Thursday, May 23, 2013

Taking Leave of the Luxor

As many of my long term blog friends know, I met my partner Koos here in the Oude Haven. The burgeoning of our friendship into something more serious is also recorded in Watery Ways, my book. But, I should warn anyone who hasn't read it that this is no romantic account, I'm afraid. If that's what you're looking for you'll be sadly disappointed. As I recall, I think all I manage to say on the subject is "Koos and I are officially an item" - discretion being the better part of life in a very small community, especially one where I write about a number of the residents. Luckily, they all know and approve, and, I think (or hope) rather like the idea they have been included.

When I met Koos, he had a lovely tugboat called the Loeki. In fact, he was often known as Koos Loeki in the old days. However, at the time of my arrival in the harbour, he had already bought a new barge which was to be his project over the next few years. This one was called the Luxor, and it also plays quite a starring role in my book.

That was all ten years ago, though. Things have changed - as they do - and Koos finally decided to sell his Luxor, one of the main reasons being he was spending more time with me on the Vereeniging and at the cottage in Zeeland than he was on his own barge.

It took a while to sell probably because the Luxor is different from other barges, so is not what most people are looking for. It is actually a dumb barge, which Koos cleverly built up to look as if it is is loaded, but the "load" disguises a substantial living area. It isn't your standard beautiful Dutch tjalk or luxemotor, though, so it takes a bit of imagination to see its beauty and potential. The hull is lovely, but the rest looks…well… a little plain.

As a do-it-yourself harbour, the work is hard.
Sometimes, this is the only place to have a rest - well guarded of course

Anyway, I digress. A few months ago, a young couple showed genuine interest and decided to buy it. It took some time for the negotiations and decisions to be made, but finally, this last weekend, it all happened and the Luxor had to go on the slipway, our helling, for the dreaded insurance inspection. 

Waiting to leave the helling
Luckily, it passed muster; the bottom was pronounced good except for a strip along the waterline at the bows which had to be repaired urgently due to someone…ahem... sticking their hammer through it (there were a few nervous and uneasy moments about that, I can say) and an area underneath that will be doubled in the summer as that wasn't urgent.

Leaving the helling
Then the new owners set about painting the bottom, while Koos and I started the major clearout, helped by the noble efforts of my wonderful daughters (thank you, Jo and Mo!). In the early days, things used to get lost regularly inside the barge, and it became affectionately known as the Luxor Triangle. Amazingly, none of those things turned up in the clearout, so we still don't know what happened to them (Bermuda here we come!). It took us two days of back-breaking work and soul-searching agony to determine what was to stay and what had to go. In the end we had to be ruthless and just chuck. The regrets will undoubtedly come later.

What about now, though? We have mixed feelings of course. Koos is relieved it is off his back, but sad too as it was his dream project. It was also where we spent many of our early 'together' days. As for me, I was very fond of the Luxor, so I have quite some pangs about seeing it go. On the other hand, I am looking forward to seeing what the new owners do with it because it's not going far. As a historic barge (b.1925), it will stay in the harbour, and may even end up lying next to the Vereeniging again!

The Wijnhaven looking towards the Helling.
You can see the Luxor on the slipway in the distance.

Friday, May 17, 2013

A new trailer for the Skipper's Child!

With just days left till the votes for the People's Book Prize close, I have finally managed to put together a short trailer for the Skipper's Child. A bit late, I know, but there's still the final voting to do, so it might help!

It's taken me far too long to do as I struggle with the new film editing programme I have. I just don't understand how it works and nearly chucked my poor undeserving laptop into the drink. The thing is, the old programme I had was much more user friendly to someone who is familiar with real film editing. I used to help to with editing for a film company in my former life. But the new iMovie is designed for people with gadgets (iPads and the like) that I don't have.

In particular, I have problems adding music to movies now, so luckily for me, Koos came to the rescue and added it on his computer. Even better, the music is his own composition, so I am very happy about that.

Nevertheless, there's still a disappointment in that YouTube has compressed the film so much, the music is a bit out of sync with video now. We will see if we can correct it, but for now, here it is!

UPDATE: Here is a much better version! Thanks again to Koos for fixing the sync (and the sink) for me today :-)

Monday, May 13, 2013

Starting Afresh

A little while ago, Chris Hill, who kindly did an interview here on the barge, did a post about 'How to Write' books. I found it interesting as it's not something I've ever thought much about until recently. That is, I never used to read 'how to write' articles, books, blog posts or anything of that nature. I just wrote. Simple.

But since I've been following a number of writers on Twitter and seeing links to really hundreds of such websites and articles, I've started wondering how much they might help me. I read a few blogs about editing and found them useful, and then I bought Stephen King's book, On Writing. After enjoying the autobiographical part, I waded through the advice - he's a bit dogmatic about some things, and I even felt annoyed about some of his remarks about what makes 'good' writers or 'bad' writers. Since I'm not a fan of his fiction, it wasn't difficult to react with thoughts like "And who are you to say what is good and bad," convinced as I was - and to a large extent still am - that what we think and judge to be good is mostly a matter of taste and choice. Cheeky of me, huh? For sure, I can recognise some writers as great, but I might dislike their subject matter and style. I have once or twice abandoned award winning novels half way through as heaps of self-indulgent twaddle. I won't list those that have inspired this reaction because others might think they are wonderful. And that's the point. It's about what inspires us, and as a writer, I try and write the type of books I enjoy reading. In the end, whatever we think of someone's skill as a wordsmith, it doesn't always mean we will like, respect or even want to read what they write. Apart from that, certain styles and topics come into fashion and then go again.

