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Interview with Richard De Nooy
What was that moment when it occurred to you a life as a writer was in store for you?
A macabre fascination that started at the age of around 10 or 11, when a kid from my school got run over by a truck. When I saw his photo in the newspaper – same haircut, same age, same school uniform as my own – I remember thinking: “That could have been me.” The need to walk in other people’s shoes, slip into their skins, live their lives on paper has plagued me ever since.
Are writers born or made?
It’s a benign mental disorder one is born with, I reckon.
Did you necessarily write better school essays?
I wasn’t particularly brilliant at anything. My reports invariably read: “Richard could do better.” That’s pretty much still the case.
Winner of the UJ Prize for First Book … would you have faltered had your debut not received such a positive response?
I was already working on my third novel when I won the prize, so I guess the answer is no.
Who reads your first draft of the manuscript?
Only my editor. Too many comments confuse the cook.
Are you recognised and stopped in the streets for an autograph or a chat about writing and/or books?
Fellow writers sometimes recognise me when I’m buying drinks.
Do you fall in love with your characters? Alma Nel could do with some loving …
I tend to have really intense one-book stands with them. More accurately, I briefly become them, slipping in and out of their skin.
You name JM Coetzee as one of your favourite writers. Forget the others; why Coetzee?
He has the ability to detach his characters from time and place, giving them a mythical and timeless quality.
Do you have any big name Twitter followers?
Probably, but I mainly enjoy the buzz and interaction, regardless of a person’s fame or following. I’ve met some wonderful, warm and generous people via the medium. And trolls have always fascinated me, so it’s a big win all round.
Do you read the books or watch the movie adaptation first?
I prefer to see those as two completely different art forms. If any of my books were ever filmed, I’d hope to see something completely different. An excellent movie inspired by my book, rather than an adaptation.
Do you write with music playing in the background or insist on total silence?
I get up at 5am to write, when the world outside is asleep and dark and silent, and the world inside is alive and bright and vibrant.
Is there a time of day that’s best suited for writing?
[Say] 5 till 9am, and 11pm till 2am. Writers are sad, little gods, who create their worlds in darkness. Well, I am.
You do not write in English only? Do … the turns of phrase, for example, come just as naturally for a writer whose medium of writing is more than one language?
Nowadays, I write my novels in Dutch first and then in English. But I prefer the latter. My Dutch is a Volvo, my English an Aston Martin. They both get me where I want to go, but I sometimes get frustrated when I’m driving the former, because I know the latter is waiting.
What would have become of the work of Orhan Pamuk or Stieg Larsson if they wrote in their native tongues?
You mean if they hadn’t been translated into English? They probably would have kept writing regardless. Writing becomes less frustrating when you remove success from the equation. At least, that’s what I’ve found.
Is there a book you wish you should have written?
I’m somewhat in awe of some poets’ ability to juggle words with apparent disregard for outcome, intent and destination. But it’s well-nigh impossible to sustain that for an entire book.
What is the one writing tip that you have always followed?
Edit with complete self-loathing. It is the only way.
If you were asked to, whose [newspaper] obituary would you have penned well enough to arouse curiosity in the reader such that their book sales would go up … Umberto Eco or Harper Lee?
Umberto Eco. I recently read an interview with him in Paris Review, in which he said: “The author, Dan Brown, is a character from Foucault’s Pendulum! I invented him.”
Is the book as we know it facing extinction given the rise of the e-book and gadgets?
I don’t think so. Personally, I try to embrace these innovations and see what they have to offer in terms of telling stories in new ways.
Does writing pay the bills – if not in the De Nooy household, maybe for other families?
There are very few writers who can live off their royalties alone. In Holland, the Dutch Foundation for Literature offers grants to published writers. I’ve had the good fortune of receiving grants for my past three books, which has allowed me to buy time to write.
If you were not doing what you do, how would you be eking out a living?
Translation generates most of my income. If I wanted to be wealthy, I should have sold my soul to advertising in the nineties and noughties. And if writing wasn’t an option, I’d probably be drawing or making movies and music.
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