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


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.


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


‘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


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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#Oopoeh Helps Combat Loneliness

Loneliness can often plague short-term or long-term expats. Even after 30 years of living abroad one can sometimes feel cast adrift away from family, familiar surroundings and old friends. I grew up on a farm and was always used to having animals around. Animals were just as much a part of the family as we humans were, so the lack of a pet has left me slightly bereft. I travel quite a bit so a full-time pet never seemed practical. Short-term expats may hesitate to take a pet because of the possible quarantine laws of a future country, or the wrench of saying goodbye after a posting abroad is over. So how excited was I when I discovered Stichting Oopoeh Ouderen Passen op een Huisdier. ‘The Elderly look after a pet’. Well, I’m not exactly elderly but I am over 55 years old so eligible to join the site. This is another great sharing economy idea, although unlike Airbnb and Uber I can’t imagine that anyone will be up in arms about this concept undercutting established businesses, unless it’s professional dog walkers of course…

I do love Jack Russells
My family have had Jack Russells for many years and Jack Russells are lively, affectionate, tough and not very vocal dogs. Living so hugger mugger like we do in my neighbourhood a yappy dog would be a real nuisance. So after finding the Oopoeh website I quickly posted a photo, wrote up my profile and scoured the site for Jack Russells in my neighbourhood. My heart was very quickly taken by a seven-year-old JR, named Rakker (Rascal). Stichting Oopoeh mediate the initial contact, only giving out phone numbers when both parties had been approached and a meeting was arranged.

Oopoeh’s fantastic ad

Coming Equipped
After meeting my chosen dog’s owner and a rather invigorating visit to her local park where I discovered that Rakker loved just about anyone who would throw a ball for him, we agreed to me dog-sitting once a week. Rakker’s ‘Mum’ drops him off on her way to work and picks him up at around 6pm and his day is filled with at least two trips to the park, maybe a car ride to the beach and an obligatory swim in salt of freshwater! He comes equipped with dog food, ball, lead, towel, chewy, indoor toy, as it’s a principle of the site that the dog-sitter makes no expenditure for the care of the pet. (Ssshh don’t tell anyone but we have bought him a ball-thrower, doggy treats and I’ve got my eye on a fleece-lined basket. Who knew that urban dogs came with so many retail opportunities?)

Rascal’s My Name and Swimming’s my Game
The first afternoon he spent with us he pined quite a lot and kept running to the door expecting his mum to come back. But now after five visits, he goes straight to our front door after he gets out of the bicycle basket and bounds up the stairs all doggy smiles and wags. We are blessed with a large, dog-friendly park just across the canal from where we live and also there is a special place where dogs can swim. Rakker’s favourite pastime is retrieving balls from the canal! Another upside is that dogs are an enormous ice-breaker and before you know it you are chatting away to other dog walkers or just about anyone who likes the look of the dog.

So if you want de lieve maar niet de lasten, (the love but not the labour) of dog ownership, then Stichting Oopoeh might be for you. You don’t necessarily need to be over 55, young people are eligible to become dog-sitters too, it’s just that older people get first dibs if two people are interested in one dog. Similar sites exist all over the globe, borrowmydoggy in the UK. Just do a quick Google and there is probably one in your country too!

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Are you a Dressage or Rodeo Rider? – Training the Unconscious

Why do some stories, poems, paintings or performances move us when others don’t? Where does a unique artistic voice come from? I believe it begins with a strong connection to the unconscious. The unconscious can be a dark and frightening place; home to fear, anxiety and aspects of ourselves we don’t like or try to suppress. But you also find love, yearning and creativity there. Which brings us rather unexpectedly to dressage.

Dujardin Charlotte, GBR, Valegro Olympic Games Rio 2016

Dujardin Charlotte, GBR, Valegro
Olympic Games Rio 2016

Think of the conscious mind as a dressage rider, rational, connected, concerned with the everyday; the conscious mind gets you to work and pays your taxes. The unconscious mind is the horse; big, unruly and wild, the place of dreams and desires. When the two work together in harmony the results can be spine-tingling.

