Monday, June 30, 2014

Weberview week - Welcome to Vanessa Wester on Watery Ways

I'm very happy to welcome the lovely Vanessa Wester to the barge as the last of this current spell of weberviews (there will be a couple more in the coming week, though, so those of you who like reading about these other marvellous writers I've met, keep watching!).

Vanessa has been a wonderful support to me on both Twitter and Facebook, and I've also been to visit her on her blog, so it's great to have her here with me on Watery Ways.  She used to live in Rotterdam, so she knows the harbour well. So, Vanessa, now we've fed the ducks and I've made the tea, let's just sit here on deck and have a chat. Then we can have a walk afterwards.  To me, you are very young to have written three novels and a number of other short stories and children's stories. Have you always written?

I love it when people call me young! I guess being under 40 is young... Kind of! Anyway, as a child I loved writing and spent a lot of my time arranging murders (smirks). You guessed it, I loved mystery and suspense. It started with Nancy Drew, then led to an obsession with the queen of suspense - Agatha Christie.

I was really good at English (even though I am bilingual) and since I had a British education I learnt the basics. However, when I started GCSE's (aged 14) my grades slipped and I lost confidence. I tended to ramble, lost in my thoughts, and found it hard to focus. Since I was good at science and maths, I ditched English (even though my A in English literature was my proudest achievement) and forgot all about the idea of writing!

It took 15 years for me to try again. I read a lot and always thought of writing, but I was convinced it was foolish. When I watched an author interview something snapped inside of me... My creative mind wanted to be free to explore and talk about things that mattered to me. I know my trilogy is paranormal, but I touch on many life themes. First love, family loyalty, impulsive behaviour, children, responsibility... You get the idea!

Yes, I read Hybrid and really enjoyed how many real life family and loyalty issues it raised - one of the reasons I liked it so much. But Vanessa, you grew up in Gibraltar, I believe. Has this colourful part of the world influenced your writing at all? 

Of course. Gibraltar is a unique place and it shaped the person I am today. The culture, food and family life influences me a lot. But, the idea of acceptance is paramount to a lot of my writing. As you may know, Gibraltar is constantly under discussion of sovereignty and I remember being scared of Spanish people who might lynch me for being from the rock - the frontier opened when I was 8, until then Spain was an unknown entity.

Also, being a redhead in a mainly Mediterranean environment made me feel like an alien from space! I got sunburnt a lot, had a lot of freckles, and looked English! I know Gibraltar is British, but the locals tend to speak Spanish and it got tiring to answer back to broken English in Spanish - they were always amazed I was a 
local! Bah!

So, yeah, it is weird to not feel accepted for your birthright and appearance.

That must have been pretty tough. I imagine you matured quickly with that kind of pressure. One thing I have wondered though is how you manage to combine being a mum of very young children with being a writer and self publicist?

Who knows? I have no idea how I do any of it - I am extremely good at multi tasking (thanks goodness for my iPad).

Do you find Social Media helps with getting the world out about your books and do you get a good response to your publicity?

I hope so, although a lot of times I wonder if any of it helps. I don't like the idea of annoying people with promos, etc, but I don't know any different. The best thing about being online is the ability to make new friends (such as yourself - muah!) and to realise than I am not alone. People are fun!

As for my books, of course social media helps! Without twitter my trilogy would probably remain unfinished. The best motivation to write is readers asking when the next book is out from all over the world - how amazing! I have gone from a stay-at-home mum to a writer, social media player, and publisher! WOW!

It's such a learning process, isn't it? I love that we can all help each other. But I see you've had lovely exposure in Gibraltar. Has this made you a regional best seller and celebrity?

Ha ha ha ha ha... (catches breath) ... Ha ha ha ha ha... Erm, next question! :)

Okay, I'll take that as a no…Next question then. How much time do you spend writing and do you need a special place to be able to concentrate. I'm thinking of your family here again. 

