Published in Stringybark Stories!

I am happy to announce that my short story, Caged Birds, set in Amsterdam’s Red light District was highly commended in The Seven Deadly Sins Short Story Award which means publication in the anthology, ‘Gift of a Casserole.’ It is available as an e-book (in all e-reader formats) for $3.99 USD on Smashwords. Or pre-order as a hard copy, via Stringybark Stories

The collection includes stories inspired by lust, envy, greed, wrath, sloth, gluttony and pride. What a collection of sins to make the heart beat faster. This is the second anthology of short stories published by SBS that explores these dark human motivations. Presented for your enjoyment the thirty highly commended and three prize-winning stories from the Stringybark Seven Deadly Sins Award 2017

Danny stared through the glass at the young, voluptuous woman, her turquoise bikini luminous in the subdued street lighting. A gaggle of men formed a half-circle outside the window in Amsterdam’s red-light district. Danny’s bestie, Si, egged him on.
“Go on, Dan, she’s the one, dude!”
Danny’s heart sank. Why had he agreed to have his stag do in Amsterdam?
— From “Caged Birds” by Susan Carey

Casserole Cover Small

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Day trip to Lemmer, Friesland

Not fancying a bumper-to-bumper drive towards Zandvoort, husband and I spent a couple of hours in the very pretty Friesian town of Lemmer a few weekends ago. It was a baking hot Sunday afternoon and after recovering from our non-air-conditioned drive we enjoyed soaking up the atmosphere in this picture perfect harbour town. It’s only an hour’s drive from Amsterdam but I felt I was entering a totally different world, even another country. I don’t know Friesland that well but it’s a lot less cramped than the Randstad and the description, big sky country, seems very apt.

The rather inward-looking, parochial atmosphere of the inner town of Lemmer is at odds with the wide horizons offered over the Ijsselmeer. Mainly German tourists visit in the summer months which results in what I experienced as a rather curt tone towards foreign accents of any description. I’ve lived in NL long enough to be used to the Dutch brusqueness but this seemed even stronger than that. Possibly there is some underlying resentment from the older generation towards the tourists that now supply the town with its livelihood. Understandable, perhaps but the families that lived from fishing must have largely died out by now.

Things to do

Lemmer is definitely worth a day trip and if you enjoy water sports and want to visit the Friesian Lakes this is a good place to base yourself. You won’t go short of restaurants and all the major supermarkets have stores there if you prefer to self-cater. They even have a British pub if that is your thing! You can also visit the nearby  Woudagemaal which is the pumping station that protects Lemmer from the substantial flood risks which accompany its unique location. Woudagemaal is a Unesco World Heritage site.

Lemmer’s history

The town of Lemmer developed in a strategically vulnerable place on the Zuiderzee. During the centuries Lemmer has been besieged by aggressors many times. In the periods of peace between the military fracases, Lemmer grew into a lively harbour. The village and waterfront changed unrecognisably in 1887 when a new lock was built. ‘The tide is going to turn and it waits for neither Princes nor gentlemen;’ is one of the six proverbs painted onto the neo-classical lock-keepers’ houses.

Alongside seafaring and its related industries, the fishing industry defined Lemmer’s character and contributed to its income. But when the Afsluitdijk was completed in 1932, the salt water Zuiderzee changed into the fresh water Ijsselmeer. An even bigger change was caused by the creation of the Noordoostpolder which began in 1936. This meant that 48,000 hectares was reclaimed from the sea and that sounded the death knell for the local fishing industry and caused a rapid and irrevocable decline of the town’s former lifeblood. Nowadays, picturesque Lemmer with its many canal-side restaurants and bars, draws thousands of tourists each summer because of its unique positioning between the Ijsselmeer and the lure of myriad water-sports in the Friesian Lake area.

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Writers Abroad magazine offers a chance to win 15 euros of Amazon gift vouchers!

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We are delighted to publish our sixth issue of Writers Abroad magazine, The Third Space, which includes an interview with renowned author, Peter May. 

I have contributed an article about Anne Frank and also a review of psychological thriller, The Breakdown by B A Paris.

You can access it via Joomag 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.

You can access a direct PDF copy to download here

In this issue we’ve included a literary quiz. The first reader to email (address in mag) the correct answers will win 15 Euros worth of Amazon Gift Vouchers! 

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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 ‘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, cafés 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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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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