Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Willem-Alexander & Maxima

I should write this blog in orange, because this is the color in which Holland bathes today. Queen Beatrix abdicated her throne in favor of her eldest son, prince Willem-Alexander - also better known as Prince Heineken (the Dutch prince likes his beer).

Willem-Alexander is married to the Argentinian Maximà and the couple have three daughters which all resemble their mother. They look quite sympathetic, a lot more than our own royalty.

All during the day, there were lots of festivities going on in Holland and I'm sure to see some of it on our seven o'clock news. What looks strange to us Belgians is how the Dutch celebrate this new king. We would not come out in masses to see a new king crowned, especially not our rather sad-looking prince Filip! He is also married, to Mathilde and has two daughters and two boys, but the family lacks the luster of the Dutch couple.

Our local radio also gives news about the events in Holland, and they only play songs belonging to Dutch composers and lyric writers. Luckily they have some good music...

The only thing about which Belgians are beginning to go mad is socker. Our national team, the Red Devils, are growing more and more popular and nearly rival the popularity of the Dutch team. They want to go to the World Champignionship, and I think they stand a chance. The supporters paint themselves black-yellow-red, after the colors of our flag. Even the crown prince got blamed recently because he attented a match and did not wear a tricolore scarf!

Monday, April 29, 2013

Nickie's Ten Questions to Jennifer Ashley aka Ashley Gardner

Once more, I'm glad to bring you an interview I did with an author. This time it features Ashley Gardner, also known as Jennifer Ashley.

 Here's what I asked:

1) When did you start making up stories?

I was eight years old. I realized that books were just make believe written down. I was good at make believe, so I started writing it down. Recently, I came across a play I had written when I was about nine. It had a protagonist and antagonist, secondary characters, conflict, and resolution. I seemed to know what I was doing! Writing has always been a part of me and my life.

2) How did your family think about it?

My family has always been supportive of my writing. My mother gave me a typewriter and a book called The Writer's Handbook when I was about twelve. My husband has patiently listened to me talk about my stories, and he reads all my manuscripts. His parents love that there's a writer in the family. Everyone is proud of me. It's very nice.

3) How long did it take you to finish your first novel?

My very first novel, I finished in about a year. The first novel that got published I wrote in five months..

4) Could you easily find a publisher for it?

I did not publish the first book I wrote. Good thing -- it was terrible! The manuscript I sold was the seventh I wrote, and I sold it to the first publisher I sent it to. The other six books will remain hidden forever. Believe, they should.

5) Did this book bring you immediate popularity?

A number of people bought my first book, PERILS OF THE HEART, and liked it. It built a good following, and my second book, THE PIRATE NEXT DOOR, also did well. My first mystery, THE HANOVER SQUARE AFFAIR, continued to build up a following as well.

6) How did the critics treat your first publication?

I'm pleased that I got very good reviews on PERILS OF THE HEART (I was so nervous!). THE PIRATE NEXT DOOR got even better reviews (including a starred review in Booklist), plus it was also nominated for a Romantic Times Reviewer's Choice award.

 7) What do you have with pirates?

Actually, I never meant to write a pirate book. Then one day, an idea for a story just popped into my head. The more research I did on piratesn the more fascinating I found them. Did you know the crew elected the captain by vote? The the shares were divided equally (more to the captain and those who did the higher-level jobs, of course)? That rules for moderate eating and drinking and keeping the ship running were strictly observed? They really did have a code. They were more efficient and far more disciplined than many of the navies at the time.

8) Would you mind telling us why you write under two pen names and in different genres?

I have a split personality... Actually, I sold my first romance and my first mystery about the same time, but to two different publishers. My style of storytelling in each is vastly different. The romances are light-hearted abd told in th third person. The mysteries are dark and gritty and told in first person. The name is a signal of what the reader will get when they open the book.

9) Have you any preference for any of those two genres?

I am a huge mystery fan, and I love writing them. I can explore many facets of society and characters in mysteries that I don't have room for in romance. In romance, you really focus on the two main characters; in mystery, you focus on everything else. That said, I really enjoy writing romance. I can have fun with the hero and heroine -- it's like watching a Cary Grant movie in your head.

10) Care telling us if you have a favorite writer of your own, or a favorite book?

I read three genres: mystery, fantasy, and romance, so I'll pick three authors. In fantasy, Terry Pratchett is amazing. His books and are funny and sharp and worth reading. In mystery, I have to go with Lyndsey Davis. She writes mysteries set in ancient Rome, which are incredibly well-written and vivid (and amusing). In romance, I'll pick Jane Feather. Not only is she a good romantic storyteller, but her historical detail is fantastic!

Jennifer thanked my for the interview, and I thank her because she gave me the idea I could also write a books in which pirates occur (and I did mind the discipline on board!). That is in THE HAVERSHAM LEGACY.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Some unusual ways to die

In the weekend editons of the newspapers you can find the most unusual things. Like this article about 'special' ways to go from here to eternity...

For instance, there was this woman who suffered from a life-threathening disease. She managed to conquer this disease, to die from a heart infarct when her family gave a party to celebrate her recovery...

Or that man who went to the graveyard to see how his tombstone was coming along. He had ordered it after his wife's burial because he wanted the same stone and headings. He died when seeing his grave.

An attorney wanted to prove in court that it is possible to shoot yourself from some impossible angle. He did it so well he managed to get himself killed...

And never attempt to jump through 'unbreakable' glass. Someone tried to prove a point, made a jump ... and fell twelver stories down. Of course he did not survive the experiment.

Another thing you'd better not do is to pretend you'll commit suicide when jumping into a river. Even though you can swim, you surely don't survive all the piranha's swimming in the water...

