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Interview: Bill Nagelkerke talks about The Ghost House


A former children’s librarian, Bill Nagelkerke has written short stories, poems, plays and books for all ages, as well as translating other people’s books from Dutch into English. Bill talks to NZ Booklovers.


Congratulations on being shortlisted in the NZ Booklovers Awards 2023! Can you tell us a little about your shortlisted Junior Fiction Book, The Ghost House?

David’s family moves to a house on the edge of the Red Zone – a strange wilderness that’s returning to nature after earthquakes destroyed the homes there a decade before. But David doesn’t venture into the area. He’s not well – he can’t play cricket or go to school – and his parents have declared the Red Zone off limits.


Then one day, he blunders in and discovers an old villa, an earthquake survivor, protected by trees. The house speaks to him: I’m old and starting to disintegrate. Help me. Save me. Then David meets old Agnes, who seems to be living there – but how? And who are the mysterious lanyard people she’s afraid of? Come inside, the house says to David. I can show you.

What inspired you to write this book?

I lived in what is now called the Residential Red Zone for more than twenty years and wanted to celebrate both what it used to be, what it is now, and what it can be.


What research was involved?

I spent a lot of time wandering through the the wild wonderland that the Red Zone has now become, noting down scenes that became part of the fabric of the story.


What was your routine or process when writing this novel?

Initially I simply followed in the steps of the main character, David, as he ran from his house at the start of the narrative, writing down what happened to him: his encounter with the house, with the old lady Agnes who lives in it, with the bees, with the nearby river . . . Each step in the story led to the next in quite an organic sort of way. When the house pleads with David to save it, I also had to come up with a way of doing so. We were both being challenged!


During the editing process, benefiting from the insights of The Cuba Press team and the students at Whitireia Publishing, the narrative blossomed and deepened, probably no less organically but perhaps a little more deliberately.


If a soundtrack was made to accompany this book, name a song or two you would include.

Possibly Hank Williams’s ‘The Angel of Death.'


If your book was made into a movie, who would you like to see playing the lead characters?

I think either Maggie Smith or Judi Dench might make a great Agnes. Not sure about the other characters . . .


What did you enjoy the most about writing The Ghost House?

I enjoyed all of it, really, from having the initial impulse to write it, to seeing it finished.


What is the favourite book you have read so far this year and why?

I was recently awed by Katherine Rundell’s 'Super infinite: the transformations of John Donne.’ She transforms the life of a scintillating poet into equally scintillating prose.


What’s next on the agenda for you?

I’ve not too long ago ‘finished' a couple of historical stories for children, both set in Christchurch at the turn of the 20th century.

The Cuba Press

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