Saturday, August 31, 2013

It's All About Rock and Roll - Meet Anne Marie Klein - author, rock fan and reviewer


It's been some time since I did a Weberview, and I felt it was time to pick up a few threads again. Summer's nearly over and work will be mounting up soon, so in this very brief lull before it all begins again, I nabbed friend and author, Anne Marie Klein, to come to my Book cabin on the barge and talk about her series of Rock and Roll novels. I am very honoured to have her here because she's come all the way from Canada! 


I've 'known' Anne-Marie since 2006 when I started blogging.  We've been following each other's writing progress since then. We've even met in the real world twice when she and her husband came to Europe on holiday, so she knows my barge very well having stayed on it herself.

Anne Marie's works are set in Toronto and London, and have an umbrella name of Behind Blue Eyes, but each book has its own title. Read the answers to the questions I posed her and find out more about these very special rock fiction novels.








Me We've known each other a while, Anne-Marie, but could you tell the readers here something about your background and how you came to start writing your rock and roll novels?

AMK: I was raised in Toronto, where I still live and work as a teacher. I started my rock and roll novels in the late 70s, when I was a teenager in the city: the “rock novel” did not exist as a genre, and in my youthful arrogance, decided that I had best start writing one if I wanted to read one. I was a huge Who fan, and was quite captivated by the song Behind Blue Eyes. In my wild imagination, I created a character based on the lyrics, and invented a story to accompany the sad, bad man I had invented. He was a musician because I wanted to write about a rock band, and he had come to Toronto because I wanted to incorporate the local iconic musical landmarks that meant so much to me as a teenager in that period. I ended up putting the original manuscript away for more than 25 years because although I knew my story’s plot was well crafted, I also sensed I lacked the life experience to give the characters the nuance and depth they deserved. It came out of the closet a few years ago, and I dusted it off and starting developing the first book. I divided my long manuscript into the first two books, then grew it into a series which I called Behind Blue Eyes and whose individual titles are all taken from Pete Townshend songs.

‪Me  ‬You've now published three of your books, but I believe there's a fourth one due out this year. Can you tell us a bit about where that will take us in the series?

AMK:  ‬The first two books, Love Reign o’er Me, and Love Ain’t for Keeping, are back to back in the historical timeline, taking the band that Ian Harrington formed from 1978 to 1981. The third book, Let My Love Open the Door, picks up the story in 1986, with the band settled and finding some success. The final book in the series, Empty Glass, will find Ian and his bandmates at the top of the charts. One of the constants in all four books is the ongoing battle between Ian and the demons in his head, and the effects of a family secret and scandal that occurred in childhood. I don’t want to say more because it would spoil it for anyone who has not read the first books, but it’s safe to say that the last book in the series will continue to involve conflict with his family, especially his father, with whom relations are never far from the brink of disaster.

‪Me  Yes, I remember the frequent tense moments with father well. These were part of what made the books so compelling. But ‬Anne-Marie, you've had some great reviews and you've done at least one radio show I know of as well as podcasts, guest posts and a variety of other media events connected to your writing. How did you manage to make such great contacts?

‪AMK: ‬I was fortunate to make a few solid connections with other rock fiction writers as well as music magazines early on when I took to Twitter (once I had understood the proper and effective use of hashtags, I might add), and these contacts were very generous in giving me the opportunity to appear on podcasts as well as in print interviews with them. Another bit of what I can only call serendipity was that as I spent a sabbatical year working on the first two novels, I immersed myself in classic rock so that I could ‘feel’ the period I was writing about and editing, and developed a friendly relationship with a local dj named Dominik Diamond, whose help was invaluable in terms of keeping me amused and entertained while I wrote. He was also generous in writing a blog on his station’s website and doing a radio spot after I sent him a copy of the first book as my way of saying ‘thank you for keeping me sane’. He wrote me a review and introduced me to some local classic rock fans through that exposure, and I found new fans and friends. He’s recently left our classic rock station, Q107 Toronto, and started on the air at Halifax’s Radio 96.5 on August 26th. Do yourselves a huge favour and listen to the Dominik Diamond Morning Show and the new station by streaming it at 

http://radio965.com/mediaplayer/player.asp. He is brilliantly funny and the playlist is full of modern singer-songwriters.

In terms of reviews, I can only say that I have been quite touched by how well the books have been received. I think the positive reactions are partly due to the fact that they were written in their time period originally, making the nostalgic elements feel authentic to the readers. I’ve also found that readers have identified with the issues addressed in the books (depression, loneliness, family strife, heartbreak) and how the characters have dealt with them. I am still humbled by the idea that I can have discussions online about my novels and get feedback about what makes readers connect with them. This is by far the most rewarding aspect of belonging to online communities and having social media as a way to reach readers.
Me  It is amazing isn't it? Authors in the past must have lead much lonelier lives. In fact, o‬ne of your fans has written a song about your books. There's quite a story to how that came about. Could you tell us the background to the song?

