Q&A | Deborah Klaassen

Deborah Klaassen
Writer Deborah Klaassen with the photo that inspired her story at the Still exhibition at Foyles in September 2012

DEBORAH KLAASSEN LIVES IN LONDON. She is a Dutch, London-based blogger, essayist, philosopher, copywriter and the author of the horror novel Bek dicht en dooreten! (Shut up and eat!). She came to Still via James Miller and contributed the story ‘How To Be a Zombie’. She’s currently writing a crime novel.

When did you write your first story and what was it was about?
I started making up stories long before I could write, and must have started writing them down as soon as I could write. My grandmother has kept one of my earliest stories in a photo album. She had given me a piece of paper and some felt tip pens so that I could draw, but instead I wrote a story about a farm.

Why did you move to the UK?
After my MA Philosophy, I discovered that Fay Weldon teaches Creative Writing at Brunel University. I figured that would be a unique opportunity to write a novel with all the guidance I could possibly need. Ergo Veni, Vidi, Vici. (I saw, I conquered, I came)

Do you find it easy to write and communicate in English? Also, do you continue to write in Dutch?
I wouldn’t say that I find it easy, but it’s no more difficult than writing and communicating in Dutch. I talk in my sleep, and according to my boyfriend, my preferred language is English.

What inspires your work? Favourite writers?
It’s the people around me that inspire me the most: the Excel Hero, the Spliff Artist or the Manager with a Heart of Gold. When I was a teenager, my favourite authors were Fjodor Dostojevski and Ronald Giphart. These days, my literary diet is incredibly varied.

You work for a London media agency as a copy writer, how do you find time to work on your writing projects? Do you put time aside every day or do you write sporadically?
I spend about three hours a day on trains and busses to get to work and back. I try to use my commute for writing, though distracting headlines in newspapers, not having a seat or dozing off when I do have a seat all are great threats. I recently won an iPad in a Vine Competition though, which is a great boost for my productivity en route.

Your story ‘How To Be A Zombie’ explores the idea of slowing down time. Is it an expression of a personal frustration of there not being enough hours in the day?
It’s actually more of a frustration with how gullible people can be, no matter how intelligent they are. And with other people’s tendency to take advantage of this gullibility.

Zombie takes a violent turn. How important is violence in your writing?
Just as important as it is in real life.

Short story or novel?
Both. Ideally: short stories within a novel. My favourite passage in Shut up and Eat! is the milk-incident, where Horrible Herman almost gets stabbed by a twelve-year-old. It’s a short story in its own right, but really adds value to the full novel as well because it shows what sort of person Horrible Herman is.

Did you enjoy the experience of collaborating with a visual artist?
I really took the time to choose the right photograph and to let it sink in before I started writing. It was very inspiring, and has made me look at photographs in a different way.

Is reading in public and performance an important part of your writing practice?
When I was still in university, I used to read books and newspapers to someone whose eyesight had deteriorated due to MS. Reading out loud was a very important part of my life, and I started doing it as well when reading difficult texts on my own. It helps understand the structure, grammar and, ultimately, meaning of a sentence. Because reading other people’s work out loud is such an important part of my life, I love reading my own work in public too. It’s an opportunity to share the story and emotions, get carried away and make sure that the ‘reader’ doesn’t miss out on the important nuances.

What are you working on at the moment?
I’m writing a crime novel. I’m afraid I can’t tell you much more about the characters and the plot yet, but I’m enjoying it.

Where do you see yourself in ten years?
Gosh, I wouldn’t even be able to tell you where I see myself in one year! Life is a plot full of unexpected twists.


‘Bek dicht en dooreten’ by Deborah Klaassen
‘Bek dicht en dooreten’ by Deborah Klaassen