Tom’s small hand squeezed mine and steered me away from the stall. I looked down and wondered, where he got his will power from.
Oddly, moments after I had published my latest blog post, I happened to look up that day’s front page of The Guardian newspaper, only to discover that the “Exclusive” covered the money laundering theme of my own blog post.
“UK at heart of $3bn secret payments by Azerbaijan”, the headline reads, proving that I was quite right calling Britain the most corrupt country in the world. It is alleged in the article that Azerbaijan’s ruling elite operated a secret scheme to pay prominent European politicians, journalists and businessmen, laundering money via a network of obscure British companies, or rather Scottish Limited Partnerships.
The latter is, incidentally, a theme dealt with in a crime novel by Ian Rankin. Rankin gets his most famous creation, Inspector John Rebus of Police Scotland, involved in a money-laundering scandal that sees Rebus track down various villains operating in Rankin’s (and Rebus’) home town, Edinburgh. Scottish Limited Partnerships enable organised crime to establish bogus companies, using tax havens like the British Virgin Islands, Seychelles and Belize offshore banks corporate “partners”. Rankin’s novel introduces us to a man from a wealthy family background, who is now involved in corporate crime to cover the huge losses he incurred with his own banking and stockbroking efforts. His is the corrupt heart that beats beneath the glorious architecture and highly respectable face Edinburgh puts on for millions of tourists each year. Outwardly he is a member of Edinburgh’s elite, rich and successful, envied by many. But in private he’s a failure in his chosen line of business, a potential murderer and a drug addict.
The real-life investigation of The Guardian asserts that Azerbaijan’s leadership made in excess of 16,000 secret payments between 2012 to 2014, aiming to influence European politicians and journalists as part of an international lobbying campaign to deflect international condemnation of the country’s president, Ilham Aliyev, and those close to him.
According to The Guardian, there is at present no suggestion that all of the recipients of these payments were aware of the original source of the money they received, as the payments arrived via a disguised route.
The Guardian’s investigation and various leaked documents show that Britain’s lightly regulated corporate landscape makes it easy for organised crime and corrupt regimes to move large sums of money around without attracting the beady glare of tax authorities and regulators. Dubbed the “Global Laundromat”, the money-laundering operation is staggering in its size. Seven million pounds alone were spent in the UK on buying luxury goods and paying for private school fees.
One of Europe’s leading banks, Danske, was unwittingly caught in this “laundromat” scheme via their branch office in Estonia, where large sums of Azerbaijan’s illegal money were being “laundered”. Danske first noticed the irregular payments in 2014, when it was investigating an unrelated money-laundering issue and stumbled across the Azerbaijani angle. Since then Danske has tightened its procedures in all its branches.
Ian Rankin and Alexander McCall-Smith both use the city of Edinburgh in Scotland as background for many of their novels and short stories, but they couldn’t be more different in their approach. While McCall-Smith’s Edinburgh is heart-achingly beautiful, often mildly eccentric, but always affluent, respectable, kind and funny, Ian Rankin’s Edinburgh is sinister, rotten to the core, impoverished and life-threatening.
Both authors use the Scottish city as another character in their stories, and we get to see many different aspects of the ancient city by the sea, both in terms of geography and psychology. McCall-Smith clearly loves the city (see his Isabel Dalhousie/Philosophers’ Club series as well as his 44 Scotland Street series), while Ian Rankin has more of a love-hate relationship with Edinburgh. Both authors treat readers to an intimate dissection of what life in Scotland’s best known city is like, and how living there influences people’s actions.
How these latest real life revelations about Britain’s involvement in international money-laundering schemes will influence future storylines of UK legislature remains to be seen. That far greater transparency is needed in the UK’s offshore banking and corporate sectors is evident. Practically all the other EU countries have been pushing for this for ages. There are various legal measures afoot that will alter how Scottish Limited Partnerships can be set up and operated in the future. But critics say these changes to UK corporate law are not far reaching enough.
Prime Minister Theresa May is too incompetent and weak as a leader of the Tory-led government to effect positive change during her tenure. We have already seen May back down on various issues related to corporate greed, most notably on worker representation in board rooms and corporate fat cats’ exorbitant pay packages. But it’s not just the domestic angle that’s worrying.
Imagine President Frump, when he proposes the USA should do “lots of great deals with Britain” straight after the UK leaves the European Union in March 2019. President Frump favours “deregulation” of the financial sector, so the UK’s money laundromat may have sprung a temporary leak, but there are already plenty of “engineers”, domestic and foreign, working to fix this regrettable problem.
BTW, before he became President of the United States of Xenophobia, Mr Frump was also busy trying to build a hotel complex in Baku, Azerbaijan. He may have eventually cancelled the deal, but it still leaves huge question marks over Frumpy’s ability to judge who he should do business with and who he should stay well clear of.
Thus, corruption is here to stay. It will continue to prosper as Britain’s greatest, and most reliable, money spinning venture – poisoning every corner of the kingdom, from blustery cold Edinburgh down to the sunnier shores of Brighton, like a relentless worm gnawing its way through a once golden apple, leaving nothing but a blackened, stinking morass in its wake.
Something that is often underestimated in fiction is the importance of food and beverages. They are as much part of a nation’s culture and heritage as architecture and art, music and dialects, local costume and customs. Leave out the flavour of food and drink locals like to consume and you’re only telling half the story, robbing yourself of a valuable tool that will draw readers into your narrative by subtle means.
Go beyond mentioning ale, wine, cheese, meat, onions and bread. It is the more intricate detail that helps writers to conjure up an authentic setting, allowing readers to not only see, hear, and feel but TASTE the flavour of a point in time and a real or fictional place.
Food and drink also help writers to characterise protagonists in culinary terms. Think Ian Fleming’s James Bond without his customary shaken but not stirred, super-cool martini or Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot without his beloved tisane. Not quite the same, is it?
Perhaps your detective protagonist is a gourmand, astonishing villains with amazing feats of culinary prowess that hint at equally accomplished execution of public duties? Or your hapless Latin protagonist cannot prepare a chorizo Mexicano with tostadas to save her life and is as hopeless at cooking as she is at recognising a good man in your romance novel?
Be literary foodie detective
A foreign character becomes that much more genuine in flavour and scent when your “I-must-be-trendy-or-die” heroine teeters into a Berlin bar on her stilettos, orders a Berliner Weisse mit Schuss, climbs onto the bar stool and smiles broadly at the barman, only to display remnants of Bockwurst between her teeth.
The words fish ‘n chips alone conjure up a picture of Britain’s seedy and run-down seaside resorts, of screaming kids in prams pushed around by indifferent mothers in white leggings and baggy tops, of wheeling seagulls, drizzling rain and fierce gusts blowing litter everywhere. Add a steak and kidney pudding accompanied by mushy peas, followed by a sticky bun and plastic cup of tea and you have a setting that is unmistakably British and noir.
Permit the scent of crispy bacon and a heap of baked beans on toast in the early hours of the morning to lure your crime-fighting hero’s growing paunch off-track, and your reader can digest the fact that even the toughest detective needs comfort food once in a while and shouldn’t be asked to forego his full English for an early arrest of the villain.