In a dance studio in Argentina, a teacher showed his students how to dance the tango, but he did not pay attention to the low ceiling --- and got killed.

Some guy was working on his car, which was parked in his garage. In frustration, he threw away a hammer. This landed on the car, set the engine in motion and the car slid over the poor guy.

And ladies, be careful with shoes. Don't buy them too small. Otherwise you might fare like this lady who bought too narrow shoes, got blisters on her feet which poisoned her blood and killed her!

Saturday, April 27, 2013

How honest would you be?

A couple of days ago, a pair of burglars were chased by the police. In a small town in West-Flanders, they tried to get rid of their pursuers by throwing a safe full of money into the road.

Through the impact, the safe burst open and a rain of 500, 200, 100 and 50 Euro bills landed on the street. In only seconds a lot of people turned up, and began to grab away. Some of them easily got hold of 20,000 Euro or more.

It took a few minutes before the police arrived at the scene. By that time, half of the contents of the safe (around 400,000 Euro, accoring to the owner) had 'disappeared'. Some of the bystanders were still hanging around, their hands filled with bills. Of course they had to hand them in.

One of those bystanders, a guy who lives near the spot where the safe landed, told the local TV station he had no intentions of keeping the money but he had not been able to keep himself from grabbing around.

What would you do? And try to be quite truthful about it. I would not have tried to pick up money from the street. Just think about it, you are not there on your own. Your neighbors are there as well, as it would not be impossible that one of them would tell the police you took some money. No, you'd be stupid to take this money.

But what in other circumstances? I honestly admit I'd keep money I find when there is no ID with it. Once I was in a big DIY shop and there was a bill of 20 Euro on the floor. Nobody around, no camera, so the 20 € landed in my purse. A free treat to waffles, coffee and cream...  And sometimes I pick up a coin. One euro, two euro. Nothing big. I've never come across a purse full of bills yet, although I could use some more money. Who doesn't???

Friday, April 26, 2013

What kids ask our prime minister

Elio Di Rupo's government is not always popular with our fellow countrymen, but among kids he is well-loved. This week he referred to a letter he got via Twitter, but this one is only one of thousands.

Kids write to Elio with all kind of questions, and the prime minister - give him his due - does answer them all.

The most popular questions he receives are these:

* Dear Elio, do you earn a lot of money? (More than I do, for certain)
* Do you have to be good in mathematics to be prime minister? (I could do it too, and I wasn't good in maths)
* Is Belgium a difficult country to govern? (I should think so!)
* Do you have a hobby?
* Do you have children, and what are their names? (Elio is gay)
* What is your favorite sport?
* Which films do you like?
* Where do you spend most time on?
*Why did you want to be prime minister?

Kids, eh? They's ask the lot and I never wanted to be a teacher in kindergarten, although I love kids. But having them around for hours (and not only one, but some twenty or thirty of them) would be a bit too much for me now.

I don't know what I think of Di Rupo. His use of Dutch is not too good, that's one remark I have. He could use more language lessons. But he's ok as a person, I think. For the rest, it doesn't matter which government we have. They all tax us too much (50% of your income if you're working) and they protect those who have millions. Same story anywhere, I guess...

Wednesday, April 24, 2013


Today I’d like to introduce you to author Tallulah Grace. She is an aficionado of anything paranormal, she loves to read a good thriller and creates characters that become friends.

Tallulah was born and raised in a small southern town located in the foothills of the vibrant Blue Ridge Mountains. When she’s not developing characters and weaving stories, Tallulah enjoys antiquing and bead-weaving.
Goddess Fish Promotions is organizing a Virtual Super Book Blast Tour for Fate: Timeless Trilogy - Book One, a Romantic Suspense available now. The Super Book Blast Tour will take place on Thursday, April 25, 2013.

Tallulah will be awarding winner's choice of a backlist eBook to a randomly drawn commenter at every stop, and a choice of a backlist eBook to each host. So don’t forget to visit often and leave a comment!
Death stalks Kris in dreams and in reality. The target of a cunning serial killer, Kris must defend her life and her love. Visions prepare her for what’s coming, but is knowledge enough to change the future? Or will demented mania claim victory over fated love?
The good things in life are coming together for Kristina Collins. She’s found her ideal home, her career is on track for mega success and the man of her dreams has finally come back into her life.
In Fate, the first installment of the Timeless Trilogy, Kris Collins discovers the benefits and risks of having precognitive visions while being stalked by a serial killer. Her friends can’t help her, the FBI can’t save her; she must save herself.
The Timeless Trilogy heroines, Kristina, Veronica and Cassandra, each deal with paranormal abilities as they discover and rediscover eternal love.

A teaser:
The edge of the blade felt like ice against her skin. One breath too deep, one movement—ever so slight—would give the knife a taste of her blood. It’s a part of the nightmare, she thought, even as she felt the breath of her attacker lightly touch her face.

The nightmares that had been plaguing her for weeks warned of this moment. Images, too terrifying to be real, flashed quickly across her mind’s eye in an instant replay of her recent night terrors. Running down a long, empty hallway, filled with doorways on either side, chased by some unknown monster that knew her deepest fears. Running towards a movie, scrolling incessantly with images of those she loved most trapped in a fiery hell. Sepia-toned faces, twisted in pain, were a stark contrast to the blue, red and yellow of the flames engulfing them. The echoes of their screams filled the dark, never-ending hallway. She couldn’t look away and she couldn’t stop running; her only escape was straight ahead, towards the horror show. 

So far, the nightmares ended with her sitting straight up in bed, breathing hard in a cold sweat. He hadn’t caught her yet.

