Known in his native country as “The Dutch Stephen King,” author Koos Verkaik is an exceptional storyteller with a fertile imagination whose work weaves intricate tales of magic, mystery and adventure.
Born in Holland, Verkaik began writing at the age of seven, penning stories of talking animals with accompanying illustrations in schoolbooks. When he was 16, Sjors magazine began publishing his comics and, two years later, he wrote his first novel, Adolar, over the course of a weekend and subsequently had it published by Civo the Hague.
Since that time, Verkaik has written and published over 60 titles, both novels and children’s books. Both Alvader and Wolfstranen were met with critical acclaim, earning Verkaik numerous comparisons to Stephen King. He is currently hard at work on his current series, Alex and the Wolpertinger, for which he plans to publish 30 individual entries.
To learn more about Verkaik and his writing, visit www.koosverkaik.com.
What was your childhood like, and how did it shape who you are today?
I had two elder brothers: one became a draughtsman and we worked together for many years, the other one became a history master. As a child, I was always busy and had imaginary friends. Started to write stories at an early stage. Soon I wrote long stories and later I used them to write comics that were published right away: three pages a week, drawn by my brother Marien. I remember that I already wanted to become a writer at the age of seven. My youth was okay; I mostly went my own way.
Growing up, who were your biggest creative influences?
I started to collect science-fiction books and really loved American writer Jack Vance. He could create the most crazy worlds. But soon I also discovered Edgar Allan Poe and found out that written stories can actually frighten you. Actually, they were not really influences, I developed my own style. And I also read many comics and started to write comics myself.
What aspects of the writing process did you struggle with the most when you were first starting out, and how did you overcome those struggles?
I never had a writer’s block. Always knew what I wanted to write about and how to do it. It came naturally. Being a kid, I used a ballpoint so that I could work ’til late at night without my parents knowing I was still awake – I was supposed to sleep, of course. When I was eighteen, I got a job as a copywriter. For one year only, but there I learnt to write short and to the point. That was an interesting time.
What are your fondest memories of your time as a copywriter?
My boss was a big bully and an ex-heavyweight boxer, always swearing and yelling, throwing things at you! But I learnt to write copy for different companies, like fashion stores, car tubes and and furniture shops. I wrote a text for the car tubes that was used for an international campain and was rewarded with a bonus of about one hundred dollars. I quit immediately and went my own way. Later I met this man again and then we got along very well together! I told him I never had another boss in my life after I left his agency and… he understood! And to be honest, I prefer to work for myself: everything I do, good or wrong, is my own responsibility.
What inspired the story of Alex and the Wolpertinger?
I had already written another series, Slimmetje (also known as Smarty), under the pseudonym Jan Jacobs; twelve titles. Now I wanted to write a new series full of adventure and, at first, Ludo the wolpertinger was a red striped frog. Then I heard about German wolpertingers – fantasy creatures that exist in old stories. I created a medieval world where giants live and little Alex has to deal with giant princes and kings. He discovers the Downhills, a land of dragons, monsters and wolpertingers. People are scared of wolpertingers, but Alex and Ludo the wolpertinger become best friends. They often visit the Monster Inn together, the legendary inn in the Downhills. And then a new adventure begins…
Do you read reviews of your own work? If so, how do they affect your approach to writing?
Yes, I read all reviews. And never argue, for the reviewer is giving his personal opinion and I respect that. So far I’ve only gotten nice reviews, so I won’t complain!
From your perspective, what distinguishes great writing from good or mediocre writing?
A personal style. There are too many imitations. I have a lot to tell and do it my way. What I write are Koos Verkaik books. Bill Thompson, editor of the first Stephen King and John Grisham books, read my work and asked me to visit him in New York. I was very proud when he said to me I had the right genes to go far.
Aside from writing, what are you most passionate about?
I loved the way the English musicians handled American blues (John Mayall, Eric Clapton, Peter Green). Started to play myself and formed my own blues bands. Still play my 1963 Fender and make home recordings. Actually, I play every day. I can’t sit still and when I’m not writing, I pick up one of my instruments.
What does your writing environment look like?
I have a big workroom, looking out on the garden. My dog mostly lying at my feet. I have about 3,000 books here, of which many are non-fiction. My guitars and recording gear are also there and I have hundreds of CDs – mostly electric blues and rock ‘n roll. I get up early and sit down at my desk round half past 7 and work till 6 o’clock in the evening, and I also work late at night. I use three different laptops. Strangely enough, I always write the first page of a book with a pen. When the story feels good, I change the paper for a laptop.
What’s the best meal you’ve had recently?
Nice question! My wife Rena is from Indonesia. She knows how to cook and recently I had the best nasi goreng – very, very hot and spicy!
If you could offer one piece of advice to aspiring writers, what would it be?
First: don’t give up. Write every day. And read, of course. Create your own style. And of course, you must realize that there are more writers than publishers, so don’t let it disappoint you when you cannot find your place in the publisher’s world right away. Contact an agent. Agents will give you honest advice and maybe a contract to go on together. The internet is a great invention: I live in The Netherlands, publish in the USA and Canada and my agent is from New Zealand!
What are you working on next?
I am able to work at different books at the same time. I’m working on a new Alex and the Wolpertinger book and a new fantasy novel. The Wolpertinger is published in the Netherlands by Literoza, in Canada by LadyBee Publishing. New fantasy work will be published by Sarah Book Publishing in Texas. Soon Alvader (All Father) will be printed.
This is, in short, what All Father is about:
Peter Jonker has the disposal of special gifts. As a provoked, frightened child, he has come under the spell of master painter Poolman and his evocative, terrifying canvases.
Poolman has told him gory stories about Wodan, god of the Germanic tribes, and fearless Scandinavian berserkers. It seems that Peter has seen the magic truth behind the sagas; in his agony he discovers unknown talents.
Soon it is said that he has the possession of mortal powers!
Hunted by the fantasies of his youth, the adult Peter is going downhill. And in this vulnerable stage strangers intervene – people who try to reach their own dubious goals by taking advantage of him.
Wodan is looking for him and wants him to join his Army of the Dead… Berserkers carry death and destruction…
Peter’s life becomes a choking nightmare. Is he responsible for the death of four people, or not? Brought under hypnosis, the horrible truth might come out…
I also work on screenplays. For the Wolpertinger series, it is already done, and now I’m writing screenplays from different books.
I have written many, many scripts for comic artists, which is almost the same as writing screenplays: you have to describe exactly what is going on and write the dialogue.