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Friday, November 30, 2012

Nickie's Ten Questions to Lee Child

Lee Child was born in 1954 in Coventry, England, but spent his formative years in the nearby city of Birmingham. By coincidence he won a scholarship to the same high school that JRR Tolkien had attended. He went to law school in Sheffield, England, and after part-time work in the theater he joined Granada Television in Manchester for what turned out to be an eighteen-year career as a presentation director during British TV’s “golden age.”




During his tenure his company made Brideshead Revisited, The Jewel in the Crown, Prime Suspect, and Cracker. But he was fired in 1995 at the age of 40 as a result of corporate restructuring. Always a voracious reader, he decided to see an opportunity where others might have seen a crisis and bought six dollars’ worth of paper and pencils and sat down to write a book, Killing Floor, the first in the Jack Reacher series.

Killing Floor was an immediate success and launched the series which has grown in sales and impact with every new installment.

Lee has three homes—an apartment in Manhattan, a country house in the south of France, and whatever airplane cabin he happens to be in while traveling between the two. In the US he drives a supercharged Jaguar, which was built in Jaguar’s Browns Lane plant, thirty yards from the hospital in which he was born.

Lee spends his spare time reading, listening to music, and watching the Yankees, Aston Villa, or Marseilles soccer. He is married with a grown-up daughter. He is tall and slim, despite an appalling diet and a refusal to exercise.

Some time ago, I did an interview wit Lee and here are his answers:

1. Did you always want to be a writer?

Not always … I started vaguely thinking about it in about 1989 or 1990, and then I lost my job in 1995 and decided to give it a try.

2. Was it difficult for you to find a publisher for your first book?

No, the first publisher that saw it bought it. But that’s an untypical experience – most writers find it takes a little longer.

3. How was this first book received by the public and the critics?

Fortunately everybody seemed to like it from the start. I was very lucky.

4. Why did you not want to become a lawyer, after studying law?

Who would want to be a lawyer? It’s a very boring job. But it’s an interesting subject to study.

5. Can you give us some anecdotes from when you were working for Granada TV?

Well, where can I start? I once had a picnic lunch on a studio floor with Laurence Olivier, Ralph Richardson and John Geilgud I met Nathalie Wood. I directed the longest newsflash in UK TV history – the SAS assault in Princes Gate.

6. Where do you get the inspiration for your books?

From current events, from history books, from my imagination.

7. Does Jack Reacher resemble your personally in any other way?

He and I are practically twins.

8. You have lived in the UK and now in the USA. Where do you like it best?

The US, for sure. But I don’t really feel at home anywhere – just like Jack Reacher.

9. I have been unemployed for quite some time, and then found the inspiration to write my first book. Did that also work for you?

Definitely. Being broke is the best incentive there is.

10. Mind telling us if you have a favourite book or author?

Sophie’s Choice by William Styron.


Thursday, November 29, 2012

Do you believe in ghosts?

Anyone else watching The Secret of Crickley Hall on BBC1? It's a 3-part tv-drama based on the work of James Herbert. When the two-year-old of a couple disappears, the wife breaks down and her husband thinks she'll find relief in other surroundings. So he seeks a job elsewhere and rents an abandoned old house for the time being - Crickley Hall. What he doesn't suspect is that both his wife and his two daughters see a ghost - the ghost of Augustus Crippen who used to possess the house when it was an orphanage.

Now as an author is can quite go along with this story, but I don't believe in ghosts. I can write about them, but never expect to see one in person. I've been to many places, and never seen an apparition of any kind beside human beings.


My sister, on the other hand, would not be so sure... She is more psychic than I am, and she sometimes has premonitions. She feels actual pain when someone in our direct family circle is about to die. She felt it when my grandfather died of a brain stroke, when my grandmother was into hospital for a simple flu, when my dad went to have his yearly checkup (and died of a heartstroke in the hospital), and finally when my mother was ill. One day, she told me something was about to happen and a couple of hours later our car slipped and we nearly crashed. Finally, after having made an emergency landing with a plane when flying to New York, she told me afterwards she had known there was 'something' but we would survive.

She also claims to having seen the ghost of our mother more than once. Apparently, she sees her walking through the house. The first time, mother even told her she was happy where she was now and we should not feel bad about her not being there anymore, as she is watching over us.

Believe it or not. What's your take?

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Winter is coming

Here in Belgium, temperatures are dropping day by day and it's getting really cold. It's supposed to be snowing in the weekend.

Do you like winter? Generally, I do. I like frosty weather (I can bear the cold rather well, and only put on gloves or a woollen hat when the temperature goes below -10° Celsius). But I don't like the snow. Don't get me wrong. I like snow, but then it should freeze, so the snow can remain purely white. I do detest the mush we usually get after a day of snowing!


What I also like about winter, is that it's getting dark around 4 pm and you can close the curtains and snuggle up in your easy chair with a good book, or watch some TV. I'm much more lazy in winter but I guess it's only natural. Also animals keep a winter sleep! When it's spring or summer, I more energetic and do love to clean, to paint, to do some work in the garden. Right now, the only thing I like is enjoying a warm drink, while reading or writing.

Up to February of this year, my sister and I also loved to go skiing. We usually spent either the Christmas holiday or the holiday in February in one or other ski resort. Over these years, we did skiing in most European areas (Austria, Italy and mainly Switzerland), but we also went to Canada (Banff, Fernie and resorts in Québec) and the USA (Wyoming, Utah, Colorado and Vermont). Btw, the picture underneath is taken in Scuol, Switzerland in 2011.



Due to my sister's accident last February (the doctors still don't know what happened, but she lost consciousness and fell down the mountain, luckily without breaking any bones) she still feels pain everywhere and she doesn't dare to go skiing again. Because we always do everything together, I'm not skiing anymore either.

Nevertheless, we have planned a trip to Switzerland for next February, and we intend to go walking. The area where we always go to, Unterengadin (near the Austrian border) is picturelike beautiful and Scuol is situated well for walking tours. It's easy to go to neigboring villages either on foot or by bus. There is also a spa, where you can relax with a Roman-Irish bath.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

What (grand)ma said

Do you also often feel you keep remembering what your parents or grandparents told you, when you were little?