So what did I learn from Stephen King's book? Well one thing was a consciousness about adverbs that I never had before. He hates them and makes quite an issue of it. I'm still grappling with this one as I just love my adverbs. They give so much colour and humour, and I hate to see them go, but yes, I have to admit I use too many, so the delete key has been busy of late. That's a minor detail, though. The other, more important tips were firstly, when you finish a first edit, leave it alone yourself but print it out and send it to some trusted readers. Ask them to give you honest, constructive feedback. The second is to start doing something else so that you can go back and read your book afresh.

I have now followed both these pieces of advice. As I mentioned in one of my previous posts, I've recently finished an intense edit, and I am now waiting for the printed copies to send out to a few test readers.  The other tip is that I've started a new writing project. This is not fiction. It is the account of how I convert the Vereeniging (the barge in the header picture of my blog) into my home. It will, I hope,  be humorous as much of the process was very amusing and it follows on from Watery Ways, picking up just before I left off at the end of that tale. I am already enjoying the change and I'm finding it much easier to write than fiction, so it's very refreshing for me.

I hope it will move quite fast as I'd like to have the first draft done by the end of the summer. Ambitious? Maybe, but it's good to be busy with something new. And for that, despite my occasional annoyance with his pedantry, I can thank Mr King.

By the way, the man is amazing. He survived the most horrible crippling injuries when he was hit by a reckless driver, and if his book is to be believed, it is his passion for writing that helped him recover after months of hospitalisation, several operations and deep depression. It is a very inspiring book in many respects, and I do recommend it fully (see another adverb!).

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

For Ros - The water I see from my patio

In the comments to my last post, Ros mentioned that she expected me to be able to see water from my garden. Ros, I can see water, but not from where I was sitting in my chair. I was a bit too low. However, from the patio at the back of the little house, this is what I see. The photo above and below were taken last weekend on a beautiful evening.

Sunset from my patio zoomed right out

The photo below this is from just a little higher still as it was taken from the kitchen window! The higher I go, the more water I can see. This was a bit of a grey day, but still a lovely outlook. We call this the Molenkreek, and it used to be a natural watercourse in the times before the land here was drained and the big sea dykes were put up. This whole area used to be semi flooded at high tide, but at low tide, it left these creeks and water courses. Our Molenkreek is therefore a natural stretch of water about one and half kilometres long in total.

View from kitchen

Here is a crop of the map so you can see it. The blue strip at the edge is the big sea canal from Ghent to Terneuzen, and I can see the ships and barges going past from my bedroom window.

Map of Molenkreek. Ghent-Terneuzen sea canal on the left

A zoomed in image of what I see from the bedroom
As you can see, the canal is higher than the surrounding land, making these ships look very surreal as they float across the landscape.

Saturday, May 04, 2013

Bits and Pieces

Life in the flatlands has gone a bit stale on me of late and I am lacking inspiration - feeling flat as it were. I've been meaning to write a post all week, but that 'can't be bothered feeling' has assailed me every time I've thought about it. I'm not sure what it is except possibly what they call here 'voorjaarsmoeheid', meaning spring tiredness. Maybe it's also because I've just finished a long and intense edit on the first draft of a new book, which has left me a little down. I found so much that I didn't like on re-reading it, not to mention a whole heap of repetitive expressions that have all (at least I hope they have) been exterminated, eradicated, eliminated or whatever else you can do with such literary mannerisms. Now, I'm wondering whether it's ever going to be any good. I'm having a few copies printed and sending it to a number of trusted readers who I know will give me good, honest feedback.

So, in the meantime and just to pull myself out of sloth, I'm presenting a post of bits and pieces from my phone camera.

The marvellous thing about these smartphones is that wherever you are, you can always whip your phone out of your pocket and snap something, and the results are not all too bad now. I don't carry a real camera around with me all the time - unlike Koos who would feel more naked without a camera than his shirt - and so the phone is an ideal pocket snapper. The result is that I often accumulate dozens of pictures on my phone before I get round to importing them to my laptop.

These first two pictures are of one of my bookshelves. I was going to write a post about my somewhat eclectic reading tastes, but it was a post I never got round to doing. Are there any books you can see here that you recognise, and any you have read yourselves?  I confess I haven't read absolutely all of them as a few come from Koos (you'll note those - they either have Dutch titles or they're about Poland). I will also acknowledge I haven't enjoyed all of them, but seem to keep them anyway. Notable among these is the one about Atila the Hun, which was all a bit too gory for my tastes. One I have enjoyed very much is by fellow blogger, Christina James. I wrote a review about her In the Family some weeks ago, which you might remember. By the way, the books are two deep, so I'm afraid you can't see the back rows.

These three photos are from a conceptual art event we attended last weekend. The artist is Christa van der Heide who is well known in these parts for her original and fascinating approach to the use of waste   items from industry in her art. It was at this event that my new profile picture on Facebook was taken. We all blew bubbles that floated down and mingled with the glass 'bubbles' on the floor. It was a moving and special event prompted by the artist's desire to confront her own internal conflicts and traumas. The middle photo is one of her pieces of industrial waste art.

And this is my chair in my tiny garden at my escape in Zeeuws Vlaanderen. I have a very small house which is where my sanity is restored after a week in the hectic environs of the middle of Rotterdam. I love it here and below you can see why. The two photos immediately beneath this text are what I see when I sit in my chair. The very last one is the current state of my spring flowers at the front of the cottage. It is of course nothing like the boat, but the boat lies in the heart of Rotterdam's social centre and the overnight noise can drive you to the desire to perpetrate lasting evil on your fellow men. Not good for the soul or for my advancing years, and hence the need to escape to this. 

So there you have it - my bits and pieces for the last week or so. Next time, there will be a proper post suited to the title of this blog. Have a lovely sunny weekend everyone!