The Olympic Flame Burned First in Amsterdam


OS-Amsterdam” by ArchOwn work. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons.

Eighty Eight Years Ago
This year the Olympics will be in Rio, but it was 1928 when the Netherlands had the pleasure of hosting the Olympic Games. The purpose built Olympisch Stadion designed by Jan Wils is the epitome of the Amsterdams School building style. In 1987 the city government announced plans to demolish the stadium. The stadium was saved, however, when it was listed as a national monument. Renovation started in 1996, and the stadium was refurbished into the original construction of 1928. The original bicycle track was also removed to enable the use of the space beneath the seats for offices. The stadium was reopened by the Prince of Orange on 13 May 2000.

New Traditions and Foreign Habits
1928 was the first year that women were permitted to take part in the Olympic Games and the tradition of burning the Olympic Flame also started in our lovely city! Amsterdam in 1928 was a far cry from the cosmopolitan place it is now and unused to foreigners and their exotic habits. The Japanese team stayed in a hotel in Zaandam and the Dutch cuisine wasn’t quite to their liking. The proprietor was surprised to see them sprinkling their chicken and rump steak with sugar! If you read Dutch the book, De Olympische Spelen Amsterdam 1928 by Paul Arnoldussen strikes me as an informative and amusing read. Below some photos of the opening ceremony and a trial run with the Olympic Flame, which was lit on the Marathontoren (tower) that pierces the sky above the Stadium.

Gin and Tonic
What were the Brits doing? Taking over the Lloyd Hotel of course and knocking back the hard stuff which included Dutch gin. Some things never change. The Americans went one step further and had a huge boat specially furbished to house their team. It accommodated 300 competitors and had its own mini cycle track, a fencing arena and a treadmill for the show-jumping horses. Talk about show offs! Of course the Americans won the Games with Germany coming in second.

Sunny morning in January
I was in the Stadionplein neighbourhood the other morning and was struck by the Stadium’s beauty. It now houses small businesses and is used occasionally for track events. It is not generally open to the public but it’s possible to book a guided tour (minimum of 5) for 10 euros per person. The stadium was open so I took a few surreptitious photos. Definitely want to book the tour now! Perhaps I will see you there.


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Get Ready for a New Year’s Bash!

We all want to create or experience characters that come off the page, don’t we. Portability is the phenomenon by which fictional characters manage to exist outside the text of their original literary setting. Freed and animated by public imagination they no longer need their authors to create stories and settings. They walk amongst us and are especially popular on the telly around Christmas and New Year. Dickens was the master at creating portable characters; his most famous examples being Scrooge, Fagin, Miss Havisham, Mr Micawber and Bill Sikes to name but a few.

Deerstalkers and all that
Sherlock Holmes has had so many spin-offs and incumbents it’s hard to remember them all. When I worked at an Art Supplies shop on Baker Street in the eighties, tourists would wander into the shop daily asking for Sherlock Holmes’ address. It seemed churlish to say he was just a fictional character and hadn’t actually lived anywhere, so I always directed them over the road to 221B which is now a museum dedicated to the world-famous detective!

Sherlock Holmes Museum 221B Baker St

Sherlock Holmes Museum 221B Baker St

Fan Fiction
Recently ITV breathed new life into ‘Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.’ He (or they) has been made considerably sexier in order to appeal to the YA audience who have been weaned on the Twilight series. Fan-fiction is another way of expressing our love of portable characters. One of my favourite examples of fan-fiction is ‘Wide Sargasso Sea‘ by Jean Rhys. This prequel of Jane Eyre shows us how the mad woman trapped in the attic at Thornfield Hall came to be mad in the first place. At a recent production of Jane Eyre, live-streamed from the Old Vic, Berthe Mason was re-imagined yet again, this time as an opera Diva who appeared in a flame-red dress and sang the musical score for the key scenes on stage. This didn’t work for me; I think the character of Berthe Mason has to represent danger of violence and fear of madness otherwise the novel loses much of its tension.

The Considerably Sexier Dr Jekyll

The Considerably Sexier Dr Jekyll


Shrek burps and farts but we love him all the same!

Imperfections Create Sticky Characters
So how do we create portable characters in our writing? I guess if I had the answer to that I would be signing a six-figure book deal but closer observation tells me they can be basically good or evil but we identify with them because of their flawed humanity. Would we have remembered Scrooge so well if he hadn’t been mean? Would Holmes be so appealing if he was polite and nice to everyone? Inspector Morse was a troubled loner. Wouldn’t we have warmed to him much less if he had been happily married and secure? We can identify with animals/fantasy beings too. Think of fun-loving but incompetent Baloo in ‘Jungle Book,’ mad but affable Toad in ‘Wind in the Willows’ or oafish but loveable Shrek in his eponymous book.