The all too real feeling of cold steel pressed against her neck gave the nightmare an alternate ending. Kris tried to control her breathing so her attacker would think she slept. Her mind raced as she tried to think of a way to reach the loaded SIG waiting beneath the extra pillow beside her. She didn’t always keep a gun so handy, but recent events, including the dreams, made it a necessity.

“Wake up, Sleeping Beauty.” The familiar voice spoke the words softly in her ear.
Links for the author:
Amazon Author Page: amazon.com/author/tallulahgrace

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Introducing author Rich Chambers

Hello folks, let me introduce you to Rich Chambers from Canada, who is one of my fellow authors at Rogue Phoenix Press. Rich has a new book, and that's what we're talking about.

1) Hello there Rich! Would you like to tell us something about yourself?
I am 45 years old and live in Langley BC Canada. My wife and I have been married for 15 years and have two wonderful boys aged 11 and 8. Iwork at Simon Fraser University in Burnaby as an Accreditation LiaisonOfficer, where I spend most of days writing official university reports. I have a Bachelor's degree in English and a Master's degree in Humanities.
I am a avid musician and have written, recorded, and produced a couple of  CD's. My most successful song has been a cover of the Snow Miser/Heat Miser song from the stop animation cartoon "The Year Without a Santa Claus." Since 2005, I have sold over 13 000 copies of this song via itunes and Amazon. I also am a big sports fan. I watch and play hockey and am also a pretty avid jogger. But, my most favourite past-time is definitely time with my family.

2) And something about your upcoming release?
I am very very excited about the release of my novel 18. I first started writing this novel years ago on my lunch hours at my job, which was then at a local community college. I took a pen and notepad and would sit outside near a fountain in the summer months and in the college cafeteria in the winter months. It was a slow and methodical process as a result, but it worked well for me. It allowed me to ponder over my characters and to edit, edit, and edit some more until I was comfortable with how my characters had developed. This was of the utmost importance for me because 18 is a character driven novel and not plot driven. I wanted to capture that true feeling of the "no man's land" that lays some where between childhood and adulthood for all of us. 18 is about one young man and his friends trying to figure out where their lives are headed as they graduate from high school with the societal expectations that tell them they should have their whole life planned out and figured out from this point forward --- and of course, as soon as anyone figures out the answer to this question, I sure would appreciate them letting me know what it is! ;-)

3) Is this your first book, or have you other publications?
18 is my first novel. I have to say that I am very grateful for Rogue Phoenix having the confidence in this novel to publish it. I realize now that a character driven novel is not necessarily the best novel for a first time author to write, but when I first tackled the whole idea of this novel, it just felt so natural to go this route. I am currently working on my second novel, which is completely plot driven. It has ghosts, demons, and religious cults. It is turning out to be a very fun and crazy ride. I can't wait to see how it all turns out, once I finally decide on which characters will double cross who etc..

4) Have you always wanted to be an author?
I have always wanted to write a novel, which I believe is a sentiment shared with just about every author out there. It has always been something on my bucket list to do. I never used to believe that I could do it, but like many things in this life, it just takes a commitment to the process, and then the realization that you just need to take one small step at a time in a very consistent and committed way. Once this commitment takes place, before you know it, you are into it and going. And once you get to a certain point, there is no turning back. The creation of a novel truly is a wonderfully empowering process.

5. How do you see your future in writing?
Boy, my future as a writer ... I have not given it a lot of thought actually. I write because I love to. If somewhere along the way, I could actually make a living writing, I would be completely floored. It would be like being given the key to the chocolate factory and told that I could eat as much as I want without every gaining any weight. I am very proud of 18. Very very proud. If it sells then I will be super happy, but no less proud. If it doesn't sell one copy, I will not be disappointed and still no less proud. This represents my mind set when it comes to writing. As I tackle my second novel, I want to write a plot driven novel that twists and turns, and maybe scares people a little bit. I want to write something that I am proud to say that I have written, which is my true goal as a writer. I am only one novel out of the gate, but so far the goal has been met :-)

Available from Rogue Phoenix Press!

An evening of movies & musicals

The past weekend we were in the Welsh capital, Cardiff where we attented a wonderful concert on Saturday night. It was a night to remember, and also in support of a good cause, namely The Stroke Association.

Conductor Matthew J. Hampson is a big fan of film music. When the film E.T. celebrated its 20th Anniversary in the US, they decided to show the film with a full live orchestra. Matthew thought this sounded so good he planned on bringing a sortlike concert in Europe. At the same time, he loves musical theatre, so he thought these concerts should include some musical acts as well.

A night of films and muscials began in Cardiff last year, in 2012, and then made its round throughout the UK, to much acclaim. This 20th April it was back in Cardiff, to a sold out St. David's Hall.

We truly enjoyed the philharmic orchestra, the choirs (more than 200 people) and of course those stars of the muscial theatre we love to hear. Ruthie Henshall performed songs from Cabaret and Chicago, also from Les Miserables.

John Owen Jones (used to be Phantom and also Jean Valjean) did the best songs from both muscials.

Peter Karrie also used to be Phantom and although getting older, he still has a wonderful voice and brings a great performance.

Of course there were other artists, such as soprano Fiona Kelly, the Siren Sisters, Live & Swinging, the South Wales Gay Men's Choir, Dafydd Christopher Gape (winner of the Young Voice of Musicl Theatre).

The show lasted over 3 hours and afterwards, there was a meet & greet with the artists. Ruthie was flattered we loved seeing her in Marguerite and John Owen Jones even remembered seeing us before, during the 25th Anniversary of Phantom in 2011. I always think these musical stars are nice people, with no star allure. They take the time to talk to everyone and are most willing to go on a picture with them.

