Back in early August, we spoke to Dutch author Koos Verkaik about his background and his extensive list of published works. The most recent book in Verkaik’s Alex and the Wolpertinger series, The Monster Inn, was released in December of 2014, and in the coming months, the entire collection will be released in print for the very first time by Ladybee Publishing. With the ongoing series — for which Verkaik has 30 volumes planned — soon reaching a brand new audience, we checked in recently with the prolific author to learn more about the world of the wolpertingers.
Visit Verkaik online at www.koosverkaik.com.
As an author who jumps from one project to another and publishes books for both children and adults, what is your writing process?
I have always worked this way. My head is so full of ideas and it has to get out – one way or another. Hurray for technology: all you need is one laptop to get it all done. It is no problem for me to write 1,000 words a day, sometimes I write 2,000 or even 3,000 words a day. I can switch from one manuscript to another. Many years ago, people from IBM suggested they would connect my brain to a computer to see what was going on inside my head while I was writing. It never came to that, but it was an interesting idea.
Where do your story ideas come from?
I created a world in which everything is possible. This gives me the change to write thirty different titles at least. All I have to do is go out with my dog and take some time to think things over. Back home I am full of ideas and start writing again. An Alex and the Wolpertinger book contains eleven chapters of about 3,000 words each. Alex and Ludo the wolpertinger have become friends and Barbara, a little princess, is always with them. I introduce new characters on the way and believe me, I am constantly smiling during the writing process, because I really love to do this.
What is the Alex and the Wolpertinger series about?
This is the ultimate fantasy adventure for curious kids, enacting in the middle ages. Giants rule over all the people – and actually these giants are not all too clever. Little Alex leaves the Alps, searching for food. He ends up in Cloverland. Giant Prince Ruff Rumble, youngest son of King Clover, brings Alex to his castle Robber’s Nest and puts him to work in the kitchen. The big adventure starts when Halo, a magician, crashes his wind cart against the wall of the castle. Halo is kept prisoner in Robber’s Nest and the giant prince wants him to make gold!
There is only one way for Halo to escape: he needs help from another magician, Fabulus, who live in the mysterious Downhills… That’s where monsters and dragons live, that’s where the frightening wolpertingers come from… Little Alex has to go to the Downhills, together with a grumpy old tomcat, Shabby Tabby Chum.
What are your favorite characters in Alex and the Wolpertinger?
Ludo the wolpertinger. He can work a little magic, likes to scare people, but is a faithful friend to little Alex. He is as thin as a rake, but he can eat and drink more than a giant. The giants fear him, people shiver every time he pops up. Ludo the wolpertinger is a strange creature, incredibly strong and always sharp and smart.
Another favorite is Uncle Balloon, the flying mammoth. He’s such a kind soul! He can blow himself up and tie a knot in his trunk. He flies Alex and his friends to every place in the mysterious Downhills. But… when you tell him a silly Downhills joke, he bursts out laughing, the knot unravels and then he crashes!
You have written several different children’s books – what do you enjoy most about writing the Alex and the Wolpertinger series?
I wrote other series, one of four different titles, another one of twelve different titles. I can make up all kinds of explanations here, but this is the truth: once in a lifetime a writer gets an idea that outshines all his other ideas. For me that is Alex and the Wolpertinger. I knew that when I wrote the first line of the first book and now I am working on book twelve and still have that same feeling: this is it!
What is one of your favorite passages from The Monster Inn?
Alex finds himself in the Downhills, in the legendary Monster Inn:
Soon I discovered that the inhabitants of the Downhills were even more greedy than King Clover and his sons. A snake poked his head in the kitchen and opened its enormous mouth.
“All wood mice assemble!” Whisper the weasel shouted. “A porridge snake has come in!”
Over thirty mice went to work at once. They put large kettles above the fire and poured white porridge in them. The little dragon spit fire and made the wood burn. As soon as the porridge was hot, two mice took a kettle and tripped to the open mouth of the snake. They emptied the kettle, and I heard the snake swallow.
