Novelist and founder-publisher of Peirene Press, Meike Ziervogel, came to London in 1986 to study Arabic language and literature, and received a BA and MA from SOAS. She speaks German, English, Arabic and French. She is married and has two children.
Where were you born, and where did you grow up?
I was born in Kiel in the north of Germany, and I grew up near there, in a small town called Heide on the North Sea coast.
What sorts of books were in your family home? Who were early formative influences?
My mother used to read us the Grimm’s Fairy Tales from a book with beautiful old paintings. I wanted to have hair like Rapunzel.
Why do you write?
Because I enjoy it. Creating stories also allows me to explore and emotionally understand topics and issues I might otherwise find difficult to comprehend.
Your advice to new writers just starting out?
Stamina is essential. And be prepared to rewrite rewrite rewrite and cut cut cut.
Are there any other writers in your family?
How do you choose your subjects?
They come to me.
How do you move from research to writing; is it difficult to begin?
As soon as I have finished a novel, I start with the next. Research for me is secondary. I do it when and if I have time.
As an author, what are you most proud (or embarrassed) of writing?
I’m always embarrassed of my first drafts. That’s why I don’t show them to anyone. And I always work on a novel until I can be proud of it.
Your views on success?
I think success is when you keep on going and when you feel that you become better with each new story that you write.
When you look back at the books you have written, is there a favourite?
I write a book in order to write the next one. I love the succession of my books. And I can’t wait till I can look back on a row of ten or twelve. So, no – I don’t have a favourite.
Do you write every day; what is your writing process? Do you do many drafts?
I aim to write on three mornings a week but that’s not always possible. In addition throughout the year I take five weeks off from my publishing work, retreat to a cottage in Norfolk where I have no phone and no internet. There I write from morning to evening. My first draft is usually about 150,000 words long, my finished books are usually around 40,000 words. I go through many drafts.
What are you working on now?
My fifth novel is about a man who falls in love with a lonely artist who has a dark secret. It’s about creativity and sex.
Your views on book publishing?
I feel proud and lucky that I’m part of the ‘story-creating business’ (as I tend to call it) – both as a writer and as a publisher. Stories are important. They help us make sense of the world. Yet, the publishing world is undergoing huge changes. I believe that reading, especially fiction, will become increasingly a niche activity and therefore making money from literature – or even just making ends meet – will become even harder. You have to be in it for the love and passion, with conviction and determination. You can’t be in it for fame and money.
Your views on how new technology has (or has not) changed your writing life? Do you enjoy reading ebooks?
I don’t think new technology has changed my writing life. I still have to put one word after another after another on the screen/page. And I prefer to read ‘real’ books.
Your views on social media?
I’m on twitter and facebook. And I wish I would be as witty as some of my virtual friends. But I’m not.
If you could go anywhere in time for one day, where would you go and why?
Wow, that’s a difficult question. I guess I would head to the future. I’m curious to know where we are heading, not least because we are doing so badly in preserving our natural habitat. There must be something that is driving us humans that we haven’t yet understood, something that goes beyond self-preservation. So: 1000 years from now to the same spot in North London where I’m sitting right now.
Who are the five people, living or dead, you’d invite to a party?
Buddha, Jesus, Mohammed, Hildegard von Bingen, Louise Bourgeois.
Which characters in history do you like the most?
I’m not sure ‘like’ is the right word in this context. I can like people who I know. Not sure, I can like historical figures. But I can be intrigued by them. My top choices are the ones I would invite to my dinner party.
Your heroes in fiction? And in real life?
Fiction hero: The winged trapeze artist Sophie Fevvers in Angela Carter’s Night at the Circus. Real life hero: Angela Merkel, the German chancellor.
Your favourite joke?
According to my 17-year old son, I’m a cringingly bad joke teller. So I better keep quiet here.
Your chief characteristic?
Your chief fault?
Your bedside reading?
At the moment: The Mysteries of Udolpho by Ann Radcliffe.
Meike Ziervogel is the founder of Peirene Press, an award-winning boutique publishing house which specializes in contemporary European novellas and short novels in English translation. The best paper from sustainable British sources is used to create beautifully-designed paperback editions. Peirene hosts regular literary events, from informal coffee mornings to literary salons and tailor-made, exclusive events.
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