Born in Delft (1969), I grew up in Pijnacker. Ever since my student days, however, I have been living in Leiden. I am married to Hamide Dogan, she is a translator of Turkish literature, together we have a 12-year-old daughter, Dünya. At Leiden University, I studied cultural anthropology, specializing in Latin America. For my graduation research, I lived in an indigenous American village at the Bolivian plateau at the shores of Lake Titicaca, for six months. Eventually I obtained my PhD in 2001 on a study of the Otavalo people, who at that time also happened to often make music on the streets in the Netherlands. My dissertation has been published in a popularized pocket edition under the title Ponchos, pan flutes and ponytails. I then started to work for Djoser as a tour guide in Venezuela, Mexico, Guatemala and Belize, but also in Egypt. Thereafter I started to study again at Leiden University, this time World Religions. After also studying to be a teacher, I worked for twelve years as a religion teacher at a secondary school in Leiden. Since January 1, 2019 I am a full-time writer, currently under contract to publisher HarperCollins Holland.
I have a great fascination for the figure Jesus and for (early) Christianity, which I read a lot about, from dissertations to popular scientific work and from religious thrillers to esoteric literature. Having read the Da Vinci Code, I started reading more similar thrillers, which made me notice at a certain moment that these thrillers rarely or never take place in the Netherlands. That was the moment that I decided to write one myself. As people say that you should always write about what you know, I decided to let my story take place in Leiden. You then automatically find the apostle Peter, the patron saint of the city. Leiden is called “key city” after Peter’s keys.
The success of De bekentenissen van Petrus completely overwhelmed me. About 12,000 copies have since been sold and in October 2018 the 8th edition was already published. I am proud of the review in Vrij Nederland of November 21: “Ambitious debut (…) an intelligent intrigue (…) more respect for religion and more subtle than the Da Vinci Code”. My second book Het Pauluslabyrint was published by HarperCollins Holland and was set again in Leiden. However, now partly in an underground corridor system that would have been under the city center for centuries.
In August 2018 my third book, Het Pilgrim Fathers Complot, was published, in which the main character Peter de Haan leaves Leiden halfway through the book and leaves for America. This book means the conclusion of the so-called “Leiden trilogy” and it is with this book that we say goodbye to Peter de Haan, at least for the time being. In my next trilogy, I will broaden my horizons even further: all three books will be set in Latin America: Bolivia, Guatemala and Mexico.
People often ask me: do you have a certain message that you want to convey in your books? I am a teacher in heart and soul, who also happens to come from a real teacher family. My wanting to teach is therefore very strong. By the means of my books I do not only want to tell an exciting story that entertains people, but I also want my readers to learn something from it, which could be facts about the parallels between Christianity and other religions around the Mediterranean region at the time. But I also try to provide a new perspective on a story. For instance, as a child I did not understand the role of Judas: if he had not betrayed Jesus, would Jesus never have been arrested and then crucified? After all, didn’t he play a very important role in the success of God’s plan then? Then why is he so reviled, if it would not have worked without him? In my book, I included correspondence letters between Peter and Judas, whereby I offer an alternative view of the events.
For me, it’s about the power of stories in general. I think it is always about the message in a story, the layer below it. Something doesn’t have to have truly happened to be true. You could watch a film and be completely turned upside down because of it, while that film is actually completely made up, using actors who have just learned their text by heart. However, apparently you recognized something in the story that appealed to you, that told you something valuable about life.
In my books, for example, I show that even stories that have provably been made up, can have great expressiveness. Take the stories of Jesus in the New Testament for instance, or legends such as Peter who has never been to Rome or Hansje Brinker who would have put his finger in a dike to prevent a flood. Last year my wife and I visited Boston with our daughter, where we also went to Plymouth. In this coastal town a monument has been built around the rock on which the first Pilgrim Fathers would have set foot. This story is demonstrably incorrect as they actually landed on the other side of the bay. But yet at that stone, the descendants of the Pilgrims have tears in their eyes making selfies, while in fact it is a completely random stone that was once designated by someone!