Elle van Rijn, The Orphans of Amsterdam

Elle van Rijn, The Orphans of Amsterdam

1. I come from a little village in Holland where we were a bit of an odd family. My parents were young, hippy and non-religious. Everyone apart from us would go to church on Sundays and I felt an outcast. I begged my parents if we could please go too, and I even joined the church-chorus, but they kept refusing. So, I was an outcast. Later I saw it as a big advantage that I learned already at a young age to deal with the fact that I didn’t fit in.

2. I never thought I could be a writer because I wasn’t very good at spelling and reading out loud. So I went to the theater school and became an actress. In Holland people still know me from many of my tv-series and films. I found out that I didn’t like the repetition of playing the same part every evening in the theater. I missed creativity. So I started writing. First for myself, and then my first manuscript.

3. My private life didn’t go as smoothly as I pictured. I divorced twice, so ten years ago I ended up alone with four kids from two husbands. I had to work hard to make a living: acting, writing columns, screenplays, novels… Then a friend set me up for a blind date, and it was love at first sight. Nic is Italian, and has two sons. We've been together for almost ten years in this patchwork family. Three years ago we had a marvelous wedding in Italy. So, never stop believing in love

4. Because all four of my kids – from different fathers – were dyslectic I came to the conclusion that this was coming from me. Finally, I understood why I often made mistakes. Still now I’m sometimes afraid to make a stupid impression because of this. At the same time, I’m happy that I didn’t know this when I started writing. I probably wouldn’t have had the guts to dare to become a writer. So this is my lesson for every kid with dyslection: it doesn't matter! You can become whatever you want. Dyslectic people are often very creative.

5. I always get the question: are you more an actor or a writer? I’m more a writer, but for me it isn’t that different. I come from the same source of wanting to know what drives people. I had it already when I was a kid; I wanted to live more lives out of pure curiosity. How is it to be this or this person, live her life, have her parents. How does it feel to be someone else? What makes this person particular, what are her motives, her dreams, frustrations, goals, her saving grace. So the way I approach my characters in a play is not very different from how I study my characters for a novel. It’s as if I play my protagonist.

6. At first I was writing pure fiction, but then I found more and more stories that are worthy of being told to a wide audience. I believe that we have the responsibility to preserve our history, to be able to learn from it, and to strengthen our human morals by storytelling. To novelize these stories – like to fictionalize them in drama series and movies – serves a goal. It makes this history come alive, it touches and it involves the reader. My novels are about ordinary people that get into extraordinary circumstances in which they have to make important decisions.

7. The Orphans of Amsterdam is my tenth novel. I love Betty, the protagonist. She’s brave, naughty, impulsive and an every day loner. It’s a tragic story. What the Jewish Betty and her colleagues achieved, is an example and source of inspiration for our daughters and sons. Imagine you’re eighteen years old and you have to convince a young mother to leave her baby in your trust. That in the night, when the Germans come to pick more kids, you are deciding which kid can stay and which kid you have to give up. It was like Sophie's Choice every day…