Gerhard Johannes Dressen
April 8, 1958 (on the German/Dutch border
German and Theology at RWTH Aachen University
Professional background (in chronological order):
- Editor at Rheinische Post, Düsseldorf
- Press spokesman for Bayer AG, Leverkusen
- Freelance journalist and communications consultant, novelist
Happy father to two adult daughters and proud grandfather of Lennart Fiete; husband to a patient wife I don’t fully deserve but got lucky with.
Let’s begin with your “inner circle” ...
First and foremost, without whom I’d be lost, there’s my wife Angelika, who has bravely stuck with me through thick and thin for over 30 years. I also have two grown-up daughters, Katharina and Johanna. And – the show must go on! – I’m a proud grandfather to Lennart Fiete.
You surely weren’t born a crime writer ...
Well, I’m tempted to cry out “Injustice, me lud!”. In truth, as soon as I’d got the hang of letters and words, I started writing. It all started with my primary school teacher liking my essays to the point she allowed me to enter them in the class notebook. This was actually not as grand as it may sound, since if I made a mistake while jotting things down, my mother would buy a new exercise book – and then make me record ALL the previous essays again. When I think about it, I’m surprised I was still drawn to writing stories after school.
I continued writing like Forrest Gump. First at a large Rhenish daily newspaper, then later as a PR specialist at a large German corporation based in Leverkusen. Incidentally: their painkiller, Aspirin, is probably the most universal drug to grace world literature and the silver screen.
Later – in the late phase of my professional career – I worked as a freelance journalist and communications consultant. A little two-faced perhaps, but I was simply at home on both sides of the desk.
And then your road to Damascus – you reemerge as a novelist?
No, no one appeared to me in a dream to whisper in my ear: you are Gerhard Johannes Dressen – my baptismal name, my friends call me Gerd – and you shall from henceforth create a new literary genre. You’re going to become a best-selling author and so stinking rich so you can finally afford all the classic cars you’ve been dreaming about for so long ...
And yet, there was this moment I knew: now’s the time! That’s the story you’ve always been waiting for. I was sitting in the office of my friend Norbert Schroeder. He’s one of the most highly acclaimed classic car appraisers under the sun. His appraisals are accepted by courts and insurance companies around the world. Well, he’d just been annoyed by one such car insurer where there was obviously some scam going on involving a classic Porsche And he was telling me about the case. To keep a long story short – it was the very thing I’d been waiting for!
Incidentally, just after I’d had my crime thriller published, an international Porsche counterfeiting ring got busted in the region of Aachen. It was as if my dear friend Norbert has sensed it … How shall I put it: fiction was overtaken by reality.
Fuel Fiction: stories for petrol heads or more?
Fiction is everything invented and set down on paper in the form of literature. And there are various genres, such as science fiction, for example. Well, the stories I write are fuelled by classic cars. And though they are works of fiction, there’s always a kernel of truth and reality in them. That’s simply my journalistic soul crying out to be heard!
And to pay credit where it’s due, a friend of mine living and working in Hamburg who, like me, has lived off writing as his core skill all his life, had graciously read the first pages of my manuscript and said: “There’s a market for this stuff. You’re creating a new genre. Why don’t you call it Fuel Fiction?” No sooner said than done. The term is catchy and an alliteration – and it works worldwide. Very classy of you, dear Martin!
So back to the initial question: car stories are just a little like the tall tales spun by hunters. The only parallel to fuel fiction is that at some point people start shooting.
How much is real in your classic car thriller “To Torch a Fake”?
The novel is a mix between fact and fiction. So there was indeed a burnt-out Porsche, an offer from abroad was in fact made to buy it up, and there was the real song and dance about the insurance side of things. The rest is fiction. Sally Morgan included, sadly. I know many people who’d actually like to meet her. So far that’s only possible in the book – and probably in an audio book at some point.
Some of the places I describe in my novel really exist. First of all, the car repair shop in Anstel on Mühlenweg in the Rhineland is really there. It’s a refuge for classic car enthusiasts like myself and we regularly meet there in the evenings for a quiet beer. What’s more the hideaway in the mountains near Cefalú on Sicily – including the bumpy approach road – is also a real place. I spent a holiday there with my family a few years ago, while I was still working on the novel.
Then of course there are my friends in real life – the inspiration behind many a character of mine. Those who know me and those around me well will be quick to guess who’s who in my crime thriller …
Your debut novel – was it a difficult birth?
Not really, at least not if we’re talking purely about the writing of it. My technical skills were not the problem, as I actually had every faith in me. I was more worried about the sheer volume of the text. I’d never had a problem filling a magazine page or newspaper column with content worth reading. But writing a novel with several hundred pages of text? I soon realised I couldn’t do this without proper planning. A novel needs to be set out and arranged, the plot developed. And plotting this out, drafting a soundly worked and exciting story, takes literally weeks (in both senses of the word). I’m completely dumbfounded by people who manage to get two, three, or even more novels written within the space of a single year. Speaking for myself, I’d have to let something fall by the wayside …
A novel like mine is largely made up of the dialogues between the characters. I was more than a little daunted by this. Sure, I’d done plenty of interviews throughout my career. But coming up with genuine-sounding, life-like dialogues? Let me put it this way, it seems to have worked, if my kind readers are to be believed. The fact that dialogues are especially difficult to get right is something I hear almost daily from my translator who’s putting my novel into English. We have come to the same conclusion: they take time – time to be crafted in the first place, and then even more time to be recrafted in another language.
Finally, the classic question – do you yourself have a favourite book?
Well, I have no single favourite, but there are many I have very much loved reading. Only recently I read “Where the Crawdads Sing” by Delia Owens. A great book I can heartily recommend to anyone who likes peaceful and well-told stories. Great language and a fantastic German translation. Wonderful! And even though I’m not really a crime fiction reader, I’ve always been fascinated by Henning Mankell’s books and his detective police inspector Wallander. And I’ve also read the local Eifel crime novels by Jacques Berndorf. A lighter fare but extremely entertaining. Maybe I did have a favourite book as a child. At any rate, I sometimes still dream about it today. It was a children’s book in which a boy and a fountain pen had a major role to play …
One inevitable last question: your car?
An old BMW 728i from the last millennium. It gets a lot of tender loving care. Experts say it’s the best six-cylinder ever built because it runs the smoothest. It’s got over a quarter of a million kilometres on the clock and has been converted to LPG for both economic and ecological reasons. We all get a kick out of it. I enjoy gliding down the road every day and my garage pals like it because they think driving a car for as long as possible is good for the environment. Because a car consumes the greatest amount of energy when it’s first being built. And my wife enjoys it because it’s the first car of ours she can sleep in when we’re “on the road”.