Monday, October 29, 2012

Slipping up over Second Languages

I know some of my friends here are bi-lingual and others are even tri-lingual, so maybe you'll know what I'm talking about.

Do you find that you no longer speak either or any of your languages perfectly anymore? Do you find yourself puzzling over whether you're mixing your words and phrases up with one of the others, or, like me, you can only think of words in the second language when you're trying to come up with one in the first?

Another problem is just simply using the wrong words for things, which I personally seem to be doing a lot these days.

I mean take the word 'ship' for example. There's a distinct difference in English between a ship and a boat. For one thing, it's a matter of, simply, size. In English, a ship conjures up images of cruise liners, vast sea-going vessels and tankers. A ship is big. I don't know at what point a boat becomes a ship, but I do know my barge is not one. Why is it then, that I cannot remember to call my barge a barge, or even a boat and not a ship? I do know, of course. It's because in Dutch even a cabin cruiser can be referred to as a schip and I've just got into the habit of using it without even thinking.

I was talking to an English colleague the other day when I happened to mention putting my ship on the slipway. Her eyes widened just ever so slightly (as I said, she's English, and therefore, very polite). I noticed it though and thought back to what I'd just said. Oops. So laughing, I told her my problem.

But it's not just Dutch that gets in the way. Most of you know that I lived in South Africa for twenty years, and my first language became seriously tainted with a mixture of old military terms, two hundred year old Dutch and Zulu. Yes, I hear you think. What a mess! There we said things like "I'm going on leave" instead of "on holiday" or people were "retrenched" rather than made redundant from their jobs. Then we'd leave a restaurant and say. "Well that was lekker, but I'll need some muti for the indigestion, boykie, so let's pay and rij" (pronounced 'ray'). A fair translation would be  "That was delicious. I'll need to take some medicine for the indigestion, guys, so let's pay the bill and go," Or it would be "Man, these plakkies hurt," (my flip flops hurt) or "Why doesn't he just voetsak!" (Why doesn't just b****r off). Even my family were totally mystified.

These days, though, I talk freely of being stuck in a file (a traffic jam), going on the helling (the slipway), turning up the kachel (heater) and so on. The problem is, the more I do it, the more difficult it is to remember the English words when I want them. The even greater problem is that I don't speak Dutch all that well, either, so in the end, I'm not sure that this second language thing is doing me much good. I shall finish up stumbling cheerfully through a motley selections of words and sentences just to make myself understood in the simplest of situations. They call it adaptation. Maybe it is, but I don't know what it does for my communication?

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Marketing mania

This week has been exciting for me with the launch of the new edition of Watery Ways (Boathooks Books by Sunpenny Publishing). I am very pleased with the new version, especially as it has Koos's photos in it to add to the interest. It has also been professionally edited and with its new cover, it feels as if it has finally come to maturity.

That being said, there is a side to publishing that I'm finding quite difficult to deal with, and that is the marketing. I come from a marketing background and spent several years as the marketing manager for a medical insurance company in South Africa. It's a world I know about and understand, and when it's for somebody else, it's a world I enjoy, but it's not really what I want to do now.

My problem is that I'm now a full-time teacher by day and a writer by whatever time I can scratch that's left. And that's not much. I always have huge amounts of marking to do (I teach academic writing, so that does not involve multiple choice testing...oh no!), and equally huge amounts of preparation for new courses (I'm freelance, so hardly ever do the same course twice). However, now I've managed - thanks to Sunpenny Publishing - to get published, the time that's left is being severely curtailed by the extent to which I have to try and promote the said published books. In itself, I don't mind doing it and as an exercise, I find it quite a challenge, but it's not really what I want to be doing with whatever time I can scratch etc. I want to be writing new stuff. I have a work in progress on the go, a series of children's stories to finish, plus a whole heap of short stories I want to write not to mention the sequel to Watery Ways. But when am I going to find the time to write them if I have to spend half the whatever time I can scratch tweeting myself silly?

It's a toss up in the end, isn't it? If I don't invest the time Tweeting, Facebooking and Blogging, I'll never sell enough books to have the independence to spend the time I want on writing. On the other hand, if I keep writing without doing all the marketing, I'll probably be a lot happier, but with no prospect of independence, so what's it to be?

