The reunion (AU)
The announcement of a high-school reunion turns Sabine’s life suddenly on its head. It releases an important event in her youth, the disappearance of her classmate Isabel. Once they were best friends, but when Isabel grew into the most popular girl in the school, she dropped Sabine like a shot. And that’s nog the only thing she did to her…
Still, Sabine feels extremely guilty. Maybe Isabel would never have vanished if Sabine had cycled home with her that day.
Now, ten years later, there is still that gnawing feeling of guilt, and more and more fragments of memory from that time are coming back. Sabine begins to root around in the past, and comes closer and closer to the true, terrifying story behind Isabel’s disappearance.
A hugely exciting literary thriller, presenting intriguing themes, such as the suppression of traumatic events, the competition between teenagers, and also between colleagues, love, and above all friendship.
‘Like all good psychological thrillers, the entertainment value lies not so much in the who-done-it factor but in the texture of the life of the protagonists and the uncercurrent of anxieties that preoccupy them.
The reunion is set in Holland and the protagonist is 23-year-old office girl Sabine, who is working for the bank in Amsterdam. (…)
Writing in the first person, present time, van der Vlugt creates a sense of immediacy that is sustained throughout the novel. (…) Well known in Holland, van der Vlugt is a thriller writer worth pursuing.’ Dianne Dempsey
‘You need to catch your breath after reading The reunion, you’ve got to absorb it and let it sink in. You’ve been warned!’ Libelle
‘A smartly constructed plot in smooth prose.’ NRC Handelsblad
‘The story is written with a fast pace and excels particulary in depicting erveryday situations.’ Trouw
‘Becomes increasingly hard to put down. Thrilling.’ Cosmopolitan
‘It’s got quite a denouement.’ Opzij
‘In just two pages the beautiful prologue produces a feeling of tension. Tension that keeps you entangled throughout the story and ensures that you read The reunion in one setting.’ Crimezone.nl
‘An asset tot the Dutch thriller genre. Van der Vlugt certainly measures up to the British writing duo Nicci French.’ Friesch Dagblad
- AmboAnthos (original Publisher) The Netherlands
- Diana Verlag/Heyne Verlag, Germany
- Text Publishing Australie for the world English rights
- Presses de la Cité, France
- Kowalski, Italy
Libelle, december 2005
Simone Van Der Vlugt: “Every afternoon I sat writing in the garden.”
Simone Van Der Vlugt grew up in Hoorn as the oldest daughter in a loving family. She remembers a happy and carefree childhood. “I’m very happy that I kept all my scrapbooks and diaries.”
Everybody probably recognises that feeling; a piece of music, an acute smell or a sudden unexpected sharp memory that throws you back in time. Back to your youth and your old family home. The feeling of recognization and awe when you drive into a familiar street, which is so different than the image you’ve built in your mind from your childhood. For me that is a street in Hoorn, where from my twelfth when I moved, I revisit now and again. The last time I stood there was with my husband and children. I pointed out the window of my bedroom and the house of my best friend then, who coincidentally is still my best friend, and the memories of the twelve years that I lived there tumbled over me.
I was born in Hoorn on the 15th of December 1966, as Simone Watertor, the oldest daughter in a family of two. Two and a half years later my brother Ivo was born. “Is that him?” is what I supposedly said, after which I overwhelmed him in motherly devotion. A photo album full of picture’s where I’m holding my baby brother on the changing-mat, giving him the bottle, looking over him in the crib, reminds me of this. My mother was a full-time stay at home mum, and my father worked at Akzo chemicals. Before I was born he was an officer in commercial shipping. When he was in Indonesia he bought a beautiful wicker crib which my brother and I both slept in: followed by my own children and at this moment it is occupied by my brother’s third child.
The house, I lived in till I was twelve, was on the corner in a row of houses in a neighbourhood full of children. By the side of our house was a huge cherry tree, which I adored because I loved cherries. In the back we had a large garden where rabbits and guinea pigs were allowed roam about freely, causing the odd search party in the neighbourhood. My father built a large solid garden bench and table, where in the summer I sat typing under the shade of the cherry tree. The house itself wasn’t that big, but I only discovered that when I came back as an adult. As a child it seemed to have huge depth. The house is now totally renovated and the side garden is part of the living room.
