Monday, August 14, 2017

The Key (short story)

"Funeral Services for Miss M. F. O. O'Byrne, 28 Arnfordstreet, Cloonaconelly, who died Tuesday, will be held Monday at 4,30 PM at the Shepherd's Mortuary.
Miss Margaret Fianoula Oonagh O'Byrne was born in Kircknacarry on May 18 - 1922 and lived in Cloonaconnelly since 1945. No occupation. Relatives of Miss O'Byrne unknown.
To whom it may concern, please contact below if you have any information about relatives of Miss O'Byrne.

Campbell Clarke and Maguire, Solicitors 
Cloonaconelly, March 23, 1962"

    The small piece of yellowed paper, cut from a newspaper, swirled down from the drawer where I looked for the archive of my ancestors. I did not know where it came from and to which file it belonged. And I would not have paid any attention to it if the name O'Byrne hadn't caused a strange stir in my stomach. A feeling I could not explain.
   I read the announcement over and over again and tried to remember where I heard the name before. Although not an uncommon surname, I never met an O'Byrne and I had never heard of the town or village Cloonaconelly. I turned to the computer next to me and Googled the town which turned out to be an old village in Northern Ireland, 300 miles from where I lived. I logged on to the telephone directory and found the solicitors, still listed with all three names. I did however, not find 'O'Byrne' which wasn't a great surprise given the fact that according the announcement, relatives were unknown.

  It was very quiet in the archive of the Genealogical Foundation, there were no other people. What I did next was against my character and the rules of the Foundation; I hid the piece of paper in my wallet, closed the drawer with the files and left for home where I spent much time studying the family tree that partly covered the wall of my study, to look for any clues. I was determined to find the cause of that strange stir and it was only logical to search within my family. But nothing at all indicated I was in some way related to Miss Margaret as I called her. Still......

   During a week of studying, thinking, reading and bad sleeping, I had a dream, a very strange dream in which a voice mentioned I was not a legitimate Kavanagh. The voice told me to go back to the archive and the look for my birth certificate.
So I did, I spent hours and hours going through files in drawers and on the Internet but my birth was no where mentioned. Oh yes, I did have a birth certificate but how odd that it was never registered!!
The voice never returned but had seeded serious doubts about my origin. Were the people that I called Mum and Dad my real parents? Was my marriage that tragically ended with the sudden death of my beloved wife, legal? What was my real name? Who was I? I copied my original birth certificate and asked a friend specialised in old documents, to take a look at it.
The outcome although not unexpected, turned my whole life upside down: it was an excellent falsification.
I decided to travel to Cloonaconnelly, contacted Campbell, Clark and Maguire for an appointment with Maguire Junior who recommended the Lion Inn and booked a train.

    My visit to the solicitors was shocking. Maguire Junior, concerned about my well being, asked his secretary for sandwiches and a pot of strong tea. He also asked her to cancel his next appointments. He too understood that my history was totally rewritten by the find of the announcement.
A local newspaper from 1946, attached to the will of Miss O'Byrne told a story I had not found on the Internet. The story of the young mother that moved to a small village in Northern Ireland, in the last month of her pregnancy. She was well mannered and obviously wealthy but there was no husband. He died not long ago; he never recovered from the injuries from the Second World War, so she said. People called her Miss instead of Mrs and she never corrected them. She was a loner and became a hermit after the enormous tragedy 3 months after she gave birth to her child, a lovely boy with blond hair and blue eyes.

   When Miss O'Byrne was in the garden with doors and windows open due to the lovely warm weather, her son was stolen from his cradle. She was devastated, cried, blamed herself, searched day and night.So did the police but her child seemed to have vanished in thin air. Evil tongues spoke against her: she killed her own son and buried him in the garden. Though after she passed away in 1962, no remains were found.
She lost contact with the villagers and turned out to be dead for several days when she was found. Post mortem revealed that she died of natural courses. "A broken heart"said the kind villagers. "Of guilt" said the gossipers. The police found a letter to the solicitors who put the announcement in the newspaper but no one ever turned up.