‪AMK: ‬In 2005, Pete Townshend wrote a novella online called The Boy Who Heard Music and invited readers to participate in its development. He built a blogging community, many of whom were artists, musicians, and writers, and Ron was one of the many friends I made during that time period (Val was another) and kept to this day. When my first novel was published, Ron, who is an accomplished musician, became a fan and kept reading the series. I asked him if he would consider writing the music to lyrics I am developing for a scene in my fourth book, and he decided that it would be an interesting idea to give Ian’s band their own ‘voice’ by writing a song as them. You can read the full story in Ron’s own words at the link below. I was quite touched by his gesture, and love that the Who’s longtime keyboard player, John ‘Rabbit’ Bundrick, provided the piano work on the track, which is called “Something Else” by the BBs and is available on iTunes. Links to purchasing the song can be found at the end of Ron’s guest blog.
http://behindblueeyes.ca/blog/2013/7/13/the-backstory-something-else-by-the-bbs.html
‪Me  [Listen to it - it's great! VP] ‬There aren't all that many novels describing themselves as Rock and Roll novels. I've started reading Dream On by Terry Tyler, which is also about the rock and roll world, but it's in a completely different style from yours. What do you think makes the difference?

AMK: ‬I’ve not read Terry Tyler’s novels, although I have it in my Kindle in my ‘to-read’ list. It is one of the great ironies of my situation as a writer that there is little time to read. I can’t speak to the differences between our books, but I have read a couple of other novels in the rock fiction genres and would say that, much like other genres of fiction, there are a variety of voices and approaches that make each of us distinct. For example, I loved Mark Rice’s ‘Metallic Dreams’, which is magical realism meets heavy metal, but it is so completely different from the world I have created. There’s room for all of us, and it’s the originality and love of music from each author that unites us and makes the books worth exploring because we bring something unique to the table.

Me  About your writing process, now, Anne Marie, ‬I happen to know that you always write your first drafts by hand. Why is it that you do that in these days where word processing makes making changes and editing so much easier?

AMK: ‬I write all my work by hand likely because we didn't have word processing when I started and it’s what worked for me all those years ago. It’s an old habit that works, in other words. There is for me a sensual element to writing, and I love curling up in a chair scribbling away for the initial draft. I write my concert reviews much the same way, and find that the flow is so much better when it comes directly from my hands. It’s not a matter of being old-fashioned, but about being more productive. I feel removed from the creative process at the keyboard, and save that step for editing and fine-tuning.

‪Me  ‬What about your support system? You've managed to publish three books in the space of a year, which is incredible. As a self-published author, you have to do everything yourself, but do you have people who help you and deal with certain aspects of producing the books?

‪AMK: ‬I think it’s less incredible than one might think because while I published three books in what seems like a short amount of time,  they were largely written as stories before I took my sabbatical year, and the time off was largely spent editing and re-editing until I was satisfied that they were worthy of publication. I had an editor and proofreaders for all three books, and was fortunate that my husband, Austin Ziegler, formatted all the paperbacks and ebooks. He is a software developer, and he was also responsible for creating our website, securing behindblueyes.ca as a domain name. He then showed me how to use Twitter and create a Facebook author page for the books.  I also had great luck in that a former student of mine, Will Parks, was interested in creating the cover art for the series and talented enough to do a phenomenal job. He is entering art college this fall and has a remarkable talent. The last book of the series, which isn’t completed yet in its first draft form (although I can see the finish line that precedes the editing starting line!) has taken much longer to complete, and I suspect part of the reason is that I will truly miss these characters when I’m done with them and so am delaying the inevitable.

‪Me  ‬Finally, what do you do when you aren't writing, and what do you do in your free time?

‪AMK: ‬Free time? I wish I could stretch the days so that I could fit in all the things I want to do. I love listening to music, and have had quite a year of discovering new bands and going to see a variety of concerts. I am an avid reader, though I wish I could spend more time with my nose in a book. We also have a dog who keeps me walking and two cats who love to be spoiled, and I am quite fond of spending time at the local pool or puttering around in my garden. Anyone who knows me well would also tell you I fritter away a lot of time keeping in touch with friends and family online and playing word games. I also like to travel a few times a year with my husband, as Val could attest to since we were lucky enough to visit with her last year.