Monday, April 22, 2013

The quirks of travelling by train

A train journey is not without adventure. When you board a train, you'll never know what might happen.

Like the past weekend. We had planned a (short) trip to Cardiff, Wales, mainly to see a show about which I'll tell in a later blog. We wanted to make the journey by train, because it's easy enough.

It already started on the ride to Brussels, where we needed to board Eurostar. We just sat on the train, when the conductor announced we could not leave because of a problem with the electricity. We began to feel nervous, and looking for alternatives, when at last the train got going and we reached Brussels with time to spare.

The weekend itself was great, but the return journey nearly gave me a heart attack. We left Cardiff on Sunday morning around 10.15. After a hour or so, the train stopped and we were told to leave the train, as it would go no further. Apparently an accident in the London region had caused the disruption of the entire British Rail!

We got onto another train, which stopped again. Then another train, one more... The more trains we had to take to get into London, the more we feared we'd miss our Eurostar. And we had non-refundable tickets (they're the cheapest) so we would have to pay a lot to get a ticket for another train (assuming there would still be availabe seats on it, as the London Marathon was on the same day). Expensive tickets, another night at a hotel, having to phone your headmaster to say you're not able to come to work,.... can you believe how we felt?

At last we got on a train that went the entire way to London Paddington. We arrived there well after 2 pm, with less than 40 minutes left to catch that Eurostar of 3.04 pm. We ran to the Underground (lucky to have Oyster cards) and fortune was with us: a train arrived the moment we got there. A ten-minute ride brought us into St. Pancras, where we made another run to the Eurostar baording zone. Luckily the people there understood our problem, and we were wisked through security and customs, so that we could get on the train. It took half an hour to get my breath back.

I hope we won't have to go through such an experience again, although the concert was well worth it.


Thursday, April 18, 2013

My favorite soap: Thuis (Home)

Some people claim soaps are just for the average person. Not so! Even people with a higher intelligence can love a well-acted soap with fine story lines.

Like myself and my sister. We have been watching Thuis since the first day it was broadcasted, and ever if we are away on a trip, we take care to record the episode we'd miss.

                                                                Frank and Simonne

Thuis has been running since 1995 on (now) VRT, the national television for Flanders. It's broadcasted each day from Monday to Friday, and runs from September to the end of May. It has always been in the top three of the viewing figures, too. Sometimes it gets over one million viewers per episode, which is a lot for a small country such as ours.

                                                        Jenny and her sister Rosa

It would bring me too far to relate all the story lines, so let's just stick to the most important ones. Thuis started out with two main families: that of Frank, the plumber, and his wife Jenny and daughter Bianca. And the one of the village doctor, his wife Marianne and their children Ann and Tom.

Now, so many years later, the doctor is dead and Frank is divorced from Jenny, and married to his second wife Simonne. Marianne has been married to another doctor, but is getting through a divorce right now.

                                                        Marianne, the doctor's wife

What caused Frank's divorce was that he had an affair with Jenny's sister, and had also a daughter with Rosa, named Peggy... Strange enough, Bianca and Peggy get along fine.

This season the main focus is on Bram and Jana. Bram is a twenty-ish youngster, who falls in love with the daughter of his best friends's husband. Yes, they are not afraid to tackle difficult themes, like homosexuality or abortion in this soap. Frankie is the son of Frank and Simonne and he outed himself as a gay and married nurse Tibo. Tibo is the father of Jana.

Jana is expecting a baby, and both she and Bram look forward to the birth. But Frank and his plumber mates are into cheap deals, and a faulty boiler is being installated in the boarding house where Bram lives. One morning Jana wants to take a shower, and she is overwhelmed by CO-2 fumes. She's taken into hospital, but the doctors can't save the life of the baby. This episode brought even more viewers to the soap, as everyone feels sorry for Bram and Jana. And Frank, well, he's heartbroken. He never intented to hurt people, just earn some easy money. And he's not quite to blame. He wanted to stop with the faulty merchandise but his brother Luc (always the bad guy) ordered Eddy to place that boiler in the Zus en Zo.

It's going towards the end of this year's run and I'm wondering what the season's episode will be like. I always like to guess the storylines (and often think I could make some valuable suggestions). Will Luc be punished at last? And will Bram and Jana survive this tragedy?

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Nickie's Ten Questions to Eloisa James

For today, I'm posting an online interview I did with romance author Eloisa James some time ago. Underneath are my questions and her answers:

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

I started writing books about the same time I learned to read properly. I wrote short books and sold them to my mother. So even back then, while I was planning to be a doctor or possibly the President of the US, I saw the benefit of having a writing career. I also made homemade Happy Birthday cards, so I guess I could have found myself working for Hallmark Cards.

2. How did you fare with your first novel? Did you sell it straight away, or was it more of a struggle?

My very first novel was written after college and it didn’t sell. It was the 80s, and Passion’s Slave was (as I remember it) a pretty wild story about a woman who falls off a boat in the Seine and gets kidnapped by a sheik (of course) and spit on by a camel… Harlequin actually wrote me a letter and said they liked it and would consider something else by me, but by then I was already enrolled in graduate school.

My second novel was written when I was on sabbatical, many years later as a professor. This was Potent Pleasures and it did, indeed, sell straight away and went into hardcover.

3. Do you employ an agent, and if so, why?

I learned from my first book, above, that submitting novels by oneself means waiting months and months for a reply. Agents act as door-keepers. The editors turn to the manuscripts they submit first, since they know those books are already vetted. So when I decided to try writing again, the first thing I did was look for an agent, rather than a publisher. I sent out query letters with one chapter attached.