What I do like on Twitter in particular is the contact with other writers. Through Twitter, I've made contact with Jo Carroll (see previous post), Carol Hedges (future post to be), Michelle Wheatley and Rosalind Adam (also bookmarked for future posts). This has been great as I'd been feeling a bit despondent about the demise of the blogging community and now I have some new contacts with the same interest and passion - writing.

What I like on Facebook is the contact with my dispersed family as well as old friends from former blogging circles and from my former lives (if that's what I can call the different phases of my life). I appreciate all the support and encouragement they give me immensely. But I lack the drive and compulsion to be a real social media success, so this will always be a bit of a struggle.

In the end, I suppose I shall have to try and find the balance between the writing and the marketing. I haven't found it yet, but I do know that above all, I have to keep on writing. That is what I do, what I want to do and what keeps me going. Without the creative output, none of the rest of it makes any sense at all. I'm sure I'm not the only one who feels this way, though, and wonder how many other writers have the same dilemma....

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Jo Carroll - in the spotlight


After reading Hidden tiger, I really felt I wanted to know more about Jo Carroll and her intrepid wanderings. I'd already asked if she would join me here for a web interview and I was so glad when she said yes. I had a lot of questions to ask!  I was intrigued by what prompted and inspired her to go travelling on her own to such remote places. Her answers are all so interesting, I didn't want to edit a thing, so here they are - unadulterated, unabridged, untouched and in full!


1.Jo, I positively gobbled ‘Hidden Tiger’. It simply carried me along, and I loved the fact you wrote it all in the present tense. It felt as if I was there with you and it really was all happening as I read it. Was this a deliberate choice, or do you always write in the present time?

It was a choice – though an easy one to make, as all the diaries are written in the present tense – often in caf├ęs and bus stations along the way. So taming them in the present was much easier than putting it all in the past. I hope, also, that it is more fun for the reader – being swept along, as it were, rather than simply looking back.

2. Have you always been a traveller? I’ve been to your website, and there are some great trips described there, but how far back does your travel bug go?

I’ve wanted to travel since my teens, but it was much harder for women to take off then. And then I was taken up with work and children – so the travel dreams went on the back burner for a long time. But once my daughters were launched and I realised that independent travel might be possible – well, there was nothing stopping me then (apart from nerves – I still sit in the airport before I fly and wonder what I really think I’m doing!).

3. I loved the way you described all your feelings and reactions in Hidden Tiger – the fear of being so close to the tiger and the trepidation you felt on the Siddhartha highway after the cyclone. It all seemed very intense. Was any of this just a tiny bit embellished for the sake of the story, or was it all for real?

I have never been as scared in my life as I was coming down the Siddhartha highway after the cyclone. There was no need to embellish that at all. The tiger – well, that was surreal. I couldn’t quite believe I was being led closer and closer to it – so I have played with that a bit.

But you raise an interesting point – the role of ‘truth’ and ‘untruth’ in memoir. I never make incidents up – so everything in Hidden Tiger and in Over the Hill and Far Away actually happened, but as a writer I make judgements about what will make an interesting story, and so leave out days of sitting on buses or pottering about on beaches, even though this may give the reader the idea that it is one adventure after another.

4. You always seemed to make friends easily in the book. Is this normal for the Nepalese? Are they generally friendly and hospitable?

I love the Nepalese – yes, they are generally friendly and wonderfully generous. And I am permanently curious, and so ask questions from anyone who looks willing to talk. I am also willing to tell them about me, and about my life at home – which feels fair exchange for the stories they tell me, but that bit of the conversation doesn’t make it into the books. But it does make it easier to make reciprocal relationships.

5. As a woman travelling alone, do you feel this is a disadvantage, or do you find that you make more friends as a lone traveller than you would if you were with someone else?

I love travelling alone. Although I have to think about safety in a way that I might not have to if I had company, I find it easier to meet local people, many of whom find the concept of a woman travelling alone very strange and begin with the ‘where is your husband’ question. I generally tell the truth (he died), which somehow opens up the conversation making confidences possible and suddenly I’m invited home to tea. (I don’t always go! Sometimes a polite refusal is necessary.)

