Experimental feature

Listen to this article

Experimental feature

Born in Brussels in 1971, Dutch writer Peter Buwalda is a columnist at the newspaper Volkskrant, and the founder of literary music magazine Wah-Wah. His debut novel, Bonita Avenue (2010), won a host of prizes and spent two years on the Dutch bestseller lists. It has been translated into 11 languages. He lives with his girlfriend in Amsterdam.

Who is your perfect reader?

My younger brother. We have the same sense of humour; the same taste for what is painful, cool or corny. So when I’m mistaken in one of these areas, he is able to tell me.

Which books are on your bedside table?

Roth Unbound, by Claudia Roth Pierpont; Beethoven, by Maynard Solomon, and Seek my Face, by John Updike – a brilliant novel.

Which book changed your life?

The Darkroom of Damocles by Willem Frederik Hermans, one of the great 20th-century Dutch writers. It’s a novel about resistance in the second world war but also about personal failure. I read the book when I was 18. I stopped studying physics immediately and started studying literature.

When did you know you were going to be a writer?

Only a few months before writing Bonita Avenue. I was 34. To know you want to write and not be doing it seems to me a waste of time.

What is your daily writing routine?

I start at 9am and work until 5.30pm. I read in the evening and try to find solutions for the myriad problems that arise each writing day.

Where do you write best?

Definitely at home. On the corner of my former dining table. Since we moved from Haarlem to Amsterdam, it is the table in my brand new study.

What is the strangest thing you’ve done when researching a book?

I wrote a few long chapters situated in Los Angeles and San Francisco. After finishing them I went to see the actual cities, travelled around for a month, noted down all kinds of details, took pictures, got home and didn’t change a thing.

What music helps you write?

Classical music. Five years ago I bought out a complete CD shop when it got shut down – 4,000 CDs. I also love rock’n’roll.

What do you snack on while writing?

Nothing, actually. I get up once in every 10 minutes, stroll towards the fridge, open it, look in it to see there is nothing, close it, and sit down again. Embarrassingly enough I once showed this nerve-racking ritual on Dutch television.

Who would you like to be stuck in a lift with

Chuck Berry. Or another contemporary of Elvis. But not Jerry Lee Lewis. He would definitely kill me.

What keeps you awake at night?

Not knowing how to end a chapter. So, only problems I’ve created myself.

When did you last cry?

Last week when I saw Jimi Hendrix on television playing Monterey. I hadn’t seen it in a while. I thought of what a waste of talent it was when he died.

Do you keep a diary?

No. I don’t like writing that much.

What book do you wish you’d written?

Revolutionary Road, by Richard Yates.

‘Bonita Avenue’ is published this month by Pushkin Press

Get alerts on Peter Buwalda when a new story is published

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2019. All rights reserved.

Follow the topics in this article