Wouter Boonstra is a Dutch writer and editor at the website and magazine Binnenlands Bestuur. Here he shares the story behind his tale, “Anchored,” his first published fiction, which appears in the current September/October issue of AHMM.
In the summer of 1975, two years before I was born, my parents—who are Dutch—were hitchhiking across Canada. One day, an American on summer vacation picked them up. That was Josh Pachter, and the short time my parents spent with him began a friendship that continues to this day.
As an adult, I worked for some time as a freelance journalist, and in 2018 Josh invited me to write a short story for Amsterdam Noir, an anthology he was editing.He liked the idea of including a story by a journalist not known for writing fiction.
There were two conditions: the story had to be set in an Amsterdam neighborhood, and it had to be dark. I reckoned that any dark story that was going to occur in my neighborhood would have to involve a crime.
A decade ago, a jeweler was killed during a robbery not far from where I live. Later, a talented young comedian was killed by a speeding car at the crossroads around the corner from my apartment. More recently, a kebab-store employee was stabbed to death in the main street of my neighborhood. All these events really happened, but they were too random to write a story around.
As a journalist and sociologist, I mostly wrote about the Dutch educational system and local politics. If something wasn’t right, if there was a question about a politician’s integrity, I got called in to cover the story.
Two years ago, Binnenlands Bestuur—the website and magazine I wrote for—hired me as an editor, so I’m no longer a freelancer. I still write about the integrity of local politicians and about public servants, though, and you could say that I have quite a good view of the world outside the city where I was born and live: Amsterdam. I loved the idea of writing a story set in my own neighborhood, because I know it so well.
I had written some poetry when I was younger; quite recently I even made it to the final round of a local poetry slam, but fiction is a whole different ball game—especially crime fiction.
My main character, I decided, had to be someone from out of town. A troubled man who needed to keep a low profile.
My family and I often go to Terschelling, one of the North Sea islands off the northern coast of The Netherlands. That would be the perfect home for my main character, a bearded islander, a brandy drinker, a man troubled by, say, his relationship with his father.
Could he be a sailor?
And if he were to become a murderer, what would be an appropriate weapon for him to use?
Could a sailor from the islands actually wind up living in Amsterdam? He would have to work at or near a harbor, in some old-fashioned profession. I decided to make him a blacksmith, specializing in anchors.
The Terschelling harbor is different from the way I describe it. I’ve combined it with the harbor of Oudeschild on Texel, another North Sea island. Almost every place I describe in Amsterdam, though, is real—as is the homeless man who sings, “I like to move it, move it.” (The actual homeless guy, whose name is Robbie, was recently discovered in Amsterdam’s Erasmus Park. He was badly injured and had probably been assaulted. Latest news is he’s still in the hospital. Sometimes things get very real.)
Because I was busy with other projects, by the time I finished “Anchored,” it was too late for it to appear in Amsterdam Noir. But Josh offered to translate it into English and send it to Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine. I’m delighted and grateful that Linda Landrigan chose to include it in the magazine.