"Look, I'm no Dostoyevsky," says author Dan Brown. It was the biggest understatement in what was an entertaining and freewheeling press conference at the Frankfurt Book Fair.
The blockbuster novelist arrived at the world's biggest book trading festival to launch the German edition of his latest thriller Origin.
The translation may appear a swift piece of work, but this is Dan Brown we are talking about. With more than 100 million books sold, and Origin the fifth instalment of his successful Robert Langdon mysteries, the German edition was one of more than 50 translation deals before publication.
With all that fame and acclaim, you would have thought the 53-year-old couldn’t hear all the derision from critics as to what they deem is his unremarkable literary prowess.
“Whether you are a writer, a musician or a painter, all you really have to go by is your own taste,” says Brown.
“All you can do is create according to what you like and you hope that people will like it. Now there are a number of critics who clearly don’t share my taste. Now, I would love to pretend that when it comes to bad reviews that I don’t hear or feel them. We all want to create something that everyone will love but that’s not the nature of the creative arts, so it is a case of life goes on.”
And for his literary creation, the Harvard University symbologist Robert Langdon, this brings another breathless 24 hours to solve another case seeped in conspiracy. With his last four instalments set in the Vatican, Paris, Washington, DC and Florence respectively, the action moves this time to the Spanish city of Bilbao.
The city's famed Guggenheim Museum hosts a presentation by a scientist that casts doubt on the Earth's origins. The event falls into chaos and once again Langdon needs to solve the case by cracking codes with references to modern art and particularly the novel Of Mice and Men.
An avid reader of non-fiction, Brown says the 1937 novel by John Steinbeck is one of the rare novels he refers back to periodically. "I have read hundreds of books over the last five years but I tend to read exclusively non-fiction. I tend to read the first 50 pages of whatever the big novels are just to keep my hands at the pulse of what is happening," he says. "I tend to go back to the classics. With Of Mice and Men I just love its descriptive power. It reminds me of the power of good description and how it can really a drag a reader into a location."
Brown's description of his writing process for Origin is akin to launching a science experiment. "When I decided I wanted to write about evolution and creationism and artificial intelligence, I spent nearly six months to a year just reading almost exclusively non-fiction and formulating the questions I would like to ask. Then I moved into the next phase of talking to artificial intelligence scientists, modern art curators, religious clerics and spending time in Spain. It is not really until I get a lot of research done that I first begin to do an outline."
Regarding his love for littering his plots with seemingly abstract puzzles and codes, Brown says they stem from childhood holidays where his parents – a mother who was a church organist and mathematician father – made him work for his presents. “On Christmas morning in my house, we would come down to the tree hoping to find presents and we would find a little note card with symbolic code on it. We would break the code, which would, for example, tell us to go to the refrigerator. We would run there and find another note card telling us to go to the garage and to the wood pile,” he says.
“So we would keep following these codes, which would get harder each time, and the last one would send us back to the Christmas tree and there were our presents. So for me, codes have always been fun and that’s what I want to do – to make my books fun.”
Dan Brown is not the only big-name author at the Frankfurt Book Fair. Also launching the German translation of their works is British writer Paula Hawkins (Into the Water) and American chick-lit novelist Nicholas Sparks who discussed his book Two By Two.
Origin (published by Doubleday) by Dan Brown is out now