Friday, 3 May 2013

Author Interview - OLIVER POTZSCH author of The Hangman's Daughter

Oliver Pötzsch has not been the kind of man to sit idly by while life whizzes past. He has taken it by the throat and made the most of it. Ever since he left highschool he has been aspiring and persevering in the world of journalism and it has dealt him many cool hands as just reward. Work in tv, in radio, in film, as a scriptwriter, and then of course as a husband and a father and now, an author of a bestselling series in Germany and around the world.
To most outside of Germany, he is best known as the author of the highly successful The Hangman's Daughter series of books, The Hangman's Daughter, The Dark Monk , The Beggar King,  and the most recent book, book four, released in Germany, but English translation not due for release until July 2013, The Poisoned Pilgrim.
This series has been embraced by readers on a worldwide scale. But many have done the same, been International Bestsellers. So what makes Oliver and his Hangman's Daughter series so special? What makes it a cut above? Well, I have thought about this long and hard and I think I have worked it out.

It does not matter if you are a man or woman, girl or boy. It does not matter what genre or sub genre of fiction you read, or in fact if you are a heavy reader or a 'once every now and then' reader.
The startling and macabre subject matter, excellent writing quality, brilliant translation from German to English, unique and captivating bookcovers and that dark Gothic feel that is so much a part of pop culture right now, has been the perfect blend of ingredients to attract readers from all walks of life and nearly all ages.
He has brought something different to the book marketplace. A book, and a series of books, that makes us all want to shut ourselves away in a quiet corner or at the back of the bus or in a private corner of a train on the way to work, and be transported, transfixed and hypnotised by a special cast of characters and an unforgettable Seventeeth Century Bavarian village setting.

I was lucky enough, with the help of an excellent translator on Oliver's end, to interview the author over the internet. It required a little back and forth over a week, but the results were worth it.
I have complete faith that you will enjoy this interview, especially if you are a fan of the Hangman's Daughter series.
Oliver has been kind enough to not only capture some of his Kuisl's world in his answers, but he has also let us see what the man behind the books is like. And I feel I can say without a shadow of doubt, that the man behind the books is a gentleman. A gentleman who has a mind filled to the brim with wonderful stories just waiting to get out and it was a real pleasure, and honour, to have this moment with him.

Do you think it is important to be as historically accurate as possible in an historical fiction book?

Yes, of course, historical novels should be dramatic summits of authentic events.
The reader should always have the idea that the historical fiction really might have taken place this way. And I hope that readers realise how intensively I am working on the research and inquiries for my stories.

The only exceptions are dialogues. We don't know how people at the time really talked. And even if we knew it would be difficult for us to read and understand it. The language has developed quite a lot and was completely different from ours. I think it is important to use a quite modern style of dialogue so that readers can get a realistic impression of the acting characters.

 Do you feel all executioners would have lived outside of society back then? Feared? Ignored? Spurned? Or do you think it would be accepted as just another job. Like the baker or the butcher.

Hangmen were outcasts in those days. Their children were not allowed to be christened; they had to live outside the cities and ordinary people tried to avoid their glances.
Nevertheless, people contacted them to be healed from diseases or to buy a magic potion, because a hangman knew a lot about the human body.
This contradiction makes hangmen very attractive as literary characters: good and bad, healing and killing, witchcraft and witch hunt – all in one person.
I think that this ambivalent impression of a hangman's profession is -even in our days – one of the reasons for the international success of my books.

All authors write in different ways. Since you have a career as a Screenwriter also, as you write does your story play out in your head like a movie? Or do you just type the words as they roll from your mind?

I think that most authors have pictures in mind when they write and develop their stories. Indeed critics say that my stories are like film descriptions. I am glad about this – maybe I really think much more as a film director (cuts, close ups, plot points or one liners) than other German authors.
When writing dialogues, I often play the scenes in my office and behave more or less like an actor: I make faces and gesticulate to find out how my characters act, argue, cry, kill – or die. When it's very intense, I close the curtains – otherwise my neighbours might think I am mad.

You have discovered some intriguing history about the Kuisl and your connection to them. What was your initial reaction when you found out you were related to a long line of executioners?

I know since my childhood that I descend from a hangman family. As I grew up with this knowledge it wasn't a shock for me. On long walks during our holidays my mother by and by told me about the cruel details. For my own children hangmen acted for a very long time more like police officers, so they did not fear them. In the meantime they know exactly how their ancestors acted. But I told them that they only executed the very bad criminals – and until now they believe it.
To be honest, I would like to believe it myself, though I know it is true. After all, among the victims there also were some supposed witches who in reality only were pitiful and anxious women.

