Author Interview: Malve von Hassell



JMR-Welcome to the Books Delight, Malve. Tell our readers where you live, what you do for fun and what does the perfect day look like?

MVH- I am very fortunate in that I live close to the ocean on the south shore of Long Island. Near my house there are trails and swamps to explore and even a lake to swim in. My perfect day starts with a walk along the bay beach with friends of mine all of whom own dogs. When all goes well, I continue with a few peaceful hours of work, uninterrupted by chores, and some work in my yard. My son comes home for dinner and helps me prepare the meal. A few friends join us, and we sit outside on the porch until it is dark and the fireflies come out. My ideal day begins and ends with reading one of the books piled up on my desk.


JMR-What’s your favorite historical time period? Why?

MVH- I have been fascinated with exploring the 12th and 13th centuries, perhaps in part because of the challenge involved in trying to fill out our fragmented sense of what life must have been like. I also have been struck by the discovery that these times were remarkably fluid when it came to the transmission and sharing of cultures between far flung regions—far less insular than one might have supposed and by no means restricted only to trade, but instead also involving exchanges of writing, poetry, and bodies of knowledge. Meanwhile, if I had to pick anyone period, it would be the Renaissance in Italy.


JMR-Who is your favorite historical figure? Why? If you could ask them one question, what would it be?

MVH- That is a difficult question to answer—I have many favorites albeit for different reasons. Right now, I would love to sit down with Emperor Marcus Aurelius, with a copy of his timeless Meditations on the table in front of us, and ask him for advice about the future of this country.


JMR- How did you come to be a writer of historical fiction?


I spent the first thirteen years of my life in Europe, and my parents gave us many books of historical fiction to read as a way of introducing us to different cultures, eras, and regions of the world.

I have always loved historical fiction for bringing alive the past as much as for showing possibilities for the present. One of my favorite authors in this genre is Gillian Bradshaw who combines superb historical research with appealing storytelling and memorable characters. I admire Helen Dunmore for her gift for describing a chilling and brutal time in history with words hauntingly beautiful and unforgettable.

The Falconer’s Apprentice was my first attempt at historical fiction for young readers. I wanted to provide them with an introduction into the 13th century with its politics, intrigues, and power struggles but also its architecture, surprisingly international culture, and vibrant poetry.

My research for Alina: A Song for the Telling led me to a treasure trove of lyrics written by troubadours and trobairitz, the singer-songwriters of the 12th century. As a child growing up in Europe, I read books about the Crusades and was mesmerized and puzzled by the willingness of people to embark on such long, arduous, and dangerous journeys in pursuit of a goal that I couldn't comprehend. The notion of reclaiming the Holy Land and Crusades as military campaigns to gain political and territorial advantage got mixed up in my mind with the notion of Crusades as pilgrimages—both equally incomprehensible to me. Meanwhile, this same era of political strife and indescribably pain and suffering also gave rise to the inspiring music of the trobairitz, the female counterparts of the troubadours, whose lyrics, often witty, incisive, and even humorous, are eye-opening. 


JMR- You have PhD. In Anthropology, have written non-fiction books related to your field, translated your grandfather’s memoirs as well as written a children’s picture book. What similarities are there with these endeavors and writing pure fiction? What are the major differences?

MVH- I had been working as an anthropologist and translator for many years when I decided that the time had come to try my hand at fiction writing. Anthropology and translation are actually excellent training grounds for historical fiction writing. Both translation and anthropology call for writing and offer countless instances of the joy of working with language. Both call for research—vast amounts of research. Meanwhile, as a translator I must work with the words and phrases given to me. As an anthropologist, I was focused on seeking to portray what is, trying to tell the story of a particular community or a sequence of events in as contextualized a fashion as possible but must refrain from embellishing or imagining. At the time, as a writer of anthropology, you pick and choose to arrange material in a way that in your opinion best conveys a story. In that respect it is not that different from fiction writing. Fiction also conveys truths about life and what it is to be human but through different means than scholarly texts, rather through the medium of imagined worlds and created individuals.

I want to write fiction that stays as close to the real as is possible. Every detail needs to be checked including the words used or not yet used at a particular time in history. I try to convey as much as possible of the tactile feel—fabrics, foods, scents, and sounds—to bring a particular time in history alive for the reader. 


JMR- Did you visit anyone of the places in your book? Where did you feel closest to your characters?