Me Thanks so much for coming on board, Anne Marie. It's been a real pleasure and I've learned things from this that even I didn't know before, so that's great!


‪AMK:‬Thank you, Val, for the opportunity to answer these thoughtful questions. I enjoyed doing this very much.

You can find Anne-Marie's books on Amazon .com listed here:

And on her author spotlight on Lulu.com too

She's also on Facebook here and on Twitter @BadManSadMan




Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Once upon a twig...

Once upon a time, there was a little twig. I plucked it from its mother bush late in August in 2012. You could say I rescued it because the mother bush was in an industrial area of Rotterdam where it probably wasn't going to survive very long.

The twig came home with me and spent some time bathing in a jar of water. As soon as it'd had a really good soak, I put it in a very small pot with some nice fresh potting soil. It sat there for a while looking a bit miserable and twiggy until one day, I noticed a tiny green bud growing. This made me very excited and I nursed my twig lovingly until it grew three or four small leaves.

But then winter came. Now somewhere in its memory bark my twig knew that it wasn't just a twig, but a proper bush and it had to do what proper bushes did in the winter. It dropped all its leaves and went back to looking like a sad little twig. I put it on a shelf and left it alone for the winter.

Spring came round and I took my twig off the shelf and put it in the window to catch some sun. I watered it and watched it and lo and behold, the leaves started growing again. They sprouted with the  fresh green of youth and looked so vivid, I knew my twig was going to grow into a beautiful bush like this one.


A fully fledged twig that I think is a Hibiscus bush
I watched my twig carefully, and when the weather warmed up some more I put it in a larger pot with some new soil and put it outside with the other pots, where it grew quite happily for a while. But then quite suddenly, all its leaves dropped off again. Worried for the health of my twig, I took it inside yet again and nursed it back to leafhood.


                                      


Eventually, I was rewarded when earlier in August, I found this beautiful bud. At first, it was tiny, but I watched it grow, and eventually, I risked putting it outside again.



The weather was warm and sunny, the skies were blue. It was all just perfect to encourage the bud on my twig to develop into a gorgeous delicate flower.


It stayed open like this for several days, but now alas, it seems to be closing again. Maybe it's still a rather young twig and shouldn't be flaunting itself too long just yet. When the colder weather comes, I'll take it inside again; I'll nurture it through the winter and hope that next year, my twig will get some stronger bones and want to mix it with the other bushes in my garden. I hope so. This twig has been loved and cared for, but now it must grow up and stand on its own roots.


Friday, August 16, 2013

A fair weather farer

It's been a quiet week on the barge and boat front. Although, it probably seems to some of you that I do nothing other than slave, smoosh and spuddle, there are weeks when I just look at all the work instead. I call it planning. Added to that, the energy to unplug the electricity cable, cast off the ropes and get the engine running is occasionally just too much, so sometimes I just reminisce about going 'faring' as I call it. Indulging in memories can be quite satisfying. I call it planning too. For writing.

In truth, I am a fair weather farer anyway. I've done a post before about the joys (or not) of an open steering position, and you'll remember that I am not all that keen on being cold and wet  (I love understatement, don't you?). Still, today is one of those days I would love to be out on the water. It is sunny, clear and beautiful with the promise of lovely skin soaking warmth. Perfect for a spuddle up the canal.

But, the engine has decided it doesn't want to cool properly. Big disappointment. It has an appointment to go into dry dock at the end of the month, which means no faring for us this holiday, sadly. I have also removed the name boards to repair them, and that keeps us rather firmly in the harbour too. So, I will just have to make do with reminiscing.


Because of the time of year with the darkening and noticeably chillier mornings, I am reminded of my first ever long trip on a barge. It was to Lille in early September 2001. It was also very important in cementing my love of the watery way of life, and there is one particular moment that will stay with me forever.

We were on Koos's barge, the Luxor, and it was early evening. We were travelling along the Leie river between a place called Deinze and Kortrijk in Belgium. The sun was going down, and it was that special time of approaching dusk when the whole world is bathed in golden light. I was standing in the bows and there wasn't a sound other than the slap of water against the hull and the soft rumble of the engine way back at the stern end. The peace just flowed over us, a gentle blanket of something I can only describe as pure joy. It really was a life defining moment for me.

Some people appreciate their experiences more after the event. I can do that too, especially humorous disasters like those the wonderful Jo Carroll describes in her recent blog post. Hilarious even! But this moment was one I experienced fully at the time.

I savour it still, especially now when I can only sit on board and contemplate.


Do any of you have a life defining moment like this? I'd love to hear about it too, even if it has nothing to do with boats, water, paint..well, you get the picture...

