The end of a rainbow

If you look  at the right of this photo you can see the end of the rainbow

If you look at the right of this photo of the watermill you can see the end of the rainbow

Once in everyone’s lifetime should come a moment when they are brushed with magic. That moment came for me last weekend when I was invited to France to read at the Segora Literary Evening. The magic didn’t come from my reading, but from the warmth and otherworldly charm that surrounds the organisers, Gordon and Jocelyn Simms.

My first sight of the watermill

I left Breda early Friday morning, three stops, sixty euro’s in motorway fees and an arthritic ten hour drive later I pulled up outside their 15th century watermill.

Scrumptious is a word that harmonises with the apartment I rented: spacious, beautifully decorated, with a fully stocked fridge and store cupboard, including Gordon’s homemade fennel bread (yes, I did put weight on).

Gordon's homemade fennel bread

Gordon’s homemade fennel bread

I was a little overawed to be invited to share dinner with my hosts and Vivien, the winner of the poetry prize. I was surrounded by exceedingly creative talented people, eating delicious food plucked that morning from the garden, with the rustling river Argenton acting as background music. It was everything I’d imagined a perfect dinner party to be; it was difficult to prevent the silly grin sticking to my face. I fell asleep that night mumbling the word paradise.

Another invitation: a lunch of fragrant homemade cherry tomato Tarte Tatin. As I listened to Gordon and Jocelyn talk about the Segora Bilingual Literary festival (next one takes place August 2014) I realised what an incredible labour of love these two have gifted to the international and local community. To bring so many people together to share a love of English and French literature in a small pocket of the world is a herculean feat that deserving of far more praise than can be provided by my paltry blog.

I won’t write about my performance at the literary evening, those of you who read my last blog will know how I felt, for those of you that didn’t. Well, let’s say I wasn’t too awful and leave it at that. It was a relief and pleasure to listen to the other contributors, most of who travelled much further than I did just to read at the event.


On the last morning Gordon gave the poets and authors a tour of a nearby 13th century chapel with a collection of recently discovered murals.

13th century murals

13th century murals

When he regaled our group with tales and legends, I could have selfishly wished all the other guests away and listened to his stories for hours.  Especially the true story of the hundreds of shin bones protruding beneath a local stone wall – gruesome stuff!




I sat next to Jocelyn for the last lunch, but this time even though the food was delicious I found it hard to swallow. My time was almost over, and I’d adored every moment. Most of all I realised I’d come to adore the lady sitting next to me, with her gentle friendship, and bright eyes shining with welcome and a longing for mischief. I didn’t know if our paths would ever cross again, but I knew that having met her I left a richer person.

Sitting next to my favorite lady

Sitting next to my favorite lady


How to survive your first public speaking event

Qualified to give advice? Two days ago I gave my first public reading in front of a literary crowd – I survived!

public speaking

Research showed me that most ‘How to’ guides appeared, to be written by confident, experienced speakers. This guide is not by one of those, but by someone who would rather suffer multiple root-canal extractions without anesthetic; swim the Irish Sea covered in Tesco’s duck fat, or be filmed self-administering a black coffee enema for BBC2 than stand in front of more than three people and speak.

These tips worked (for me).

Grow roots: Shifting around in front of an audience is for evangelist preachers, seasoned performers and actors. If you are none of these, stand with shoulders back, feet slightly apart, tummy and bottom tucked in. Then imagine roots growing out of your feet  to anchor you solidly in position. This may seem a tad silly; however, for the truly terrified it’s critical. When faced with a sea of expectant faces, odd desires occur: an irresistible longing to sway (to the rhythm of Lady in Red); a need to continuous rub your calf with your toes, and God forbid this ever happens to you, the overwhelming yearning to hop. None of these ticks will add gravity to your speech and the audience WILL notice.

Release your hands: Although, swaying, scratching and hopping are off the menu. The same rule doesn’t apply to your hands. Stiff white knuckles gripping your perfectly typed speech are not attractive. Limited hand movement can, not only, distract the audience from your newly acquired ruddy completion, but add (limited) interest.

Trust your own text: Make sure your written grammar is perfect (makes reading easier), then practice your speech and projecting your voice. Looking in the mirror while doing this is NOT helpful – it’s distracting. It’s your words you’re interested in not the extra few pounds you’re carrying or the dust in the corner of the frame.

Get mad: If you overhear someone make a less than complimentary comment even one that was said a while ago. Use it! Get mad! There is nothing like a bit of ‘I’ll show them’ to give you confidence.


save till later

Dutch Courage doesn’t work:Drink water before you speak. Fruit juice will spill down the front of your clothes; fizzy drink will give you (very public) wind. And alcohol lies; you will not be funnier, cooler or more attractive. In the same vein, and speaking from experience: do not eat peanuts before speaking. They leave little nut droppings in your teeth, that fly like white bullets, spraying the front row with second-hand nuts

Keep clothes on:Gaze over the audience. If you make eye contact, you run the very real danger of imagining them naked. Notions of sagging apricot nipples and excess body hair don’t improve focus.

