Love is not always gentle and warm. Sometimes it brings destruction..
Today I join Sue Haasler on tour with her beautiful new novel, Half A World Away. Just published with The Dome Press, it is described as a ‘gripping love story set in 1980’s Cold War East Berlin‘.
I was really taken by this book and the story of Alex & Nicky, two star-crossed lovers. A little reminiscent of Romeo & Juliet, but set in more recent, yet just as turbulent, times.
I am also delighted to bring you a Q & A with Sue Haasler, which I really do hope you all enjoy!!
‘Being different can be dangerous…’
East Berlin 1987
Charming and talented Alex dreams of becoming a professional saxophonist while working long hours in the family bakery. Detlef, lonely, repressed, and a small-time Stasi informer, develops an obsessive love for him. But Alex has eyes only for Nicky, an English woman visiting East Berlin as an au pair.
With no natural outlet for his feelings, Detlef’s passion becomes destructive, his need for approval enmeshed with the latent homophobia of the regime.
As Alex takes up with more successful musicians, he moves closer to influences considered subversive by a state that has eyes and ears everywhere, and Detlef’s passions threaten to endanger them all.
From the eye-catching cover I immediately knew that this would be a book that I would enjoy and a story that I would happily invest my time in.
East Berlin, pre the fall of the Berlin Wall, is the setting for Half A World Away. Alex is an East Berliner, a lover of jazz, a saxophonist who is passionate about his music. He, and a few buddies, play in a band together, doing a few unpaid gigs for friends. But for Alex, he is just going through the motions. Alex has no real interest in the ‘wedding music’ they have to play, as his thoughts run to the genius of The Bird, Charlie Parker. Alex is the son of a baker and spends his days, up at the dawn with his dad, making bread and cakes for their customers, while dreaming of becoming a renowned musician of international repute. The only way Alex can make this dream a reality is by getting a place in university where, as a qualified musician, he would be legally able to travel beyond the confines of The Wall.
Meanwhile Nicky has arrived to East Berlin, from the UK, as a nanny for a photographer friend of her father’s. He is on assignment and is fully aware of the restricted nature of his current job within the strict structure of the GDR regime. Nicky is new to East Berlin. She is fascinated by the way the people live, the way they dress. Perhaps, naively, she almost has a romanticised view of life behind The Wall. She soon makes friends with Ute, a local girl, who persuades her to come to a gig with her. Nicky does and soon sets her eyes on Alex. There is an immediate spark between them, a recognition within that this is something very different and very very special. After a very short period of time, they become inseparable. Nicky, an innocent in the ways of East Berlin, finds herself in deep, caught up within the confines of a regime that she had clearly underestimated.
Detlef Ohm, a loner, an informer for the Stasi also spots Alex and, for reasons he is unable to express to anyone, he falls obsessively and deeply in love with Alex. He dreams about them as a couple, about the kind of person he could be by Alex’s side. He lives a very repressed and isolating existence, his only ‘real’ friend, the Stasi superior he reports to. Detlef is portrayed excellently by Sue Haasler. Though repulsed by his actions, I also felt some sympathy for him. Detlef has lived a life without love, without warmth, without a caring arm to comfort him. His obsession with Alex leads him down a very harmful path. His homosexual tendencies are against everything he believes in and pure frustration drives him toward some very vindictive behaviour, the full impact of which becomes all too clear.
Half A World Away is a beautiful read. Set just before the collapse of The Wall, Sue Haasler has captured the claustrophobic atmosphere of living within such a restricted and, at times, frightening regime. For many this was their norm and what lay on the other side of the wall was what they feared…the unknown. Sue Haasler approached this novel using her own knowledge and experiences of East Berlin, having travelled there over the years and her husband being from East Berlin. For me this familiarity gives a very authentic feel to the novel. At times I was drawn right into the pages as though I were actually there myself.
Alex, Nicky and Detlef are all so very different, yet their individual stories knit together wonderfully to bring the reader a very poignant and at times heart-breaking story. This is a love story, set against the backdrop of one of the most incredible and fascinating times in recent history….The Berlin Wall and it’s subsequent collapse.
Half A World Away is a very touching story, a tale of passion, of sorrow and of loneliness, a tale of mixed emotions. But ultimately, it is a tale of two people who happen to fall in love and who will do everything in their power to overcome any obstacle that lies before them.
Purchase Link ~ Half A World Away
Q & A with Sue HaaslerSue, firstly, I have to ask you about Holby City and your just released tie-in book, fully authorised by the BBC, ‘Holby City:Behind the Screen’. You also have a TV blog www.pauseliveaction.com It all sounds very exciting!! Please do share…….How? What? Why?Many years ago I had a paid job editing a Coronation Street fan site, and when that ended I wanted to carry on blogging about TV and set up Pauseliveaction just for my own fun. I started off reviewing various shows, but the one I really stuck with was Holby City. I reviewed almost every episode since June 2009. This led to an invitation to attend a story conference in 2014 to give input as a fan, and a couple of years after that I was invited to the studios to talk to the producers and was shown around some of the sets. That’s where the idea for a book started to take shape. The book features interviews with cast, crew and production staff and it was a great thrill and a lot of fun to do.