   After numerous cups of tea and two sandwiches, Maguire Junior showed me an old photograph, a sepia portrait of a young woman. I looked at it and was shocked to see a very young and female edition of my own face and than I knew what the solicitor already understood: I was that little boy that suddenly disappeared.
We parted with an appointment for the next day, I walked to the hotel where I spent hours and hours to come to terms with my past but I failed. It was too much to take in.

   The next morning I was given an envelope with a handwritten letter and 2 keys and the address of my mother's villa. I was told to expect a derelict house after decades of neglect and to be careful stepping on wooden floors and climbing stairs.
The large key was of the front door with the rusty hinges that made a ghostly creaking sound when I firmly pushed. My feet hit a large pile of old papers that released a musty smell of decay. I carefully walked through the house, still furnished as she left it when she died. Everything was covered in thick layers of dust that danced in the light peeping through the holes of the fading curtains.
Wallpaper, once with bright roses, curled down the walls like forgotten flowers. Carpets muffled the sound of my feet. I stood still in the middle of the room and listened to noises from the past. Did she sing for me? Could I still hear her voice to which I had no memory at all? Did she walk up and down the room with me if I cried? So many questions but the only answers were silence, total deep silence.

   I looked for a door for the second key but did not find it until I was upstairs where only one door was locked. To my astonishment, nor the key or hinges made a noise, the door swung open if it hadn't been locked for so long. I wasn't prepared for what I saw and I only noticed I was crying when I tasted my salt tears. In front of me stood a cradle.
A beautiful cradle made from the finest willow branches, now touched by time, and partly covered by beautiful expensive lace, too delicate to touch. The lace that she touched with her hands, the lace that protected the baby...... me. Did she smile when she looked through the lace at my face? Did her hands carefully fold it away before she lifted me in her arms? I imagined I heard her voice, a soft whisper. Or was it the wind?

   I do not know how long I stood there till I finally noticed the news papers scattered on the floor. The newspapers that mentioned the tragedy of the lost baby. The mingled ink and letters witnesses of her many tears. Her grief.
Photo: Darren Nisbett Fine Art Photography
Did she return to this room after she knew I would not come back? And if she did was she still, did she cry or call for me? Did she rock the empty cradle and sing?

   I finally read the letter my mother wrote to me, as if she knew one day I was going to find my true roots.
And finally I could hear her cry, loud and grieving, full of sorrow and pain.

Or was it the house that groaned under the weight of 70 lost years?


Word of thanks: the photo of @darrennisbett (Instagram) inspired me to write this story and I was given permission to use the photo as an illustration for which I am very grateful. Thank you Darren!

Link: the beautiful website Darren Nisbett Fine Art Photography

Note: the story is pure fiction! A figment of my imagination!

Helen

Wednesday, August 09, 2017

Little Doors (short story)

"Are you like me? Orderly, introvert, tidy, easy going, laid back?
Oh, and not to forget handsome, rich, well dressed, wealthy! Idyllically the perfect son in law!

You might think I am exaggerating; thinking too much of myself. You will say: "Nobody is all that...."
But my dear, I am all that! I really am....
Your next question will be: "Than you are already taken....". No sweetheart, I am not.
Yes, I know, you are astonished aren't you? No one can be all that and still not taken.
Well, I am your living example, it is possible. I have to admit that it is not my free choice, I met many women I wanted to share my life with but although I have so much and beyond to offer, they never wanted to share their lives with me. Strange isn't it?

As soon as I invited them home, the relationship changed. Yes, I have a home, quite big really. I am not telling you secrets if I say it is a very, very big Estate with woodlands, fields and a long drive way with a gate guarded by big statues of lions. And of course a gate keeper as I prefer to keep the gates locked as often as possible. Maybe this scares my female visitors off? Being locked up? Why would they if they have all my money to spend, an Estate, the most handsome man on earth and many servants?
Indeed, if you and I will get along and marry, you will have servants; people who keep the Estate in good order, who look after you. I even have doctors and nurses, a bookkeeper, gardeners.
You look surprised.... this is not what you expected, isn't it?And they are all yours.

