Inge Schilperoord nominated for the Dutch Libris Prize 2016
Psychology alumna Inge Schilperoord works as a forensic psychologist in the Pieter Baan Centre, a psychiatric observation clinic. Her debut novel 'Muidhond' about a man struggling with his paedophilic tendencies, has received the Bronze Owl 2015 for best Dutch debut novel. Schilperoord: 'The detective work in my job is fascinating.'
Why did you study psychology in Leiden?
'I’ve always been interested in people, and Leiden was practical because it is so close to The Hague, where I lived. I hadn’t the faintest idea what I would do with a psychology degree. I knew even from when I was a child that I wanted to be a writer, but that’s a rather abstract profession with no dedicated study programme. So I opted for psychology.’
Your first book was published spring 2015, and was unanimously reviewed as a very strong first novel. What’s it about?
‘It’s about a man who is released from prison. He was accused of having committed paedophilic acts, but lack of evidence meant he was acquitted. He goes to live with his mother in a small house in a fishing village. A fish that he catches - a tench (Muidhond in Dutch) - plays a major role in the book. While in prison he underwent therapy, and tries to continue with it. He wants to become a better person, but is really struggling with himself. A woman and her young daughter come to live next door, which seriously puts him to the test. I wanted this book to show how people really do struggle with themselves.’
Did you already come up the idea for this book when you were studying in Leiden?
‘No, and it’s not connected to my time in Leiden. The main character is loosely based on someone I knew from my work as a forensic psychologist. My work involves carrying out psycological studies on people who are suspected of having committed a crime. I once wrote a story about this man, and left it in a drawer for many years. I started to develop it further when I was studying at the School for Professional Authors in Amsterdam.’
Did you write while you were studying?
‘Definitely. I wrote lots of letters and diaries, as well as stories. One thing I wrote was a short story about a psychiatric patient for the faculty magazine. And no, there’s no connection with the main character from my book, even though it was about somebody who was emotionally disturbed. I used to write thrillers together with a friend who also wanted to be a writer. Every Wednesday evening we would read our work to one another in the Van der Werf park in Leiden. They were real horror stories. It sounds funny now, but we took it very seriously at the time, and gave one another feedback on what we had written.’
Did you enjoy psychology?
'I loved it, particularly the final part. In my third year I took forensic psychiatry. I knew straight away that that was the field I wanted to work in. It’s a bit like being a detective: it’s fascinating finding out why a person does what he does. I also took some other courses in the same field, such as criminology. Then I arranged an internship as a psychologist at the Pieter Baan Centre. I immediately felt that that was where I belonged. People are admitted here for six weeks so you have enough time to carry out an in-depth study. You have to write reports giving a psychological profile of the person, which I also enjoy doing.’
What was your student time like?
'It was a fantastic time; I made a lot of good friends who are still friends today. It’s only now that I realise just how unique it is to be able to spend so much time with friends and on your studies. That’s something you never have the opportunity for again. I love studying and last year I started full of enthusiasm on a master’s in Philosophy of Psychology. But I realise now that it’s hard to make the time for it. Right now the master’s is taking a back seat, mainly because of my book. But I will be taking it up again. I hope I’ll be finished by the time I’m sixty!’
What skills did you learn during your study that you use in your present work?
‘The whole of my study programme comes in useful now. One specific point is that during the exams for my specialisation in Psychology of the Personality we often had to write essay-type questions. I learned to describe a person’s personality under pressure in an abstract but still complete and correct way. That skill is a great help now when I have to produce reports for the Pieter Baan Centre.’
What is the best advice you have ever been given?
‘Actually, that advice contradicts my study. When I did my internship at the Pieter Baan Centre, someone told me that I should forget everything I had learned during my studies, and instead should read a lot of literature. Now I understand what he meant. As a forensic psychologist you want to understand people who have committed crimes. To do that you need a lot of academic knowledge, but to really understand the drama behind the facts you need more. Reading a lot of books certainly helps!’
(16 July 2015) Web editor Psychology
Who: Inge Schilperoord (1973)
Student association: Quintus
Favorite spot in Leiden: The Hortus botanicus. I lived with six other girls in a student house on the Witte Singel opposite the Hortus. We often sat drinking wine together in the Hortus, watching the boats go by.
Muidhond by Inge Schilperoord, published by Podium (Dutch)