Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The waffles of Mother Siska

Ever since I can remember, when we were staying in Heist, we always made a walk to Knokke-Zoute and there we were treated to the world-famous waffles of Mother Siska.

Not the kind of waffle you'll eat in the USA or any other country, but the real Belgian ones. Soft inside and crispy outside. No sugar in the dough and eaten with lots of unsweetened cream...

Siska's waffles have this unique design and also the recipe is secret, given from parent to child since the 19th century.

It is the year 1882. Francisca Fincent was married three times, became a widow twice and had ten children. Once she made a trip to Amsterdam with her third husband, and there she saw a painting of a waffle iron formed like a heart. Once back home, she asked her brother-in-law to make her such an iron with five hearts. That way she could bake waffles and give each child a waffle heart.

One of her acquaintances tasted one of these waffles and liked them so well, that he asked if he could have a waffle feast for his daughter's wedding. The feast became a big success and was the beginning of a new trade. From then on, the waffles were baked and sold to tourists and Siska was so succesful, that her sons and daughters started businesses of their own.

On days like today, you'll have to find a free seat, because the place is so packed and busy. But of course, the waffles are worth waiting for! If you ever happen to be in Knokke-Heist, make sure you'll walk or bike to the Oosthoek and go have waffles at Mother Siska's.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Can non-native authors make in in the US?

A question which often comes up at forums is whether or not foreign authors can make it on the American market?

In my opinion, the answer is 'yes', taken into account...
* that the author writes in English
* that the author's English is good or even better than that of most Americans
* that the author has a good story

In my case, it was not a problem. I started my books in English, for starters, not in my native tongue. I believe my use of the English language is good enough. When I travel to Great-Britain or the States, nobody takes me for a foreigner. In England they think I'm from somewhere above London and in the US I'm supposed to live in New England.

Follows the question how you can learn the language this way. Well, I was lucky to have parents who paid for my staying abroad during lots of summers. I always spent them in England and in California. I lived with guest families and quickly adjusted.  Not everyone is this fortunate, but what you can do is watch a lot of BBC and read only in English. I still learn a lot whenever I start another novel or when I watch a film or serial on TV.

I just send out a query to a publisher and was accepted. They never make an issue about me not being American, although I have to adjust my stories just a little to fit in with the American way of thinking. I must make my heroines 18 or older, for instance. Here in Europe girls of 16 can have sex without a problem, but it's different in certain states of the US.

I think it's a bigger problem when you are a rather succesful author hereabouts and want to make it in the US. You have a number of novels which need to be translated.

I am friends with an author, Luc Deflo, who likes to make it out here as well. He writes super thrilling novels, but I'm rather afraid that when translated they'll not be as good. He tried to have one of them translated already, and the translation was like nothing. Translators can't just translate - they need to re-write the novel in the other language, keeping to the ideas of the original. This often goes wrong, and that's why I refuse to read a novel in translation.

Luc wouldn't know how to write his work in English. His use of language is not good enough. If he could do so, I'm sure he would make it as big as he's doing here.

Monday, October 29, 2012

The perfect storm?

Returning from an afternoon spent in Knokke, I just heard the news. The most important item being hurricane Sandy, which is threatening the east coast of the USA. Our weather man David DeHenauw made the comparison with the film The Perfect Storm.

I just hope and pray that Sandy will not cause the damage done in this film! We live in a region where such storms and tornado's never occur. I don't know what it is to be in a hurricane or tornado - we only know gales up to 100 km/hour and sometimes rather violent thunderstorms.

The worst ever happening in our town was the big flood in 1952. Then my grandparants had up to 1,50 meter water in their house. But that's something that passes. Once the water was gone, they could clean up and that was it.

I can't imagine what it is like to see your house go up by the wind, or destroyed by floodings and torrents - which is what people living on America's east coast will be facing in the coming hours.

Let's hope the local governments are prepared for this hurricane and will move people out of those regions that are threatened. Losing your house is bad, but losing a life is worse.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Knokke-Heist, seaside resort on the North Sea coast

As the schools are closed for a week's holiday, my sister and I have moved to our flat in Knokke-Heist. It's one of the finest resorts on the North Sea coast, and if you ever happen to visit Belgium it's certainly a place worth visiting.

My grandparents already used to visit this place in the 1920's and 1930's. They were relatively well-off and could afford to rent a villa for the entire summer. They spent their time there with the kids and lots of family. No small wonder my mother grew up loving the place, and when she was married and had children of her own, she decided we'd spend our summer there as well.

In fact, Knokke-Heist consists of three villages: Knokke, Duinbergen and Heist. The most mundane is Knokke, and especially the quarter know as Knokke-Zoute. It's quite near a nature reserve, called Het Zwin. It is the border between Belgium and Holland, and is in fact a big plain of sand, which is flooded daily by the sea, making it an ideal hide-out for lots of birds.

You can walk or bike there, and continue until Cadzand in Holland. Very nice, just hearing the cries of birds and feeling the wind in your hair.

The beaches in Knokke and Heist (especially those in Heist) are sandy and very wide. Sometimes, at ebb, you have to walk a mile or more to reach the water! You can do whatever you like on this beach: sit in the sun, play games, go surfing or kite-surfing, do a gallop on horseback (but only before 10 am and after 7 pm for the security of others), play beach-volley or basketball, ...

The only thing about Knokke-Heist is that houses and flats are rather expensive right now. For a one-bedroom flat you'll easily pay 200,000 € (or more) and prices can go up to 3 million for a place in Knokke-Zoute...

We were able to buy our flat at an affordable price in the 1990's, but since then it has tripled in price already. We have a view over another nature reserve, the Baai van Heist (Bay of Heist), where more birds makes their nests. We also see this lighthouse from our terrace:

We love to be here, and we know it better than we do Dendermonde. When someone asks for directions here, we can always point them into the right direction. We also do our shopping here mainly, as there are great boutiques present.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Nickie's Ten Questions to Sue Grafton

Who doesn't know the Alphabet series of Sue Grafton? A is for Alibi, B is for Burglar, C is for Corpse, ... continuing up to V (V is for Vengeance) which will be released on October 30th.

