What is the best thing that I love about my work? The fact that I get to study, like when I attended university. I don’t do it as much as I did then, but it’s still enough to satisfy my love of learning new things – especially when it comes to mythology, history, philosophy and legends. I need to memorize texts and long stories, so my memory gets a lot of good training. I hope I can keep it up and do this for the rest of my life.
What is my idea of perfect happiness? Living with my family, in peace, off grid and in natural surroundings, with plenty of space for my books and belongings. Being able to return to that place of peace and happiness after work is done. And the ability to safeguard my universe, which encompasses above all my husband, our daughter, and the animals and wildlife that surround us.
What is my greatest fear? Living in a busy area or – even worse – a city, and never getting to practice my storytelling or art. Succumbing to the existence of someone who lives like a ghost; caught in a web filled only with “work and television”.
What is the trait that I most deplore in myself? My lack of punctuality, and messiness with papers. Basically, poor administrative skills. I hate that stuff, but even free-spirited artists need them to survive (because the law says so…).
Which living persons in my profession do I most admire? Jan Vandemeulebroeke is a puppeteer, so not strictly a storyteller, but I learned a lot from him because he uses his puppets to tell stories. I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to work with him on the story of Frau Holla. Abe Van Der Veen is another storyteller I like, mostly because of the research he does, though sadly I haven’t yet had the chance to hear him in action…
What is my greatest extravagance? The fact that I never play down my fantasy side. Even on a regular job, I mix it in as much as possible, which keeps me happy. Luckily the people in my surroundings can usually appreciate it too, and accept me for who I am. They don’t know how grateful I am to them that they tolerate my weirdness in such a friendly manner…
On what occasion would I lie? When the person/situation doesn’t warrant telling the truth (or when telling the truth would be kind of pointless, like if someone I’ll never see again asks something stupid like, “do you like my dress?”). But even then, it’s difficult to lie because I have a tendency to immediately say what I’m thinking. Mostly I avoid lies because my brain doesn’t remember them very well, and a good liar needs a great memory to remember their lies – I’m saving that for my stories.
What is the thing that I dislike the most in my work? When I have to tell stories in a small room where other people are talking (and seem to not be aware that I’m performing), and I don’t have a microphone; that happened to me at a fantasy fair while I was telling stories in a garden house, and people were coming in from the rain for shelter.
When and where was I the happiest, in my work? Hmmm, difficult. My best storyteller events were: my Werewolf night for a reunion of ex- law students, and; dressing up a lawyer as the Devil and getting judges to play werewolves while I told a story. Both events were awesome because there you had the proof that even adults with serious jobs can enjoy stories and let their inner child sometimes get the upper hand.
If I could, what would I change about myself? I would have a photographic memory, so that I would need to read a text only once to memorize it for the rest of my life and never suffer from memory gaps.
What is my greatest achievement in work? Giving people that “aha erlebenis” moment, when you get to explain the feasts we now celebrate, where they come from, and why we have all these traditions we don’t understand.
Where would I most like to live? Deep in a forest made of a wood that is protected against hunters and people in general.
What is my most treasured possession? My daughter (inasmuch as another human can be a possession). But when it comes to material stuff, that would be my books. I have very old books that I could never replace, that to me are like dear old friends, who supported me and welcomed me into their world at times when reality was too dark.
What is my most marked characteristic? I am a dreamer and have a great sense of fantasy; it’s a remark I hear from people all the time.
What is my most inspirational location, in my city? I live in the country side… Looking at the hills where the cows graze, by day, and, by night, listening to the screeching of my fighting screech owl, and seeing the village owl as it looks at the moon; those are the times that I feel that all of the legends I talk about are still alive, separated from us by only a very fine vale, that we never see unless we really want to.
What is my favourite place to eat and drink, in my city? Uh, I live between cows and chickens… so there’s a very good cheese farm that makes delicious cheeses… and a bit further away there’s a witches’ village that has a goat farm with cheese that’s not available to buy in stores… and we also have a drinks center where you can get the finest Belgian beers you’d want… which about sums up the best things around here.