At the moment, it is really restricted. My next project involves a lot of research and thinking time. I also seem to have lost some of my drive. I love writing, but I can't let it interfere with my family life. It started to take over and it was a choice - Writing or family. Obvious answer, I think. Like you say, I am "young" - I have time to write. There is no hurry.

I am also distracted a lot - by the dwindling success of my trilogy, and social media - to promote or not to promote? That is the question...I calculated the other day that I have given away over 10,000 copies of Hybrid and only have 60 reviews to show for this! Pathetic! I "love" the fact that I have some terrible reviews on - seriously? I find it hard to understand why anyone would give such a bad rating to a book they got for free. It's cruel... That's just my view! Yet, I get sales on my other books - but no reviews! I like to imagine people buy them because they like Hybrid, but I can't know for sure... Fingers crossed, I guess.

Yes, this question of giveaways is a hard one isn't it? It's a subject that's occupied many a blog post. Have you got any new writing projects on the go at the moment? If so, can you tell us about them? 

I am writing the story of my great, great grandparents ... Born in 1837 and 1841. Think industrial revolution, London, Jamaica, Gibraltar... I know, its SO hard! I am a sucker for punishment. It'll either be my best achievement or my downfall! HA!

That sounds fascinating. I'll look forward to it! Okay, so that's paranormal, romance and history in the bag. Is there any specific genre of writing you would like to try, but haven't done yet? 

Murder mystery... I will try to write something in homage to the great Agatha - one day!

Oh how wonderful! I love that idea! I've also a fancy to write a murder mystery myself, but more of a detective novel…a sort of Maigret! Anyway, Vanessa, it's been just great having you here. 

It has been lovely talking to you, I think I have been brutally honest... That has always been my problem! I give a lot away, never been good at keeping cards close to my chest!

Haha, it's lovely and very you! Shall we take a walk round the harbour now and you can have a bit of a memory lane trip before heading back to England…

For those of you who would like to take a look at Vanessa's work, you can find her on:
Her Amazon books:

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Weberview week. A huge welcome to Peter Davey

Twitter buddy supreme: Peter Davey.
He and Carol Hedges have given me more fun and laughter than almost anyone in years. I have loved their quick -witted banter on Twitter and have grown to be very fond of these particular cyber buddies. Twitter aside though, I have read everything Peter Davey has published and I really love his books. But Peter is much more than just a very talented writer, so I invited him to the barge for some good coffee and geveolde koek to tell me more about what makes him tick:

Peter, now the barge has stopped rocking and our tea has stopped sloshing, let me begin. I know you from Twitter mainly, and you've become a real buddy in the last months, but I don't honestly know much about you other than your wonderful writing and stunning photography and poetry. Tell me, have you always been an artist or have you also had to have a 'day job' like me?

I’ve always had a passion for writing, painting and drawing, Val, and worked as a professional artist and tutor for many years, mainly in the pre computer graphics days. It was a job which worked well around bringing up our two children as I could more or less make my own hours and, when my wife went into full-time teaching I became a part-time Mum, waiting with the other mums at the school gate and definitely earning my ‘New Man’ badge. That said, I’m very glad to be in a position now where I can do my own thing – if I earn some money from it, it’s great, but it isn’t the primary consideration.

Being a 'part-time mum' was very modern thinking for something that's a relatively new trend in society. I'm impressed! But Peter, you're quite a linguist aren't you? I know you write in French and you also speak Spanish. Have you ever lived abroad?

I’ve never actually lived abroad apart from studying painting in Barcelona when I was 18. However, one advantage of living so near the Channel ports is that I can easily pop over to France where I have friends and family, and also to Spain. The last surviving member of the French branch of our family is my 95 year old aunt whom I spend many happy hours chatting with – though she’s so talkative I usually end up just saying ‘Oui’ and nodding lot. I don’t speak Spanish nearly as well as I’d like but I love the language and culture and go to a class once a week, which I really enjoy.

