Interview with Franka Hummels

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It is exciting to introduce local writer Franka Hummels, to you.

After living and working in London, Minsk, India and Germany, she is back in the town where she was born: Utrecht. Franka works freelance for radio and several print media. She says that being freelance allows her to work on many diverse projects. In 2011, she published a book about the Chernobyl aftermath, and how the nuclear disaster still affects the lives of common people today, ‘De generatorgeneratie: Leven na Tsjernobyl’.

She has a very different new book coming out in October! I asked Franka to tell me about her new book: “With Karin Sitalsing, another freelance author, I wrote ‘En dan nu het goede nieuws’, literally translated to ‘And now the good news’. We portrayed twelve people who swim upstream to make the world around them better. Often in a very creative manner…” She told me about the Leiden woman who snorkels around in the grachten (canals) in her town, to monitor the underwater wildlife, and the 14-year old Amsterdam girl who became the principal of a weekend school a few years ago because she liked to play school. Incredibly, she now rents classrooms and has between 35 to 50 schoolchildren ages 4 to 12 enrolled and they have better test results than in their regular schools, so they can go look forward to attaining a higher stream of secondary education than they would if they did not spend their Sundays with Jaïra and her fellow teenage teachers.

Franka continued: “We always want an element of surprise. The women in the Frisian town of Jorwert, who bought the decaying community centre in their village to house a Syrian family are a chapter on their own. As journalists, we often encounter positive stories, that for obvious reasons, rarely make headlines. We don’t say the world is not gloomy, but we want to show that there are people who light up lanterns in the dark, and we wanted to give those people the pedestal they deserve. The subtitle of our book is ‘Journalistic story’s that make your day better.’”
This sounds a really amazing and unusual project and I asked how did they decide upon the twelve subjects?

“As I said before, we wanted an element of surprise for our readers, and we wanted people that we ourselves admired so our readers could do too. To find those twelve people, we read a lot, but most importantly we discussed a lot with friends and others. For example: I would say ‘I wish I could do something with this theme, but I think this person has been in the media a lot already.’ A friend would say: ‘Oh! But I read about this guy who did something similar but weirder, braver.’ I would approach that guy, and he would say he was not interested, but that his friend who does something else entirely would be a perfect match. And he would be right.”

When you write fiction, you still need to do a lot of research, to see how things would go if things you would imagine to happen actually would happen.

Following on from that I asked Franka, which did she prefer Journalism or creative writing? She told me: “I love both and I don’t want to go without either of them. But they are not as separate as one might think. To tell a story that was not imagined, you still need to think up story lines and a plot, you still need to find out where the tension is in your story, and you will still need to search for words that fit the persons in the story. You still need a lot of creativity to tell the story well. And when you write fiction, you still need to do a lot of research, to see how things would go if things you would imagine to happen actually would happen.”

I wondered if it was still difficult for a woman to be successful as a journalist? Franka says, “I never had any problems in the Netherlands. Abroad I sometimes have to be a bit bossy to make clear that I am important, not a girl, but even that always works out fine.”

I then went on to ask Franka about everybody’s favourite city, Utrecht. Franka says that although she has several favourite places in Utrecht that she would choose the Oude Hortus at the Universiteitsmuseum. She says it feels like taking a small holiday if she spends a few hours there in all the greenery.

Franka finds that Utrecht inspires her in a way that no other place can, because she knows the city so well. She sees the beauty of it and appreciates it. She is not in awe of it. This means that she has a lot of space in her head to see unexpected details, and they keep her imagination running.

Franka has plans for a new novel that she has been working on for a long time. She has been stalling its completion for a while now and feels it’s time to pick that up again.

I asked what one thing would she introduce to promote the creative arts in Holland and her answer was interesting as we all know that a right wing agenda always tries to denigrate literature and the arts and she pointed out that, “… a few years ago the PVV party of Geert Wilders dismissed the arts as a ‘linkse hobby’, a left-wing hobby.” This points out that we can see this agenda being taken up by mainstream politicians as it is an easy target and so budget cuts have followed.

Art is for everyone and not just for the elites as some politicians try to say. It is not a right or left wing project. A lot of the public say that.

“Art is something you do for fun,” says Franka and that means that people ask, “why would you get paid for it? A lot of people see artists as lazy asses…” who depend on government grants. “I think this way of looking at art has been really bad for the creative climate in the Netherlands (and so have the budget cuts that came alongside of it, I guess). It does not appreciate the value of art for society, and it does not appreciate the fact that actually artists need food every now and then. I would like to change this mentality.”

As you will all know from previous articles on UtrechtCentral.com, I am a huge supporter of the UNESCO city of literature programme and I asked Franka as one of Utrecht most prominent writers, did she think that Utrecht, becoming a UNESCO city of literature, would inspire a new generation of writers? Her answer was surprising: “I think it is easier to navigate all that is offered on the field of literature in this town. I guess that most writers will write no matter what, but it could be that the projects that happen under the ‘city of literature flag’ show people who only saw themselves as readers that they can be makers too.”

People in Utrecht are so lucky that they have writers like Franka Hummels, who can lead this process by example. Her writing has taken her around the world and she has had huge success. Her latest project deserves the same and I await its English translation. Franka is a credit to Utrecht and exactly the type of writer who can show that the sky really is the limit no matter what you want to write about.

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Jon Wilkins

Jon Wilkins

Jon Wilkins is Welsh and lives in England. He is a writer. A Europhile and Remainer, he is a regular visitor to Utrecht and has set his crime novel series in the city.

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