THE BRITISH LIBRARY

European studies blog

10 May 2016

I Prefer Imagination

Our second author Q&A post as a taster for this year’s European Literature Festival Writers’ Showcase event features Dutch author Jaap Robben, whose novel You Have Me To Love is published by World Editions

ELN Jaap Robben
Jaap Robben

How did you become a writer?

Actually I don't know. As a child I loved to read, but I never knew writing could be a real job. When I was around sixteen years old I started writing, jokes, small poems, sentences. In the mean time I went into enviromental science. I finished my studies but I'm a very bad scientist. I always preferred working on a story or a poem, instead of studying the environment. I prefer imagination to the correctness of science.

Do you have a favourite character in your fiction? If so, who? And if not, why not?

Oh, that's difficult. I don't really focus on characters when I'm reading. What I remember from the books on my bookshelf are more sentences or situations than characters.

You’re coming to London for European Literature Night. Is there a British author you particularly admire? 

Of course: Julian Barnes. At the moment I'm reading All the Birds, Singing by Evie Wyld for the second time and love it. I also admire Oliver Jeffers’ writing. 

Other than reading literature in translation, how else can we break down barriers between people of different nationalities and cultures?

In Dutch schools they only teach us about Dutch history, some ancient Greek, a little prehistoric, the Second World War. But we need to know more about modern European history.  We need to know who our neighbours are. We live in a union, but we don't know what happened to each other the last hundred years. For example, after I read a lot about the Singing Revolution in the Baltic States, I felt ashamed, because I had never heard about it. We need to know our stories.

Is there a book you wish you’d written? If so what is it?

Always my next book. The Flemish writer Hugo Claus  said: ‘Writing is like smashing your head against the wall, it’s always a relief when you quit.’

I think I would have been proud to be Janne Teller and and to have written her book Nothing  

What advice would you give to anyone just starting out?

That’s quite difficult. For people who want to write, but don’t get started, I don't really have a good advice. If you really want to write, you will do it. People hardly ever start with something completely new. For those people who are already writers, don’t listen too much to good advice. And try to forget yourself. it always helps me if I’m not so aware of myself while I'm writing. And put away your phone and email.

What are you reading now?

I’m reading Dorthe Nors’ Karate Chop – she will also be at the European Literature Festival.  And it’s great! Her stories are like the best Tapas. Don’t eat it too fast.

Can you tell us anything about your next book?

It's for children. I’m writing it together with the Flemish illustrator Benjamin Leroy. It’s called Suzy Douzy and the Smelly Finger.

ELN Jaap Robben You have me