Who are you coming as?
So let’s imagine we are having a New Year’s bash and you are going to dress up as your favourite portable character. Remember that animals and fantasy beings can also exist outside the pages of a novel and as we are having a virtual party you are not bound by the practicality of finding a good costume! I’ve decided to come as Eliza Doolittle so excuse me while I pretend to be posh and practise pronouncing my haitches. Who are you going to come as? See you near the booze and grub, I mean champagne and canapés…

Eliza Doolittle transformed into a Society Lady

Eliza Doolittle transformed into a Society Lady

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Meet the Christmas Baubles!

It’s called Murphy’s Law, that tendency for your toast to land butter side down if you drop it. So, in keeping with this tradition when Christmas Baubles with a front always twizzle around showing their least favourable side, I have named this phenomenon Rudolph’s Law. A few hours and scratched hands later they are hanging the right way on our Norwegian Spruce. OK, I know the Spruce drops needles but it’s the only one true Christmas tree IMHO. And it smells nice too.

Our favourite Christmas Tree decorations have special memories attached and part of the magic of this time of year is remembering all those lovely places and people. So I’ll pretend that my tree has made it to the Antiques Roadshow and give you a short biography and provenance of featured baubles.

Best shop in Amsterdam for buying traditional painted baubles, is the Mechanish Speelgoed Winkel on the Westerstraat at number 67. For children aged 0-90 years old. The owner imports many of his toys from Germany. Lose yourself in its magical interior and I bet you won’t leave empty-handed.

Nellie the elephant broke a few years back but the shop still stocked the design so resurrected she joins her Toy Soldier once more! Who knew that Christmas baubles could be gender specific?



The Nutcracker candle comes from the Dresden Striezelmarkt and the rather gaudier one is from a dollar shop in Williamstown, Massachussetts. The characterful frog is from Aachen Christmas Market. Still no sign of a Prince on his way though…



From the Bijenkorf before it got ideas above its station and Pradaified everything. Bought in guilders! Although, I had a quick look and it seems they still do stock some nice decs for the discerning buyer. The horse went off his rockers a while back, but he looks pretty happy about his newly liberated situation.



Handcrafted by friends, Pam Barick (present) and Rozie Keogh (chandelier) these two make it to the tree every year!



This opulent mermaid beckoned me into a shop on Monterey Bay in California as evening fell and the shop windows lit up. I wonder if she ever regrets leaving California and living in a box most of the year?


Last but not least two angels. The embroidered angel was purchased as part of a set from Tuin Centrum Osdorp in the nineties. She was hand-embroidered in Hungary. I usually hang her far away from the gobby mermaid as she is a gentle soul and likes to practice her harp in peace. The felt angel is by the wonderful Hannah Kemp who sells some of her creations in Talgarth, Wales and on Etsy via the link.



So from Frank,  me and the baubles I wish you a very Merry Christmas and A Sparkly New Year!





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Christine Risley: Works and Research

I would like to dedicate today’s blog to a very formative person in my life, Christine Risley. She was my personal tutor when I studied textiles at Goldsmiths from 79-81 and later became a close friend. She is much missed by all who knew her. I urge anyone who is in or near London to go and see this wonderful exhibition dedicated to her work and research.


Goldsmiths Library Blog

Christine Risley: Works and Research

Constance Howard Gallery
Deptford Town Hall Basement
24th November 2015 – 23rd December 2015
Tuesday – Thursday
11am – 5pm

Late opening and Christmas drinks: 8th December 2015

Event info

Christine Risley was a key member of Constance Howard’s remarkable and innovative textiles department at Goldsmiths College, and an influential figure in the craft of textile art in her own right. It is with great honour that the Textile Collection is able to host Christine Risley: Works & Research and honour the memory of an integral member of staff in the development of textiles as a craft at Goldsmiths.


Curated in collaboration with former colleagues and personal friends of Christine. Using original artworks and materials from the Textile Collection, Christine Risley: Works and Research presents an exclusive look at the life, works and influences of the late textile artist.

Christine was introduced to…

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Northampton, Amhurst and the Mohawk Trail

Here it is then, the third and final part of my road trip! Sorry for the delay, I am once again doing National novel writing month and writing at least 2,000 words per day. So far so good but the blog has taken a back seat!

After leaving Vermont we drove towards Northampton in Massachusetts to visit friends Jody and Greg whom we knew when they lived in Amsterdam. Jody is a very talented writer and was a highly valued member of a small writing group in Amsterdam. Jody and Greg have now repatriated. We stayed in a log cabin a few miles away from Northampton where they live. The log cabin was built by an artist who had sculpted all sorts of weird and wonderful creatures in the surrounding land.