Well, I kudos to you that you've written novels in French. People keep asking me when I'm going to translate my novels into Dutch, but I wouldn't dare. My Dutch is far too …shall we say…singular...Anyway, your novel, Fraud, now. It's just brilliant. It's recently been nominated for best novel of the year in the 2014 E-festival of Words, and it still rates as one of the best novels I read last year, certainly the best of the general fiction I read. What was the inspiration for the book?

Thank you, Val. The idea came from my own futile attempts to get my work published and my amazement at the arrogant, discourteous and indifferent attitude of most publishers and agents to new writers. It seemed to me that it was less about the quality of the work than the name or face on the cover and I began to wonder if I would have stood a better chance had I been a gorgeous, attractive and feisty girl in her twenties rather than a boring old fart in his fifties. That was the germ of the plot but once I started writing, it kind of took on a life of its own as I got more and more involved in the reasons and motivation for dishonesty and the part it plays in our society.  

Ah, so that was it. It certainly spoke to me as a writer who's tried to get published. But Fraud was so full of deceptions and twists to the plot, it was totally riveting. I was amazed you managed to sort it all out in the end. Apart from that, though,  you've also written a fantastic set of short stories, plus two truly lovely novellas, but they're all completely different. Do you like trying out different styles and genres, or is there a common 'Peter Davey' theme that runs through them? One thing I have noticed is that they all feature very real and ordinary people. Is this something you like to focus on?

Absolutely. My characters are loosely based on people I know who – like most people – are rather ordinary on the surface but extraordinary when you get to know them. I find people who have had a lot of conflict and difficulty in their lives the most interesting (rather an obvious remark for a writer, I suppose). I also prefer writing about ordinary situations – real life as I experience it – and I’m not really into sci-fi, the paranormal or whatever. But you’re right, my books are quite different in style and I’m still trying to find my “voice” as a writer. As I’m going to be 64 in September, I suppose I’d better hurry up!

Well, I think you have a voice, and that's one of sincerity. I really appreciate it!  But I have to say that 'Loved and Lost in Lewisham', the short stories, are quite ribald and punchy in parts. By contrast, Patrick's Little Dilemma and Simone Simone are very sensitive and gentle stories. I loved them all, but I wonder which style you enjoy writing the most?

Peter: ‘Loved and Lost’ was the sort of book which could’ve been written on drugs (though it wasn’t, as far as I remember). I wrote most of it in a kind of mad splurge one weekend and whenever I’ve tried to repeat the exercise, I just sound silly and self-conscious (more so than usual). I’m aware that it’s rather uneven but it doesn’t seem to take kindly to revision so I decided to let it stand. I do have real trouble thinking up plots, though. The plots to all my stories have tended to evolve rather than be planned, and it is they (and the characters that emerge with them) that generally determine the style of the book.

Now you've really surprised me. I find your books incredibly tight structurally and very well crafted, so I imagine the evolution must always occur with a mind to the framework of the plot. Maybe this is because you also write poetry, which is pretty disciplined. That reminds me... what I did want to ask you is what parts do poetry and art play in your creative life? Do you spend as much time on these as you do on writing fiction?

Roughly equal, I would say. I love writing fiction in the morning - the earlier the better - but run out of steam by lunchtime so tend to go out and do some drawing or photography. I love the opportunity to share my poetry on the internet and get some feedback – which has all been so gratifying – but for me it’s a much more private and intimate activity, often just netting fleeting thoughts and observations. As to painting and drawing, nowadays I only work outside, directly from nature, so I do a lot less in the winter for obvious reasons. It provides a foil to writing – as long as I resist the temptation to lie back in the grass and fall asleep! I can’t really say which activity is more important to me – I think they are all different aspects of the same thing. 

