I never know which book I'll write

Wytske Versteeg

Wytske Versteeg

Once, in a small Bulgarian village, a friend of mine introduced me to a woman who would take care of her holiday house while she was away for the winter. I had a bad feeling about this woman and, unfortunately, I was right: the caretaker nearly set the house on fire, on purpose. This was the question I started The Boy with: what happens when you trust someone you really shouldn't trust? During the writing process, it turned out I was telling a different story altogether: a story about mourning, about a woman isolated by her grief.

My dog is my best help

My dog likes to stay away for hours, searching for mice and rabbits. I take my laptop with me to the park and write while Bambi enjoys herself.

The stories are already there

Brancusi once said: "Things are not difficult to make; what is difficult is putting ourselves in the state of mind to make them". I think this is very true; much of the writing process is about allowing yourself to hear the stories that are already there.

I love the sea

I grew up near the sea, and still love going there. The sea automatically found its place in The Boy.

Books help me to enter different worlds

As a child, I liked to read the Narnia novels, in which a wardrobe is the entrance to a different world. Now that I'm a grown-up, I find that writing books gives me access to the worlds of others. At readings, people tell me their own, often painful stories, and I am touched by their trust - even if I feel shy at the same time, for whereas I am good with words on paper, it is much more difficult to say the right thing in real life.

Writing is all about looking

Apart from writing, I focus on drawing, painting and photography. Like writing, these arts are all about carefully observing the world. I find that there is a tension between writing and social media: the former is all about looking, the latter about being seen.

For me as a writer, hearing voices is a good thing.

I always depend upon a character to spontaneously start speaking. In The Boy, the mother was so hurt and angry that I simply had to follow her urgent voice, even though I started out with a different narrator.

I think all writers have been wounded in some way

Writing requires a particular distance, and a distrust of words. You only keep searching for the right way to say something when understanding is not self-evident, when you know the feeling of being an outsider.

Everyone has a story to tell

When I teach classes, people often say to me that they don't have a story, that their life isn't interesting to others. This is, of course, untrue: the story is all in the telling, and the most ordinary lives often turn out to be highly interesting.

In lying, I can be more honest

In my books, I like to tell uncomfortable stories. In everyday life, everyone lies very often: we tell each other things are well when they really aren't, and ads promise us that we'll become better people if we only buy this or that. Writing a novel is to convincingly tell a very long lie. But this lie allows the writer to explore feelings that we typically hide from others: guilt, shame, powerlessness. Novels show us that we're not alone.