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Boating pleasures and pains

Somewhere before I know I have mentioned that classic Dutch phrase here "Koop een boot, werk je dood." If you understand that the word 'koop' means 'buy', it's probably not difficult to figure out what the rest of the expression means. Not to put too fine a point on it, the saying goes that if you buy a boat, you're probably going to work yourself to death! This doesn't sound very romantic, does it? Not quite the scenario most people have in mind when they think of life on the water.

I was thinking of this myself only yesterday. For the past few days, I have spent every available moment sanding and painting the paintwork on the Vereeniging. Jodie and her boyfriend have been hard at it as well. It's been a tremendous amount of work and we're only half way through it. For a small barge, there seems to be an unconscionable amount to be done.

The read stripe all round the barge and the red trim on the windows
 Part of the problem is that we didn't manage to do anything other than the hull last year because of the dreadful weather over the summer when we had time to do it, and partly because the Vereeniging has so many different bits that need painting: the foredeck, the steering deck, the engine room roof and sides and the cabin roof and sides, the red trim all around these two, the green panels with their black painted supports, the red stripe all around the barge, and finally the black trim all the way round above the red stripe. To add to that, the berghout which I think is the rubbing rail in English, is made of hard wood and has to be oiled. See, four entire lines already to list all these jobs! And I haven't even mentioned the mast foot, the mast, the teak entrance to the back cabin, the engine room hatch and the foredeck hatch, or then again, the spraying of the tarpauline with waterproofing. That's  a disproportionate amount for the smallest barge in the harbour, don't you think? And what's worse is that it should all be done every year if it is to be well maintained. Yes, Koop een boot, werk je dood. You will if you let yourself.

The mast needs doing regularly too.

There are upsides, though. For example, I get to sit in my little rowing boat and paddle round the barge as I paint. I can also sit in the self same little boat with a cup of coffee and feel the sun on my neck. Wonderful. Meanwhile, I can talk as an equal to the ducks who are currently zooming around followed by their most recent crop of ducklings. I am convinced they are doing training before they go to the duck distribution depot where they will be assigned to one of the millions of ponds, canals, drainage ditches and creeks in the country. Sometimes, on rare occasions, even the swans come and say hello, although I'm slightly nervous of getting too close to these. They can have mean tempers if they think you've got something they want - like a snack. Generally, though, this is one of the simple pleasures that I love and I know not many other people can do, not just whenever they feel like it anyway.


Spuddling in the little boat

We can also do tours round the harbour in our little rowing boat. Seeing all the other barges from a ducks eye view is fascinating. We've been known to do this winter and summer and I well remember doing the rounds with my daughter Mo in, I think, November. We were wrapped up to the eyeballs, that I do recall, and we couldn't find our oars, so we used a broom and a homemade oar made from a stick and a short plank of wood screwed together. Unforgettable.

Mo and I 'rowing' round the harbour with a broom
and a makeshift oar



A Duck's Eye view of the harbour

Another upside is being able to have your own private terrace on the water and not have to pay for the privilege of sitting there. We can sit on our deck till the moon is high in the sky, drinking glasses of cool wine and enjoying the warm summer evenings without anyone telling us time's up or we have to leave to make room for other customers.

So there it is, the pleasures and the pains of owning an old barge. I think that overall, the pleasures far outweigh the pain and for that reason alone, the work will never kill us.


Thursday, August 08, 2013

More on barging books

A few posts back I did a round up review of some of my favourite boating books. Since the list isn't entirely complete, I thought I'd add a couple of others I've enjoyed as well as one or two I would like to get hold of.

One that I forgot to mention is a book I read quite early in my adventures in self publishing. This is also a self published book by an American writer by the name of Michelle Caffrey. I came across her book, Just Imagine, on Lulu.com, where I have done all my own self publishing. Michelle and her husband sold up their very successful marketing business in (I think) Colorado, and bought an old Dutch barge. They fitted it out as a kind of floating hotel and spent some years doing charters in the Burgundy region of France. The barge, as you might realise, was called 'Imagine', and the book is about their first few months of discovering what it is to own their very first barge in a strange country and cope with all the problems involved. Both Michelle and her husband were past 'spring chicken' years when they embarked on this enterprise and the book also tells much of their self discovery and emotional development. I enjoyed it very much although sometimes the American language confused me. As it is targeted for the real American market, there were several expressions and words I wasn't familiar with. It was definitely the first time I had come across the use of 'potable' to describe drinking water!



