Thursday, August 30, 2012

Century-old folklore in Dendermonde

Tonight, around 8 pm, the whole town center is ready once more for the traditional 'Katuit' (don't ask me to explain in English, there is simply no name for it).
So what is this?
First of all you have to know that Dendermonde was a medieval town, with its own town charter (given by Count Robrecht of Bethune, the ruler over Flanders and my predecessor). There were walls and fortifications, and the city was inhabited by citizens who were organised in guilds.
Those guilds all had a patron saint and to honor those, they organised a yearly holy procession through the town. This was done every last Thursday of August.
Up to now the tradition remains, but the pageant nowadays has little to do with the  old one. The old one was religious in meaning, but the three giants were already present.
Yes, giants. The images of Mars, Goliath and Indian. They are huge puppets with carved wooden faces and body, so they weigh heavily. Yet they are not on wheels, like in many other Flemish town, but they are carried on the shoulders of strong men.
Those who carry the giants and also our world-famous Horse Bayard, are the descendants of those who unloaded the ships on the river Schelde. The present carriers have to belong to one of those old families, otherwise they won't be chosen.
For a couple of hours, our old town center will be filled with thousands of people, most part inhabitants of Dendermonde, but also lots of people from all over Belgium and tourists. At the end of the evening, the giants will dance on the Great Market before the Town Hall. And the finale is a big firework display.
If you like to see images of those giants, please visit my Facebook page (you'll find me there as Nicole Moens and my profile pic is of a woman standing on a terrace).

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Charlie's Angels

I bet lots of men will be watching the late news on TV1 as from now. The board has done some reorganising, and as from September 3rd, three young and beautiful women will present the late news. They're all in their mid-thirties, blond and blue-eyed ... AND they are all intelligent.
Who said that blondes are stupid is totally wrong.

I think it is a good idea of the producers to put these three beauties into the late journal. Not a lot of people watched it but as from now there will certainly be an audience for it. The three women are good reporters and have been working for the radio until now. They have a nice voice and good pronunciation (sorry, can't deny I'm a teacher).

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Convicted criminals ... and their future

Right now, there is a lot of commotion going on in Belgium. Michelle Martin, (ex) wife of convicted child murderer Marc Dutroux, and she herself convicted as accomplice, is due to be released today. We're waiting on the verdict right now, but most likely she'll be set free.
See, we have laws that say a convicted criminal can be set free when he or she has done 1/3 of the time due. If convicted for 30 years, they can be free after 10.
The parents of the deceased girls have started a protest action. They don't want to see Martin go to a convent (which she will do when she is set free). They want her in prison until she dies
In my opinion, they should start a movement to alter the laws. After all, the judges can't do anything else but follow the law.
Our criminals laws are just not strong or harsh enough. Someone convicted for stealing a loaf of bread can be longer in jail than someone who has done murder. Sometime ago, a bank robber rebelled against this, claiming he had only stolen money and never killed or hurt a person. I felt he was right in doing so.
What is your opinion? Mind sharing it?

Monday, August 27, 2012

Are you addicted to soaps?

I always thought I was not... But look and behold: I've been watching the soap 'Thuis' (in English: Home) for over 13 seasons, withouth missing one episode!
It's so addictive to watch ordinary people love, suffer, murder, ... Tonight we'll finally know if Simonne has survived her accident, if Marianne can keep her affair with David hidden from her husband Geert, if Femke realizes she's nearly killed Simone, etc.
Sometimes I think I could write a better script for the soap, but all in all I think it is well-made and captures the interest of the viewer. With over 1 million viewers per night it's a blockbuster in our little country Belgium. It does better than the soap on independent TV, which is called 'Familie' (Family). Better acting, better directing.
What do you think about soaps? Do you watch them too?

Sunday, August 26, 2012

What makes a hero?

This morning, I heard in the news that Neil Armstrong has died. To most American, Armstrong was and is a hero.
I won't say anything against Mr. Armstrong - what he did was certainly remarkable. But does being the first man on the moon make you a hero?
In my opinion, not.
A hero for me is someone who does not look for personal profit, who does not think one second before doing something which can save another one's life.
A real hero for for is the boy (only 10 years old) who was cycling with his little sister. The little girl bumped against a tree branch lying on the cycle path, and fell. Not just into the grass, but into the deep water of a river.
Her brother did not hesitate one second, but jumped off his own bike and into the water. He was able to find his sister in the dark water and tried to hold her head up. In the meantime, other people had alerted the 101 services and help was under way. Some adults helped the boy get out of the water, because that was something he could not do himself, and grabbed hold of the little girl.
She made it, and I should think she will thank her brother greatly.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Nickie's Ten Questions to Ann Cleeves

Has anyone seen the British ITV series 'Vera'? It's a detective story based on the books of Ann Cleeves. I asked her a couple of questions a month or so ago.