Website from Sue Grafton

I did an interview with Sue some time ago, and I hope you also like to read it.

1) When did you find out you wanted to write?

My father, G.W. Grafton, was a municipal bond attorney in Louisville, Kentucky, where I was born and raised. He was also a writer and published three mysteries in the course of his career: THE RAT BEGAN TO GNAW THE ROPE, THE ROPE BEGAN TO HAND THE BUTCHER and BEYOND A REASONABLE DOUBT. His first mystery novel, THE RAT BEGAN TO GNAW THE ROPE, won the Mary Roberts Rinehart Award of 1943. He was probably the greatest influence in my decision to write mystery novels because he was always so passionate about the genre himself.

2) Did your studies prepare you for a career as a writer?

In both junior high school and high school, I worked on the school paper. I attended the University of Louisville, where I majored in English. I started writing short stories when I was eighteen and completed my first novel when I was twenty-two years old.

3) Was it difficult to find a publisher for your first book?

It took me four completed full-length manuscripts before I had a book accepted for publication. I was twenty-five at the time. From the age of twenty-two on, I wrote at night, every night, while I was working full time as a medical secretary and raising a family. ‘A’ IS FOR ALIBI… which took me five years to finish… was the eighth book I wrote but only the third to be published.

4) Your books are a major success. Do you enjoy it?

I’m amazed at the success of the books and I work very hard to make sure each book I write is done with the same dedication I felt for my first. I’m an optimist by nature and from my perspective, my life is perfect. I have a wonderful husband, three terrific kids, three granddaughters, five cats, numerous friends, two beautiful houses, my health, physical fitness, and lots of good books to read. Also, most of my hair and my own teeth. What else could anyone want?

5) Did you know anything about police or detective work when you started writing?

When I started work on ‘A’ IS FOR ALIBI, I wasn’t even sure what a private investigator did. In the process of writing that first book in the series, I began the long (and continuing) task of educating myself. I’ve studied police procedures, forensics, toxicology, books on burglary and theft, homicide, arson, anatomy, poisonous plants. I elected to write about a female protagonist because I’m female myself and I figured it was my one area of expertise.

6) What brought you to use the alphabet to title your books?

When I first came up with the idea of using letters on the alphabet to title my books, I sat and sketched out a list of possible titles, many of which I’ve gone on to use. My unspoken rule is that each word needs to be crime related… hence, BURGLAR, CORPSE, DEADBEAT, etc. Often, I begin a book with only the vaguest of ideas. For instance, with ‘C’ IS FOR CORPSE all I knew in the beginning was that I wanted Kinsey to work for a dead man. With ‘D’, I thought it would be interesting if Kinsey did some work for a man who then paid her with a check that bounces. She has to track the guy down to get the check made good and by the time she finds him, he’s dead. She gets involved in the case because she’s out the bucks. The process of plotting was, in part, simply trying to figure out how.

7) How do you work out a manuscript?

Usually I start with the title and then I try to come up with a story I haven’t told before, which means an interesting client or an unusual way for Kinsey to get involved in a case. I do tons of research before I start writing, including visits to any location or setting I think might be different. I usually decide who gets killed and why, then decide who else might appear to be guilty of the crime. Then I have to figure out how Kinsey would figure it out. Often I know the beginning and the end. It’s the middle that drives me crazy. The cases I write about are invented, though some of the side stories and the back stories I collect from the newspaper. I like looking at the dark side of human nature, trying to understand what makes people kill each other. I’m a real law-and-order type and I don’t want people to get away with murder. In a mystery novel there is justice and I like that a lot.

8) Does Kinsey Millhone resemble you in any way?

Kinsey Millhone is my alter-ego…the person I might have been had I not married young and had children. I think of us as one soul in two bodies and she got the good one. The ’68 VW she drove (until ‘G’ IS FOR GUMSHOE) was a car I owned some years ago. In ‘H’ IS FOR HOMICIDE, she acquires the 1974 VW that was sitting behind my house until I donated it to a local charity that raffled it off. That car was pale blue with only one minor ding in the left rear fender. I own both handguns she talks about and in fact, I learned to shoot so that I would know what it felt like. I own the all-purpose dress she refers to. I’ve also been married and divorced twice, though I’m now married to husband number three and intend to remain so for life.
What’s interesting about Kinsey’s presence in my life is that since she can only know what I know, I have to do a great deal of research and this allows me, in essence, to lead two lives… hers and mine. Because of that, I’ve taken a women’s self-defence class and a class in criminal law. I’ve also made the acquaintance of doctors, lawyers, P.I.s, cops, coroners, all manner of experts. I’ve toured jails and prisons. I’ve also talked to a number of criminals and I’m happy to report they cuss even more than I do.

9) Do you handle criticism well?

I don’t handle criticism well, but I’ve learned to be polite to complaining readers unless they’re rude to me first. I get many letters pointing out typos, factual errors, and inconsistencies. I put on a brave front and respond as graciously as I can, though often I find it tiresome. Sometimes I wonder if people don’t have anything better to do. If you look at the big picture…. hunger, war, racial hatreds, poverty, incurable disease… why is it important to chide an author or a typo? It makes no sense to me.

10) Will you stop writing after reaching ‘Z’?

I won’t finish ‘Z’ IS FOR ZERO until approximately 2015 and I have no idea what I’ll do at that point. I’ll always write, but I can assure you that I’ll never do linking titles again! As for Kinsey, we’ll see if she still has adventures to share when we reach the end of the alphabet.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Pieter Aspe - bestselling Flemish author

In our little country, only one book genre makes it. Here you have to write thrillers if you want to sell.

We have one author in this genre who sells millions of his books. His name is Pieter Aspe.

