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24 Hours With … Karien van Ditzhuijzen

After a childhood of moving around Asia, the Middle East and Europe, Karien van Ditzhuijzen moved to Singapore in 2012. Karien has a degree in chemical engineering, but gave up her career developing ice cream recipes to become a writer. She now dedicates her life (in no particular order) to advocating migrant workers’ rights, her family, her pet chicken and being entertained by monkeys while writing at the patio of her jungle house.

In 2013 Karien joined Singaporean charity HOME to support domestic workers staying at their shelter. In 2014 she founded the MyVoice blog; a place for migrant workers to share their stories. Karien created and edited the book ‘Our Homes, Our Stories’, an anthology of 28 real-life stories written by migrant domestic workers, which was published in March 2018.

As a freelance writer and blogger Karien contributes to several publications in Singapore and the Netherlands. In 2012 she published a children’s book in Dutch recounting her childhood in Borneo.

Her fist novel, ‘A Yellow House’ is published by Monsoon Books in 2018.

Here's what 24 Hours with her looks like..

7.00 am: the alarm goes off.

7.15 am: my husband yells I really ought to get out of bed and help him get the kids ready.

7.20 am: sleepily and groggily I get up but I need to take care of my feathery children first. I release our pet chickens from their night coop and feed them.

7.30 am: by now usually my lovely helper has set the table and my husband has gotten our three children out of bed and we all sit down to eat.

8.00 am: Time to get the kids in the car and to school. This sounds easier than it is, it usually takes a lot of yelling ‘get your shoes on. Please. Now.’ And ‘who has swimming today? Library? PE?’

8.45 am: Back at home, the table has magically been cleared so I can sit down to work straight away with a fresh cup of tea. But before I can start I need to clear my mind and to get there, I need to clear my inbox. Between my charity work, book publicity, the magazines I write for and the managing of three children (and oh, yes, I sometimes forget – a husband) there is always too little time for everything.

9.30 am: Hopefully by now all the annoying ‘to do’ rubble has been cleared and I can get to the real activity: writing. I am currently working on my second novel, that is not only set in Singapore but also in my own house in Adam Park, that has a very rich colonial history. My favourite place to write is the patio behind the pool. It is secluded and away from the house.

10.00 am: By now I am really in ‘the zone’. This is what we writers call it when we are working well and the words just flow out. The main thing disturbing me is local critters from my garden. Squirrels, monitors lizards, noisy jungle fowl and sometimes monkeys. It is no surprise that these animals often make it into my work; I write fiction, but a lot of it is inspired by true events!

11.00 am: Everybody needs a break. I get up to feed the chickens their meal of kitchen scraps and check for fresh eggs that I can use later for my own lunch. I make some more iced tea. Sometimes inspiration just flows but other times I need a bit more of a push. My novel requires a lot of research, so I alternate writing with reading, searching the internet or reaching out to people who can help me with specific subjects.

12.30pm: Lunch time. I usually have a light, quick lunch. Leftovers from the day before, some crackers and cheese or a salad. And of course fresh eggs. My helper is busy cleaning this time of the day so I normally prepare lunch myself (but do leave her the washing up).

1.30 pm: I try to reserve my mornings for writing, as those are my most productive hours and plan other appointments early afternoon. Depending on the day of the week this could be empowerment or writing workshops I teach at HOME shelter, a local charity that supports domestic workers that are in trouble. I started volunteering with HOME as research for my first novel, A Yellow House, that talks about many of the issues these women face, but also how strong they can be in supporting each other. I still do many different things for HOME, like managing the MyVoice blog and earlier this year I produced and edited the book 'Our Homes, Our Stories' containing real-life stories by domestic workers. There might also be meetings about events I organise, or publicity for one of my books. Sometimes I give talks at schools about domestic worker issues or meet with the team of one of the magazines I contribute to. Writing can be a very lonely job and though I love being a part-time hermit, I also love getting out there and meeting inspiring people.

3.20 pm: One of the things I love about this job, is how it gives me complete flexibility to plan my own hours so I can spend time with my kids as well. When I have late meetings I ask my helper to fetch my children from school, but most of the time I take them home myself where we will have a drink and snack together.

4.00 pm: Some days I need to be a taxi driver and ferry my kids to football, swim practice, Dutch lessons, gymnastics, play dates and whatnot. If I am lucky we get to do some fun activities together, we love going out in nature, play in the garden or cool down in the pool.

7.00pm: Dinnertime is flexible in our household depending on everyone’s schedule. Thankfully I have a helper who is an amazing cook so one less thing for me to worry about.

8.15 pm: The kids are in bed! To be honest many nights my husband and I just zonk out on the sofa with Netflix. That is, if it is not one of the many nights he, I (or the both of us) are out and about. Expats in Singapore have a busy social life (and did I mention my limited ability in saying no?)

10.00 pm: If I am not out my eyes usually start drooping around this time, so I then try to stretch it a little bit as evenings are such a lovely and relaxing part of the day that my husband and I can spend together.

10.30 pm: Aside from being a writer I am also a reader, in a typical week I read several books – and most of the reading is done in bed. Thankfully both my husband and I now have a Kindle, so we can read in the dark without disturbing each other. I am a bit of an insomniac and often wake up in the middle of the night. And nothing will relax your mind as much as some reading!

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