I had a happy, carefree childhood with parents who believed in family values and were proud of me. My father took me every weekend to the library, where I first choose picture books, till I was older and started to choose books that he advised to me. The pleasure of reading is something I definitely inherited from my father. There are no writers in our family, but somebody has to be first, and that is me. I have my feel for language from my mother, who intuitively knows the structure of a sentence and if a certain word too much is.
From an early age I would write until my fingers were blue. First with a black pen, as small as possible, so it would look like the letters in a book. But by the end of the page the letters would have become bigger and messier. The parents of my best friend had a type machine which I was allowed use. Very soon I was at their place every afternoon. I can remember it well; it was summer and I sat typing for hours whilst Eveline my best friend, was beside me on the swing.
For my tenth birthday I got a type writer from my parents, no other present could have made me happier. I can still see the case in which it was in standing in the hallway, and again I can feel the immense pleasure that went through me. My mother tried to get me to type with ten fingers, with the motto “the younger the better”. But being as stubborn as I was, I thought it unnecessary. I thrashed away with my own system which I still use to this day. I did get a typing diploma when I was 24, I couldn’t avoid it, but as soon as I had that diploma I lost all my typing skills and went back to my old ways.
What do you remember for example from your childhood? In general things you’d never have expected. Like the time I had roller-skates on at the toilet, and I suddenly discovered I could touch the ground. The imaginary friends I had that accompanied me everywhere. My bedroom, that was my castle where I could amuse myself for hours.
I don’t even need to close my eyes to see that room just as it was. The posters of Grease above my bed, the orange and purple shelves, the hand-made black felt dog on my pillow. The sharp image is probably also thanks to a photograph I still have from it, but even so. Also the things that aren’t in the picture, I can see actively in front of me. For example the purple bulletin board above my bed that I got when I was six. I was so happy with it that later when I was in bed, I leaned my cheek against it, and asked myself if when I was older that I would remember this moment. It appeared to me a good idea to anchor that memory securely in my head, so for along time I repeated: “I am six, I am six, I am six”. It did help, I’ve never forgotten it. It does surprise me that at that age I was busy with such things. I also realized at that age that I should keep all my diaries and stories safe for when I was older. I’m very happy that I did so.
The holidays were always celebrated with lots of atmosphere. Christmas stood for an extra delicious dinner, candles and the manger at the church. My mother was brought up as a Catholic, but my father was non religious. My brother and I got all the room to develop our own ideas on faith. My grandmother, from my mother’s side had a stack of illustrated children’s bibles which I loved to read. For me they were exciting stories over strange people called Philistine’s, wars, miracles and premonition. When I had the flu when I was ten, I just wanted to continue reading, so my father went to the library and got a children’s bible for me. I didn’t become religious because of it, but thanks to that I have some knowledge of the bible.
We didn’t get presents at Christmas that was reserved for Sinterklaas, and my most vivid memories are of the fifth of December. I didn’t believe in the good man for very long. Probably because I was very young when I began to make presents and write poems. The hand made presents were the funniest part of the celebration, full of jokes and teasing. We never stopped with this tradition. However much we questioned it, me and my brother couldn’t miss celebrating the fifth of December, even when we were teenagers. To this day we still celebrate it altogether and now with our own children in tow. I still have one of the poems that I wrote for my brother for Sinterklaas. I was eight at the time.
If I had known how nice it was to have that sort of thing when you were older, I would have kept much more. Therefore I pointed it out to my own children and have two storage boxes for them, where letters, drawings, swim diplomas and medals for the four evening’s walk all disappear into.
At the end of class six I moved to Juliandorp near Den Helder. I did find it very exciting but at the same time I found it difficult to tear myself away from all my trusted things. In April of 1979 we moved, which meant I had to go to another primary school for a few months and I missed the end of school musical in my own school. Luckily the contact with my best friend from then remained and to this day we’re still best friends. The move, to my satisfaction was slowed down due to the unexpected time delays with the building of the new house. It was winter and it froze like I had never experienced before. It snowed heavily and we could skate on the street. An exceptional winter and a worthy departure from my childhood in Hoorn. A childhood which I have very precious memories off.
Libelle, december 2004
Simone van der Vlugt has been described by some as the next Thea Beckman. She has successfully written historical children’s novels for the last ten years. Yet her latest novel “The Reunion” can be called a debut, as it is her first step into the world of thrillers. A successful debut, according to our predictions.
Author Simone van der Vlugt: “I always have to choose; will I do the wash or write for an hour?”
From historical children’s novels to thrillers. Is that not a huge transition?
