If you’ve been keeping tabs on my writing career, you’ll know that I’m relatively new to the Dutch writing scene. Up until two years ago I had no idea of the enthusiastic community of writers within the contours of our very small and cold country. A community that pours out stories like it’s nobody’s business: scifi, fantasy, horror, young adult… sometimes imbued with a good dose of literary ambitions – dare I say: pretentions? – sometimes written purely to entertain, but written, always, from the heart.
Nowhere does that heart, that enthusiasm, become more manifest than at the Day of the Fantastic Book, an event that’s historically been hosted by the Foundation for promoting Fantastical Literature. Last April saw my second day at this event, and even more than last time I was inspired by the sheer amount of, and diversity in, the workshops, lectures, shows and myriad other ways for writers, readers and other enthusiasts to connect. There were short stories to be heard and enjoyed in a silent disco, Johan-Klein Haneveld and two other authors gave three different workshops on city-building, there was a show on the main stage for the crowdfund-project “De Wolfs Bestiarium” – a book I’m very much looking forward to read! – while at the bar an informal meet & greet with some of Holland’s better known genre-authors was held. The afternoon programme ended with Keynote speaker Naomi Novik, celebrated author of the Temeraire-series, Uprooted and Spinning Silver.
*Novik spoke – passionately- about the importance of writing what you love. Even if that happens to be fanfiction.
This is just a part of the programme, but it illustrates perfectly the different ways in which the writing Netherlands are trying to give publicity to their genres. In that regard, the Day of Fantastical Literature is a great event that has the ability to bring together writers and their audiences, and help authors take their writing to a next level…
..this edition of the Day was clouded, overcast by thick black thunderclouds. Marked by tension in the air, stemming not in a small part from the deliberate absence of so many. You see, a short while ago it had been announced that the Harland Book Prize would not be awarded at the evening show. The jury had found the absolute quality of the five nominated books to be lacking. And so it was decided to ridicule five authors, their audiences and their supporters – including their editors and publishers. Instead of an award, a discussion was held in the afternoon, about the need for standards of quality in genre literature. The fact that this discussion did not get too heated was largely due to the deliberate absence of those who felt most insulted by the strange proceedings.
This discontent – stemming from both the divisive issue of genre vs. literature and the way in which the jury and organisation handled this issue, when it came to the award – was palbable during the entirety of the Day. The elephant in the reading room. Sure, this brought about some much-needed discussion, but it also made for a wonderful event that felt, at times, like a ghost town. A divided ghost town.
I had not entertained the notion of not-coming, myself. I had been looking forward to this event, to the opportunity to mingle with my fellow authors, exchange ideas and get inspired. And I was participating in that other award, the one that’s been running smoothly, more or less, for decades: the Harland Short Story Contest.
I submitted two stories this year. And from a little under two hundred submissions, not one, but both my stories were deemed fit for the top ten! And so I was called on stage, under the applause of an almost filled venue, to accept the second prize for my story ‘The Fair Boy’ (Dutch: “Jongen van Elf”). After, when I was talking to some of the jury over drinks – another jury from the one that muddled the book award – I found out, to equal parts glee and envy, that the jury had spent almost an entire day debating whether my story deserved the first or second place. My other story came in fifth.
*The top ten: three authors were absent, and I saw fit to occupy two spaces.
Of course, I was – and still am – mighty pleased with that result. Pleased that I was allowed to show how much I’ve grown as an author over the last couple of years. At the same time, I realise how much of an in-crowd we Dutch writers have become. And if we ever want to reach the audience that fit our writing ability (because I do believe we have this ability), then we must stand united. Writing Holland, no matter how enthusiastic, is too small for division.
*Taking the train back after a long day: tired, partially divided, yet pleased.