What happens when we are in the zone?
Neuroscientist, Lewis Hou conducted tests using an MRI scanner on jazz musicians. He compared his differing results when the musicians were playing music from composed pieces, and when they improvised. During the improvised sections, the dorsolateral, prefontal cortex (situated near the temple) was temporarily disabled. This part of the brain is responsible for many cognitive tasks such as planning but also social inhibition. It develops very slowly during adolescence, which is why adults don’t throw screaming tantrums in the cereal aisle in Tesco’s. It’s only in later life when we introduce the rational, critical faculty that we start to distance ourselves from that free-thinking, uninhibited child. While we can happily kiss goodbye to the tantrums, we need to hang onto that creative, uninhibited urge which drives children to paint, draw and write without fear of failure.

Cutting off Teddy Bear’s head
When I was an art student at Goldsmiths University, in my late teens and early twenties, it was easy for me to access my unconscious. I was in a safe, structured environment in which eccentricity and creativity were actively encouraged. When I bought a giant teddy bear, cut off its and head and stuck a piece of mirror shard in its neck, I realised I had a lot of suppressed emotion (bucking bronco unconscious) to deal with. But this emotion was a HUGE source of creativity, resulting in 12 months of output and my final degree show (pictured above). Furred, anthropomorphic furniture displayed in a pastel mint-coloured room allowed visitors to step inside my subconscious world. Beyond the anger, I discovered joy and energy, family and friends left my show feeling uplifted and inspired. This early training in accessing the unconscious has stood me in good stead for all later creative projects. I have rarely suffered from writer’s block. I have had periods of not wanting to write, when there was too much upheaval in my life, but that’s a different story.


Keep the channel open
The characters in Robert Louis Stevenson’s Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde came to the author in a dream. Mr Hyde is the living embodiment of unconscious impulses which the decent Dr Jekyll could not possibly express. Kubla Khan, Jane Eyre, The Shining, The Twilight Series, Stuart Little and Frankenstein were all dream-inspired. Published stream of consciousness writing such as Joyce’s Ulysses or McBride’s, A Girl is a half-formed Thing, are not the only way to write from the unconscious. I believe there are other ways to ‘harness’ the unconscious during writing. Usually a good writing day for me, starts with recording my dreams. My dreams, like most people’s, are often nonsensical, so I rarely use the subject matter but recording them opens the channel between conscious and unconscious minds.
-----------------rodeobillSo are you on friendly terms with your unconscious and does it help you develop characters and plots? Or is it an unwieldy bucking bronco, best avoided in case it throws you off? Perhaps you have some tips to share for getting into the zone. Writing during the month of November for Nanowrimo/switching off your internet connection/retreating to the garden shed? I’d love to hear your ideas.

With thanks to author, Meg Rosoff – Artsnight Review


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Day trip to Kinderdijk and Dordrecht

Planning a holiday requires decision making; where, how, why, what, who with and no small matter, how much? So it’s really lovely to discover a place in your own country, that is nearby, and can give you an enjoyable day trip or even a few days out. So, first drive to the village of Kinderdijk, have coffee and hire bikes at Hop on aforesaid bikes and cycle along UNESCO World Heritage Site, Kinderdijk.

Few Facts

Kinderdijk is a village in the Netherlands, in the province South Holland, about 15 km east of Rotterdam. Kinderdijk is situated in a polder in the Alblasserwaard at the confluence of the Lek and Noord rivers. To drain the polder, a system of 19 windmills was built around 1740. This group of mills is the largest concentration of old windmills in the Netherlands. The windmills of Kinderdijk are one of the best-known and most beautiful Dutch tourist sites.

The Flood of 1421

The name Kinderdijk is Dutch for ‘Child’s Dyke’. In 1421, during the Saint Elizabeth flood of 1421, the Grote Hollandse Waard flooded, but the Alblasserwaard polder stayed dry. People say that when the terrible storm had subsided, a man went on to the dyke to see if anyone or anything could be saved. In the distance, he saw a wooden cradle floating on the water. As it came nearer, it appeared to rock from side to side. A cat was balancing on top of the cradle, stopping it capsizing by jumping back and forth on the cradle’s hood. Eventually the cradle came close enough to the dyke for a bystander to pick it up. The baby was quietly sleeping inside, nice and dry. The cat had kept the cradle balanced and afloat. This story gave birth to the folktale and legend and name, Kinderdijk.