6. I read that you sing in a choir at home. Would you tell me something about that? What kind of music do your perform and do you sing in concerts?

It’s a Choral Society – and we do proper concerts at Christmas and Easter. I’ve sung Mozart’s Requiem and Jenkins’ The Armed Man – so it’s serious singing, but we have a lot of fun. And I love what it does to my head – I always come home from rehearsals humming. I think it’s impossible to sing and think about anything else, which is probably why I love it.

7. I noticed that most of your travelling has been to the east. Do you have any plans to go west at all?

I’ve done a couple of road trips in America, but not written about it. I found it hard to meet people there, and the scenery – while wonderful – is known to many from watching films. But you never know, I might go again.

And I really want to go to Africa – even wondered about Madagascar in January. But it’s the cyclone season (need I say more?)

8. When do you think you will be off on your next trip, and where will it be?

I’m off just after Christmas. I booked a flight to Bangkok on a wet Friday, when I was fed up with the weather! I’d like to head north into Laos, if I can find an easy land border (I think there’s a train) – so I’m at the Lonely Planet studying stage. But I’m definitely going.

9. You mentioned that you write a diary when you are away. How does this help you when it comes to writing your books afterwards? How do you decide what to use and what to keep just as memories?

I worked with a mentor when polishing Over the Hill and he said to cut anything that people could see on the telly and make this about me. It was a tough lesson, and involved masses of rewriting, but I think the books are better for it. So I try to think what will work for the reader – a good measure is people’s reactions when I talk about a trip: if their eyes glaze over I know that bit is tedious, but if I can make people laugh then I know I’m onto something.

10. Is there anything that you always take with you on your journeys? You know, that special thing that you won’t leave home without?

I have a ‘kit’ with all the usual emergency stuff – penknife, silk sleeping bag, elastic washing line, sewing kit, plasters etc.

My one extra, which most people don’t carry, is a small fleece blanket – probably designed for a dog basket. It’s light, squashes in the top of my rucksack – and I’ve used it on almost every trip. It’s great for places where the air conditioning is stuck on high and the room is too cold. It’s great for hostels where you might not get enough blankets. It’s great for throwing round your shoulders in the morning when you sit up in bed writing.

11. One last thing, as a writer, do you think of your travels as potential books before you start or have your books evolved from the travelling?

I’ve always written – and when I was working I wrote about work. But the instinct to keep thorough records was easy to transpose into writing a diary.

But the initial drive was to travel. It was when I came home and someone said, ‘You should write a book,’ that I began Over the Hill. Now – I don’t think it’s so easy to separate the two. In fact, I think the only thing that kept me almost sane coming down the Siddhartha highway was thinking how to write it – organising words in my head was the only think I could think of to distract me from the reality that we might fall off the mountain!

Thank you for a great opportunity to visit your blog, Val – what wonderful questions!

It's been a great pleasure, Jo. I was fascinated by the book and intrigued by all these different aspects of your life, so thank you so much for answering so frankly and candidly, particularly questions 3 and 11. These are aspects of writing that I think all of us who do it can relate to.

Thank you again, Jo, and good luck with both the book and your future travels!

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Hidden Tiger Raging Mountain


Last night, I read a great little book titled Hidden Tiger Raging Mountain. It's an e-book only because its author, Jo Carroll, doesn't feel that at twenty seven thousand and some words it is economically viable to print it. Even so, I feel it should get quite some readers given its subject.

Jo is a self confessed travel addict and this book is about the four weeks she spent travelling alone in Nepal. I say alone, but it isn't really true as it seems she was never actually left alone. Her tale reveals a people of enormous kindness, generosity and willingness, and as a result, she was transported from one place to another catered to and cared for by kind arrangement of her friends in this beautiful country.

All the same, it was a journey she took by herself with what I would call intrepid courage. Jo, like me, said goodbye to her first half century some time ago, but the spirit of adventure and the gypsy wanderlust cannot be quelled however 'mature' we are supposed to be. In Hidden Tiger, Jo travels through remote mountainous regions of Nepal as well as dense jungle areas. She always has a guide, but even so, I recognise that underlying awareness of being 'alone out of your comfort zone'. However, that's part of the thrill of being a wanderer and part of the addiction too.

