Saturday, January 27, 2018

From Africa to Amsterdam: meet Lucinda E Clarke

It's been a long time since I did a weberview here, so I'd like to offer a very warm welcome to Lucinda E Clarke, whose amazing books set in Africa have entertained me on many a long cold evening in Europe. 

Lucinda has written three full length memoirs, one humorous novel and a four book action adventure series. Apart from the humorous book, all her writing is set mainly in Africa, which is where she has lived most of her life. She now lives in Spain, but I can tell from her books her heart, like mine, still lives in the southern hemisphere.

Lucinda's memoirs and her humorous novel
Unhappily Ever After

So Lucinda, I'm going to mix my questions up a bit, but they are all things I've been curious about since I started reading your memoir 'Walking on Eggshells'

Firstly, then, I've read all your books (I think) and have enjoyed every one of them (I know), but which of your books have you most enjoyed writing?

Val, firstly thank you for the opportunity to talk about me, myself my books and my life – no one I meet in person is the slightest bit interested (sad eh? I don't believe it! VP)
I most enjoyed writing the 4th book in the Amie series “Amie: Cut for Life,” because I was beginning to feel like a proper author. I knew where I was going with it, even though I never map out of any of my books. It took longer than the others, but I believe the end product was the best. I think I’m getting a bit better with practice. Only another 50 or so to go and I should have cracked it.

Well,  I've just finished your Worst Riding School in the World, Parts 1 and 2 and I laughed my socks off, so I think you've more than cracked it if you can write both humour and drama so well! Anyway, I saw you mentioned how much you loved Botswana. Is that the country you have in mind when you are writing your Amie novels and how well did you get to know Botswana before you moved to South Africa?

I lived in Botswana for almost 3 years and it’s the real Africa. South Africa is more a first world infrastructure (shopping malls, high rises, excellent road network etc) dropped down in the middle of the African bush. There was none of that in Botswana, though we were beside ourselves when they opened the first cinema and a Spar shopping supermarket in Francistown, such luxury!

Lucinda's action adventure series set in Africa

I can imagine that. It sounds wonderful in your books, though. Can I ask which you find it easier to write: fact or fiction and why?

The fact is so much easier – you are simply recounting what happened so the story is all mapped out in your head. You don’t get to page 149 and suddenly realize your heroine can’t come to the rescue because you’d put her in a wheelchair and left her in a prison three thousand miles away!

Haha, true, but fact has its own challenges, doesn't it? Do you think your travels have helped you as a writer? If so, in what way?

Goodness yes! Despite the reviewer who told me I didn’t know what I was talking about (she had never been to Africa, but she had seen it on the television news). You get to meet people who have a different mindset, opinions, knowledge, education and you realize that everything you have been taught until then, was only from one point of view – possibly the media in your own country. Our thoughts are shaped by the propaganda we are fed. “Travel broadens the mind” is one of the truest sayings I’ve ever encountered.

I so agree with that. But how do you think living in Africa has influenced you and your writing?

I was just so incredibly lucky. Like you, I was far away from the suburban areas, living in the bush. My filming took me to chiefs’ kraals, witchdoctor’s huts, agricultural projects, schools, hospitals, local government – I could go on and on and on. I was so privileged to be welcomed to places where I would joke with my African crew “Look after me guys, I’m the only white person for miles and miles!” So many of the people I met touched my heart, so few possessions, so brave, so accepting and often bewildered by the fast-paced modern world that was trying to drag them into the mainstream.

One shoot I remember was when the African government official could not understand why the San (Bushmen) should be allowed to hunt and live as they had for centuries. No, the official policy was they must live in houses with running water and send the children to school and the men must get jobs. They had rounded them up and pushed them into this housing estate miles from anywhere and the San looked so miserable. It was so sad; they didn’t want to live what we call a conventional life.

Lucinda with an African chief

Strange how even Africans can totally misunderstand other Africans. Now, as writers we are always striving to improve, aren't we? Is there anything you find difficult in the writing process, and if so, how are you trying to overcome it? (Sorry, this is a boring question, but I really am curious!)

