Monday, July 13, 2015

Dealing with loss

I’ve just read Jo Carroll’s very moving post about the passing away of someone she has known since childhood. She has expressed it beautifully and as I read it, I just wanted to keep saying ‘yes, yes – that’s just how it feels.’

In my last post, I touched on the fact I’d lost a very dear friend recently to cancer. It happened when I was in South Africa, something I’d been dreading since I booked my flight several months ago. Unlike Jo's, my friend was not very old, but the battle with cancer had been going on for nearly four years. In the last months, it became clear that it was a matter of time - and I knew it. Nevertheless, I  haven’t felt able to write about it for two reasons: one being that I know the family wouldn’t want anyone to put two and two together – I , like Jo, have to and want to respect their privacy and that’s increasingly difficult on the internet these days; the other is that I really could not find the words to say how I felt, except that a very important light in my life has gone out.

Jo’s post is so moving; she writes with such perception, I’d like to link to it here. Please read it.

For myself, this photo was one I took in South Africa on learning the news. I was given some time to be alone (thank you, Moira), so I wandered round these tracks taking it in - dealing with the 'dislocation' as Jo puts it. This image, with its rails disappearing into the distance, felt fitting.

Thursday, July 09, 2015

Getting back to writing

Just for some eye candy. My Zeeland view

The year to date has been full of challenges and there has been quite a bit of stress involved that has distracted me from writing. But now at last I am pleased to be getting back into it. It's not easy, though. I find I lack energy for very much and the old flow is difficult to regain. Doing my Master's took a lot out of me; I also lost my beloved dog to old age and a very, very dear friend to cancer. None of these has been easy to deal with.

But back to the writing: my current books will never achieve best seller status. I know that. The idealistic dream was just that - idealism in its most optimistic, but unrealistic form - lovely while it lasted, but that was about as long as it took to press the publish button on Kindle. The English speaking market here in NL is relatively small; there are few shops stocking English books, but there such readers as there are usually have the internet,  so native speaking readers have a huge selection to choose via the multitude of online bookstores.

The result is that I only have steady sales via Kindle books, mostly through, but…telling enough...I've only sold one on in the last six months! Of the Kindle sales, the majority are my memoirs. My fiction doesn't do well despite winning an award for my teen novel, so I've come to accept that memoirs are the best area for me in terms of selling, but is that what I want to keep writing? And why do I write anyway?

A bit more of my view. Writing inspiration

At the moment I'm busy working on the account of the three years we lived part time in Belgium. By that, I mean we were weekend residents on our barge in Brussels. It was a period rich in experiences and recollections, so I am writing about those and hoping to publish them as an e-book later this year. I've also got an African story in the pipeline. Light hearted and hopefully humorous, but nothing of great literary value.

What I really want is to write a 'real' novel and that's what I'm aiming for. I enjoy writing the non-fictional narratives, but I miss the freedom of creativity that fiction gives.

I loved writing The Skipper's Child, which was set in the 1960s, but I'd like to go back just a bit further in time and write a novel about war time on the Dutch waterways. It's going to take a lot of research and I've been buying books about the period, all of which are in Dutch - quite a challenge for me still. My plan is that this one will be for adults, and not a YA book. It will also be part thriller, part history, part family life and relationships. Again, Koos' father has been something of an inspiration. I never knew him, but I feel he was a courageous man of great principle and he would not have baulked at doing what he knew to be right. I'm really excited about the idea of this writing project, but I know I've got to do the reading first, so….

For the next year, I'll be finishing my Belgian memoir and the story set in South Africa (which I confess I started months ago). These two are easy to write. They will be my outlet until I'm ready for the big one. I just have to keep at it and get my writing flow back again!

In the interim, I'm busy with boats (as always), gardens (I prefer to look, but they don't do themselves) and travelling (a trip to Romania coming up), so life is pretty full despite my apathy. Maybe it's not that bad, hey?