1) Did you know you woud be an author when you were just a kid?

 I knew I wanted to tell stories. It never occurred to me that I might earn a living from it. And it's still a wonderful surprise to me when I see one of my novels in a bookshop or library.

 2) Your father was a teacher. Were you a pupil in his class?

 Yes, he taught me for two years. It was a tiny primary school in the country - there were only 30 pupils in the whole school. He loved telling stories too!

 3) Have any of your daughters inherited her mother’s talent for writing?

 Not for writing fiction. One of my daughters is a midwife and the other is an academic. She writes very good research papers...

 4) When did you start your first novel (published or not) , and what drove you to it?

 I started my first novel when we were living on the very small tidal island of Hilbre. It's a nature reserve in the Dee Estuary to the north west of England. My husband was the warden there and we were the only residents. There was no mains water or electricity and when I was pregnant with my first child there was nothing much else to do. It took several years for me to finish it and I was so proud when I did. And even more proud when it was accepted for publication.

 5) Being a member of various (would-be) writer’s forums, I know how many find it difficult to get their work published. How did it go in your case?

 I went to the library to see which company published the sort of book that I'd written and then I sent a letter to three of them. All answered and the third one I tried accepted me! That was in the late eighties. It's much more difficult now.

 6) How was that first work received by the public?

 It got a couple of good reviews and sold enough copies to encourage my publisher to take my next book, but I certainly wasn't an overnight hit. I'm pleased about that now. It meant that I could improve my writing in relative obscurity.

 7) You surely get enough reader’s letters. What do they tell or ask you most?

 Most recently they've asked about the ending to BLUE LIGHTNING. This is the fourth novel in my Shetland quartet. The ending is quite dramatic and some people have been upset by it. I take that as a compliment - it means that readers have become involved in the characters.

 8) Suppose a critic is tearing down your latest effort in the national press. How would you react?

 I'm sure I'd be upset. A book is very personal so it feels as if someone is criticizing one of your children in public. But often it's possible to learn from a review, so I do read them.

 9) What kind of research do you use for your plots?

 I spend a lot of time in Shetland researching the books set there. I have a good friend who is a CSI. She teaches now on the policing course of a local university, so she's brilliant about crime scenes or forensic details.

 10) And lastly (because I also love a good malt whisky): what is your favourite one?

 Bruichladdich. It's an Islay malt. We have close friends who live right next door to the distillery. They make very good gin too.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Do dreams have a meaning?

Some people will claim they certainly have. Others won't believe it can be true.

Now you're wondering how I came to this notion? Well, I was sitting in the train this morning, and two ladies began a conversation with me. One of them did a class of psychology where they tried to explain the meaning of dreams.

Now I'm not clueless in this field, as I also studied psychology and my own common sense tells me I'm dreading to have to work abroad (I often have this dream where I have to return to Germany and work there). When I was only 22 years young, I did work in Germany, but right now I would not want to leave my hometown again.

And when I dream I see my dad or mum, or my grandparents, I'm just reminded of the happy times we had together before they left us. My grandfather died in 1973, grandma in 1986, dad in 1993 and mum in 2008.

But what in heaven's name is the meaning of a dream my sister had some days ago? She dreamed that two elephants were walking through our living room and they opened the doors with their trunk. They also did not touch anything - or left something on the floor. ??????

If anyone knows what this means, feel free to share it with me.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Nickie's Ten Questions to Steve Mosby

This time I thought of asking some questions to Steve Mosby. Steve is a British author, who writes some of the best thrillers I've read in years. The first book of him I read, The 50/50 killer, I just could not put down! Since then I have read more books, equally pleasing and keeping me trying to find out how everything goes...

The interview was conducted in 2008. Here are the questions:

1) Have you always known you wanted to be a writer?
I think so. Certainly, my parents always encouraged me to read books and write my own stuff. We were a fairly poor family, but my mother used to say "there's always money for books". I know that when I was messing up a maths exam at twelve, I was thinking: it doesn't matter, because I'm going to be a writer.

2) At what tender age did you write your first story?
Well, as above, my parents used to fold a bunch of A4 sheets into a book and sew the edge. I did 'choose your own adventure' books at that point - write numbers 1-400 through it, then do 'turn to 70 if you want to enter the room' entries. I imagine I was about nine or ten.

3) Why do you especially choose to write psychological thrillers?
It wasn't deliberate to begin with, and maybe it isn't now. My first book, "The Third Person", did the rounds at Orion, and eventually got published as Crime, so from then on I was a 'crime writer'. I like the genre because it's high-level and covers a lot of ground. 'Psychological thriller' is even better. I know I can write dark, fast-paced, character-based material and it will fit, and that's what I'm drawn to do anyway.