I won't tell the story here, but suffice to say, Jo has adventures of both a great and very scary nature which are infused with all the tension and fear of a good suspense thriller. She also has wonderful experiences with the people she meets and in many ways, I was very touched by the book. It made me realise that wherever you are in the world, there is kindness and generosity just waiting to greet you if you are open to it.

A great evening or weekend read, Jo, and I'm looking forward to publishing your answers to my 'webterview' questions.

For those of you who follow this blog, this is something new I'm going to be doing with other writers I have met through blogging. I'm especially interested in writers who focus on travel and memoirs (like me) but of course, I will try and webterview any authors whose books or lives have interested me.

Watch this space!

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Watery Ways is back on sale....

....In a new, improved and exciting edition.

I first published Watery Ways three years ago through Lulu.com. As a self published book that had very little marketing, it didn't do badly, but marketing really is necessary if you want to gain readers and I never had the time. Now with the support of Boathook Books from Sunpenny Publishing, I'm hoping it will get that extra push. My dream is that Watery Ways in particular will give me a little more freedom from the daily grind - a little more freedom to write more and take to the waters more. It has been my dream since coming to the Netherlands and now I'm hoping it will start to happen - just a bit.

What I am very chuffed about with this new edition is the inclusion of several photos of the Oude Haven and the historic barges that are moored there. These photos are mainly Koos's, so as my long standing blogging friends will know, they are going to be good, but I think it gives more life to the book and I am convinced this edition is just an improvement all round.



I shall now have to devote some time to promoting it again, and I would very much like to do some talks at schools and barge associations connected to Dutch Barges. I'm intending to start making contact with people in the next weeks.

It would be great if it becomes something people will think of for a holiday read at the end of the year. I just need to get some good reviews on Amazon to get things moving. Wish me luck!  Sadly, I don't have Pete Townshend's extra something, otherwise I'd be after some TV spots too. Promoting your book is a tad easier when you already have the gleam of fame around you...at least it looks that way!

Monday, October 08, 2012

What's up

In recent months, I have been practising my Dutch with a friend at the university. In fact, I give her English coaching, but part of that is the writing of a blog in English. She calls her blog 'What's up?', which I quite like as it's just a kind of daily diary - hence the name of this post. The point is that I decided to 'help' her along by writing my own blog in Dutch.

It's surprisingly (or maybe not) difficult. I mean I am so used to rambling on in my own language, aren't I? After all, writing is generally quite an easy process for me. It's like pressing a button and out it comes. I barely even have to think about what's going to come out next (it even surprises me sometimes), but in Dutch? No. It absolutely does not work that way.

In truth, it's a bit like being suddenly deprived of a physical capacity. You know. Like not being able to use a finger when you've injured it. Everything you do is suddenly ten times more difficult. Well for me, writing in Dutch is like having that injured finger. It's slower, in fact painfully slow. I don't have all my usual skills of expression at my disposal. I have to work my way round things until I manage to come out with something resembling what I wanted to say - just like you have do work arounds when you can't use that one finger you need.

Why does this surprise me, you might wonder? Well, I know quite a bit of Dutch these days, and I've got to the stage where I can't remember English words for things now and can only come up with the Dutch ones. In fact, I use Dutch a lot for business communication and for organising my life. But, that's different from real native speaker type fluency and skill. For social and creative communication, I'm still at the extremely conscious incompetence stage. In that respect, I'm still a beginner, a novice and a complete fumbler. Hence the injured finger analogy.

Still. I'll keep practising, and I hope I'll keep learning. Koos tells me I'm not 'fossilising' yet...nice, hey? Actually that's a real term used in linguistics when people get to a certain level and then get stuck. You can fossilise at a very early age. I love the image! Anyhow, I haven't got stuck in a lump of linguistic granite yet, and I am still making progress. I have to in fact. Why? Because next month I'm hoping to take the higher level state Dutch exam. Dus allemaal....ik ga nu slapen en ik wens jullie een goede week. Nighty night, tot ziens en slaap lekker! Tot volgende keer...