We had the opportunity to talk with Marc Veerkamp, a Dutch scriptwriter, journalist, and children’s author. He was a member of the writing team for Sesamstraat, the Dutch adaptation of Sesame Street, for almost two decades, and he has written scripts for multiple plays and animated films. Bear Is Never Alone is Marc’s English-language debut.
What made you decide to become an author?
It was my love for stories that brought me to writing. As a kid I read all sorts of books and most of all comic books. Then I started to draw my own comics. That was fun for a while, but also time consuming. If I just made up stories, I didn’t have to draw the same characters over and over again. So I just stuck with writing. But I always longed to combine words with images. That’s what I do as a screenwriter and playwright. And yes, als the writer of picture books. I’m grateful that I can help illustrator (and friend) Jeska Verstegen with creating those atmospheric drawings. She’s a true Dutch master.
What makes you most passionate about this job?
Getting lost in a world of ideas. Beginning a new story can be tedious, because you have to find the right tone, finishing can be a bit sad, because you have to let go. For me, the middle is when it all happens. That’s when I know the characters so well that they seem to be really alive. During that period, I often surprise myself. All of a sudden there’s something on paper that you didn’t know about when you woke up that morning. Those moments when you surprise yourself ar the best, because then you get the feeling that you also can surprise the reader.
What’s a typical workday like?
I sit down at nine a.m. At first I allow myself to surf the internet a bit, to check out what’s happing in the world of writing. Then I start answering my mail and sometimes make some phone-calls. I want to start with an empty brain, so “business-stuff” should be handled first. But from the moment I wake up, my head secretly fills itself with new ideas. Some of them good. When my head starts getting stuffed with ideas, there’s no need to postpone the writing proces and I just jump into typing. Officially, my day finishes at six. Well, during the evenings I do research. Sometimes I have meetings. But most of my days, I spend writing and puzzling and off course rewriting… because you can always improve on something.
Where do the ideas for your books come from?
My ideas come from all sort of places, but they’re deeply rooted in my fascination with childhood and growing up. There’s a bit of history behind that. Before I was self-assured enough to be a writer, I studied to become a primary school teacher. It wasn’t the most conscious choice, I just didn’t get into the colleges I dreamed of going to, and had to choose a profession. Well, they always need teachers. There I discovered two things: that I really, really disliked the idea of spending the best years of my life between the walls of a school… but also that I was fascinated specifically by the development of children. I observed how their personalities formed, how they learned their way around in this complicated world. From then on, working with kids was not my goal anymore, but I found out that I could communicate with them through stories. So nowadays I write all sorts of stories for children, and I also write about children for adults. My work is mostly about growing up. The development of children and young people in general is the engine behind most of my ideas.
How much research do you do before you begin a book?
A lot. It’s not only because I want to be accurate, research also sharpers your ideas. In the case of this book, I looked into the psychology of being alone. I read articles, watched video, talked about our experiences it with Jeska. There’s a fine line between being alone and being lonely, and I wanted to explore that differences. Many kids feel overstimulated, overstrung like Bear. So they want to be alone for a while. But if nobody understand their feelings, they can be very lonely. So Jeska and I came up with Zebra, who understands Bear on a whole other level. And makes genuine contact. With the research I did, I knew that our initial impulses while creating the story were right, and we could make it a bit richer.
Where do you find your inspiration for new stories and characters?
Through experience and observation. You can find tiny little pieces of both Bear and Zebra in my personality. There has to be a bit of yourself in everything you create, otherwise you just can’t come up with it. As artists, we know how it feels to be identified with your achievements and not with who you really are. Like bear, who’s solely seen as a piano player by the crowd. I know what it’s like to be overstimulated. But I also see it in others. So in new stories I will again explore something that I feel or see around me. Observation is at least as important for storytellers as experience. I see and hear people in shops, while travel by public transport, in my neighborhood. Behind every window there’s a story. And in Amsterdam there are quite a lot of windows.
What inspired you to create Bear Is Never Alone?
Jeska! She drew a bear. The picture seemed to resonate with others. Then one Friday morning in november she rang me up. She said if I could help her to create a story about the bear. We talked about about and for some reason, she hinted that it could be about loneliness. I though that could be more nuanced: the fine line between loneliness and being alone? And so we started to explore those themes. Of course your mind drifts off, and before you know it it’s about so much more. I didn’t know Bear was an excellent pianist back then—I surprised myself by making that up.
What do you hope young readers will take away from Bear Is Never Alone?
That it’s great to achieve something, like becoming a great pianist, but that it’s even greater to find someone who sees all of you, not just what you do, but who you are.
On a more general level: that there’s nothing wrong with being an introvert. It’s okay to seek personal peace and even solitude when needed. And of course… that you can be alone together.
Do you have a favorite spread?
What a sadistic question: ALL the spreads are favorites! But the one with Bear up in the tree, being so heavy the tree trunk bends over to the crowd is the one that resonates with me the most. The whole situation is so beautifully illustrated by Jeska: the thing he tries to escape only comes closer. And I love the typography. That spread is visually gripping, it has a certain tension but in a way it’s also funny.
Is there anything else you feel we should know about Bear Is Never Alone or yourself?
We love the warm reception of our book. When we started with this story, there was just one single, spontaneous drawing. And with the help of our Dutch publisher, Leopold, we just wanted to make something that was beautiful and personal. To our surprise it was picked up for translation in Germany, Japan, South Korea, and of course, to top it all, the US. We always trusted in Bear, but this is beyond expectations. That means that there is a demand for stories with social-emotional themes. Great!
Bear Is Never Alone
Written by Marc Veerkamp
Illustrated by Jeska Verstegen
Translated by Laura Watkinson
HARDCOVER; Releases: 4/3/2023
Order this book from:
ChristianBook.com | IndieBound | Barnes and Noble | Amazon
A stirring, thoughtful story about the pressure to perform and the support of a true friend.
When Bear sits down at the piano, he makes beautiful music, and the other animals can’t get enough. “More, more, Pianobear!” they shout. But sometimes Bear just wants to relax. Even when he tries to escape to a quiet tree branch, the voices follow him: “More! More! More!” Finally Bear snaps. No one seems to understand why he’s so upset—except Zebra. Zebra loves Bear’s music, but she doesn’t ask him to start playing again. Instead, she brings over a book…
This moving story is the perfect companion for social-emotional lessons about choosing solitude, respecting boundaries, and building interpersonal awareness. Illustrated in striking shades of black, white, and red, Bear Is Never Alone encourages young readers to notice others’ needs and care for them with kindness.