4) Have you a background in psychology (guess that would help)?
Not at all, but I've packed a lot of 'interesting' relationships and life experience into my thirty-something years and I have a lot of empathy for people, which I think helps. Even people who treat me badly, I tend to see things from their perspective as much as mine. My academic background is Philosophy. I think that's useful for many reasons, not least because it teaches you to appreciate other people's viewpoints, and, at the same time, to both attack and defend them. It's good for the logic of plot development, and also for understanding why people might think the things they do.

5) What did it take to find success in writing?
Well, 'success' is a subjective word, and I wouldn't describe myself with it just yet! I started to become comfortable after about ten years of serious writing. I think there's a lot to be said for Ray Bradbury's approach, which is to serve an apprenticeship, if only with yourself. Write a few hundred words a day, every day, for - say - ten years, and be enormously self-critical throughout. It sounds like a huge commitment, and in some ways it is, but writing is a craft like any other. Most days, I still feel like a complete amateur. Which is good, because I am.

6) How important are readers to you?
They're important, of course, and I love every email I get - even when they're negative! I would still be writing, even if I was never published again, because I love the process, but the reader contributes as much as I do. A book is just words on a page until someone reads it and 'creates' the story in their head. In many ways, they're more important than the writer. At the same time, although I wouldn't want to be talking to myself, there's a massive difference between telling people what they want to hear and saying what *you* want to say and hoping people want to listen. I always try for the latter.

7) Do you appreciate everything readers tell you? (or: how well do you handle criticism?)
I try to read everything. I take the relevant stuff onboard, and I respond when it's appropriate (if someone emails me). I mean, I'm interested and I care what people think. But the thing with writing and reading is that nobody can ever really be wrong, so I take the harshest stuff on the chin and not to heart. You do what you do, and not everyone's going to like it.

8) Do you care to disclose some of your plans for the future (in writing, I mean)?
I don't really have any! My next book, Cry for Help, is out this month (May 2008), and I'm contracted for two more. The first is well on its way; the second will follow eventually. That's writing for me: one word in front of the other. If you're paid to do what you love, it's the best life in the world.

9) Will you ever consider writing something completely different?
We'll see. My aim is to carry on as I am with the type of books I'm doing, but I'd never rule out branching out.

10) Who are your own favourite authors/books?
Books would take too long. Some of my favourite authors are: Stephen King, Dean Koontz, Michael Marshall Smith, Tim Willocks, Thomas H Cook, Jack Ketchum, Christopher Priest, Jack Ketchum, Mo Hayder, Val McDermid, Graham Joyce, Sophie Hannah and John Connolly.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Should children be treated as adults?

Nowadays there is a lot of commotion around a murder case of a thirteen year old girl. The case is still not clear, but three people are accused of  having commited the fact: one adult, a 16-year-old and a 12-year-old.
Under our law system, the 16-year-old could face a murder charge before an adult court - if the youth council agrees on it.
But the 12-year-old can't be punished. Most that can happen to him is being placed in a foster family.
Makes me wonder why this is so.
I don't make a judgement about the two youngsters concerned in this case, but I have known for fact that young people can be just as malicious as grown-ups.
In my long teacher career I've met some boys and girls, of whom I knew for sure they would become criminals. I don't know how, but I can judge a person's character from when I first lay eyes on them. These youngsters later on proved me right. One became a rapist, the other a murderer, another one did hold-ups where people were left for dead.
In my view - and this is solely mine - children who commit crimes like murder or rape should be treated accordingly. They should be punished, just as adults should also be punished harsher than they are now.
Did you know that in Belgium 'life-long imprisonment' only means 30 years? And that the criminal can be free after 20 year, when he or she behaves well in prison?
No wonder people take to protesting. Lots of them don't agree that Michelle Martin (ex-wife of Dutroux) would be set free and can retire to a convent.
What's your view on this?

Monday, August 20, 2012

Where do you like to spend your holiday?

For most people, the word 'holiday' implies going to some southern beach and soak in the sun, doing just nothing. For the Belgians, the most favorite holiday destinations are France, Spain, Italy or Turkey. Especially 'all in' packages are very popular, and sometimes they only cost like 750 € for the entire journey & stay!

Not for me - I hate lying around at a beach or pool and dread those high temperatures. My sister is the same. We love to spend our holidays somewhere where we can see and do things. Going to a museum, exploring a castle, go to the theatre or musical theatre, enjoy the countryside by making walks or bicycle rides, ...

Our favorite destinations are cities - like London, New York, San Francisco, Vancouver, Paris, Vienna.

