Tiptoe Through the Tombstones

Pumpkins, spiders and zombies galore! Halloween is coming up. Did you know that the original Hallowmas, (the evening before the Christian festival of All Hallows) was a time to remember deceased loved ones or saints. It had nothing to do with vampires, ghosts or Egyptian mummies. Even if you don’t believe in an afterlife, most of us take flowers to relatives’ graves, or keep photos and mementoes of people and pets we once shared our lives with. It seems strange to think of the dead only on one particular day of the year; not many days go by when I don’t think of the people and animals I have loved and lost. This article on Open Learn gives insight into the original meaning of All Hallows.

Tranquil Places
I’ve always felt quite at home in graveyards. On the whole, I find the living more problematic than the dead. One of my favourite quiet places in Amsterdam is the graveyard, Huis te Vraag in Oud Zuid. It has the same tranquillity that can be found in a rambling country churchyard in England. Walking amongst the overgrown ivy and looking at the lichen-covered headstones fills me with peace, as if I’ve stumbled through some magical door into another world. The hubbub of the city has repeatedly tried but failed to encroach on this oasis of stillness. Spring, summer, autumn, winter it’s hauntingly beautiful throughout the seasons. There was some talk of it being sold but that is thankfully no longer on the cards. The website Huis te Vraag is being revamped but the graveyard is open to visitors on Tuesdays thru Fridays from 11am-5pm. Closed on Sundays and Bank Holidays. Address is, Rijnsburgstraat 51, 1059 AT Amsterdam.

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Dufy, Laren and Tarts from the Shire

An exhibition of Dufy’s painting and textiles is currently showing at the Singer museum in Laren until 11 Jan 2015. Raoul Dufy (1877 – 1953) was a French Fauvist painter. He developed a colourful, decorative style that became fashionable for designs of ceramics and textiles, as well as decorative schemes for public buildings.

Joie de Vivre
Unlike so many painters, Dufy didn’t suffer from artistic angst. He revelled in the joy of life’s everyday epiphanies. The sparkle of light on water, bunting flapping in the wind, an azure sky or the joyful anticipation amongst the hubbub of a day at the races – those sublime and yet ordinary moments lie at the heart of Dufy’s work. One large exhibition space is also devoted to his textile designs. Exotic animal and bird prints in vivacious colours look so contemporary that a well-heeled lady from ‘t Gooi could easily wear them to a special occasion today and look fashionable and unique.

Desparate Dutch Housewives
Laren is a picturesque town, in the south eastern corner of North Holland, part of the area, ‘t Gooi, (from het Gouw, the Shire) where media types live and relax. Shops and restaurants cater to the more mature lady with time and money on her hands; colloquially known as Gooise Matrassen. These decadent ladies even had their own TV series, starring Linda de Mol. Holland’s answer to Sex and the City; Gooise Vrouwen, ran from 2004-2009.

Getting There
The Museum Café serves good food, has garden seating, or eat indoors and enjoy the Tiffany lamps and Art Deco interior. Laren is about 20 minutes drive by car from Amsterdam or take the train to Hilversum and catch bus 108 to bus stop, The Brink, Laren. Plan your door to door trip via 9292.nl


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Susan Carey – Author Spotlight Interview – Twisted Tales 2014

Photo by David Galsworthy

Photo by David Galsworthy

Interview questions by editor of Twisted Tales, Annie Evett. Read original blog and other writers’ interviews here Twisted Tales will be available from Amazon from 11th October.

The Title of your Flash.

A Gibbous Moon

What was your initial motivation or prompt to write this story? 

I was inspired by a visit to the Museum of Witchcraft in Boscastle, Cornwall. It’s the second story inspired by the visit to the museum so it was a very fruitful afternoon!

Is the character in your story a reoccurring character in your writing?

No, not yet at least. It’s my first attempt at writing about teenagers and although I’m not a parent, my friends who are parents of teenagers tell me I’ve captured adolescent grumpiness well. 

What sort of message or feeling are you hoping you leave your audience with?

It’s a slightly tongue-in-cheek story with some magic realism elements but there is an underlying seriousness about how we treat people who are different from the norm. It’s also about the onset of menstruation which, however liberal we like to think we are, remains a taboo subject.

What sort of stories do you normally write? (Is this story a break from your norm?)

The characters are new for me in that I usually write about adults. There is almost always a brush with the supernatural in my stories so in that sense this piece is in keeping with other writing. 

Why is that?

Because I also write non-fiction, longer fiction and poetry, I dislike pigeon-holing myself. I have always been fascinated by the idea of an afterlife, or a life beyond this one so the supernatural has always had a strong pull. This has resulted in magic realism being the most reoccurring element in my work. 

What projects or new story lines do you have coming up in the near future?

