Dutch author Thomas Olde Heuvelt, a speaker at the Melting Pot forum at this year’s eclectic Colours of Ostrava festival, wrote his first horror novel when still in his teens. His critically acclaimed horror novel "Hex", a bestseller in the Netherlands since translated into 26 languages, including Czech, is now being developed into a TV series. I caught up with the author at a book signing in Prague – his last stop on a world tour – and began by asking him how he came to be invited to the Ostrava forum.
“Well, I think they invite a lot of enthusiastic and young speakers from all sorts of fields. The book was doing pretty well here, and it was a great opportunity because this is the first time for me that I’ve come to the Czech Republic to meet readers.”
“And I got to Ostrava extremely jet-lagged because the same morning I was still in Taipei, in Taiwan. So when I got there, it was like 45 minutes before my speech at the Melting Pot forum – which almost killed me, but it was a lot of fun anyway. For me, it’s so special that with this book, I get the opportunity to travel all around the world and meet readers. And whether it’s in Beijing or Rio de Janeiro or Prague or Ostrava – I love to go to all these places.”
“And I found that in each culture, wherever you go, whether it’s China, or Ukraine or the Czech Republic, audiences respond mostly to the same things – of course there are cultural differences – but the image in this book of this supernatural presence, this female figure that stands next to your bed, stares at you for nights on end, that frightens readers wherever they come from.”
Hex, Thomas Olde Heuvelt’s fifth novel, is an unconventional horror story set in a present-day small town haunted by the spirit of a woman whose eyes and mouth were sewn shut in the 17th century. She enters people’s homes at will, stands by their beds as they sleep. If her stitches are ever cut open, so the legend goes, or the curse on the town revealed to the outside world, all will perish. To ensure that never happens, the elders have put in place a high-tech Orwellian surveillance system.
The Dutch author developed a taste for the macabre thanks to being fed a steady diet of fantastic, dark tales by his uncle. He read his first novel by Stephen King– who would become his greatest influence – when he was eleven. Some 15 years later, King lauded Hex as “totally, brilliantly original”, and George R.R. Martin of Game of Thrones fame is also a fan – endorsements that helped make Hex a global sensation and land Thomas Olde Heuvelt a deal with Warner Brothers for the film and television rights.
I asked him if he had also been influenced by any Czech writers or inspired by his visit to Prague.
“I’ve read some Kafka, but I’m not so familiar with Czech literature, actually. I read a combination of horror fiction and general literature, but when I go to countries I always like to ask what are the local legends, the local myths, the local really good stories. And I got so many good suggestions, I’ve got a long Czech reading list now!”