Already an established author of romantic fiction, with four fiction titles out in the world, what inspired you take a slightly different route with your new novel Half A World Away, which is set in Cold War East Berlin?My husband is from East Berlin, and I visited him there quite regularly in the years just after reunification (he was a student there at the time), when there was still a feeling that east and west were two separate cities. I wanted to show the everyday, human side of East Germany that my husband and his friends and family told me about, rather than the aspects we see in spy thrillers – although some of those aspects did creep in!Was it a difficult subject to research? Did you travel to Berlin to help you to create the atmosphere within the novel?In one way it wasn’t difficult to research, as I had a handy resource in the form of my husband! It was a bit more tricky using resources on the internet, because a lot of the day-to-day stuff that I needed was in German, and my German is rudimentary. We go to Berlin quite often, but of course the city has changed massively since reunification so it was mainly my memories of the visits in the early 90s that formed the background to the book. I could relate to how Nicky feels as someone observing it all with the eyes of an outsider.Your previous novels have all received very warm praise for being fresh, funny, warm and touching. How do you think people will react to the switch in genre? I would imagine it’s quite a daunting prospect.It’s true that this book is more serious and even gritty in tone in places, which I think is well reflected in the gorgeous cover the Dome Press have produced for it. But on the cover there’s a rose as well, because there’s a love story at the centre of it. Overall it’s optimistic and warm, so I don’t think it’ll be too much of a shock for people who’ve read my other books.
Sue you say that Liverpool is your favourite place on the planet. What is it about Liverpool that you love so much?It’s the people – their pride, their optimism, their kindness and their humour. I also love some of the architecture, especially the two magnificent cathedrals. The gorgeous, concrete Catholic cathedral is probably my most favourite building in the world. To stand in there on a sunny day with the sun streaming through the coloured glass panels is the closest I ever get to a religious experience.I read that your favourite authors are Stephen King and Thomas Hardy, both so very different. Have you any specific books by either author that you would recommend to someone who has never read either before?Those two authors never let me down. Stephen King is far more than a horror writer. He completely understands people, and creates characters you completely believe in. His sequel to The Shining, Doctor Sleep, has some horror elements, but it also has such a sensitive treatment of how we approach death and dying. It’s a very touching, humane story that made me cry at least once. Some people find Thomas Hardy a bit bleak, so I would perhaps suggest Under the Greenwood Tree as it’s a bit more upbeat! His character descriptions are always so acute and often make me laugh: “Mr. Shiner, age about thirty-five, farmer and church-warden, a character principally composed of a crimson stare, vigorous breath, and a watch-chain, with a mouth hanging on a dark smile but never smiling.”Who or what has influenced you most when writing?My mum was an avid reader, especially of sci fi, and she signed me up for the children’s library at the earliest opportunity. We also had a mobile library van that visited the area, and she would choose books for me while I was at school and her choices were always brilliant. She was also a great writer herself. She had pieces published in newspapers, but she also wrote fiction, though without trying to get anything published.You love travelling by train Sue as opposed to planes. Can you share with us any great train journeys you have been on?The best was one my husband arranged for me for a birthday a few years ago. We went by sleeper train to Vienna, via Brussels and Cologne. We stayed in the incredible Sacher Hotel, which is the one that’s featured in The Hotel New Hampshire by John Irving. Then a few days later from Vienna to Zurich, and then back home via Paris. For our honeymoon we travelled on the Rocky Mountaineer train in western Canada, which was an unforgettable experience. We had to fly to and from Canada to get there, but it was worth it!One of your previous novels, Two’s Company was optioned for film by Warner Brothers. It must be very thrilling to receive news like this. Can we expect to see Two’s Company on the big screen sometime in the future?Sadly not! Although the option was extended for several years, that was the furthest it got. For a while I had a Hollywood agent and Sandra Bullock was mentioned as a suitable lead, but very few books that are optioned ever make it to the screen. So if any hot-shot Hollywood producer is reading this, the option is available!Having written Half A World Away, set in 80’s Berlin, your next novel centres around the Swinging 60’s in London. Is this a shift in genre again? What can we expect?The next novel, which has the working title of Another Girl, is set in the fashion world of 1960s London. The story involves a young woman trying to escape the predictable domestic path her family expects her to tread. She comes to London to work for an upcoming fashion designer, and falls for a man who is hiding a lot of secrets which have something to do with a missing girl. Is he a killer? Can he be trusted? There are a lot of twists and turns before we find out. I think like HAWA it’s exploring a world which no longer exists, before the internet, before people even routinely had a phone in their home. There’s a love story, but it’s complicated.
Bio: (Courtesy of The Dome Press)
Sue Haasler was born and brought up in County Durham and studied English Literature and Linguistics at Liverpool University.
After graduating she moved to London and worked for three years as a residential social worker. Since then, she has lived as an administrator for a disability charity, which recruits volunteer carers for disabled adults.
Many of the volunteers are from abroad and this is how she met her husband, who is from the former East Berlin.
Sue is the author of four romantic fiction titles, True Colours, Time After Time, Two’s Company (all Orion paperbacks) and Better Than the Real Thing. Two’s Company was optioned for film by Warner Bros.
She has been commissioned by the BBC to write an authorized tie-in to Holby City.
She is married with an adult daughter and lives in London.
Twitter ~ @pauseliveaction