Wolfram Fleischhauer

Frequently Asked Questions


So far, most of your novels are historical novels, but you have also written a novel on Tango and a campus novel. What kind of genre are you writing in?

I do not really write genre novels and no pure historical novels either. Somewhere I have never travelled, for example, is set in Paris in 1867 and 1996. The Purple Line is framed by a contemporary narrative, and even The Book Assassins is only historical with respect to the setting. The subject matter is quite topical. I don´t start with a period, not even even with a character. I always start with a question. The trigger fort the question may well be a 16th century painting or a historical event or anecdote. Most of the time it is a mixture of all of these. The period is not the issue. The issue for me is always the dramatic question.


So what, for example, is the dramatic question of “Vipassana?”

Simply put: Is there such a thing as free will? Or rather: how does the way we answer this question shape our worldview and – eventually – our fate. I have been carrying this story around with me for almost twenty years. I have a lot of first chapters, none of which ever managed to get me into the story. In one version the story opens in a US prison, in another one we are at a big international conference in Geneva, a third version starts in Kenya. None of this ever worked. Only when I read about the first European new-age-movements of the 1920´s, I suddenly found a setting that put everything into motion. A story-idea is like a germ. It needs the right soil, in this case (and with this writer) the 1920´s. But the dramatic question is not fixed in time. It is timeless.


Who are you readers? Which public do you have in mind when you write.

This is difficult to say. I write the book at first for myself. That does not mean that I don´t think about the reader. But first I have to get excited about the dramatic question myself. For me, storytelling is like a sixth sense, a way of probing into unknown territory in my heart and mind. I project myself into the characters and their choices. It is a game about conflicting important values and I don´t know the outcome. The writing process is like a battle at the end of which I know a lot more about myself. The finished novel is an invitation to share this experience and cross the same labyrinth of choices. Good stories don´t give answers but pose interesting questions.


How do you go about writing a novel?

Two years preparation, mainly research. One year for the actual writing. This is more or less the routine I have developed over the past fifteen years. I write long summaries and don´t really begin the actual writing until I have a good sense of where I am heading. Once I have started, I write every day, for one year, averaging about three pages a day. About half of all this survives and ends up in the final version.


Have you changed your working method over the years?

Not really. The Purple Line took seven years to write, but I was still a student and I had never written a novel before. With time and experience I definitely got faster or more structured in my approach. But in a way, with every new story you are a beginner.


Which writers have influenced you most?

There are several categories of writers. Some are true masters or even geniuses, some are excellent craftsmen, and some are really bad but incredibly successful. For pleasure, I read authors from group one and two. For professional reasons, mainly two and three. Storytelling is a craft. It is essential to know what works and what doesn’t and why.


Do you have any questions?