I certainly do. The older I get, the more wisdom I seem to have gathered from what my elders told me. In my case, what I remember now comes mainly from my grandmother. She was a strong and independent woman, having survived two world wars and being alone without her husband for nearly four years.

A saying of hers I'll always take to heart is this: "Will you jump into the river because the other ones do?"

I was supposed to answer 'No' - and act accordingly. From childhood, I kept to my own course and never allowed others to steer me into trouble.

What I also remember her saying is: "There are bad people around. Be aware of them." She told my sister and I about predators and paedophiles and did not think we were too young to learn about them. We were told we should not go near a car, when a friendly man asked for directions, and when we felt someone came too close, we should run away as hard as we could.

Another word of wisdom was: "Never be afraid - and if you are, then don't show it."

I supposed it was a lesson learned by repeated visits of the German Gestapo, after my grandfather escaped from the prison camp and after a detour in France arrived home where he hid in the cellar of our neighbor. The Germans suspected he was around, but never got an admission from my grandmother, even after threatening her and my mother.

My sister and I grew up without fear and I think this is a major plus in this world. We dare to go out, not afraid of being mugged (they should try, they would certainly feel pain afterwards), not afraid to speak our mind even when everyone disagrees, ... We are quite satisfied with our lives and live accordingly to what we want.

Giving your children such a childhood is a great gift, far better than money. When I look around now, I see so many children who don't know what being happy is, who don't have parents who care for them and given them a real childhood.

What is your take on this?

Monday, November 26, 2012

Mirror, mirror at the wall

Mirrors do have a special fascination for authors. Already in the old days, when the fairy tales were spun, a mirror played an important role in the tale of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.


And isn't it in a mirror Christine Daée sees the Phantom of the Opera for the first time??? Through this mirror he talks to her and takes her away to his world of darkness, where music reigns. When his love doesn't have a happy ending, he destroys the mirror...


Also I used a mirror in my short tale Face in the Mirror. A young runaway breaks into a deserted mansion and find solace talking to the face she sometimes sees into her bedroom mirror.

Yes, mirros take an important plays in lots of books. Just a day or so ago I came across a wonderful book, named The Mirrors at Barnard Hall. I sometimes browse the Amazon Kindle shops for deals, and I've often found that books which are quite cheap (3 $ or less) are often good and interesting reads. This way I get to know authors and their books, and the above mentioned is one I'd like to recommend.



If you are into a good story in which ghosts and romance are galore, then you must also read Jenny Hickman's book. It's the story of Callista Franklyn, heiress to an enormous fortune which includes a manor house in England. Once, when she was a little girl, she stayed there for a few months, until her stepfather manages to send her off to America once more. When she finally returns to England, it is after the death of her mother and stepfather. Alone in her room, she stares into the mirror where once she met her best friend Tilly - and now meets Nick, Tilly's elder brother. I won't tell too much of the story, as it is one you'll read without pause. But I can promise you it's a beautiful story.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Farmville

Although I grew up in a relatively rural area, I did not know a lot about farming. Oh yes, I did know how a cow looked like (and a pig) - but I did not know then there are different races of both cows and pigs. Also, I saw trees around but could not tell whether they were oak, chestnut or whatever. The only difference I knew was between the trees in our neigborhood and those in the mountains (they were fir trees).

By discovering and playing Farmville, I've educated myself a lot in this aspect. Now I know how different trees look like and I can name them. Same goes for the different races of cows, pigs and horses. Sometimes I buy or get animals I hadn't even heard of!

And the best thing of it, farming on the internet doesn't need physical labor!!! Now there are people who are addicted to Farmville, who'd play it all through the day and set their alarm at night when a certain lot needs harvesting.



I'm not such an addict. Yes, I admit I love playing the game, but I can leave it when necessary. When I travel I don't play on the computer. I don't carry a laptop or tablet along when I'm in another country. I'll only check my mail, and only reply to it when it can't wait. That I do on my phone. So when I know I'm going to be absent for a while, I just plow my fields and leave them be. They won't go away, right?

Heck, I wished I'd come up with this idea! I'm sure those guys of Zynga must be millionaires by now. Although... I have a friend who invented a soccer game for the pc, and he can only sell the occasional one or two of them in a month. Probably not everyone likes soccer!

I can't explain why Farmville is so popular. Farming is not the thing for young people, as most farms are sold away in my country. Hard work doesn't appeal anymore. Is it because the game can  be played on Facebook? If anyone knows, please tell me so.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Nickie's Ten Questions to Madeline Baker

Some time ago, I did an interview with author Madeline Baker.

  Website from the National  Underwater and Marine Agency and Clive Cussler
 
According to the bio on her website, Madeline is one of those rare birds - a California native. She’s lived in Southern California her whole life and loves it (except for the earthquakes). She married her high school sweetheart, and they have three sons, all handsome enough to be cover models!

Madeline never intended to be a published author. It just happened. She has always loved to read. The Black Stallion books, Lad, a Dog, Nancy Drew, Mary Stewart. And then she discovered romance novels. One night, when her husband was at work, her kids were in bed, and there was nothing on TV, she sat down and started writing a historical romance of her own. After six years and 31 rejections, she finally found a publisher for Reckless Heart, and she’s been writing ever since.

Madeline also writes paranormal romances under the name Amanda Ashley.
She readily admits that most of her vampire heroes are inspired by Frank Langella’s portrayal of Dracula.

As of this writing, she has published 33 historical romances, 4 Silhouette Romances, 23 paranormal romances, and 11 short stories. Not bad for someone who started writing just for the fun of it. Her books have made the New York Times Bestseller List, the USA Today Bestseller List, and the Borders and Waldenbooks Bestseller lists.
 
From the interview I did, it looks like Madeline and I share some interests. I also like Native Americans and the Phantom! So here are my questions and her answers:

1. You say you only began to write because you had nothing to do. Kids in bed, nothing on TV, … Was it easy to find the necessary inspiration?

Yes, the words sort of poured out of me… I lived that book 24/7 … saw scenes in my mind while I was driving my kids to school. I probably shouldn’t have been on the road since, in my mind, I was on a horse back in the Old West <G>

2. After completing you first Native American novel, how difficult/easy was it to have it published?

Well, I didn’t sell the first one I wrote first. I think it was my third book I finally sold. In a way, it was easy, since I never expected to sell anything. It was just sort of a game. I’d send out a query or the manuscript, get rejected, and send it to the next publisher on the list. Finally, after six years and 31 rejections, I sold Reckless Heart to Leisure Books.