Of course I am wealthy enough to pay all the staff, I just told you that. And do you know that I know them all by name? Each one of them. And they appreciate that, they respect me, you can tell by the way they talk to me, with low voices, kind and patient. They know that they should not upset me, not to make me angry. Am I a violent person you ask me? No, I am not. I am always kind and calm.
No no, this is not true. I agree I can be upset if I the bookkeeping is not in good order, I hate disorderly paperwork. Oh yes, this can annoy me so very much!!! But please keep this as a secret.

I think I am going to tell you another secret, are you ready for it? And will you promise me not to leave me?
Promise!!! Yes... good girl!

All the staff I just mentioned; there are not as many as I want you to believe. Somehow they don't stay here for long. I replace them for others but sometimes, when I stayed in my room for too long, again staff members left. And lately I can't find new members as easily as I used to. And the new ones are often not as polite as the ones of who I thought were loyal to me.
Do you think they are jealous? Jealous of my status, my money, my good looks?

Another secret is that I do not trust my new staff any more. I think they are betraying me.
In what way, you ask me? I suspect them to add pills to my food. Not that I need pills of course, but I am almost certain they try to poison me! Yes, that frightens you too, doesn't it? Poisoning, mind you!!!
And they avoid me as well, I see less and less people walking around. They don't talk to me as they did before, they avoid me. Now I come to think of it, yes, they avoid me!! How dare they!! I pay them very good wages and want to be obeyed!!

Oooohhh.... now I am getting angry, very angry!!
Are you listening to me? Where are you? You walked away from me, come back!! Come back I tell you!!
Where is everybody? Where are you? Where is the other staff? Why am I on my own? Nobody told me that they were going to leave the Estate, to leave me....
Photo: @glory.of.dispair
Did you leave a note? Whatever note? Are your notes in the cupboard? The large cupboard down the hall?
The one with all the little doors, doors that thrive me sick....... little doors that remind me of all the little doors in my head. Doors with hidden thoughts that disappear every time I open one.
I want to know what is behind those doors, I want to understand but all I see is paper, sheets, files, prescriptions, names of other people..... I am angry, I do not want papers, I want my thoughts back....!!"


        The lamp dangling from the ceiling didn't shed a light any more at the enormous chaos, found by a visitor of a long forgotten Estate.
The man looked around, his hand protecting his nose against the damp smell. His eyes watched the chaos of passed times and he tried to get his head around the memories of hundreds of spirits that never followed their troubled owners who left the Estate for good.


Word of thanks: the photo of @glory.of.disrepair (Instagram) inspired me to write this story and I was given permission to use the photo as an illustration for which I am very grateful. Thank you Mathias!

Link: please visit the beautiful Instagram account of @glory.of.disrepair

Note: the story is pure fiction! A figment of my imagination!

Helen

Friday, August 04, 2017

The Sitter (short story)

Winter. The flames of the fire in the large hearth worked magical shadows on the furs in front of it and on the rich Goblin's that covered the old walls of my room in the castle. Their vibrant colours came to life but I did not notice it that evening. I looked at the portrait of the man in front of me, my paint brush in my hand. The only thing I had to do was signing but I felt reluctant to do so, as if I felt the sitter with the mysterious eyes, not wearing his cuirass today, would disappear to never return.

All of a sudden the man spoke.....
   "My ancestors were Vikings. No farmers or warriors but of high birth. They owned land, forests and large houses, ship yards and boats. Their harbours lay in the shelter of the large Fjords.
Like many generations before them, they sailed to Éire but not before the 12th century. They arrived here in1145 which is almost at the end of the Viking period as you will know."