After having done several odd jobs (and not getting a diploma from school) he began to write to spend his spare time... which resulted in his first thriller, Het vierkant van de wraak (in translation: The square of revenge).

The public immediately liked the book, and it sold by the thousands. Of course his publisher wanted a second book, then a third. He's up to his 31st in the series already, and by now he sells millions of copies. His novels are not only published in Belgium and Holland, but also in France, Italy, Germany and South Africa. Manteau, the publisher, is now trying to bring his first books to the American market. Btw, several months later I can already mention two of Aspe's novels are available on the American market: The Square of Revenge and The Midas Murders.

The books are easy-reads but still they are very well written. The main character is Commisaris (DCI or Captain) Pieter Van In, a middle aged man who is single when the series starts. His aide is Guido Versavel, a gay man. In their office also works a young woman. In the first books this is Carine, but when she dies of cancer, she is replaced by Saskia. In the first book, Het Vierkant van de Wraak, Van In needs to work with a young and female DA, Hannelore Martens, and they fall in love. Now they're married and have three kids (twins (boy + girl) and another boy).

What makes the series likeable is how much is comes near real life. Van In has midlife crises, Hannelore wants to have sex with a younger man, Versavel falls in love but his husband leaves him for a younger man.

The last novels are even better written than the first. Aspe is not afraid to tackle actual themes and problems. For instance he has a book about the Bende van Nijvel which was responsible for many killings in the 1980's and 1990's. They were never caught, and lots of people think that high-placed officials are or were behind it. The last book I read (the 30th) is about men who murder and rape young children.

I can certainly recommend this author - I have already 30 of his books in my library.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

What defines class?

You often hear people say: "Hey, that's a classy lady!". So I just wonder how you define 'class'.

Some would say that you have class when you belong to a noble family. Perhaps, but I've often seen and heard things from nobles that don't have any resemblance with class. Their behavior can be quite beastly, at times.

Other would suggest you need lots of money to have class. I do agree most of the nouveau rich think they belong to the upper classes, but alas for them they don't.  It's not because you have millions of billions of dollars or euros you know how to exercise class.

No, in my opinion, class is all about behavior. Knowing how to behave in certain circumstances without being prompted. Knowing what to say when you are introduced, for instance, to the Queen of England. Never drawing untoward attention.

So according to this I suppose you have to define my sister and I as 'classy'. Sure, we have a bloodline that goes back to 800 AD (which is when the first Dampierre was knighted - of course he'll also have had a father, grandfather, etc. but there is not documentation about this). Although illegitimate, there are still some drops of blue blood in our veins. But I don't think it counts for much.

I also don't know what it is exactly, but Chris and I, and our father before us, have 'something' that makes us acceptible in higher circles. I'll give a few examples.

In yesterday's blog I spoke about our ski holidays. When we still were kids, we always went on ski holiday with our parents. One time we were spending the Christmas holiday in Dobbiaco, part of northern Italy, where German is still spoken. We were staying in a little hotel. The owner told us there were not so many guests, and that one of them was a Contessa, who was visiting her son (he was doing his army duty in the garrison there). According to the owner she never spoke to any other guest, but when we came down to dinner that first night, the Contessa was the first to greet us. She became quite friendly with my dad, and always had sweets for us kids. When Chris had her birthday, she even had a nice present for her!

And when we are spending our weekend and holidays in Heist, we often meet the mayor of the town - who is Leopold, Count Lippens. He knows us and always stops to talk to us.

Also in Heist, we used to go horseback riding and spend many hours in the bar of the club. There we were let in in the Inner Circle: a group of captains of industry, ministers, gentry. They all treated us as equals although they knew full well we were only teachers.

When we were in Kenya on safari, just the same. After our safari we decided to spend another week in Mommbasa. At our hotel, an oil convention took place while we were there, and so we came into contact with owners of big refineries, Arabian princes, etc. They treated us like royalty, although there were other women in the hotel and most likely much richer ones.

And how would you define class? Reactions are always welcome!

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

My meetings with celebs

I really don't know how it happens, but more than once I've come into contact with celebrities - local and international.

Perhaps I can begin my story by telling you that my parents took my sister and I to the coast every summer (a family tradition, as my mom's parents had done the same). We always went to Heist (which is now Knokke-Heist) and when the sun was out, we played at the beach. There were always a bunch of kids playing along, always the same, year in year out.  One of those kids was named Bart. Now Bart Peeters is a very important person in TV land. He hosts shows, plays in a band...

But then he was just Bart and as I was the ringleader of the gang, being the eldest and the most daring, he did what I said...

Around that same time, also in Heist, we often met actor Jo Demeyere with his wife and kids. He played the lead role in a very popular series then, but as he liked to spend his summers in Heist as well he knew us and as we met during our walks, always stopped to chat with us.

Jo Demeyere is now one of our best leading actors. He lost his wife some time ago, but still continues to act.

Skip a decade or so. When both my sister and I were adults, we traveled together. We love skiing and this drive took us to North America and Canada, after geting fed up with the long cues in the Swiss Alps. We once went to Aspen during the Christmas season, and saw a bunch of celebs - either at their best or worst behavior. But that doesn't count for much. Martina Navratilova always said goodday to us when we met her, we always got a smirk from Jack Nicholson and Donald Trump nearly ran my sister over by ignoring a red light.

But another winter, in Banff (Alberta, Canada) we went for lunch in a Texmex restaurant. The place was empty when we entered, but after the waitress had served our drinks, another party entered. A man with a bunch of kids. They took the table next to ours. After a while, this guy began to chat with us (I suppose he was getting bored with all those kids?) and even suggested we'd put the tables together. As the talk was about Mick Jagger and others, we took it he was a muscian himself and we were sure we'd seen his face in one or other magazine. We had a very enjoyable lunch and only left the restaurant after 3 pm. The guy wanted to pay the bill, but we declined and so he insisted we had some glasses of wine with him.

Only later on we discovered we had had lunch with Eric Clapton!

