BackStory: Four Questions with Claire Polders

The staff of a small shop, by the counter

BackStory: Four Questions with Claire Polders
Author of Inner Thief

What inspired you to write “Inner Thief”?

My grandmother, who is over one hundred years old, lived through the Second World War and the German occupation as a young bride in The Hague. Her memory is as sharp as it ever was, and whenever I visit her, I ask her to talk about the past. She is hard of hearing and loves telling stories, so this arrangement suits us both. Through her stories I have gotten to know the young woman she once was, and this resilient, defiant, and headstrong person is an inspiration to me.

“Inner Thief” comes from my imagination, but it’s likely that events similar to the ones I describe in my story occurred in my grandmother’s life. My grandfather was a grocer. My grandmother often made decisions on her own. My aunt was born, healthy, in the spring of 1943.

Who are your favourite historical fiction writers and why?

I’m not a loyal reader. More often, I fall for books and stories rather than writers. I’m drawn to novels that combine multiple storylines and/or perspectives or that veer from classic narrative structures in some other way. At the moment, my favourite historical novels are The Blind Assassin (Margaret Atwood), The Angle of Repose (Wallace Stegner), Possession (A.S. Byatt), The Notebook (Ágota Kristóf), and Lincoln in the Bardo (George Saunders).

If you could live for one year in any historical period, when and where would it be, and why?

Out of pure curiosity, and not because I think life was so great at the time, I would love to walk around in Classical Greece.

How important is historical accuracy to you in your own writing?

Historical accuracy is very important to me. I like mixing genres, but certain facts ought to be correct in order to have a reliable framework in which the fantasy can stand out. In my novel for younger readers, A Whale in Paris, co-written by my husband, we were very careful with the details concerning the Second World War. The numbers of planes and troops that involved D Day. The rationing of food in Paris. We were lucky to work with the editorial team at Atheneum, who did an excellent job checking our research and making sure we had not made any mistakes. The story of a French girl befriending a whale in the Seine and returning it to the open sea is fantasy, but her environment was once real.

Claire Polders is a Dutch author who has stolen many stories from her willful and lovely grandmother. Her debut in English, A Whale in Paris (Atheneum/Simon&Schuster, 2018), is a novel for younger readers about a heroic girl who befriends a lost whale during World War II and helps liberate France. More at

Image courtesy of the Albert Heijn cultural heritage website.