3. Do you employ an agent, and if so, what are the advantage of this?

I didn’t have an agent when I started writing, but I’ve had one for the last 17 years or so. Agents are good for negotiating, for being a buffer between the writer and the publisher. Also, nowadays, some publishers will only accept agented manuscripts.

4. How was your first novel treated by the public and by the critics?

It pretty much came and went without a lot of notice…

5. Can you handle criticism?

Yes, but I don’t like it much <G>

6. Why do you write as both Madeline Baker and Amanda Ashley? Was it not easier to stick to one name?

It was my editor’s idea. I was well known for my historicals when I decided to write vampire books. My editor decided it would be wise to use a pseudonym so as not to confuse my readers.

7. Where does you fascination for the Native American come from?

I loved western when I was young, and then I went to Disneyland and there was a native village there with Indian dancers. I was smitten with one of the dancers, Eddie Little Sky. His picture is on my web page. Anyway, I’ve just always loved Indians.

8. And you must be fond of vampires too… Do you believe in them?

Ah, vampires… Frank Langella as Dracula…. Yes, I love romantic vampires… not so crazy about the slice and dice ones. No, I don’t believe they exist.

9. Can you tell us something about your hobbies?

I’m a collector – Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, Phantom of the Opera, Beauty and the Beast, Elvis. I love movies and the theatre, reading, writing of course, and playing with my web page.


10. Who is your own favorite writer? Or your favorite book?

Favorite writer…that’s a hard one. I have several that are auto buys for me- Anne Stuart, Kathleen Eagle, Maggie Shayne, Charlaine Harris, Jim Butcher. I think my favorite book is “Phantom” by Susan Kay.
 


Friday, November 23, 2012

Variations on a theme

As an author, you have the freedom to make variations on age-old themes. You can make your own adaptation of them, or you continue where the original ended. Lots of bestselling authors have done this, like for instance Teresa Medeiros, who made her own version of some fairy tales. The three novels Charming the Prince, The Bride and the Beast and A Kiss to Remember are obviously based on Cinderella, Beauty and the Beast and Sleeping Beauty.


Right now, I'm stuck with my WIP (happens sometimes) and then I know I have to find something else to keep me occupied. Short stories work marvels for it, or novellas. Once this short work is finished, I usually find the inspiration to continue on the WIP and get it also finished.

Because I so like Phantom of the Opera, and also have read the book by Gaston Leroux, I am playing with the idea of making my own phanom story. Nothing to do with Andrew Lloyd-Webber's musical (although it will feature in the story line) and also nothing borrowed from the work of Leroux.

No, it will be my own version of a phantom story, set in the Parisian opera house. Because at the time this building was constructed, there was an urban legend about a ghost and about a mysterious lake beneath the theater. So why not place my own ghost in this decor? And a beautiful girl, of course. After all, it has to remain a romantic story, and one with a happy ending.

I like happy endings. In my books the girls always gets her man, her true love. Just fiction, something to escape from when life is bad.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Highland Magic

Today I'd like to introduce you to Christine Young, who's promoting her newest novel Highland Magic. She's doing a promo tour with Goddess Fish Promotions from November 5th until November 30th. When you follow her progress, 'like' the post and you'll stand a chance of winning a great prize!


    

I've known Christine for a while, both as author and as publisher. I can certainly recommend her books, they're great reads.

Here's an excerpt from the novel:

In a dark corner in the Stony Brook Tavern, Whipple slumped a bit farther in his chair and pulled the hood on his dark gray cloak until the fabric fell just past his eyebrows. His eyes searched, seeking out every person who entered the room.

Edinburgh was a cesspool of information. He'd learned she was accused of treason and that someone had told tales of potions and herbal lore. He'd learned enough to make him shiver in his boots as well as fear for Keely's life.

Nothing would stop the King.

Whipple's worst fears had been confirmed. That bastard, Ian MacPherson, had been sent by King James to bring Keely to judgment. His fists tightened against his thighs, yet he held his volatile emotions in check. How long could he continue this strange masquerade?

How long could he protect his charge?

The stake had already been built. The pyre ready. The people chanting for the witch to burn. And there were trumped up murder charges.

Chills as well as sweat slithered down his spine. He wasn't ready to return to Keely's village or tell her the truth he just discovered. He wanted to learn how deep Ian's loyalty to James ran. Ian was brother to the MacPherson, a formidable man. Yet rumor had it that Hawke MacPherson handed over his wife's estate in England to Ian. Living on English soil could be a blessing for Keely, but only if Ian fell in love and if he could keep her from practicing her art.

English soil could bring safe sanctuary to Keely.

Once again his body trembled. Terror ran swift and deep within.

AND DON'T FORGET:

Christine will be awarding a $15.00 Amazon Gift Card to a randomly drawn commenter during the tour, and a $10.00 Amazon Gift Card to a randomly drawn host as well as ten MacPherson book marks to randomly drawn commenters.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Daydreaming

Confess it - you do, I do. Everyone dreams of something better, right?

Now of course it depends what you can dream of. When I begin to daydream, I always fancy getting A LOT OF money... Because what would that do for me?

* About 25,000 € would allow me to finish the renovation of my current house. Still need to do the garden, need a painter to paint my living-room and hall, need new tiles in the living room, need to replace the old flooring in the bedrooms and attic. The above mentioned sum woud cover that, no more need to save up (it's not a 25-year plan, rather a 40-year one!). Right now I can only do renovation when I have saved up enough of dough. Always takes a while.

* About 50,000 € would allow the above mentioned and allow us to do some trips we can't afford right now, like going to Australia and New Zealand for a while (2 months would do) and see Tierra del Fuego.

* With 100,000 € we could do the renovations, buy ourselves a garage box at the coast and make some trips.

* With 1 million € we need to to worry about pensions and the intention of government to lower them. Hell, we could pay to be in an exclusive resort for the elderly!

* With 10 million € we could already live like kings.

* When I'd win Euro Millions and gain some 100 million € I guess I'd sell my house here, buy a more luxurious flat at the coast, and a flat in London. Both my sister and I would love to have a second home there, as we love the town and there's always something going on.