Our last holiday was spent in London (can'r resist going there!) and then on the Isle of Man (very interesting place, with lots of remains from Celtic and Viking era's). We ended our trip in Liverpool, also an interesting town.

What's your favorite holiday destination?

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Nickie's Ten Questions to Anne Perry

Anne Perry is the author of a number of detective stories, set in Victorian England. She has several series, the one with Inspector Monk and the one with Inspector Pitt. Anne was so kind as to answer some of my questions.

1) When did you realise you wanted to be a writer?
I have never seriously wanted any other career than writing.

2) Did it take you long to get published?
Yes, it took me many years to be published. It took me a long time to become 'an over-night success'!

3) Can you describe how you felt when you saw your first published book in the stores?
When I saw my first published book in a store, it was an American edition, in a Canadian shop (the US published long before the UK). I saw somebody buy one and that was a marvellous moment - suddenly I was 'real'.

4) Were you agented when this first book got published?

5) What was the general reaction to this book?
I don't know the general reaction, since I live in the UK, but the whole series, beginning in 1979 and now 25 books, is still in print, plus the other series.

6) Why did you especially choose Victorian London as the setting of most of your novels?
I didn't especially chose Victorian London. The first book was set there, so with the same characters, the rest followed on.

7) Do your readers show a preference for a certain series of books?
Yes, some express a preference, but many readers are happy with both.

8) How long do you hope to continue with your Monk and Pitt books?
I will continue with Pitt and Monk as long as people are interested, but there will be other books, with different characters and settings.

9) How do you deal with criticism?
Favorable criticism of course, I welcome, but adverse criticism I get sensitive about, especially when it is made by someone who has skipped through the story and missed the point!

10) Do you also read the work of others? And if so, which ones?
Yes, I read the works of other authors, and I like something as different from my own genre as possible, eg Michael Connelly, Jeffery Deaver and Jonathan Kellerman.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Do you love musical theatre?

I surely do, and I have been lucky to have seen many a muscial show already. I've been to the West End in London, Broadway in New York City, and to places like Vancouver, Antwerp and Scheveningen in Holland, Liverpool in GB and Douglas, Isle of Man.

Gathering from my experiences, I've made up my top five of my favorite musicals:

1. With a big * : Phantom of the Opera
2. Second best: Les Miserables
3. Love Never Dies
4. Saturday Night Fever
5. Billy Elliot

The best performers I already saw are Michael Ball (who's now performing in Sweeney Todd, the demon barber of Fleet Street), Ramin Karimloo (superb as The Phantom), Sierra Boggess and Alfie Boe.

I took this picture of Ramin when he did a solo performance in Cardiff, Wales last May. Ramin sang songs from his new album, along with some classics from the musical theatre.

And here I am, next to Michael Ball. When you'e patient enough to wait at the stage door, you often get to meet some of the stars of the musical theatre! Michael did a superb Sweeney Todd this night and I was glad I saw him do it.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Damned diamonds!

This is just a quote from Vivian Crystal, when she reviewed my novel "The Medici Diamonds: Diamonds for the Devil".

Yes, I do write myself and up to now I've completed four novels and one collection of short stories - all of them published by Rogue Phoenix Press in Oregon (

I consider Diamonds for the Devil as my best book yet. It's a story set in early 18th century France (locations are Burgundy and Paris) full of adventure, suspense, swash-buckling action and of course romance.

Diamonds tells the story of Marguerte de Vallencieux, the young daughter of a impoverished count in Burgundy. It's told in two different time settings, as the novel begins in 1721 and then goes back to 1711.

In 1721, we find Marguerite married to an older man, who is now the Attorney General of Paris. The big problem for Marguerite is not the age difference, but the fact she doesn't know a thing of what happened before she married Etienne... According to her brother, who is now the next Count Vallencieux, she has suffered a bad accident and due to it has no memory of the past.

All of a sudden, strange things begin to happen. She becomes guardian of a young boy, who is the nephew of the notorious street robber Cartouche. Etienne is murdered, but was he the intended victim? Can she trust the Marquis d'Aubervilliers, whom she meets in the park?

One event follows the other, and Marguerite's life in in turmoil. And then she meets a man - an outcast, said to have murdered his wife. Strangely, he is the only one she can trust...

I won't spoil by telling how it ends, but be sure to have a good read. It's not what I think myself (I do, obviously) but here is what others say:

"Damned Diamonds!"

Are you looking for a well-written, adventurous mystery with some historical connections to add to the intrigue? Here it is in Nickie Fleming's tale about the Medici diamonds, reputed to be cursed to whoever is the current owner but sought by thieves. In fact, they are willing to murder anyone who possesses these priceless jewels.

