A Week of Horse-Riding and Writing in the Alpujarra, Spain

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Just a short blog for you today as I’m lucky enough to be spending a few glorious days with fellow Writers Abroad member, Nicola, aka author, Nina Croft. Nicola and her husband Rob live in Southern Spain, in the Alpujarra  which is a stunning, mountainous region in Southern Spain with a backdrop onto the Sierra Nevada. Eating paella, meeting another Writers Abroad Member, Chris Nedahl and having a couple of fabulous rides on Nicky’s horses, Fin and Gencie have been on the activity list till so far. I think the pictures tell the story better than words can!

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Flash Fiction

Revenge

My piece in Ad Hoc Fiction this week. If you would like to vote for it, please click on the link and leaf through till you find it. The voting closes on Wed 19th April. Thanks 🙂

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Five Fascinating Facts about Black Beauty

One of my childhood favourites; Black Beauty

Interesting Literature

Fun facts about Black Beauty and the novel’s author, Anna Sewell

1. Anna Sewell’s novel Black Beauty is one of the biggest-selling novels of all time. Published in 1877, Black Beauty was a huge publishing success story from the start. Although Sewell died five months after the book appeared (the cause of her death has been attributed variously to tuberculosis and hepatitis), she lived long enough to learn that she had written a bestseller. The book has sold over 50 million copies in total, making it one of the bestselling books in English. It was Sewell’s only novel. Sewell died in 1878, but had been an invalid for much of her life; she was confined to her family home for much of her life.

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An Ode to the Wilderness

One of my local parks is the Westerpark and on my frequent cycle rides through it, I couldn’t help noticing a rather large and imposing sculpture. So last week I got off my trusty iron steed and took a few pictures of the poignantly named, ‘Weeping Elephant.’ It was created by artist, Jantien Mook. Mook’s mission statement;

“The Weeping Elephant’, is a sculpture of an African elephant five meters high. She will travel around the world and appear in cities, she ‘weeps’ to make her presence felt. On her journey she want to join forces during events; conservation, art & culture related, with experts, enthusiasts and artists to bring an ode to the wild. The stage under the sculpture is a meeting point for special guests; speakers, musicians, dancers and children to share their message with the world.

I’m looking for partners who are able and willing to help ‘The Weeping Elephant’ on her journey. Please contact me; here

Elephants and Sadness
Elephants are often portrayed as sad animals. Think of those in literature; Dumbo,who is separated from his mother at an early age; Rosie, the abused circus elephant in Sara Gruen’s fantastic book, Water for Elephants which when made into a film sparked a real-life animal abuse storm about the elephant who played Rosie, Tai. Controversy erupted around concerns that Tai was mistreated prior to filming, Water for Elephants. A video released by the Animal Defenders International (ADI) in 2011 shows footage of Tai allegedly being shocked with handheld stun guns and beaten around the body and legs with bull hooks, while in the care of Have Trunk Will Travel in 2005. The ADI contacted the American Humane Association, urging them to re-evaluate how they assess the use of animals in films and the statements being made which effectively endorse the use of performing animals.

Wills Gets Involved
Not only do elephants suffer for our entertainment, in the wild they are threatened by ivory poachers. Recently elephants have had Prince William fighting their corner. Although his message isn’t very hopeful, perhaps it will make some groups think more about where their supply of ivory comes from;

“When I was born, there were one million elephants roaming Africa.

And at the current pace of illegal poaching, when Charlotte turns 25 the African elephant will be gone from the wild.”

Positive Note
Thankfully we can console ourselves with the more uplifting story by Michael Morpurgo based on a real-life incident of an elephant rescuing a British child from the 2004 tsunami in Thailand. It was dramatised in London by the same puppet theatre that made War Horse. Here pictures of Ning Nong and the little girl he saved, Amber Own who is now in her twenties, and below Ning Nong’s puppet actor in the play, ‘Running Wild.’

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So what is it about these pachyderms that invokes this deep-rooted sense of guilt about the way we treat the natural world? Is it their very strong family bonds which we identify with, or perhaps their immense strength and gentleness combined? Why not go to the Westerpark and think about it? Perhaps you will be moved to write a poem, draw a picture or make a donation to the WWF. Don’t wait too long though because at the end of April, Weeping Elephant’s packing her trunk and moving onto pastures new.

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A Short Analysis of William Blake’s â€˜Spring’

A summary of a fine Blake poem ‘Spring’ is not one of William Blake’s most famous poems. The poem was first published in Blake’s 1789 collection Songs of Innocence. It’s a glorious celebration of t


Source: A Short Analysis of William Blake’s ‘Spring’

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Inside the Lantern #villaaugustus

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Dordrecht is around an hour’s drive from Amsterdam and there is plenty to see for culture vultures in terms of museums, theatres, restaurants, cafĂ©s and independent shops. Its jewel in the crown is Hotel and Restaurant Villa Augustus, a former water tower and water purifying plant which in 2007 was transformed by a group of far-sighted entrepreneurs into a boutique hotel and organic and hyperlocal restaurant.

