Ann Driessen (67) is the author of five books. Ann studied Communication Sciences at the University of Leuven, is married, has two daughters, and one grandson. She was a freelance journalist for newspapers and magazines for thirty years and wrote more than 4000 articles for newspapers and magazines.
She’s lived in Hasselt, Leuven, Veurne, Sedrata (Algeria), Antwerp, Amersfoort (the Netherlands). In 2008, Ghent became her home base. There, she gave a different twist to her life: she became an author and volunteer. Ann combines writing blog posts and books with volunteer work for several non-profit-organizations.
Author interview – Ann Driessen
Hi Ann! Welcome to my blog! When did you start writing, and why?
I’ve been writing since I was about twelve years old… for a school newspaper. My mother wrote and I wanted to write too. That was—and still is—my best skill, after walking and reading. During and after my later studies—school and university—I won two trips with my writing: one to Portugal (I was seventeen) and one to Japan (I was twenty-eight at the time), then I received a few small prizes for, for example, a column for a magazine and a motto for an organisation.
Those are no small feats, Ann! At what age did you take yourself seriously as a writer?
I studied Communication Sciences: I wanted to be a journalist. When that career of thirty years suddenly ended—due to various relocations—a question came from a girl: can you help me with a book? After the publication of that first book—Oorlog in mijn hoofd (War in my head)—with and for her, a psychiatric patient, I had ‘it’. After that, four more… But, during my career as a journalist, I wrote several books and stories, which I didn’t publish or for which I couldn’t find a publisher.
Do you prefer the term ‘writer’ or ‘author’, and why?
Author, because that is the neutral term for every person who writes in Dutch. In Dutch, we differentiate between a female writer (schrijfster) and a male writer (schrijver).
How long did it take you to write your first book?
I worked on it for almost ten months in total, but not full-time.
What was your last book about?
Gevangen geboren is the life story of an internee. I wrote it with and for her. Her childhood and youth were like hell: she survived all forms of abuse, emotional, physical, and sexual.
What are you currently working on?
For the first time, I’m trying to write a novel, but it’s actually a form between: fiction mixed with a lot of true elements.
What does your writing process look like? Do you plot or just dive in? How many concepts do you go through before the work is finalised?
I have mapped out a broad outline for this new book. Although I do not know how many times I will wander or get lost… Some big themes in that book are mother–son, war, mourning, integration. With photos and documents from my grandmother’s life, I try to reconstruct her life—that part that I did not know—and that of her son.
For months, I have been writing in slides, in a thousand pieces. Sometimes a fragment, sometimes a feeling or a page. If something crosses my mind—through a word, a sentence, an image, a quote, a broadcast—I write it down… Each document has a name, a theme, so that I can put together the whole puzzle later on.
What do you struggle with the most as a writer?
With two things: too many distractions and too many projects. Hahaha. I always have something to do, hear, see, or experience in my family, group of friends, or the organisations where I work as a volunteer. People are and remain the most important.
As far as that second point is concerned: I sometimes have the feeling that I am working on a hundred time-absorbing things at the same time (and I can’t do anything else!): writing posts for social media (whether or not about books), photographing (I really like doing that), writing blog posts, making and sending newsletters, writing stories, working on several books at the same time (at the moment, amongst other things, on a book about my grandmother, on one about Algeria, where I lived for two years, and on one about women in Flanders).
Beware: I don’t mean that negatively. I’m sixty-seven and I can and may now, finally, (almost) do what I want… In the past, as a wife, mother of two girls, and working full-time as a journalist, I had to choose…
Have you always had that struggle, or has it changed over time?
Hahahah, I struggle even more than before with what I do, what I want, and what and when I can write…
What advice would you give to writers dealing with the same thing?
Don’t worry. Find your own rhythm or beat.
Have you ever had writer’s block? If so, how did you overcome it?
Yes… at the end of my journalistic career. Then, due to a burnout, I didn’t get a letter on paper for nine months… Moving, rest, relaxation, and volunteering helped me through it.
What do you do to stay inspired?
I have no problem with that. I usually have too much inspiration but not enough time to work it all out.
Who is your favorite author?
I’m a fan of Annie M.G. Schmidt, Amélie Nothomb, and Harry Mulish… and many other authors.
What’s your favorite book?
… I really can’t answer that. I do have a list of books that I really enjoyed reading and would recommend.
What is your favorite book about the craft?
On Writing. A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King.
Excellent choice, that’s one of my favourite craft books as well. What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever received?
From my Dutch teacher when I was about sixteen years old: ‘Plus est en vous’ (more is in you), he wrote on my essay. And my first real newspaper editor, who pointed out my far too long sentences. That was a legacy of my years of teaching Latin and Greek. So KIS: keep it short, and KIS, keep it simple.