A culinary starting point
A great advantage of researching historic food and drink is that often writers come across stuff like “this brewery has been producing Hefeweizen (wheat lager) and dark lager since 1827”. It provides us with a genuine reference point in history, allowing us to concentrate on a small area within a village, town or city from which we can expand into the wider (historical) world of our chosen period setting.
Why not use the street in which the brewery stands as a setting for a scene? Let the brewery’s day-to-day operations become a realistic background to your main action. Without going into a huge amount of detail, your writing will allow readers to hear the clip-clop of dray horses pulling a heavy wagon full of kegs; readers will unconsciously wrinkle their noses at the manure dotted around in this cobbled street and sense the air is filled with the stink of fermented hops, malt and wheat. The fictional employees of such a business could even become walk-on characters in your story’s secondary plot.
By the way, the brewery mentioned here is located on the Northern German Island of Rügen. The Stralsunder Brauerei has been supplying Baltic resorts with beer since 1827, when the brewery was founded.
Let your protagonist drink a dark lager called Störtebecker Hanse Porter, named in honour of 13th century pirate Nicolas (Klaas) Störtebeker, and readers will imagine your manly hero’s rugged good looks and steely gaze. And if your protagonists munch their way through a platter of hearty Braunschweiger, Kohlwurst and Bregenwurst sausages, served with boiled potatoes and steaming kale, readers know the setting is as northern German, Protestant and rural as it gets.
This simple peasant meal will act as a reminder that your story is set in empty, bleak and entirely flat landscapes, lined by deserted white sandy beaches where icy winds rush through dunes even in summer. In this desolate landscape the air is filled with the scent of smoked fish and ham, and the screech of gulls riding the steely grey Baltic waves drown out conversations between windswept protagonists. This is a landscape made for epic, smouldering love stories that don’t end well, leaving a smoky aftertaste on readers’ palates, when they reach the final page.
Equally, no literary excursion to Prague in the Czech Republic is complete without an ice-cold serving of a glass of light golden Krušovice, a lager with a dry straw aroma served to the office of Václav Havel, when he was the republic’s president back in 2003. The beer has been brewed in Czech Republic since 1517 and the brewery once belonged to Emperor Rudolf II, who purchased it in 1581 for the Czech Crown. Now there’s already a historic novel contained in that one sentence! Why did Rudolf buy a brewery? Whom could a writer murder to make this a whodunit with beer?
And while your hero and heroine are gazing lovingly into each other’s eyes over the din of Strasbourg Cathedral’s bells and the merciless fall of the guillotine, why not let them have a fruity glass of Alsace wine, while they’re nibbling slices of grilled Saucisse de Canard? It’s a sausage made from duck, for which Strasbourg’s surroundings and Brittany are famous. Oh go on, it’s the aristocrats’ final meal together, before the doomed lovers’ heads get chopped off!
The importance of food and drink production
From fluffy white ducks and geese that waddle through meadows and farmyards in the Alsace and Périgord regions in France to the sturdy peasants working steep vineyards of the Rhine and Mosel valleys in Germany, food and drink production has shaped the way our landscapes look and the way people have traded and dealt with each other over time.
Even when writing a science fiction novel set on another planet, food and drink production that nourishes the beings living on that planet should therefore be uppermost in a writer’s mind. Agriculture will have influenced that planet’s landscapes. Food and drink will be an integral part of the culture our story is based on. Who eats first in a hierarchical society? Who gets the biggest cut and who gets only the scraps?
Is drinking alcoholic beverages a sin, a feat of prowess for manly men or a confounded nuisance for those who have to enforce the law?
If this article has provided you with a morsel of culinary inspiration for your next novel, be sure to pass it on. Spice up your romance with mulled wine; remove greasy burger taste from your Belgium detective’s palate. Serve him cuisine à la bière with a steaming bowl of mussels with frieten instead, adding a glass of Liefmans, brewed in Flanders since 1679, for a refreshing aftertaste. Squirt a little wine into your heroine’s barley water to mellow the minx.
Bon appetite, writers!
(picture credits: all animation sourced via heathersanimations.com,
Picture 1: Nuremberg sausages, By Gerbis – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=13280953
Picture 2: Stralsunder Brewery, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=9768916
Picture 3: promotional Sailing Glass/Segelglass identity for Klaas Stoertebeker lager, Bild Segelglas als Identitätsmerkmal der Biermarke Störtebecker, von Günter Haase – Eigenes Werk, CC-BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=40978499)
Apart from a few references to creating fantasy worlds, my blog posts so far have dealt with how real locations can be used in fiction to make a point about either the underlying theme, the protagonist’s inner workings or any other topic an author would like to present in the sub-text. But sometimes we take our inspiration from very different sources for the landscapes into which we invite our readers. Not from an Atlas, Google Maps or an old-fashioned globe this time, the inspiration for my book cover and – at least in part – the plot for “Master of the Foxhunt” came from a famous painting.
The landscape painter and printmaker Winslow Homer (1836 to 1910) is a preeminent figure in American art. His beautiful painting “Fox Hunt”, falling so neatly into the Victorian era my ghost story is set in, was the inspiration for my novella’s cover. The story itself, which had been maturing in my head for a long time, was inspired by a real family of foxes who had taken up residence in my garden shortly after I had purchased a flat in London a few years ago. Since hardly a day goes by where I don’t see the bushy tail or tufty ear of an urban fox disappear around a corner these days, it was about time they took on a starring role in one of my works.
My London flat had been on the market for a while and so the garden was rather overgrown, when I purchased it. Imagine a whole row of Edwardian and Victorian family homes with 90-ft gardens arranged back-to-back and you can picture a ready-made urban heaven for foxes. The dilapidated shed that stood in the wilderness of brambles and tall grass at the bottom of my garden was soon transformed into a look-out station from which Mama Fox and her three cubs would survey their little kingdom each morning, when the sun would warm their pelts, while I was floating in the bath. My large picture window of my bathroom overlooked the garden and afforded me an excellent opportunity to spy on South East London’s urban wildlife.
The family of foxes didn’t seem to mind. In fact, they were quite the little show-offs, yawning widely and stretching out luxuriously of a morning, turning their little furry bellies towards the warming rays of the early sun, reminding me that their work was done while I still had my working day ahead of me!
Winslow Homer’s wonderful painting is on display at the Pennsylvania Academy for the Fine Arts and is one of three Homer masterpieces on show, the other two being “North Road Bermuda” and “Eight Bells”. Oil on canvas and measuring 96.5 b 174 cm, “Fox Hunt” was created in 1893 – eight years after the setting of my romantic ghost story, but close enough!
Homer was largely self-taught (like me…but unlike me, he was a hugely gifted painter!). He spent a short time studying oil painting in the spring of 1861, before being sent to the Civil War front in Virginia as an artist-correspondent for the illustrated journal Harper’s Weekly, then a fairly new publication. The time he spent at the front had a profound affect on him and he produced many works about the meaning of war, its impact on people. He was greatly admired by his contemporaries, who found the force of his work and fierce beauty, the drama and dynamic of his compositions deeply moving. Many of his later paintings carry hints of modernist abstraction and I feel “Fox Hunt” is a splendid example of this.
He often depicted scenes of hunting and fishing, producing many evocative and much admired seascapes in the process, but here we enter an unforgiving frosty world, an icy countryside that is beautiful, but deadly.