Three winters ago we even met a really big celebrity. We were skiing in Beaver Creek (Colorado) and had reserved a table in a restaurant where we often dined. The boss was Austrian, and he knew we were Belgian. We were rather surprised when he took us to a side room, not to the main dining room. There were only three tables set there. At the biggest a group of 6 Texans sat. We were seated next to them. I don't think they even saw us. They were so full of each other and only talked about their oil, their (private) planes, ...

We had just gotten our entree when the third party arrived: a couple with two boys. As soon as they were seated my sister poked me and whispered: hey, doesn't that guy look a lot like Johnny Depp?
But knowing how 'soft' my sister's voice is, I'm sure he must have heard as I saw him smile. Ok, they also ordered and had a lively conversation. His son Christopher (I think the other kid was a son of Tim Burton) asked what language we spoke and he told him he thought it was Skandinvian. Not bad, as even Swedes think we speak their language (we have this unique family dialect that has a lot of different regions it it).

The Texans made quite a show of insulting the waiter and as soon as they had left, Depp told the boy not to worry as these guys had no manners. Then he jumped up, came to us and did his act from the first Pirates of the Caribbean film, where he dares the English from the bow of the Black Pearl. He said something like 'In name of all other Americans I like to excuse us for this bad behavior' and I saw how Vanessa looked at him. She clearly had not suspected this. He then continued to talk to us, and also Vanessa joined in. They talked about their home in France, about culture and art, ...

When they left, they wished us a Merry Christmas and shook hands. Oh yes, I've been quite close to Johnny (even saw the pockmarks on his cheeks)....

Wondering who's going to be next?

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Of pirates and highwaymen

As a kid, I just loved to read books or see film in which either highwaymen or pirates occured. I believe I've already told you how I loved Errol Flynn playing Captain Blood, right? And you must admit, Johnny Depp makes a great pirate, either.

I once met Depp while skiing in Colorado, but that's another story. I was talking about pirates. They are not supposed to be good fellas but they make a great theme in a book.

Just the same with highwaymen (or in other words: robbers). That's how you'd imagine them:

Someone to be afraid of, someone to fear. They'd not only take your money, but could also want your life if you resisted them.

But bad men make a great theme in a book or film. In these they get a sort of status. Just like in real life, not all robbers are truly bad. It's said that Patrick Haemers (perhaps our best known gangster) was a kind man and very sweet with children. Just like Black Jack. He makes his living the coaches of the rich, not to help the poor but to enrich himself. That's fine, he doesn't kill anyone while riding out at night.

But one night he finds a deserted coach, and some bodies next to it. Apparently something violent has happened, he can feel the evil in the air. An evil far worse than what he does to people. He only takes away some baubles, this other evil kills innocents. And then he hears a faint whailing... To his big surprise, he finds a baby girl inside the coach, protected by her mother's body.

And now we learn Jack also has a kind heart, because he decides then and there to give the baby a new home and raise her as his own. Justine grows up much like a tommy girl, especially when she learns how her father brings in his money. She decided to join him on his adventures, but her inexperience brings  her in danger. Jack wants to protect his adopted daughter by leaving England for the colonies, where they can start a new life.

They board a ship but in the Caribbean they fall prey to pirates. Introducing someone like Captain Hook and Neil, his second in command. Neil is not quite the ordinary pirate. He's an English gentleman, needing to escape a death penalty in his country for high treason (which he has not committed, but who does believe him?) and he has an agenda. Jack and his son (Justine poses as a boy, because it is thought better) will help him. Little does he know that Jack has an agenda of his own... and that nothing is at it seems.

Curious how this is going to end? Then I can only advise you to read The Haversham Legacy, my novel set in the late seventeenth century, with locations in England, America and the Caribbean.

Available from Amazon!

Monday, October 22, 2012

Did Cortés really kill all Aztecs?

sFirst a bit of history:

In the early 16th century the Spanish court ordered the conquest of the Aztec Empire, as one of the most significant events in the colonization of the Americas.
The invasion began in February 1519, when Hernan Cortés landed in Mexico, and was declared victorious in August 1521, when a coalition army of Spanish conquistadores and Tlaxcalan warriors led by their chief Xicotencatl captured Tenochtitlan, the capital of the Aztec Empire.
The capture of this capital was preceded by eight months of battles and intrigue. Cortés allied with a number of rivals to the Aztecs (among which the Totonacs and the Tlaxcaltecas). Cortés arrived in Tenochtitlan in 1519 and took up residence there. After an Aztec attack on Nautlan, a city on the coast, which cost the lives of several Spaniards, Cortés took the emperor, Montezuma, prisoner and ruled through him for months. More treason and massacre followed, leading in the end to the fall of Tenochtitlan and the (nearly) destruction of all Aztecs.

But what if Cortés did not quite manage the latter? Just imagine some Aztec warriors and priests escaped the doomed town and fled into the jungles of the mountains? And what if they created a new Tenochtitlan there, and had a new emperor, also named Montezuma???

I always like to think of such premises as the concept of  a novel. I toyed around with this idea when I was only 16 and wrote the first draft of what was going to be my novel Maria Gonzalez, so many years later.

In this book, Maria is still a young girl when she meets her future husband, a dashing Spanish officer named Miguel Gonzalez. Shortly after their marriage, Miguel is ordered to travel to New Spain (which was how Mexico was named then) and take up command of a regiment there. Maria is allowed to accompany her husband to the new continent.

On the journey to Miguel's new post, they have to cross a wooded area and there their party is attacked by Aztec warriors. All the men - with the exception of a priest - are killed. Maria is spared her life because of her blond hair and blue eyes. Later on she learns this is because of an old legend, which predicts a stranger with white hair and blue eyes will visit the Aztecs in Tenochtitlan.

Maria and the priest are taken to the hidden town of Tenochtitlan, a near replica of the original town. And there she is told she is to become the wife of the ruler, Montezuma... She will be named Daugther of the Sun, and her crown is one of feathers.