And what I definitely would do as well, is make a testament. I don't know who of us will go first, but the one who remains will first get everything. After her death the fortune would go to charity, not to the state. We both have charities we support, and those organisations would be the big winners. We don't have any close family left, and those distant cousins who never visit wouldn't get anything.

What about you? What do you dream of?

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Currently reading: Peter Robinson

I believe I've already told you guys how much I like to read good thrillers. Well, some time ago I made a discovery that's proved absolutely gorgeous: the books of Peter Robinson.


Peter Robinson was born in Yorkshire, Great-Britain in 1950, but moved to Canada where he is now an acclaimed author, who has won many awards.

His main character is Detective Chief Inspector Alan Banks, a mid-thirties guy in the beginning of the series. Rather happily married to Sandra and father to a boy and a girl. The stories are built up well, and have a good psychological insight in the feelings and motives of everyone featuring in the books.

Up to now, there are already 19 titles in this series: Gallows View, A Dedicated Man, A Necessary End, The Hanging Valley, Past Reason Hated, Wednesday's Child, Final Account, Innocent Graves, Dead Right, In A Dry Season, Cold Is The Grave, Aftermath, Close To Home, Playing With Fire, Piece Of My Heart, All The Colors Of Darkness, Bad Boy and Before The Poison.
The next book will come soon, in January.



Due to the success of the books, British broadcasting company ITV made a TV adaption of some of these stories. Series One was a 4-part adaptation, consisting of two episodes per part. The second series is now being broadcasted on ITV and made a further adaptation of newer novels.



The main role is being played by Stephen Tomlinson, but the byroles are played by different actors.
Both the books and the TV series are to be recommended!

Anyone read Robinson already? If so, what do you think of the books?

Monday, November 19, 2012

If you're going to San Francisco...

When I was a teenager, Scott McKenzie scored a big hit with the song San Francisco. Ever since hearing that song, I longed to see the town for myself, look at the Golden Gate Bridge, ride a cable car, ...

It took me until 1977 before my wish was granted. By then, the Flower Power movement was long over (when the song was a hit, I wore no flowers in my hair, but I had flowers on my hotpants - can you picture: dark blue hotpants, with red and yellow flowers on it, combined yellow or red panties?). No more hippies to be found in San Francisco.

When I became 21, my parents allowed me to spend my summer in California, and during this stay my guest family and I made a trip to San Francisco. I admit, it was a short visit, but I did see the red bridge and rode a cable car!



Time went by, and my sister and I made more trips, and we visited the United States more than once. However, she had never been in California, and so she suggested we make a trip to San Francisco. We did this in 2006, during the month of July. We spent some 10 days there, visiting the town, sailing the ocean, making trips on our rented bicycles (even one across the Golden Gate Bridge, to Sausolito and the hills), doing bus tours to Muir Woods and Carmel.

The weather was georgeous and this added to the well-being. We are not used to a lot of sunshine here in Belgium! I could live in San Francisco. I didn't feel any pains in my bones there (which I frequently feel here) were it not for the earthquakes. We stayed at an hotel on Russian Hill, from where we had a nice view on the harbor.

The cable cars ran up and down, but we prefered to walk. At first, it was a breather to walk uphill, but after a day or so we got used to it and walk as fast as anyone born in town.



We just loved to walk down to the harbor, where so many good restaurants are to be found and also a lot of shops in the neigborhood. Always something to see there. Moreover, the dollar was quite cheap for us that year, and so we did not spend a lot of money, either.

I don't know if you recall the TV series Party of Five, but it was filmed in this location:



The family lived in the second house from the right, if I remember well. These houses are quite famous in San Francisco, and are called the Painted Ladies.

Next to New York City, San Francisco is definitely my favorite town in the USA. If you ever have a chance, you certainly must visit there.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Are you a collector?

Lots of people collect things - be it stamps, toy soldiers, toy cars, champagne corks, wine labels, ... just name it! It can become a real obsession, to the point where every penny is spent on the hobby and the essentials are neglected.

I must confess I've also collected items, but not fanatically. I just brought along a costumed doll from every country I visited.

 Dolls from Greece


Since I have seen a lot of the world already, I have dolls from various continents. From Europe I have dolls from my own country Belgium, but also from Great-Britain (stiff upper lip), France, Holland, Germany, Luxemburg, Spain, Italy, Greece, Switzerland, Austria, Romania, Russia and  Norway.

From Asia I have dolls from Turkey, Thailand and India.

From Africa, dolls from Tunesia and Kenya.

From North Amercia dolls from the USA and Canada.

From South America dolls from Peru and Bolivia.

 Thai dolls


We never visited Australia or New Zealand, because these countries are so far away. Perhaps later, if we stay healthy. We also never paid lots of money for these dolls. Some are quite beautiful though, and most likely worth something. I've got them all in a showcase but I'm afraid they'll have to stay behind when we move to the coast in a couple of years (the flat is much smaller and we can't put all our stuff in it, so we need to make choices).

My sister used to collect everything concerning The Osmonds.

Do you collect items? If so, what and how fanatic??? Reactions are welcome, please.


 

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Dangerous precedent

This week, one item in the newspaper caught my attention. It was an article about a 17-year-old girl who had failed her exams and needed to do her year over.

First of all I need to explain our school system a bit, because it's probably different from what exists in the USA or the UK. In Belgian school, students do exams at the end of June and they need to get an 'A'. This means they have passed and go to the next year. There is also a 'B' which means you pass, but have to go to another option (for instance, from Latin-Sciences to Industrial Sciences). 'C' means you have failed. This decision is not made by one teacher only, but by the whole group of teachers who teach in the option. They can only fail a student, when a joint decision is made. Just to make sure they have thought about it and discussed all the pro's and contra's. It is not a decision lightly taken.

Now this girl, who pretend to have dyslexia (which can be true) and ADHD (which is doubtful) failed her exams in the 5th grade. Her mother urged her to sue this result - and what has happened? The courts said she was right and now she has to go to the 6th form, even when she is not able to perform and will certainly fail either this year or the next.

Being a teacher myself, I know that most schools will offer assistance and learning aids to pupils who need it. But you can't just concentrate on one student alone, as there are other in your class who also need their lessons and your attention.