“Fox Hunt” was his largest painting up to that point, dealing with the depiction of survival in the wild – a subject largely inspired by Charles Darwin’s theory of natural selection and a topic uppermost on many artists’ minds in the final years of the 19th century. Set in a harsh winter landscape of the Main shoreline, Homer shows us a fox fleeing from a hungry flock of crows. The crow, harbinger of death in mythology for eons, is here not just a messenger but the actual executioner. Looking at the painting one really feels for the fox, its desperate struggle to escape from the trap half-starved crows have sprung on him by ganging up and hunting him as a pack through the deep snow.
Homer surprises us with this reversal of fortune, making the fox the prey. The fox has such a bad reputation as the raider of chicken coops, the cunning hunter of small prey, the sly opportunist who’ll steal your Sunday roast from your patio if you don’t watch out. It is indeed one of Homer’s most powerful and memorable images and a true masterpiece.
My version, of course, isn’t, as is evident from the book cover! However, given that I had to draw this by hand using a mouse pad and my index finger instead of a sweeping paintbrush…it’s hopefully not too insulting to foxes (I challenge thee, Mr Homer, to try your hand on my mouse pad and do better!). No crows this time, although a cheeky reference to them can be found in my story. As the cover shows, the reversal of fortune in my story involves foxes and humans. Since I find “blood sports” abhorrent and regard those who enjoy them as utterly depraved, expect to find foxes who’ll have the upper paw in my novella.
Homer’s “Fox Hunt” was deemed such a powerful work that it became the first of the artist’s paintings to enter a public collection, when the Pennsylvania Academy snapped it up in 1893. What I love about the painting is that our eye is first drawn to the red of the fox’s fur, then the red of the berries of the wild-rose bush, tiny messengers of hope in this harsh landscape, for they signal spring is on its way. With the change of season comes greater availability of food sources for both fox and crow. But then our eye is drawn to the fox’s dark shadow falling across the snow and that implies imminent death – only then do we really take notice of the crows and understand who is the hunter and who the prey in this painting.
Writers are always asked where they take their inspiration from. For once I can actually pinpoint what prompted me to write about a foxhunt and why I set the story in the latter part of Queen Victoria’s reign. Just as Homer’s painting is a complex study of the struggle to survive in a hostile world, how writers get their ideas and are able to create landscapes of their mind on paper is a complex topic and a question that isn’t easily answered.
My story, initially a straightforward ghost story, soon took a different turn, in that the main characters insisted it should be a love story that leaves readers with a warm glow on a cold winter’s day, not a horror story that sends even more shivers up and down their spines. I was rather miffed at first, but hey, when your main characters pull into one direction and you strain the other way, something’s got to give in the end. The wise thing is to give in and let them have their own way!
Fancy a slice of romantic Victorian ghost story at $0.99? #ebook #MustRead #fantasy Master of the Foxhunt is out! https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/master-of-the-foxhunt/id1080939714?mt=11
This is the only sales link I’ve received from the publishing platform I used so far, but the ebook should already be available at Kindle, Barnes & Noble, GooglePlay, Kobo etc. ISBN: 978-3-7396-3465-4
Published well in time for Valentine’s Day and much better for the hips than a box of chocolates…but just as satisfying!
(Winslow Homer’s “Fox Hunt” as per Wikipedia commons licence, in public domain, all animations via heathersanimations(dot)com, cover for “Master of the Foxhunt”: copyright Maria Thermann)
I’ve been reading my way through some of the wonderful murder mysteries and crimes novels from the Golden Age of this genre, now re-issued by British Library Crime Classics. Among them is the once very popular, now almost forgotten writer John Bude, who wrote some 30 best-selling crime novels in his day which are now all but collectors’ items.
Having just finished “The Lake District Murder”, which is rather different from his other two novels published in this British Library series, I am once again reminded what a huge difference it makes when a writer knows their “turf”, or locality, and doesn’t just work from a map and tourist guide book.
Set in the Lake District in the north of England, the novel is less of a whodunit and more of a how-did-they-do-it. In it, Inspector Meredith must break some pretty solid alibies and solve the murder of a garage co-owner, whose death was dressed up as suicide.
As Martin Edwards says in his introduction to this entertaining novel, John Bude “not only knew but clearly loved his Lake District”. And that makes all the difference, for he knows not just the geographical, but also the social landscape of this part of Britain, allowing his readers a glimpse into what life was like at that time in this desolate but beautiful region. There is the middle-aged woman who cooks and cleans, mends and washes in the household of two men for just ten shillings a week; there are the two garage owners who scratch a living for just £16 profit a month, shared between the two of them – which means that each of them had just about a couple of quid to spend per week in 1935, when this novel was first published. There are numerous hotels and pubs that make an excellent living in spring and summer, when masses of tourists arrive, but whose proprietors must fall back on local custom during the rest of the year. Times are hard in rural surroundings like these, and we are reminded of this at every turn but in an understated, subtle way.
What is also interesting is that John Bude, in an era when the amateur sleuth was all the rage among writers like Agatha Christie and Dorothy L Sayers, chose to make the policeman Inspector Meredith the central figure of his novel and the painstaking efforts of the police to make the crime stick to the villains so they could be rightfully convicted. No dashing Lord Peter Wimsey here or little old Miss Marple. This feels very much like a real detective at work, doing boring stake-outs hiding behind hedgerows or sifting through endless paperwork.
The other central character, if you like, is the Lake District itself, its peculiar geographical quirks as much part of the investigation as the villains themselves. Loving – or detesting – the location a writer uses as background makes all the difference. Even if you create a whole new world for your fantasy novel, you need to feel passionately about the location in one way or another, or you might as well set the whole thing in a void…or a Tesco supermarket isle. Be as passionate about the location as you are about the characters you drop into these fictional landscapes. Your readers will follow their every footstep, so you need to be the world’s best tourist guide!
I didn’t adhere to this rule too strictly in the first outing for Linus Brown, when he meets the leprechauns in his new Lincolnshire environment for the first time, but location will play a big, big part when Linus and the leprechaun colony set out to visit Ireland and Castle Blarney in the second outing for my 9-year-old protagonist. Thankfully, I have been to Ireland, albeit not to the castle, but having visited a lot of castles in my day, I can “wing” that part of it, I’m hoping. The Castle has its own website, fortunately with lots of history and some pictures…research, even for a children’s novel, is vital.
Finally, at the end of week two of my second promotion for Linus’s first novel, my Copromote adventure bagged me of their Twitter networks. A round of applause to all of them and a big, fat thank you. followersCoPromoters who retweeted my original Tweet with the sales link to Scribd(dot)com to
Yes, you’ve read that correctly! A week into their second promotional adventure on Copromote the pesky little leprechauns shy 9-year-old Linus Brown meets, when he explores his new surroundings in rural Lincolnshire, have managed to charm no fewer than 67 lovely Copromoters into given the ebook a 6,700% boost. To their utter astonishment, 212,933 Twitter followers discovered a sales link to the leprechauns’ ebook in their “in-box”. There’s still one more week to go, so who knows what these sneaky little so-and-so’s will get up to over the next 7 days?