What books influenced my life and how? The mysteries of the people, by Eugène Sue (a contemporary of Victor Hugo); his writing style is a 19th century mix of fantasy, history and storytelling. Sadly his books were never reprinted in Dutch; I’ve not been able to find a more recent edition than the one I have from 1878. The pages are crumbled, and the language is old Flemish, but it captivates you from the fisrt page… I like to learn from the generational knowledge and writings that have been handed down through my family (as used to be the norm), which is why I keep some of my great-grandparents’ and grandparents’ things. I hope my daughter will learn from this and keep the tradition alive.
Who are my favorite writers? Eugène Sue, Victor Hugo, Plato, Hesiod, the Brontë Sisters, Thea Beckman, Astrid Lindgren, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Dante Alighieri, the brothers Grimm, Andersen, Ibn al-Muqaffa’,… too many to state here.
You Only Die Once. What music would I listen to on my last day? Would depend on my mood; if I were happy with dying, it could be Mozart’s Zauberflöte If it weren’t yet my time and I was moody about it, I’d go with Black Metal.
Who is my hero or heroine in fiction? Marie Claire Le Fleur from the books of Thea Beckman: as a child I wished I could be a troubadour and travel from castle to castle, from market place to market place, just telling stories and gathering new ones. I never thought, then, that I would be a storyteller as an adult. As long as you let the child within you survive, old dreams can come true.
And Scheherazade, of 1000 nights, whose life is saved, because her talent for storytelling captivates men.
Tijl Uilenspiegel is my favorite hero because, just like me, he had no real education, and from birth it was foretold by the seer Katelijne that he would be a pilgrim, a priest, a thief, a farmer, an artist, a fortune teller – all of the above. He followed his heart, and his spirit roamed free all over a harsh and cruel world, where people are crushed just for being different, for thinking for themselves. I could relate to that too; everything I know, I taught myself, and like him I’ve held a lot of different jobs, which makes for a very long CV!
Who are my heroes and heroines in real life? People who look out for all other living beings, be they human or animal, and who do so even when they are in difficult situations themselves. When I visited the refugee camp at Dunkirk, I saw people living in the most outrageous circumstances, who still cared for those around them. Refugees who were worried about me, because they thought I looked pale, and shared their food with me – people like that are heroes. And the refugees who took their cat out of Syria with them, out of love; luckily the world is full of so many good people, and all so different, with so many good intentions.
Which movie would i recommend to see once in a lifetime? Tricky one… I was an extra in the movie Iron Sky II, and I loved Iron Sky II: humor, combined with urban legends, politics, and conspiracy theories dating from the 1800s,… what’s not to like? I hate historical movies that contain wrong information; I’m always afraid I’ll remember the details and confuse them for fact.
What role does art play in my life and work? Without art I feel empty, I really NEED new stuff to think about, and to make new things out of the information I gather. The ability to learn all throughout life is so important to me, and adults who work are often so absorbed by their hard work that they don’t take time to breathe. I feel suffocated when I can’t reload my batteries by reading and composing, and my regular work would suffer too, because my normally happy personality would vanish.
Who is my greatest fan, sponsor, partner in crime? My husband Kuan Ying Chow is my partner in crime. He also has a great interest in hidden knowledge, history, and mysteries. And since he’s of Chinese descent, he’s a wonderful source for understanding Chinese/Asian legends, stories, and traditions that I otherwise wouldn’t find in books written by Europeans. He’s my muse, who inspires me very much, and he likes to dream and think with me.
Whom would I like to work with in 2019? I hope to work something out with a puppeteer by the name of Jan Vandemeulebroecke, who is from Ghent, and is awesome at what he does.
Which people in my profession would i love to meet in 2019? Again, I can think of several Dutch storytellers that I would love to see and hear for the first time.
What project, in 2019, am I looking forward to work on? A theatre play I am working on, based on the book Die Papenspiegel, by Corvin Wierbitsky.
What do the words “Passion Never Retires” mean to me? It means that if I ever suffer from dementia or, when the time comes, am no longer able to read, I’m glad to live in Belgium, where I can request euthanasia, and reincarnate again, to gather more new and exciting stories and knowledge.
Which creative heroines should Peter invite to tell their story? My best friend Georgia Kokot, who is always busy with her art, and with her heart and mind is always busy thinking and philosophizing about life, the world, art, etc.
And last, but not least: my companion, the young director Jana Bovijn who owns the Agrona theater. She is a neo-paganist, and a female Viking in heart and kidneys (a Dutch expression).