The tale begins with a young woman waking up in a Burgundy convent. Unable to remember anything about her past, she is dependent on her brother for her future. She experiences three marriages, fraught with convenience, brutality, and finally passionate love.

Before that dream of true love happens, however, Marguerite (or Margot as she is called by her peers) undergoes horrific nightmares about her unknown past, physical debilitation when the emerging memories strive to surface, a beating that leaves her mentally scarred but determined to protect her well-being at all costs, several murder attempts which wind up accidentally killing several people around her but which fail to remove the intended target, and finally an escape to a safe place where all of her tortured memories begin to emerge.

The returned memory portion of the novel is no less exciting than the previous sections and it is here that the reader discovers how the Medici diamonds have passed from victim to victim as well as the history of the diamonds.

The world of 18th Century France is portrayed accurately with its Prince Regent, Philippe d' Orleans and his court, as well as those constantly vying for his favor. Masqued dances, fashionable dress, the acquisition of riches to gain inclusion in the royal court, the loose marital agreements that allow and even expect affairs of the heart to supercede fidelity in monogamy, the secretive but powerful underworld of the Quartier Saint-Denis, a lost child and more fill these pages with enough action to totally mesmerize every reader. While the plot is certainly a familiar one to most readers, Nickie Fleming is adept at crafting the novel into sections that keep the reader guessing and thoroughly enjoying the progress of Marguerite's insecure journey and that of her friends and enemies.

This is a grand read - buy it and lose yourself in Nickie Fleming's imaginative presentation of France in the 1700s.

Vivian Crystal for Crystal Reviews

The Title and Cover are outstanding as if a curling finger beckons the potential reader.

The plot is revealed in an almost quiet unassuming manner and as I settled into the book I could almost imagine the mystery was being woven through the story as a Navaho Lady would weave her shawl of assorted colors for each character. The author tied the entire story together and there were no loose ends. There were no ho-hum moments and I found myself going back to read again and again until I had finished.

The descriptions of the City, the characters and the time frame present the reader with a comfortable and intimate feeling that they are a part of the story. I must admit that I was wishing for the ending to be as I wanted it to be and when it happened there were some tears of joy. After all I am an Irish-Scottish Lass


A Scottish Lass, for Angel Eyes Reviews (rating: 5 angel eyes on a total score of 5)

Got you interested? You can buy the book, both in paperback or ebook version, directly from the publisher, but it is also available from Amazon.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Nickie's Ten Questions to Richard Montanari

Do you love fast-paced thrillers, set in a brooding atmosphere? Then Richard Montanari is your man. He writes page-turners set in the city of brotherly love, Philadelphia. Detectives Kevin Byrne and Jessica Balsano are his main characters.
The novels have a deep psychological insight, which I love in a book. Ever tried to find out who the culprit is, from the start of the book? I always try, but I can vouch that Montanari makes it hard for you!

Following are the questions I asked him:

1) When did you realize you wanted to be an author?
I was always a storyteller, even as a child. I was also an amateur magician, so the art of misdirection and flourish has always been important to me. The idea of writing a novel came while I was starving as a freelance writer.

2) How long did it take you to write your first novel, 'Deviant Way'?
Deviant Way took about a year, which is average for me. I was very fortunate to have an agent as I was writing the book, and she didn’t let me go too far astray.

3) Was it easy to find a publisher for it?
I know a few writers who would like to beat me up for this, but it sold very quickly. There was a brief bidding war for the book, and it came down to Putnam and Simon & Schuster. Simon & Schuster published Deviant Way in hardcover in 1995.

4) How did it feel to be rewarded with the OLMA for the Best First Mystery for that debut thriller?
That was great, not to mention a huge surprise. I actually found out that I had won the award by noticing a post on a newsgroup. A few days later a very nice plaque arrived in the mail. When I learned that Jeffrey Deaver won best novel that year, I felt even more validated. Mr. Deaver is good company.

5) Any special reason why you prefer to write thrillers?
I love suspense. I am a very big fan of Alfred Hitchcock, and I’ve always loved the notion of things not being quite what they appear to be. Add to that my fear of the dark, and I don’t think I ever had a choice.

6) Are you planning to use your experiences of living in Europe in one of your coming novels?
That is hard to say. I have two more novels coming up in my Philadelphia crime series. After that, anything can happen.

7) Do you work full-time as an author, or do you still have another job?
I am very lucky to be able to do this full time. I’ve had a lot of jobs, including working construction in the dead of winter. I’d rather do this.

8) How do you deal with criticism?
I pout for days, eat German chocolate cake, and stay in bed.