There are some days when the words don’t come – onset of word retrieval or lack of. Other days I can’t type fast enough to keep up. I get twitchy if I don’t write for a couple of days, but then I’m writing up blogs, or the newsletter or commenting on social media or composing reviews. Basically, I live to write and that’s what was so wonderful about my work in the media. I would be bouncing out of bed screaming “Yeah! It’s Monday!” – although I’d probably worked right through the weekend as well! 

I’m a workaholic and was heartbroken leaving the production work behind when we left South Africa. If I feel I’ve hit a brick wall in a book, I plough on, even though I might delete a whole lot later. I’m very disciplined having worked to deadlines so often, I occasionally have to tell myself that it’s not a train smash if I didn’t get 5,000 words done today – I am supposed to be retired after all.

My word, I'd be delirious to write even 1000 words every day. That's amazing, but Lucinda, I know you've been writing for years; do you remember the first thing you ever wrote?

Oh yes, it was a report on the Sunday School class I was teaching (to win brownie points to get into teacher training). It was published in the church magazine, but I think I was the only one ever to read it, as I snaffled all the copies and took them home to read! I cringe when I think about it now.

Now you're being too modest, I'm sure! Are you writing anything at the moment. Can you tell us what it is, and when it's likely to be available?

I am currently writing book 5 in the Amie series. She’s the young English girl I uproot from the London suburbs and dump in Africa and then, when war breaks out and the last evacuation plane takes off, she is left behind to survive as best she can. Since book 1 I have put her through all kinds of hell, and in this book she gets mixed up in high level international politics over mineral rights which are necessary for nuclear devices. I can’t give much more than that away at this stage but she is still under threat from the government forces who are using her. I hope to have it out sometime this year, but I’ve been so busy marketing I’ve neglected the writing side. I need an extra 6 hours a day!

Well, that sounds as if it's going to be as unputdownable as the others! I won't keep you any longer now, Lucinda, as I'm going to pack you off to your keyboard to get writing! Thank you so much for joining me here today. It's been great to have you on my barge for a chat. At least it hasn't been windy today so you haven't had to cling to your cuppa.

The day I met Lucinda on her flying visit to Amsterdam
A meeting I enjoyed because I admire her immensely

For anyone interested in sampling some of Lucinda's great books, click here for her Amazon author page.
Lucinda is also active on Facebook 
And on Twitter

Have a good week allemaal. I'll be back with all that's wet and watery next time!

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Wind and wuthering

You've probably all heard about the Great Storm we had in the Netherlands this last Thursday. The 18th January 2018 will go down in history as the 7th worst storm in Holland since records began in 1901 and maybe even the worst so far this century.

Here's a video of what it was doing in Zeeland not far from the crumbly cottage:

What is interesting, though, is that according to weather experts, we've generally had quite a peaceful time since the nineteen seventies and eighties. Apparently, bad storms were more frequent back then, and the last really serious one countrywide was eleven years ago. Oddly, however, it's seemed to me that we've had an increasing number of serious weather events in the last few years, but now I wonder if that's just an illusion created by the growth of our communications network; in other words, the internet.

Perhaps we're all inclined to think things are much worse because we see so much more; it's all over social media like a rash. The point is, I didn't really know how bad our storm on Thursday was until I saw all the footage on Twitter and on the news sites when I got home. As far as I was concerned at the time, the worst thing about it was the fact all the trains stopped running due to trees falling on the line. It was simply inconvenient because I had to take a very round about way back from work.

I will admit I got blown sideways by the wind when I was walking through the campus and nearly ended up in a pond (not quite as bad as in the video below, but you get the idea). The thing is, it's always bad at the university; the buildings tend to form wind tunnels, so even then, I wasn't really conscious we were having a record breaking day. But once I saw all the images, and all the damage it had caused, I was mighty impressed. Suddenly, it was something to be shocked about.

The best thing about the social media coverage was the way people helped each other get home. On Twitter there was a brilliant initiative to offer stranded train travellers lifts by connecting through the hashtag #stormpoolen, a really heartwarming and useful way of using our modern technology.