MVH- I have been to some of the places that feature in my historical fiction books. But I also have done a fair amount of armchair traveling—for that we live in an ideal time with so much information and so many images at your fingertips. I feel closest to my characters when I join them in moments where they experience life through their senses, with the immediacy of smell, taste, and touch—whether it is on a journey hiding in a lumbering cart on a road across the Alps, sitting in an olive grove at night after a grueling ride through the desert, or walking along the shore line of the Baltic sea. 


JMR- Malve, tell us about your new book, The Amber Crane.

MVH- The Amber Crane is a time-slip historical fiction book about Peter, a 17th century amber guild apprentice, who lives in a small town along the Baltic coast line. We encounter him in 1644-45, the last years of the Thirty Years War. He is transported into a world three hundred years in the future where he is embroiled in the troubles of a mysterious stranger. The book was inspired by three central themes. One was a fascination since my childhood with amber, a gemstone full of mystery and power, the famous gold of the Baltic Sea. I grew up on legends and stories about amber, and lying awake at night, I dreamed of the feared beach patrol galloping along the shore, looking for illegal amber gatherers. Amber is inextricably linked to the history of Pomerania, having occupied center stage in trade and politics over centuries. The second theme emerged from all the stories my mother used to tell me about her childhood home in Pomerania. The third theme is the history of the evacuation from Pomerania and East Prussia in the last months of World War II.

Several characters in The Amber Crane are composites of relatives who shared their stories with me, in particular, the descriptions of the evacuation of Pomerania during the spring of 1945. The experience of losing one’s place in a land where one’s ancestors have lived since the 13th century left scars not only in the psyche of those immediately affected but also in that of their descendants. We live in a world where so many people find themselves cut off from their own history. I wanted convey some of this history of the tortured lands of my forebears and the resilience of people who have lived in those years to young readers.


JMR-What projects do you have in the pipeline?

MVH- I have begun the research and planning work for a historical fiction trilogy. It is set in the 11th century, and the main historical character whose life I want to portray is Adela of Normandy, the daughter of William the Conqueror and the mother of King Stephen of England. She was a formidable woman who ran her husband’s estate for many years during his absences while on crusade. She influenced the affairs of many individuals in Normandy and in England. She also was known for her charity and piety. Many characterizations of women do not move beyond their youth or early adult years. I would like to provide a fuller portrayal that looks the totality of a woman’s life, one that does not end with her marriage or even her middle age. Adela continued to exert her power and influence even after she retired to a cloister seventeen years prior to her death.


JMR- Tell our readers how to find you on social media and the web.

MVH- I have a website and historical fiction blog Tales through Time at where you can read more about my books and particular episodes and historical figures as well as reviews of historical fiction books by other authors. You can follow me on that blog, and I welcome questions and comments. You can also find me at and on Twitter @MvonHassell


JMR- What question were you hoping I’d ask but didn’t?

MVH- Have you ever fallen in love with one of the historical figures in your book?

It was purely by accident that I came upon a historical character and decided to build my story around him in my book Alina: A Song for the Telling. 

Stephen I, the first Count de Sancerre (1133–1190), is a fascinating historical figure. He abducted his first wife from the altar before she was contracted to another. The fact that felt strongly enough about this marriage and his new wife was evidenced by the fact that he ceded a substantial portion of his estate to his new brother-in-law. Stephen was active and involved at many levels in the running of his estate and holdings. His interests were wide ranging, and he instituted numerous charters that set forth rights and protections for people living in his realm, sought to limit some of the more violent and destructive customs of his time, and acted to curtail the exploitation of taxes and levies that placed undue burdens on the populace. He also chose to gives his serfs their freedom, a remarkable act in the 12th century.

But that alone wasn't what caught my attention. His story contains an intriguing blank spot. As a widower he accepted a proposal of marriage that by the standards of the times was suitable at all levels. King Amalric of Jerusalem invited Stephen to come to the Holy Land to wed the king’s daughter Sibylla, in line for the throne of the Kingdom of Jerusalem. Stephen settled his affairs and embarked on a long journey, bringing substantial gifts with him. Then, after a few months in Jerusalem, the groom returned home. Reminiscent of “the dog that didn’t bark,” in a Sherlock Holmes mystery, the marriage didn’t take place. The historical record doesn't expand on this. One can’t help but wonder at what happened.

 JMR- Great question! Thank you, Malve, for stopping by the Book's Delight. Readers, I know you'll want to check out Malve's books.  We have read and loved, The Falconer's Apprentice, so can attest to her wonderful story telling. 


  1. Thank you so much for inviting me to your wonderful blog! And your questions inspire and spur me on to think more about writing.


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