Speed over the Water

After taking in the windmills hop on a Waterbus which leaves from the road at the end of the windmill route, and in about 15 minutes you will find yourself in the beautiful city of Dordrecht. After disembarking, rather like Mary in the Secret Garden, stumble across a walled garden and discover the culinary and horticultural delights of Villa Augustus. A water tower converted into a boutique hotel. The restaurant, in a separate building, serves organic produce from its large and impressive garden. I’m planning to go back for a short stay this summer but it’s easy to do Kinderdijk and Dordrecht in a day trip from Amsterdam. Your OV chipkaart works on the waterbus, service 202 (summer months only) otherwise it’s around 4 euros each way. Alternatively, you could cycle to Dordrecht from Kinderdijk; suggestions for cycle routes on Kinderdijk website.

Oh, and don’t miss the little Fergie, TE-20 in the garden at Villa Augustus. I used to drive this model when haymaking back in the day…

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The Bookworm that Turned into a Starfish!

Writers are often introverts, happy in our own company and communing with imaginary characters. You can find us sitting at our computers, engrossed in a book, making notes, lost in thought. These introverted activities often go hand-in-hand with a hunched-over, low-power pose as we forget our physicality.


But then, because we also exist in the real world, horror of horrors, comes the moment when we have to talk about our work; perhaps at a reading, pitching to an agent or networking at a conference or festival.

Fake it till you make it
Amy Cuddy, author of Presence: Bringing Your Boldest Self to Your Biggest Challenges, had a glittering academic career ahead of her, until a car crash caused brain damage which meant a significant drop in her IQ level. She was told that she should choose another career path, one that didn’t involve an Ivy League University. But Amy was not a quitter, she persevered and worked hard until she overcame her disadvantages and became a Harvard Professor. On the road to recovery she became interested in body language and how it affects us. We probably all know that body language affects how others perceive us, but Cuddy discovered that the body poses we adopt strongly affect how we feel about ourselves.


This victory starfish pose is so innate that even congenitally blind people do it when winning an event.


Laboratory studies showed that adopting an expansive and open high-power pose, for as little as two minutes, raises testosterone and lowers cortisol levels.
Testosterone boosts confidence and cortisol makes us feel stressed and anxious. Unsurprisingly, in the experiment, people who adopted the high-power poses beforehand did significantly better when faced with stressful situations. When Cuddy published her findings the media were all over it, and of course misinterpreted the message. Those power poses need to be adopted somewhere in private, before the important meeting, interview or in our case the performance, reading or workshop.

The Proof of the Pudding…
I have been using this technique now since the end of 2014 for myself and for my students and it works. In my business English groups, if we have an afternoon of presentations then we all adopt a power pose for two minutes beforehand. It’s amazing to see the effect, particularly on female students. Because if you were wondering, yes, women do more often make themselves small and are less likely to adopt a power pose; so this message is especially pertinent for women.


Online Personas
Cuddy also states that adopting a tall avatar, and/or using emoticons skilfully, can help you do better in an online negotiation. I tried this out on a Futurelearn course I was doing at the time. Hitherto, my avatar was a cute but small dog and I got very few replies to my comments. I changed my avatar to Lady Mary (from Downton Abbey) riding side-saddle on a very high horse. The course was about English literature in country houses so the avatar was also apposite. The effect was immediate and I started to get multiple replies to my posts and quite a few from course mentors, which had never happened before.

Even though it may feel silly, this expansive and open body language that equates with power is hard-wired in our primate past. Standing like a starfish for just two minutes could significantly help the success of your next performance. Why not find a private space and give it a go before your next pitch, conference, or any other public appearance. I’d love to hear how you get on.

No starfish were harmed during the writing of this blog.