Here he paused, he did not look at me. His mind was elsewhere, the sound of his deep voice, brown like his hair and  warm peat on a Summer's day, slowly faded in silence. Just as I thought he was not going to speak further, he said:
   "Unnulf, son of Gilss and Unnulf's son Grimolf, were amongst the Vikings that sailed the river Camlin to Longphort in the county Anghaile where they joined an existing settlement. But the hostility they met, even amongst their own people, was not what they expected. They tried to build their own settlement but were not successful; after 10 years they sailed home again. Grimolf how ever had fallen in love with the beautiful Aodhamair who did honour to the meaning of her name: 'fire'. As well her character as her red hair: she stood up against her parents to follow Grimolf to the North where they settled at the estate of Grimolf's ancestors near Oseberg.
It could not have been easy for Aodhamair, she missed the green rolling hills of Éire but learned to love the dark Northern forests and their inhabitants like Giants, Troll's, the Small People that lived underground, the laughing Witches, the screaming Human Birds that all of a sudden appear to scare you with their loud unpleasant raw voices. She loved to tell fairy tales to her children and later in life, her grand children. The Éire's are wonderful storytellers and her blood passed this skill on to further generations.
My mother Freydis, a descendant of Aodhamair, told me in good tradition all the old stories and fairy tales. But not only the Norwegian, also the Celtic. About Unicorns and Elves.
I remember the evenings during long and cold Winters where I rested my head in her lap in front of a roaring fire. Her beautiful voice almost sang the tales; I hardly dared to breath. Her hand laid on top of my head. I was wanted and loved."

The man paused again, his eyes  with the colour of melting glaciers, softened and shone like he had to hold back his tears. This touched my heart which had already opened to him during the long sittings that lay behind us. Then he suddenly looked me straight in my eyes:
   "I felt torn between both fantasy worlds. Or were they real? I could not tell but I longed to return to the roots of Aodhamair. Ten years ago I left my mother and father and sailed to an Éire that was still fighting Cromwell. An Éire that fought to keep it's own identity. As they did during the occupation of my Viking ancestors.

My high birth opened doors and it did not take long before I settled. I listened to and read about the fierce history of Éire, about fairy tales but soon found out, although my Irish blood from centuries ago, I am still a Viking. I miss the Fjords, the forests, the long dark winters."

He rose from his chair, his eyes fixed on me: "Your eyes as green as the rolling hills, your hair like flames."
I only noticed I was still holding my paint brush when he took it from my hand. He pulled the strings of my linen hat to free my hair. He unbuttoned my apron, lifted me in his arms and walked to the hearth.
"Will you follow me? As my Aodhamair?"
My fingers like the wings of the elves, touched his face. And when he finally kissed me I could hear the sound of the waterfall of the glacier, it made my body tremble. His hair mingled with mine, our bodies melted together, reuniting Viking with Celtic......

Autumn. The wind hauls  through the broken windows of the ruined castle covered in bushes and tall trees with flaming red leaves. The crows took over long ago and their harsh voices echo against the crumbling walls. What is left of the tower fights bravely against time, contrasting with the sky that colours like melting ice.


Word of thanks: the portrait of the man is from the collection of Roy and Nadine Precious and inspired me to write this story. Thank you Nadine and Roy for allowing me to use the photo!

Links: the Instagram accounts of Roy and Nadine.
Please visit their website where you will find many other portraits and beautiful antiques.

Note: the story is pure fiction! A figment of my imagination!

Helen

Thursday, August 03, 2017

Bundle 'De Zon' (The Sun) availale in eBook format

On July 15 I wrote on my Dutch Blog 'Helen Varras' about the writing contest of Leessst Publishers.

https://www.bruna.nl/ebook/de-zon-9789491863097All stories - including my 'Brandende Getuige' (Burning Witness) and 'Gemiste Warmte' (Missed Warmth) - are now available in eBook format at Bruna.nl.
And not just my stories of course but also beautiful stories and poems of many other authors. I can only advise you to buy De Zon (note: only available in Dutch!).

Another good reason to buy the eBook (3,95 Euro) is that part of the poceed will go to KWF Cancer Fund.

Even if you manage some of the Dutch language you will not regret you bought it.
The above Bruna Link and clicking the photo will direct you immediately to the purchase website.

I wish you good reading!

Helen

Thursday, July 27, 2017

The Chamber Pot (short story)

First of all, my memory is not what it used to be so if I am not accurate in my descriptions, it be so.
Secondly, a chamber pot does not live a life any of you would desire. True, I have seen things others don't see but I can assure you the things I have seen have always been a bit.... uhm... smelly.

