Crime writer Ingrid Davis "I want to know what happens next!"

Author Ingrid Davis
Author Ingrid Davis | © Renate Schütt / Stadtbild Aachen

German crime author Ingrid Davis has self-published her debut novel and it's been well-received by readers. Her second novel will be published by KBV. In our interview she talks about her experiences with the publishing industry, her protagonist Britta Sander and how her Aachen Crime Stories will continue.

Humorous private EYE Britta Sander

The cheerful tone in "Forgiven and Forgotten" [original title: ‘Vergeben und Vergessen’] keeps the reader entertained. Other crime writers, such as Håkan Nesser, tend to have rather moralizing undertone. Did you consciously opt for this tone?

Yes, it was actually a conscious decision to write a crime-comedy. I read a lot of crime stories, including “serious” works such as Ian Rankin, Jo Nesbø or Lin Anderson, but I also enjoy funny detective stories, such as the Kluftinger novels from the Allgäu region and [the German cult crime TV-series] Tatort from Münster are among my favourites.

I find the idea of entertaining the reader with an interesting criminal case exciting, but at the same time I want to make them laugh – about the narrator’s ironic point of views, the bizarre characters in the stories and the general absurdities of life. And there's a bit of self-interest too - I often laugh about some of my own scenes while writing; and when you're working part-time, it's much easier to sit at your desk in the evenings and on the weekends, when there is something to laugh about.

The protagonist, Britta Sander, doesn’t seem particularly affected by the murders, she celebrates with friends as if nothing happened. But working on a series of murder cases is not commonplace for her as a private investigator. Why does she seem to be not very affected?

Britta has, I think, a very healthy attitude to her work. She likes to work a lot in her job (evenings, weekends), but she can also separate work and private life and doesn’t allow herself – at least in the first volume – to be “eaten up” by an ongoing investigation.
We are used to crime novels featuring a hero who dives into an investigation and completely neglects their private life. In my opinion, this doesn’t necessarily have to always be the case and a crime-comedy should not focus exclusively on the investigation, but also give space to the individual characters and their lives.

To be honest though, I do not really share the view that Britta is not affected by her investigation. In the end for example, she risks her own life in order to stop the perpetrator. Maybe you get the impression, because an important prerequisite for humour and irony is distance - to yourself and to the events that you comment on. That’s why Britta, through whose eyes we see the story and the other characters, needs some distance. Not only does she comment on the events and other characters with an ironic undertone, she also has no problem making fun of herself. Think about it - people who lack a certain distance are usually pretty serious and not funny at all, so quite the opposite of Britta Sander.

Self-publishing versus publishing house

Self-publishing edition with psyeudonym Self-publishing edition with psyeudonym | © Ingrid Davis "Forgiven and Forgotten" has been self-published. What contributed to this decision and would you do it again?

I am very glad that I was able to sign on with a reputable publisher such as KBV. KBV will not only release Volume 2, but also release Volume 1 in a slightly revised form and under a new title. At the same time, I am very happy that I first started as self-publisher, as I have learned a lot during that year and I have met a lot of great people. I learned so much about the publishing world and the challenges one faces in the area of ​​marketing and press relations when you don’t have the support of a publishing house behind you.

The reason why I originally decided to publish “Forgiven and Forgotten” myself was my impatience. When I had first finished the book, I turned to various agents, because everybody told me “Do not send manuscripts to publishers directly, you won’t get anywhere without an agent”. It turned out later that this is in fact untrue.

Of the four or five agents I contacted, nobody got back to me, and then I thought at some point: You know a great graphic design agency; you know a bit about printing; anyone can buy an ISBN nowadays and you know a little bit about marketing too. You can do it alone - and if you are lucky and the book is reasonably successful, it will certainly be easier to find a publisher for the following volumes. And this is exactly what happened. Marcel Emonds, a very committed bookseller in Aachen, read my book and introduced me to KBV publishing shortly after. They were so impressed with volumes 1 and 2 that they immediately signed me on. To be honest, I still can’t believe it.

How about the editing? Did you hire a professional editor or did you rely more on the opinions of your circle of friends?

Unfortunately I had to do without an editor when I first published my debut novel, as I had to fund everything myself - graphics, printing and so on. And freelance editors who understand their job also have to make a living and charge accordingly.

Since I had no idea whether the book would be well received or not, I relied on a number of test readers, who gave me many suggestions. Of course, there are always things that you can improve, but the book's success shows that readers graciously ignore a few typos if the story is funny and exciting enough.

What's Next?

Are more volumes planned, now that you released the second “Britta Sander” case with her as a protagonist, or are you toying with ideas for completely different novels?

I knew from the beginning that it would not end with only one Britta Sander novel. For example, volume 1 already featured characters and themes to be picked up again in later volumes. Volume 2 has already been finished and is currently being reviewed by KBV (to be released in April) and the first draft of Volume 3 is already finished too. But there is still a lot of work to be done here - I hope that I can use my upcoming stay in Australia to make a bit of headway.

While writing the second volume, I realised that it's really fun to accompany characters in more than one book because you get to know them better in the process of writing, so to speak. You get an even better sense of how a character would react in a given situation and how they comment on and deal with things that happen to them, or to people they encounter, which plays an important role in my books. And it just gets easier and easier to write about the characters’ interactions.

And of course it also helps when the readers plead “Come on, hurry up - I want to know what happens next!”

I had hoped, but almost didn’t dare to dream, that Britta, Tahar, Eric and Commissioner Körber are so well received, that many readers turn to me and tell me that they are looking forward to the next adventure, especially because they want to know what happens to the main characters. For me, as a reader, it’s much the same – I am mostly interested in the main characters. If I don’t feel like I’m warming to them, the actual case can be as exciting as it wants to be, turning the pages becomes a chore and I usually don’t read much further.  But when there are great characters such as Ian Rankin's John Rebus, Nesbø's Harry Hole or Anderson's Rhona McLeod, I start to live in their stories and can’t put the book back down until I read it all.

My books are very much driven by the characters too. I just find them very likeable, each in their own way.