From critics' darling for her first novel at 17 to outcast accused of plagiarism, how did German author Helene Hegemann survive her notoriety?
But this is Berlin, where it is considered cool not to notice, or admit you've noticed, the famous.
Or perhaps it's also to do with the fact that Hegemann, whose novel Axolotl Roadkill, about a troubled, precocious and brassy 16-year-old girl who has more or less been left to fend for herself in the raw seediness and creative confusion of Berlin (which was written when she was 16 and published when she was 17), has been trying to keep a low profile and so seems happy to blend in.
"It was a totally strenuous time. I was completely exposed," the now 20-year-old tells me over a ginger tea. "I was reading articles where I thought 'what a horrible person', and then realising with horror, 'it's me they're talking about'."
When the book came out, Hegemann appeared on all the top chatshows and in the arts pages of every German newspaper, being thrust, she says, into "a completely new world, part of a hype that was not about the book itself or its contents, but about the fact that I was just 17 and had written about grisly things". Then the plagiarism claims started and the exposure was more intense still.
At the height of the furore, Hegemann was the focus of a campaign spearheaded by German literary giant Günter Grass to protect writers' intellectual copyright. Some critics went so far as to suggest the novel had been written by her father. She responded with a barbed essay in Die Zeit in which she joked yes, her father had written it, but only after she had slept with him.
We're sitting in the glass-walled cafe of Berlin's KW Institute for Contemporary Art, on a gallery-strewn street that features heavily in her novel, as does the now highly gentrified district of Prenzlauer Berg, favoured by Brits who have moved to the city in droves in recent years.
While she does not like it to be thought of as a Berlin novel, she is aware this will attract potential British readers, in an age when young Britons think nothing of flying to Berlin for a single night to hit the clubs (including the notorious Berghain, where much of the book is set).
"Berlin has certainly shaped me," she says. But while she found the city liberating when she arrived from the industrial city of Bochum at the age of 13, it was almost too free and wild. "I was out of my depth," she says. Her mother had recently died, and her father, Carl Hegemann, a dramaturg at Berlin's experimental theatre, the Volksbühne, was supposed to take her under his wing, but by all accounts didn't quite know how to deal with her. "Really, for years all I knew about my father was that he worked at a theatre far, far away but I hardly ever saw him and had never visited. Let's just say when I arrived in Berlin it was a shock and I did not experience a conventional family life."
Full story at The Observer