“I love children as an audience” | Anna Woltz, Aarhus 39

“I love children as an audience” | Anna Woltz, Aarhus 39

Anna Woltz is an acclaimed Dutch writer, part of our Aarhus 39 selection of the best emerging writers from across Europe. Anna will be appearing at the inaugural International Children’s Literature Hay Festival Aarhus 2017 later this month. Here she talks about her new story for Quest, our new anthology of 17 stories for children, inspired by journeys. 

Tell us about your story…
My story Peeva is a Tone-Deaf Cat is a story about Eva, who doesn’t feel at home in her own family. Her parents and brothers all play instruments and sing and love music – only Eva doesn’t. Then she gets the crazy idea that she might be switched at birth. She goes to the hospital where she was born to find out…

Why did you pick that theme?
I love to write about nine, ten, eleven-year-olds. On the one hand, they are very sensible, almost more grown up than fifteen-year-olds. But on the other hand, they still have a residue of magical thinking left; they can pursue crazy ideas very seriously. I think every child sometimes wonders whether he or she was adopted or switched at birth, because no one feels at home all the time. Families are a fascinating concept to me: you’re stuck with them – as a child even more so than as a grown-up. Parents choose to have a child, children don’t choose to be born – but once they are born, they need their parents above all else. But what if your parents aren’t the greatest people on earth? Most of my stories are about exactly that: discovering your parents are mere mortals that can make mistakes – and then loving them anyway.

When did you decide to become an author?
I’ve always loved stories. As a child, I devoured books. And then, when I was twelve, I asked myself: why do other people get to invent these stories? I want to make up what happens! Then I started on my first book.

When did you publish your first book?
My first book was a collection of newspaper columns; when I was fifteen, I wrote a weekly column about my life at school for a national newspaper. My first book for children I wrote when I was seventeen; it was published in 2002.

What is special about writing for children?
Children experience everything for the first time: they fall in love for the first time, they discover the world, they get to know a bit about themselves. I think it is much more interesting to write about a character that experiences love for the first time, than for the tenth time. And I love children as an audience; they’re so funny and honest and enthusiastic – and when they’re bored, they show you they’re bored. They will never sit listening to you for an entire hour without showing any emotions – I love that about kids.

What does it mean to you to be a part of the anthology and the Hay Festival?
It’s such an honour! I’m very much looking forward to the Festival in Aarhus, where I get to meet all these other young writers who are part of the anthology. It feels very special to be part of that group.

Do you have a favorite spot where you write? Where is that? And why is that your favorite spot?
At home, at my big desk. I never play music when I write, I need coffee and water and snacks at hand, and I don’t mind doing some washing or groceries in between. Writing is not only about writing, but also about thinking – and I think best when I can do something like cooking or going for a walk or reading the newspaper in between. Working from home gives me that freedom.

How do you get inspired?
That’s the easy part: I get inspired by living. By everything I hear, see, read and experience. My head is full of inspiration – the hard part is turning all that inspiration into a coherent story. But I like that hard part best of all: it feels amazing to turn the chaos of this world into something fulfilling, something beautiful, something that makes sense – a story.