooses to find out what happened to her brothers and where they are now. She wants to save them. But finding the truth is difficult at best and, in the worst case, a price that is higher than life. But Mina faces the dangers on her way through an enchanted Schleswig-Holstein populated with legendary figures.

I can't say what I liked best about The Seventh Swan: the fairy tale structure or the wonderful language! The latter comes across as poetic in some places and was always a pleasure to read. I had to read some sentences twice with pleasure. The fairy tale structure that determines the plot is close to the myth, to what has moved us humans from time immemorial, and thus ensures that the story also remains close to the original. Perhaps that - in addition to the extremely likeable characters - is the reason that the book moved me a lot.
Worldbuilding in a fantastic novel is a tightrope walk. On the one hand there is the “realistic” world and on the other hand the world of the other, of the wonderful. Many writers break this magic by describing and explaining too much. Lilach, however, manages with her descriptions to describe both the Wilhelmine Schleswig-Holstein and the world of the perpetrators full of magic, fairy tales and legends with such ease that both are clear and completely natural for the reader. Choosing a favorite scene from so many good scenes is always difficult, but I just love - I just have to spoil it! - the description of the devil in this book! It's been a long time since I've read such a successful and so creepy description of a devil encounter. The interweaving of legends in the fantastic novel is simply really well done and creates a dense, fantastic, almost tangible atmosphere.
And what also really impressed me was how easily and fluently genre boundaries are crossed, so that it is hardly noticeable. But in some places you seem to be reading a historical novel, in others fantasy, then again a coming-of-age story and finally there is also a good pinch of horror.
The characters are wonderful. First and foremost, of course, Mina, who has to endure a dangerous adventure, but also the perpetrators - Lilja, Nad, Rosa, Pipa - and Mr Tausendschön are just like Aunt Elisabeth or Dr. Rädin tangible and full of depth. All the characters look like they're just waiting to be returned to because they have another story to tell, and another, and another.
Even if there are no real illustrations in the book, the various sections are preceded by very pretty "prongs". Small pictures that tell the attentive observer what the next section will be about and that are inspired by actual teeth.
The end of the book made me sad. It was hard, after so much wondrous magic and bewitching spell, to be brought back to reality in this most rude and horrific way. But in summary it is a fairytale beautiful book: moving, magical and very intelligent.

More about Lilach Mer can be found here.

Well, then everything is said for the time being. Till next week!

Posted in Reviews | Tagged The Seventh Swan, Lilach Mer, Review | Leave a comment