Writing Kids' Books
with Annet Schaap

Writing Kids Books with Annet Schaap

A huge welcome to illustrator and author Annet Schaap who we're thrilled to have here at WritingNV to talk to us about her debut novel 'Lampie and the Children of the Sea' which she has both written and illustrated.

Writing Kids' Books: You’re best known for your amazing illustrations but can you tell us how old you were you when you first started writing? 

I always wanted to write, since I was a child. To write and draw, to become a maker of books, because books were the most important thing in my life, back then. But somehow I had the idea that writing was something only older people and wise men did, and that it wouldn’t be for me.

Drawing, and later having a career as an illustrator, was easier and closer by, so I did that.

Around my 30th I did start to write, when a friend asked me to adapt a book for children’s theatre.  I loved doing that, wrote several plays and worked in a theatre group, until I got burned out and quit.

It wasn’t until I was 50 that I started to write again, because I got this story in my head that was so strong… and that was Lampie. It was published when I was 53.

Writing Kids Books Castle Illustration

Writing Kids' Books:      Do you prefer illustrating or writing?

Writing comes from a deeper place, and is much more personal to me than drawing. It’s more difficult and scary as well though.

When I illustrate a book, a writer and a publisher already decided that the book is going to be there, I can just walk behind them, and I don’t have to carry the whole project myself.

But that is what I did when I wrote Lampie: I made it exactly how I wanted it to be, how I like and love it, not only the text but also the images.… To do it like that is very wonderful.

So I prefer writing to illustrating and most of all I love to do both.

Writing Kids' Books: What does your typical writing day look like? 

I have a studio in an old railway-office-building, at the outskirts of Utrecht where I live. I share the building with many other artists. My place is very quiet though. It has big windows to let the sun in, but also the wind and sometimes even the rain.

There I spend my day working. Sometimes I still have assignments as an illustrator and draw pictures for some other author’s book, as I have been doing for more than 20 years. But the last three, four years I mainly go there to write.

A story is always in my head, coming from wherever stories come from. There it hides itself and shows me little bits and glimpses, that I try to catch and write down. First in handwriting in one of my writing books, later in the computer.

Most of the time I have to do a lot of things to lure the words out of me. So I sit down, stand up, pace around, meditate, write down a word or two, scratch them out again, think and think and rethink, go for walks, scream and yell and sing, all in the hope that some words will come out eventually and get down on the paper

Sometimes they do. Very often they don’t… until I have given up and I’m on my way home already or shopping or taking a nap. Then I have to hurry to find my writing book and catch the words before they are gone again.

Close to my studio is a big canal. I like walking there, along the water, through the half industrial, half abandoned places, full of unkempt buildings and overgrown factories. A lot of the inspiration for the Black House and its wild garden came from these walks. And the canal is not the ocean, but the colours of the water, the light on the water the wind making waves, that is all kind of the same.

At the end of the day I go home, cook, eat with my family, do some evening stuff and go to bed. It’s a wonderful boring life.

Writing Kids' Books: From where do you get your inspiration?

I guess from a lifelong of living, reading books, looking around, listening to people, thinking about life, paying attention to everything inside and outside. 

Writing Kids' Books: Your debut novel ‘Lampie and the Children of the Sea’ is being published on 30th May 2019. When did you first have the idea for it? Can you tell us what the book’s about? 

I married a Canadian man and when our son was little, not even two, we travelled a few years across North and Central America, in a nice old comfortable camper called Molly.

On one of our last trips we were sailing on Lake Michigan and there I saw a lighthouse on a small peninsula. It was as if I heard a voice in my head saying: ‘Take a picture of that lighthouse, because you are going to write a book about it…’

A year and a half later, back in the Netherlands, the rest of the story walked into my head and I spend the next three years writing it down.

Writing Kids Books - Lampie Cover Image

‘Lampie and The Children of the Sea’ is a story that is both realistic and like a fairy tale.

It is set in a rough costal area, that looks a little like America, but set in the time that there were still mermaids there, and pirates.

It is the story about Lampie, the lighthouse keeper’s daughter who misses her mother and has to take care of her father, who forgets to buy matches one night and causes a big accident.

It is also the story about Edward, the Admiral’s son, who is kept hidden in a tower, because his father wants him to be different then he is.

It is about the friendship that slowly grows between the two of them.

It is about a lot of adults who think they know what is best for the children and it is about the children themselves trying to follow their own path.

Lampie Lighthouse Illustration

Writing Kids' Books:  Who was your favourite character to write and why? 

I feel the most connected to Edward, the boy under the bed, who hides himself and has given up on life because he thinks he is somehow wrong, because his father can’t accept him for what he is.

All the characters in the book are a part of who I am, but I identify with Edward the most. I’ve been hiding like that for quite a long time.

Writing Kids' Books: Do you have a favourite illustration from the book?

If I have to choose one, I’d choose the illustration of part 3, where Edward is hiding in his room and Lampie sits next to the bed where he hides under.  

Writing Kids' Books: What are you currently working on?  

 I am busy with several projects, books and stories I hope will come together some time. Some are related to Lampie, not as part 2 of a series, but set in the same kind of world.

It’s not so easy though to write a second book after a very successful one. Everybody told me it would be hard to do that, and everybody was right.

Writing Kids' Books: What is your favourite part of the writing process and why?

I love it most when a story takes me by the hand and tells itself to me.

When I have been thinking for some time about characters and scenes and images, made up some plots and rejected them again, sought after things that were connected to the story but I didn’t know how yet… and then suddenly the story, or a part of it shows itself to me: Look! That how the story goes, that is what it’s about…

If that happens, the story gets bigger then my own logical, small, measuring mind and can fly on its own wings. All I have to do is to write it down.

It doesn’t happen like that very often, but sometimes it does.

I love that. Who wouldn’t love that?

Lampie illustation

Writing Kids' Books: Our website is called WritingNV.com In the spirit of that can you tell us if there’s any writers which make you green with envy? 

Every author that writes full of inspiration and is kissed by the God of Stories… when I myself am not.

And when it does happen to me, when I am in that place,  I’m never jealous, at nobody in the world.

Writing Kids' Books: Do you have any advice for aspiring authors or illustrators?

Look very closely at yourself, at everything that is inside, your rage, tenderness, boredom, narcissism, love and hate, watch it with friendly eyes, because in the very personal the universal is hidden, I really believe that.

Writing Kids' Books: What’s the best piece of advice you have been given about your writing career?

Trust yourself, trust the stories that come knocking at your door.

Lampie Shell Illustration

Annet, thank you so much for joining us and huge congratulations on the publication of Lampie.

Lampie and the Children of the Sea is published by Pushkin Press and is available to buy from 30 May 2019.

You can follow Annet on Instagram and find out more about her writing and illustrations on her website

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