Villa Augustus has a room at the top of the water tower, surrounded by glass on all sides called The Lantern Room. This special room on the top floor of the water tower offers access to the glass lantern on the top, by way of a spiral staircase. The view offers a broad panorama across Dordrecht. In clear weather, you can even see the Euromast in Rotterdam! From here, you can appreciate Dordrecht’s unique location, at the intersection of three rivers: the Noord, the Merwede and the Oude Maas. This is a place with spectacular light, magnificent skies and often an unforgettable sunset.

To celebrate a special occasion, Frank and I booked an overnight stay in the Lantern Room and of course dinner in the restaurant where they serve largely home-grown produce. The restaurant is in the middle of the vegetable garden in the former pump house. Gardeners and chefs work together at Villa Augusutus to harvest and serve seasonal vegetables and fruit from the early spring to deep in the winter. In the open kitchen – the heart of the restaurant – they prepare everything as deliciously and attractively as possible.

It was a great stay and I highly recommend Villa Augustus; it offers a unique experience, super fresh and unadulterated food, friendly service and the oh so very special, South Holland hospitality.

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Boxing Day Hunt Meet in Ross-on-Wye

Rather than traipsing to the shops and elbowing my way through harassed shoppers to buy a lot of stuff I don’t need this Boxing Day, I went to the traditional hunt meet of the Ross Harriers in my old stomping ground, Ross-on-Wye. The town was buzzing with families come out to support their local hunt. It was a great atmosphere and the sun shone beatifically on the event. I only hunted as a child but now regret that I didn’t hunt when I had the chance as an adult. I was in my breaking-away-from-my-roots phase in those days.. But heigh ho, being a spectator is fun too and a lot less strenuous and if you’re lucky you’ll get a free mince pie. Anyway a very happy New Year to my blog readers and let’s hope our hunt for happiness is a fruitful one in 2017!
This article was quoted on the Ross Gazette, Ross-on-Wye’s local paper.

 

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Cycle trip from Muiden Castle to Nescio Bridge

I recently became the proud and happy owner of an e-bike. I was against the idea originally, seeing it as the first step towards physical decreptitude, but now that winter is here and voracious head winds come at you without mercy, I very much enjoy switching my e-bike to boost and overtaking all the pretty young Amsterdam things and saying, eat my dust! So, buoyed up with electric energy, I decided to take a bike trip from Muiden Castle to the Nescio Bridge.

Muiden Castle
Muiden Castle is located at the mouth of the Vecht river, some 15 kilometres south east of Amsterdam, in Muiden, where it flows into what used to be the Zuiderzee. It’s one of the better known castles in the Netherlands and has been featured in many television shows set in the Middle Ages. If you go out to the castle on your bike, I recommend visiting the features along the nearby, UNESCO World Heritage Site known as the Defence Line of Amsterdam (in Dutch Stelling van Amsterdam). This is a 135 km long ring of fortifications around Amsterdam, consisting of 42 forts located between 10 and 15 kilometers from the centre, and lowlands that can easily be flooded in time of war. The flooding was designed to give a depth of about 30 cm, insufficient for boats to traverse. Any buildings within 1 km of the line had to be made of wood, so that they could be burnt and the obstruction removed.

The Stelling van Amsterdam was constructed between 1880 and 1920. The invention of the aeroplane and tank made the forts obsolete almost as soon as they were finished. Many of the forts now are under both the control of the town councils. Plan your trip to one or more of the forts here.

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The Bridge Called “I Don’t Know”
The Nescio Bridge (or Nesciobrug in Dutch) is an award-winning cycle and footbridge in the Netherlands. This curved, steel suspension bridge, located in Amsterdam, is the country’s first suspension bridge that carries only a cycle track and footpath, and at almost 800 metres length it is also one of the country’s longest cycle and footbridges. Additionally, it is the longest single cable suspension bridge in the Netherlands.

The bridge was designed by Jim Eyre of London-based Wilkinson Eyre Architects, in cooperation with two multinational engineering consultancy firms: London-based ARUP group and Netherlands-based, Grontmij. The design stands out by using a single, self-anchored cable.

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The Nescio Bridge spans the Amsterdam–Rhine Canal, connecting the new residential area of IJburg, built on artificial islands in Lake IJ, with the mainland, landing very near Amsterdam Science Park, between East Amsterdam and North Diemen. On the IJburg side, the bridge touches down on the Diemerzeedijk, a 13th-century clay dike on which Dutch writer Nescio frequently made long walks that he recounted in his work, hence the bridge’s name. Nescio, Latin for ‘I don’t know’, was the pen name of Dutch writer Jan Hendrik Frederik Grönloh, who was born on June 22, 1882, in Amsterdam and died on July 25, 1961, in Hilversum. Grönloh was a businessman by profession, but as Nescio he is mainly remembered for the three novellas De uitvreter (The Freeloader), Titaantjes (Little Titans) and Dichtertje (Little Poet).

It was a great day out, and now that weather conditions aren’t necessarily a reason to leave my bike at home, next time I plan to explore more of the Stelling of Amsterdam on my electric steed…

With thanks to Frank de Smalen who organised this day out.






