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Interview – Vanessa Everts and Pauline van Lynden on their book, Living Iron

By 16 April 2019November 13th, 2023No Comments

Vanessa Everts and Pauline van Lynden are a mother-daughter team, who have written, photographed and designed the book LIVING IRON, about iron and steel in all its forms, published through the Visual Legacy foundation in the Netherlands.

Tell us something about you, your career and what got you to write this book.
We had both made books before; Vanessa comes from the storytelling world (theatre, film, literary publishing) and Pauline from photography, art and bookbinding. Pauline had been taking photographs of iron for some time, in fact photos of rust, because she loved the colours and texture: from crushed beverage cans to caterpillar tracks on a beach to old customs seals at Calais. Those photographs led to lots of questions and once she’d started reading about iron and steel and visiting all kinds of businesses that work with them, she got super excited but also rather lost. It’s a limitless topic. Vanessa came in to structure it, had lots more questions and ended up doing several years of research and writing by herself before putting it all together to create a visually attractive as well as informative book. We wrote it in English and then translated it into Dutch for a number of our sponsors.

Did you discover any particular amazing fact about iron that changed your vision of it?
The most amazing thing has been to see how clever, determined and daring people have been to get us to where we are, and to what an extent our development as human beings has gone hand in hand with iron and (later) steel. It has also been fascinating to discover how much further we can still go with this material. It is indispensable in so many structures and implements that we use every day and yet we take it so much for granted. It’s also unpopular at the moment; people hear about the challenges in traditional steel production, but they don’t know enough about new, clean technologies in the ore-based steel industry or even about steelmaking in Electric Arc Furnaces, which work entirely from scrap and which today make 40% of the world’s steel. The general impression seems to be that steel is a material that has had its heyday, when actually the industry is in full development and so much more sophisticated than even twenty years ago.

How did you approach sponsors for the book and what do you think the appeal of such a book was for them?
Through Visual Legacy, the foundation that publishes Living Iron, we had already raised funds successfully for our previous book, A Resistible Force, but this time we cast our net quite a lot wider. We were lucky that Mr Ratan Tata became enthusiastic about the project early on and agreed to write a foreword. Then Jacques Friedel, a renowned scientist and a former president of the Académie des Sciences, also gave us his stamp of approval, and the Director of ASK Romein, a big Dutch steel construction company, became our Primary Sponsor; that got a bunch of smaller companies over the dam and then we were extremely lucky that Tata Steel also decided to sponsor us and place a large pre-order for their employees and relations. For them it is a welcome publication because it is a very accessible book, written for people like us who knew nothing about the subject before and who might never have picked up a book about it, were it not easy on the eye and easy to read. One of the comments we are getting from industry but also scientists is that it’s a kind of book no insider could ever have made.

What is your next project?
After nearly ten years of mainly working on this book, Pauline is enjoying the opportunity to go back to her studio and play around with different artistic techniques for a while; she has done a lot of photography for her books, but hasn’t had much time to make things with her hands and has missed that. Vanessa just finished an art book she wrote on commission and is going back to a project she started some years ago; she lived in Shanghai for a while in the early noughties and has always wanted to write about that time and about how it made her see the world she comes from. But she is also really keen to get back to fiction writing. Ideally, she would like to keep combining fiction and non-fiction – and to keep learning about technological and scientific history and developments!

Living Iron, 240pp, 220x270mm portrait, full colour throughout.
ISBN 978-90-811850-5-9.
Available through all regular booksellers and online. Amazon UK DE.
The worldwide distributor is based in the UK.

Cover notes
Iron is everywhere around us and within us. It is vital to organisms – it colours our blood as well as the earth. We admire people with an iron constitution and a steely determination, and almost everything we do involves iron and steel in some form. Yet we hardly seem to realise how reliant on this ancient metal we are. Without iron there would be no cars, no cargo ships, no railways. Most bridges and buildings would crumble. Agriculture would have stayed small and we would have had no Industrial Revolution. There would be no energy networks, no elevators, no oyster-shucking, no piano music… And paints would not have become what they are today. This book describes the fascinating life of iron and our life with iron and steel, from the earliest days of our planet to our growing ironworking techniques and the miracles that are achieved through metallurgy today. It delves into an exceptional combination of qualities no other material offers us and shows us why, through millenia of rust, recycling and reinvention, this tough stuff continues to reveal enormous potential for our world and our future.

VANESSA EVERTS is a writer, editor, producer and director. She has worked with her mother Pauline van Lynden since the publication of Rajasthan. Her book Sophie Steengracht in Peru was published by Waanders Uitgevers in 2018. Having started her professional life as an actress, she likes to wear many hats.

PAULINE VAN LYNDEN’s Rajasthan was an international bestseller in four languages and one of the London Sunday Times’ Top 5 Illustrated Books. Her second book, A Resistible Force, won the Zeeuwse Boekenprijs. She studied political sciences, was for many years an art bookbinder and is a firm believer in finding treasure on your doorstep.