A student who is in need of special care should go to a school where such students are individually coached and get better results. However, most parents refuse to do so, and also do nothing to help their child at home. Most of them expect the school to raise their children and give them a proper education.

This decision of the High Court has created a dangerous precedent. Most likely lots of 'C' students will sue, and as a result school will just give A's to everyone, to prevent trouble. Is that OK? I think not.

If you want a good educational system, then parents and students will have to accept they can fail if they don't perform or don't behave. It was so in my days at school and it did nobody harm. And you were certain that, when you got an A, you had deserved it.

What is your opinion?

Friday, November 16, 2012

Horse whisperers and others

Certain people have a gift. That is a truth without any doubt.

How I come to this subject? I just finished re-reading Nicholas Evan's The Horse Whisperer. Such a wonderful book, full of romance, a feel of the wild and - horses.

 

I love horses. When I was younger, I used to ride a lot, even did some dressage. My favorite horse was Pallieter, a brown bay with a friendly character and absolutely trustworthy. When I entered the stables, he came to me, full of trust in me as well. We made long rides together, going through the wooden land in the neighborhood. He never got frightened (and we often came across young guys on motor cycles, or even cars which shouldn't have been there) and we always arrived back without him showing any sweat, even when we had galopped some.

Now I'll never pretend I'm a horse whisperer, but a horse is certainly not afraid of me. I can always reach out to them and stroke them on the nose.

But what I do have, is an attraction of sorts to children - and dogs! I can't pass a baby without it grinning to me. And whatever dog I pass, it wants to come to me - even dangerous dogs like Dobermanns. They press their snout against my hand and want to be stroked.

I remember Chris and I were at some airport in the States and our flight was delayed, so we sought a place to rest a bit. Next to us sat a mother with a child of around four. She began to talk to us, telling us her boy never said a lot, not even to her mother. Can you imagine how surprised she was when that little guy crept on my lap, asking me for a story?

It would be interesting to learn if there are other people with such abilities. Please don't hesitate to share your thoughts!

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Cutting costs

Just imagine: you have a great job, earn decent money - and all of a sudden you are made redundant and you have to go on the dole. Here in Belgium we have a system for unemployment aid, organised by VDAB (Flemish Service for Finding a Job). They make up rules for unemployment.

When you are single or head of a family, you get most. The maximum for that would be 1300,00 €. After three months it goes down to 1150, and then it sinks to 1000 a month. When you share your address with others (be it your parents, husband/wife, siblings or just a friend) you start with the same 1300, go down after three months to 1150 and after another three to 900. You keep this sum according to the time you've worked: one year for 3 months of dole. After that, you only get 450 € to live on.

It's a new system, with only two exceptions: either you must be over 55 years of age, or have worked for more than 20 years. In these two cases you don't go lower than 900 €.

Also imagine, you have had a monthly income of 2600 € (what was I earned at the end of my career). And then you come down to 1300 for a while, and even less the time to come. How are you going to cope?

The only way is by cutting costs. So what wouldl you do in this case?

I guess I'd try and first cut down on travel. A whole lot of my budget goes to making trips abroad. If you can't put the money aside anymore, stay at  home. Your garden can be just as nice a place to leisure in than a far away beach.

I would definitely not cut on food. But you can reduce the price of it go down by using fruit and vegetables of the season, which are always cheap. The only thing you need to invest in is in having two or more big freezers. (We have two at home, as we like to buy fresh produce). And sometimes your local butcher or supermarket has reductions on meat. Generally pork is not too expensive, and steak is also reasonable. Veal and lamb are more expensive, as is chicken. Certain types of fish are cheap as well (like polak) while they are just as healthy as other types. By choosing carefully what you buy you can save up a lot of money.

As we have been raised with an awareness for the environment, we try not to spoil anything. Rests are kept and used in other dishes. We never throw away food.

We also save on energy (not because we have to, just because we've always done it). We never put a light on in a space we're not in. And we don't have central heating on the bedroom floor. I don't like to sleep in a warm room. When it's cold I just put on an extra blanket. We also put our heating not higher than 20° C, as it saves energy. When it freezes outside, we put a plaid over our legs when we watch TV.

In the bathroom, you can save water by only using the shower, and not keep the water running the whole time. Just to make yourself wet, and afterwards to wash away the soap and shampoo.

When necessity would demand it, I'd throw out the TV, the computer and everything else that costs some. There is the library, where you can go online for free, and lend books as much as you want. And games you can play in the evening.

And certainly never buy anything you don't need, like cigarettes, drink, IPads or Iphones. A telephone card will do, and then use a public phone.

Anyone has other ideas?

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Nickie's Ten Questions to Joanne Harris

Who hasn't watched the film 'Chocolat' with Johnny Depp? A great film, based on the novel by Joanne Harris. The author lives partly in France and partly in England.

As I'm quite friendly with Christopher Fowler, another British author, I happen to know that Joanne and her family used to have a house near that of Chris in the south of France, and that one day she asked him to read through a manuscript of hers. He thought it was good, and so he showed it to his agent. The result? The agent offered Joanne a contract and broke the contract with Chris... you see what happens when you're a good neighbour!

Nevertheless, I contacted Joanne and asked her if she wanted to answer some of my questions.


Here's what she answered:

1. You are half-French, half-English. In which language were you raised?

Both.

2. You used to be a teacher. Did you like the job, and can you tell us what were the positive/negative sides to it?

Yes, very much. In many ways I was sorry to leave. What I liked about teaching was the stimulus (and the fatigue!) that comes from interacting with so many people every day; from constantly dealing with the unexpected; the eternal challenge of youthful, intelligent high spirits.

3. When did you first find out you wanted to be a writer?

As soon as I made the connection between the books I was reading and the names on the spines.

4. How many books must an author write, before he or she can earn some money?

How many roads must a man walk down..?

5. Was your book, The Evil Seed, in any way inspired by Christopher Fowler’s Red Bride?

No, but it could have been…

6. How does it feel when you find that someone was interested in obtaining the film rights to one of your books?

Wonderful; scary; exhilarating; surreal.

7. You have published a cookery book with popular French recipes. Which is your favourite?

It depends on the season; although I drink the spiced hot chocolate all year round!

8. Would you give your soul for a piece of chocolate?

Certainly not. Now if you’d said two pieces…

9. England or France?

England to live; France for holidays.