After the tenth kettle, the porridge snake said, “I am hungry, but the porridge is always the same. Can’t you think of something to change that?”
“Porridge is porridge,” said Whisper.
“There is a large diamond under the tip of my tail,” the snake said. “You can earn it, if you make the porridge tastier. And whoever gets the diamond should also scratch the tip of my tail, it is itching!”
Chum looked at me. I looked at Chum.
“I will take care of its tail,” the tomcat said. “If you can scratch Ton-Ton, you can also scratch a porridge snake. Will you make a tasty porridge?”
“Do you have an idea, little man?” the weasel asked. “How can you make the porridge tastier?”
“We shall add some berries,” I said. “In the first kettle we will put blackberries, in the second blueberries. Grapes in the third, apples in the fourth. Come on, wood mice, get going!”
The mice poured porridge into the kettles. Spark kept the fire going. The weasel and I stirred fruit into the porridge. And the porridge snake liked it! Only after the mice had poured over a hundred kettles into his mouth did I hear him sigh and say, “Now I have a full stomach! Another ten kettles, and that’s it. Can I have another kettle with blackberry porridge and a kettle with black currants?”
Chum and I jumped on the flat head of the snake and walked down his large, long body. The animal had slithered through the whole of the castle. We went through the dining hall and across the courtyard, and then even further through the gates and across the drawbridge. The tip of the tail lay in the middle of the red grass. While Chum dug his claws in the tip of the tail, I took the diamond the gigantic snake had offered. It was a stone as big as my fist. The porridge snake bartered the diamond for a hundred and ten kettles of porridge.
Once again the two bosses of the Monster Inn, Waldo and Heros, were grateful that I had helped them. Thanks to me they had earned the diamond, and the porridge snake had promised to come back one day…
What is the process for translating your books?
I can only think in Dutch, so I write Dutch. As soon as I have finished a manuscript, I start to translate it into English. That’s the ideal way to correct the Dutch version at the same time, because I have to read over every line and every single word. I also translate all my novels. A lot of work, but I won’t complain: this give me the chance to show my work to a much larger audience.
The Monster Inn is available in print now. Do you prefer printed books?
To be honest: yes, I prefer printed books. Especially when it is about a series of children’s books. A mother or a grandmother like to give a printed book as a present, a child loves it to touch a book, to turn the pages, to find the illustrations. My first novel was published when I was eighteen years of age. The publisher took me with him to the printing house and there I watched the whole process. That was unforgettable, and I still remember how proud I was when I held my first printed book in my hands.
How would you describe yourself? Who is Koos Verkaik?
I’m always in a hurry; I talk fast, I work fast. And I can see everything in different ways, which makes it rather difficult to form an opinion. Working for yourself means that you are responsible for everything you do and for every decision you make. When I make a mistake, there’s no one to blame but me. I am a very positive person. I started writing when I was at the age of seven. When I read the stories I wrote as a child, I can only conclude that I was an uncomplicated, happy kid. And now I am an uncomplicated, happy man, enjoying what I do.
Is it true you wrote your first novel in a weekend?
Yes, that is true. But keep in mind that the most work is to think things up. I had already published a comic in a weekly (when I was sixteen) and then I would write a novel (when I was eighteen). In print it was a book of 160 pages. I wrote it on a typewriter, slamming holes into the paper with every letter ‘o’! I worked incredibly fast, on the rhythm of my inspiration. And what a great feeling it was when I finally typed: ‘The End’…
Are there further plans with the Alex and the Wolpertinger series?
Big, big plans! I have an agent who sees the endless possibilities of the series and she asked me to write different screenplays. We have discussed this all thoroughly and I worked hard on this project. In the past I have written hundreds of comic scripts for artists and that way I learned to explain my thoughts and come up with the best dialogue. That experience helped me to write all the text for Alex and the Wolpertingers movies.