Here's another video of news footage about the storm:

Of course, in the last year, there have been some of the worst hurricanes ever recorded, and weather wise in general, the last twelve months have been horrendous, haven't they? But I can't help thinking that without all the excitement caused by instant messaging, instant videos and instant images, most of us wouldn't be half as awe-struck by these extreme weather events unless we were personally affected by them. Or would we?

I was in London during the Great Storm of 1987. Now that was impressive, it really was, and even without social media. I remember the wind positively screaming round the flats in Woodford Green where I was staying with my small daughters. I also remember going into my eldest's bedroom and finding her window ripped open and banging against the outside wall while the wind howled through her room like the proverbial banshee. I was horrified and rushed to haul the window back in place, which was no mean feat, I can tell you. After I locked it, I checked on my child. She hadn't even woken up, bless her. The next day, though, we had to climb over numerous trees that had come down in the streets around Woodford. There was debris everywhere and everything was in chaos; it was almost apocalyptic.

Since I've lived on the Vereeniging too, we've had a few other memorable storms that even resulted in fallen trees across my bows, but they remain in my memory because they actually affected me. Had they not done so, I probably wouldn't have noticed given that these events were before the age of Facebook and Twitter. I may or may not have read about them in the paper (I didn't have TV even then) but I doubt if they'd have made all that much of an impact on me – not the way the trees did!

So what do you think? Are we more alarmed, impressed and worried because we see and hear so much more? I'd be interested to know what you think!

Friday, January 12, 2018

The First Post : 2018

I can hardly believe the year is already nearly two weeks old and I am only writing my first post of the year now.

I wish I could say it's because I've been doing some amazing things, but I can't really. We had a very enjoyable Christmas with the family we have here in the Netherlands; in other words, my two daughters and their other halves. It's the first time I've had a vegan Christmas dinner and I'm sure it won't be the last as it was quite yummy. Not your usual fare, but just as festive and anyway, the company was excellent (who needs cold turkeys, anyway?).

One of my lovely sons-in-law
Christmas dinner, vegan style
The following week, Koos and I embarked on the grand 'cellar project' at the crumbly cottage. It's been a damp and unsavoury place for many years. A dive in and duck out hole. We've always kept it reasonably organised, but there were no shelves, too much stuff piled up and too many mosquitos inhabiting the dark and dank space (this is Holland after all). So in December, I took the bull by the horns (being Koos) and we cleared everything out. Koos manfully re-plastered one of the walls (maybe not expertly, but really well, I must say) and I put a waterproof cement coating on the outside wall.

Between Christmas and New Year, we painted it, put some lino down and put up some shelves in something of flurry. We still need to do more, but here is a photo of the work-in-progress. It already looks so much better than this now, but I don't have more recent photos of it yet. I will have soon (I hope) and if I can, I'll add them to this post (update 14 Jan. Newer photo added). It's been a huge job and taken more resolve than I would have thought possible. The only thing that's kept me going is my dislike of the messy overspill on the patio and in the sun room. The only thing that's kept Koos going is his desire to stop me from moaning...haha.

The cellar in progress

On New Year's Day, we did our traditional walk on the beach. It wasn't a particularly nice day. In fact, it was bitterly cold, a bit dreary and windy too, but we did it and loved it as we always do.

The traditional NY Koos photo 

Since then, I've visited a friend for a few days to celebrate her birthday, and now work has resumed in earnest. I am delighted to be teaching a group of Syrian refugees twice a week; they are just a joy to be with. They are open, friendly, lively and boy are they sharp?! I have rarely been asked such searching and challenging questions about language and expression. They are doing a foundation year to prepare for university in the Netherlands and I'm so pleased to know I'll be teaching them until May.

enjoying a New Year’s drink together, my oldest and dearest friend, Moira
Moi and me, friends for nearly thirty years

So that's me for the beginning of the year, allemaal. The Christmas tree is down and life is back to normal. How is your 2018 panning out now?