My favorite plants of all time - Hollyhocks
known as Stokrozen here
Have a wonderful sunny weekend everyone…(okay, I know I'm starting early, but that makes a change) xxx

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

Absence makes the heart grow fonder…or South Africa in ten days

The title of this blog has more than one significance for me. For one thing, I've been away from my blog and blogland too long (why is life so busy?). For another, I've been away to a country and a friend I've missed sorely over the years and in that sense, I have probably grown even fonder of it than before.

For those I haven't seen on Facebook, I've just spent ten days in my beloved South Africa with my dearest and best friend, Moira (I wrote about our friendship back in 2007 here). It seems almost daft to talk about 'best friends' at my age, but Moi is one of those for whom time apart makes no difference. Within seconds of my arrival, we were giggling over absurdities just as we've always done.

We drove from Johannesburg to the midlands of Kwazulu Natal, a hauntingly beautiful part of the country, where we stayed in a self-catering 'chalet' (although what it had to do with quaint wooden houses and decks remained a mystery to me as in reality it was a full-sized house). Every morning of our stay, we got up, wrapped blankets around us and went onto the veranda overlooking the magnificent foothills of the Drakensberg. The early part of each day was chilly, but the sun shone in cloudless blue skies as we sat there talking, laughing and drinking coffee (or tea in Moi's case) accompanied from day one by the stable cat. She in fact moved in and never left, so Moi took her home to Jo'burg at the end of our stay with the blessing of the stables' owners.

We sat here every morning wrapped in blankets

View from our veranda
We did a few trips out, and a good deal of walking, but mostly we were there to relax and catch up. I wrote a diary during the week, and reading it back, I chuckle anew over the daft things we did: trying to reach the chalet car port by driving over the garden instead of the road (a rather bumpier ride than intended) and attempting to open up the house with the car keys (it was more like forcing an entry) were just two of them. We got the giggles like school girls, and one evening we were laughing so much over my cavalier attitude to cooking dinner, I had to dash to the loo before I had an embarrassing accident. 

We had some lovely walks. This retreat was on one route

A trip out to Giants Castle in the Drakensberg

Giants Castle reserve

The mighty Drakensberg

Trains - always a draw card for me
But then there were the incredible stars - the Milky Way seemed so close you felt could touch it, and the Southern Cross was like a vivid beacon, a true guiding light in the sky.  There were the fire-breaks and controlled burn-offs (plus some that were uncontrolled and scary) that I remember from living there myself. And there was the beauty of the scenery to make us stop in awe. Even more impressive was the Mandela Monument near Howick to remind us of what the country has been through. There were also the observations I made: for instance, people are so very open, helpful and friendly that for me, coming from this northern, more reticent culture, it was a wonderful reminder of SA's great (and justified) reputation for hospitality. Another observation was how things have changed to meet the new market demands there. I was highly entertained to notice that the clothes mannequins in the shop windows all had very pert, well rounded behinds - no longer the skinny European style models! As I said, local market demands…

An out of control burn off - scary!

The amazing sculpture of Mandela by Marco Cianfanelli

Lions River. This old house now houses
a sort of antique shop

Lastly there was the clear indication that while the affluence in SA is now much more evenly spread in terms of racial mix, there is sadly no real diminution of the numbers of desperately poor people. Many of these have come from neighboring countries - from economies crippled by conflict, drought and mismanagement - and are seeking a better life. Nevertheless, South Africa is not yet economically strong enough to cope and the pressure on its own infra-structures is showing. Power cuts are a regular occurrence with scheduled 'outages' of several hours several times a month. More and more, people are talking about 'going off the grid' and making their own electricity with solar power. 

To add to the problems, a failure in water management planning means that in some places 50% of the drinking water is lost 'in the pipeline' due to lack of maintenance and even theft. This, in a country prone to drought as well. These are challenges South Africa is facing. They are serious, and they will need to be addressed if the people are to move forward.

Water is often wasted in the (broken) pipelines
All said, though, and despite these issues that I discussed at length with Moi, it was a fabulous ten days and it did me a power of good to spend time with my Best Friend. I don't honestly know when I'll be able to go back again; there's no doubt I always leave a part of my heart there, so I'm sure it won't be too far off as I can never stay away for long.