I ‘m pleased to bring you an interview with the Independent foreign fiction prize longlistee Gerbrand Bakker .His longlisted book The detour (ten white geese in the Us) Has Just come out in paperback in the UK ,So when I was offered chance to ask him a few questions I jumped at the chance
1.Why do you goes such isolated locations for your books?
I like to put people away from distractions, big cities, hustle and bustle. Just to see what happens to them. And in a very strange way I’m – even though I live in Amsterdam – not really able to write about a city and all the things that happen in them. Just like I’m not really able to write about skating, and skating (speed skating) is what I’ve done for 15 years, including competition. It always looks strange, reads strange.
2.Have you a connection with Wales, and is that why you choose it for The Detour?
Because I’ve been there quite a number of times. In fact, I have the strange habit of wanting to climb Snowdon once a year. The land there feels old, ancient, mysterious. I always wanted to use it for ‘something’ and somewhere in 2009 Emily Dickinson, a woman (and a feeling) and North-Wales came together in my head.
3.Did you pick Emily Dickson first as the poet to be the one Emile taught or after as she fitted the character?
No, the book started with this poem, that’s why I choose it as the motto. So the woman (Emilie/Agnes) had to fit in with Dickinson, and not the other way round. And then, when I was writing, I discovered (and the woman discovers) that there are some similarities between her and Dickinson. So there is a sort of love-hate relationship between them.
4.How closely did you work with the translator on this book?
Quite close, closer than on any other book. Because there were some real problems in the translation. For instance: how do you translate a book that in Dutch deals with the translation of an American poem into Dutch? I thought the book couldn’t be translated, but David Colmer is very calm and he said: “Don’t worry, I’m the translator, let me do my job.”
5.What impact did winning the IMPAC prize for The Twin have for you?
I bought a house in The Eifel, Germany. I’m renovating it at the moment and there is going to be a wonderful ‘writing-room’ in it, which can only be accessed via a stairway on the outside of the house. There is going to be a log burner in it, as the whole house is heated with log burners. That is what happened in the end with the IMPAC money. I did (not yet) buy a carthorse with it. It also gave me the opportunity to NOT write for a while. I’ve not been inclined to write for a couple of years now, and the money partly enables me to do this. The IMPAC did not make me think: wow, I’m a real, big writer now, also because I myself have been in jury’s and I know how things work. There is always a bit of luck and bargaining involved…
6.I Asked Cees Nooteboom about Dutch literature last year he described it as ‘inward looking’. What is your view?
I presume that he meant this not as a compliment, and that he is not an inward-looking writer? I don’t think one can make such a general statement. There are enough writers who to me don’t write inward-looking, like Anon Grunberg or Peter Buwalda. But it is maybe true that Dutch writers take it on them to write about for instance world politics, maybe because in the end we are a very small country. And not many Dutch writers have the stature of Orhan Pamuk. I cannot think of one Dutch writer who ever became ‘big’ in the UK or the United States. There is also a reverence for especially English and American writers here. If you look at the bestselling books at the end of a year, there’s hardly a Dutch book to be found in the top 10. I don’t think that’s the case in the US or the UK. And nobody can convince me that American or English books are intrinsically better than Dutch books.
7.What you currently working on?
Nothing. I’m working in my house and garden, and sometimes I write articles in magazines. I travel a lot for my work these days. To Germany, but also to Argentina, the US and South-Africa.
8.What is your favourite Dutch book not written by you?
Het Bureau (The Office), written by J.J. Voskuil. A book that consists of seven parts, 5000 pages in total, about a man who works in an office for 35 years and is struggling with that. Only recently the first book was translated into German, it has not been translated into English. That would be a mammoth-task for any translator…
Many thanks Gerbrand and good luck with the IFFP 2013
Here are my reviews of his two novels