Question & Answer

1: Where do you get inspiration from?

My kids always brought friends and girlfriends home and sometimes they did things that weren't allowed, or they teased each other and sometimes they actually argued. As a mother, I didn't always like that; but for a writer, it's great material. Because that's what it's all about in a child's life: looking for boundaries. Thinking of something naughty that is also smart, or not smart and then getting caught. Have fun and laugh a lot. But also: solving difficult things together. Kids have creativity and energy and that makes them funny, much funnier than most grown people.

2: Did everything in your stories really happen?

Many stories in my books do. I have experienced, heard or seen them. Shall I give examples? My daughter has turned the valve caps of all the car tires in the street. She did this to save the polar bears and the environment. I used this in The King of the Flat. In the first part of Lotte and Roos, Roos climbs onto the roof to frighten her neighbor when he has to take a bath. I did that myself, only then it wasn't the boy next door that was bathing, but his naked mother, and she wasn't happy to see me at all.

3: Do you ever make something up?

Naturally! There are no dragons flying around in Amsterdam. There is no evil king reigning either, and we humans just have shadows that look like us, and not all have a different shadow and magical powers. I like stories that really happened, but I also like making things up and fantasy and it usually comes together easily in my head. That's why I wrote Umbrador. That's a fairy tale, or a fantasy. But the heroine from that book, Jinna, she could be at your school.

4: How long does it take you to write a book?

That differs quite a bit. I wrote the books about Lottie and Rose quickly, sometimes in a few months. I spent more than three years on Umbrador. I've written more versions of it, because it's quite a complicated story and it really had to be right. I think I'm actually better at making things up than actually working them out. Fortunately, I have a good editor who helps me with that, and children sometimes read along. They then get a first or second version of my book and they tell me what is not yet clear, what they like, where it is too creepy, or too pathetic and then I will rewrite it again. Children are enthusiastic and honest. They are perfect editors.

5: What is an editor?

That's someone who helps you make a book. My real editor is called Mirjam. She reads all my books and she tells me what she thinks.

6: Do you make the drawings for your books yourself?

In high school, I always got bad grades for drawing. I can't do it at all. Fortunately, there are a lot of great artists living in the Netherlands. The pictures in my books were made by Annet Schaap, Marieke van Ditshuizen and Jeska Verstegen. I think all three are brilliant.

7: Do you have hobbies?

A lot! I like swimming in wild water, reading, walking and eating with friends, skating and skiing, and writing. I never get bored.

8: What is your best and worst quality?

My kids say I'm impatient, but of course that's because they're dawdling! They also sometimes find it annoying that I can't tell a story without making it a little bit better or even worse than it is.

9: Do you have any tips for someone who wants to write a children's book themselves?

I know a boy who wrote a real book in eighth grade. He started with a story on his mother's laptop. And then another story, and another. He put them in a pile, and after a while he had enough stories for a book. I have a lot of tips for aspiring writers, but the most important one is that you start and that you stick with it. It's like riding a bike: at first it's hard and you swab in all directions. But the more you do it, the easier it gets.