Q: After the success of the first volume of Hendrik’s diaries, this follow-up book chronicles a new adventure for Hendrik. What made you decide to write a sequel, and what can readers expect from it?
HG: So much was happening in our care home that I was itching to start writing again. Writing a diary also gives your life a very pleasant structure and my readers were calling for more, more, more!
In the book The Old But Not Dead Club find that their care home is under threat of demolition, and set out to save it. This seems like a surprising decision, given that they’re constantly rebelling against the strictures of life in the home – perhaps, in some way, having something to kick against is often what makes us feel most alive?
We have a couple of things to say about the daily routine here, that’s true, but I’d rather be with my friends in a not-so-perfect care home, than lamenting a demolished care home whilst withering away by myself in a service apartment. And also: we love to kick some asses, every now and again!
As a character, Hendrik has really struck a chord with readers. What was the original spark behind his story?
I don’t recall any particular event that sparked the first idea of chronicling one year of ups and downs in a care home for the elderly. Perhaps it was the need to take stock, or the need to both explain and relieve the sadness that comes with old age.
'Naturally old age comes with all kinds of grief, but if you are able to laugh about it, life remains bearable'
Are the characters based on real people? For example, the hard drinking Avert and the other members of the ‘Old But Not Dead’ club?
Well, take two dozen existing old people and make a list of their peculiarities, their ailments and diseases, their appearances (fat, skinny, pretty, ugly) and their floral dresses, runny noses and threadbare slippers. Their best traits and greatest flaws. Stir well and create another two dozen brand new old people. They will be indistinguishable from the actual people. The same recipe goes for the day-to-day events at a care home.
The books also explore, in a rather touching way, dark issues like euthanasia, quality of care for the elderly and the awfulness of creeping dementia. What are you hoping to achieve by tackling such serious issues in a book that is very comedic?
Naturally old age comes with all kinds of grief, but if you are able to laugh about it, life remains bearable.
In the UK, a TV documentary called Old People’s Home for 4 Year-Olds aired this year; it followed an experiment where young children spent six weeks with elderly residents in a care home. What do you think Hendrik and the Old But Not Dead Club would make of that idea?
We definitely like being surrounded by young people. And we definitely have lots of them. Except that they’re over the age of 80 and are always whining. It can’t hurt to add some cheerful toddlers. The members of the Old-But-Not-Dead-Club will receive them with open arms. But please deliver them with a nanny, in case we’re away on a day trip.
As the author of the books, you’ve famously decided to keep your real identity a secret. Why have you decided to remain anonymous?
I don’t like fuss and I wanted to cherish my peace and quiet.
Are you genuinely shy of fame? Could you be a care home whistle blower? Sceptics might suspect this is all just a canny marketing ploy…
I’m not a whistle blower. There was plenty of whistling going on in care homes, loud and clear, long before my diary came out. There was no cunning marketing plan either. My success made me realise that it is very fashionable to bring the subject of old age to people’s notice. I am glad I was able to contribute to the debate.
You will know there is lots of speculation about your identity, a lot of famous literary authors being suggested as the real writer, as well as a librarian from North Amsterdam. Can you give us any hint? Are you really called Hendrik for a start? Are you a twenty-four year old woman!?
Well, let me give you one important hint, I’m not a twenty-four year old model, nor am I a forty-six year old hairdresser.
One last thing – the new book is called On the Bright Side. As we kick off the New Year, what would Hendrik advise us to do to get things off to a positive start?
This is Hendrik Groen’s recipe for a bright 2018:
1. Do Not Die
2. Be happy in your old body
3. Take Good Pills
4. Keep good company
5. A pinch of luck
6. No moaning
7. Always have a stiff drink
8. Stop people’s fussing!
9. Be nice to others
10. Be nice to yourself
Preparation time: 365 days
More about the book
85-year-old Hendrik Groen is fed up to his false teeth with coffee mornings and bingo.
He dreams of escaping the confines of his care home and practicing hairpin turns on his mobility scooter. Inspired by his fellow members of the recently formed Old-But-Not-Dead Club, he vows to put down his Custard Cream and commit to a spot of octogenarian anarchy.
But the care home's Director will not stand for drunken bar crawls, illicit fireworks and geriatric romance on her watch. The Old-But-Not-Dead Club must stick together if they're not to go gently into that good night. Things turn more serious, however, when rumours surface that the home is set for demolition. It's up to Hendrik and the gang to stop it - or drop dead trying . . .
He may be the wrong side of 85, but Hendrik Groen has no intention of slowing up - or going down without a fight.
Praise for Hendrik Groen
'A story with a great deal of heart, it pulled me in with its self-deprecating humour, finely drawn characters and important themes. Anyone who hopes to grow old with dignity will have much to reflect on' Graeme Simsion
'There are many laughs in this book but it's so much more than just a comedy. It's a story about how friendship, selflessness and dignity lie at the heart of the human experience. When I'm an old man, I want to be Hendrik Groen' John Boyne
'A funny but also touching diary praised for its wit and realism' BBC Radio 4 Front Row
'I laughed until I cried and then laughed and cried some more' David Suchet
'Thoughtful, anxious and gruff... Laced with humour' The Best New Fiction Mail on Sunday
'Amusing [and] wickedly accurate ... I was constantly put in mind of One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest, another comi-tragedy concerning the tyranny of institutions of the unwanted. Enjoy Groen's light touch but do not be fooled by it. We live in an ageing society. The Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen is a handbook of resistance for our time' ***** FIVE STARS Sunday Express
'Highly entertaining ... a delightful and touching saga of one man's way of coping with old age ... we may assume that Hendrik Groen is a character of fiction. But it is a fiction so closely based on the observation of real life that it is utterly convincing' Daily Express
'A joy to read, as much concerned with friendship and dignity as it is with the debilitating effects of aging ... An entertaining and uplifting story of a man in the winter of his days, stoic in the face of bureaucratic nonsense and an unabashed need to wear a nappy. Imagined or not, this is the diary of someone who wants nothing more than to be allowed see out his days with dignity and respect. It's not too much to ask, really, is it?' John Boyne Irish Times
'Full of off-beat charm and quirky characters' Cathy Rentzenbrink, Stylist
'Hendrik pens an exposé of his care home, sets up the Old-But-Not-Dead club and relishes the arrival of a new female resident. This geriatric Adrian Mole made me laugh and think. Terrific' Fanny Blake, Woman and Home
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