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Writers Abroad 5th Magazine is here!

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I am delighted to provide you with the link to the fifth issue of our magazine packed with articles, stories, poems, writing tips, recipes, author interviews and photos by expat writers. Do you want to learn to swear like a Dutchie? (written with real name Angela Williams) or would you like to bake your canine friend a healthy and tasty birthday cake? Wondering what it’s like to live in Hong Kong, Spain or France? It’s all in the mag so what are you waiting for! I have also written a reworking of ‘Little Red Riding Hood’ which is featured in the magazine. If you think the Granny in the original story is a batty old dear who needs help, then read my refreshing new version. The title, ‘Wolf at the Door,’ will make you wonder who the wolf in the story really is…(Under pseudonym Susan Carey.)

The link above will allow you to read it on-line or alternatively download a PDF copy which you can read on your PC (including the Kindle app if you have it), tablet, iPad or android device. The best way to read the PDF version is through a PDF reader app which are free to download.

Alternatively you can access a direct PDF copy to 05issue_final

Finally, we would love to hear what you think. Just a couple minutes of your time. You will also find a link a the end of the magazine to our Feedback Form. Thanks in anticipation.

We hope you enjoy the read.

Best Wishes from  Writers Abroad

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Book Treasure Hunt #littlefreelibrary #minibieb

This summer I have unwittingly taken part in a Book Treasure Hunt spanning four counties within the Netherlands and England. Most of you will have heard of the phenomenon, Little Free Library which I believe started in the US with the aim of raising interest in literature in areas that don’t have easy access to a library. The Dutch version is Mini-bieb.

As a spin off, all sorts of neighbourhood initiatives have sprung up across the globe; ranging from the very informal (books left randomly on top of the paper recycling container, or on the plinth of a public statue), to the lovingly painted boxes filled with curated books.

Where I found the treasure and a review of the books:

  1. Tilney All Saints Church, Norfolk
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I like the serendipitous approach to choosing a book which Little Free Libraries can give. I read two new writers this year, Val McDermid and Nicci French. Val McDermid creates a maniacal but exceedingly clever serial killer in ‘Mermaids Singing.’ The book’s protagonists, DI Carol Jordan and criminal profiler, Tony Hill are a likeable odd couple. McDermid’s book must have involved her researching medieval torture methods so if you like a dark and at times gory read this might be for you. Rather ironic to find a book about a demonic character in a Christian building. The denouement was quite frankly silly though, and I saw it coming a mile off so although I liked the build up and the characters, a poor ending left me deflated so I can’t give it more than 3 out of 5 stars

 

 

2. Phone box, Little Dewchurch, Hereford.

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My absolute favourite LFL which I came across this year, was this red telephone box. Lovingly restored and furnished with shelves of books in great, pre-loved condition; an innovative way of upcycling an otherwise redundant monument that used to be at the very heart of the community. Here I found, Nicci French’s, ‘In the Land of the Living’ which I haven’t finished yet but the author has succeeded in creating tension without resorting to blood and gore. A tight, psychological thriller which has had me gripped throughout. Rakker the dog was pleased about this on Wednesday afternoon because I was very still for a couple of hours while I read, so that meant a stable and comfy lap for him. Book heading towards a 4 out of 5 methinks.

 

 

 

3. Shopping Centre Maredijk, Leiden

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‘Dead Cert’, by Dick Francis was pure nostalgia as this was the first grown-up book I read which wasn’t on the school curriculum. My sister, Christine Hardinge worked for National Hunt trainer, Michael Scudamore for many years and so Francis, the jockey-turned-author, was a popular read in our home. Even though it was predictable, because I’d read it before, Francis creates a great sense of place and his insider knowledge of the racing world gives his writing authority. After the author’s death it turned out that Mary Francis, his wife, was his ghost-writer; a very clever undercover cooperation in which the former schoolteacher, Mary (reputedly scared of horses) wrote the exceedingly masculine thrillers on behalf of her husband.  Francis novels are a brilliant, easy read for racing and non-racing fans alike.  The first time I read, ‘Dead Cert’ I loved it and as an inexperienced reader of thrillers, I didn’t see any of the twists coming so for pure nostalgic reasons I give it 5 out of 5 stars.

4. Pancake Restaurant Stroop, Amsterdam

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That leads me neatly onto Nicci Gerrard’s, ‘Huis van Herinneringen,’ (direct translation, house of memories) translated from English title, ‘The Twilight Hour’. The main character is Eleanor, a 94- year-old lady who is sorting through her possessions before moving into a nursing home. In an attempt to burn her secrets, she almost sets the house on fire. But then Eleanor’s grandson steps in to help her go through her old letters and photos. As the story unfolds a passionate and impossible romance that decided the fate of many lives is revealed. My mum-in-law read this in just a few days and she said it was brilliant. So on behalf of my mum-in-law, I’m giving it 5 out of 5. Will read this one after, ‘Land of the Living.’

So I hope I have inspired you to give Little Free Libraries a go and perhaps you will even set up your own informal book swap in your neighbourhood. It’s definitely on my to-do list!

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