Days 14, 15 and 16 – Amhurst and Northampton. Highlights; Art in the Orchard and the Emily Dickinson Museum.

Short Youtube film of Art in the Orchard

Days 17, 18 and 19 – The Mohawk Trail, Historic Deerfield Museum, Bridge of Flowers in Shelburne Falls, Mount Greylock, Williamstown, MassMoca and the Clark Art Institute – a stunning museum in amazing rolling countryside. And on my final day I got some horse-riding done in the Berkshires. Many thanks to Bonnie Lea Horse Farm and four-legged friend, Isaac; what a handsome fellow!

Days 20 and 21 – Drive back through Albany and Syracuse and final night at Niagara Falls. A drive along the Queen Elizabeth Highway towards Toronto, then handing our lovely rental car in and heading back home :(

Short Youtube film of our drive through the Berkshires up to Mount Greylock


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Adirondacks NY, Lake Champlain and Vermont

Our actual leaf-peeping trip began in the Adirondacks, in NY state. The Adirondacks is a rugged, mountainous region famous for its lakes and winter skiing, so I hadn’t expected to see the stunning fall colours which arrive earlier than in New England. I was more unpleasantly surprised by the rural poverty in this region. In the build up to the presidential elections there were several televised debates and Hilary Clinton quoted statistics of 15% of American households living under the poverty line. This wasn’t hard to believe in upstate NY, clear evidence of it was shown in the ramshackle clap-board houses where it was hard to believe people actually lived. Impoverished living conditions contrasted starkly with the natural beauty of the surroundings.

What a change when we got off the ferry that crossed Lake Champlain and entered the picture-perfect state of Vermont, with its red barns, covered bridges and luscious farm land. Here the average income appeared to be much higher, reflected in a generally more affluent appearance both of people and buildings.

Days 6, 7 and 8 – Lake Saranac, Adirondacks. High points: visiting Robert Louis Stevenson’s Cottage, climbing Mt Baker and seeing the High Gorge Falls
Day 9 – Lake Champlain, Burlington, Vermont. High points: Taking the ferry over Lake Champlain, meeting superhost Nancy and a couple from the UK with whom we shared mutual friends, and watching the sun set over the lake.
Days 10, 11, 12 and 13 – Shelburne, Vermont. High points: visiting Shelburne Museum, climbing Mt Mansfield and meeting superhosts Laurie and Mark.

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From Niagara Falls to the Thousand Islands #bucketlist

As some of you may know, Frank and I have recently been on the trip of a lifetime. Niagara Falls and New England in the Fall were on both our bucket-lists. Seeing the sun rise over Niagara Falls has got to be one of the most truly awe-inspiring sights we have ever seen in our lives!

The only snag is with having smartphones always at hand is that one takes too many photos and then back home, the difficult process of making a selection begins. So it has taken a good week to break the photos up into bite-size pieces to go on the blog.

Day 1 – Arrive in Toronto
Day 2 – Niagara Falls and Niagara Parks Botanical Gardens
Day 3 – Kingston (former capital of Canada)
Days 4 and 5 – A Thousand Islands and crossing the bridge to the USA. (Yes, the Thousand Islands Dressing was dreamed up by a hotel owner whilst sailing amongst the eponymous islands)

And we met some fellow Airbnb superhosts on the way! A huge thanks to BethDeborah and Kathleen (click for their listings) for making us so welcome in Canada, and for those scrumptious muffins! This was the just start of our itinerary. Over the next few days I will be posting more photos of our three-week trip!

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Create a Thunderclap! Spread the power of books and reading


Invest your social networks and empower children across the globe!
Writers Abroad (expat group of writers of which I am a member) would like you to invest your social networks and help us make a Thunderclap across social media about our forthcoming anthology, Kaleidoscope! It’s for a great cause. All profits we make through book sales go to Room to Read, who work with communities and local governments across Asia and Africa to develop literacy skills.

We have set up a ‘Thunderclap’ to be released on October 2nd. This method asks people to sign up for one post to be posted on their Twitter, Facebook or Tumblr (or all three) profiles. It’s a one off post and it means that these social media sites will post the marketing information at exactly the same time on the same day which is very useful.

 However, we need a minimum of 100 people to sign up and we’re busy contacting family and friends to sign up but we still have a way to go. I’ve posted the instructions below. I promise it doesn’t take a minute and once you’ve signed up that’s it. Please also ask family and friends, the milkman, the dustman anyone you like! To sign up. Many thanks in advance:)

To make your vote count, please go to:

 1. Click on the The Thunderclap link

2. There you will have the option to ‘support’ through FB, Twitter or Tumblr.

3. Click one of the options. It’ll bring up a draft of the post that will go on your page on the     2nd October.

4. Personalize the message if you want.

5. Say yes. It’ll say Thank you.

6. Then, you’ll be given the option to RE-POST to social media right now, saying you’ve just     supported it. This will encourage other people because they’ll see the post and sign up as    well.