Another book I've read and enjoyed is the sequel to Terry Darlington's Narrowdog to Carcassonne. This one is called Narrowdog to Indian River and describes the rather crazy journy Terry and his wife make on their narrowboat down the intra-coastal waterway on the east coast of the US. Admittedly, the route they take is quite protected from the elements, but even so, it is far beyond what most people would consider a suitable route for an English canal boat. Bearing in mind these boats are built for waterways of around twelve foot wide which are about as dangerous as a minnow compared to the whale of the intra-coastal, they were at best, very brave, and at worst foolhardy. The Darlingtons were both over seventy when they embarked on this journey with their timid (and narrow) whippet as well. If I'm honest, I liked this book much more than the Carcassonne one as it has more to do with boating and the real journey than about Terry Darlington trying out his creative writing styles on us.



Lastly, there is one book I haven't read, but have wanted for a long time, and in fact I've just succumbed and ordered it from Amazon as it doesn't seem to be available anywhere else. It has the lovely name of Betty's Barge and I can't wait to read it. The blurb says it's about cruising quietly through France so it sounds just up my street.  There is one other I would love, but they won't deliver it here, so I'll have to ask my sister to order it for me. It's called The Leaky Iron Boat. Anyone knowing about my adventures in barging will know that this sounds about right for me, doesn't it?



Tuesday, August 06, 2013

The ultimate in 'Barging In'

Yesterday, I described  our top barging bloomer of all time. As such things do, it has set off a train of memories of other 'incidents' in our barging lives, some of which are included in Watery Ways, the book, but not all because most of my barging has taken place since then. I mentioned a couple other examples at the end of my last post, so I thought I might continue with the big bloomer scenarios, but not just ours. As you might imagine, we are not the only ones to have had catastrophes…or at least near ones.

Just for example, our dear friend Phil, who mostly has a guardian angel sitting on his shoulder, is known for his tendency to, dare I say it, 'park' his barge by ear, or even more, by 'feel'. I've also watched, on several occasions, some rather heart stopping near misses he's been party to.

The famous Phil with his other guardian, Joop

One instance I particularly remember was when he was leaving the harbour in his barge, Tholen. He was pulling away from the work jetty in the Oude Haven while waiting for the bridge to open to let him through into the Haringvliet, the neighbouring harbour.  The bridge keeper was making ready to lift the small road bridge, but as it's a manual system that involves special keys and handles on ratchets, this is not a speedy process. Phil knows this, but for some reason, probably to do with his also famous absence of mind, he didn't give it due thought.

The Oude Haven - on a rare occasion when
we were the only ones there
I watched in trepidation as the barge started heading for the unopened bridge. He was going much too fast. The crewing mate on the foredeck happened to by my friend, Mireille, and I noticed her glancing nervously back towards the wheelhouse. Following her gaze, I could see even more why she looked worried. Phlip was not at the wheel! He was nowhere in sight! Oh my goodness! The only explanation was that he'd disappeared below decks to check on the engine, but if so, why on earth was he doing this now? Judging by the speed he was going, this could be disastrous!

What followed was like watching a suspense drama. From where I was, I could see Mireille's hand moving to her mouth as the Tholen sped towards the bridge. It was heading straight towards the left hand pier. There seemed no way to avoid a devastating crash. Mireille started moving back along the barge, clutching on to the hatchboards and bracing herself for the impact...

The Slipway (helling in Dutch). Easy to go wrong here too.
But that guardian angel was at work again. Working overtime on this occasion.

Luckily, thankfully, the bridge started opening and just before the barge reached it, Phil miraculously appeared back at the wheel, slammed the engine into reverse to correct the steering and disaster was averted. Nevertheless, the pace at which he then roared through the opening had my heart in my mouth again. He only cleared the raised section of the road by a mere whisker.

The bridge in question. Luckily, the Vereeniging is low, so
rarely needs to be opened for us.
I looked around the harbour and noticed everyone there was completely motionless. All action seemed suspended and I knew they were watching with baited breath too. You could almost hear the collective sigh of relief as the Tholen made it through the opening without damage - either to the barge or to the bridge.

Phil's guardian angel was probably wiping the sweat from its wings as well. The poor thing has to work very hard sometimes, and I'm guessing will be putting in for a transfer to a more peaceful subject sometime soon - if it hasn't done so already.

As for Phil, when asked later about what happened, he just smiled the smile and scoffed. Everything was under control, he said.

Yes, I thought, because of your guardian angel but not you :-)

Monday, August 05, 2013

Barging bloomers

I'm going off at a tangent again with this daily blogging thing. My subject for today should have been about blogger fatigue and how to fight it, but I only know one way of doing that - which is to write another blog! So for today's offering, I will tell you about our number one barging botch-up ever. I will readily admit there have been a few over the years, but I think this one is absolutely the worst.