While Linus & The Leprechauns are busily marketing their children’s book on Copromote, their long-suffering creator and co-author is still assessing writing contests for 2016. Here’s one from the wonderful people at Narrative Magazine, if you’re coming over all “literary” and want to submit to the magazine’s submission guidelines:
Birds are tweeting their little heads off, the first fresh green leaves are appearing on our trees. A daffodil or two may even be poking their heads out of the soil to say hello….time to sharpen the old goose feather quill and start thinking about entering writing contests again. And just when I’m recovering from my nasty “festive” cold and start contemplating getting back to creative writing, Aerogramme Studio have helpfully published a list of writing opportunities for February and March this year:
Loverly people that they are!
Since my nose wouldn’t stop running and prevented me from doing much writing this last fortnight, I’ve re-read Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings and devoured Susanna Clarke’s marvellous “Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell” books to get me into a “fantasy” frame of mind for my own writing. I managed to write one chapter of my Merlin fan fiction epic “Let The Questing Begin”, despite coughing my guts out during the process, have managed to start another chapter. The epic adventure is nearly at an end, so will soon be published via Bookrix as a FREE ebook . A lengthy writing sample if you will.
I’m still revamping this WordPress site and Willow the Vampire’s own blog, so hopefully there will soon be a few more reading samples appearing here and on Willow’s bloodsucking WordPress site, too.
Incidentally, what I loved about “Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell” was the wonderful use of location, magical and real, that the author makes in her book. Couldn’t put it down – and while I admit to have at first been slightly daunted by the enormous size of the book (1,000 pages), after the first few pages I was so hooked, I couldn’t put it down. I’d meant to read the book for ages, but never found the time, so this was a real treat. Who’d have thought that sober, grumpy Yorkshire could be put to such magical and fantastical use?
And if you’re wondering about the picture at the top, it’s the draft for a book cover “Master of the Foxhunt” I’m working on. It’s an old-fashioned ghost story with a dash of black humour that I’ve nearly finished (about 50,000 words long as an ebook). So watch out for the sales links appearing for that soon!
Although I usually publish via platform Bookrix(dot)com, I’ve long been looking to broaden the distribution. Now my kids’ ebook “Linus & The Leprechauns” is available via Scribd, which is the world’s largest online library, 24Symbols, which is also subscriber-based, and Page Foundry . It will also be available via Tolino, a huge German ebook sales site, but I haven’t received the link for that, yet. I used Draft2Digital, but encountered a few problems because they are so vague about their upload and artwork requirements, which was really irritating.
They give you the option of doing a print version via Createspace…and tell authors in their “step-by-step-guide” that D2D will handle all the book cover stuff as long as authors send artwork in a specific size…D2D then suddenly tell you that you must send book cover artwork according to Createspace’s requirements, when you get to the point of uploading what you had been told was all that was required…
So why exactly should I choose Draft2Digital for this service, when going directly via Createspace means I can sell immediately via Amazon, but I cannot do so, if I publish the print version via Draft2Digital? I still end up doing all the work on the book cover wrap-around artwork…but am disadvantaged, if I use D2D, because they have yet to reach an agreement with Amazon for print books. Grrrrr.
On the promotional front, I am giving little Linus his second Copromote boost with a Tweet about the book’s presence on Scribd. In the first 24 hours, 18 Copromoters chose to retweet my message, which gave me a 1,800% boost for my Tweet and gave me a reach of 129,640 Twitter followers for my message.
Not a bad start – although I ran out of “credits”, so must accumulate more before the campaign can continue. I began this campaign with ca. 132,000 credits on the free program. Once I can see how all this translates into sales, if any, I shall consider taking the “pro” route on Copromote, which costs $49.99 per month for the basic package. Will keep you posted. It only took me a week to accumulate 132,000 credits, so that’s manageable, if I continue to stay with the free version of Copromote.
Trotting down this unfamiliar avenue is certainly paying off. I discovered that with some of the ebook sales platforms I even get an author’s page (which I’ve yet to complete), so yay! What is also good about publishing via D2D, despite the irritating teething problems, is that it allows me to whet readers’ appetites with a “next in series to be published on…” date, so readers of “Linus & The Leprechauns” can pre-order the 2nd book in the series, something that isn’t offered via Bookrix.
So there we are, another year, another royalty dollar I probably won’t earn…sigh. In an effort to find better ways to promote my writing, I have decided to enter some short story contests in 2016. Not that I expect to win anything, but hey, nothing ventured, nothing gained, and if I won the first prize in the Stinkforth-upon-Avon short story contest 2016, I might get a place in their anthology and get mentioned in the Stinkforth Daily Bugle…(Willow the Vampire readers will get this one…)
Let’s face it, winning a prestigious short story contest does help to win potential book buyers’ attention. People sit up and pay online when your blurb can boast legitimately “winner of blahblah in 2016”. It gives you credentials, it says you’re not one of millions of self-publishing talentless idiots looking for a pat on the back and peer approval from fellow teen writers. Winning an international contest means some literary greats are likely to have read your story…people in the business, people with publishing and critical acclaim clout behind their names.
So here are a few contests I’ll try to brave this year:
It is the world’s richest short story competition, with the winner receiving £30,000 (US$45,000). In 2015 the prize was won by Yiyun Li for her story ‘A Sheltered Woman’. The winner of the 2016 Sunday Times Short Story Prize will be announced on 22 April 2016 and entries for the 2017 prize are expected to open in July 2016.
This one is for stories between 1500 and 5000 words. The 2016 competition theme is space. The shortlisted stories will be published in an anthology. There are prizes in three different categories including £1000 (US$1500) for the best story by a writer aged 21 or under. Entries close 17 July.
It is a major international literary competition open to anyone aged 16 or over. The winner receives a cash prize of £10,000 (US$15,000). Stories can be up to 2500 words in length. The organisers also offer a Manchester Poetry Prize. Entries for both competitions close on 23 September.
It is an annual short story competition open to writers from around the world. First prize is €2000 (US$2100), publication in the literary journal Southword, and a week-long residency at Anam Cara Writer’s and Artist’s Retreat. Entries are accepted from May to July annually.
And that’s enough to be getting on with. If my lovely clients leave me a bit of spare time, I might write a story for submission to the Bridport Prize and a couple of literary magazines, but more of that in my next blog post. Included in my NY resolution to write more for promotional purposes is also submission to KindleSingle. Since they have an editorial process, there’s a certain amount of street cred to be earned from publishing single short stories via Kindle.
If you’re planning to also enter all or some of the above contests, may the best writer win!
Hope you’re all having a great festive few days! As promised, here’s a final update on my Copromote adventure for my children’s book “Linus & The Leprechauns”:
My original tweet was sent on 11th December and the campaign finished on 24th December. Had I not constantly run out of virtual credits, my Tweet would have been boosted even more, but as it is, 85 lovely copromoters retweeted it to their network of followers, giving my original Tweet an 8,500% boost and a reach of 187,817 followers on Twitter. In addition, I bagged more than 100 Twitter followers, quite a few WordPress followers and also got “liked” loads of times. Most of the copromoters, whose own promotional Tweets I had retweeted via my own network of Twitter followers either thanked me or “liked” the Tweet or retweeted it again, giving me additional exposure. It’s been amazing, so I can honestly say, this is one medium that really, really works with regard to creating a bit of buzz for your book/product.
