With her husband and two adult sons, Patricia Bouwhuis-Ooyevaar lives in the Dutch province of North Holland. From the moment she could hold a pen, she’s been making drawings. A few years later, however, she branched off into writing. As a freelancer, she currently assists many authors and publishers in the writing process. She loves writing, drawing, and taking long walks along the beach. Both her sons—one being a game designer and the other a filmmaker/animator—are equally creative.
Her writing career initially began as an illustrator. What started as a mission—teaching people about Asperger’s (formerly classified as a form of autism—now generalised as asd)—turned into a range of full colour social comic stories. Asperger in Beeld (2010, Uitgeverij Pica) was used by many schools throughout the country to educate students as well as teachers about Asperger’s, followed by Planeet Asperger (2013, Uitgeverij Pica). Both comic books are based on the experiences of her eldest son. Filled with humour, her short comic stories are far from pedantic.
De betovering van de toren is entirely different. Not a comic but an eerie thriller, a sweet story turning considerably sour. This project was initiated by the urge to tell a particular story but ended up growing into something much bigger. Aside from writing the book itself, she is also responsible for creating the cover illustration as well as the animated book trailer. Part of the project was (self) publishing it into a paperback and an e-Book. It turned out to be such a fulfilling and satisfying process, that her second book Euphorbia will soon be available on the market.
Author interview – Patricia Bouwhuis-Ooyevaar
Hi Patricia, thank you for being here! Please tell us, when did you start writing, and why?
For years I illustrated; I didn’t start writing right away. My first two books were a combined drawing/writing project. These books (Asperger in beeld, 2010, and Planeet Asperger, 2013) were initiated to create awareness for Asperger’s, which is a form of autism. The fact that these were comic books also helped to clarify the significance of using pictures when dealing with children with autism. Back then, there was an actual reason for me to make these comics: teaching people about Asperger’s as well as about their own behaviour during social interactions. After these comic books, I started working on smaller comics, also in English (Blue the Turtle), which were a lot of fun to make.
At what age did you take yourself seriously as a writer?
The first person to take me seriously as a writer was probably my publisher. Asperger in beeld was sold out within six months and was one of their bestselling books. I didn’t see myself as a writer, just a mom with a mission. I actually laughed at his idea of me signing my comic books in stores and on book fairs. A month ago, I released a new website that I have especially created for my novels. So you could say that I started taking myself seriously as a writer only a month ago, ten years after my first book. I’m fifty-three, by the way.
It’s a process, isn’t it? I’m glad you got there eventually, even if it did take you ten years. Do you prefer the term ‘writer’ or ‘author’, and why?
‘Writer’ or ‘author’? Preferably ‘writer’, but that’s because I consider that more of a verb.
How long did it take you to write your first book?
I started writing De betovering de toren—my first novel—at the beginning of May 2020 and finished four months later, on September 1st. After that, I started working on the book cover, the illustrations, and the animating of the book trailer, which was an entirely different cup of tea but so much fun to do. The book trailer was ready in November 2020. I gained a great experience as well as a book and lost twenty kilos of weight along the way.
Wow! That’s impressive! And the book, what was it about?
De betovering van de toren is about Lena, a 22-year-old with Asperger’s, who is fascinated by the tower of her new neighbour’s mansion. A fascination that started in her early childhood, but that small window in the tower still haunts her. Like so many women with autism, she manages to hide her autism when she’s at work. But, at the end of the day, she loves to replenish her energy in her comfort zone: an old swing in the orchard of her grandpa’s farm.
Due to her autism and her effort to act ‘socially normal’, the first meeting with her new neighbour Erik turns into a massive blunder. After that awkward situation, she’s determined never to see him again, but she keeps bumping into him unexpectedly. Erik is in almost everything her opposite: he’s flamboyant, extroverted, and wealthy. After Lena is caught while taking a midnight swim in his pool, she gets to know him better. Erik doesn’t seem to be such a bad guy after all, but his world is so different from Lena’s and it’s difficult for her to keep her act up.
When he invites her to come and see the inside of the tower she is so fascinated by, Lena steps out of her comfort zone one more time. A time too many and a step too far, as she finds out once she’s in the attic of the tower. Here, Erik shows his true face and his motives for bringing her to his attic. Not only does he keep her trapped, he destroys her safe comfort zone completely. Lena can only watch and has to do her utmost to get herself back to safety.
