Monica Helfer and her novel “Löwenherz” – a lovable eccentric with a tragic ending

The first two volumes of Family History were bestsellers. “Die Bagage” is about Monica Helfer’s grandparents. In “Fati” about her father, who was deeply saddened by the death of his wife and withdrew into the world of books.

Monica Helfer’s brother Richard, who was six years younger than him, was someone who lived that day and committed suicide when he was only thirty. “Lionheart” is what Richard was called by his father.

Like the Crusader and King in the Middle Ages, Richard also hid in an apartment in the last years of his life and avoided the outside world. He was some kind of prisoner. The author says in an interview that he was adept in the arts of life, but had no motivation.

fantasy and reality

Dorothea Westphal: That was in the seventies. To what extent does the character in the novel resemble her brother?

Assistant Monica: There are plenty of stories involved, of course. But basically it looks a lot like him. And I think if my brother could read that, he’d be fine with that. What he likes about the character is that she does not fit into society at all, because he never wanted to integrate into society either. He always thought it was better to be an outsider than to pretend like everyone else.

Westphalia: Why did you choose to say at the beginning of the book that the story would not end well?

the assistant: I don’t like it when everything is said with the end. I would like you to know from the start how it will end. Then everything is more exciting.

Westphalia: Already in your novel “Fatty” you have your brother saying: “If all goes well, I can always kill myself.” Looks like he’s been thinking about it for a long time. Did you talk about it in your family?

the assistant: No, it is not discussed. He said that more than once, this was one of his main principles. But the family did not believe him. You didn’t take it seriously.

Westphalia: You refer to your brother as a “slander merchant,” so what do you mean by that?

the assistant: This is a Vienna expression. This is the person who has nothing to do with the truth. For whom the truth is not enough. Sometimes he finds what he wants to say too boring and decorates him a little.

Kitty, Pozzi and the dog

Westphalia: One often hears from the authors that it is the most mysterious events that turn into stories. Is this the case with you too?

the assistant: Yes, one often hears a story and thinks I can’t write it. Nobody believes you. But it is true then. For example the thing with the bathtub. I even have a picture where you can see my brother in that bathtub.

My brother was walking by the lake and saw this aquarium. People often ignore what they no longer need. And there was this aquarium. Dirty and rusty. But he thinks: This is me. Clean them and go with them in the water.

Together with the dog. The problem was that he couldn’t swim. But he didn’t even think about it. He almost drowned. Richard is saved by a pregnant kitty, who is expecting her second child.

A special relationship arose from this. This kitty is a tragic character. She has no sympathy and forces her daughter Pozzi on Richard. You leave the baby for a few months. This story seems made up, but it is not.

Westphalia: He accepts the child in a loving manner. Why does he do that?

the assistant: I think he really fell in love with the baby. Just as he loved his dog very much. They were kind of a small family. Later he tragically lost both of them. Pozzi was taken from him. The two searched and found each other. I like Pozzi Richard very much. They shared all the work. I just loved being so protected. She was not used to it. She was in unsafe places with her mother. She had a safe time with Richard. He was there for her all day.

man without leadership

Westphalia: Her brother was working on typography, a profession that no longer exists today.

the assistant: We often talked about it, but it was also fitting for him to have a career that was going to end. My brother was kind of an art professor. He was just trying to end life as best he could.

Westphalia: Richard’s sister describes him as a man without leadership.

the assistant: Yes, he was talented as a painter. I told him once: Make something out of it. But no, he had no ambition. And when someone told him I liked the picture, he replied: Take it with you. He had a great talent.

Westphalia: What attracted women to him?

the assistant: Perhaps his carelessness. There was something frivolous in him, women loved him.

Westphalia: Does his style and behavior have anything to do with his childhood and his mother’s early death? He was five years old at the time. And with a father who can’t take care of him?

the assistant: One always tends to see everything based on childhood. Such is the case with him. When his mother died, he went to live with his aunt. And for the uncle, who was blind and very noisy, not angry, but uncomfortable for a child. Didn’t feel comfortable there.

Westphalia: Do your books strike a chord with time?

the assistant: I think so. I’ve noticed that people who read my family’s stories are reminded of their family.

Mutual inspiration

Westphalia: Her husband, Michael Colmiere, appears in the novel as a consultant. Do you not trust your memories?

the assistant: No, not that. Michael knew a lot about my brother. There was a lot in common between the two. In fact, it was my husband who gave me the idea to write about my family, and I often told him about it.

Westphalia: Is your husband also your number one reader?

the assistant: Yes, I also read his manuscripts first. Then it becomes much easier for the editorial department. Our scripts have always worked well when we sent them to the publisher.

Westphalia: What does your husband say about your literary success?

the assistant: he is happy. In the past, it was always the one who made the money and who was known. Now people know me. That’s a good feeling!

Monica Helfer: “The Lionheart”
Karl Hanser Verlag, Munich 2022
192 pages, 20 euros

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