Some of Peter's stunning drawings and art

I live with a photographer, so I think I understand that it has parallels with poetry - encapsulating moments and thoughts, that is. But this aside, I notice you only do e-books. Is there a reason for not producing paperbacks of your books through companies like Amazon's Create Space or

No, I would love nothing better than to publish a paper book and have the pleasure of holding it in my hands. However, I do think, whether we like it or not, that e-reading is the future, at least for fiction. Perhaps, like the ‘Fifty Shades’ lady, I will be courted by Random House on the strength of my massive success on Amazon – though I rather doubt it!  

Well, even if you never gain those rather dubious heights, if you ever feel like making a paperback compendium of your work, let me know!  I would love to have a Peter Davey collection on my bookshelf rather than just in my Kindle - which brings me to my last question.  Is there anything new on the Peter Publications horizon?

Well, since Luc Besson hasn’t yet contacted me with that multi-million dollar offer to turn ‘Simone’ into a screenplay (No? what's he doing, then?), I’ll just carry on translating my other three French novels which I find interesting and enjoyable. I’ve also got a kind of psychological thriller on the go about a relationship between a young woman and an older man which has more to it than meets the eye, so hopefully that will come to fruition in the next year or two. Apart from that I will just carry on drawing and scribbling poetry and growing old disgracefully. 

Oops, sorry about the bump there! Someone's just crashed into the barge, so there goes your tea, Pedro! Just a thought, do you want to go for a spuddle? We can both be disgracefully old doing pirouettes with my rowing boat and outboard round the harbour…the ducks will be scandalised! 

For anyone who would like to buy any of Peter's wonderful e-books, you can find them here:
Or find him on Twitter at:
Or on Facebook at

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Weberview Week - First Up - Lynn M Dixon compares her life in Chicago with mine on a boat in Rotterdam

Last week, American author of A Golden Leaf in Time and Warm Intrigues, Lynn M. Dixon, invited me to her blog to talk about my watery world. In the process, she mentioned she lived in a high-rise apartment in the middle of Chicago, so I asked her what that was like. I cannot imagine living in this type of building myself, so I thought it would be a great idea to compare her lifestyle with mine.

Lynn wrote me the following mail and I've interspersed it with some comments of my own in blue:

Lynn: Val, I wrote this to give you an idea what it is like to live in the heart of Chicago, called the Second City. (New York City is, of course,  considered to be the first city.  It is after all the largest!)  I live in the heart of the city right south of the Loop.  The Loop is the downtown area of Chicago and called the Loop because the elevated train runs in a loop or circle.
I also live in what you might call the downtown area of Rotterdam, but it's a much smaller city and we only have an underground train - the metro - no elevated railway. That must be amazing!
Lynn's High-Rise apartment block

Lynn: My building has 19 floors and I live on the 7th floor (see the above photo).  I don’t like being too high up.  Some places like the Willis Tower (formerly called the Sears Tower) has 103 floors.  You can hear your ears pop on the elevator after you get so high up. 
I think that must be very nerve-wracking. I go up or down to my barge, depending on whether the tide is in or out. It has its own hazards, but I don't think you'd catch me in a lift going up so high - well not in a hurry anyway!
My low-rise barge :)

Lynn: I have been here for ten years and have experienced great peace because most of the residents are either professionals or students who attend a nearby technical college.  So, they are basically quiet.  I have written three books here and revised the first one. Here is a picture from my window taken during the winter.  You can see the parking lot and the church from my window
A peaceful life for Lynn on the whole
Ah, Lynn, this is where you have the advantage. My barge is in the heart of Rotterdam's social and tourist centre, so it is very noisy much of the time. I wish I could ignore the partying students and drunken revellers, but it's impossible. Luckily, I am moving it in a month, so I won't have to put up it for much longer.
Life is not so peaceful for us in the Oude Haven, especially at
times like now when the World Cup is on

Lynn: Lastly, I hear sirens all of the time.  Fire trucks, ambulances or police sirens.  Those are the regular sounds of the big city.  Always someone in distress.  After a while you hear and don’t hear.  I only go look out when they go on too long or stop really close.  Then I know that I’d better see what is happening.
We have sirens too. I guess it's a part of big city life, isn't it? We also have the screeching of the trams. I must say I never go out to see what is happening as there is a hospital near the harbour, so most of the sirens are ambulances and I don't like to dwell on what they are for.

