Thursday, April 30

6 – 8 pm

Welcome drinks and buffet at the Dutch Foundation for Literature
Nieuwe Prinsengracht 89, 1018 VR Amsterdam
Phone: +31 (0)20 520 73 00

Friday, May 1

9.30 am – 12:30 am

Narrating non-fiction: fascinating but tricky

Neil Belton (Head of Zeus, UK)


Danger on the border

  • The border between fiction and non-fiction is dangerous, endlessly debatable land. It’s a border thathas to be carefully controlled, because when fiction or fakery displaces truth the results can be disastrous.
  • The role of the editor can be very seductive, tempting him or her into improving a text at the expense of historical truth.
  • When authorship is diluted by researchers, co-writers and assistants, what is the status of the book we are being asked to believe in? There is aninteresting grey zone: ‘impure’ books that are not easy to categorize as either fiction or non-fiction.

Nina Sillem (S. Fischer Verlag, Germany)


One book can change everything

  • Non-fiction has become very sophisticated. Many titles can now be summarized as fictional non-fiction.There is no rule or defining characteristic for fictional non-fiction (it would be interesting if we could find one).
  • Which label a book gets depends on the national markets. There are cultural limitations for mixing fictional and non-fictional elements; some topics need time, a certain distance before they can be mixed with fictional elements.
  • The fictionalization of a given topic can be used as an indicator of how a society comports itself to that topic. And it can be vice versa: new ways of storytelling and the diversity of formats can start a new way of debating a certain topic or of confronting the past.
  • One new, successful book can change everything! Whenever a new and successful non-fiction book is published, in a new format or a new literary style, it opens up new possibilities for other books, whether concerning the format or the topic.

Gregory Martin (La Librairie Vuibert, France)


The publisher as gatekeeper

  • A publisher is not on the creative side. Creators are writers. We, as publishers, are only there to guide/help/manage them. Roles have to be clearly defined. That waywe can deal with the opposition between imagination and reality.
  • To write a good narrative non-fiction book, one should melt imagination into reality and that’s not an easy task. That’s where a professional publisher is needed. He takes responsibility for a book. In other words, he shouldn’t let the writers do all they want to do. For their own sake.
  • As a translator of both narrative and journalistic non-fiction, I discovered that narrative non-fiction gives you more freedom because the reality it’s describing is a staged reality, and it’s staged in the writer’s mind. When you translate such a text, you re-stage this reality in your own mind, and that’s where your freedom exists.
  • Narrative non-fiction gives us a glimpse of the future of non-fiction publishing. We’ll need to adapt to the new readers who grow up in a cultural landscape deprived of any boundaries. So let’s experiment now in order to be ready to satisfy tomorrow’s readers.


12.30 – 2 pm: Lunch

2 – 5 pm

Reportage: compelling stories and confidence tricks

Lieve Joris (author, Belgium)


Creating truths

  • It’s an illusion to think that ‘true stories’ tell anything other than the truth of the author. As we write, we create truths, based on our perceptions. As soon as the author starts writing, he condenses and reshapes events. That’s what writing is all about. The mere act of writing is artificial. All writing recreates and thus distorts reality.
  • Tell your readers how you proceeded, be open and clear about it so the non-fiction police won’t pursue you.

S. Anand (Navayana, India)


The fiction of facts

  • In instances where the powerful are writing about the powerless, there’s a range of dynamics at work. In most cases those written about have no means of contesting their representation, the manipulation of their lives by a ‘gifted’ writer who flits into their lives and flits out.
  • Markets and other forces determine the form and shape of writing. In the last ten to fifteen years, non-fiction has done better in terms of sales, partly because it wears the clothes of fiction.
  • In the post-Iraq War and post-9/11 world, readers are asking for more and more fake drama. Hence non-fiction that parades as fiction is the new formula, and it covers a wide range.


5.30 – 7.30 pm: boat trip

7.30 pm: dinner in EYE restaurant

Saturday, May 2

9.30 am – 1 pm

Personal essay, non-fiction novel and new experiments: the space between where strange things happen

Richard Nash (Sirens, USA)


Fictions become real

  • The problem of narrative in terms of ascertaining truth is that it is very seductive. Humans are essentially machines for making stories — we make stories all day every day. Stories are how we make sense of the world, and seek to predict what will happen next. This does mean that we like to make coherent narratives out of sequences that are fundamentally random. We fool ourselves with stories.
  • Increasingly marketing and branding rely on story to succeed. How do we remain vigilant around how we use narrative, to stress test it?
  • My new company, Sirens, is testing this in the most radical way, by building a news organization that reports the news from seven years into the future, using journalists, novelists, data scientists and social scientists. We are imagining another world, in part to galvanize people in the present to seriously consider the consequences of present action and inaction.
  • Story is rarely the best way to go about the process of how to solve a problem. But it is enormously effective at getting a problem to be treated as a problem.

Samuel Titan Jr. (Editora 34, Brazil)


A desire for intelligibility

  • The incorporation of fiction into non-fiction has to do with a collective desire for intelligibility in a world teeming with contradictory facts. In other words, it has to do with our desire for a ‘reality made reliable, stable, understandable by imagination’. The results might add up to a certain form of Ersatz reality.
  • Fictional tools may be used to placate reality’s infinite capacity to surprise and frustrate and irritate and enlighten us. I’m kind of suspicious of a certain use of narrative devices that tends to make everything ‘read like a novel’ - not least because this quite often presupposes a very conservative understanding of what the novel is all about.
  • The novel first stepped onto the literary scene as a genre in which fiction and non-fiction were forced to face each other. Maybe the non-fiction novel has to do with taking distance from a kind of fictional extravaganza: the rise of romance (be it sentimental, soft-porn, sci-fi or fantastic) in all genres and medias.
  • Genre used to be a critical term, but now it has become little more than a tag to sort books in a bookstore – and to help ‘fans’ find their way to their usual menu.

Jannah Loontjens (author, the Netherlands)


Too good to be fiction

  • Each non-fiction genre (journalism, academic writing, historic or sociological reportage etc.) has its own conventions. The non-fiction genre that my writing would fit into, the personal essay, is a form of essay in which the writer also includes him or herself, as an actor in the described events or thoughts. Subjectivity and truth are not opposites. Oftenthe more personal I get, i.e. the more subjective, the more truthful it becomes.
  • In fiction everything that is described needs a reason that ties it together with the rest of the story. In non-fiction, I can describe it simply because it’s true. For fiction some things are not too good to be true, but too good to be fiction.
  • One of the reasons for writing prose is that I can be more honest, more rigorously truthful in fiction, especially concerning people’s behaviour and psychological twists. One of the reasons for writing non-fiction is that I can be more direct and more truthful in the description of observations or moments that actually ‘happened’.


1 – 3 pm: Lunch