Ho, Ho, Ho, see little Linus go! I don’t know if the campaign had anything to do with it, but I’ve seen a steady increase of readers on Bookrix, the platform I used to publish my ebook. It has been named as one of their “recommended” reads and is every so often coming up in the top five positions, which means the book covers appears on Bookrix’s own landing page.
I will do another Copromote boost for “Linus & The Leprechauns” when the print edition is out. All in all, not a bad way to finish the year…onwards and upwards, slaving away over part two of Linus’s adventures…
Merry Christmas, everyone!
Wishing everybody a wonderful Christmas time and every success for next year’s creative writing!
A little update on my Copromote efforts for my kids’ book “Linus & The Leprechauns”: 81 copromoters have retweeted by original tweet, boosting my tweet by 8,000% and giving a reach of more than 161,000 Twitter followers. Not bad for a few seconds work, eh?
Here are two more good sites for book promotions, entirely free, although there are paid-for options which don’t cost much:
I’ve not had a chance to add my books, but will do so asasp. They look good sites and the latter is also an info resource for writers.
Ho Ho Ho and all that, and may my Santa wish list come true for next year: Peace, happiness and prosperity for all!
Provincial towns and sea ports tend to retain their intrinsic character far better than big cities, where greedy developers can’t wait to knock down historic buildings and whole streets disappear in a matter of days to make way for the new. Believe it or not, every brick and cobblestone of your home town is imprinted on your psyche, but you are probably quite unaware of it.
Spotting historic Connections
In small towns like Ramsgate at the Kent coast much of the fishing community spirit has survived to this day. Locals eye newcomers with customary suspicion and don’t like anyone who’s different. Few urban settlements in Britain retain as many historic buildings in their centres as Ramsgate does and this may be one of the reasons why attitudes towards strangers are as crusty and Victorian as the buildings that dominate the town’s two chalk cliffs. In total, there are 900 listed buildings in the town centre, much of which, incidentally, was designed by notable architects Mary Townley, August and Edward Pugin.
Overlooking the sea from their chalk cliff eeries, there are lovely Georgian seafront mansions that would have welcomed royalty like the young Princess Victoria and people like writer Wilkie Collins, painter Vincent van Gogh and, some decades later, actor John Le Mesurier. Today the town is home to actress Brenda Blethyn OBE and Janet Fielding, the former an enthusiastic supporter of the local fleapit cinema, the Granville Theatre, an art deco building much in need of financial support and refurbishment.
But right in the centre of Ramsgate there’s the late Victorian Sailors’ Church and Harbour Mission and the adjacent Smack Boys Home that would have taken in some of the poorest people in town and it is this building that is so inspirational within the historic harbour.
Soaking up the Spirit of a Place
One feels positively Dickensian as a writer just looking at its red brick facade. Stand along this dockside for a few minutes on a stormy day and feel the wind chill you to the bone. Lick your lips and taste the salt the breeze deposits there; scrape wet hair with icy fingers from your frozen face and squint at grey rain clouds with streaming eyes. Just a mo’ – you’re almost there, all it needs now is for one of those two-storey-high waves that pound the jetty at high tide to soak you to the skin and you’ll know exactly what the life of a young smack boy was like!
Except, nobody would be clouting you around the ears when you’re doing something wrong or the crew and skipper think you’re not pulling your slender weight in a gale force wind aboard one of the fishing vessels that go lobstering or fishing for herring.
You go to a comfy hotel bed with a full belly and rise in the knowledge that you have warm clothing and oil skins that will protect you from the worst of the elements when you join a fishing crew for a day’s excursion. When you leave the harbour, it is to go home to your loved ones. The smack boys had none of that.
The history of this small home for boys is yet to be written and published, but one could come up with at least half a dozen short stories and a really good Victorian murder mystery just by standing there and looking at the home’s mosaic band at first floor level that is inscribed with the important words: The Ramsgate Home for Smack Boys Founded 1881.
It’s the only one of its kind in Britain. It’s handsome plinth with string courses, pilasters, mock machicolations and battlements belies the poverty that the boys experienced and the wretched backgrounds some of them came from. What a wonderfully pushy man the Canon Eustace Brenan must have been to get this project approved by the town worthies! No doubt Charles Dickens, who used to holiday every year in the neighbouring village of Broadstairs, would have made much of such a character in his novels.
Now listed buildings, the charming little Sailors’ Church and Harbour Mission are rarely open to the public these days, but last summer I was fortunate enough to attend a Jazz concert held at this church. The 3-storey Smack Boy Home, which is located next door and also above parts of the church and mission, is no longer refuge to shivering small urchins working on fishing boats. It has been turned into offices and storage space and is sadly not open to the public as a museum.
The church opens its doors throughout the summer months (June to September) on Sundays at 6.00 pm, when sailors and anyone in need of a tranquil, spiritual hour and a cup of tea can visit and see some of the model ships, old photographs and other fishing memorabilia on display. Also, a special Christmas service is held every year for the many people who make a living via Ramsgate Harbour and those who have their boats moored there all year.
A compassionate Victorian with a Vision
Sitting close by the foot of Jacob’s Ladder on Westcliff, the church was built by Canon Eustace Brenan, vicar of nearby Christ Church, in 1878. The Smack Boy Home, Church and Harbour Mission would provide spiritual guidance and physical assistance to the men and boys who made up the crews of the sailing smacks that fished out of Ramsgate Harbour in the latter part of the 19th century.
It was very hard work, especially for the youngest Smack Boys, who were apprenticed to the skipper of each boat. When the boys were ashore, they could look forward to at least a modicum of comfort in the rooms above the church and, a few years later, in the specially built home for them next door.
Over the years the home extended a welcome to sailors who had been rescued, mostly from the wrecks that had come to grief on the notorious Goodwin Sands that lurk beneath the surface of the sea not far from Ramsgate. In World War I. some 3,300 survivors were fed, clothed, sheltered and medically attended to at this small building, an astonishing achievement by anyone’s standards.
When 50 or so registered smacks left Ramsgate Harbour with every incoming tide in 1863, there would have been a skipper and four members of the crew on board, most of whom would have been smack boys of varying ages. By 1906 this number had swelled to 168 sailing smacks – Ramsgate was a popular seaside resort by then and needed plenty of seafood for its tourists. Just imagine how many boys that makes who had no home to go to when they came ashore other than Canon Brenan’s Home for Smack Boys.
Canon Brenan put pressure on the Board of Trade, when he realised that there was nobody looking after these boys when they came ashore. Many of these boys seem to have been orphans and were probably coming from orphanages and workhouses straight onto the sailing smacks, when they were deemed old enough to earn a living (probably aged 10!). No other British fishing port copied this excellent idea, so Ramsgate’s Smack Boy Home is quite unique in its modern and charitable approach to one of the hardest professions on earth.
Recalling Childhood Memories
There are still a few elderly residents around who were smack boys and it would be wonderful if the Ramsgate Historic Society recorded their story before it’s too late and these precious memories are lost for good. We rarely hear from children in history books, and interviewing the surviving smack boys seems such a worthwhile thing to do.