10. Favourite authors?

Mervyn Peake, Jules Verne, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Ray Bradbury, Christopher Fowler, Charles de Lint, P. G. Wodehouse, Angela Carter, John Wyndham, Vladimir Nabokov, Charles Dickens, Wilkie Collins, John Mortimer, Guy de Maupassant, Albert Camus, Gustave Flaubert, Louis Pergaud.


Tuesday, November 13, 2012

How the writing of romance novels changed througout time

Those who read my daily blogs, will have noticed I was born in the past century, to be exact in the year 1956. I was a teen during the 1960's and became of age in the 1970's.

Because I was - and still am - a voracious reader, I noticed the change in the romantic books I got into my  hands. The first romance I ever read was one The Impetuous Duchess by Barbara Cartland, followed by These Old Shades by Georgette Heyer. These were very lovely tales, where the heroine was a virgin and did not go any further than a forbidden kiss at the end of the book. She did have all sorts of adventures, though.

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Then came the 1980's. The tone in romance changed. The heroine was not necessary a virgin anymore, she could have more than one lover and nobody thought the worse of it. In many a novel, she also got raped. Authors then told us how life really was. People used chamber pots in such stories, woke up in the nighth to go and pee. One of my favorite authors from that time was Rosemary Rogers.

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In 1978 I began my studies at university, and having Literature as one of my two main subjects, I discovered romances have been written all along. I gather that even Egyptians had stories specifically meant for women. In older times, fiction for women was written by men, but around the 16th century also women took up the pen. Romance novels became quite popular in the early 17th century, and even more in the 18th and 19th century.

From that era date famous novels like Wuthering Heights by Emily Brönte (1847) and The Scarlet Pimpernel by Emma Orczy (1905).

In the 20th century we saw the birth of the Harlequin romance novel (starting in the 1950's) and ever since romance has become more and more popular.

Publishers will be willing to take on a romance author, as they are guaranteed to produce sales. But in our age some changes have been made.

We are told we can't write novels of 200,000 words and more. Much too long! The reader, used to watching TV and playing computer games, has a shorter span of memory and doesn't like to read a long novel. I can't vow to this, as I often read exactly such long novels. If they're good, it doesn't matter if the number of pages is higher.

Also rape is absolutely forbidden now - next to a girl having sex when she is not quite 18. I've had to adjust my way of thinking to that of my editor in such aspects. I've been trying to tell her that in Europe people have a different way of thinking and that sex is allowed from 16 years on. But she tells me my novels are published in the US, so I have to adjust.

So now my heroine is a bit older at the start (you can work around that problem) and she can't creep into bed with too many partners. Despite everything she goes through, I should try and keep her virginal. I must admit I often have problems with it. The hardest novel to fix was Maria Gonzalez. In the first draft, Maria marries 4 times (ok, that was kept in the final version). Her first husband gets murdered and she is forced to marry the one who killed him. But she refuses, and thus is raped by that man. I had to change that part. Now she accepts him as a partner, although unwillingly.

And I also have problems with all those explicit sex scenes. In modern romances, pages and pages are filled with descriptions of how two people make love. Call me old-fashioned, but I think this belongs to the privacy of one's own bedroom and the reader should be able to picture what happens. My characters go to bed with each other, but I'm not too explicit. That's ok for me.

How do you think about this?





Monday, November 12, 2012

Welfare, no drugs

Some days ago I read in a Twitter feed that some American states have passed a bill where people who apply for welfare should pass a drug test. The reasoning behind is, if you have money to buy drugs, you can buy food as well and don't need welfare.

What's your take on it? Myself I think this is not such a bad idea. From what I experience in my country, people who are getting benefits from welfare (here it's called OCMW) often don't know what matters in life.

Take a family of six: two parents, four children. Father nor mother work and are not in order with their social security - thus they apply for welfare (OCM). They don't have the money to buy food, not enough money to rent a decent house or flat. BUT they have the latest model of smartphone, a wide screen TV set, a big dog which eats the ears of your head, an aquarium full of expensive fish, and more than enough kids. And often an addiction to cigarettes, drink or drugs.

I would applaud such a measure in my own country. I would even go further and not give any more money for free. If such people should want help, they would have to do something instead and get rid of all those things they don't need.

Because what do you really need? My grandmother, who went through two world wars and lost everything in them, always told me you're rich when you have a roof over your head and enough food in your belly.

In my own spendings I go from these principles. First comes the money to pay off my loan for the house, then there's the budget for food and to pay the bills of gas and electricity - and only with the rest I can do something I like. Be it for a folly. When you have enough income, you can have trips abroad and go to a restaurant, but they would be the first things I'd leave if I could not afford them.

I've never been in the red with my bank. Never had to pay interest on my credit card. It's easy, I never spend what I don't have. Just common sense, right?

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Day of Remembrance

Today, on the 11th of November 2012, all the world celebrated the end of World War One once more.

As you all know, this great battle was mostly fought in the low lands of Flanders (hence On Flanders Fields) and parts of the north of France. Thousands of young men left their lives in the trenches and during the charges.

In Ypres (Ieper in our language), at the monument at Ypres Gate, the Last Post is blown daily.


At 11 o'clock this morning, a big ceremony took place in the presence of His Royal Highness, Prince Philip. Representatives of many countries come to Ypres for this occasion, as lots of nationalities fought in the Great War. I don't know if there are still survivors present, because it is now 94 years ago the war ended.

My grandfather fought in this war too. He was only a kid of seventeen, doing his training at the military school when the war broke out. He and his fellow students were drawn into the army, and as a young bloke he got the command over a company of men who were into their forties. Most of them were farmers, who were not educated and often did not know the difference between left and right. The drill sergeants made them march not on 'Left, right' but on 'Hay, straw'. They put a bit of hay in the left boot and a bit of straw in the right one. That way they learnt left from right.

My grandfather did not talk about this war, nor did he about World War Two, which he also survived. I only learnt the stories from what he told my grandmother. It must have been an awful experience for such a young boy, frightened to death and not knowing what was happening to his father, who also was an officer in the army. And later on escaping from prison camp in Germany and going underground at a French winery.

He had lots of medals and recommendations (a whole box) of which he was proud. As long as he lived, he attented the Day of Remembrance in our town.