Yet, this is only the beginning of the story. Maria and Montezuma will learn to respect each other, and they even become the proud parents of a little son. But treason is always nearby, and the location of the town is given away. The Spanish army takes siege and also this Tenochtitlan will fall.

Maria must deal with the deathh of her second husband but most of all she needs to keep alive. She is helped by a Spanish diplomant, Don Felipe, who takes pity on her and thus offers marriage so she can escape Mexico.

Travelling back to Spain with her third husband, the ship is attached by English privateers under the command of Michael Fenwick, one of Queen Elizabeth's favorites. Michael soon discovers the true treasure he's captured: the fiery female Maria.

And Maria also feels the passion... Yet it will take more adventures, more treason and even murder before she will be able to fall into Michael's arms.

If you are into such stories, you must read Maria Gonzalez (4,64 $ with Amazon).

It is not a traditional romance, but it contains enough romantic scenes to pleasure everyone, and also contains a lot of action and adventure.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Nickie's Ten Questions to Bertrice Small

If you like to read romance novels, you'll perhaps have read one of them by Bertrice Small. She has had more than one bestseller and keeps on writing!

1. When did you know you wanted to be a writer?

When I was seven. But I also wanted to be an actress, and a vet with ranch in Painted Horse, Wyoming.

2. Did you have a lot of trouble in having your first novel published?

That’s a novel it itself. Long story short. My first book was sold immediately to G.P. Putnam’s Sons. Seven months later the editor and the publisher got into a fire fight that had absolutely nothing to do with me. Result: She got fired, and the books she was working on had their contracts cancelled. My then agent loved the book so much that he took it to every hardcover house in the U.S. before he was willing to listen to me. I said: ‘Take it to Avon’. It was two years before he did. They bought it immediately, and then another three years passed before it was published. Total time: five years!

3. How was this first novel received?

Very well. Won an Honourable Mention from The West Coast Review of Books. Twenty-five years later THE KADIN is still in print, and still is read, and paying royalties.

4. How well do you handle criticism?

It depends who’s giving it! <G> I’m usually pretty good if the criticism is helpful, but if it’s just plain bitchy, I ignore it. Those who can do. Those who can’t, critique. You have to have the hide of a rhino in the publishing business.

5. Since you write historical romances, might I ask if you have a background in history?

Yes. They taught history in the schools “in my day”. History and English were my favourite subjects. I quit college because I could not decide which subject to major in, and they didn’t have double-majors back then. I have continued to study on my own over the years. I have a pretty large library of my own.

6. Do you do a lot of research on your novels?


7. After writing so many books, can you still find inspiration for new ones?

I guess so. I never really thought about it. When it’s time to work I just sit down, and work.

8. Do you sometimes visit Great-Britain, where most of your books are situated?

I think Scotland is more my favourite, but yes, I know England well. However you can research everything.

9. Do you have any word of advice for aspiring writers?

Believe in what you do. Don’t show your work to your family or friends because they will either LOVE you or DISCOURAGE you in your writing. Be realistic. Publishing is a business. And remember you will need the hide of a rhino, the luck of the devil, and a hard working guardian angel to succeed in this business.

10. What are your future plans in writing?

Just look at my website from time to time!

Just have a look at my website from time to time!


Saturday, October 20, 2012

Get into the mood for Halloween

As today is already October 20th, we are all getting into the mood for Halloween. I've decorated my home already and there are pumkins lying around, witches flying above our heads, cobwebs with dark spiders lurking...

The days become shorter and it's getting dark by 6 pm. Especially when mist is rolling in, the mood is perfect to cocoon in your living room, smug in your comfy chair. What do you like to do on such evenings?

I like to watch a good movie (Harry Potter is perfect for this season) or read a good book. When I was a young girl, I used to borrow novels from a certain Catherine Durant (or was it Dunant?), a Dutch author who wrote collections of short stories which were a mix between horror and romance. She had about 6 or 7 volumes of those and I've often read and re-read them over the years.

So when I began to become serious about my own writing career (it took me until my 50th birthday to realize I should try and get published) I wondered if I could not do something similar. And while doing my day time job at school (I was responsible for the accounting of a group of school at that time) I filled the spare time between filing orders and paying bills with the creation of short stories.

I wrote a bunch of them in no time and send them to my publisher. Just like this Catherine,  I tried to make a mix between subtle horror and romance. Some stories have a happy ending, others don't. And as a matter of fact, I use the last one in this collection as the background for a novel I'm working on, and which will be more gothic than my previous novels.

The collection is called Face in the Mirror and Other Stories and is available from Amazon for 3,73 $ (only available in ebook version). For this small amount you'll have a good read for those dreary days and nights, or to fill your time while commuting to work.



Friday, October 19, 2012

Time travel in books

What would you do if you suddenly found yourself in another age? Take for instance, you land in the Paris of 1792 - in the middle of the French Revolution. How would you go along? First of all, you need to speak French without an accent that gives you away (can you? I speak French when necessary, although I'm not quite fond of this language of Molière). And how would you survive on the streets, full of danger?

Or imagine some guy from the seventeenth century pops up in your garden. He belongs to the court of King Charles the Second or that of Louis the Fourteenth of France (you choose). How would such a person see our world? Take in the cars, the modern way of dressing, the changes in speech, the planes flying over, the trains thundering past (I take my own garden as example, which borders the railroad. And we have lots of planes flying over, even F16's who pretend to raid the railway station. The noise they make makes even me rattle.) And then I'm not speaking about our wristwatches, our telephones and handhelds and especially not our computers...

That's why I like to read novels which deal with time travel. I'm always curious to see how the author makes everything go along. Because for me time travel is ok, as long as the story remains credible. No time capsules, I don't believe in them. "Back to the Future" is just a big laugh.

A story like The Last Cavalier by Heather Graham, for instance, is something I can relate to. Some guys are re-enacting a battle scene in the Civil War, and a young woman meets a guy looking like a Southern gentleman.

                                                       Product Details

Or Knight in Central Park and Return of the Rose by Theresa Ragan.

