On 11 May 2009, I published a novella named ‘Een Moeilijke Kamp Ervaring,’ which directly translates to ‘A difficult camping experience’. I was 13 at the time and felt the utmost compulsion to write this story down as quickly as I could. I believe it only took me a few weeks to write and finish it, and once I did, I really wanted to get it out into the world. I had to tell this story and people had to read it to complete what I’d set out to do. At the time, no one considered publishing stories that were written by children but I tried to email several publishers anyway. The publisher that eventually took it on was BoekScout, a printing on demand publisher who had just launched BoekScoutYo, a new publishing house specially designed for children authors. I remember sending BookScout an email in which I said how ridiculous it was that my work couldn’t be published simply because of my age. I doubt my email had anything to do with the launch of their new house, but nonetheless, I got an email saying that they’d like to publish my story and that it’d be one of the two first books published under BoekScoutYo. To be honest, that is about all I remember. I was excited, of course. After all, this had been my goal over the past few weeks, to get my story published as it felt like no one took my writing seriously before that. Sure, I was writing a story but that didn’t mean anything. Writing means nothing unless you manage to publish it, right? That’s what my surrounding seemed to tell me. So I imagine that when I found out that my story was getting published I must have been happy, but I don’t remember. All that I remember surrounding this publication is shame.
I specifically do remember attending a gathering with other about-to-be-published writers at the publisher’s office, about 1.5 hr from my home, and that all the other authors were probably about 3 times my age. It felt like everyone was looking at me, the exceptional super young writer and I hated all of the attention that I got. I wished I had an invisibility cloak because I no longer wanted to be there. Suddenly I felt like my writing wasn’t good at all and I became ashamed of my story. But by then the process of publishing had already started. This was going to happen, my story was going to become an actual book.
My novella featured a teenager who had lost his girlfriend from a fall off a cliff during a hike they had been on together. He feels guilty because he thinks he could have saved her and over the course of the story, he has to come to terms with those feelings. Coincidentally, I had learned what it felt like to feel guilty a few months prior. I had gotten into a fight with my best friend because I had told her secret to someone else. I felt so ashamed of myself that even when she forgave me, I couldn’t forgive myself. So I tried pouring out my feelings in a fictional story. I thought that maybe by publishing it, I could let go of my guilt. However, publishing the story seemed to have the opposite effect as I was not prepared for the attention that came with it.
Just after my book was published, a local newspaper called me for an interview that I gave on the phone while I was doing my paper round. I think they had originally wanted to do it in person, but it ended up being more convenient over the phone. I was quite happy about the interview because it felt like I could tell people more about where the story had come from, and who I was as a person. I think I saw it as an opportunity to justify sending, then what was in my eyes an anomaly by that point, into the world.
My secondary school cut the article out of the newspaper and pinned it on their bulletin board. For the rest of the year, every week that I had to go to music class, I’d see myself smiling in Montana Wyoming wearing the most hideous shirt and earrings (great picture choice, *cough*). The school’s library purchased two or three copies as well as some teachers and friends. Suddenly I also had my favourite teacher’s attention; she bought my book and wanted me to sign it. But while I was eager to get her attention before, I now suddenly wished that she would forget about me.
When my dad turned 50, he celebrated it by hiring several tables in a Chinese wok restaurant and invited all his family and friends. We displayed several copies of my book on a table with a white cloth near the entrance of the seating area. During the evening, several adults attempted to talk to me about my book but I was quick to shut down any conversation. I didn’t want to talk about it and I didn’t want my book to be there. I didn’t want anyone to know about my existence anymore.
In hindsight, that story was definitely my (unconscious) attempt to come to terms with my guilt, but it only made me feel more ashamed as people didn’t get the message and congratulated me for what I’d done: writing a book which had come as a result of my betrayal of my friend. Even now, almost 10 years later (now that I have in fact forgiven myself), I’m still unable to open my novella and read more than the first two sentences on the page. I don’t know if I am ashamed of the writing itself, the story that I’m telling, or the fact that I published it, but I don’t even have a copy where I live. However, dad recently told me that he’s lending copies of my book to the children of people that he knows. He says that the children enjoy the story, but that he only lends out one copy at a time despite having several copies. It’s almost as if he’s afraid that a copy might not be returned and that as a result, he’d lose my book.
I don’t know how to describe what this means to me. I still don’t believe that what I wrote is any good and I won’t be reading it back any time soon, but the fact that my dad has (secretly) been proud enough to keep my story alive when I wanted to bury it, deeply touches me. And also, children enjoy the story so even if the writing is bad, it still accomplishes what a children’s book should. Maybe I shouldn’t be so hard on myself as, after all, the novella was written by a 13-year-old child. Perhaps I shouldn’t judge it for what it is, but on what I did as a 13-year old. I disagreed with the notion that children cannot be good writers and therefore should not be published, sought out several publishers online, contacted them on my own and didn’t stop until I accomplished what I had set out to do.
In that regard, I can be proud of myself. While I certainly needed (and still need to) learn how to love myself (even more), I was determined and didn’t let anyone stop me. This trait is still one of my strongest now. Here I am, nearly 10 years later, pursuing what I love for which I had to stay alive, move to a different country and work pretty hard (academically, anyway). I still write because I have this incredible sense that I have something important to tell. However, I no longer care if others agree that it’s important or not. I try and make sense of the world through my writing, similar to when I was only 13 years old. I know I’ll never give up and will continue to pursue my passion, and in one of these years, I’m going to publish a proper novel of which I will be proud this time.
Yes, I designed the cover of this book and was pretty proud of it at the time. Yes, I was 13 years old. I know, I know. It looks pretty terrible.
Additionally, yes, it’s in Dutch and no, I will not translate it into English.