If a chamber pot still exists, it would probably be cleaned after every use, but not in my days, oh no. We were on guard the whole night and were only emptied in the mornings.
I should not complain though! Some chamber pots lived in less pleasant environments than I.
My life started in a pottery (how applicable...) together with more pots of my kind and a few very posh pots.
We were the majority because the Estate that placed the order had more servants than family members; not an unusual thing in those days. And long term guests often brought their own pots because they were used to the size. And there are many different sizes to fit a bum!

Did you know that the difference in position already started in the pottery? You are wrong thinking we were all made of the same clay. No, we are made of far less delicate raw materials than our fellow posh pots; we are stoneware and they are porcelain. And it is not only the raw materials, it is also the look: the posh pots are often painted with beautiful flowers and other decorations in soft colours and the common pots are not.
I am happy to be a middle class pot (that is how I think of myself), the lower classes are often brown or greyish white without any decoration. I am also taller than most pots and this is because I served both the Lady's maid and the Coachman which broadened my view on people. And I have stripes. Well, that is enough about me.

Chamber pots in general need to be emptied and cleaned on a daily base but I am not sure this happened to all pots, in that respect I was lucky. It was the duty of the scullery maid to collect the content of all potties in the house. She gathered the contents in large white enamelled buckets with a lid. The poor girl had to walk a lot of stairs with those heavy buckets full of human waste (posh and common mixed) and believe me, the smell was terrible. Due to her other duties the rest of the day, she had to hurry but in the meantime being careful not to fall.... The second scullery girl collected the empty pots to clean them in a special built outhouse.

Servants are known for their gossiping and you can't blame them. There was much to talk about, as well as upstairs as downstairs. The more people the more gossip. But let me tell you that their gossiping was nothing comparing to what we had to tell!! After cleaning we rested upside down on iron racks until we were dry and ready for a new night shift. As soon as the scullery maid left the outhouse, we told each other the stories of the past night. When I first stood there amongst more experienced pots, I tried not to keep up with them in terms of gossiping because I was middle class.
But when I noticed that the posh' and the commons participated and that it was more or less 'daily news' instead of 'backbite' (which is a far more appropriate word for us to use...), I heartily joined the party.

I know you are curious now and want to hear about the affairs of his Lordship or even the chauffeur, or the secrets discussed between the daughter of his Lordship and her Lady's maid. Or the complains of the Butler and the Housekeeper about the lower servants but I am not going to tell you these stories now. Maybe some other time as I will most likely still be here for the next couple of years.

I never thought I would retire, I always thought that if not cracked, I would move on to a younger generation of servants but alas, it did not happen.
Tragical really, that the Coachman was the only one who stayed in the house after the family moved when the British economy changed after the second world war.
Servants moved to industrial and much better paid jobs, agricultural prices went through the roof and farmers wanted a better payment. And that did not change during the 50's and 60's. It was called progress.
In the meantime the Estate was only a shell with on the top floor the rooms of the Coachman who did not dare to move to one of the grand rooms, still loyal to his Lordship and well aware of his own manners which became a habit after so many years of serving.

The Lady's Maid left the Coachman for a, in my opinion, conman who was not only charming but also had a better income and a more modern house than the rooms on the top floor.
Now I only had to serve one bum and the older the bum got, the less clean it was as you will imagine.
I was loyal to this single bum but often felt home sick to the days of gossiping in the outhouse. Life was, to say the least, boring.

Photo: @soul_mining (Instagram)
Photo: @soul_mining (Instgram)
But than the day came that the Coachman never returned from his house inspection, carrying a double-barreled shotgun to chase unwanted visitors. I still don't know what happened to him. He might have fallen down the stairs (in that case he was lucky not to carry me), the animals in the forest might have witnessed his final breath. Or maybe he just walked away, tired of living in a room where several layers of wall paper curl down the damp walls. Tired of watching his own face every day in the mirror on top of the chest of drawers and smelling the perfume - still left in the bottle next to the mirror - of his unfaithful Lady's maid. Or tired of carrying me up and down the stairs which is a risky job when your hands start shaking at the older age.
I don't know and I assume I will never know.