Later, you can go back to the Thunderclap page and post again on your page, to encourage more people to do it. You can only post once each, on each form of social media.

Please note that if you simply share the pic/link, your support won’t register. You HAVE to get to the Thunderclap page and say yes, you agree to have it posted on that day.

Lovely reader, you rock! Both images are also linked to our Thunderclap page.


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Psychic Distance; from Wide-angle to Close-up

Here I am then; a York Festival of Writing alumna! And what a weekend it was. I knew it was going to be good when the Keynote Address featured best-selling authors Nicci Gerrard and Sean French. I attended workshops with irresistible titles; There Be Dragons, Slushpile Hell to Slushpile Heaven, Psychic Distance, the Arc and the Impetus, Writing Sex, Hold Back the Monster and the rather more down-to-earth Should I Self-publish. Besides all this I had a rare chance to don my glad rags and socialise with other writers, agents and book doctors during a Gala Dinner and also mingled more informally during breakfast, lunch and numerous coffee breaks. I was a newbie to the festival so had no idea what to expect or what the scale would be. Around four hundred writers attended the weekend!

A chance to have one-on-ones with agents or book doctors was part of the weekend package. These sessions had the atmosphere of X-Factor auditions; we were all asked to be ten minutes early for our one-on-ones, then wait in a chair until the bell went and only then were we allowed to hurry towards our chosen book doctor/agent and pitch our work or pick their brains for ten minutes. Something akin to speed dating I imagine and even more nerve-racking. On the up side it is encouraging to know that agents are looking for new writers. They don’t know what the next big thing in publishing will be and for all they know, as one agent said, ‘one of you could be It.’

Of the vast amount of useful information I absorbed, I would like to share the technique I learned from book doctors, Emma Darwin and Debi Alper  about Psychic Distance. It is also sometimes called Narrative Distance because it describes where the narrative (and also the reader) stands in relation to the main character.

Another way of looking at it is how deep the reader penetrates the character’s mind. The closest psychic distance would describe thoughts, feelings and physical sensations experienced by the MC and the furthest psychic distance would describe the era or the setting in which the MC lives. The trick is to focus in slowly on your protagonist. Going from the furthest psychic distance to the closest in one step alienates the reader and so these stages have to be covered incrementally. Imagine you are holding a camera and are closing in on your subject very gradually from wide-angle to close-up and finally getting inside the character’s head as shown in the film stills below.

The film version of ‘The Shining’ is a perfect example of the incremental approach of psychic distance. First, we are introduced to the setting and the family as they drive up to the remote hotel. Then we slowly, slowly get inside Jack Torrance’s head as he becomes more and more estranged from reality and his family. As the story reaches its climax we share Jack’s skewed vision but we’re never quite sure if the malignant spirits emanate from Overlook Hotel or exist primarily in Jack’s head as he battles social isolation, alcoholism and madness.

How do you use psychic distance in your writing? Perhaps you are a reader and have found yourself shivering while reading about a character battling through a snow storm which means the writer has done a great job!

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Writers Abroad Magazine – Free to download!

Here it is! Our third edition of Writers Abroad Magazine for your perusal. Click here or on the magazine cover to read.The link will allow you to read it on-line or alternatively download a PDF copy here 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.

Writers Abroad Magazine

A word of welcome from leading WA member, Jo Lamb.

Editorial Issue 3

Welcome to our third issue of Writers Abroad Magazine. As usual it is packed with something for everyone: poetry, fiction, articles, interviews and lots more.

However, this has been a sad time for Writers Abroad. In early June, two of our members died within days of each other. Mary had been struggling with illness on and off for some time but was a feisty lady in her ninth decade! Jany had not been ill for long and it was a shock when we learnt of both their deaths. Mary and Jany were dedicated WA members and supplied us with lots of humour and advice. We remember them both here in the magazine and will be dedicating this year’s Anthology, Kaleidoscope, to them both.

WA members as well as writing content for this publication have been busy reading, editing and proofing submissions for Kaleidoscope. We have selected a wonderful mixture of flash fiction, poetry and short stories to keep you entertained and at the same time raise money for our chosen charity, Room to Read. Kaleidoscope will be published as a paperback on Monday 12 October 2015.

Sign up here for a reminder and details of where to buy.

We hope you enjoy reading our magazine and would be grateful if you leave us some feedback on your experience so we can continue to improve it. All those who complete our short survey will be entered into a prize draw for a free e-copy of our Anthology! Click on WA Mag Feedback at the end of the magazine.

Best Wishes



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