9) How important are reader's reactions to you?
Reader reactions are far more important than “formal” reviews. When a reader sends an email about one of my books it is quite gratifying. I am a reader myself, and I like nothing more than discovering a new author, or reading a new book by one of my favorites. The fact that someone takes the time to write me a letter means the world.

10) And lastly... who are your favorite authors, or books?
There are so many. Shirley Jackson, James M. Cain, Charles Willeford, Ray Bradbury, James Ellroy, Richard Price, Dennis Lehane, Shane Stevens, Russell Banks, Thomas H. Cook, William Trevor, many others. I admire anyone who can show me a door, coax me through it, and surprise me with what’s on the other side.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

If you don't want to spend too much time in the kitchen...

Unlike myself and my sister, who both love to cook (and also like gourmet food & fine wines), there are a lot of young people nowadays who don't have the faintest idea of how to cook a meal.
And yet, this can be quite simple!

Take pasta forestière, for instance. It only takes about 20 minutes to prepare and it's tasty and full of nutrition.

You need the following ingredients for 3 to 4 people (depends how much you can eat):
- a pack of linguini (500 gr)
- 3/4 pounds of smoked bacon (buy it at the butcher shop, and ask for finger thick slices)
- 2 tomatoes
- a kilo of frozen forestière vegetables (if you don't find the name on the package, look for a mix of onion, peas, beans, mushrooms, peppers)
- one egg
- water to cook the pasta

Begin by cutting the bacon into cubes. Then also cut the tomatoes small parts.

Put a kettle on the fire and allow the water to cook. Then put in the linguini and wait until it cooks again. After two minutes of cooking, put in the frozen vegetables. Let these cook along for 5 more minutes.

In the meantime, seperate the yellow from the white of the egg. You don't need the white. An d bake the cubes of bacon in a pan.

When the pasta with the vegetables is ready, pour everything through a sieve to let the water run away. Put the pasta and the vegetables back into the pot, also add the fresh tomato cubes, the baked bacon and at last the yellow of the egg.

Mix once more and you're ready to eat!

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Staying at The West End Guesthouse in Vancouver, Canada

Sometimes when we travel, we book a room in a Bed & Breakfast. Many times this is a better option than a hotel room and very often the service is more personal.
Up to now, the best B&B where we stayed is undoubtedly the West End Guesthouse in Vancouver town. Owned by Evan Penner and his husband Ron, it is a real jewel. The rooms are Victorian in style but contain all the modern comfort you need. Better still, they don't have that many rooms and they ask their guests to respects the night rest of the others. We never had any disturbance during the eight nights we slept there!
But what makes this so special, is the breakfast which is served in the antique dining room. One morning we had muffins, fruit, a cheese ommelet, the other a choice of chocolate bread, raisin bread, ham & cheese, a fruitsalad with cream and a pancake with confit salmon!!!
There always was tea or coffee if you wanted, and cookies in the afternoon, while the best sherry ever was presented after 6 pm.
Evan and Rob were the kindest hosts we met and they did everything to make your stay a pleasant one!
I'd rate this B&B with 5 stars out of 5.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Nickie's Ten Questions to Paul Doherty

Ever heard of this author? Paul lives and works in London, where he is head of a school and also a dedicated writer of historical suspense. He situates his crime novels either in ancient Egypt or the Middle Ages.
I mostly prefer the Egyptian mysteries. I once did an interview with Paul, and he was very friendly in obliging - even sent me a signed copy of his latest novel!
Here are the ten questions I asked him, and his replies:

1) Have you always wanted to be a writer?
I have always wanted to be an author; ever since I was knee high to a buttercup I liked telling stories. I lived in my imagination!

2) Obviously, you have a deep interest in history. How did you develop this?
I was born in Middlesbrough in the North east, a rather grim town. I was always fascinated by books and the cinema. I remember watching a Victor Mature Film, “Demetrius and the Gladiators” in colour! I must have been about seven or eight at the time. The next day I persuaded a friend to run away with me. We packed our sandwiches and started to walk to Rome to become gladiators! Naturally we didn’t get there but I feel I am still walking there many years later. I read everything on history. I was fascinated by Walter Scott, Conan Doyle, Dickens and the great French historical writers Dumas, Hugo and Flaubert. I then studied for three years to be a priest [I never became one!]. I had a great love of Ancient Middle East literature, particularly the poems etc of the 18th to the 20th Dynasty.

3) At what age did you write your first novel?
I actually wrote my first novel about 25 years ago – ‘The Death of a King’. This was a result of further research, after Durham I went to Liverpool University where I received a B.A. Hons. [Class 1] in History and won a scholarship to Oxford to do my doctorate on the Reign of Edward II. I had, therefore, well prepared myself.

