As I pulled aside the heavy curtain of the hotel room, I couldn’t tell if it was day or night. The clock on my phone said it was just after eight, the sky outside looked as if it was about to fall to the ground. Although – no, that’s not quite right: you couldn’t see the sky itself at all, just one thick, heavy, grey-brown-black blanket of cloud that rumbled and rolled and spewed water like a fountain. My hotel room looked out over a large, wide square, where people were clinging to their brollies, faces concealed by thick scarves and heavy coats, and for once there wasn’t a single cyclist to be seen. The perfect weather for literature, really.
And even if the sky over The Hague didn’t see it this way, for me the sun was shining, as the previous evening had brought with it an absolutely brilliant encounter. For the first time, I was able to meet my editor and the other lovely folk at De Arbeiderspers, my Dutch publishing house. And above all, I was able to meet my translator Kor der Vries. We had worked together very intensively for near on a year, and it was really exciting to finally meet him in person. And yep, he’s just as funny as I imagined him to be. Translating (whether it’s a short text or a book) always seems to involve letting go: if you haven’t mastered the target language to the standard of a native speaker, it is hard to tell what someone else is doing to your text or how it’s being received, let alone to keep track of its further development. So it’s great to have translators that you can trust completely, as was the case with Kor de Vries, as is the case with Ellie & Mara.
Despite that, the entire day was overshadowed by a terrible problem: why did all the authors I so desperately wanted to see have to be on stage at exactly the same time as our presentation of The Chronicles? ‘Why, oh why, you Olympian Gods? What are you trying to tell me?’ went round and round my head the whole day. Above all, I was frustrated that the author of my favourite book so far this year was appearing at the same as us. Nickolas Butler’s debut novel Shotgun Lovesongs was for me the best read of the entire season. I would’ve so loved to meet him in person, would’ve loved to know how he spoke, how he moved, the way he thought, what his voice sounded like.
And I would’ve probably still been in a bad mood four days later for having missed him, if our own event hadn’t been so lovely. I suddenly felt like a little girl all over again, the way it was before my novel was published. Now that my book is a bestseller most of my readings take place on a large stage in front of an audience of more than a hundred people, and last about an hour and a half. In this respect, it was a completely adorable experience, suddenly appearing as part of an ‘exhibition’ of The Chronicles, where short excerpts and mini interviews were being presented to the audience, as if we were a class of music students performing to our parents at the end of the year. As if the last year of my life hadn’t happened at all. A funny little blast from the past.
But the absolute highlight of the evening was yet to come. My beloved, the best man in the world, who had even travelled to The Hague just to see me, sent me a text: come to where the books are on sale. I’ve found him. Suddenly, I felt incredibly nervous, rushed into the foyer of the Royal Theatre and there he was: my beloved, together with Nickolas Butler. It was a long, long evening, spent in unbelievably great conversation with the nicest author I’ve ever met.
And that’s precisely the great thing about literature festivals: sleeping little, drinking lots, crazy sources of inspiration, great experiences and encounters that stay with you for the rest of your life.
Many thanks to the brilliant Crossing Border team for inviting me to this incredible festival, for your incredible hospitality and for a weekend I shall never forget.