Double Dutch

From June 2019

Perhaps I’m a product of globalisation.

I have two mother tongues, have lived in three countries and visited countless others. Throughout my professional career, I have always worked for multinationals with a large diverse workforce and a spread of different languages.

English has been (and still is) a binding factor, an advantage for me having grown up in the United Kingdom where I fell eternally in love with the BBC, the premier league and British humour. My formative years were behind the school-desks of a comprehensive school east of Hull and if it wasn’t for my mother returning to the Netherlands when I was seventeen, I’m sure I would have remained a ‘Yorkshire lad’. But a lad with a Dutch heart, as I was born in the Netherlands.

In our English home, my parents would insist upon us using their native language to communicate. Six-week summers were spent across the North Sea with my cousins, and I’d force myself to read the Friesian youth stories of ‘de Kameleon’.

From 1983 to 1999, I lived in the Netherlands where I attained a Masters degree in Engineering and worked for Philips in Eindhoven. In 1999 my wife and I moved to Flanders, the Northern part of Belgium where the Dutch language also prevails.

Despite my origins, my parent’s efforts, my national pride, my 36-plus years amongst Dutch speaking neighbours and friends, the written language still feels less authentic, less natural and less creative.

I discovered this Double Dutch when I wrote my first book, published in 2003. I consistently struggled to apply the Dutch language and even though reviews stated an accessible, easy and enjoyable read, the process felt like forcing a square peg into a round hole.

Turning to fiction in 2012, and deciding to write in English was like going down the rabbit hole and through Narnia’s wardrobe at the same time. Suddenly, my pen flowed much more freely and content became bountiful; the contrast couldn’t have been greater.

My English is considered to be excellent and my vocabulary broad, but a professional editor remains imperative to iron out, among other things, any accidental calques and loan-translations. So far I think I’ve managed to conceal my Double Dutch. I trust it stays that way.

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