Saturday, November 10, 2012

More than enough to see in Liverpool

Those who read my daily blogs, will know that my sister and I made a trip to the British Isles last summer. First we spent a couple of days in London (mostly to see Michael Ball in Sweeney Todd), then we went for one week to the Isle of Man, and we ended our trip in Liverpool.

It seemed logical to remain a couple of days in this harbour town. In fact, Liverpool proved an ideal destination for a short break or a city trip. There is enough to see and do to keep you occupied for two or three days.

We stayed in the Hilton, which overlooked the waterfront of the town.


At this waterfront, you can take trip around the harbour and on the river Mercy, there is also the Museum of Ship Building and a Tate Gallery. While we were there, an exposition ran with work of Monet and Reynolds. I quite like this style of painting, and I'd gladly had taken along some of the painting exposed!!! Now I settled for a decent copy of the Waterlillies by Monet. It's adorning my wall and looks just as great as the original.

Liverpool is also a dream for shoppers. Our hotel was situated near Liverpool One, a big shopping centre spreading across several streets only for pedestrians.


All the major shops are there to find, and while we were there the sales were going on, so we came home with suitcases twice as big as when we left! Shoes, clothes etc. are a lot cheaper in the UK than in Belgium. I found pajamas from Calvin Klein for 30 € and Ecco boots for just 50 €. You can only dream of this hereabouts.

And let's not forget, Liverpool is also the home town of the Beatles! You can make a Beatles walk and see all the places where they used to come and make their music. Myself, I prefer the Stones over the Beatles, but they have some great songs (especially when others bring them, like Jealous Guy sung by Bryan Ferry).

We also found some decent restaurant, and I can really recommend The Salt House, where we had delicious tapas for lunch.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Can men write romance novels?

Sometimes, on forums, the questions comes up if men can write a romance novel that women like to read and can 'get into'.



Some would say that no seriously romantic book can be written by a man. Men just lack romantic insight in how women think and act. They will never adequately portray the feelings women have when falling in love, or lusting for a male.

Another argument against men writing romance fiction is they only think of sex.

On the other hand, there are guys who can write romance - take Leigh Greenwood. Btw, I did an interview with him, which I'll be posting one of the coming days. His wife was always reading romance novels, so he became curious to find out what attracted her to them. The result was he began to write a story of his own, and now he has one bestseller after the other.

What is your view on this?

I think it is up to the author - whether he is male or female. Some can write romance, others can't. (I can't - although I like to have my novels romantic in a way.)

If you go back in time, you'll see how the history of literature is filled with romanctic stories written by men - Shakespeare being a prime example (remember Romeo and Juliet?) And take Love Story, also written by a man, Erich Segal.

And not all men are out on sex. I personally know some who prefer cuddling to sex. And who cry when we play a romantic movie on the tellie. (something I never do).

As  I studied English Literature, I also read beautiful love sonnets, not only by Shakespeare, but also by John Donne. Nothing much else compares to them.

Most people are romantics at heart (I confess, I'm also inspired by the knight on his white horse, or by the Sheikh, or any cool looking Native American).

In my own writing I try to convey the feelings of both male and female heroine, believing I can quite portray it in a good fashion (I did some psychology when at Uni, next to my Literature and Linguistics). I try to make clear to the reader what they both think at a given moment and hope this explains some of the actions they take.

If anyone likes to share ideas, please do. You're welcome.


 

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Nickie's Ten Questions to Lisa Scottoline


Lisa Scottoline's website




Some time ago, I did an interview with bestselling author Lisa Scottoline. She is the author of legal thrillers, which are situated in Philadelphia. Some titles include: Rough Justice, Courting Trouble, Dead Ringer, ...

Here's what I asked and what she answered:

1) Did you always want to be a writer, or did you have other plans lined out first?

I was a lawyer before I began writing, and working in a big Philadelphia law firm. When a divorce coincided with the birth of my daughter, I wanted to find something that I could do so that I could stay home to raise my daughter. John Grisham and Scot Turow had just popularized the legal thriller genre, but it occurred to me that there were no legal thrillers from a woman's point of view. That is how I got started.
2) You studied English literature. Did you have any favorite authors?

I was actually lucky enough to study under the amazing Phillip Roth, and he has always been one of my favorites.
3) Later on, you also studied Law. Here in Belgium it's not that common to study first languages, and then law. How did you come by it?

Actually, in America, it is very popular to study English, including English literature undergraduate, and then go onto law school.
4) You wrote about 3 years on your first book. Did you find it easy/difficult to sell it?

I definitely got my fair share of rejections, but I was lucky enough to find the most wonderful editor in the world at HarperCollins.
5) Do you need to do a lot of research when you are working on a new book?

I do a lot of research because accuracy is important to me. I read a lot of books, do a lot of research online, and when necessary, visit people or places that I will be writing about.
6) Would you advise new authors to look for an agent, or don't you think it's necessary?

I strongly advise new authors to look for agents. I didn't know anything about publishing when I first started, but one thing I have learned is that getting published is hard enough. Without an agent, extremely difficult. The resource I found most useful was Writer's Market.
7) How do you handle criticism?

As you know, I welcome email, and do my very best to answer everyone. Sometimes I get a bit backed up when I am on tour or deadline. However, that opens you up to hearing from people who love your work and those who don't. I welcome the feedback, because it is a very solitary profession. What better way to learn how to improve, than to hear it directly from those who are reading you. Thankfully, there has not been too much criticism, because it is always hard to hear.
8) Are any of the events/cases in your books based on true events?

My books are completely fictional, although like most authors, I do draw from my own experiences both personally and professionally. One example is Mistaken Identity. In the book, Bennie Rosato discovers for the first time that she has a twin sister. A few years prior to reading that book I discovered that I have a half-sister when she knocked on my door one day. She looked so much like me that it was shocking. That inspired Mistaken Identity (except Bennie's sister is evil, and mine is wonderful,) and I have continued the story in my new book, Dead Ringer, due out in stores May 27th.
9) Do you ever intend to write a book that is not based in Philadelphia?

I do think for my next book I will have the characters extend outside the Philadelphia area for part of the book, but Philly will still be home for the rest of the book.
10) Who's your own favorite writer in your genre?
Although not strictly in my genre, I am a big fan of Janet Evanovich. I just read Michael Crichton's "Prey" which I thought was wonderful, and I love John Searles, a new gem of an author who wrote "Boy Still Missing."

