De Volkskrant – Debutante of 2016
by Rob Rollin
First Sentence: No-one knows about it.
The Book: ‘The story starts in Belgium, 1996, the era of the shocking Dutroux child abductions. Hannah and Sophie are two twelve-year-old girls who share everything. One night, Sophie disappears. Eighteen years later, Hannah has moved to New York. She gives up her career as a journalist to write a book about the disappearance of famous mystery writer Agatha Christie. Queen of crime Christie becomes a character in the novel. Agatha’s story drags Hannah back to her past and helps her to unravel the mystery of Sophie’s disappearance. One of the major themes in the novel is: can you learn to forget things you don’t want to remember? Can it sometimes be better to forget?
The profession: ‘I never had a burning ambition to create something for eternity, a neat stack of papers with my name on it. I just enjoy the writing process tremendously. First, I craft the story, I try to pack it with suspense and unexpected twists. Then I start writing, but a lot can change during the process. I have written this book sipping cappuccinos at a small table in my favorite coffee place. When I work, I always need some background noise. Oddly, it helps me to concentrate.’
The style: ‘I generally use short chapters – only three to six pages – with titles that refer to movies, songs or books we all know. It’s my way of revealing to the reader what mood to expect in the next chapter. In a scene, I don’t describe every detail minutely. I concentrate on just a few significant things. I love to play with sound, rhythm, even rhyme. I want my sentences to roll, to rumble, to purr.
Women writer: ‘Often journalists have asked me: “Is this a women’s novel?” It made me wonder if there’s something like a men’s novel? Yes, there are many strong female characters in my story, and one very inspiring writer, but I don’t see how that should limit my audience in any way. For me, writing this novel is the sum of many things I have done before. I’ve been a singer-songwriter, a journalist, a television host, managing editor at Vogue magazine. I feel that I can use my experiences in all these different worlds to create believable scenes and characters. Have I changed? I think I’m more of a rebel than ten years ago. I knew that I was going to rewrite this novel, no matter what.’
by Claudia Ruigendijk
photography by Zoe Karssen
Writing is in her DNA. Sarah Meuleman combined her busy work as an editor and interviewer for Vogue with writing her first novel, The Antelope Knife, a mysterious story that takes you from the Flemish countryside of the Dutroux era to London during WW1 and back to contemporary New York.
Hannah and Sophie, two twelve year-old friends from the Flemish countryside, share every secret. Until the moment Sophie does not return from a party. Eighteen years later Hannah works as a successful journalist in New York, when she decides to leave everything behind to write a ‘biography’ about Agatha Christie, a women who, like her friend Sophie, one day disappeared into thin air. In her search for the answer to the mysterious disappearance of Agatha Christie, Hannah gets closer to answering that question from her past she has tried hard to forget: what happened to Sophie, that fatal night in 1996?
Are you fascinated by disappearances?
I am, in the broadest sense of the word. All of us are constantly alternating between remaining in the background and looking for the limelight, just like Christie and like my protagonist Hannah, who, against all odds, gives up her fame and career to write a biography.
How did you come up with the idea for the book?
It had been on my mind for a long time to write this book, and the story developed throughout those years. It came from my admiration for Agatha, a fascination for Flanders where I grew up, the energy of New York, powerful women and so much more. It’s not an autobiography, it’s fiction. But the scenes with Agatha Christie – who becomes a character in my book – are based on her biography. You feel for Agatha, when she struggles to connect with her daughter Rosalind, or when she is abandoned by Archie, the husband she adored.
You are a journalist by trade. What was it like to write a novel?
As a journalist you have to stick to the truth, not now. Finally! If I say my character has cascading blonde hair, then she does. Period. It felt magical. I also found it gratifying to figure out a plot, although I felt quite frustrated at times. All the pieces have to fit.
Apart from Agatha, where did you get your inspiration?
Series, I have seen so many: The Killing, House of Cards, Mad Men. It’s interesting to look beyond the storyline and see how these series are constructed. How do you create suspense, how do you make the very most of a scene?
Can we expect another novel soon?
I have an idea for my next novel and I am about to begin. One thing I have learned writing this book: there is never a good time to start writing because it’s so much work and you can find so many excuses. But in the end the best moment is always now.