                     Product Details                                    Product Details

What's your viewpoint? Do you like to switch between times, and do you think it's credible?

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Robin Hood and D'Artagnan

I'm a hopeless romantic. I don't know why. Perhaps it is because I read so many books in which valiant knights rescued damsels in distress?

Anyway, in my childhood my big hero was Robin Hood at first and later on the youngest of the Three Musketeers (who were four): chevalier d'Artagnan. I just loved these men, brave and without fear, who came to the rescue of their king, queen and country.

The first film about Robin Hood I ever saw was the one with Erroll Flynn in the main role. Oh, I thought he was such a gorgeous man!


I watched all of Erroll Flynn's films and used to replay scenes with my friends. Of course I was the damsel in distress who needed to be rescued! Now I'm in my middle age, I kind of prefer the Ridley Scott version of Robin Hood, with Russell Crowe in the main role.


I loved his rugged appearance as he reminds me of my lost boyfriend. But that's a different story.... Just wanted to state JP was as valiant as those knights from the tales.

Next to Robin Hood I developed a liking for musketeers, and dreamed that I was the Queen who needed to be saved by d'Artagnan. My grandfather was a big lover of all novels by Alexandre Dumas, and I could read endlessly from the books in his library. They were in French, but what the heck? I understood well enough, although I still don't like that language and will not speak it unless necessary.


I even became a writer because I adored these heroes of my childhood. Hm, fodder for pscychologists. It probably means I want to preserve my childhood by returning to these stories? Anyway, I like to write about men who are valiant and honorable and courteous towards women. You don't find a lot of them anymore.

But Anthony from Diamonds For The Devil is very much how I would like my lover to be, and so are Neil from The Haversham Legacy, Richard and Walter from The Gold Crucifix and the privateer from Maria Gonzalez.

If anyone is interested in these books, you can always go to Amazon or order them directly from the publisher,

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Secrets in the sand

cWhen I was a little girl, I wanted to be a princess.

As I grew up, and read voraciously, I became obsessed with history and at that moment I wanted to become an archeologist. I daydreamed about working in the Valley of Kings and - you bet! - discovering that one grave which had all kinds of valuables. Something like the biggest archeological discovery of the age.

I read a lot about Egypt - art books and novels. My long time favorite in the historical novel genre righ tthen was Mara, Daughter of the Nile by Eloise McGraw. I don't know how many times I borrowed this book from the local library, but at a given moment the book disappeared. It could not found anymore - probably someone had borrowed it and not returned. I tried to find the novel in the bookstores but they did not sell English books in those years (the 1970s).

Can you imagine how happy I was when the internet came into existence and I discovered the Amazon shop? The American shop sold a new print of McGraw's book, and of course I ordered it. It cost me quite a lot, because you have to pay custom fees on imports from the USA. But now it's in my library and I cherish it.

It is supposed to be a kid's book, but even now I still like to read it. Btw, lots of childrens books are better written than a lot of the today novels for adults.

I also like to see films about Egypt, like The Mummy or Jewel of the Nile. I like the kind of movie in which a lot of action goes along with historical finds.

Nowadays, I enjoy reading the Egypt novels of Paul Doherty, which are set during the reign of Queen Hatshepsut. I hope Steve Berry will set one of Cotton Malone's adventures in Egypt. And of course, also Barbara Erskine has novels in which Egyptian mysteries appear.

I did not become an archeologist. When I reached the age to decide what to study, there was not much demand for archeologists. So I picked languages instead and became a high school teacher. But because I like history, I can often mix it into my lessons and I do hope the students will take something along.

I still read every article about archeological finds with interest and still dream about finding that hidden grave!

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Staying at the Saltwinds B&B in Hyannis

Sometimes people ask me where I get the inspiration of travelling to places that are so far away from my home.

My answer is always: I read (a lot). Some years ago, I read a novel by Mary Higgins Clark, Two Little Girls in Blue. In this novel on of the twin sisters is kidnapped and taken to a motel in Hyannis.

Of course I knew this was the place the Kennedy's had a home, but that was practically all. Together with my sister I searched the web and we found out Hyannis was quite a nice place to visit. Enough to see (not only beach and ocean) to interest us, because we are not people who want to sit near a swimming pool the whole day.

So we started looking for the best possible price in airline tickets and of course a place to stay. We did not fancy an expensive hotel, but decided to go for a B&B. Our search came up with the Saltwinds B&B, owned and exploited by Ginny and Craig Conroy on 319 Sea Street. It looked more than okay to us, but we were truly amazed by the price! To our standards (Belgium is a very expensive country) this was as cheap as could come.


Also the first contacts with the innkeepers only promised we'd have a good time with them, so we took the plunge and made a reservation.

Boy, ,what a great holiday we had! The plane ride went rather smoothly, and we arrived at Boston Logan airport in the afternoon. There we had to catch the bus to Hyannis. Apparently we had just missed the previous one, and needed to wait another two hours. Ok, no problem. We had a drink and tried to adjust to the heat (that summer was very hot).

Once arrived in Hyannis, after a bus ride longer than usual because of the outgoing traffic, we found Craig waiting for us. He immediately took us to the B&B, where Ginny also greeted us and showed us to our room.


Nothing fancy, but it had all we needed: it was clean, and had a nice view over the garden. We even had a table outside where we could have breakfast or a drink.

We have stayed in 5star hotels and very luxurious B&B's, but what we especially liked about this one, was that Ginny and Craid were so friendly. They treated us not like guests, but more like friends and nothing was ever too much for them.

Ginny washed for us, Craig took us on tours of the town or drove us to the ferry's.  We often had a chat and after all of these years, still keep contact. I hope to be able to visit once more, but since my sister suffered a nasty accident last February, we need to make shorter trips as sitting still in a plane for a long time hurts her too much. Perhaps she'll get better as time goes by, we don't know and also the doctors can't tell.