4. Can you deal with criticism?

I certainly have had a lot of it. My first book was absolutely deluged by criticism. I can’t say I like it, but I’ve developed a very thick skin. And it is definitely true that while one reader will write a heart-felt letter saying your newest is the best thing she’s ever read, someone else will write into Amazon and say it(s a prurient piece of wall-banging trash.

5. How do you research the background of a new book?

I have a research assistant and she does the research for me. I have a full-time job as a professor of Shakespeare, do I don’t have time to research in the regency period, which isn’t even my primary field as a scholar. That said, much of the details in my books are actually Renaissance, rather than Regency – all the poetry, for instance. I don’t need to research it, because I’ve been teaching and reading it for years.

6. You have studied in Oxford. Is that of any influence to your writing?

Perhaps in small details: I developed a love of rain and English flowers, an appreciation for the slowness with which Englishmen develop friendships and the steadfast loyalty they show to those friends they make. Research-wise, certainly the work I did as a graduate student has filtered into my work. For example, my second book, Midnight Pleasures, is based on a 1607 play that I first read while studying at Oxford.

7. In how far do you feel ‘linked’ to your heroines?

Every heroine has a bit of my personality in her, something that acts as a catalyst. Gabby, the heroine of Enchanting Pleasures, for instance, is a fibber and so was I, when I was younger. The book I just finished is called As You Desire; my heroine marries a man who has strong religious beliefs while she does not. I found myself in the same situation when I married my husband.

8. Can you tell us in how many languages your books are translated?

I think 7 or 8 now.

9. I am a member of a discussion forum, which has lots of Dutch and Belgian members. All of us like to read historical romance, but unfortunately not all of these books are translated into Dutch. Do you think that you and other Avon authors could put on some pressure to ‘persuade’ your publisher to have all of your books translated into Dutch?

Avon doesn’t have anything to do with my foreign sales – my agent handles them, through foreign agents..So my Dutch publisher was sent my books by a co-agent in Holland, and then when they decided to publish them, the transaction was handled entirely through my agent. My publisher owns only my English language rights, and not even for Australia and New Zealand. I have heard that my translator into Dutch is very poetic and a lovely writer herself. I guess what I am saying in a round-about way is that writers have no control over what happens in foreign editions, unless they write for Harlequin. Harlequin controls all foreign editions themselves, and gives their writers very wide coverage in many countries.

10. Would you care to share with us whom your own favorite writers are, or which books you love to read?

There are many: Teresa Medeiros, Loretta Chase, Christina Dodd, Lisa Kleypas, Connie Brockway. I also read a lot of contemporaries, including Jennie Cruisie, Janet Evanovich and Susan Elizabeth Philips.
vanovich and Susan Elizabeth Philips.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

What use is violence?

Well, the answer is simple: nothing at all.

We woke up to hear the news about the terrorist bombings during the Boston marathon, and the many casualties. The work of cowards, who don't like to fight with fair means. What will they reach by this atrocity? Nothing, except that those who learn about it will feel more nationalistic. The goverment will take anti-terrorist measures, and if you are in line at the customs, you'll curse those terrorists who are responsible for your delay. That's human nature. If someone jumps under the train (happens every now and then on the line I travel) the usual comment is: 'Couldn't he/she have chosen another train? Now I'll be too late for work.'

I am of a mind that, when you have a problem with someone or something, you should seek a solution that works for both parties. But you don't do it by blowing away buildings and killing people, you try to talk about in and give and take some.

Turning to terrorist actions is a cowardly action, and shows only your incompetence. Cowards will try to bully you, but if you address them directly and show no fear, they turn away. They can't argue with you, you're the cleverer one. Once, twenty odd years ago, my sister and I were travelling to Zurich by train, and we shared our compartment with an ayatollah imported from Iran to 'convert' some muslims in Germany. He began to talk to us, looking down his nose because we were only 'indecent' western women, but his every arguement was quickly turned around by one of us. In the end, seeing he got nowhere, he just left the compartment and went to another train car.

I am against violence. I see no use in killing innocents, never have and never will. Why must people fight wars? Because of greed? Because of the economy? Certainly not because of religion, although it is used by many as a scapegoat. When you read the Bible, the Koran or whatever, you fill find a message of love and respect. No order to kill others to get better of it. But some extremist give a totally different meaning to some of these writings, to justify the atrocities they commit. And lots of less intelligents follow them, just because they are given a promise that the afterlife will be better than the one they have. Education could do a great deal in getting this out of the way. That's why young girls are killed in Yemen, because they want to attend lessons.

Sorry if I ramble a bit, but I don't like where the world is going. Hopefully the culprits will be punished soon and lasting solutions can be found.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Ashton Kutcher and Mila Kunis in Bruges

The past weekend, our beautiful city of Bruges got unexpected guests: author couple Ashton Kutcher and Mila Kunis. They booked a simple room in an ordinary restaurant via Booking.com and the owner was told they'd come here for some peace and quiet.

Well, they did not get all of it. As soon as they were spotted walking through the town centre, the camera's came out. So the couple went into Le Panier D'Or - one of the restaurants on the Market Place - and ordered Flemish stew and drank Orval (one of our renowded beers).

 They also made  coach tour around the town and visited some of the sights. But the real reason for coming to Bruges was their dinner at De Karmeliet, the eldest of the three (Michelin) star restaurants in Belgium. Owner and chef Geert Van Hecke said they were very lucky to get a table, as they only made the reservation before travelling to Bruges. Normally you have to make reservations some months ahead! But due to a cancellation they got a table. Van Hecke said that Mila is the most beautiful woman he's ever seen and she was absolutely wild about the hop shoots (a local speciality) which she'd never tasted before, and Ashton went for the seven-course degustation dinner of 210 Euro.

