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Monday 5 June 2023

News Continental: Walking Towards A Novel by Christiane Dieckerhoff


Everyone knows the term ‘Pavlovian reflex’. The Russian physician and physiologist Ivan Petrovič Pavlov managed to train a dog to have a conditioned reflex by replacing the original stimulus with another one and thus conditioning the dog. 

I think you are wondering what this has to do with the work of an author who writes mostly thrillers, set in a rural area near Berlin which has been transformed from swamp to inhabitable land through countless canals.

Many creative people in science and culture have rituals to tap their inner sources. Friedrich von Schiller became intoxicated with the ethylene of rotten apples. The author Eva Menasse says she works at exactly the same desk in the Berlin State Library at exactly the same time every day, to name just two examples.

There are authors who need absolute silence and others, the hustle and bustle of a café to find the stories inside them.  I myself walk, though not outside, but at my desk. This may sound strange, but it's quite simple if, like me, you have a desk that consists of a treadmill and a desk high enough to stand at it. In short: I type while walking!

For my book Verfehlt, published by Aufbau Verlag Berlin in April 2021, I covered pretty much exactly nine hundred and sixty kilometres. In comparison: It's five hundred and sixty-two kilometres from my hometown in the Ruhr to Lübbenau, the setting of my stories.

Over time I have noticed that it makes a difference whether I write sitting down or walking. With the former, I find it much harder to get into a workflow. I believe, this has to do with the Pavlovian reflex I mentioned at the beginning, but also with the special way our brains work. Albert Einstein once said that without his daily walks he would not have been able to develop the theory of relativity.

Our right brain hemisphere controls the left side of our body, and conversely, the left hemisphere is responsible for the right side. When we walk, both of them are active made possible by a lively exchange between the two halves of the brain.  But of course our brain not only moves us, it also lets us experience the world with the help of our sensory organs. The left hemisphere is  responsible for language and abstract thinking, while the right hemisphere processes spatial thinking and pictorial connections.

As an author, I work with words and images. My workspace is more than five hundred kilometres away from where my novels are set. For Verfehlt, I visited the Spreewald Festival in the city of Lübbenau in the summer of 2019, because that's where and when the story begins. I wrote the book in 2020. Like most of my colleagues, I took photos and talked to people.

But what's really important is my inner movie. I have to find words for these images inside my head, and I notice with every book I write on my treadmill that it is much easier for me to find these words while walking.

An Austrian political folk rock band, famous in the seventies of the last century, sang: We learn by moving forward. For me it should rather be called: I write while moving forward. Because one thing is certain. There is no going back on a treadmill. That is why Verfehlt is by no means the last book in the series about my Inspector Klaudia Wagner and I am already looking forward to every step ahead.

Christiane Dieckerhoff has two children, already grown up. In her first life, she was a paediatric nurse in charge of a premature baby unit. After more than thirty years in the profession and her first successful publications in 2016, she took the plunge into living as an author on the northern edge of the Ruhr region. She is sure that she will thus be spared a stomach ulcer but will have many rich experiences in fields she has yet to discover. As Christiane Dieckerhoff she writes mainly crime novels set in the idyllic Spreewald region, as Anne Breckenridge she turns to historical novels. She writes romance novels under pseudonyms such as Nelly Fehrenbach.

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