The Dutch version of ‘Dancing in Deep Water’ was published by Lannoo Publishers (May 2018) The author holds the rights for publication in any other language.

Girls? Why girls?

    My new story goes back to an older story. In 1954, William Golding wrote an unsettling novel about a group of English school boys who got stranded on a desert island and soon turned into a tribe of savages. 'Lord of the Flies' is raw and filled with unsettling violence. Golding wrote it as a reaction to the adventure stories that were popular when he was young, like 'The Coral Island', where the main characters are model boys: brave, tidy and always looking for a fun adventure. Island survival gives them an opportunity to show off their resourcefulness, and when confronted with evil (that comes to them in the guise of pirates and cannibals) they defend themselves with cleverness and bravery.

    'Lord of the Flies' is clearly not about having a fun adventure. It's a mess that turns into a nightmare. Unspeakable things happen to pigs. The boys paint their faces with blood. Evil, says Golding, cannot be outwitted, because it is inside us. That is to say: inside us, men.

When Golding was asked whether he could have written 'Lord of the Flies' with girls instead of boys, he said no. Of course not, because girls aren't barbarians. He meant that as a compliment: ‘I think women are foolish to pretend they are equal to men, they are far superior and always have been.’

    Girls don't fight as much, that is true. But is that because their brains don't spark the same anger, or is it because they have learned not to show it, and fight their battles in different ways? Girls are considered to be more skilful diplomats, but how can we really say something about that, when there are so few female leaders? There's more evidence to show that when girls openly display the same ambition as men, they are likely to be branded as ruthless or bitchy, and so they are discouraged from doing it.

    In 'Dancing in Deep Water', girls are the only survivors on the island. They are scared, lonely, happy and in love. They are honest and brave and manipulative and mean. They are confronted with the ancient problem in every society, that the person who takes up the leadership is not always the same person who wants the best things for the entire group. Just like the boys, the girls could not have predicted the ending of this story. They just wanted to be IN the story. They always wanted to try surviving on a desert island and see how they'd pull it off.

They have hope.

A sample

When I lay down, my feeling of weightlessness increased, as if away from the light of the fire, my body was disappearing. Maybe I was just starving on the diet of fruit and coconuts, but I no longer felt safe and secure, just scared and lost in the dark.

The world didn't know where we were. We had drifted off course and were floating around in a vast ocean that had no floor, so far away from the continental plates that nobody would ever see our smoke signal. The ocean did not know us, it did not care about any of us. We were gone, off the map. We had moved out of the safe yellow patch of spotlight into the dark, where nobody could find us.

The quiet in the shelter seemed to make the dark even deeper. Nobody made a sound, and I got dizzy. My body wobbled and drifted like the needle on a compass confused by magnetism. The sand turned into a whirlpool that sucked me down, and I was overcome with a fear of getting buried alive. Nauseous and afraid and desperate to stop my head from spinning, I reached out - maybe if I could just touch someone, for comfort and reassurance - my fingers stretched out and landed on someone's head, in their hair.

'Oaaooohh.' The person let out a loud, frightened groan.

'Sorry,' I whispered, my lips made of wood, but the person groaned again.

'Kimmy?' I said her name louder than I intended, and now Kimmy, I was sure it was her, shrieked in fear, because I was reaching for her shoulder to soothe her.

'Don't touch me!' Kimmy screamed. 'Let go of me! Help!'

I pulled my arm back, and pressed all my limbs close to my body like a threatened spider. It was too late. There were sighs, sleepy and confused, of girls waking up.

'What's going on?'

'What's happening?'

'Kimmy. Somebody help her.'

Kimmy kept screaming, and the more she screamed, the more her panic raged, like a fire in a stiff breeze.

'Get away from me!'

'Who's here?'

I was paralyzed with horror. Kimmy kept screaming that someone was touching her, and everyone, including me, started believing it was true. It was so dark. How could I be sure I was the only one who had touched Kimmy's head?

I felt an overwhelming urge to join in with the screaming, louder than Kimmy, because I had the absurd idea that if I did, someone would switch on a light so we could see what was happening. I folded my hands over my mouth so I couldn't scream. I could hardly breathe.

Other girls did scream, and I heard calm voices - Rafa, January or Justine? - not succeeding in shushing the raging panic.

It got worse.

'It's him!' Kimmy gave a piercing shriek and then I felt how she scrambled upright and, with a great rustling of leaves and crashing through the entrance of the shelter, she was gone.

The other girls called out in fright and sobbed. I fought to raise my voice over theirs. 'Listen to me, listen,' I said. 'There was nobody here. I touched Kimmy, and she thought it was someone else.'

'The same thing happened last night,' that was Olga, sharp and clear. 'When you weren't here. So it couldn't have been you.'

'Yes, it was, it must have been, it was an accident - '

'An accident?' sneered Olga. 'Who would touch another person in the middle of the night, by accident? And why does it always happen to Kimmy?'

'Yes, but, I'm sorry, I really think - '

'It's not safe here!' Olga said in a biting tone. 'We don't even have a door, or walls. I don't want to live under a pile of sticks and leaves. I want to move to the depot.'

'Stop it, Olga,' said January.

'I mean it.'

'Guys, relax,' Rafa said. I went weak with relief when I heard her calm voice. 'I was awake. I didn't hear anyone come in. Wait and see, wait until Kimmy comes back and she'll tell us it was a silly panic. I bet she had a nightmare, yeah, that's what it was - a bad dream.'

'It was my fault,' I said.

'Shh, Bess. It wasn't. Kimmy is sick.'

'I'm going to look for her. She's probably just outside,' said January. 'Rafa is right. Kimmy gets panic attacks, all the time, she imagines all kinds of weirdness...'

'It sounded pretty real to me,' said Olga.

January did not reply, but there was a rustling so I guessed she went out.

Nobody talked while we waited, and in the silence, nothing happened. We lay fearful and still, and some of us drifted back to sleep. We were exhausted by the hunger, the sunburn and the emotions. When the dawn finally came to reveal our tired, frightened faces, Kimmy and January had not come back.


‘Dancing in Deep Water’ was chosen as one of the 10 book tips by the Jonge Jury!