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Oh, to be in England now that Spring is here;

Well, I was in England and Wales too; for over three weeks. Horse and house-sitting in the beautiful county of N. Shropshire, near Oswestry, which is very near the border into north Wales. It was our privilege and pleasure to look after two lovely Welsh Cobs and three Welsh Mountain ponies, oh and one elderly ram as well, in exchange for our holiday accommodation! We are old hands at home-exchanging but house and pet-sitting was new for us. It involved more duties than we were used to during home exchanges. E.g: lawn mowing, mucking-out stables, mending and cleaning rugs, daily stabling, feeding and grooming of horses etc. Enjoyable, but quite a challenge to take on. While I grew up with horses and am comfortable with them, it was all quite new to Frank. But he took to the Good Life like a duck to water.

Leading horses through a swelling river
I love England (and Wales) in the spring. Birdsong, bluebells, balmy days, the trees coming into leaf, blossom falling and clear nights… But did we get that? Not on your nelly! A cold snap with hail and light snow at the beginning of our sojourn meant the horses had to come in at nights. Torrential rain meant the tranquil and pretty River Morda (which we had to cross in order to lead the horses through to their field) turned into a raging torrent coming up over our knees.

Gambolling lambs and blossom
But finally spring did live up the its poetic hyperbole. The last few days of our stay did give us beautiful weather. Let’s be honest, anyone going to England in the spring expecting only sunshine would be seriously misguided. Even though the weather went through its full gamut of changes which meant extra mucking out, feeding and stabling for the horses, we still had plenty of enjoyable days out. North Shropshire was relatively unknown for us, while we know Hereford and south Wales/south Shropshire pretty well, there were lots of cultural and natural beauties still waiting to be discovered in A. E. Housman’s  Land of Lost Content.

Sightseeing highlights were:

  • Pistyll Rhaedr Waterfall At 80m the highest single drop waterfall in the UK. Go on a weekday if you can and avoid the crowds.
  • Seeing bluebells again after five years of missing them
  • Hearing skylarks (extinct in NL) on a hack in the picturesque and undiscovered Ceiriog Valley

‘A little bit of heaven on Earth’ was how Lloyd George described the Ceiriog Valley.

  • Erddig House. A stately home in Wales where the ‘master’ wrote poetry for each member of the downstairs staff. Picnicking in the Arcadian grounds next to the cup and saucer fountain with the bleating of lambs in the background. Heavenly.
  • Visiting Chester, Chester Cathedral and ambling along the wonderful black and white timbered shopping ‘rows’
  • Horse-drawn canal ride in Maesbury Marsh. He’s a Cracker! That’s the name of the strawberry roan horse who pulls the canal barge along the Montgomery Canal. We now follow each other on Twitter…
  • Chirk Castle Magnificent medieval fortress of the Welsh Marches with lovely grounds to explore.
  • Visiting the picturesque village of Knockin which of course has a shop named, well, can you guess? For non-Brits, a knocking shop is slang for brothel.
  • Walking across Pontcysyllte aqueduct; admiring the dizzying views from the highest and longest aqueduct in Britain, and marvelling at the fact that the mortar holding the bricks together contains oxen blood.
  • Leading the horses through the River Morda – see short film below.
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Writers Abroad Magazine 4th Issue Published Today

Very proud to be a contributor to our wonderful free magazine. I have a poem about the sculptor, Barbara Hepworth’s garden and also an interview with author Bev Jackson in this issue. Put your feet up and read some fabulous fiction, poetry and about the experiences of expats!

Vanessa Couchman

WA Mag 05-16

The latest issue of Writers Abroad Magazine: The Third Space is published today. You can read it online or download a PDF copy directly to read at your leisure. 

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Horses and Hermès. A marriage made in Amsterdam

Exclusive French fashion label, Hermès don’t advertise very much. Well, it’s all rather vulgar isn’t it, dahlings? Hermès create aspirational fashion and equestrian items that most people can only dream of owning. So when I heard that their travelling artisan studio was coming to the Hollandsche Manege in Amsterdam, well how could a girl resist?

