I was born in the Golden October of 1959. (I know nothing about this specific October, to be sure, but my mother insists it was of the Golden variety. Perhaps the unforgettable sight of her bonny first-born (there were three more boys to follow — poor woman) coloured her memories.) Although my parents lived in “Der Wein- und Sektstadt Hochheim”, in Hesse, they deemed the hospitals in Mainz (Rhineland-Palatinate) better, and so I started life not far from the banks of the river Rhine.
Anyway, school, university (I read Chemistry and produced some respectable explosions in the utility room of my parent's house), first love… all very much what you'd expect. However, living in a nice place like Hochheim meant there was a constant supply of “Wein und Sekt” and cheerful friends:-). I also believe, to this day, that Riesling is a better grape and produces better white wine than any other variety.
When I was twenty I moved to Wiesbaden. Shortly afterwards I bought my first microcomputer (a Commodore PET, for people who are interested in these antiquities) and this changed my life. It first cost me my then girlfriend but I was hooked nevertheless (and started to be more fastidious when it came to girlfriends:-)).
Within the year I graduated to an Apple ][ and what a great machine that was. The Apples were designed by an electronics wizard (American guy called Steve Wozniak) and it showed: there were so many amazing gimmicks built into that little box that one could spend months and months with digging. I have never since seen a gadget that was so cleverly and efficiently designed. (Though some PDAs, mobiles and MP3 players must come pretty close.) Well, deconstructing that machine (hardware and software) taught me that (almost) nothing is impossible.
Then the first IBM PCs came up (pretty ghastly machines, but from IBM, hence ignoring them wasn't really an option) and in late 1983, together with a friend of mine who was similarly afflicted, I founded a software company and broke off my chemistry courses, to the everlasting regret of my mother — who had already seen me as Thomas Lauer, Ph. D. — and a few other people as well. (Not my father, I suspect: with that decision his utility room had once and for all returned to being a safe zone.)
The two of us programmed late into the mornings, went to bed around eleven or twelve with red eyes and a dizziness in the head that came from too much coffee but we could do (and did) all sorts of crazy things: among them a graphics package with real windows — ages before Billy the Gates did Windows 1.x — which we sold to Borland International (the guys of Turbo Pascal fame), for an undisclosed sum:-).
Around that time I met a French girl, then in Mainz Universität on a student exchange from La Sorbonne, Paris. We first saw each other on a summer Wednesday evening, for a few hours of communal crêpe-munching; then again on the Friday soir in a noisy disco in Mainz (I can tell you the music was 'orrible: Bee Gees and even worse). But even the sickening screeches of the Brothers Gibb couldn't obliterate the fact that love was in the air.
Problem was Saturday morning: my French girl had to catch a train, back to Paris and parents. I was heart-broken but somehow I (and the relationship) survived the next three years, despite (or because of?) the fact that we saw each other only every two or three months (not so bad for long computer nights, though). And of course through the whole delicious eight weeks of the long summer holidays: that was always the highlight of the year.
Vero and I, we finally married in June 1985 (even my dear granny had by then given up her reservations against “that girl from Paris”) and we have not looked back since.
Meanwhile the software company ran and ran and ran, for almost a decade, but this IT thing got more and more boring. (That's one of my perennial problems: things bore me after a while, inevitably, and if I don't do something about it that's not good. I know that.)
So I did something, though actually arriving at the decision took me a long time: I left the company and decided to write books. First about travelling (something I like almost as much as computers, especially when I don't have to sit in an Indian local bus en route from Haridwar to Nainital) and long-distance walking. Writing this sort of thing was dear to my heart but money-wise it was an unmitigated disaster.
So I quickly switched horses and started to write books about… computer stuff, what else: online services, Windows NT, porting software from Windows 3.x to the 32-bit versions, the internet, guides about writing Windows software, how to do research on the internet… these were the fascinating themes I wrote about. And the great thing about this sort of non-fiction was that I could freely decide what I wanted to write about. More often than not, conceiving of a book about something meant learning the ropes in the first place.
Another great thing about these projects was that a good book about the Internet, say, costs about three times as much as a title about trekking on Tenerife and it'll sell about ten times as many copies per edition (and given how fast the Internet changed in the '90s there were always good reasons for a new edition). So money-wise this endeavour was not such an unmitigated disaster.
During the summer of 1997 Vero and I decided to move over to England. She wasn't overly happy with the restrictive way in which women's careers are handled in Germany; it was clear to all that she had the potential to go much further, job-wise, but that there would always be a man or two in the way. I for my part was not happy with Germany in general — the mood, the feeling of doom and gloom was getting worse almost by the week. In fact, I began to dread Mondays, when Der Spiegel, a weekly, was in the mail: such a depressing read, it turned the whole day into a real Boomtown Rats Day.
So when Vero found herself a promising job opportunity in Southern England, there was no holding back; end of 1997 we finally moved to the UK. The first 18 months or so were pretty awful, for lots of reasons: we lost our circle of friends in Germany and what we perceived to be the reticence of the British made it not easy to build a new one quickly; we had a completely new environment to cope with (can you imagine a country where some coins are seven-sided?); British housing is… no, let's better not get into this.
But perhaps the main point was that we thought, naive as we were then, that the UK would be very much like France or Germany. It is not. It is a strange, mysterious place and we needed those 18 months to come to grips with it — at least so far that we could begin to handle it. It was certainly an interesting experience, one I would not like to have missed. Not least because nowadays we definitely love the place. (I have a theory that the natives put something into the fish and chips and the warm beer that turns newcomers into half-Brits, so once you've had enough fish and chips and beer you're doomed.)
But after the first two years, boredom once again reared its ugly head. So I decided to try my luck and write a novel (something I always knew I would try to do at some point, but something I also knew could not be forced). But somehow the time felt right and so I started writing in the Golden October of 1999. The first draft took me about four months. Editing, rewriting, re-editing, re-rewriting… all that took another eight or nine months (the real work when writing novels is not doing the first draft) and then it all went to an agent who, to my ever-lasting surprise, had no problems at all in finding a publisher.
This first novel (Der Südgipfel) was duly published in September 2001, though to no great critical acclaim. Whether this has something to do with any intrinsic qualities of the novel (or lack thereof) or the throes my German publisher went through during that time I don't know. (And don't care: I think it's a good book and, thanks to my agent, I got a generous advance anyway.)
My second novel (Die Glocken von Lhasa) was finished a couple of years later and it is still sitting at my agent's desk — if you're a publisher there's a gem waiting to be discovered. Luckily I could (and can do) this sort of thing (“brotlose Kunst” or literally breadless art, as the Germans say) without worrying too much about money. My non-fiction was still doing well, thank you, and we are a DINKY household anyway.
Yes, no kids. Because Vero and I, we both like travelling and we rather value our independence. And kids, as nice as they are (well, at least that's what I've been told) don't sit well with these things. Someone once told me that we're a selfish bunch because we have no children. My counter-question (why she had only one kid where, unselfish as she obviously was, could have had twenty) remained unanswered, though.
Nowadays we travel about half of the year and work (if you can call it that) the other half. On balance, it is a pretty good compromise, we think, though I still hope to convince Vero to chuck it all in for a year or two and do something really crazy (don't ask). But I am sure I will succeed, one of these days, if only because she is a little mad as well.
Well, there you have it.
Vero and Thomas, Christmas 2005 en famille in France.
$updated from: Biography.htxt Sat 18 Jan 2014 13:12:47 thomasl (By Thomas Lauer)$