It looked as they are stars without many airs, as they just took the train to Brussels, where they boarded the Eurostar to London, where Mila is acting in a new film.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Spring is there at last

We've been waiting for it for a very long time, this year. Until a couple of days ago, we still had very cold weather and temperatures far below the normal. But at last, spring has come to our parts.

Today we had temperatures over 20°Celsius, and you can bet everybody took pleasure in it! There were many people at the seaside, in the touristic centres, in the parks,... We did not go anywhere but took pleasure in setting out our garden furniture and enjoying the afternoon in the mild sunshine. Along with a pot of strong coffee and a cookie to eat.

Made us almost forget we'll have to start work again tomorrow. Yes, our two weeks of Easter holidays are over and it's back to the normal run of things.

Let's just hope the coming days and weeks will be nice as well, because we are tired of the bad weather, for sure!

Saturday, April 13, 2013

A lucky thief

It's weekend again, and so our newspapers contain these little tidbits that make you smile when beginning your day.

This morning I read this (short) article about a thief somewhere in Italy (given how sad their economic state is, I wonder what is there to steal...). He entered a house at night, assuming the inhabitants would be sound asleep. Not so.

The owner of the house had problems falling asleep and so he heard how the thief broke into the house. He grabbed a butcher's knife from the kitchen and was able to restrain the thief until the police arrived (guess that will have taken some time).

They talked and so the owner of the house learned that the captured guy was out of work, and his wife only got invalidity for around 845 Euro. The couple had to live with so little, and in last resort the man took to thieving.

On hearing this, the owner of the house felt pity for the guy, and so he offered him a job after he paid his fine (you don't go to jail in our countries just for stealing some things).  He could work in the garden and got hourly wages of 8 Euro. The thief was ever so glad and now the houseowerner's garden is in prime condition.  The article did not mention whether the thief pays taxes on this income (I assume not, for who'd work for 8 Euro if you have to give up 4 of them to the taxman?)

What would you do when someone broke into your home? Here in Europe there are laws against shooting down burglars. You are only allowed to defend yourself, and then you still must be very careful how you do it. So if you shoot, better make sure the other one is dead, so he can't file a complaint... And then of course you must have a permit for the shotgun!

Friday, April 12, 2013

Blokken 4000

One of the most popular TV programs here in Belgium is without doubt Blokken. It's a daily quiz broadcasted around 6.30 pm until the seven o'clock news. Five days a week, from the first week of September until the last week of June.

The quizmaster is - and always was - Ben Crabbé, drummer of popgroup De Kreuners. The quiz goes like this:

Every day two competitors start against each other. In the first round they have to answer 10 questions. He or she who answers first can put down two blocks on the Blokken-field.  When you can make a line, you get extra points. In the next round each player plays individually. Five questions, and you can start with whatever item you like best, giving one to five blocks to each answer. When you play well, you can earn 300 points, or even 350. Then in the third round each answer gains 50 points, but when you're wrong, 50 points are deleted. Some players gain over 1,000 points per episode.

The winner of the third round plays the finale, in which he or she has to find a word of 8 letters. If you succeed, you win 1,000 Euro, and you can return as often as you keep winning. The best player ever came 11 times.

Now the quiz is near its four thousand episode, and for this reason only the best players of the last years are competing against eacht other, two men against two women. Alas, the women are out and the final round will be Sander against Dean. (I hope Sander wins, he plays most fairly.)

You can also play this quiz at home, on your computer. Then you play against another online player, and I like this game. I often win, scoring high.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Lost and found

Does it sometimes also happen to you that you find back something, after it has been lost for years???

A couple of days ago, I already told you about our spring cleaning. We are moving every piece of furniture, dusting all the cupboards, etc. This time I found back an earring I had thought lost for over a year. A rather beautiful one, with crystal beads, that I bought during a holiday in Newport, Rhode Island. It had fallen behind my desk, and you don't move those heavy furniture every week!

The previous time we found back a sunhat which sat stuck between the wall of a dresser and the drawer. Nobody knew how it got there, but well, a good washing made it as new.

Has this happened to you too? What have you found back that you thought was lost forever?

Please leave your comments, as I always appreciate some feedback. Sorry too this is only a short post, but as I said we are busy cleaning and we needed to be ready this afternoon. So no time for looking for a good subject to write about.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

A visit to Antwerp

Today my sister and I went to Antwerp, the town where our grandmother was born. As most of the Flemish towns, Antwerp is certainly worth a visit.

When taking the train, as most people do, you arrive in the turn-of-the-century Central Station. It is a work of beautiful architecture, and most tourists gasp full of admiration for the structure. The only thing that might be a bit confusing when you are not used to this station, are the different layers on which the railtracks are situated. There are at least three floors, and the signs to them not always clear.

When leaving the station, you see De Keyserlei, one of the main shopping streets. When you cross the broad Frankrijklei (with traffic lights) you come into the traffic free Meir. More shops (a paradise for fashionista's) and going to the river Schelde.

Coming from the station, you'll find a square on your left side, and this is where you find the home of renaissance painter Peter Paul Rubens. You can visit it, of course (can you believe I've never done this?).

Another place wortth visiting is the house of the printers Plantin and Moretus, well known in their time.

And of course, when coming to the river, you'll see Het Steen, a fortress put there to guard to the city against enemies coming over the water. Next to the fortress you see the statue of Antigoon and Brabo, referring to the legend.

According to this legend, the name of the town (Antwerpen) is derived from hand (hand) and werpen (to throw). It refers to the legend of giant Brabo, who demanded money from every ship that passed Het Steen. Only Antigoon dared to defy him, and when he killed the giant, he took his hand and threw it into the river. Thus hand-werpen.