Not for me, but in general it is extremely difficult as a children’s author to also write for adults, because of the labels attached. It’s the same as a soap star who wants to take on a serious role. It doesn’t fit. Once you’ve been put in a box you shouldn’t even think of trying to do something else! But I thought: what applies to one doesn’t necessarily have to apply to the other. I don’t want to end up in the old folk’s home thinking: if I only had given it a go!
Where did the urge come from to write a thriller?
I’ve always been crazy about thrillers. When I was 18, I devoured Agatha Christie novels. I did try to go in that direction and offered a manuscript to a publisher, so the desire has always been there. When I realised that children’s novels no longer gave me the satisfaction that I wanted, I decide to try a different avenue.
In what respect do children’s novels no longer meet with your desires?
I don’t have much difficulty placing myself in a period of history, but I discovered more and more that I had difficulty identifying with the main character in my historical novels. The main characters are usually young people and I begun to notice that it was harder for me to place myself in their shoes. They’ve become more distant from me. When my first book was published I was 23 and still could identify with a thirteen year old girl. But the gap from the thirteen year old has continued to grow. Through the course of time my main character has become older. I was looking at this and had to ask myself why? Why do I no longer want to write from the perspective of a thirteen year old? Because I can’t relate and express myself through them. Relationships, having children, responsibility…I couldn’t use these experiences. Children have a different life experience. I found I could work with historical novels because in the past children had to grow up fast and take on adult responsibilities. When my main character changed from thirteen to fifteen, I discovered I could relate more life experience through her and even more from fifteen to twenty. The twenty year old was no longer under the influence of parents, a revelation.
Then you began to write “The Reunion” about a twenty something that regularly looks back on her childhood. Are there similarities between this thriller and your other books?
I had to delete a lot from “The Reunion” because I had written too much about Sabine, the main character’s childhood. I was afraid that people would see that originally I was a children’s author, that the book would be too juvenile. The one thing all my books have in common is that I write from my own perspective or as if it happened to me. I express my feelings, thoughts and mannerisms through the main character. In fact I’m the main character in my book. Not in every way of coarse, but there are resemblances to my life that can be translated to the story, both in my historical novels and “The Reunion”.
Another similarity between my books is the journey my main character takes. You can see the difference and the development of the main character from the beginning to the end. I want the audience to see how events can change and develop a person.
How does that apply to you and how have you developed in your writing?
I was born in Hoorn and had a model upbringing. I grew up in a warm and friendly environment, with parents who encouraged my writing. I was about ten years old when I began to write stories. My parents gave me a type writer for one of my birthdays, a better gift I couldn’t have wished for. They never said “You can’t do it”. I myself was convinced that later I would be a writer. My parents said “Yes, we know you can do it, but for security you should also think of something else to do, just in case it doesn’t work out”.
By the time I was thirteen, I had quite a substantial pile of papers with stories, which I began to trouble publishers with. I did that all through secondary school. I used to go to book stores and ask them for the addresses of publishers. At home I’d ask for envelops and stamps and write to the publishing houses. I got one rejection after another, which naturally I couldn’t understand, as my stories were so good! I always believed that one day I would succeed and held fast to that idea. If this story is not good enough then I’ll do it differently. I choose not to stick to one type of story. First I wrote historical novels, and then I read romance novels and decided to write them. Later I discovered Agatha Christie and thought: hey, thrillers, I’ve never tried that. So I gave that a go. It was later that I realised which book would best suit a publisher.
And your parents believed in you?
I don’t know. My parents were proud of the fact that I wrote, but I wonder if they really believed it would work out. As I became older and continued they thought: that will really be something. They shared the tensions and excitement with me when I sent a manuscript away. My mother read and still reads all my books. She has an eagle eye. If I discard her comments, I always hear them again from the publisher.
My parents also noticed that I spent all my time writing. I can remember my mother asking me to keep an eye on the washing that was outside drying as she had to go away. She came home in the pouring rain only to find me behind the type writer and the washing soaked. I can’t remember her ever really being mad at me. I’m very grateful to my parents. It’s important to support your child especially at such an uncertain phase in their life. It’s good for their confidence. If as a parent you wreck every idea, that is not only tragic but can also be premature. You don’t know what the child will achieve if she/he really wants to. I was given that space from my parents and learnt a lot from it. My eleven year old daughter wants to be a singer and a dancer, even though I’ve never heard her sing. But if she asks: “Mum, do you think I could be a singer?”, then I say: “You can be anything you want to be, but for security you should think of something else to do in case it doesn’t work out”.