De betovering van de toren is not a romantic story, it’s a pretty horrifying thriller. Many readers were fooled and surprised by the sudden turn of the plot.
What are you working on right now?
I’ve recently finished my second book. A completely different story about a young writer, Adam, who’s drawn to a 60-year-old diary and the disappearance of a couple in the 1960s. He travels to the small coastal village where the diary was written. Ever since his arrival to the village, he’s haunted by ghosts of the past—and not just his own. Euphorbia is a story about the search for the couple but also for the writer’s own ambitions. Adam gets so tangled up in the mystery of the diary and the disappearance that he becomes obsessed. Euphorbia will be darker and far more sinister than De betovering van de toren.
As if your first book didn’t sound dark enough! What is your writing process like? Do you plot or do you just dive in? How many drafts do you go through before the work is final?
These last two books have originated in different ways. You could say I did both the diving and the plotting.
I started De betovering van de toren using one particular scene that came to me and never let go. That was the main reason I started writing the story: I couldn’t get rid of the scene inside my mind. So I actually started the book right in the middle. After finishing, I changed the story only once: I wrote a different ending, which made the book a lot better. Poor Lena though, this new ending was far more intense.
For Euphorbia, two plots were necessary because I had to create two separate stories in advance, the one in the diary as well as Adam’s story. The last one changed five or six times before becoming final. The plots had to be entwined and made into one story. So there were three plots for one book I had to work with. Quite a challenge, but I was amazed at how well the stories linked to each other. Almost eerie but then Euphorbia is a ghost story…
What do you struggle with most as a writer?
My struggle begins when a story finds its way into my head. Ideas, images of places, possibilities, names, problems and solutions to those problems: it all comes to me in a chaotic, disjointed way. It’s like having a big bag of ingredients and I’m the one to figure out the recipe. Once I start writing, it all comes to rest and everything somehow finds its place in the story. I know you can hardly call this a struggle, but the trouble is that this flow is never ending as long as the story is not yet finished. It doesn’t stop at night and I keep getting out of bed to write something down that’s been tugging at me.
I also found it a struggle to do the right promotion for De betovering van de toren. Since it was my first novel, I hardly had any idea where to begin. Local bookstores were not eager to help, due to the covid pandemic. A book trailer was all I could think of. However, I wrote the book because I felt a necessity. It wasn’t written with the intention of selling a lot of books.
Have you always had that struggle or has it changed over time?
I’ve had the same inspirational experience with both De betovering van de toren as well as Euphorbia. Regarding the practical one—the struggle how to promote—I’m learning something everyday by keeping my eyes and ears open.
What advice would you give to writers dealing with the same?
I’m still in the process of dealing with it and cannot give any advice apart from: keep a piece of paper and a pen close to your bed and write down whatever comes up. You will not have any sleep otherwise.
Have you ever had writer’s block? If yes, how did you overcome it?
Luckily, I haven’t had the experience yet. But then, Euphorbia was only my second novel.
What do you do to stay inspired?
I’m not exactly sure where my inspiration comes from or what I should do to stay inspired. I have yet to experience that, like having a writer’s block. It comes along as I take a walk in the forest or along the beach. Buildings seem to inspire me too. Not because of the architecture but because of the atmosphere surrounding a house, a castle, or a mansion. Both my books were inspired by buildings with a certain character.
Who’s your favourite author?
A few years ago, I was fond of the historical novels by Simone van der Vlugt. Nowadays, I don’t really have a favourite author.
What’s your favourite book?
For my work, I see the insides of many, many books but I don’t really read them. You could call it a sort of fast-reading technique I use. But, in all these years, there’s one book that has never left my mind: Len Howard’s Birds as Individuals. Len tells about the remarkable relationship she keeps with the birds in her garden. The book contains unique black-and-white photographs. To her, each and every bird has its own identity and characteristics. Her story made me see birds in a different way. And when my sons were little, I loved A.A. Milne’s stories of Winnie the Pooh!
What’s your favourite book on the craft?
I must make a confession: I have never read any of them…! I read solely to be amused and entertained, practically never with the intention to learn something although I read many books about any sort of craft as a job.
What’s the best writing advice you ever received?
‘Just start!’ (as in ‘just start writing!’, a piece of advice a friend gave to me because she got so tired of me, telling her about all the plots inside my head).