Combined with the Goodwin Sands disasters, the smugglers’ caves all around and the illustrious personages who stayed in Ramsgate at one time or another, there is rich material here for novelists. In this port the past is still casting a long shadow over the present.
The town’s inhabitants have experienced such truly astonishing events since the building of the smack boys’ home that it is hardly surprising many of them keep one foot firmly planted in the mists of time and rarely risk a reluctant toe dipping into the here and now. Our surroundings shape us in many different ways as individuals and communities. The best writers know how to exploit this to their advantage. Still suffering from a blank page and a horror to fill it with words?
Next time you’re out for a stroll because you’ve got a small attack of writer’s block, take a good look at those all too familiar facades in your street. What lurks behind them historically and how has that influenced you? Start with the boy/girl in the mirror and before you’ll know it, that empty page in front of you is no longer staring back blankly. Smack in the middle of your familiar home town, you can discover something new and exciting about your community and yourself.
It’s not even been a full week of promotion and my kids’ book “Linus & The Leprechauns” has clocked up some impressive stats:
As of this afternoon, when I’d suddenly run out of credits (only 53 left, yeiks!) and had to quickly top up with some more copromotion Tweets, the tally stood thus:
47 copromoters have kindly retweeted by original Tweet of last Friday to their own Twitter networks. That has given me a reach of 91,404 Twitter followers, enhancing my own Tweet by 4,700%.
Every time I copromote somebody else’s Tweet about one of their books or other product, I find that the Tweet’s originators either thank me with a message or click the “like” button, giving me additional exposure. I’m also having a good take-up rate of both Twitter and Copromote followers.
If you are thinking of going for the “Pro” version, I got a wee message this morning saying that there’s currently an 80% discount for that one. The next step up from “Pro” which usually costs $49.99 per month, is priced at $99 per month, which starts you off with a reach of 500,000 credits, and unlimited “boosts” for either your Twitter/YouTube/Vine or Tumblr promotions (or a combination thereof).
Traditionally, kids’ books don’t do so well when it comes to book promotional sites – many sites that promote books for free or for a small fee don’t even have a YA or kids’ category, so it can be hard to find a good launch pad. All in all, I find that “Linus & the Leprechauns” are forging ahead far better than expected with Copromote.
Go Linus, go!
NB: Linus Brown is named in homage of the Peanuts and Charlie Brown’s friend “Linus”. Have been to see the Charlie Brown film currently in the cinemas and it’s adorable. Staying true to the original, the film recaps some of Charlie and Snoopy’s adventures, aspirations and dreams. Lose yourself for 93 minutes in this charming world of childhood traumas and small victories!
Here’s a brief update on how my Copromote efforts are doing for my “Linus & the Leprechauns” ebook:
As per my earlier blog post, I “boosted” one of my Tweets with the help of Copromote last Friday. Since then, 30 copromoters have retweeted my original Tweet, thereby increasing my original reach by 3,000% and allowing me to reach 62,099 people. I’ve also gained both Twitter and Copromote followers in the process.
Whenever I copromote somebody, I have a look at how they’re doing so far. Some of the more popular products (music videos, fitness and health-related stuff, sci-fi and romance books) are retweeted/reposted by so many people, their reach can be 700,000+, even with the free Copromote package. Not bad going, given that such promotions can result in a 1% sales take-up rate. The paid for package ($49.44 per month) allows authors unlimited boosts and starts them off with 200,000 credits, so it’s possible to “boost” promotional Tweets/YouTube videos/Vine entries/Tumblr posts for several different products every month with the paid for service.
Using the free package, I had only 8 credits left this morning, but with some quick copromoting efforts, I’ve cranked up my credits again, so hopefully my little campaign can continue today with more people retweeting my call to arms.
If you want a good laugh today, why not read “Linus & The Leprechauns” – a book singularly lacking in pots of gold but making up for it with plenty of farting jokes – or simply start promoting your own stuff via Copromote…the results should put a big smile on your face!
I’m sure I mentioned the virtues of Copromote before on this blog, but I really have to sing their praises once more. That’s an online promotional “location” I can wholeheartedly recommend. It works on the principle that with every sales link/tweet/tumbler blog/YouTube video or Vine entry you promote for others, you build up credits which you can use to “boost” your own sales links etc. Obviously., by retweeting or re-sending your link, you have a potential reach that far outstrips your own number of followers, giving you greater exposure for your product, but also allowing you to grow your social media network.
Yesterday I tweeted an update for my aboutme.com page with a sales link to my “Linus & The Leprechauns” book. Already 13 people have retweeted it, giving me a 1,300% boost to my original tweet and an audience of just under 47,000 people. You need to build up about 40,000 to 50,000 credits before you can run a 14-day promotion, but you get a “warning notice” when you’re running low on credits, so you can top up with a few hurried co-promoting moves. It’s a friendly place too, where people start following you quickly and you’ll find lots of artists will always promote other artists’ work. The wider the interests you state in the given categories, the greater your chance of getting “good” promotional links that you are happy to promote for others.
The free of charge version limits the number of boosts per month and the number of credits per day one can do, but the next step up, the $49.99 per month package, allows copromoters a far greater scope and therefore a potential reach of millions of people. Try the free version a few times, as I’m doing now, see how it impacts on sales (or not) and then decide which package is best for you.
Copromote used to be linked with WordPress but for some strange reason this is no longer the case, which is rather a nuisance, since I can’t get on with Tumblr at all. Squeezing what I want to say into my 140 character Tweet is a bit of a challenge, but I’ve sussed out now that I can do this quite well via updates to my aboutme.com account. If you’re running a YouTube, Vine or Tumblr account, you’ll have even better ways of promoting your book/product than I have at present. One of these days, this techno-phobe will get her head round opening a YouTube account…
Happy Halloween Everyone!
Since the rejection on technical grounds of my ebook, I’ve been busy scribbling away at pumpkin and Halloween related facts in an effort to make the children’s book even better. Now it will have pumpkin dishes, pumpkin-growing tips and even more illustrations in it than before. Am also working on a companion piece of The Little Book of Halloween, a book devoted entirely to the topic of ghosts, spectres, apparitions and ghouls.
The illustration you see here is the first draft for a picture that will appear in my short story “Cooking with G Ramsey Beelzebub”, an adventure four little girls have when out trick-or-treating.
They come across a real witch and things take a turn for the worst from the moment they cross the witch’s threshold…pumpkins, pumpkins everywhere…shooting out of one of the little girls, when the children are magically transformed to become the costumes they are wearing for real. A little bit scary, a little bit funny, the story was written a few years ago for the grandchildren of a former colleague of mine. His grandkids and their friends loved it. Having put the story away for a long time, I looked at it again, worked it over to make it even better, and now it feels right for publication somehow. Hope the girls in question, who are now also a few years older, will like the story just as much now as they did then.
What else is in the book? A recipe for pumpkin soup, my very own, of course, and how to grow champion pumpkins without the help of witches. Have a great Halloween, everyone!
Just a brief update on this whole idiotic Ink(stain) business. It’s hard to believe, after unsubscribing from all their “updates”, asking them to delete my profile, telling them to stop bothering me here on WP and unfollowing the blighters on Twitter, I was forced to report them to Google as spam, because the platform kept forcing through email messages.