I’m planning to take part in NaNoWrimo, 2014 after having a break from it in 2013. I’m researching the characters, settings and plot right now. I did a wonderful workshop recently with New Zealand writer, Trish Nicholson about creating deep character. Two characters came out of that which I want to use in NaNoWrimo.

Do you enter many competitions for flash fiction?

I’ve entered a few and had some successes here and there. I was shortlisted in the Fish Publishing flash competition and have been featured on National Flash Flood Fiction Day and 1000 words.

Are you a member of a writing group – either online or a physical one?

Both! I’m a member of Writers Abroad which is an online writers’ group aimed at expats. We bring out an anthology every year and this year have launched a magazine. It’s possible to post work-in-progress on the site for critiquing or write to a prompt from our Monday Muse forum. I’m also a member of a small but very committed face-to-face group here in Amsterdam.

Do you think these groups help or hinder a writers journey? Why?

I think they help immensely. Writing is a lonely profession and it’s great to get informed and reliable critiquing. Ideas for stories often arise through interacting with other writers; whether it’s through writing prompts, workshops or competition deadlines. This helps me stop procrastinating and makes me sit down and write!

What encouragement or advice do you have for emerging writers of flash fiction?

Read plenty of flash fiction and don’t be afraid to innovate and experiment. Flash fiction is a literary form that’s still developing. When you’ve finished a piece go back through it and get rid of superfluous words. A lot of adjectives and adverbs can be shed and often the story improves this way. Less or fewer, is definitely more!

How can others follow your journey?

Here at my blog!
Twitter @su_carey

Twisted Tales by RagingAardvark publishing, coming out 11th Oct. Click on cover for more info.



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Awarded #superhost status on #Airbnb – Going the extra mile!

Success story
In 2007 Frank and I tried out our first home-swaps in London, Wales and Budapest. We enjoyed it so much we decided that renting out our apartment in Amsterdam would potentially be fun to do and also, not unimportantly, supply us with a lifestyle business. After the financial crash of 2008 both Frank and I were seriously hit in terms of work assignments coming in. So we decided to take some pictures of our apartment, write a juicy text and place an ad on Homeaway. We have never looked back since then and have seventy positive reviews and many more bookings via Homeaway alone.

In 2012 an American girlfriend told me about Airbnb and I decided to place an ad on their site and soon the enquiries started coming in. Now, as Airbnb pros we heard last week that we had been upgraded to superhosts! The stats:

  • 25 hosted trips
  • 88% 5 star reviews
  • 99% response rate (email enquiries etc)
  • 100% commitment rate (we don’t cancel bookings
  • What you can’t see in these stats is that we greet all our guests personally and try to be flexible regarding checking in and checking out times. We also include bikes in the rental price and my husband, Frank is fantastic at making guests feel welcome and enthusing them about Amsterdam. He loves to give them insider tips about how to make the most of Amsterdam beyond Dam Square, Leidseplein and the other over-visited tourist destinations.

How to Filter Guests?
I’m also highly selective in the guests we take on. I get inquiries every day and probably about 10% result in actual bookings. I rarely take on groups of young people and the tone of the email messages is important too. The English is often bad but that’s not the issue, I always look for empathy of some kind; can the guest see things from my point of view and address some of my concerns? Also the guest’s photo is important and what they have written about themselves on their profile page. No photo and a brief, Hey, I’m Jack, by way of an introduction is very unappealing to a host.

You’d be amazed at the inappropriate photos people post of themselves. I refused someone (who turned out to be very nice so I got it wrong that time) because they were wearing a bear hat with ears in their profile photo. He thought it looked funny but it reminded me of a terrifying scene from The Shining by Stephen King. If you are an Airbnb member, please just post a nice clear photo of yourself looking at the camera and smiling! Not that one when you were totally pissed at a party! Airbnb is not Facebook, folks!

Unfortunately there is a downside to all this and it’s called the Airbnb bandwagon. Amsterdam is a very popular tourist destination and many people have grasped the opportunity to make a quick buck by renting out multiple properties to hordes of noisy travellers who don’t care if they keep the whole street awake at night. Undoubtedly, this is a problem but it’s such a shame that Airbnb in particular is portrayed so negatively in the Dutch media. The Dutch are highly suspicious of the new sharing economy and think it’s something that can be halted. I think you’d have more luck halting a runaway horse and wagon going off the edge of the Grand Canyon…

The Other Side of the Coin
It would be great if the press took one or two positive stories about Airbnb. I’ve lost count of the number of French, Spanish, Italian, Russian and Portuguese families we’ve hosted who otherwise simply could not afford to visit Amsterdam. Not only is the price of hotel rooms for four beyond most working families’ pockets, it’s also impractical with younger children. Sometimes families arrive looking tired and frazzled and it gives Frank and me great satisfaction to see them depart looking relaxed, glowing and happy after a restful stay in this wonderful town. It looks like the sharing economy is here to stay and I for one am very, very, very grateful!


