A seven-year-old witnesses how her father is shot. Startled by the shot itself - it is hunting season in the Ticino - as, by the ensuing silence, she runs into the garden of the holiday house, where he lies dead by the bushes, which he has just cut. In his hand, he holds a peculiar wooden horse, which she picks up instinctively and keeps this from the police. The murder remains unexplained, the trauma of her childhood remains with her. Long after she has grown up, she resumed her investigations from Basel. The wooden figure, as well as an old photograph, showing her father at a young age with a man unknown to her and bearing the inscription "With Harry, Pentyrch / Cardiff 1949", finally points to Wales. Is the key to the crime there? Who is Harry? Does he know something and where is he to be found?
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How did you get interested in writing?
I started writing stories and little poems as soon as I learnt to write. My father would type them for me and keep them in a folder which grew from year to year and when I reached the age I could read Karl May books I knew that writing novels (and travelling) was going to be part of my life. But as things go… one goes to university, marries, has children etc. and everything does not quite turn out according to plan. Furthermore, because of my husband’s job as a diplomat, I lived in many different countries, far away from the German speaking literary hub, so I started seriously writing relatively late. But since then I have not stopped.
What are you working on currently
I finished a novel this spring, it is coming out this October and parts of it are set in South Wales. After each book I usually take my time to let ideas ripen. I will probably start a new book some time in early 2018. Luckily I never run out of ideas.
Why is your latest novel partly set in Wales?
The Welsh custom "The Fari or Mari - Lywd" began to interest me about four years ago when I visited Cardiff Museum. I wanted to see paintings of Gwen John (about whom I also wrote a novel), the paintings were not shown on the day I visited, but a whole room was devoted to the strange custom 'Y Fari" with a short old film and a really very impressive horse skull as a show object. I immediately knew that I would at some time use this custom in one of my books. I was at the time writing a book about the Wassailing custom in Somerset, where I had been living for nine years, and another book project was waiting, therefore I could only begin my Wales novel last year. I don't have an 'official' link to Wales, but I love Wales since I started to visit and spent time in Wales as part of my research on Gwen John.
What do you want to transmit to your readers via your work?
This is a difficult question; when I write I don’t have my readers in mind, I don’t think about them but about crafting a solid story as I go along. I worry about the choice of words, about the structure of the novel, the balance and sometimes about the credibility of my characters. After the novel is completed, of course, I think about my readers and wonder if they will like it and find it interesting, but this is then not so much my problem anymore. I don’t belong to the category of writers who have a definite genre – or brand, one would say today – in order to please readers who then will exactly know what to expect with every new book I publish. On the contrary: with each book I want to try out something new, to challenge myself with a new difficulty, because there is nothing I hate more than repetition and routine writing; in the end routine leads to bland variations and I think I would be bored from page ten onwards if I recognized that I was writing something I have already done before. In this sense I can say that I want to surprise my readers with something new and hopefully interesting and entertaining.
My main themes vary from historical scenes like in my last book, ‘Vesals Vermächtnis (Vesalius’ legacy)’ where I put the development of modern anatomy in the 16th century at the center of my protagonist’s journey through Italy and Switzerland, or else family issues like in the book ‘Und Harry?’ which is coming out now and also contains an element of mystery and crime.
Where do you get your inspiration from?
It varies; sometimes I have a theme in my head which takes years to emerge, and other times something catches my fancy which immediately sparks a story, it can be a stranger I see in the bus, a sentence I hear, or, very often, a new place I discover to which I feel spontaneously connected. The real inspiration though develops through my working routine. When I start a book I sit down and write every morning, even if the sun shines outside and I would prefer to go for a walk. I don’t go out until I am happy with some progress in my story. Interrupting this daily work schedule also interrupts the flow and inspiration, therefore I try to stick to it as best as I can.
Alexandra Lavizzari was talking to Ruth Thomas-Lehmann, Honorary Consul of Switzerland for Wales
Other titles by Alexandra Lavizzari