Malve von Hassell is a freelance writer, researcher, and translator. She holds a PhD in anthropology from the New School for Social Research. She edited her grandfather Ulrich von Hassell’s memoirs written in prison in 1944, and has taught at Queens College, Baruch College, Pace University, and Suffolk County Community College, while continuing her work as a translator and writer. She lives in Southampton, New York.
What drew you to write historical fiction?
I have always loved historical fiction for bringing alive the past as much as for showing possibilities for the present. One of my favourite authors in this genre is Gillian Bradshaw, who combines superb historical research with appealing storytelling and memorable characters. I admire Helen Dunmore for her gift for describing a chilling and brutal time in history with words hauntingly beautiful and unforgettable.
Do you find your characters and settings in The Amber Crane are based upon your own life experiences?
I grew up on legends and stories about amber, the famous gold of the Baltic Sea, and dreamed of the feared beach patrol galloping along the shore at night, looking for illegal amber gatherers. The setting for my book is Pomerania, near Gdansk in Poland, where my mother was born. Several characters in The Amber Crane are composites of relatives who shared their stories with me, in particular, the descriptions of the evacuation of Pomerania during the spring of 1945.
What is your biggest motivation for writing?
I write because I love the process. I love tinkering with words and phrases. I love the labor of trying to convey the colour and timbre of something and to make it come alive. There is nothing better than the feeling of triumphant delight when I accidentally trip over the perfect phrase or a twist in the story while walking with my dog through the woods, and I wouldn’t give it up for anything.
How many books have you written?
The Amber Crane, to be published by Odyssey Books in 2020, is my third historical fiction novel. I have also written a book for young children as well as several academic works.
What would you say is your biggest accomplishment?
I don’t know how to answer this question. I am happy that I managed to make my mother laugh out loud during the last years of her life when I read stories to her over the phone.
What advice would you give a young writer trying to get published?
Take your time, trust your instincts, and write about something or someone you love. I would recommend having a manuscript read by at least three or four different people, to be open to criticism, and to be willing to take hacksaw to your own writing. And remember to keep your day job.
What inspires you when you hit writer’s block?
I hit writer’s block just about every single day when I try to put words to paper. Yet that dead period is also the germinating chamber for new ideas and new approaches and new characters. The best advice I ever received was to end one’s work at mid-sentence or mid paragraph. The next day, it is much easier to pick up the threads of something as yet unfinished and thus find a ramp to move forward into the next section or the next chapter.
Describe your writing style in three words.
Quiet. Terse. Lyrical.
The Amber Crane will be published in May 2020.