It happened a couple of years ago when my daughter needed to move her barge from one of our harbours to another.  The Marion Aagje had no engine, so it needed to be towed. The Vereeniging was lying alongside at the time, so we decided to use it as the towboat. This was the start of the problem, so bear with me, picture the scenario as we go and you can begin to share the litany of catastrophes that followed.

The point is that the Vereeniging is very narrow and low, while the Marion Aagje is quite high and chunky. But for some reason,  instead of pulling the MA, we kept her tied alongside. I fail to remember (quite conveniently as it happens) whose bright idea this was, but it was not so bright in practice.
The Vereeniging is very narrow and low
Now Koos, who let me say now is a brilliant skipper and extremely deft at manoeuvring, was not having- shall we say- his best day for concentration. This, added to the fact that he could not see over the side of the MA, meant that firstly he forgot that the current was running the wrong way for easy manoeuvring (we needed to reverse out to the left and the current was running downstream, which meant it was running to the right) and secondly, he couldn't see what might be in the way if things went wrong.

And go wrong they did - substantially.

As we pulled out of the berth, the Vereeniging, never very willing to reverse at the best of times and hampered by the unaccustomed bulk of the MA on her starboard side, started pulling to the right with the current instead of to the left, meaning that instead of actually turning we were heading straight back across the harbour. I was standing on the foredeck of the MA hanging a fender over the side to stop us hitting the barge next door when I became aware of my daughter leaping up and down like a demented frog at the stern.

"Koos!" she yelled. "Stop! We're going to hit something."

Koos was looking in the opposite direction with an air of distinct distrait. Oh dear!

"Koos!!" My daughter and I yelled together. I ran back to the stern of the MA just in time to help Mo put sufficient fenders between us and a barge moored up on the other side of the harbour to prevent a major collision. Even so, the thump as we hit the barge was more than audible.

Meanwhile, Koos turned to see what had happened.

"Have we hit something?" he asked serenely.

Mo and I nodded furiously, pink with embarrassment, as the owner of the barge came out on deck. Luckily, he just smiled with equal serenity and added another fender to the cluster of rubber goods now acting as the only buffer between him and a crushed hull.

Unfortunately, things continued from bad to worse, and as Koos tried to steer us round to face downstream, the bow of the Marion Aagje got stuck against a tugboat moored up to the end of one of the jetties. So there we were, two boats abreast jammed between another two boats right across the harbour. As mishaps go, this was quite dramatic. To make matters worse, the owner of the tugboat was not quite as philosophical as the barge owner and was shouting curses and retribution at poor Mo as if it was somehow her fault.

Well, eventually, we extracted ourselves with some serious pushing, shoving and frayed tempers, an exercise tempered only by Koos's serene and apparent oblivion to the chaos he'd inadvertently caused. The tugboat owner was threatening dire legal action for the one square centimetre of paintwork we'd damaged, but Koos just nodded and smiled at her innocently as he passed by. As I said, oblivious.

The Marion Aagje being towed on another earlier occasion


However the fates weren't done with us yet. When we started to progress along the harbour, Koos, again unable to see over the high side of the Marion Aagje, was edging closer and closer to the sterns of the barges lying with their bows to the quay along the left side of the harbour. What he couldn't see too was that there were a couple of rowing boats tied to the rudders of two of the barges. But Mo could.

She started her manic frog impressions again and yelled. I watched helplessly as Koos shrugged. He couldn't hear what she was saying. But then we all heard the crunch as a rowing boat went under, forced down by the weight of fifty tons of iron barge crashing into it.

Poor Mo. She was ragged by the time we finally managed to get through the bridge and find our way to where the Marion Aagje had be. Before we'd even moored up properly, she was racing back to see what the damage was to the rowing boat, convinced it had sunk without trace. Luckily, though, fate had had its fun with us and let her off. The rowing boat had popped back up once the murderous monster had passed, and amazingly it suffered no damage. Mo emptied out all the water, dried it off and put her heart back in place.

Koos could not see over the Marion Aagje from
the Vereeniging's steering position

If I had to come up with a top five of our barging bloomers (an equal number of which were my fault), this would probably have to be number one as we hit not just one, but three boats in the space of about half an hour. It would be hard to beat that, but then I still haven't mentioned the time we 'drove' up onto the slipway ramps. Or the time we crashed into a lock wall and broke the bowspit off the Hennie H. Or the time when we….okay, I'll stop there. Needless to say, there are plenty more botch-ups to include in our top five - or even top ten, but I'll keep them for another day :-)

Saturday, August 03, 2013

Looking back to the early days

The blog challenge for day eleven (I'm not really sure what day it is to be honest) is to name your five best blog posts. I have no clue what they would be in my case. I suppose 'best' is a matter of reader perception, isn't it? As a result I thought I might twist things around a bit - as usual - and look way back to my early blogging days to see what I was posting about then. I scrolled back in the archives to 2006, to September 2006 to be precise, in the year I started blogging, and I found this one, which is still quite a favourite and still gets the occasional view.

