The rules of our Five Questions interview series are simple: we send each of our guests a long list of questions. Some are serious; some are . . . not so serious. They choose their favorites and respond.
1. What’s the story behind A Dog Like Sam?
I was writing and writing—but it was a stupid book I was writing. It was supposed to be a “funny” novel, about a cowboy who was not so good with horses, but pretty good at baking cupcakes. And the manuscript was a failure: it wasn’t funny, there was no “truth” in the story.
I was a bit fed up with the whole idea of writing, and because summer was on its way, I booked a flight to Calgary to visit my brother and his family. And there it was: a wonderful white dog, showing up just like that—and a wonderful story, showing up just like that. It was as if life itself said: “Look, this is what you should write about.” So I did.
2. What are your thoughts on Philip Hopman’s illustrations for the book?
Philip Hopman is one of the best illustrators we have. There is no doubt about that. But when it comes to black-and-white illustrations in a book about animals and people, or in a book that has landscapes and a non-Dutch background, he is simply the one and only master. I can’t say how happy I still am that he found the time to do my two Sam books. We didn’t even talk much about it—I just sent him some photographs, but they weren’t many and they weren’t very good. After a while he just showed me his artwork. Which was stunning.
3. Which book has done the most to make you who you are today?
It’s a triangle of books. First of all it’s The Lionheart Brothers by Astrid Lindgren. This book showed me the importance of being courageous at the points in your life when it really matters—even though you don’t think you have the courage to do what you’re supposed to do. The main character in the book is struggling with this, but he knows that if he doesn’t act when it’s really, really necessary, he would be nothing more than a rag.
What Is the What? by Dave Eggers taught me what writers can do when it comes to solidarity. This story, which he wrote after meeting the Sudanese “lost boy” Valentino Achak Deng, inspired me to start a young-adult series based on a similar principle, and it led me to write two books about the extraordinary lives of very important young people I met, The Boy Who Found Happiness, about Anoush Elman, who was born in Afghanistan and now lives in The Netherlands, and The Cancer Championship for Juniors, with Roy Looman, about the mental effects of (surviving) cancer.
The last book that will stay with me forever, I’m sure, is A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara. I read it six weeks ago, and since then not a day has passed without thoughts being spent on Jude, Willem, Malcolm, and JB. It’s about having friends as “self-chosen” family members, how to help people who suffer, and how that maybe isn’t possible at all, but still we have to try. And it’s about the importance of being friendly.
4. What are you doing when you’re not writing, reading, or answering questions for Eerdlings?
Maintaining friendships, I would say, which comes down to: talking, having dinner, going to a movie, and then talking again. I would like to say there’s the occasional visit to the gym as well, but it’s actually too occasional to mention (and mostly untrue).
5. What’s next for you?
I’m working on a new 10+ book, which I would say is perfect for the readers of the Sam series. It’s going to be out next spring (2017) and will bear the title The Forbidden Attic. There will be a lot of cliffhangers, as well as an eerie girl, a boy that is intrigued by the eerie girl, and I guess even some ghosts.
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