Hermes is a French manufacturer established in 1837, today specializing in leather, lifestyle accessories, perfumery and luxury goods. Its logo, since the 1950s, is of a Duc carriage with horse. Thierry Hermès (1801–1878) was born in Germany to a French father and a German mother. The family moved to France in 1828.In 1837, Thierry Hermès first established Hermès as a harness workshop in the Grands Boulevards quarter of Paris, dedicated to serving European noblemen. He created high-quality wrought harnesses and bridles for the carriage trade.

Gee Gees
Hermès’ association with the equestrian world is still strong today; their saddles are much sought-after, so the Hollandsche manege as a venue was a logical and very stylish one.  Visitors get a chance to speak to the artisans and designers that create the luxury products. Let’s face it, it’s the nearest most of us will get to a Hermès bag, scarf or diamond bracelet!

The silk scarves were my favourite pieces and because of my background in textiles, it was especially interesting to watch the silk screen demonstration. I know how difficult this process is and the degree of accuracy and skill it requires. No wonder those beauties cost a fortune!  It’s all done by hand on a small scale at their headquarters in Lyon. One 36 inch scarf requires 250 silk cocoons to make. Hermès scarves have been worn by the world’s most elegant (and rich) women; Grace Kelly, Jackie Kennedy and Queen Elizabeth II. My favourite contemporary scarf (unfortunately it didn’t find its way into my handbag) was the winged Pegasus zebra designed by Central St Martin’s alumna, Alice Shirley.

So hurry dahlings. You only have until Sunday evening to experience a whiff of luxury in usually very down to earth Amsterdam!
1 thru 10 april 2016
11.00 uur tot 19.00 uur

Hollandsche Manege – Overtoom next to. 179
Free entry


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Peter Pan Publishing

I confess to being a bit sniffy about the whole colouring book phenomenon. Probably it can be traced back to a childhood experience when a school ‘friend’ decided my carefully drawn kangaroo would look very much better with a nice containing black line around the edges. Ever since then my spirit has rebelled against limiting lines of any description.


Don’t get me wrong, I used to love drawing and colouring my own creations during art college days. I regret that I don’t make more time for these activities in my life now. Oxytocin is released when we draw and colour in. Oxytocin is the happiness hormone which is produced when we stroke an animal, or hug someone. Colouring is shown to reduce stress, encourage mindfulness and generally help people switch off from from our overly technological world. A drawing class with a teacher is expensive and would perhaps involve a difficult commute, whereas a colouring book and a set of felt pens are easily accessible and within most folks’ budget.

Johanna Basford started the colouring trend in 2011, with her wildly successful, ‘The Secret Garden.’ Basford creates intricate, sophisticated designs which are extremely popular amongst colourists. So much so that demand for her books often outweighs supply. Five colouring books (two were Basford’s) were in the top fifteen best-sellers on Amazon in 2015; so although physical books sales are generally declining, the colouring book’s popularity is making many a publisher rub their hands together in glee. Ironically, given that drawing takes us away from our devices, the trend has been fuelled to a certain degree by social media. Fans post their creations on FB, Pinterest, Instagram and also exchange tips regarding the best pens or swap ideas about colouring techniques.

But this phenomenon is also part of a greater trend amongst adults for childhood experiences. The ‘Peter Pan market’ started in publishing, before colouring books. The growth in sales of children’s and Young Adult books to older readers has been well documented. I guess J K Rowling and Harry Potter got that particular ball rolling. So what do you think? Would you be happy to give colouring a go or do you think it’s all a bit puerile? Are you a closet YA reader; perhaps you have ambitions to write YA, or have you put away all childhood things?

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A Month with Starfish: Volunteering with refugees on the Greek island of Lesbos

At York Festival of Writing last year, I was fortunate enough to meet inspiring writers from all over the world and one of them, Bev Jackson also lives in Amsterdam! We stayed in touch and I’m delighted to share the news that she has recently published her non-fiction book, A Month with Starfish. She kindly agreed to answer a few questions for my blog:


Bev, welcome to my blog! You too are a writer abroad. Why and when did you decide to leave the UK and settle in the Netherlands?
Thank you! I left the UK when I was 19. I had never felt entirely at home in the UK, and when I discovered how open people were here in Amsterdam, I decided to stay.