Have you always wanted to write a novel? And do you see yourself ever giving up all your other careers (such as Screenwriting and radio work) just to write books only?

Indeed. I wanted to work as an author since my childhood. And I often went to bookshops imagining that my books would be there on the shelves.
To earn a living by telling stories is the most wonderful thing I can imagine! And last month I really canceled my job at the tv station with a heavy heart, but it was too much to work on both fields. Besides, after 20 years as a journalist it was time for a change. But I will continue singing in bands.
By the way: singing and writing are similar. Some words sound better than others.

If you could go back in time and meet a Kuisl relative. What would you most like to ask him?

Good question! There are so many things I would like to ask. For example: How would you act if you have to torture and execute someone although you are convinced that he is innocent. This, by the way, is the hangman's conflict in the first volume of my 'Hangman's Daughter' series.

Do you ever think that there were women executioners or that women commonly assisted executioners?

I only know about one single execution that took place in the Bavarian town Nordlingen in the Eighteenth Century. The Hangman was so drunk that he saw several heads instead of one. It was a very cruel and bloody execution and in the end, his wife had to do the job.
In general, the profession was too much strain for a woman. It takes a lot of strength to handle a sword so that the head is separated neatly from the body.

 Do you prefer to read ebooks or paper books?

Personally, I prefer paper books, but my wife already prefers eBooks.
We both read a lot and it makes things easier if you don'thave to pack a whole box of books for your holidays. But I love the smell of glue, dust and paper – I am a real book maniac and I like visiting second hand and antiquarian bookshops. A bit like the medicus Simon Fronwieser in my novels. Besides, I like – like Simon does – a good cup of coffee and old libraries.
In Germany we have a lot of small bookshops where they offer Cappucino and cakes on old leather couches. For me this feels like Heaven!

(Thankyou to translator: G. Rumler for help during the interview and it would also be remiss of me not to give credit to the translator who has done such an oustanding job on The Hangman's daughter Series, Lee Chadeayne. Who has done a remarkable job on the German to English translation of the books.)
- MM


  1. Brilliant, brilliant, brilllllliiiiant!

    Love the questions, love the answers. Well done the lot of you :)


    1. How will I EVER beat this interview! All the forces combined in this one. Oliver so nice and happy to talk to me despite our language issues, me wanting to ask him a million questions and Oliver's brilliant Agent, Gerd Rumler who translated Oliver's answers for me. :-)

  2. thank you for posting that terri.

    1. You are welcome, Mark. Hope it adds to the experience of reading the book.':-)

  3. Exceptional interview! Any book that crosses a language barrier into English has already proved itself in its own language but so much then depends on the translator. Your interview has really made me want to read the book and the writer's connection with his subject is fascinating. I'm confused by the term 'hangman' if the execution is by sword? Maybe I need to read the book!

    1. Thanks, Jean! Oliver really was a pleasure to deal with and interview. He was open and honest in his answers. We get to see the man, but we also get to see the mind behind the book. He is so passionate about his writing, his characters and his research. It comes through in his answers here, and in the book.
      I honestly don't think Oliver would ever do anything by halves. He gives everything he has got to whatever he is doing.
      Yes, you should read the book. :-) I have about 100 pages to go, but I know already that I will keep reading the series at some stage.

    2. I agree! (the next two books are in transit, and the fourth pre-ordered).
      I wonder if they called excutioners hangmen because the former has a real sense of finality while the latter there's a chance of survival? Hmmm...

    3. I wondered if it was for ine of two reasons.
      Hanging was once their stock and trade, so the name stuck, even though they may have changed to using the sword more often,
      Or perhaps they used the noose most commonly, especially with soldiers caught during wars (ie the Thirty Years' War which is mentioned in The Hangman's Daughter), so an executioner, during times of war, might commit more hangings than trial based executions/beheadings.

  4. Just a word for future edits....

    In the Beggar King (page 413 English version) it reads " a steer takes a cow...." Maybe it's a translation error, but a steer is a neutered male bovine and does not breed.

    from a farmer's daughter.

    1. Sounds like a bad edit.
      Although steers do still jump cows, they just don't 'do the job'. Unless that's what Oliver meant? The character he was referring to might be impotent! I haven't read The Beggar King yet so don't know the context.