Quentin Crisp once said: "After the first four years the dirt doesn't get any worse". And he was right.
As well on the subject of dust and the content of me. One day you might find me and even have the courage to clean me and to adopt me. Please don't. Please leave me where I belong; under the bed of a long forgotten Coachman at the floor of long forgotten servants.


Word of thanks: the photo of @soul_mining (Instagram) inspired me to write this story and I was given permission to use the photo as an illustration for which I am very grateful. Thank you Dan!

Link: please visit the beautiful Instagram account of @soul_mining

Note: the story is (of course) pure fiction!A figment of my imagination!

Helen

Monday, July 24, 2017

The Letter (short story)

 'My Love,

My hands can not hold a pen any more. The red knuckles are swollen like marbles and my fingers grow in the wrong directions.
Do you remember when we were still children with elastic muscles that we crossed our fingers, one over the other? That is how my hands look now. I am glad you can't see this, it would have upset you.
The pink and ring finger are the worst but my fore finger is the best of all and allows me to type a letter to you. It is a slow process as you will understand but you have all the time of the world to read it.

I am in a strange mood. I thought I got used to my solitary existence but strangely enough I didn't. My thoughts often wander off to the old days when we still lived together. Married as in 'happily ever after'.
Have we been happy? Yes. We were childhood lovers, we knew each other so very well, our marriage couldn't go wrong. How wrong we were but let not dwell on this right now.
I still remember our wedding day with all the love and laughters, all the expectations for the future; our future.
We did not have a great income but you were determined to climb the social ladder and I was more than willing to hold that ladder, to support you where ever I could. I promised to do so and I kept my promise. You asked me to support you and that is what I did...... till death did us part.

Do you remember how we loved to curl up on the sofa? Or in bed? We became great lovers and memories of our intimacy still cause that special warm feeling. Or our arms wrapped around each other, talking about our dreams. Your dreams were more demanding than mine. You wanted a family, a job with status and an appropriate  income, a bigger house, being a member of The Lions and the Golf club. And, not to forget, a perfect and elegant, good looking wife to impress your colleagues and friends to be.
My wish list was a family home, children, a house and a garden, hugs and love, a dog. Could I ever dream that the only wish we had in common was children....
Maybe the house too but mine was cosy and big enough for our family. Yours was to impress, pompous and in my humble opinion, horrible.
You were generous and  promised me on forehand a house keeper, a nanny and a gardener. Well, I thought it was generous but I learned otherwise.

You ticked almost all the boxes on your wish list, almost. The children box was never ticked. At first you blamed yourself but soon you blamed me, not openly, I did not even notice it in the beginning. I did not recognize the early signs of mental abuse. I have to admit that you were very, very good at that. I am not going to repeat all the details, you know exactly what you have done to me. But what you did not know was that you forced me to play my own game. I had to to survive, to stay close to me. And when I finally, after so many years, saw through you, I became even better in playing mental games than you.

You never found out did you, that I became the best actress ever and that I only acted like the manipulated wife you created. Created in your mind my love, not in real!
You hated your sudden hair loss, you were so proud of the dark curly hair you inherited from your mother. You had never been ill before so you hated the so called influenza that caused stomach and belly pains and vomiting. Not long after you recovered but within half a year it started all over again. The doctor said you were stressed. The demanding job, the long hours, a holiday would do you good. And it did. A year after, the same thing happened again but you felt worse than ever. Strong as you were, you recovered again. But my love, you were not smart enough to know it wasn't a influenza! And it was not due to stress! Not at all, but I played my game so very well that no one was surprised when you finally died. They spoke beautiful words at your grave. Your business partner mentioned he had never seen a man before who was so dedicated to his work.

And I? I played the grieving widow. And I played it very, very well. I almost believed my own grief, I almost felt the pain for your loss. I played it so well that people never noticed the joy in my heart. The joy about my freedom and most of all the joy because I won the game you started!