You’re a translator, aren’t you? Did moving abroad influence your career choice?I’ve always loved languages. I taught English for a while, but translation was easier to combine with raising my children.

We met at the York Festival of Writing in 2015 and this year you published your book. Did attending the festival inspire you? If so, how?
I loved meeting other authors, with whom I have kept in contact.

Your new non-fiction book, ‘A Month with Starfish’ is based on your experiences working as a volunteer with refugees on Lesbos. Why did you go to Greece and what made you decide to write about your experiences?
Greece is my “third country” in a way. I speak Greek and love the country. I am disgusted by the EU’s treatment of Greece. Greece was encouraged to join the EU for geopolitical reasons, to serve as a buffer zone. Its messed-up finances were well known but studiously ignored. After the financial crisis, the EU finance ministers suddenly “discovered” that Greece’s finances urgently needed reform. I was furious at the hypocrisy. And then, when refugees started arriving on the Greek islands, European ministers blamed Greece for allowing people in, even though 90% are refugees from war zones. I am outraged at the callousness and racism around Europe. It was this anger that made me decide to go and help. I felt I had to do something. I knew it was an important moment in time, and that I needed to bear witness.

It sounds like it might be a very sad and distressing book to read and to write, was it?
Not at all. I had a wonderful time, and the book is quite light-hearted, funny in places. The other volunteers were inspiring, and the experience made me realise how materialistic my life had become. It was refreshing to get away from that. And my encounters with the refugees also gave me hope for the future: their warmth and gratitude. When our eyes met, it was a meeting of worlds. Still, I was very lucky that I did not see any people drown. If I had held a dead child in my arms, as some volunteers have sadly experienced, I don’t know if I could have written the book.

How did you decide on things such as; the length of chapters, sequence of events, who/what to include, the structure of the book as a whole?
I kept a blog. But a blog-based book can easily seem episodic. So I structured each chapter around a specific theme. I removed dates to “unbloggify” it, and added context and reflections. I mailed every passage mentioning someone to the person concerned to get their consent for publication. That was a lot of work!

Tell us about your writing routine.
Preferably I write in the morning. Then I take the dogs out, and after that I do my translation work.

How did you come up with the cover for your book? It’s wonderful by the way.
My daughter Tessa Rose Jackson (TRJ Illustration) designed it. The luminous life jacket represents a refugee as well as a volunteer, the little Corinthian curls in the waves evoke Greece, and the outline of the waves vaguely evokes the Lesbos coastline. Amazing!


You chose the self-publishing route. Was it difficult? Do you have any tips for aspiring writers wanting to be published?
I self-published because the issue is so urgent; it’s quicker. Also, I wanted to learn how to do it. The paperback edition was easier to format. I was incredibly lucky in my team: my daughter as designer, a wonderful editor (essential, even though I’m an editor myself), three critical beta readers, and a neighbour who did the HTML for the e-book. Normally the designer and editor would be paid, but because this is a book for charity, none of us is getting paid. All that help was vital. I’d advise anyone who wants to publish an e-book to either use zero formatting or to convert the entire text into HTML. And to read David Gaughran’s book, Let’s Get Digital! My neighbour kindly converted the text to HTML.

Most writers don’t enjoy the self-promotion aspect of their job. How about you?
In this case, the book is serving a more important cause. Promoting my memoir or a novel would feel more uncomfortable.

All the profits of your book go to Starfish, the voluntary organisation you worked for. Where can we download/buy the book?
It is on sale from Amazon, and on Saturday 19 March at 4pm I will be giving a presentation about my book at ABC Treehouse, 11 Voetboogstraat in Amsterdam. Copies will be on sale and I would love to see you there! More information about the venue here.

What is your next project?
There are several! First I will probably return to the memoir I haven’t published yet (one publisher told me I had to get more narrative drive into it) and try to … get more narrative drive into it!

If you could invite any famous people to a dinner party, who would you invite?
I would invite the Greek ex-finance minister Yanis Varoufakis, the American writer Joyce Carol Oates, the Indian writer Neel Mukherjee, and the Nigerian writer Sefi Atta.

Find out more about the voluntary organisation and how you can help by clicking on this link Starfish


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