Why do you write?

That's one of those questions that's difficult to answer. Perhaps because of things, feelings, moods ... that can be encapsulated in the written word, and thus preserved. Perhaps also: During my studies I once had to write a term paper on Psalm 104. This psalm is concerned with the creation. One possible interpretation is – and I very much agreed with this, that the psalmist wanted to recreate the threatened world anew through his words. So by writing I can create my own world and, that is especially true for crime novels, be able, to some degree, to restore a violated order.

How does someone who has studied theology come to write detective stories?

Well, the murder of Abel by Cain is one of the first murders in world literature. The Old Testament contains many elements that make a good detective novel – violence, punishment, retribution and redemption, love, jealousy, betrayal and intrigue. It has a lot of tension and drama. Some of the books of the Old Testament are also written in very beautiful language. Taking this into account, I have always found it decidedly more exciting than the New Testament.

How do you find your ideas?

In many different ways. A "seed idea" regarding what was later to become the "Illuminator" came to me during a walking tour of Cologne's southern inner city organised by the local women's history club – then I hadn't lived long in Cologne and wanted to learn more about the city. The route led past a former beguine house (a type of convent). Although I had studied Catholic theology, I had not learned about beguines during my studies. I thought that this was exciting. Women in the Middle Ages could lead a religious life without being integrated into the strict discipline of an order – and hence soon came into conflict with the church. This "seed idea" coincided with my interest in painting. Thus, the heroine of the novel, Donata, is a book illuminator who has found refuge among the Cologne beguines. An article in the German weekly "Die Zeit" was the inspiration for "The Star of Theophanu". I think she featured there on the occasion of the 1000th anniversary of her death. I found it impressive that after the death of her husband, Otto II, she claimed for herself the right to sign documents with "Theophanu Imperator".

Do you do your research at the relevant historical site?

Partly. The "Illuminator" takes place in Cologne, where I was living at the time when I wrote the novel. For the "Star of Theophanu" I was variously in Magdeburg, Quedlinburg, on Lake Constance and in St. Gallen and Rome. But as one example – I didn't travel to Ravenna. In Rome I was lucky enough to have seen Otto II's sarcophagus in the crypt of St. Peter's Basilica – a guard was nice enough to open the enclosure just for me. For the "Women Warrior" I traveled to Sicily and visited the cathedral of Monreale and the fortress of Frederick II in Syracuse. The cloister of the cathedral and the way across the rooftops have inspired me in some important scenes. For "At the Court of the Lioness" I did some research in Winchester and Oxford. One of the problems is that with buildings and places from the early and late Middle Ages, little of the original building structures still exists. The "Illuminator" is set in 1235 – the old cathedral in Cologne from Carolingian era was then still standing. Winchester (which I describe in "At the Court of the Lioness") almost completely burnt down during the civil war between Matilda and Stephen. Nevertheless it is important to me to be "on site" so as to get a feel for the landscape/cityscape and atmosphere of a place.

Your novels are set in different times and have different themes – there is a common thread connecting of your books?

Yes, there is. The "Holy One in your midst" is set in a Catholic university. The Church and theology were very characteristic of the Middle Ages. The Romans were gratifyingly pragmatic as regards religious questions. But in the "Taste of the deadly nightshade", as well as in the "Illuminator", the "Woman Warrior" and "At the Court of the Lioness" medicinal herbs and women healers play an important role. My heroines and heroes are – apart perhaps from Jakoba Strykowski in "The Holy One in your midst" – "damaged" people. Donata, for instance, the heroine of the "Illuminator" has, to put it into today's words, lost her talent to paint as the result of a traumatic experience. Theophanu as a young girl sees the desecrated corpse of the emperor lying in a courtyard of the Byzantine palace. Aline, the heroine of "At the Court of the Lioness" has, within a short time, lost both her parents and her little brother and is forced into serfdom.

What inspires you?