Hyannis is nice place to shop (for us all these stores were so cheap) and it also had a lot of great restaurants (just ask Craig which are the best ones). Our favorite was Island Merchant and Embargo, where you have Spanish tapa style food. On Tuesday nights you could have tapa's for half the price!

Cape Cod is an experience in itself, and while in Hyannis, you should take the opportunity of visiting some of the other villages and also take a ferry to Martha's Vinyard or Nantucket. We also went to Boston for a day, to do the Freedom Trail and also for some shopping. Linens, underwear and shoes are way less expensive in the States compared to Belgium.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Tami Hoag's books

Anyone who likes to read must know the work of NY Times bestselling author Tami Hoag.
                                              Photo of Tami Hoag with the horse, Bacchus

Tami began her career at the tender age of nine. Growing up, she wrote for Bantam's Loveswept line, and then turned to write thrillers - among which some of the best I've ever read.

Some of her novels are set in the deep South (Lucky's Lady, Still Waters, Dark Paradise, Cry Wolf), others are set in Minneapolis and feature detectives Kovac and Liska (Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust, Kill the Messenger, Prior Bad Acts) and a couple of books are about horses, as Tami is not only an author, but also an equestrian in the Olympic sport of dressage. These novels are Dark Horse and The Alibi Man.

But the books I like most are Tami's newest series, about a 'peaceful' village in California, way back in the 1970's. A time when computers still did not exist and detectives had to use their own personal skills to find a culprit.

Deeper than the Dead                Secrets To The Grave             Deeper than the Dead

In the little town of Oak Knoll, predators are on the loose and deputy chief Tony Mendes needs to find them! He gets the help of a retired FBI agent and his wife, who stars in the first of these books.

Definitely must-reads!

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Nickie's Ten Questions to Julie Garwood

      Julie Garwood's website

Julie Garwood is a best-selling author of contemporary and historical romance. She also writes for young adults. Some of her best-sellers are: "Heartbreak", "Mercy", "The Secret", "The Gift" and "Honor's Splendor".

1. When did you realize you wanted to be a writer??

I've always loved making up stories, even when I was young. I was a history major in college and was encouraged to write, but I didn't become serious about writing novels until the youngest of my three children started school.

2. Did you find it difficult to get your first book published?
I was very fortunate. I met an agent at a reception during a local writers' conference. She asked me to send her my work. I sent a young adult novel, and she sold it to Scholastic. When she asked if I was working on anything else, I told her about a story involving a medieval knight. She asked me to finish it and send it to her, explaining to me that it was a historical romance. She sold it to Pocket, and I've been writing novels ever since.

3. How was this book received?

In the publisher's sales catalog, it was positioned at the very bottom. The store sales, however, were good, and the publishers were willing to try another one.

4. How do you handle criticism?

Anytime your creation goes out in public, you have to develop a thick skin and be willing to take the bad with the good. Criticism can be painful, but it also can be constructive. I don't mind it if it's an honest analysis because it gives me something to work with.

5. As most of your books are set in the past, do you like history as a subject?

I loved studying history in school. When I began writing historical novels, I knew I'd found a perfect way to combine my passion for history with my love of telling stories.

6. Do you sometimes travel to or visit the places/countries you describe in your books?

Since I've been writing contemporary novels, I've done more traveling to areas I'll write about.

7. How long do you work on one book?

As soon as I finish one book, I'm usually working on the next. With the writing of the manuscript and the whole publication process, it takes about a year.

8. How important are your readers to you?

The readers keep me going. They've been so supportive and encouraging, and I love getting all their letters and e-mails. Sometimes, if I'm having a rough day, I'll read their notes and immediately feel energized. I can't thank them enough for that.

9. Do you have a romantic nature yourself?

I think all of us who write in this genre have to be romantics at heart. I'm a pushover for flowers and candlelit dinners and happy endings.

10. Can I ask you who is your own favorite writer?

I have trouble with this question because I have so many favorites. When I consider who had an impact on me, I think of John Steinbeck and The Grapes of Wrath. I remember as a young girl reading a passage in that book which described the wind and the dust during the drought. When I finished reading it, I hurriedly ran to get a drink of water. It was then that I first recognized that a writer could evoke feelings in his reader, and I wanted to try to do that. I don't pretend to compare myself to Steinbeck, but he certainly showed me that words are powerful.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

I won the Tour seven times...

Everyone by now must have heard about the USADA-report concerning Lance Armstrong. It also states that the USADA wants to delete the seven Tour de France victories of Armstrong.

There's been a lot about this in the worldwide newspapers, but what caught my attention was this column of Sven Ornelis (radiomaker, columnist) in Het Laatste Nieuws of Thursday 11th October.

I'd like to quote it (in my free translation to English, of course):

When the phone rang in the middle of the night, I woke up from my hard-earned sleep. On the other side of the line was a man, speaking in a heavily accented Dutch, claiming he was the head of the UCI (International Cycling Union).
He sounded friendly, but especially worn-out and desperate. His enthusiam not quite made it up to the shocking news he delivered to me. After all the confessions of the team around Armstrong, he told me, the UCI had decided to clean out the Augias sty which is identic to cycling - for once and ever.
Of course it's easier said than done, he confessed.
The confessions amounted to enormous proportions: Armstrong and all of his team were taking doping. So they should delete all of them out of the official lists.
And then it became even more difficult. Doping was not only found with the profs, also with the crew surrounding a team, with amateurs, even with those who support the sport. They all took drugs to help them forward.
"Is it right you didn't have a bike during the past twenty years?" he then asked.
I was honest enough to state I did have a bike, but I had not used it after the first testride when I got a flat tube.
"Alright," said the man. "It's late, I'm dead tired and our sport is so damaged that I want to beg you: keep quiet about that bike, burry it in your garden, and accept those seven Tour victories."
His voice broke. He cried. What do I say? He howled.
So I had to accept. My victories are not all too clean either, but I saved a desperate man and his favorite sport. With the last lie...