After a couple of weeks of peace, this week I found yet another email had been forced through. Each time they are using different people’s names to “update” me on stuff going on at their site. Again, I reported the email as spam, unopened and unread, naturally.
Frankly, you have to ask yourself what kind of “business” this is, when people who wish to leave the site are subjected to this nonsense? My “offence” consisted merely of deciding that it was not the right place for my writing. Since when is it a crime to ask a publishing platform to delete your profile and respect your “unsubscribe” wishes?
Instead of wasting my time with a site that doesn’t provide me with any writerly satisfaction (or indeed royalties for my work), I’ve been busy putting together my “Little Book of Halloween”, just about finishing the second (long) short story for it. I have a few more fact files to write up, but all the illustrations are done and I’m just about ready to put everything together to publish on a NICE and PROPER ebook publishing platform where trolls of any kind are weeded out immediately by those who run the site.
I know, it’s rather late in the day to publish a book about Halloween, but I got “side-tracked” by client work and held up by the fact that my illustrator, whose idea this book was in the first place, suddenly got so busy in her day job, I had to do all the illustrations myself. Not that they could rival in any way what Sarah Chipperfield would have conjured up out of her illustrator’s cauldron.
The tulip craze lasted just a few years, reaching its height in 1636 and coming to a spectacular end in February 1637, when prices crashed due to governmental intervention, leaving thousands of speculators penniless and victims of wide-spread ridicule. Moggach’s book makes use of this craze by mirroring tulipomania with a passionate, but ultimately doomed love-affair.
The Rijksmuseum’s blog provides a great timeline for the most important events, displays fabulous paintings of tulips sold at the time and also shows some of the gorgeous white and blue Delftware flower stands specifically created to show off tulips and other bulb-grown plants to their full advantage, namely indoors in Holland’s cold climate.
In a Business Week article, tulipomania is compared to the dot.com bubble the world saw not all that long ago. It is hard to imagine today how one man, the proud owner of a dozen tulip bulbs for the variety Semper augustus, could possibly turn down an offer of 3,000 guilders for ONE bulb in 1624, when that represented about a whole year’s income for a wealthy merchant.
The name of this greedy beggar was not recorded by history – leaving one to speculate if he was one of thousands of tulip-investors forced to jump into Amsterdam’s grachts, after losing everything in the tulip-crash of 1637, including their homes, mortgaged to the rafters to buy tulip bulbs.
Semper augustus was the most expensive tulip bulb ever sold during the craze and provided inspiration for quite a few painters – as well as prompting author Moggach to write a love story about people involved in the tulipomania of 17th century Amsterdam.
It’s also hard to imagine what times were like for people. After eons of wars with Spain the Netherlands suddenly saw huge wealth poured back into its country from trading with newly established foreign colonies. Perhaps for the first time in history, merchants began to financially out-class the aristocracy. They could afford to build mansions, deck themselves out in the latest fashions, wearing precious silks, gold embroidery and semi-precious stones like their nobles before them. Merchants could now afford commissioning paintings just like the rich upper crust had done for centuries.
Society was changing rapidly on a never-before seen scale, aided by Europe’s Reformation. Moggach makes use of religious doubt extensively in her book, although the ending of her novel is utterly contrived as a result and very unsatisfactory in my view.
But the influx of vast sums of money also allowed the Dutch to create a country in their own image, draining wetlands, reclaiming land from the North Sea, engaging in huge construction programmes to improve their country’s infrastructure. Yet another challenge to God, to the Grim Reaper, to Eternal Darkness – the grachts have endured, no matter what craze befell human minds in the interval.
This look towards extension of one’s alotted life-time is a long, long philosophical and religious way off from the medieval – and catholic – view of eternal damnation, heaven and hell.
Perhaps nowhere is that more evident than in Amsterdam. The wealth it must have taken to create the grachts/canals is staggering, practically incalculable in today’s money.
The houses that would eventually grace the Prinsengracht and the Herengracht, where Moggach’s love story “Tulip Fever” is set, sprung up in those heady days when money seemed to be as plentiful as duckweed floating in English village green ponds.
Occupying the Gouden Bocht or Golden Bend of the Amstel River, the Herengracht reached only as far as the present-day Leidsegracht until 1663. After that date, Amsterdam’s fortifications were expanded and Herengracht, Prinsengracht and Keizersgracht were all extended. Buyers wishing to build on Heregracht were encouraged to buy not one but two lots of land and construct double-width mansions.
As a by-product of the three canals having been laid out at a greater distance from each other, the lots were not just wider, but deeper, allowing merchants to build veritable palaces.
Adorning their Amsterdam-palaces with classicist facades and richly stuccoed interiors, especially the magnificent ceilings, the merchants also established lovely gardens that were opened once a year to the public. You can just imagine them being filled with tulips of the richest hues, can’t you?
Where the Amstel River bends, just by the Nieuwe Spiegelstraat (the “new mirror street”), the richest citizens chose to build their dwellings, which prompted the public to rename this part of the river the Golden Bend.
Moggach’s fictional young wife Sophia, lover Jan van Loos and cuckolded husband Cornelis would have been neighbours to the real-life family living at Herengracht 475, the wealthy clan of the De Neufville, who lived their from 1731 to 1733.
Interestingly, a list of the real people, who lived in the Golden Bend of the Herengracht during the time Moggach’s book describes, includes the following names:
- Jan Bernd Cicker (#460)
- Gerrit Braamcamp (#462)
- Cornelis Munter (#468)
- Willem Andriesz Munter (#444)
- Jacob Boreel (#507)
- Maria Meerman (#480)
all of them have first names Moggach uses in her novel – better still, “Meerman” is the Dutch word for mermaid/mer-people and servant Maria dreams in the novel of swimming through an underwater world. You see, writers’ minds soak up everything they see and regurgitate every morsel as something totally different, something inspired!
What is missing in Moggach’s novel is the ebb and flow of humanity. Between the years of 1578 and 1665, the time when Amsterdam sided with the supporters of the Reformation, urban development reached an unprecedented scale. The city grew from 30,000 to 160,000 people – only London and Paris were larger at that time. This huge influx o new residents was not just driven by the Reformation though, which forced large numbers of protestants to feel the catholic South, but was also the result of Antwerp losing its hold as “Golden Age” centre in favour of Amsterdam.
Although a single, much older canal existed, the way Amsterdam looks today is due to a four-phase construction programme that began in earnest in 1585. By 1613 a second phase had completed an even larger section of canals and between 1613 and 1625 the third phase was completed.
The final phase took place in the years 1656 to 1665, the time the Gouden Bocht was constructed and Amsterdam’s most prestigious address was created, the Herengracht between the uneven numbers 441 to 513 and even numbers 426 to 482. I can’t help but wonder what Maria Meerman (if I’d known this name existed, I’d have made it my pen name!) got up to in her mansion. Did she “swim” through stuccoed rooms, floating by her magnificent rear garden, waving at the goldfish in her pond, while casually picking off dead petals from her Semper augustus, tulipa clusiana and Violetten Admirael van Enkhuizen?
The latter bulb was sold for 5,200 guilders, an all-time record in the winter of 1636, when the sale of just 70 tulip bulbs achieved revenue of 53,000 guilders for a handful of orphans, whose father had left them nothing but tulip bulbs.
