Kate McIntyre and her husband have been living in Groningen for 11 years and both work at the RUG: she is an English editor for the genetics department, and her husband is an associate professor of astronomy. His work was what brought the family to the Netherlands originally.
As a child Kate used to collect two things: weird stones and weird children’s books. De Knikkelares is her first book.
Whatever you do, don’t call Lola the f-word. The tiny, cranky creature named Lola who secretly distributes marbles in Kate McIntyre’s first children’s chapter book , may look like a fairy, but hates being called that, but McIntyre had a good reason to create her character that way.
‘It’s a story about boys, and if you put the word ‘fairy’ anywhere in it, they won’t read it’, says the American born writer, who is working as an editor at the medical department of the university. ‘Anytime anybody picks Lola up and looks at her, they see that she’s small and she has wings. If you start to say ‘fair-’, she says, ‘No way! Don’t call me that!’ This way she turned the expected ‘Eww, fairies’ reaction into a running joke in the story.
‘She gets kind of bitchy’, McIntyre says. So much so, in fact, that when McIntyre was pitching the story, one publisher said: ‘It sounds like you’ve taken Tinkerbell and thrown her down the chimney.’
The idea of the marble-not-fairy came to McIntyre when she realized that she had never actually seen anyone buying marbles, yet they were always around. As she fished marbles – knikkers in Dutch – out of her own daughters’ pockets, she thought: ‘Maybe marbles just appear sometimes. I loved the idea that there was a reason for that: an everyday mystery.’
The name ‘knikkelares’ she invented herself, inspired by the word lares she read in a book on Roman mythology: the gods of family and household. ‘The publishers went “How did you do that? It sounds like a word we should have always had”’.
Isn’t it unusual though? A Dutch book, written by an American? McIntyre smiles. She and her husband have been living in Groningen for 11 years and both work at the RUG. Still, she originally wrote the book in English, during a class at the Volksuniversiteit taught by successful children’s book author Tjibbe Veldkamp. After it had been accepted by her publisher Lemniscaat, the text was translated. However, the environment in De Knikkelares is recognizable for both Dutch and American children.
‘I had always sort of been bridging the gap, because I felt like I was both here and there. The kids in the book live in row houses, and my own parents grew up in row houses in New York.’ Yet from the beginning, she found herself giving the characters Dutch names and realized that the way the kids said certain things was more Dutch in her head than English.
She found it mostly easy to work with her translator. However, it took some persuading to get her to understand that, even though Lola looks very much like a fairy, she is offended by the very suggestion. ‘We emailed back and forth a lot and she would ask me, ‘Okay, what do you mean by this?’ Lydia originally tried to use ‘little elf’ instead and I said, ‘no, it’s definitely ‘fairy’’.
Still: ‘There are days when I wake up and I think, ‘It would have been so much easier if I had done it in English!’ she admits.
It was her teacher, Tjibbe Veldkamp, who encouraged McIntyre to publish in the Netherlands rather than to try to break into the American or British market as a first time author. ‘The Dutch publishing market is small enough that you can approach a publisher directly, and I was delighted and honored that Lemniscaat was interested – they were the very first ones I approached. I was very lucky’.
The experience of participating in the class and the collaborations that have brought the book to life out of multiple languages leaves McIntyre more certain that she is where she’s meant to be. ‘It makes me feel like I’ve done something that binds me to this place. I think that’s true for the city of Groningen, too: once you get a few roots, it’s clear that you’re part of it.’
In De Knikkelares two boys accidently break the leg of the tiny creature Lola. Now they have to help her distribute marbles. That means placing them somewhere a child can find them. Or stealing them from those who have too many.
The book was published in December and is available in bookstores in the city as well as online. McIntyre is hoping to have a book launch event at De Groningse Kinderboekhandel in the near future. Meanwhile, Tjibbe Veldkamp’s children book writing class will start its next session on 18 March at the Volksuniversiteit.
165 pages, editor Lemniscaat. Price: 14,95
Want to read a little? Lemniscaat gave us a fragment of the book.