Lynn: Many people in high rises have to pay extra for parking, but I fortunately have free parking which is a rare find in the city.  The high rises have a lot of amenities such as 24 hour security cars protecting the buildings, laundry rooms on the grounds, on-call maintenance and sometimes they sponsor trips to local places like outlet malls or give resident parties.
It sounds as if you have everything there! That is fantastic. We don't have security in our harbour, so we do quite often have unwelcome visitors on board (mostly harmless though). However, we do have a laundry room, but all maintenance is down to us as you've probably discovered now you've read about my life!
Lynn: The beautiful Lake Michigan sits to the left of my apartment.  I have included a photo from the lakefront as well.
Chicago skyline from LakeMichigan

I hope you get to Chicago one day!
Thanks for the lovely photos, Lynn. I know Chicago also has some beautiful waterways through the city too, doesn't it? I'd love to go there and visit you too! Thanks too for writing about your life in your high-rise apartment block! It's so different from my world it makes a great contrast!

Sunday, June 15, 2014

The big stuff that you don't see on Twitter

These days I spend quite a lot of time on Twitter. I'm not very good at keeping up with threads and conversations because I usually have to go off and do other things - like work just as a for instance - and I lose the plot quite often, which can be pretty funny at times. But I love Twitter for all sorts of reasons: the banter between the lovely people I follow on one of my lists, the photos and chats with folk in Dorset, my pre-South Africa home, on another list, and the things I can share with the English boating community, which I have as another list again.

I love this last group because I can see photos and videos of the gorgeous English canals. Tonight, for example, I had a brief chat with a woman who has her narrowboat on the Fens, country which is remarkably similar to the Netherlands. However, what passes as navigable canals there would just be drainage ditches here and no one would dream of boating on them. Our canals in Holland tend to be much wider and more serious, used as they are for commercial traffic. However, we can go from the sublime to the ridiculous in that sense. There are a few small canals. We did a trip on one of them in the Vereeniging some years ago, which I wrote about in Harbour Ways. And there are others in the area known as Westland, which only small boats and cruisers can use - but certainly not barges like the Vereeniging.

One of the few small navigable canals
in the area

Mostly, though, it's the big stuff here and that's no exaggeration. The huge network of major rivers that starts in Rotterdam means we have enormous container barges - sometimes coupled together - heading upstream into Germany, France and even Switzerland.

The sea canal is lined with industry from the coast to Ghent
 Added to that, the Westerschelde estuary gives access to the huge sea canal that makes it possible for massive sea-going transporters to get all the way inland to Ghent and Antwerp in Belgium. I love to watch these monsters sailing across the landscape. They look far too big to be on a mere canal. And often, because they are so huge, they are pulled by tugboats to keep them on course. The sight never fails to impress me.

Muscular tugs pulling a sea-going vessel

Impressive in their own right

Just a tad bigger than a narrowboat
So this is the contrast with the world I enjoy viewing through the images my narrowboating contacts place on Twitter. Half of me would love the tranquillity of doing what they do and never having to worry about the big commercials like these. The countryside is perfect; the small hump-backed bridges are quaint, and even the locks are beautiful. But the other half of me would miss this; these great sea ships that smell of far-off lands. There's nothing quite so exhilarating as being out on the canal in your little boat and being overtaken by one of these. You really feel you are part of a thriving waterways network - the arterial lifeblood of Europe - and not just on a route for pleasure boaters.