You went to study in case your writing was unsuccessful. Did you manage at that time to put writing in the background?
Not completely, although there were times when I didn’t write. During my studies I got the idea for a historical youth novel. I was training to become a teacher and had to study a lot of Dutch youth literature. I stumbled back upon Thea Beckman, whose books I adored as a child. I thought: I also have an idea for a historical novel on the shelf. When I’m finished with my study, I’ll write that. During my studies I did find the time to do research for my novel. I read all I could find on the prosecution of so called witches, when in fact I should read French literature. After my studies I took a year off to write, with the intention of standing before the class if it didn’t work out. In between that first year I had a part time office job to keep things running. I really wanted to write and would continue to try.
Your first novel was “The Amulet”, a historical youth novel which took place in the seventeenth century. Your other historical novels also take place far away in the past. Do you have a connection with history?
Well, that’s really the influence of Thea Beckman. I didn’t have any connection with history in primary or secondary school. Although I will never forget the experience of reading “Kruistocht in spijkerbroek”. With my ears on fire I sat reading that book. Then I read all of Thea Beckman’s books, and fell in love with history it self. When I had finished the books, I began to write a story about a girl in the seventeenth century who was connected to witchcraft. This was the beginning of what became “The Amulet”. I was 14 at the time.
Twelve years later, you were with the same publisher as Thea Beckman.
Yes, indeed. I can remember it very well, I was twenty one and at the Uitmarkt in Amsterdam with my boyfriend. We happened upon a bookstall and there autographing her books was Thea Beckman. My boyfriend said “Come on; get her to sign your book”. So I got her to sign “Kruistocht in spijkerbroek”. She wrote in it “To Simone, enjoy reading, from Thea”. I was very impressed! A few years later I was sitting with “The Amulet” at a stall in the Uitmarkt next to Thea. She had all her books displayed and I was there with only “The Amulet”. I sat there simply beaming with pride. She said she’d love a copy of my book, so I wrote in it “To Thea, enjoy reading, from Simone”. It was so nice to do. At home I had a shelf full of books from Thea Beckman, and now I was sitting beside her as a colleague! It took me a while to recover from that, but then again you get used to everything. I now have kids in front of my stall, staring in shock and I know exactly how they feel. They are children who in their turn are fans of my books.
How do you combine writing with motherhood?
I work half days. My children leave at eight thirty in the morning, I take my coffee and go upstairs. I just about clean up the breakfast table, and put a wash on, but that’s all I do in the morning. If I start into the housework, then I‘d be too tired to write. I always want to give my best when I’m writing. I don’t want to crawl behind the computer covered in a layer of sweat after finishing the hovering. Because you’d notice that with the result.
At twelve o’clock the kids come home for lunch, and I turn off my computer, no matter how difficult that is. I don’t want my children only to remember me as a mother who was always working. When they come home again from school in the afternoon, I’m also ready, but if after they’ve eaten, they run off with their friends, then I also run back upstairs. They’re now eleven and nine, and are becoming more independent, which gives me more time.
But how did you do that when they were small?
Now, that was difficult and sometimes frustrating for me. I enjoyed the experience of when they were small, and I got lots of good ideas when they were in the living room playing with blocks or fighting with each other. I really wanted to immediately write them down. I had a computer downstairs and was sometimes able to park them in front of a video, so I could write down my inspirations. If I really wanted to continue, I’d call my mother and ask her if she could baby-sit for an hour or two. I’d write in the evenings or when they’d take a nap during the day. I’d always have to choose then between, will I do the wash or write for an hour. Writing won out.
Your husband must have loved that! Did he accept that?
Well, we met when we were seventeen. I was already busy with approaching publishers, so he experienced all of that. He knew how important it was to me. When it eventually did happen, he was just as delighted as I was. If he came home and the house was a total mess, but I was happily working away behind the computer, then he’d just push the mess aside and be happy that I had written something.
Writing is almost like an obsession for you!
It is a bit. There are lots of stories in my head. I can’t understand that other people don’t have that. I also can’t explain how that works with me: that my fantasy suddenly takes over. I see everything in front of me. There is only one thing to do, write it down. If I’m busy with one book, then the next story is already hurdling towards me. I really have to push that aside, because the storyline begins to take shape. At the moment I’m working on my second thriller, and the third is already in my head. I always think two, three books ahead. Not that I’m very intensively busy with it, but sometimes I just get the idea, and before I know it, it has a life of its own. But I can only write one book at a time. Sometimes if I get stuck then I’ll put that idea on the shelf and continue with another book. Therefore I’m not sure if my next book will be a thriller or a children’s historical novel. That depends on how good it goes.