It was called "Amnesiac old men" and is about…well, read it and you will see. I doubt if any of my blog friends now will have seen it - after all, this was seven years ago! Whether it's a 'best' or not, I don't know, but it's still one of my personal favourites because it's about real life here in Rotterdam as it was then.

I could come up with some others for sure, but let's start here:

AMNESIAC OLD MEN  from 06/09/2006


I have to write about this. I'm surrounded by amnesiac old men. Very dear, wonderfully kind, very well meaning men to be sure, but still, that's what they are. Amnesiac Old(er) Men, and bless his dear heart, Koos is one of them. He knows I'm writing this and we've already had our laughs about it, so there's no malice intended, but the only reason I've still got hair on my head is because I promised myself I would publish this post. So, here it is...

Three weeks ago, I went to the shipyard boss to ask about booking a week on the slips. 
"Bertus", say I "when can you fit me in?" 
"In February", says he. 
"Hmmm, are you sure? is there nothing earlier?", plead I, worrying about that tiny pinprick leak I have in my hull that has me squatting for hours over it, studying the rate of flow through the miscroscopic gap, and wondering whether I'll live to sink another week...or is that live without sinking another week? 
"Sorry", says Bertus, studying his charts, "that's the earliest I can slot you in". 
"OK", I sigh. 
I make the booking and potter off to buy a wet and dry hoover, so that I can suck out the little puddle that builds up every few days in the lowest point of my hull. Koos is with me during this exchange with Bertus, and we bemoan the fact that February will be cold. It may also be snowy and icy, but it will at least be cheap as I stand to get a 30% discount as compensation for the risk (almost a certainty) of hypothermia, not to mention guaranteed frostbite or at least chillblains.

Now, Bertus, the Yard boss, is somewhere in his late fifties, and is a honey. I am genuinely fond of him. Nevertheless, his short term memory is busily changing places with its long term counterpart, and while he will regale us for hours with anecdotes about the good old days, anything that has occurred within the last month or so goes into some kind of mental pending file where it lies conveniently dormant until it is old enough to be regurgitated as past history. As a result, when on Monday this week a ship that was due on the slipway didn't turn up, Bertus started looking round for a willing replacement. 

Right. 

Now you'd naturally think that given my rather recent plea, he might perhaps think of me. 

Wrong!

Bertus has forgotten my leaky bottom and cheerfully asks Koos if he would like to consider taking the spot. Now, remember that my dearest Koos is also of a similar age. So..picture this scenario.

We are waking up quietly on Tuesday morning, and Koos says musingly."I think I'll put my ship on the Slipway today." 
I freeze. All feelings of early morning languor have rushed off down the end of the bed to cuddle up with Sindy. 
"Umm, Why?" I ask in a voice that I hope is loaded with frost. I wait to find out what could possibly have prompted this bizarre statement. Koos explains about the ship that didn't turn up. With icicles forming on my vocal chords, I ask why Bertus didn't offer me the spot. Koos then, with awesome innocence, questions why I should want it. I remind him, through clenched teeth, about my recent request. He has forgotten. He has forgotten too that he was with me when I made the booking for February, but to cap it all, within the space of 24 hours, Bertus has also fogotten that he offered the spot to Koos at all, and later in the morning we find that he has made yet another arrangement for the slipway, meaning that neither of us can make use of the unexpected vacancy. Grrrrrrrrrr!!

Am I reeling? I am. But that's not all..Oh no!