Colours, fabrics, old buildings, gardens, Cookery books, Oxford and London, British TV shows on DVD such as "Life on Mars", "New Tricks", "Lark Rise to Candleford" or "Upstairs Downstairs", just to name just a few. Walking along the streets and looking around. In the spring of 2006 I spent seven weeks in Bristol. Not far from my apartment, I discovered a house with a "Plaque of Honour" for a woman called "Annie Kenny" who had fought as a suffragette for women's suffrage. That gave me the inspiration for a – still to be written – detective story, set in Britain at the beginning of the 20th Century.

Do you have favourite authors?

Books that have in recent years particularly impressed me and/or amused me and/or given great pleasure are: "On the Beach" by Ian McEwan, "The Uncommon Reader" by Alan Bennett, the first two novels about the detective Evadne Mount by Gilbert Adair, Michael Cunningham's "The Hours", Margaret Forster's "Keeping the World Away", "Millions" by Frank Cottrell Boyce and "How I Live Now" by Meg Rosoff. I am also very fond of contemporary detective novels and I find Phil Rickman's heroine, Merrily Watkins, an unconventional Anglican minister and a consultant for "spiritual border issues", very nice.

Do you exchange ideas with other people regarding your projects?

The exchange of ideas with my partner Hartmut Löschcke is very important to me; he is a bookseller and due to his profession he reads (with pleasure) copiously. In addition I exchange ideas with colleagues from the "Mörderische Schwestern" network (of which I am a member) and I particularly want to mention Mila Lippke and Gisa Klönne. It sometimes revolves around asking hard questions about the plot or characters. But also about how to work in tandem with a publisher, so that working on a novel can be done in a relaxed way.

What new projects are you working on?

The next project will be a time-travel story. I once again want to tell a story “obliquely”, as with "The Holy one in your midst". The project after that will be a present-day story set in Oxford, that will also be narrated somewhat obliquely, and the next after that will be a thriller set at the beginning of the 20th Century in Great Britain: For that I still need to do some research.

Why choose GB?

I am a total fan of British country houses, parks, books, movies and the "Afternoon Tea". I've always felt that the past and the present there are separated by a more "permeable" barrier than in this country (Germany). When I lived in Bristol in 2006 for several weeks, I twice visited the tiny city of Wells. There is a wonderful cathedral there. As I climbed the well-worn steps leading to the chapter house, it would not have surprised me if I had encountered medieval people coming in the other direction. There are also places in Germany which I like very much. But this feeling of the past being close, or that landscapes, old houses and squares have a secret, never really comes across me here. Also, I love British idiosyncrasies and eccentricities, such that fictitious persons could easily become a reality. Which German would have the idea – even if these characters were from German literature – to organise a symposium on Sherlock Holmes' musical preferences or to insert a congratulatory ad in the "Times" on Lord Peter Wimsey's golden wedding anniversary?

How do you write?

Initially by hand. I jot down (on small slips of paper or index cards) ideas for the plot and the people, impressions gained in particular places and short excerpts from books. I collect them up in a bowl that stands on my desk. Eventually I'll start then to bring together these notes along with relevant newspaper articles that I have saved. Then I glue all these, along with postcards and photos, in large albums. I need this visualization and "manual" work of writing by hand. Writing in "manuscript", I am far more "uncontrolled" than I would be if using a computer – this lets the ideas flow more easily for me, as is necessary in the early stages of developing a story. When a story is largely thought out – this may take a few months or a couple of years – then I write a first draft using a computer.

Has someone recently particularly impressed you?

About a year ago I read in a gardening magazine an interview with Gabriella Pape, who founded the "Royal Garden Academy" in Berlin-Dahlem. She had worked (if I remember correctly) for many years as a landscape architect in the UK. The banks were unwilling to lend any money for her Garden Academy project, because they believed it would be unprofitable. Then Gabriella Pape decided that she wanted to become well-known in Germany. Her plan: She must receive a medal at the Chelsea Flower Show – that's a kind of Oscars for gardens. Because then the Queen would visit her garden and the German newspapers would report on it. Her plan worked. She won a silver medal, the Queen came, the German newspapers wrote about it and the banks lent the money. That, I think, is a very desirable, cheering and confident attitude.