Nouveau, oktober 2004
When children’s novelist Simone van der Vlugt announced she was going to write a thriller, everybody advised her against it. She did so anyway. “The Reunion” is an exciting, psychological thriller, with convincing characters and a sturdy plot.
“I’m not Sabine, but we have similarities,” admits Simone van der Vlugt (1966, Hoorn). The story is about a young woman, Sabine, who reads in the paper an announcement for a reunion in her old secondary school in Den Helder, where she, just as the author grew up. Sabines memories of her time in secondary school come flooding back to her. That period is overshadowed through a traumatic experience: the disappearance of Isabel Hartman, who was Sabine best friend in primary school, but who no longer wanted to know her in secondary school.
When Simone was eight she dreamed up stories full of adventure that happened to little girls of that age. For her tenth birthday she got a typewriter, and when she heard that a girl of twelve had her book published, she began to bombard one publisher after another with her manuscripts stuck together with cello tape. She was then thirteen. Through the passage of time the manuscripts became thicker, but one after another they came back.
“It has to happen. It didn’t matter to me if I made my debut when I was twenty or seventy,” so Simone said. In 1999, when she was 25, she had her debut with “The Amulet”, the first in a series of eight historical children’s novels, most of which in the meantime have been translated into different languages. But the characters in her youth novels are thirteen. Simone also wanted to write a novel where she didn’t have to stimulate the thoughts and experiences of a young teenager. She wanted to share some of her own thoughts through her characters.
Simone van der Vlugt loves thrillers. After she first read Agatha Christie and later Nicci French, she knew thrillers were her type of thing. The novels of the English writing couple Nicci Gerrard and Sean French aren’t about terror, or political attacks they don’t have beefy heroes on the covers. Their novels are about situations that anybody can fall into. Thrillers with police inspectors staking a house out while having a burger and a coffee, full of criminal profiles are not for Simone: “the crime in my book is not even the central focus point. Likewise if the reader realises who did it, you still have to captivate them in the story”.
She wants to offer more than a “who done it” scenario. Characters have to develop. In the beginning of the novel Sabine lets everything go, but further into the story she develops assertiveness.
“I like to develop characters. It’s actually nicer than the story. There are no heroes in my book. The individuals have to smell of sweat.”
Simone describes elaborately how Olaf eats a croquette, and gives a convincing rendition of the flu.
“Not a lot has to happen, as long as the characters are captivating” says Simone. “Last year I was with my husband and children in the swimming pool. Suddenly I had a plot for the story. I called my husband: I have the plot!” “That’s great he said”, and dove back into the water. But I wanted to go home at once.”
The idea for the story originated from a report in the newspaper about a murder that took place in the Helderse dunes. Simone cut out this article because it intrigued her. “I used to cycle through those dunes myself, and once experience a naked man coming towards me. When you read such a thing in the newspaper, it doesn’t take a lot of imagination to think it could have happened to you”.
The office scenes in “The Reunion” are taken from Simone’s own personal experience, but the parts about the secondary school are fictional. She herself had a carefree existence at secondary school, whereas Sabine is bullied a lot.
“It wasn’t a problem for me to imagine. I often visit schools and once saw a girl being held up against a wall by a group of kids in a threatening way. The teacher said to me, “look she’s being bullied”. At which I replied: “Should you not intervene?” He said “If I do that, my car will have scratches all over it tomorrow.” It brought tears to my eyes.”
Is it a novel for women? Simone doesn’t know. “I thought the office scenes were something for women. Jealousy and gossip. But I’ve had lots of reactions from men who recognised the situations. However it does remain Sabine’s experience and perspective. I’m not going to write a book with a male main character. For example I also couldn’t write from the perspective of Olaf, with whom Sabine has a relationship with. I wouldn’t know how he would react or think.”
“It feels like this is another debut”, Simone says. “In Holland you’re labelled very quickly. Once a children’s writer always a children’s writer. People advise you against it, the book will end up in the bin or in a small edition. But for me it was something I needed to do. I didn’t want to be eighty and regret not trying. I was also prepared to loose face. But it didn’t end up as a small edition and I’m delighted that I was so stubborn.”