All the same, Twitter gives me a taste of that other life, the gentle, relaxed world of the sleepy English canals, and yes, one day I'd like to try it for myself. Luckily, I now have enough Tweeple and #boatsthattweet to ask where to go and get the best routes and trips…thanks to the fantabulous world of Twitter.

There, I bet you never thought I would combine a post about my boaty life with the social media world. 'Tis amazing what you can do when you know you have to get a post out and don't really have a clue what to write!

Sunday, June 08, 2014


Anyone who thinks having a houseboat is a luxury is seriously misinformed. It's either that or they have an altogether different view of owning a floating home from mine.
A skipper's work is never done

It is of course possible that when I say I have a liveaboard Dutch barge, the image this conjures is of one of these luxurious, newly-built copies that are rather popular in the UK and also in France. I won't say I'd love to own one because I wouldn't trade my century-old heap of rusting iron and rotting rivets for a single part these replicas. Beautifully designed, they undoubtedly are; fitted to perfection they might be with the last word in compact kitchens and bathrooms, not to mention storage space where you wouldn't believe it possible to create a mouse-hole let alone a cupboard (Okay, maybe I am a bit envious of the cleverly designed interiors). But apart from that, I would neither want nor could I afford one of these - shall we say - generous-pension-fund-retirement investments. They are very, very expensive.

No, when I talk about owning a barge, the most impressive thing I can say about mine is that it's genuinely a piece of floating history. This year, my barge is 116 years old. There…isn't that something? And, as I mentioned in my last post, it was one of the first Dutch barges to be built as a motor vessel. In case you didn't know already, at the end of the last century, most barges were still sailing craft. Some were built for both and allowed for an engine as an auxiliary to the sails, but few were constructed with just a motor and no sails at all. So I'm a little proud of this part my dainty dameschip  has played in the history of transport.

But all that aside, the fact that it is so very, very old brings its own set of maintenance problems. One of these is simply keeping it clean. I don't know why it should be but old boats don't just attract dirt, they act as magnets for any and all grime, sand, mould and associated fungal growth that's around. Moor up next to a new built barge or cruiser, and you'll see what I mean. These wonders of modern design and materials never seem to show so much as a smudge. And yet my barge looks as dirty and grubby after I've scrubbed, washed and drowned it with rinsing water as it did before. It just isn't fair! Even worse, every winter, it grows a green coat, which is slimy and horrible. It doesn't matter how diligently you brave the snow, ice and howling gales to try and keep it at bay, the dreaded furry growth spreads like some nasty science fiction disease.

How I love to see my barge - Freshly painted and CLEAN!

You might justifiably be wondering why I'm on this mini rant today. Well, for the past two weekends, I seem to have spent an inordinate amount of time cleaning our two very old (but much loved) boats. Next to one of these, our little Henni H, lie two Dutch barges with everything new on them, and I am constantly ashamed to be in their company. Every time I go to the Henni H, which is most weekends, I seem to spend a disproportionate amount of time cleaning, so I rarely get the chance to do what is really needed and that is the painting. The same is true of the Vereeniging, but luckily, my gorgeous monument is moored next to a bunch of other equally ancient barges, so despite my mutters, it doesn't compare so badly.
The Hennie H - also freshly painted, but not as monumental
as the Vereeniging

All the same, it would be lovely to see some benefits for my labours, don't you think? The trouble is I know that if I really want that level of immaculate perfection, I shouldn't go for  - what was it I called it? - an old heap of rusting iron and rivets. Just as nothing is ever straight on an old barge, nothing is ever smooth either, so all those little pits and crevices that are the result of years of wear and tear are just asking for the world and his gunk to settle in them.

 So, people with cleanliness phobias beware, an old barge is a dirt trap and unless you are a career cleaner, or you have the whole thing re-built (in which case it's not old anymore), there's no miracle on earth that's going to keep it clean. As for me, I just have to keep the buckets and brushes primed and deal with it. I suppose it keeps me fit if nothing else. There have to be some compensations...