Please introduce yourself.
I am a Belgian/Flemish professional author – and have been for 23 years – who has published more than 35 books in Holland and in Belgium, and who has been translated in English, French, Italian, and Russian. I specialize in the cross-over between literature and the suspense novel. With “Baudelaire’s Revenge,” (Pegasus Books) I won the Hercule Poirot Prize for best suspense novel of the year in the LowLands in 2007 and the USA Best Book Award 2014 in the category mystery/suspense. My short story collection “Dangerous Obsessions” was voted “best short story collection of 2015” by the San Diego Book Review.
- When did you start writing?
I published my first book in 1971, at the tender age of eighteen. In retrospect, I realize that it was way too early, but, bubbling with youthful bravado, I took the first chance I got. Because I was so young, reviewers were lenient with me, and the novel became a modest success in Belgium. I plunged head-on in writing and tried to accomplish an oeuvre with a consistent theme: the bottomless pit of aggression in humans, and the consequences of war. Also in real life, I did what I could to understand the shadows in the human soul. From 1990 to 2003, I visited, as a travel writer, conflict zones all over the world (Somalia, Bosnia, Liberia, Iraq, Iran, Burma(Myanmar),Burundi, Sudan, and so on). I was in the Bosnian town of Tuzla when the first survivors of the mass-murder in the Muslim-enclave of Srebrenica arrived, and the sight of these wretched, exhausted, malnourished, and hopeless people made a lasting impact on me. I wrote a book about the massacre – more than 7000 Muslims killed – that the Serbian General Mladic’s troops inflicted upon the local population: “Srebrenica. A Testimony Of Mass Murder.”
- What motivates you to write?
Up till now, my motivation was the desire to understand who we are, and why we are such strange creatures, capable to create so much beauty, but also to commit such horrendous acts. I would have liked to write about the light in our soul, but Fate chose me to pursue the nature of darkness. I consoled myself with the fact that there is no light without darkness. Still, after more than 35 books, traditionally published, I feel that I have reached a cross-road. I’m currently working on “The Feuerhand Files,” a novel set in Berlin in 1921, and I feel in the marrow of my bones that it will be my last cross-over novel between literature and the suspense genre. It will be my final attempt to dissect the nature of our innate violence.
- What genre do you write in and what made you chose this particular genre?
I write in the cross-over genre between literature and the suspense novels. In other words: I write literature with a certain degree of suspense. I didn’t choose that particular genre. It chose me. My first ten novels in Flanders and Holland were literary, but even then reviewers noticed a tendency to incorporate “thriller-effects” in them. When I was 42, I felt that my literary pen had become blunt, and, in order to satisfy my ongoing need to write, I decided to write a hard-boiled thriller series. The series, with the South-African/Flemish half-breed commissioner Peter Declerq and the Brussels inspector Samantha “Sammy” Duchène, started as a pure thriller series, but, along the way, the old elements of style and elegance that I tried to portray in my literary work, sneaked also in this “new direction.” Gradually, the Declerq-Duchène series evolved again in the direction of literature, but it still retained a healthy dose of suspense via a thrilling plot and a polished style. Afterwards came the even more literary mystery-novels like “Baudelaire’s Revenge,” and “Return to Hiroshima, “Black Water,” “The Woman Who Loved Dante,” “Alejandro’s Lie,” “The Shadow Of The Mole,”etc…
- What is your goal in writing? Do you have dreams where your writing should take you?
Coming from a working class family, I dreamed of becoming a famous writer. I’m glad that, rather soon in my, eh, “career,” I understood that a famous writer isn’t necessarily a good writer. So, I changed my goal and wanted to become the best writer that I can be. Instead of trying to be better than other authors, I tried to be the best “me.” I’m still trying, and I still find it a goal very much worth fighting for. I should like to end my writing years with my memoires, having lived a rather unusual life for a novelist. I don’t know if I have the skills to do that, but I do know that the string of cross-over novels, wherein the individual is set against societies in uproar and unrest, has now dried up in me. When “The Firehand Files” is finished, I’ll start making notes for my memoires. It may take years, it may take forever, Fate will have its will.
- Do you ever suffer from writer’s block and if yes, how do you deal with it?
No, I never experienced a complete writer’s block, but some books were harder to write than others, and sometimes I stopped after hundred, or more, pages, feeling that the soul of the novel just wasn’t there. But even then, I “recycled” some of the chapters of these unfinished novels to short stories that did well over here, and even international. For instance, I published the short story “Checkmate in Chimbote” in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, and that was originally a part of an unfinished novel…
- What advice would you like to give new, hopeful authors?
Write write write…Edit edit edit….Edit again Edit again Edit again. Don’t sell your soul for profit; try to find it in your themes, your style, and your passion.
- Please, tell us about your work.
I haven’t fulfilled my dreams (yet), and, like every artist, I suppose, I had hoped for more and better. But I covered a long distance from the working class boy of eighteen without a formal education to the author I have become, who still tries to hone his craft, and who had some nice successes along the way. Nearing 64, I look back more often than I used to, and when I count my successes and my failures, I realize that I have been a lucky man. Now comes the time to end all these years of writing in beauty, in acceptance, and with grace….
Thank you for being my guest. It was such a pleasure to have you here!!
Some Bob’s Books:
https://www.amazon.com/Dangerous-Obsessions-Bob-Van-Laerhoven-ebook/dp/B00VU96036 (Kindle edition)