A little while back I mentioned that I wanted to do another review of a book where a writer had used a specific location to demonstrate a particular point. I didn’t like “Tulip Fever” by Deborah Moggach much, but she does use the city of Amsterdam in an interesting way to mirror what is going on with her protagonists.
It’s not only the streets that reflect the plot’s main action – the city of Amsterdam is in the grip of tulipomania (tulip fever), a love-affair as truly, madly, deeply felt by its citizen as the love-affair Moggach’s two protagonists, young Sophia and painter Jan, are about to plunge into.
Set in about 1636 during the height of tulipomania, the main action takes place in a rich merchant’s house in the Herrengracht, one of Amsterdam’s most splendid residences overlooking a gracht or canal, then a major thoroughfare within the city. And Moggach mirrors the action not just literally, she reflects it figuratively – what Amsterdam’s respectable burghers get up to is reflected in the ever-present water as well as in numerous paintings commissioned from artists who’ll later become some of the most famous painters in history, including on Jan van Loo(s).
Every Hans, Frans and Cornelis wants their painting done – including the rich, elderly husband of Sophia. She promptly falls in love with the young painter, Jan van Loos, during the first sitting and clichéd romance, revenge and divine retribution ensue from this point onwards.
What I did like about the novel was the ever-present water as a metaphor for life and death. The peculiar quality water has when reflecting both objects and light suffuses the book, making it an illuminating read in more ways than one.
Maria, the maid, dreams of living in her mistress’s house with her as yet unborn six children. In her dreams, Maria and her brood swim through the house in a strange underwater world free of man’s obsessions with tulips, wealth and status. For Maria, water means freedom from domestic servitude and happiness in the bosom of her own family.
Water means life, but also death to many. Storms sweep the Dutch coastline frequently, killing Amsterdam’s residents indiscriminately, as the seawater is driven into the grachts. Whole districts get flooded in the process. Dogs, cats, humans rich and poor, they all meet their fate, when water sweeps clean the streets of Amsterdam.
Water means earning a decent enough living for a large number of people. Run a barge up and down the Amstel River or trade in the grachts. Maria’s lover Willem earns his living from selling fish. Disappointed in love and robbed of his savings and dignity, he later goes to sea to seek his fortune as a soldier. Water can help people to change their lives.
The merchants get rich – or lose everything – by trading with foreign countries, sending out fleets of ships to exotic places.
Water, water, everywhere…water-logged streets, overflowing hearts, fortunes lost at sea, tear-stained lovers’ letters and new types of paintings where herrings take centre stage. Water determines the fate of them all.
By contrast, the painters of the day, artists such as Jan van Loos or Rembrandt, record the mundane terrestrial, the domestic lives of Dutch burghers – whoever can afford to commission a painting, does so; those who can’t afford to pay, may be lucky enough to attract a painter into their dark and dingy hovel – some artists are keen to record Dutch life of the lower classes.
Everybody wants their lives to be captured for eternity, holding off the grim reaper in their own way. Even the land these splendid merchant houses have been built on has been snatched back from the sea and wetlands. If they can do THAT, why not hold on to life for a little longer with the help of paintings? It may only be one fragment of a life captured on canvas, but in their minds that one moment can hold off the inevitable drowning in ever-lasting darkness.
It’s the age of discovery, especially in the field of botany. For a brief period in history, Dutch people succumb to a strange mania, buying tulip bulbs for enormous sums and speculating on the flowers as if they were gold or diamonds. Historians and psychologists all over the world are still debating what prompts human beings to enter into such bizarre manias.
We can see some of the wonderful flowers these explorers brought back with them in Dutch paintings of the period. Somehow this humble wild flower from dry and arid Turkey and Afghanistan captured the imagination of people like no other plant has done before or since in human history. Neither rose, poppy, lotus nor orchid has caused such manic behaviour or ever commanded such prices. Did the Dutch fall in love with tulips simply because the flowers grew in desert-like conditions in their natural habitats? Did the wild tulip represent a secret longing for terra firma, a place not dominated by water?
Moggach’s book creates a strange world out of this fluid, ever-changing medium.
You can practically taste the salt on your lips and smell the herring, when Sophia hastens through the dark and empty streets at night to spend time with her lover, when lanterns twinkle on passing barges, when raucous laughter fills the air from all those sailors stepping off vessels that have been to parts of the world, where new types of tulip are only just being discovered.
Sometimes a lover embracing you, sometimes a monster swallowing you whole: the grachts of Amsterdam are the veins and blood vessels that run through each and every one of its 17th century citizens.
I also liked the idea to set a novel in an era of extraordinary events, when a city is in chaos over something other than war. In this case it’s tulipomania, in Boris Akunin’s novel “The Coronation” it was the crowing of Csar Nicholas II and the start of the first rumblings of the Russian revolution that made Moscow a perfect location for a kidnapping mystery and metaphor for a heart in turmoil. Part 2 of this post will go into tulipomania itself and what historic Amsterdam was like around 1636.
Will this Ink-stain never go away? Despite asking their “support staff” to remove my profile from their site, and not to contact me again, I’ve had several emails by Inkitt. Apparently, even unsubscribing doesn’t curb their enthusiasm. Now I’ve just found a mile long message here on WordPress, sent apparently by some site-related person. Naturally, I have trashed their comment equivalent of “War and Peace” without bothering to read more than the first few words of the first sentence. They’ve wasted enough of my time. Any more emails or promo type stuff posted to my WP sites, Twitter or my personal email address will be reported as spam.
Get it into your heads Inkitt-people, I do not like your site, don’t want to be seen on it, don’t want to communicate with the site’s operators, friends, uncles, aunts or mothers of the founders, or the founders, judges, janitors or tea ladies nor any of its author members in any shape or (plat)form. Got it?
Now for something far more interesting and enjoyable. After wrestling with my Scribd upload yesterday (I hadn’t done that for quite some time, so couldn’t remember how to do the cover part), I discovered that Scribd’s own store works with Draft2Digital now. Looking at the D2D site I was pleasantly surprised to discover that when you upload your manuscripts via their site you can have ebook as well as print book conversion at the press of pretty much one simple button. Yes, without bothering to do any weird and wonderful formatting of your Word doc. Better still, these are the sites the books would then sell through:
- Barnes & Noble
- and CreateSpace!
Yes, Createspace! No more tearing one’s hair out over their upload and cover-design process for print books, yay. It seems almost too good to be true. I still haven’t been able to sort out all those irritating pixel-related cover problems of my Willow the Vampire book with Createspace, so this is such good news for me. Negotiations with Amazon and various other outlets are also currently going on with Draft2Digital to expand the book sales territory further, according to the site. Royalty arrangements are satisfactory and generous to authors, another plus point.
Now all you savvy self-publishing people out there here at WP probably knew this and it’s an old publishing hat to you, but to me finding a site like Bookrix, where ebook uploading is incredibly easy and painless, is a true labour and nerve-saving blessing. As far as I remember, Bookrix doesn’t sell into Oyster or Tolino, the latter is a huge German book sales market, so that’s another plus point. Only draw back is that print books only come in one size at D2D. Not so good for children’s authors, who are usually looking for a variety of book sizes in order to please readers with small hands and big appetites to point at large pictures. Still. I can live with that.