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NS presents the first train thriller on WhatsApp. Authors Jowi Schmitz and Louis Stiller test the experience

'The first Dutch WhatsApp thriller' was launched at the end of January. For five days, a select group of screen readers could follow this 'real time' story. Writers Jowi Schmitz and Louis Stiller were among them, app'ing with each other about this new form of storytelling.


Louis > Suddenly a whole mountain of names in my whatsapp (including 'paps' and 'mums').

Jowi > I nickname them NS just to be on the safe side. Eight contacts in my inbox at once, that's like taking in eight loaner cats for a week anyway. I think it will work out, but when I see them standing there, a day before the sleepover starts, somewhat uncomfortably among my other contacts, I secretly hope they won't piss on my bed.

Louis > What are we going to experience?

Jowi > In any case, it is a thriller. Tracking. Puzzling. I imagine so.

Louis > A train thriller!

Jowi > Could this become a new form of reading? Books out the door and just reading apps?

Louis > At least it's a different way of telling stories. I do know of more games like this, where they pretend you have found someone's phone - Mr Robot - or are connected to a space station where you have to instruct someone, so I am curious to see what they make of it at NS.


Jowi > First post. Two cups of coffee on a train journey. That's a good start.

Louis > What exactly would they want from us?

Jowi > Should we participate? In what way then?

Louis > We will see.

Louis > Hans Chef. I guess that's not his surname, but his job title.

Jowi > Hans Chef NS, it says to me. I have other Hans in my contact list.

Louis > He wants to talk to her. Who?

Jowi > Sarah. Says below.

Louis > Oops. Sarah has seen 'something' that Hans wants to talk to her about.

Jowi > It does take a long time. Have you gotten anything back in yet?

Louis > No.

Jowi > Nothing happened for six hours.

Louis > It is Monday. They have yet to come in.

Jowi > And so do we.

Jowi > At last. Zarifa has to shake off Chef Hans. Sarah has clearly not been at work.

Louis > And 'Pops' is also worried.

Jowi > Mum too.

Louis > Tinder Jens. Jens from Tinder had a great time and will see her tomorrow.

Jowi > If she comes.

Louis > Mr Sorrysorrysorry. Who must have done it.

Jowi > But what has he done? Where is the body?

Louis > Girlfriends share their Tinder experiences.

Jowi > Sarah called in sick.

Louis > Can best friends always be trusted, is the question now?

Jowi > Scary man. We must distrust him, so he must not have done it. Probably a false lead. In the end, he turns out to be her saviour.

Louis > But what did he do? We still don't know.

Jowi > We don't know anything yet, actually.

Louis > Would that take long?


Jowi > Why lie?

Louis > What else does Dad know? Maybe he is wrong.

Jowi > Fun. A faulty father.

Louis > Sweet for Moms, though.

Jowi > He says he does believe her. Did I miss an answer? What does Saar say? Just looking in my phone.

Louis > Nothing!

Jowi > No.

Louis > Apparently, we don't get to see all the posts. Only the replies.

Jowi > They are cheating. I find that unfortunate. You shouldn't keep info away from your witnesses. Then the game is no longer as much fun.

Louis > So we are the witnesses.

Jowi > So far, yes.

Louis > Zarifa is as caring as ever. Suspicious?

Jowi > Everyone is a suspect in this game until you prove your innocence. That will take until Friday.

Jowi > Jens is on his way to a fine evening, he thinks.

Louis > It's kind of a rerun of yesterday.

Jowi > Hans Chef NS also reports.

Louis > Someone who shouts 'trust me' is not to be trusted.

Jowi > If you leave out the punctuation, you won't believe it at all.

Louis > Hans Chef recently experienced something with Sarah and wants to take her to task for it.

Jowi > Would be nice if Moms comes up with something witty.

Louis > And the mystery guest also reports.

Jowi > All the characters have now appeared on stage, I see from the list.

Louis > And this is her. By the looks of it at Amsterdam Centraal, by the Thalys.

Jowi > Large bag on back. Clearly on the run. She must have scored it somewhere along the way.

Louis > Nothing heard of it.

Jowi > Should we just assume.

Louis > Are you sitting in your chair right now thinking: oy oy, that Sarah?

Jowi > Not really. You?

Louis > Neither did I.

Jowi > And another weird thing: who took that picture? Far too good and sharp for any surveillance camera.

Louis > Are any of the characters on her trail? Jens? HansChefNS? Paps? Anonymous?

Jowi > And why is that sleuth taking a picture?

Louis > Would there be anyone else we don't know?

Jowi > The unknown assassin photographer?


Jowi > Arnhem. Our Sarah wanders a bit on the train.

Louis > Where would she be at night? Surely she is on the run?

Jowi > In hotels? Sleeping in shunted trains? It's a shame you don't get to experience that.

Louis > I don't know who she is or what she wants, only that she is on the run. That's pretty thin.

Jowi > I would like to be friends with her. To hear all her secrets. I would have liked to have been given that illusion, but they don't.

Louis > I accidentally appended something to Sarah (was meant for you) and then got this:

Jowi > We are a kind of hard drive.

Louis > Are we not really allowed to tag along?

Louis > Finally. On Day 3, we get the backstory.

Louis > Chief Hans stabbing someone with a knife. Sarah fleeing. Chief Hans appending afterwards: 'What did you see?'

Jowi > The complete backstory. On day 3. Israel. IT. A diplomat.

Louis > The girl who was stabbed by Hans.

Jowi > A lot at once, though. And so abstract.