One of the language schools for which I work is run by another dear amnesiac older man - a charming spaniel eyed Englishman called Roger, who I always have the greatest difficulty in refusing. Late last week he called me in desperation. 
"Val! I need you! What hours can you give me, and when?" 
"Hmmm", I consider, "I'm very busy, Roger, but if I shuffle a couple of things...well...I can give you Monday and Tuesday evenings". 
" Great!", he practically shouts at me "Val, you're a life saver. I'll let you know which classes you're teaching but it will definitely be Monday and Tuesday evening." 
Fine, I think, and dutifully re-shuffle other private lessons, and cancel another course that's in the pipeline but isn't yet definite. I then sit and wait. And wait. And still wait. On Monday afternoon, I have still not heard. I call on Roger.
"Oh,um, Val! Didn't I tell you?" 
"Tell me what, Roger" 
"I'm so sorry Val, but I've got someone else to do those evenings. I thought I'd told you." 
I growl at him with all the menace I can muster, lay on the guilt, add on a few extra broken arrangements to further underscore the severity of his error...but then he deals his trump card. Looking at me with those big sad spaniel eyes, he says "I'm sorry Val, I thought you'd be relieved."
Of course, I know he'd thought no such thing. He'd just forgotten. Even more of course, he's just another of my inevitably dear, amnesiac older men. It seems I can't live my life without them. 
Bless them. Bless them all!


Koos cleaning his bottom...




If you are interested in dipping into my books about life on the water not to mention life on a smallholding in rural England, why not visit my author pages on Amazon.com or Lulu.com and read some extracts they have made available.
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You can't tell a book by its cover - or can you?

Continuing as I am with my own blog a day challenge (I'll do it as long as I can muster up the inspiration!), I was inspired by the comments on covers made by Christina James and Carol Hedges on my last post, so I thought it would be interesting to explore this subject further. 

I think it's safe to say, and it goes without too much saying, we are all influenced by book covers when we are looking to buy. But it doesn't matter who we are, we all have specific tastes that are not always met by the cover trends of the day.

When I look at old book covers from the last century, I tend to think everything has become very brash these days. I loved the old penguin book covers, and also many of the other covers designed in the fifties and sixties too. There was something truly artistic in their formulation and it was easy to see that real artists had created them and not computer programmes. 

So maybe that makes me biased. Okay, not maybe. I should say it definitely affects my taste because I have to admit that these days, I tend to prefer 'art' covers to the sort of covers that are churned out by handy computer programmes to provide drama, glamour or sensation. I also like covers to express a bit of humour probably because I tend to like humorous books too.  However, when it comes to the specific genres that I favour, detective fiction seems to produce a wide range of cover art, some of which I like and some not. Those which trade on the 'blood and guts' aspect of a novel will often have me shoving them back on the shelves, whereas a more subtle, artistic cover will draw me immediately, but who's to say whether I am being fair? Marketers and graphic designers can't know everything about people's tastes so they go for safety in trends and majorities. Unfortunately, if your taste falls outside of those trends, then they may well lose a sale, because in the end, I imagine many of us browsing in bookshops really do judge books firstly by the cover. It has to grab our attention, before we even start to read the blurb or the 'praise for this book' parts. Without skimming through every book on the shelf, there is no other way of deciding quickly whether we are likely to enjoy a book or not.

So yes, much hangs on the cover, and as writers, we probably choose covers for our books that we personally think will reflect our work in the best way, but again, are we right? Is our taste what will sell the book? Should we listen to the designers even if we don't like what they have done? 

Here are a few covers I have personally really liked. I have bought all three books because of their covers, so I'd be very interested to know what book covers you have found appealing?






Thursday, August 01, 2013

The books that choose to be read and the boats that choose to be bought.

In the blog challenge, the subject today was to answer the question "how do you choose the books you read?" Michelle Heatley has done an interesting post about this question, but she also mentions that books often just choose you and not the other way around.

I think this is possibly true. We frequently chance upon books that we haven't come across before or wouldn't even think of reading if they didn't present themselves to us. This is certainly true of many of the books I've read recently, but it's particularly so for me when it comes to boat books. My post yesterday described the book For Better for Worse. When I bought it, I was actually looking for a detective novel I could read on my holiday in France. I was at the airport in Bergerac waiting for my sister to pick me up, so I was browsing through the books they had on sale. I think I was just about to pick up an Ian Rankin novel or something similar when the cover of FBFW caught my eye. When I read the blurb, it was absolutely meant for me, I knew it. If this was not a book that leapt out, grabbed my hand and said "buy me", I can't think of another way of putting it.

It was much like that with my barge, the Vereeniging. As I have said in a previous post, it was presented to me as a 'what about this' possibility, but it was only when I saw it and discovered what its name was, I knew I had been chosen. I think, in fact I know, I have mentioned before that Vereeniging is a town in South Africa for which I have a particular fondness. However, I'd never seen a barge with that name anywhere in the Netherlands before, and that coupled with its 'buy me' grace and elegance was what conquered me. I had no choice!

Now I realise buying a book is not quite the same as buying a boat, but you'll forgive me if I get them intertwined a bit. I'm so busy with both activities (some might say obsessions) that it's hard to separate them - this is especially the case now as I work at writing the story of the Vereeniging for my next book!