It's all true of course. Not only in cycling, but I guess in most sports the athletes take drugs to help them compete better.

For me sport should be something pure. Back to the old days, when sport was just for the honors, and when the winner of the Greek Olympics got a laurel wreath on the head.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Senseless violence

Just imagine... You are coming home from work, take a bus home. You are sitting quietly on your chair, looking around a bit. There are other passengers on the bus, among them a  young guy who's constantly playing with his handheld.

At the next stop, nobody leaves, but ten other young men get on. And suddenly they all turn to you, start kicking and beating you - for no reason apparent.

It happened yesterday in Antwerp. The vicim has a broken jaw, broken ribs and wounds all over.

What I can't understand is why none of the other passengers came to help this victim. The young men were not armed with knives or guns, they just used their hands and feet. Why can't you then knock around with your handbag?

I've often seen this happen. Lots of people just looking on what's happening, without doing something to intervene. Once in my early days as a teacher I entered a classroom, where two students were trying to kill each other, while the rest of the class was just looking and cheering them on. I was so angry that I pushed away the onlookers and grabbed both guys by the hair, pulling them up and keeping them away from each other. And then I'm only a 'weak' woman...

Later, I happened to be shopping in Antwerp when someone tried to rob an older woman from her purse. I threw myself on the culprit and brought him down. I sat on him (with the help of my sister) until the police arrived.

If I and my sister can do this, why don't others? What would you do?

Thursday, October 11, 2012

An old love of mine: the ballet

When I grew up, there was no talk in our house about ballet or much else. My grandma loved opera, but she only spoke to me about it and she only played the music when my parents were not at home. My father came from a destitute family where there was no use for culture (I admire him for being able to get away from the streets and making something of himself).

In my earlies twenties, I was unemployed for a while (and so was my sister) because most teachers had been made redundant by a then minister of education. So I spent my free time reading a lot, writing - and knitting. I bought my wool in a little shop in town, and became quite friendly with its owner, a lady who had two daughters of her own. One of them, Bernice, went to ballet school. She was so good her teachers sent her to the ballet school in Antwerp, which is the best in our country. Of course we got invited to all the school performances where Bernice starred in, and as she grew older she became the star dancer of the Royal Ballet of Flanders at first, then moved on to New York and now is the director of the Monaco Ballet. Her full name is Bernice Coppieters.

Bernice is one of the best ballerina's I've ever seen perform, and through her both my sister and I developed a love for the ballet.

Once bitten, we went to all the performances in Antwerp and whenever we were abroad we tried to see one or other ballet. So we've seen the Bolshoi, the Kirov - even seen an older Rudolf Nurejev perform - the ABT, ...

I must admit I love those classic ballets, like Swan Lake, Le Corsaire, Les Sylphides, ... but I can also enjoy modern ballet. I've seen more than one performance of Béjart, which I think is very good.


My favorite dancers are, after the afore mentioned Bernice Coppieters, two male dancers:  former Russian Mikhail Baryshnikov and Danish Peter Schaufuss. Both men have this rare quality of being utterly male and full of vigor and force. The way they jump, they move....



Any other lover of the ballet? If so, what are your favorite ballets and/or dancers?

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Obama or Romney?

As a native of Belgium - a country where at least 50% of the population is not very interested in politics (I guess there would only about 40% willing to vote if we weren't obliged to) - I stand amazed of how the Americans treat the coming election of a new president.

Of course I watch the news, and I've seen bits of the debate between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney. Objectively, I noticed how Romney was the better in this debate. I doubt anyone can talk that guy under the table (well, I guess I'd be a worthy opponent if I had any notion of politics) - but I also doubt if that alone will give him votes.

So I'd like to know what you guys are thinking. Who's going to win the election? Obama or Romney?
Don't hesitate to comment and also tell us why you think Obama or Romney is the better guy.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Currently reading: Grace Burrowes

About a year ago, I made a discovery browsing the Amazon kindle store. I do that every now and then, hoping to find books which interest me and are worth downloading on my kindle. Btw, I prefer reading on my kindle the last few years. I've given away most of my printed books and am storing my library in my cloud drive. Even when I was born in 1956, it doesn't mean I don't know what's going on - teaching keeps one young at heart!

So one of these days, I came upon The Heir by Grace Burrowes.

The heir

A romance novel, but quite differently from what I've been reading before. Burrowes's characters are people who are alive, full of mischief, love, hate and all othere human feelings. The story is about Gayle Windham, who is now the heir of his father, the Duke of Moreland. Being the heir is quite a burden to him, especially as he was not prepared to be so. But his eldest brother Bart died in the wars with Napoleon, along with another brother, Victor. Gayle is now the eldest boy living. He has another brother, Valentine, and four sisters: Sophie, Louisa, Eve and Jenny. Next to that there is also a halfbrother, Devlin St. Just, and a halfsister, Lady Maggie.

After having read this delightful book, I of course bought the next book in the series. The stories about the Windhams consist of two series, The Duke's Sons and The Duke's Daughters. After The Heir follows The Soldier (Devlin's story) and The Viruoso (Valentine's story)

                                               The Soldier

                                              The Virtuoso

The Duke's Daughters series begins with Lady Sophie's Christmas Wish  and is the lovely rendering of lonely Sophie's tale who finds a babe in a tavern and has to mother it for a while - with the help of a dashing earl. Next comes Lady Maggie's Secret Scandal where the eldest (illegitimate) daughter must cope with a scandal that threatens her reputation. Right now I'm reading Lady Louisa's Christmas Knight (I know, Christmas is still a bit off, but then I don't mind). This is the tale in which clever Louisa (she has an IQ higher than most, knows astronomy and mathematics, but she can't communicate with people) longs for a big family and a husband to love. Of course she gets them all!

                                        Lady Sophie's Christmas Wish
                                         Lady Maggie's Secret Scandal

                                        Lady Louisa's Christmas Knight

So if you are looking for a good read, and want to chuckle every now and then, I can certainly recommend these books!