Travel, men and major life choices dominate de Bisschop’s quirky and light-hearted debut, Er is tenminste koffie (At Least There’s Coffee), about four women who work in the communications department of a large corporation and who are all about to turn 30. Their boss is leaving, offering them a chance of promotion. Yet these ladies have other things on their mind than ruling the office and are faced with the eternal question: What do I want from life?
Just like her characters, de Bisschop was on the brink of 30 when she decided to turn the page and start writing fiction. “I’d been toying with the idea for a few years, but I was mainly writing standalone chapters, short stories, poems, that sort of thing, because it relaxes me,” she explains. “When I was about to turn 30 I realised that I just had to do it; it was now or never, basically.”
Like any budding author, de Bisschop got off to a rocky start. “I had lots of ideas and bits and pieces lying around so I started writing,” she continues. “The result after two weeks was something completely different from Er is tenminste koffie. I actually killed off two of the major characters in the first chapter. Then I started creating portraits, to find out who my characters really were and this novel grew organically out of these four people. Call it an exercise that got out of control.” A well-constructed exercise it seems, as the manuscript – which is filled with tasty Flemish vernacular – got picked up immediately by publishers Linkeroever
Apparently 30 is the new 40, crisis-wise, de Bisschop explains “Er is tenminste koffie evolved quite naturally because I was mainly looking at my own environment. Women who are almost 30 are at a crossroads. They realise that their life may or may not have turned out the way they thought it would when they were 18. Love, kids, friends, jobs are all issues that women that age are dealing with. People get disillusioned and single women, especially, often get a sense of meaninglessness around this age.” But fret not: De Bisschop has written the perfect antidote to this universal dilemma.
Er is tenminste koffie is as light as a feather and features characters we can all relate to at some primal level. This is also why de Bisschop’s debut is being labelled “chick lit”, although it was never her intention to make a name for herself in this genre. “My book is about young women,” she says, “their relationships and the questions they ask themselves with regards to their life and careers, so in a sense I understand why it is being called chick lit.”
Although de Bisschop loves the limitless freedom and creativity of writing a novel, she isn’t about to turn her back on her journalistic endeavours just yet; hardly any Flemish author is able to make a living from their writing alone. Even writers such as Tom Lanoye and Herman Brusselmans have several side projects and the bestselling Flemish author Pieter Aspe even has the endorsements from a TV show to pay the bills.
Another upside to writing articles is that “it is easier to deal with criticism or editing, as I’ve found out,” de Bisschop comments. “With a novel, it’s far more personal because it’s the best you can do at this point in time.
"Currently this blossoming young author is working on an “epic revenge story” because she didn’t want to get pigeonholed early on in her career. “I am also considering writing a sequel to this one, when I feel that the characters and I have evolved into the next phase, but I’m talking a few kids down the line here!”
By Bouke Billet •
TienKamelen is an illegal orphan who lives in a retirement home surrounded by people who in the main don’t even know which era they’re living in. They raise her by telling her stories about the village but it soon becomes clear that her carefree and sheltered life must come to an end. Facing deportation, she must finally come to terms with her past. Bouke Billet’s debut novel takes us on a journey towards adulthood and the true nature of identity. It is filled with humour and compassion and offers us an intriguing look at what it’s like to be an illegal immigrant in this day and age.
By Erdal Balci • De Bezige Bij
Balci is a Turkish journalist who writes for a variety of Flemish and Dutch newspapers. His latest novel deals with the eternal and unfortunate fate of men. In 17th-century Vienna, as the army of the sultan is about to march into the city, a young man looking for his father and a farmer in search of a better life cross paths with a disillusioned violin-maker who is determined to capture men’s fate in song. Witty, wise and sensual, Balci’s novel shows that no matter who you are, we are all victims of the human heart.
By Jack Allerts • Manteau
Flemish author Jack Allerts lives in Poland and has written a fascinating novel based on actual events about a rocky chapter in the Polish history, ranging from the Second World War until the fall of communism. The main character, a young girl named Gosia, is being raised in troubled times, a time in which her family isn’t quite sure whether to fight against oppression or flee to America like so many others before them. Three generations of the same family are ultimately fighting for freedom on both sides of the Atlantic.
By Maan • Wereldbibliotheek
The 25-year-old Maan gives us a crude and factual account of what it’s like to be 25 in 2012. During the course of her quarter-life crisis, which she has documented in 17 chapters, we get to know her likes and dislikes. For example: She likes older men, BDSM and David Foster Wallace. Hates children, doesn’t shy away from telling the occasional lie, is a proud bisexual yet scared of the most mundane things. Reminiscent of Charlotte Roche’s Wetlands, Ik ben Maan is brutal, funny and very gutsy and will no doubt shock and awe.