4) Were you successful in your first attempt at publication?
I was pretty successful, perhaps, due to luck. A UK publisher Robert Hale, took my first novel and then I was taken over one of UK’s largest publishers, Hodder Headline. I am pleased that I am now published in another 23 countries.

5) How are your novels received by the public?
In the main, thank God, my novels are well received by the public. I am grateful for that. I give every novel my best shot. When people ask me: ‘What do you think is your best novel?’ I always say, the last!

6) Can you deal with criticism?
Yes, I think I can deal with criticism. I am a headmaster of a very large north east London Comprehensive, that certainly toughens you up. People have every right to criticise. My only response to anything negative is; “I am sorry you didn’t like it but I truly tried my level best.”

7) Isn't it difficult to combine a writer's career with a daytime job as Headmaster of a North London school?
I don’t find it difficult to combine my two careers. They say we spend a third of our time day dreaming, I think I am very lucky, I spend most of it writing or creating.

8) You write more than one series of mysteries. Brother Athelstan, Hugh Corbett, the Ancient Egyptian mysteries, ... Don't you ever get confused between characters?
I do write different series but I only write what I have researched. Accordingly, I don’t get confused. For an Egyptian Novel, I try and get myself into the mindset, conjure up the images and contrasts of Ancient Egypt, the heat of the day, the cold of the night, their fascination with death and its rituals etc. Once I am in that mindset, I do find it relatively easy. I think you owe it to your reader to say ‘look I am going to take you back in time’ and the author must do his, or her, level best to achieve that.

9) I once heard someone compare you to the late Ellis Peeters. What do you think of that?
Ellis Peters was a great writer naturally I am very flattered.

10) Do you read mystery novels yourself?
I am afraid I don’t read many mystery novels now. I do read a lot of non-fiction. I am constantly going back to original sources, to try and catch what I call the ‘music’ of that period. The sights, the smells, the sounds, the feel of a certain time in history. Each era, every culture has its own rhythm and the primary sources, be it poetry, chronicles, inscriptions etc provide that.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Off to Rimpelrock

Tomorrow, my sister and I are leaving the coast to travel to Hasselt, which is in the east of the country. We'll stay there for the weekend. On Friday we'll do some shopping and exploring of the town (which is by the way very cosy) and on Saturday we'll attend the Rimpelrock festival.
This festival is quite unique as it was originally meant for people over 60. Chokhri Mahassine, who organisies Pukkelpop as well (the big rock festival for youngsters), thought it would be a nice gesture toward the elderly in his town, and so he organised an afternoon with popular local singers, all for almost no entrance money.
In ten years, the festival has grown into a party that begins at noon and lasts until midnight. For the last three years, also international artists are coming to Rimpelrock and each year it gets better.
Chris and I attend this festival since 2010, so this is our third time.
The first time, we were not quite prepared for what was coming to us. We did not have easy chairs, we did not bring our box full of drinks and food, we did not have a picnic table, etc. Now we come prepared! The only thing you need to do is come early and wait before the gates open. Then it's a rush (you'd be surprised how fast the elderly can run!) towards the best places before the center stage, and only then you can get comfy...
But not only elderly people go to this festival anymore. It's more and more a happening for the entire family and you see just as many young people as older ones.
Tomorrow we'll be treated to a bunch of Belgian artists with some reputation (ever heard of Will Tura? He's great - and he wrote or writes music for people like Sinatra). We'll also get The Hollies, Tom Jones and Marco Borsato (Dutch crooner).
Last year we got Paul Potts, Englebert Humperdinck and José Feliciano.
And best of all, the weather is good! We had a fine sunny day today and the expectations for tomorrow and Sunday are even better.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Eating out in London

When I was a young girl, it was common knowledge to us Belgians that you could not find any decent food in England's capital. White beans in tomato sauce just were 'yuk' to us, as the Flemish especially are known as connaisseurs of fine food.
Well, times have changed. I often visit London and recently I have discovered a restaurant that should actually have one or more Michelin stars. I'm talking about One-o-One in Knightsbridge. The restaurant, with chef Pascal Proyart, is part of the  Sheraton ParkTower hotel and is not far from the tube station.
I've eaten there more than once and each time I was nicely surprised by the quality of the food and wines. My sister and I always eat the 'Terre et Mer' menu. Mind you, it doesn't come cheap (last time we paid some 350 euro for our meal) but if you can and eat in a star restaurant in Belgium, you would even pay more.
The sommelier lastly told us they were hoping for a star next year. I'll definitly give them one (or two)!!!

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Nickie's Ten Questions to Tess Gerritsen

I read a lot, next to write my own novels (you can find more about them at and one of the authors I like is Tess Gerritsen. Tess is now quite famous for her Rizzoli and Isles books, which have been adapted to TV. I made this online interview with her a couple of years ago, and I must say Tess was quite friendly and even greeted me in my own language (Dutch or Flemish as we call it).

