This month, I contacted Ben Fergusson for an interview, and not only did he say yes, but I was also lucky enough to receive a copy of his debut novel, The Spring of Kasper Meier.
Once again, I was concerned that this book wouldn't be for me. And once again, I must chide myself for not being more open-minded. How wrong I was.
Published this month by Little, Brown, The Spring of Kasper Meier
is set in 1946 Berlin, the city left desolate by the war, its people left hungry and desperate. Kasper Meier is no exception. He trades on the black market in order to feed himself and his elderly father, and is known to be able to find anything, for the right price. Eva Hirsch, a young rubble girl, knows this, and when she involves him in her quest to find a British pilot, Kasper is drawn into a world of deceit, betrayal, and murder.
Despite the title always setting off the song "The Rains of Castamere" in my head (you hear it now too, don't you?), The Spring of Kasper Meier
is beautifully written, extremely powerful, and wonderfully dark. The writing style was somewhat similar to J.K. Rowling as Robert Galbraith, a style I absolutely adore. Kasper, with his blind eye, elderly father, and soft spot for Eva, evokes a strong sense of sympathy in me, which allowed me to overlook his more deplorable side. Fergusson has the incredible ability to create believable and frustrating characters, and a beautiful, heartbreaking story.
Fergusson is a novelist, editor, publisher and translator. He was born in Southampton in 1980, and grew up near Didcot in Oxfordshire. He studied English Literature at Warwick University and Modern Languages at Bristol University, and has worked for ten years as an editor and publishing manager in the art world.
Although he currently works as an Art Publisher at the Hayward Gallery in London’s Southbank Centre, Fergusson always wanted to be a writer: "I also wanted to be other things as a child – I think either a painter, an actor or a cook – but writing books was always top of the list."
An avid reader as a child, it took Fergusson a while to discover what books he wanted to read as a teenager, until one of his teachers, Ms Frost, got him back into reading, and suggested he study it at university. He lists many authors as people who have affected how and what he writes - the Brontës, Dickens, Austen, Katherine Mansfield, E.M. Forster, and American writers, including James Baldwin, Truman Capote and Richard Yates.
Although Fergusson gets his ideas from everywhere, The Spring of Kasper Meier
was "very much inspired by the experience of living in Berlin and becoming aware of the amount of history around me. When I saw the bullet holes in the walls of buildings, I couldn't help wondering what Berlin would have been like just after the war."
Fergusson learnt about the rubble women, who were in charge of cleaning up and rebuilding all of Germany's cities after the war, due to the men being dead, not yet returned from war, or very old or very young, while he was studying at the Goethe Institut in Berlin. "I'm obviously also constantly picking up things from other books, but also films, TV series, plays, music. Really anything can be inspirational if it moves me."
Perseverance, Fergusson says, is the key to being successful: "Just keep writing and keep sending things out. You would be surprised how few aspiring writers are writing or trying to write a novel. You've got to do the work. Obviously, the more you write, the better you get."
Networking is also extremely important. Through submitting stories to journal and competitions since 2007, Fergusson was able to meet many established writers, who helped him in different ways with his own novel. "Get it written and get it out there!"
His advice to his pre-published self would be to make the changes you know are necessary, before someone else makes you do them. "All of the changes that my agent and then editor requested that I make to my book were issues that I knew were there, but felt too big to tackle. Things like removing characters, scenes or whole chapters that weren't working hard enough. It is a cliche, but you're so much more likely to get a book published if you've made it as good as you can make it. It's easy to fool yourself into thinking you've got there, because the reality is too hard to bear."
Fergusson is already working on his next novel, based on two Anglo-German sisters set just before the First World War. When one sister goes missing at her wedding, the other must try to find her, as England moves towards war and Europe becomes an increasingly sinister place. It takes place partly in German Southwest Africa (now Namibia) during the twenty-first century's first genocide, as well as in England and Germany.
After thoroughly enjoying The Spring of Kasper Meier
, I'm definitely looking forward to Fergusson's next novel, and anything else he writes.
Fergusson has already been doing talks and signings around the country. His upcoming events include The Special Relationship event on the 2 September in London, the Barking & Dagenham Reading Festival at the Valance Library on the 24 September, and the Blenheim Palace Literary Festival in Woodstock from the 25 - 28 September. He'll also be appearing at the Appledore Book Festival in Devon on the 2 October, and the Polari Literary Salon at the Southbank Centre in London on the 26 November. For more information, check his website.
This interview has also been posted to the website ReadWave
Photo © Charlie Hopkinson