Before she finished her debut novel, the international publication rights were already sold. By now, her book The Trap has been published in more than 20 countries and Hollywood is working on the film adaptation. Although Melanie Raabe has become one of Germany’s most successful authors of 2015, she is still a down-to-earth young woman who has not changed her habits. Her new novel Die Wahrheit (German for ‘the truth’) has just been released.
Interviewing Melanie Raabe might seem dangerous if you are familiar with her debut novel The Trap. There, the central character Linda Conrads, who is a famous author as well, tries to trap a journalist because she believes he is her sister’s murderer. But, luckily for me, Raabe is in good spirits when we meet at a café in Cologne. As the 35-year-old author arrives, she smiles friendly and makes a relaxed impression. In this cosy place, she wrote part of her successful thriller The Trap. When she does not work at home, she often goes to the Weltempfänger in the Ehrenfeld district to write and to find inspiration. “There is a quiet corner where I like to write quite often. I can concentrate here very well, while it is also possible to get into conversations with people from all over the world because there is a hostel above the café,” Raabe explains.
Her novel turned out to be a major hit worldwide, with international publishing houses scrambled to obtain the rights for the book even before it was released. At last year’s London Book Fair for example, The Trap was one of the most discussed books. Additionally, a famous film production studio acquired film rights to Raabe’s novel and Phyllis Nagy, who worked on Academy Award nominated Carol, will be the screenwriter for the film adaptation. “I don’t want to be involved in this process, because the novel already perfectly represents how I envisioned the story,” says Raabe. “I have complete confidence in Nagy and look forward to seeing her interpretation.”
Although more than a year has passed since the release of her debut, she cannot quite believe her success. “I still feel totally overwhelmed: I never expected to become so successful. Publishing a pocketbook that is available in a couple of small bookshops would have already made me extraordinarily happy, so seeing that people around the world read my novel feels absolutely crazy and surreal,” Raabe says with a bright smile.
The love for writing
Nevertheless, the journey to her success was longer than one might expect at first. Before The Trap was published, Raabe had already written four other books that were rejected by publishing houses. “I put as much effort, commitment and time into each of these books as in The Trap. After all these rejections there were indeed times when I started to think ‘maybe I am not that talented’ or ‘maybe I’m out of luck’,” she says. “What made me continue was the matter of fact that I simply love to write and that is something I would never give up.” She might have stopped offering her books to publishers at some point, as she states, but she would have never stopped writing, even if nobody read her work. “The great thing about writing is that you always gain something because you deeply reflect on new subjects – you have to revise the book many times until the plot is coherent and you learn so much during this process.” As soon as Raabe had finished one book, she already started the next one. “I’m simply addicted to writing,” she adds. Her love for literature also shines through and her eyes light up when she talks about her favourite writers such as Jonathan Safran Foer and Saša Stanišić.
Before she achieved her breakthrough, she worked as a journalist, blogger and stage actress in Cologne. Born in Jena in 1981, she grew up in a small village in Thuringia and in a small town in North Rhine-Westphalia. In Bochum, she did a degree in media studies and literature and moved to Cologne to complete her editorial department traineeship at a city magazine. Back then, it was a tough balancing act to carry out her passion next to her normal job, Raabe remembers. “First I tried to be like all the cool authors who write at night after work. But this did not work out at all,” Raabe says laughing. “I am a morning person and have much more energy early in the morning, before the rest of the day exhausts me. It also gives me a good feeling to know that I already worked on what I enjoy most.”
Two different worlds
Since The Trap was released she has been living in two different worlds, Raabe says. “In everyday life, nothing has changed: I still live in the same flat, and of course I have the same friends and the same social circles.” And, as in the past, she spends most of the day writing. “What feels very different though is when I have to go to events such as readings, book fairs or interviews. Suddenly, I am the centre of people’s attention which is something I usually tend to avoid in normal life,” she says smiling. But her past experience as a stage actress helps her to handle such situations in public. “I am still as shy as I used to be as a teenager, but now I am able to turn my excitement into liveliness.”
While other authors might feel pressured to measure up to public expectations after such a successful debut, Raabe keeps calm. “Being successful with The Trap has rather motivated me: It was before the book was released that I felt pressure while I was writing all by myself at my kitchen table. At this time, I was afraid that no one wants to read my book in which I invested so much time and effort.”
Before The Trap turned out to be a bestseller, she had already started to write her next book Die Wahrheit, which has been released recently – another psychological thriller that is centred on Sarah, a mother in her late thirties who has an eight-year-old son. Seven years ago, her wealthy husband Philipp disappeared without a trace during a business trip in South America. Then, all of a sudden, Sarah receives a message that Philipp is alive just when she started to accept that he would never return. But only an impostor shows up. He threatens that if she exposed the truth, she would lose everything – her son, her husband, her job.
Anyone who would like to experience Raabe live can go to one of her many upcoming readings. A list of dates is on her website: