I have loved writing for as long as I can remember. During my schooldays in Moscow, however, I didn’t get much encouragement from my teacher. Perhaps it’s because our literary tastes were so completely different: at fourteen I was still struggling with Fyodor Dostoyevsky, whose books were on the syllabus, but devoured anything by Arthur Hailey, Erich Maria Remarque or Upton Sinclair. The long essays I wrote as a result were met with feedback that was anything but positive. I refused to be cowed, and chose “An American Tragedy” by Theodore Dreiser as the topic for my leaving exams – a book that couldn’t have been further from the school curriculum. Even then, Dreiser was one of my favourite authors.
I was lucky to grow up in a family who had creativity in their veins. At home we were always making music, composing, painting and reading. By the time I was 17 or 18 I had learned to treasure Dostoyevsky after all, along with the great German writers Schiller and Goethe – at that point, still in their Russian translations. At eighteen, I came to Germany and discovered the novels of Friedrich Dürrenmatt – his books were some of the first that I read in German. Back then I still had to look up about every third word in the dictionary.
Years later, when my proficiency in German had fundamentally improved, I took the advice of a writer friend and applied for a literary grant. As a result I had the opportunity to spend a month in Krems, Austria, writing short stories. One of them was published by Aramo Editions. But at the time, I still wasn’t thinking about trying my hand at something bigger.
The first Brunetti crime novel by Donna Leon, Venetian Finale, was a turning point for me. It was a book which strongly affected me and stayed with me for a long time. That was what started me thinking about writing my own crime novel: crazy, but then again, why not? Despite my enthusiasm, a few more years passed before I finally put this secret wish into action.