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The Isle of Man

Last summer, my sister and I took a trip to the Isle of Man. Now you'll wonder how we came by it? After all, Man is not widely known as a holiday destination. But as we don't like to spend our entire days in a swimming pool or on a hot beach, we prefer to explore the world and see as much as we can.

Somewhere in a weekend newspaper we read an article about Man, and then sought out how to get there. It proved rather easy. We can take the Eurostar to London (only takes 2 hours) and from there it's another 2 hours by train to Liverpool, where you can take a ferry to Man. Quite cheap also. We paid the most for the Virgin train from London to Liverpool.

We arrived on the island in the evening, and it was raining. Of course, you know you'll get some rain when you visit the British Isles! But the next day it was already rather sunny. We stayed in Douglas, which is now the main town of the island. We took the first day to explore Douglas and make walks along the boardwalk, but the next days we set out to see more of the island.

Our first trip took us to Castletown, the ancient capital of the Kingdom of Man. The Norse King Magnus built a fortress in the thirteenth century, Castle Rushen. It's one of the most complete castles in the British Isles and has been 'brought alive' by Manx National Heritage with lifelike figures and medieval-style furnishings. The oldest part of it is the lower keep, built in about 1250, the highest tower is eighty feet high and the walls are up to twelve feet thick. For many years the Castle was used as the seat of Government and as the Island's prison. It is still used for register office weddings and court proceedings.



The island has another castle, Peel. The ruin of this castle stands on St. Patrick's Isle. St Patrick's Isle is one of the smallest Islands in the Irish Sea and yet one of the most historic, with an extraordinary history stretching back over eight thousand years.
Already six thousand years before Christ, hunters found their way to it, attracted by the abundant fish. According to traditon, it was here that Saint Patrick stepped ashore to bring Christianity to the Isle of Man. A monastery was established there.
Lots of wars have been fought over this castle, as both English and Scottish powers wanted to have a keep there. In the 14th century, the castle was given to a certain Sir John Stanley. The Stanley's became Lords of Man and kept that position until the 17th century, with the Civil War.
The castle is a treasure trove for archeologists, as they've been digging around in the castle ruins and have come up with many artifacts, even discovered ancient burial grounds.


Did you also know that the Isle of Man still has a steam train running daily? There is also a 19th century tram riding from Douglas the north of the island. It was quite an atraction to ride in these ancient engines!


And also, the island has yearly car races, going through entire villages and towns, just like the F1 of Monte Carlo. And last but not least, the famous Bee Gees were born and bred on the isle. They lived in the center of Douglas, until the family moved to Australia.

We spent a very nice week in Man and learned a lot about its people and culture. An added attracted was the pungent sea air from the Irish Sea (which is in fact part of the Atlantic). I've never been near a sea or ocean which has that smell, a real afrodisiac!

 

Monday, November 5, 2012

Kira, Daughter of the Moon

Today, I'd like to introduce you to Beth Trissel, author of historical romance.


Beth is married to her high school sweetheart and lives on a farm in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, where she is surrounded by her children, grandbabies and assorted animals. As an avid gardener, her love of herbs and heirloom plants figures into her work.

The rich history of Virginia, the Native Americans and the people who journeyed there from far beyond are at the heart of her inspiration. In addtion to American settings, she also writes historical and time travel romances set in the British Isles.

Rignt now, Beth is doing a Super Book Blast Tour organised by Goddess Fish Promotions, to promote her novel Kira, Daughter of the Moon.


What is this novel about? Logan Mc Cutcheon returns to colonial Virginia after seven years in the hands of Shawnee Indians. But was he really a captive, as everybody thinks? He looks and fights like a warrior and seems eager to return to those he calls his friends and family.

Kira McClure has waited for Logan all those years, passing herself off as odd to keep suitors at bay - and anyone else from getting too close. Now that Logan is back, he seems to be the only person capable of protecting her from the advances of Josiah Campbell and the accusations of witchcraft. And to defend the settlers against a well-organised band of murderous thieves.

Here's an excerpt of the novel:


He threw back his head and laughed.

Disconcerting. Most people simply stared at her or shook their heads when she acted peculiar, not this undisguised mirth. “I can’t imagine why you’re taking on like this.”

 “No?” He succumbed to another paroxysm of laughter. “I must admit you’re good.”

 A lift of her chin. “At what, pray tell?”

 “Play acting.”

 Stiffening her reply, she said, “I haven’t the faintest notion what you mean.”

 He wiped his eyes on the wide sleeve of his loosely belted shirt. “Haven’t you, now?”

 Her eyes strayed to his browned chest where the earth-colored cloth gapped open at his neck. “Not at all.”

 “If you truly wish me to think you tetched, dim the brightness in your gaze. Try for a more vacant expression.”

 “I can manage quite well without direction from you. “ She hesitated. “I mean––”

 "I know what you mean. I see you’re quite the actress.”

 Shifting her gaze from the intensity in his expression to the swaying branches, she asked, “How so?”

 “I could always see right through you.”

 An odd flop in her stomach and she slid her gaze back to his penetrating eyes. “Always? “

 “Don’t you know me, Cricket?”

 “Good heavens,” she breathed out, and leaned weakly against the tree. She could have toppled to the forest floor. Only two people had ever called her by that name and this definitely wasn’t her brother. The teasing youth she’d adored had returned a man in warrior’s clothing, hardened now, tested by wind and fire. “Logan? “

 
Kira, Daughter of the Moon is availlable in print and eBook from:

Amazon http://www.amazon.com/Beth-Trissel/e/B002BLLAJ6/ref=ntt_athr_dp_pel_2

The Wild Rose Press http://www.thewildrosepress.com/index.php?main_page=index&manufacturers_id=438

NookBook

Barnes & Noble http://productsearch.barnesandnoble.com/search/results.aspx?store=BOOK&WRD=beth+trissel

 and from other online book sellers.

 
AND DON'T FORGET:
Beth will award a digital copy of "Through the Fire" to one commenter, a digital copy of "Red Bird's Song" to one commenter and a grand prize of a $25 Amazon GC to one randomly drawn commenter during the tour.

So people, it's in your best interest to follow this tour. The more comments you place, the more chance of winning!