And let's not forget, just as in every Flemish town, you'll find lots of cafés and restaurants to fill your appetite. We had lunch in a small eating café and we got fine food for not much money. And theatres, an opera house, ... There is something for everyone. Plus a big arena hall where big pop concerts and events can be organised.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Ramin Karimloo

Being a great fan of musical theatre, I try to watch as many performances as possible. Although I like most stuff, I have a slight preference to some of Andrew Lloyd-Webber's works. My alltime favorite is Phantom of the Opera and second best is Love Never Dies, although I also quite liked Whistle Down the Wind

During the course of years, I have seen many performers in these musicals. Some of them good, other quite bad. I once spent money on a performance of Les Miserables where normally our very own Hans Peter Janssen should play Valjean, but he was on holiday and instead we got the understudy of the understudy. The only actor who performed well enough in that spectacle was the one who played Javert. All the others could better go to music school!

So I can quite honestly say that in my opinion Ramin Karimloo is one of the best musical performers I'ver ever seen (and heard). This thirty-ish Canadian of Iranian descent looks frail, but oh man, what a voice! I once attented a performance of Love Never Dies in which her sang Until I  Hear You Sing Again, and he gave goosebumps to the entire audience, for which he was rewarded by a ten-minute long standing ovation.

Since then, I have had the chance of seeing more of Ramin, also in concert. I was a bit disppointed when we were not able to buy tickets for Les Miserables, in which he recently performed Jean Valjean. Everything was sold out!

What also strikes me about Ramin, is that the guy is utterly modest. We talked to him after the performance in London and he blushed when we praised him for his performance! He also takes the time to talk to each fan and gladly allows that pictures are taken.

Ramin started his career in London's West End as Enjolras, the leader of the students in Les Miserables. Then he got a lead role as the Phantom and also in Love Never Dies. More recently he played the role of Jean Valjean in the London production of Les Miserables, and now he's going to do the same on tour in Canada.

Monday, April 8, 2013

If you'd like to keep your (slim) figure, don't...

(Source: Huffington Post)

I like to browse through newspaper to find funny articles, and most of the time you come across something that strikes you as funny. Such as this article about the mistakes people make concerning food.

So ladies (and gentlemen), if you want to remain slim don't:

1. Eat too much for dinner

You should be aware you need most food in the morning and around noon. So we should have a hearty breakfast and a good lunch to keep us into energy.
But it's easy to understand why people eat their main dinner at night. It is the moment to sit together with the entire family and share news, and thus it's easy to overdo a little on the intake of food!

2. Keep pots and pan away from the table

In some cultures, it is tradition to put a full pot of food in the middle of the table, and everyone serves from this. But by doing this, you run a risk of overdoing. Food experts advise to leave the pots on the stove. If you have to get up to take a second serving, you sometimes don't feel like it..

3. Eat dinner before your TV

It is dangerous to eat little snacks while watching telly, and replace your main meal by them. If you like to eat while surfing the net or watching a program on Tv, you run a higher risk to eat more than necessary.

4. Put salt on the dinner table

If you give a cat a bowl of milk, she'll slab it. The same goes for people. You can diminish your intake of salt by not putting the salt on the table. Better spice your food with oregano, or black pepper.

5. Eat out

Those who like to eat out, mostly eat more than they need. Try to keep your restaurant outings to once a week.  A restaurant meal does have more calories and more salt, grease and sugar.

6. Eat dessert

Don't you like a sugar-high dessert after dinner?A slice of chocolate cake or chocolate brownie, or a big bowl of ice? The only thing a dessert does is give you more calories. We don't eat because we're hungry, but because we are seduced by it. Moreover, dessert are also bad for the sugar level in your blood. And that causes bad sleep. So better try to resist!

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Nickie's Ten Questions to Julia Quinn

Some time ago, I did an online interview with romance author Julia Quinn. Here's what she told me:

1. What inspired you to become a romance writer?

I like to read romances. Truly, that’s all there is to it. So when I thought I might like to try writing a book, it’s only natural I’d choose romance.

2. You had a wonderful debut. Your novels “Splendid” and “Dancing at Midnight” were subject to a fierce bidding war between two publishing houses. How did that feel?

It felt great! Almost surreal. I had had several months of rejections, so I felt rather lucky that my manuscripts happened to find the two editors who loved it at the same time. The best part is – I’m still with the same publishing house (and the same editor!) eleven years later.

3. Do you ever contemplate writing a contemporary?

Not anytime soon. I don’t have the time.

4. Do you have any idea what you are going to do after finishing with the Bridgertons?

I have a few ideas, but they’re still in the early planning stages. I don’t think I’m going to embark on another eight-book series anytime soon, however.

5. Will Francesca and Michael ever have children?

I don’t know. Seriously, I just don’t think ahead in that manner. When I finish a book, I finish a book. If it happens books will have moved forward in my mind, but not past the date I’m currently working in. So I guess all I can say at this point is that by 1825, when IT’S IN HIS KISS is set, they have not had children.

6. Do you have any idea what you are going to do about Gregory?

I just finished the outline! I don’t generally discuss story ideas this far in advance, though. Too many details are likely to change. If I’d chatted about IT’S IN HIS KISS at this stage in the game, you would all have thought that Hyacinth would have ended up in Spain. (She doesn’t; she never leaves London, as a matter of fact.)

7. Have you got any words of advice for beginning authors?

Two things. First, join RWA. It’s an invaluable resource. Second, if you want to write, you have to write. You have to put your butt in the chair and do it. And you have to finish chapters.