Louis > And why wouldn't Sarah go to the police with it?

Louis > Exactly what we said: we get her messages to act as a kind of hard drive.

Jowi > But then why not her outgoing messages? Well the replies of the others.

Louis > Weirdrr.

Jowi > Indeed, the police are apparently chasing her.

Louis > Because she saw something? Weirdrr.

Jowi > Can Zarifa be trusted?

Louis > Guess so. She is the concerned friend-from-work.

Jowi > Hmm, maybe. And can Sarah herself be trusted? Police after her, men in suits searching her desk and computer.

Louis > AIVD?

Jowi > *gapes*

Louis > Mother-daughter conflict in between.

Jowi > TinderJens was outraged at first, but now he is helping her faithfully.

Louis > But what exactly does it do?

Jowi > Patches. It's all about patches. Patches here, patches there.

Louis > Look there's an eagle. A halfom and two tartars.

Jowi > Handy such a nerd as Tinder friend.

Louis > TinderJens, for all your patching needs.

Jowi > Still, it's a bland picture: when you zoom in, there's still nothing there that's of any use.

Louis > All for atmosphere.

Jowi > But also no more than that.

Louis > Sarah in Leeuwarden. Opposite the railway station used to be one of those hotels with crackling nylon sheets.

Jowi > Hotel Terminus.

Louis > Exactly.

Jowi > I would have liked to hear details like that too.

Louis > Or see: nice photo of crackling nylon sheets.


Jowi > Jens has been patching all night. Or has it been patched?

Louis > But why? For what purpose?

Louis > Hans fiddled with the clip and reversed the burden of proof. (You may now yawn again.)

Jowi > Could Zarifa be the weak link?

Louis > Or is she doing this on purpose? Meeting up and setting Sarah up?

Jowi > Anonymous also reports again.

Louis > The Israelis.

Jowi > *gape*

Louis > Do you sleep enough.

Jowi > I live on a boat, which rocks wonderfully. Comes with excellent stories, too, by the way. But we digress.

Louis > I have to go to Amersfoort this afternoon. See if I find Sarah or Zarifa there.

Jowi > Now that's journalistic dedication. Go now! Fast!

Louis > All for the story.

Jowi > Will it be exciting after all.

Louis > Jens is not too happy about Zarifa's interference either.

Jowi > The naive colleague. Another cliché.

Louis > Zarifa. So anyway!

Jowi > Look how scared she looks! She is actually trying to protect our Saar!

Louis > That Jens is also remarkably knowledgeable about everything.

Jowi > Jens and Mum. That's where I keep it. Those are the bad guys.

Louis > Ha!

Jowi > And Pops rides a motorbike: who is going to save her.

Louis > 17:49. New message from Zarifa. Why Sarah was not at Amersfoort station. I wondered that too: I did not see Sarah there either at 13:35 when I passed by. No Zarifa either. But I did see a bag that looked suspiciously like hers. But there was a Spanish tourist attached to it.

Jowi > Sarah, meanwhile, has travelled on to Zeist, I see.

Louis > Stations she visited so far: Arnhem Leeuwarden Zeist. ALZ. Would that be a clue?

Jowi > You have to make something of it yourself.

Louis > I'm not on the edge of my train seat. Are you?

Jowi > No.

Louis > For a while, when I was in Amersfoort.

Jowi > I find that I am losing interest in the story, because the ending cannot be predicted anyway with the clues we are given now. They are withholding too much information for that.

Louis > True. And I'm still not really interested in Sarah's fate. I don't know her or get to know her so I guess so. The same goes for the story. Secret services, patches, it will all be.


Louis > Is it over?

Jowi > To explain again. Wait until the lights are extinguished.

Louis > Another train may come.

Jowi > All those clichés. Everyone lives up to their expectations.

Louis > The blonde heroine on the run. The ruthless boss. The Tinder nerd who saves the day.

Jowi > The naive colleague. The sulky mother. Why not some really exciting, quirky characters?

Louis > But even then, the story is too thin. You don't get into it and it's over before you know it.

Jowi > In itself, such a real time story is quite a nice idea, but then put some work into the story and characters and not just the technology.

Louis > How would we do it, if we had the opportunities?

Jowi > More story, less technique. And forging a stronger bond between the character and the reader. Now it leaves us all cold.

Louis > What also disappointed me was the role of the train: apart from those meaningless station directions, you see nothing at all of trains, compartments, train passengers. Even though Sarah is on the move all the time. So little atmosphere, so little recognition. Why not a picture of a station where you can just barely read the last three letters DAM. Is she in Rotterdam, Amsterdam, Schiedam or Appingedam? That alone puts your head to work.

Jowi > You could go so much further. Why are we not allowed to give her directions? Help her. She could have slept on the boat with us. Should others have looked for her with us again.

Louis > Exciting!

Jowi > All for a good cause. I like the form: a few days of occasional emails, taking care of someone on the run.

Louis > Kind of tamagotchi.

Jowi > Those all died with me too.

Jowi Schmitz

Jowi Schmitz writes (children's) books, articles, film scripts and short stories. Her YA book Weg (Road) won the Dioraphte Literatuur prize, or prize for best Young People's Book of the Year, her children's book Ik heet Olivia en daar kan ik ook niks aan doen (I can't do anything about it either) (Lemniscaat) will soon be filmed. She enjoys writing interdisciplinary: between fact and fiction. But then real. Apart from the film script, she is currently working on several articles, a documentary and a new children's book (8+) with the working title: Nachtwachter.View Author posts

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