Here are the questions I asked her:

1) How did you realize you wanted to be a writer, being a physician already?
-- I knew I wanted to be a writer first, at the age of seven. I got sidetracked into medicine because I was interested in science, but also because I was made very aware (by my immigrant parents) that science was the way to support myself. They had no idea -- nor did I -- that one could actually make a living at writing.

2) You started out writing romantic suspense. What brought you to this?
-- I wrote the genre that I happened to enjoy reading at the time. I still love a good romantic thriller!

3) Did it take you very long to get that first novel, CALL AFTER MIDNIGHT, published?
-- It was my third novel. I had two unpublished novels before that. So all in all, it took me about three years to sell my first book. CALL AFTER MIDNIGHT sold pretty quickly, and was published in 1987.

4) I understand that by now you are having some problems with those 8 romantic novels, which are published whenever you have a new medical thriller. You can tell us something about this?
-- I have no control over the re-release of those books, and they have been re-packaged to look like my thriller novels. It leads to confusion for readers, who think they're picking up a thriller and end up with a strong dose of romance. Not that there's anything wrong with that! But many mystery readers, I've discovered, are truly allergic to romance, and it gets them upset.

5) What made you leave Harlequin and turn to medical thrillers?
-- It was all a creative decision. I chose to write a very different sort of book, one that just didn't fit into the romance genre. Plus, I'll be blunt about it, the money in thriller writing is a great deal better!

6) It probably helps that you have a medical background to get your facts straight. But how and where do you find the inspiration for those novels?
-- My inspiration isn't really from medicine, but from all the extracurricular reading I do! I'm curious about a lot of different things, and I often find my best ideas come from the news. I'll try to work in a medical twist to the plot, simply because that's the world I feel comfortable writing about.

7) How do you deal with criticism?
-- Not very well. I'm very thin-skinned. But published writers have no choice; we just have to suck it up and deal with it.

8) You have a blog at your website. What made you decide to start it up?
-- I felt the need to ventilate. It's not to sell books, it's not to get publicity, it's merely to get stuff off my chest. It's turned into a nice way to connect with other writers who are going through the same things.

9) You now work full time as a writer. Is that fulfilling?
-- It's overwhelming! Because of my book-a-year schedule, I do feel I've had to let other parts of my life slide. I don't garden as much as I'd like to, or play music, or travel. Writing is definitely fulfilling, but one has to be careful not to let it take over your life.

10) Would you mind sharing with us which books you read yourself?
-- I'm an omnivorous reader. I'll jump into any subject except sports. Lately I've been reading a great deal of history and archaeology, plus the occasional thriller novel.


Having widely travelled and a lover of good food, I probably have some tips for visitors to foreign places, about where to eat.
In the coming time, I'll be bringing some posts about this, under the title Eating out in ... Watch out for these post, if you are interested in food & drink.
I shall also be bringing interviews I did with bestselling authors, under te title Nickie's Ten Questions to...
Then I've stayed in some hotels, B&B's and I can also share my experiences about these. Look for them under Staying at...

Monday, August 6, 2012

Virtual Book Tour

I'm pretty excited, as today my VBT (Virtual Book Tour) has started. It's meant as a means to promote my current release, The Gold Crucifix. This is a novel set in the middle of the 16th century in England, during the Civil War and Restoration. It tells the story of Sarah, who learns on her mother's death that her father was a nobleman - albeit nameless and without a trace. She sets out to find that lost father... and finds love.

On the VBT I'll be blogging about my views on writing and how it is to work full time and write, and I'll also be giving interviews. Please stop by and leave a comment, as two of the lucky commenters will receive a signed paperback copy of another novel of mine, The Haversham Legacy.

Here is the list of stops:

August 6: Indie Designz
August 7: Queen of all She Reads
August 8: Long and Short Reviews: Romance Guests
August 8: STOP 2 Welcome to My World of Dreams
August 9: Words of Wisdom from The Scarf Princess
August 10: Love Saves the World
August 13: Lisa Haselton's Reviews and Interviews
August 14: Rachel Brimble Romance
August 15: Cathie Dunn writes...
August 16: For the Love Of Film And Novels
August 17: Ramblings of a Coffee Addicted Writer
August 20: Romantic Historical Lovers
August 21: Books Reviewed by Bunny
August 22: Bookmaven623
August 23: Hope. Dreams. Life... Love

Hello to everyone

Hi there! This is my first blog here and I hope to be able to bring something interesting for everyone. I'll be sharing my views on life and the world, and also be posting interviews with bestselling authors for the time being. Later on, I might host book tours and do other things.