8. Do you do extensive research for your books’ settings?

I tend to research as needed. I’ve been working on the Bridgerton series for so long that I already have many of the facts that I need. But I do look things up as I need them. For example, when I was writing TO SIR PHILIP, WITH LOVE I did a bit of research on botany. With WHEN HE WAS WICKED I spent a ridiculous amount of time finding names of vessels that had sailed from England to India (all for a one word mention!).

9. How do you handle criticism?

I have always said that a book is a kind of social contract between the author and the reader. If I get to write stories and actually get paid for it, then you, the reader, get to say whatever the heck you want about it.
And I do pay attention to what people say. I read and answer all reader mail (I’m always hopelessly behind on it, though) and I do pay attention to what readers say they do and don’t like about my books. It doesn’t necessarily mean that their feedback will be reflected in my work, but I do listen.

10. Can you tell us which books you read yourself? Or which authors you admire?

I know I’ll forget someone, but off the top of my head, some of my current favorite historical romance authors are: Lisa Kleypas, Gaelen Foley, Teresa Medeiros, and Loretta Chase. There are also some wonderful up and coming authors I think everyone should be watching: Adele Ashworth, Laura Lee Guhrke, Mary Reed McCall, Kresley Cole, and Julie Anne Long.

Finally, I’l like to encourage readers to go out and buy at least one new-to-them writer this year. I hear a lot of readers complaining, for example, that there isn’t enough variety in historical settings; If you want more medievals, you have to vote with your pocketbook and buy one! This may sound funny coming from an author of regency historicals, but as a reader, I love variety too. Or if you love regency historicals, try someone new. It’s so hard for a new writer to get a foothold in this business, and there are so many wonderful writers out there, just waiting to be discovered. And in this internet age, almost everyone posts excerpts on their websites, so you can even try before you buy! Or visit the JQ Recommends page on my website. I don’t update it as often as I’d like to, but I do try to list plenty of books that I enjoy.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

What men should know about sex - according to their wives

This morning, I read a rather funny article in the weekend edition of Het Laatste Nieuws (the bestselling national newspaper in Belgium). It was an adaptation of an article in The Daily Mail, from the UK and tells about what women want their men to know.

Tracey Cox, a British sex therapist, asked both men and women to be quite honest when answering the following question: "What would you like to say to your husband before you're having sex?"

According to the ladies interviewed, these are their top answers:

1. To get into the right mood, I have to be stimulated both emotionally as physically.

2. Words work like an afrodisiac. Want more sex? Then talk to me...

3. The more you help out in the housekeeping, the more I feel like having sex.

4. I need more time than you to reach my orgasm. So don't push me.

5. Take it slow and don't be rough. My skin is thinner than yours. What you experience as normal, can be quite painful for me.

6. Don't push me if I already said 'no'. It doesn' t wind me up.

7. Don't always assume I want romantic sex. Sometimes I want something different.

Well,, they have to fill their weekend editons with something, right? As far as I'm concerned, I don't think about sex on a daily basis and I don't even think it's that important, no more than having a great meal or drinking a glass of very good wine.

Friday, April 5, 2013

A trip down to memory lane

My sister and I agreed to use these Easter holidays to do a thorough spring cleaning of the old house. - well, after a short trip to the UK.

We started cleaning up at the attic. We have this big attic room with oak beams and hidden storage, and if you begin to clean up there, you always find some lost treasures.

The first thing we discovered were two sets of baby pictures. One of myself, and one of Christine. How cute! I did not even know we had them. I'm going to try to scan them in and store them on a USB some time in future.

We also came across a small TV table our dad made for me when I was living in Germany. It could be used as table, but also as locker. He made it out of the wood of an old set of dressers which belonged to our grandparents.

And then the box with our old dolls... My Annick, Carine and Bamboula (the first negro doll a girl in our part of town owned). Johan and Eric, our two male dolls. And Betty and Sabine which belonged to Christine. They still look well enough, only a bit lonely from being in that box for all of these years.

The next thing that turned up was the playbox in which I sharpened my teeth on the wooden balls that are attached to it - you still see the marks. Can you believe it, that thing is nearly 57 years old and still looks strong enough to hold another playing baby. Only needs a lick of paint.

Also some bronze vases and pots belonging to our once neighbour, Zoë. When she died, her daughter said we could choose some items we liked from her house.

What is in your attic or store room? Does it also contain so many things from the past, which make you think of times gone by?

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Boogie Nights

On Monday evening, I was in Liverpool's Empire Theatre to see the show Boogie Nights.

As my 4-year-younger sister was a big fan of The Osmonds, it was she who first noticed they'd appear in this remake of the original 70's musical, produced by John Conway and Shane Richie. It was really the predecessor of We Will Rock You, or Mama Mia.

The musical (well, it's more a show than a muscial, but who cares???) is the story of Roddy O'Neil, set in a provincial British town during the '70s. First it was a success in London, then it did five UK tours, before travelling to South Africa, New Zealand and America.

What we saw was a remixed version of the original musical. Roddy wants to do a gig with a famous pop group, and in this case the 'famous popgroup' are The Osmonds. Not all of them (they don't all perform anymore) but Jay, Merrill and Jimmy. Other characters were played by Gareth Gates (Pop Idol), Louisa Lytton, Andy Abraham, Chico and Shane Richie Junior.

I must admit, these old guys still sing very well! And of course the entire - sold-out - theatre knew how to sing along with LOVE ME FOR  A REASON, CRAZY HORSES and not to forget LONG HAIRED LOVER FROM LIVERPOOL. We were allowed to take pictures without flash, and Christine shot away.

At the end, everyone was singing and dancing and we went back to the hotel with a hoarse voice....

All in all, quite a nice Easter weekend!