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New Literary Magazine from Ex-pat Writing Group Writers Abroad


I also have poetry and a book review in our free mag! Thanks Vanessa for posting!

Originally posted on Life on La Lune:

Writers Abroad September 2014 magazine

The online writing community for ex-pats that I belong to, Writers Abroad, published the first issue of its new literary magazine on 1st September. It’s packed full of interesting stuff and it’s absolutely free.

View original 295 more words

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To the Manor Born – The Pony Club and Literary Houses

During a recent visit to England I was invited to a celebration of 70 years of the South Herefordshire & Ross Harriers branch of the Pony Club at a large country estate called The Mynde, in Herefordshire. From the ages of six to around fourteen my sister, Christine Hardinge and I were keen members of the PC, and PC camps were held at The Mynde every summer.

The drive to the Mynde is a mile long and an aristocratic residence has been on the site since the 13th century. It is still owned by a family with royal connections and the Queen helicoptered in for tea on the lawn in 2003! In pony club days the house was derelict, partially razed to the ground by fire. But its grounds are inextricably linked with halcyon days of childhood; swathes of emerald fields, gnarled oaks, swans on mirrored lakes and the sound of ponies hooves mingling with the smells of equine sweat, saddle-soaped leather and Bazooka Joe bubblegum from the tuck shop.

I love a deep-rooted sense of place and preferably a crumbling country mansion at the heart of a novel. When I moved to Holland I was homesick and often dreamed of that sun-dappled drive to The Mynde; a road that led to my ‘land of lost content.’ To assuage those feelings of not belonging I reread novels like Rebecca, Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights and Wideacre (Phillippa Gregory’s trilogy before The Boleyn Girl) and imagined that I was the homecoming heroine in the story. Novels in which the house is almost a character, not just a backdrop have always grabbed me and perhaps this can be traced back to my early experiences of The Mynde. Right now I’m reading Longbourn, by Jo Baker; Pride and Prejudice retold from the point of view of the servants. It introduces another aspect of the country house, the unseen toils of the servants. Downstairs folk paddling away like a swan’s webbed feet, keeping up the calm, serene elegance of upstairs folk.

Often the crumbling mansion has sinister aspects too. Manderley was so interwoven with Rebecca’s life it had to burn down so that the new Mrs De Winter could reign supreme. Eel Marsh House in The Woman in Black, reveals Alice Drablow’s past and without the house we would know nothing of her tragic life. So maybe there’s a ghost or two rattling about The Mynde and perhaps it’s a little girl wearing elephant-ear Jods, galloping her Welsh Mountain pony towards the furthest edges of the demesne.

Are there any early experiences that have influenced your reading choices? Could you describe a character just by writing about their home? What is your favourite literary house?

For the 1960s riding-wear ad and nostalgic book cover I thank the wonderful author, Jane Badger who blogs about pony books here, Books, Mud and Compost. And Horses

Link to 25 top literary homes at Flavorwire

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Freedom of the Line – Dining Along the River Severn

For Christmas 2013 Frank and I received a wonderful experience gift from my sister and brother-in-law. We were given the freedom of the line on the Severn Valley Railway and a dining voucher for two. I’ve always wanted to travel on the Orient Express but this seemed more within our reach! The Severn Valley Railway is a full-size standard-gauge railway line running regular, mainly steam-hauled, passenger trains between Kidderminster in Worcestershire and Bridgnorth in Shropshire, a distance of about sixteen miles.

The journey is full of interest, as the route follows closely the meandering course of the River Severn for most of the way on its journey between Kidderminster and Bridgnorth. One highlight of the trip is the crossing of the River Severn by means of the Victoria Bridge – a massive 200-foot single span, high above the water which, incidentally, features in the film ‘The Thirty-nine Steps’ with Robert Powell in the leading role. Trains have been a source of inspiration for writers for as long as they exist. The most famous being Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie.

There being few roads in the Severn Valley, some of the views are only visible from the Railway. The scenery is varied and largely unspoiled, punctuated by the quaint ‘olde worlde’ charm of country stations, each one giving ready access to local villages and riverside walks.

A remarkable feature of the Railway not readily appreciated by visitors is that it is very largely run by unpaid volunteers, with a paid staff of around 70 people responsible for administration and commercial activities, plus regular track and rolling stock maintenance. Throughout the year, volunteers appear on the Railway to perform many tasks, including repairing and repainting stations, reconstruction of viaducts and bridges, and rebuilding locomotives and rolling stock not to mention the operation of the trains.

On the dining car we enjoyed a Jacques Tati type holiday atmosphere with jovial serving staff and passengers all enjoying a carefree day. The carriage aahhed in unison at the sight of a baby elephant gamboling in the safari park, not something you expect to see in the Worcestershire countryside!

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