Photo: Forgotten Heritage

Did you notice the Crow who watched your funeral? He and I became very good friends. He knows my moods and when my mood is as dark as his deep purple and black feathers, he talks to me. His hoarsely voice causes great fear with people who don't know him but not with me. He waits for me to finish the letter and to take it to your grave. This will also be my goodbye to my feathered friend. I have done what I wanted to do. I have enjoyed my victory long enough and it is time to go.
All that will be left is the two cups with the residue of what ended our lives. They lay next to the type writer and your portrait, guarded by the Crow who will be faithful to me until his own death.
Goodbye my love......'




Word of thanks: the photo of @forgottenheritage (Instagram) inspired me to write this story and I was given permission to use the photo as an illustration for which I am very grateful. Thank you Matt!

Link: the beautiful book Forgotten Heritage by Matthew Emmett

Note: the story is pure fiction!A figment of my imagination!

Helen

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Dance! (short story)

I swivel round and round and round....I hold the imaginary she in my arms: one hand at her lower back (not too low, I would not dare to do so) and the other hand holds hers.
Our feet easily manage the complicated pattern of our dance. And round and round again we go.

I look her in the eyes and drown in their blue depth, like drowning in a deep lake where the water nymphs sing their tempting songs. The music makes us move like one body. Her steps follow mine in a split second, only a careful observer sees the tiny difference. I am an excellent leader and she an excellent charming follower. We are causing little tornados of dust on the wooden floor but we don't care. We are not aware of the room we are in. All we are aware of is the music and the energy that makes us dance if we were born to do so.

You don't know me and you will never know me, that is why I tell you my little story. Please don't go, it will not take long and you might be curious how it ends.
I was born a long long time ago in a tiny little house in the woods. My parents married at a young age but never had children until they were almost middle aged. Mind you that 40 was called middle aged in their days.  I was their first and only child and there fore had a different upbringing than most children.
When you are young parents and you have a few toddlers, you still love them and care for them and protect them against bad things of course but at an older age with only one, my parents were over protective.
They kept me at home, within sight. They taught me reading, writing and numbers but did not allow me to go to school. I did not have friends, no one ever came to our house to play with me. I did not mind, my dog was my best friend, the forest my playground and my parents loved me with all the love they had to give which was more than some children get.

Yes, I was a happy child, very happy.
I know you are not stupid and wondering how I got on being a teenager. It is fairly normal for teenagers - so I am told - to be obstinate and stubborn, teasing their parents who, they think, do everything wrong being extraordinary 'old fashioned'. I am glad to tell you I wasn't such a teenager. "Bless your parents" I hear you say.
But did I ever meet a girl? Did I ever fall in love? Did I ever had a job? No, no and no.
I wasn't even aware of the fact that there were younger editions of the species of my  mother. And when my parents died, not long after each other, they left me in reasonable wealth. They saved every penny, just if they knew I needed it because, and here I am very honest, I was not at all socialized. I would never survive in the normal world.

I did not know about that world until I found literally, a small piece of it in the attic.
A place I wasn't allowed to go, a decision I never questioned.
It took a long time before I opened the door to the attic as I still respected my parents.
I don't know how I found the courage to go there; or maybe it was the knowledge that the whole house was mine, I can't recall.
The fact is, I went there on a sunny afternoon. I did not know what to expect but I certainly never expected an almost empty room with one table and a (as I understood from the little booklet that lay beside it) a gramophone. And a box of records. Good reading and practising (hard to avoid a few scratches) I learned to play the records and to listen to the music. I was astonished, I had never in my live heard something as beautiful as this. I did not even think of how it arrived in our house, where it came from and why I had never heard music before. Yes, the wind in the trees was music but this was so different!
Photo: Darren Nisbett Fine Art Photography
I moved the gramophone downstairs and listened to Leo Reisman and his Orchestra, Cannon's Jug Stompers, Vera Lynn (who became my dream woman and dance companion), Cole Porter and many, many others.
I noticed that I had a good feeling for rhythm and soon my feet lived their own life. They danced with me through the room, made me turn, swivel, jump and something that must have looked like the Charleston as
my feet went crazy!