People care less that you think: Most people are mildly rooting for you, but on the whole couldn’t give a …! They’re waiting for their turn to speak; furtively checking to see if the bar is open yet, while marveling  at your ability to hop continually for fifteen minutes.

Does anyone have other tips? I’d love to read them.

The Sunshine Rants

What is it about the Dutch and closing roads? Not like the UK where you get shot in the face if your bin is overlapping the kerb, in Dutchyland half the city can be shut down overnight without the slightest provocation, resulting in gridlocks stretching back to f@*!ing Germany. Cutting a hedge? Close the road. Fancy an impromptu street party? Close the road. Walking the dog? Close the road. Importantly, don’t tell anyone, surprise them during the morning rush hour, or when they’re trying to get to the airport. Of course, if you’re on a bike in Holland, none of this matters. People on bikes ignore these inconveniences. People on bikes in Holland will cycle through the middle of roadworks through trenches, over wet concrete, down railway lines, up trees, through peoples lounges. On a bike?. Doesn’t matter. Cycle the wrong way up one way streets, four abreast on a main road, ignore road junctions. Doesn’t matter. Do anything you want. Doesn’t matter.

In a car? You might as well have a windscreen sticker reading ‘kiddie fiddler’.

f@*! This. Today I’m going to beat them at their own game. I’m going to cycle in, and on the way I’m going to kick over some f@*!ing roadworks..

Welcome to our new look blog

Our? Yes, our. Although, this is mainly my blog, Mr Sunshine will be joining me with his own weekly by-line ‘The Sunshine Rants.’ (Not for the easily offended)

We’ve been residents of the Netherlands for two years now, and I can honestly say, that despite the odd hiccup (normally bitten ballens related) they have been the best two years of my life.

  • We’ve moved into a gorgeous little house in Ginneken. Took on a mini landscaping project in the back yard. Four months and six physio appointments later my wrists are almost recovered.
  • Mr Sunshine completed his Masters in just six months and received a distinction, an achievement worth publicising (he never will). To be honest, living through those six months was not my bestest ever experience.
  • I went back to school. Despite leaving education without an O level to my name, I am midway through a degree and have my own student discount card.
  • Best of all I’m learning to think of myself as an author, writer, author, writer. I’ve had one short story published (in print and in ebooks), and another is due out later this year. Tomorrow I’m off to an award ceremony in France, where they (rather foolishly it will be discovered) want me to read my story to an audience.

With such fabulous experiences what’s not to love about becoming an ex pat in the Netherlands. Well, like I said before there’s the bitten ballens. There’s, also, the desperate attempts to find a positive experience with Dutch food shopping.  And there was the shame I felt driving back from the supermarket (Supa Jumbo) today, when I discover my joke purchase of a cornflakes stuffed chocolate bar in my mouth. Do they sell chocolate bars with cornflakes anywhere else in the world, and if they did would any other nation eat them

Mr Sunshine and I try to recreate a famous scene from Dirty Dancing




(admittedly we missed out the bit about dancing on the log together)

The Sunshine Rants

And so I’m bored of reading about Howard Carter and the valley of the kings so I start to read a new book and it’s called ‘Great new stories’ or something, and it’s by Neil Gaiman, who has always slightly got on my tits anyway as he used to come into the comic distribution factory where I worked (note to owners of comic distribution factories who are not idiots: hiring an entire workforce who DOESN’T like comics as opposed to REALLY liking comics may be beneficial to keeping a business running) and lord it about like a twat whilst mentioning ‘Sandman’ with every second word. Anyway, so I’m reading the intro of this book, and he’s saying things like ‘I wanted a compendium of real stories’, and ‘the kind of stories where the reader asks ‘what happens next?’ and ‘stories where the writing doesn’t get place in the way of the story’ and I’m thinking ‘yes, yes’ and then ’YES!’ — this is exactly the book I’ve been waiting for, no more Howard carter examining dusty shit old pots down a shaft somewhere, REAL STORIES from REAL AUTHORS, REAL SCRIBES who slam words down on the page without a thought for fancy vague artsy fartsy shite. And so I’m scrambling through my first story, and it’s sort of about vampires but not about vampires and no, the writing isn’t getting in the way of the story, oh no, this is a REAL STORY, for REAL MEN, and so I get to the end… and… well — there isn’t really an end at all. It’s just a word, one word, that in the context of the story doesn’t really mean anything at all. And it’s then that I realize I’ve been had. 

FUCKING Neil Gaiman.