Waiting for the Dalai Lama has life stories of Tibetan people on all sides of the Tibet issues. It also contains interviews with a Chinese cadre and the Dalai Lama.
Tell us something about yourself.
I am a Dutch journalist. I started working as a China correspondent for a National Dutch newspaper in 1987. I reported on Tiananmen square in 1989, then stayed on for another 11 years. Much of my later work focused on Tibet. Throughout the late 1990s I travelled through China and India, interviewing individuals on every side of the Tibetan crisis – monks, former Tibetan slaves, resettled nomads, business people, Chinese officials, and ultimately the Dalai Lama himself. I collected these stories and voices in her second book, Wachtend op de Dalai Lama, published in Holland in 2000.
What inspired you to write this book?
I was living in Beijing in this compound for foreigners and Tibetans would occasionally come and mix with us, but they refused to even be in the same room as Chinese people. If we had Chinese friends over for dinner they would say, ‘I’m sorry, I’m leaving.’ The Chinese took over their country and they hated them and that was it. So, Tibetans were living in Beijing, but they were so isolated and among themselves. Naturally, that got me curious and I started to write about these people. I started to meet so many interesting characters and then the idea of a book of people’s life stories came to mind. From there I travelled the country; I travelled to Tibet; I travelled to India, collecting people’s stories and views on the Tibet issue.
How did you choose the title?
It seemed to be a logical title, as many people I talked to were indeed waiting for the Dalai Lama to come back.
What obstacles did you encounter in getting this book published? How did you overcome them?
I didn’t really have many obstacles. I had worked as a journalist, so I had published many articles on China and Tibet. Getting the first book (about China) out involved sending proposals to many different publishers, until one accepted it. It took quite some time and paper. Waiting for the Dalai Lama was the second book I published, so I already had a publisher. Since the Tibet book had already been published in Dutch, and since I had translated it myself, I didn’t have a hard time finding a publisher for the English version.
I wrote stories since I was kid, and wanted to be a journalist since I was 14. This was funny, because one day, I wanted a panel of 60 something bold men discuss events in the news on TV, and for some reason, I decided I wanted to do what they did. When I told my friends, parents and teachers, they all thought it was the perfect job for me.
Do you have any writing rituals?
No, but I found I have become much better at concentrating since I had children. Since your time is limited, you produce much more. I was quite a lazy writer when I was single.
Did you learn anything from writing and publishing this book? What?
How people react to your writing. When you write articles, you never really get feedback from your audience. You write for a newspaper that is distributed for one day. People feel much more attached to books, as they spent more time reading them. They actually review your book. It’s very scary.
What types of books do you like to read? Who are your favorite authors?
I read good mysteries, like those of Elizabeth George and Agatha Christie. I also love historical fiction, like Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series. I enjoy biographies also, as they’re about real people I admire. Other journalists who write books about their countries are also a favorite.
Are you working on your next book? What can you tell us about it?
Yes. I am planning to write a similar book as Waiting for the Dalai Lama about South Africa. I think that’s another fascinating country with a historical problem that doesn’t go away.
What is the best advice you could give other writers about writing or publishing?
Be active! The first book I wrote, I depended too much on the publisher for editing and advertising. The book didn’t get edited or advertised very well. You need to be involved in these things yourself, even if the publisher tells you that they will do everything. For you, a first book is very important, to them it isn’t. They have another 100 books to publish.
Who is the perfect reader for your book?
People who are interested in China, Tibet, modern politics.
Where can readers learn more about you and your book?
blacksmith books: http://www.blacksmithbooks.com