An interview between Chris McVeigh, the founder of Fahrenheit Press and James Craig the author of A Slow Death
CMV: Your new book is the first in a brand new series; can you tell us a little about Max Drescher and A Slow Death?
JC: Max Drescher is a punk cop working a city that seems to be falling apart.
Or, to put it another way, he’s a Kriminalinspektor in Directorate 2 of the Kriminalpolizei, in Berlin back in the early 1990s. VBII is the Criminal Investigation Directorate of Criminal Police Administration, dealing in the most serious crimes.
In A Slow Death, it’s a year after the fall of the Wall. Berlin is a city in flux and on edge. Political conflict and criminal activity go hand in hand. Max has to try a deal with a particularly heinous crime – the massacre of an entire family – while beset by problems of his own.
CMV: Without giving the game away, Max is an unusual cop in various potentially controversial ways – did you set out to make the character deliberately provocative?
JC: No. That would be counter-productive. You always want your main character to be engaging and sympathetic. Max developed his own back story as the book developed. I wanted him to be a rounded character, influenced a by a range of factors – growing up in East Berlin for example – as well as his work as a cop.
Another thing to remember is that while this is tagged a Max Drescher novel it is also aBerlin novel. The city is the other main character if you like. Indeed the location came first. I wanted to write a story based in Berlin (I am a huge fan of Philip Kerr’s Bernie Gunther novels) then I had to decide on a time. The collapse of Communism was obviously an interesting moment for but it wasn’t the only thing going on, so I wanted Max to be shaped by the wider world as well as his own personal history and his immediate surroundings.
CMV: All nine of your Inspector Carlyle books are published by Hachette in the UK - why did you decide to trust your new series to Fahrenheit Press?
JC: I’ve only been in this game for about the last five years or so but it has been interesting to watch publishers struggle to come to terms with the digital world. I have been incredibly lucky, too: the publisher of my Inspector Carlyle series is lovely and very supportive. The editorial process is great. And, when I started out, I had a fantastic marketing director who, apart from anything else, introduced me to a weird punky looking bloke called Chris McVeigh who was prepared to countenance the idea that writers could be interested in data as well as words.
Being able to work with someone who thinks that you have something to offer beyond the completion of the final proofs is, in my experience, fairly unique. Working with the marketing team at Constable & Robinson (subsequently taken over by Hachette) you managed to get the first Inspector Carlyle novel, London Calling, to the No.1 spot on Amazon. As is often the case with these things, I didn’t properly realize what a big deal at the time. Seeing Carlyle #9 currently at No. 4,727, I am a bit more clued in. Publishing 9 books in 4 years is a hell of an achievement but, for various reasons, the marketing side of things has been going backwards. The data-driven decision making just isn’t there. With the existing business model, it doesn’t make sense for the large corporate publishers to invest heavily in ‘mid-list’ authors. Fahrenheit Press’s slogan – publish less, market more – is what all writers want to hear (assuming that they’re the ones still being published).
Then there’s what you might call the editorial fit. Max is much edgier than John Carlyle in various ways. He’s an unreconstructed punk, like you, so from that point of view Fahrenheit is a perfect fit.
CMV: Do you think that old school publishers are failing authors?
JC: Not at all. They are just trying to survive in an unstable marketplace. Someone said recently that ‘capitalism’ is just another word for ‘reality’. It’s a cute sound bite but a bit more than that too; there’s no point complaining about the vagaries of the market, you just have to go with the grain.
The issue for authors is how do you respond? Some will self-publish, some will go down a hybrid route, some will go to marketing savvy outfits like Fahrenheit Press and some will stay with the status-quo, perhaps because they are super-successful anyway or just because of the status it bestows.
CMV: So what’s your view on Amazon?
JC: In my head, as a consumer, I have a fairly love-hate relationship with it. There are things about it that really piss me off but, hey, I use it all the time, just like most other people.
As an author who sells most of his books in eBook format, it’s pretty much the only game in town. You just have to accept that and work out how best to play their game, which is what you guys at Fahrenheit Press are very good at.
CMV: Do you get pissed off, spending so much time on things which aren’t writing?
JC: Not at all. If I didn’t understand it in the beginning, I know now that being able to write – even part-time – is a privilege and a luxury you have to fight for. Fighting for it means understanding that the job is not done, not even half done, on publication day. You have to hustle, baby.
CMV: What’s next? Will there be another Max Drescher novel?
JC: Yes. This first book starts with Max’s last case. Each subsequent book in the series will track backwards through the years telling the story of Max as he weaves his way in and around some of the most pivotal moments in modern German European history. We’ll probably end up discovering that he had an affair with Andreas Baader, or Ulrike Meinhof, or both – maybe a ménage a trois - who knows.
CMV: Speaking of Andreas Baader, didn’t you describe Max as looking like a cross between Baader and Günter Grass?
JC: I was probably getting a bit carried away at that point. Everyone has to have their own mental image of the character. At different times, I imagine a mélange of Baader, Grass, Paul Breitner and Rainer Werner Fassbinder. I tried to write A Slow Death like it was a Fassbinder film – pretentious but true.
CMV: Would you rather write a book that sold a truckload of copies or win a lovely award for a novel that sells 36 copies?
JC: I’ll take the book that sells a truckload of copies every single day of the week but those babies aren’t as easy to write as I make them look.
CMV: Final question. If you could change one thing about Fahrenheit Press what would it be?
JC: I’d probably make the founder a bit less modest and a bit more outspoken. He’s quite a shy chap and hides his light under a bushel far too much.