I danced, danced and danced every day, every month and every year. I danced from the 40's into the 50's. At first I danced alone but than came she. I danced right through life into death. And even now I still dance and the music still playes.
And you my dear visitor, if you listen very carefully and beyond the dusty silence of my long abandoned house, might even hear the music. Might even here me calling "Dance!!!"

Helen


Word of thanks: the photo of @darrennisbett (Instagram) inspired me to write this story and I was given permission to use the photo as an illustration for which I am very grateful. Thank you Darren!

Link: the beautiful website Darren Nisbett Fine Art Photography

Note: the story is pure fiction!A figment of my imagination!

Saturday, July 15, 2017

The Last Call (short story)

   His arms tightly pressed against his stomach to ease the pain of hunger, he sat on a chair and balanced his body back and forth. The cracking noise of the old chair was the only sound in the basement. There was no light and no fresh air.
The man who was not taller than a 6 year old child, did not understand what was going on. His tears formed irregular grey stripes on his stale cheeks but he did not wipe them off.

   He could not remember how long he was sitting there, he lost touch with time and reality. And there was not only silence in the basement but the whole house was dabbled in stillness. He did not speak. Father and son never spoke to each other. The father did not know what to say to what he called 'the creature that was called his son'. The father could not bare the sight of the child with the enormous head on a body with short legs and arms, drooling like a baby and not able to say clear words.
But the father never took the effort to teach his son words, he never had the patience his wife had  but she died of a broken heart when the boy was 3 years old.

   The man could not remember his mother any more. Although, sometimes, listening to the quiet sound of little rat feet rummaging the straw of his mattress in the basement or the moving curtains whispering in the wind blowing through the broken windows in the kitchen upstairs, he thought he heard her sweet voice, calling him by a name he could not repeat.
The basement was so familiar, he spent so many hours here after his father locked him up when there were voices at the door. His father felt ashamed and no one knew about the child who now became a man.
The last visitor was a while ago but he did not know how many days. And ever since there was this complete silence.

   The hunger forced him to leave the basement and not without great fear, he climbed the concrete stairs, pushed the shutter in the floor open and entered the kitchen; the only place he knew. All other doors in the house were locked and knowing this, he did not even think of opening them.
He made a strange noise when he finally realized he was all on his own. He did not see his father or any other person. It confused him but it did not bother him too much. He looked around and found the phone off the hook. He never understood where this black machine was for but he remembered his father occasionally talking to it and than placing the horn back. He also remembered his father turning the disk with all the holes and he wondered why. He climbed the chair in front of the desk and imitated his father by placing the horn back, lifting it again and turning the disk. While he held the horn against his ear, he heard the voice of a woman who said "Hello?". The voice sounded familiar and he wanted to say something but his untrained vocal cords only produced a raw sound. Than the woman hang up.
He was devastated and wanted to hear her again. He dialled and dialled. Sometimes he heard a man's voice which frightened him, sometimes a woman and sometimes a buzzing sound. Every time he heard a gentle voice he tried to say that one and only word from the past that slowly drifted to his conscious: "Mo.... Mo...."

Photo: 'soul_mining'
   Eager to hear that soft voice again, he did not give up and only stopped when he needed something to drink. When there was no water left any more, he managed to open the bottles, again imitating is father. He placed all bottles on the desk and drank when thirsty. After each drink he felt warm inside and it eased the hunger. Than the day came that there were no voices any more. Ad no buzzing sounds; the phone kept quiet which terrified the man tremendously. He tried to repair the wire with pieces of string he found in various drawers but silence remained. He kept on drinking and dialling until he panicked.
The passed sound of all voices he had heard, all buzzing sounds, swirled around in his head like leaves in an Autumn storm. He grabbed his head and ran around in circles, trying to hide for the cacophony of sounds that drove him mad. It was than when he remembered the shutter that lead to the stairs to the basement. The basement where he was put when there were voices in the house. He used all his energy to lift the shutter, the hinges made a squeaking sound. He finally managed to put his foot on the stair and still panicking he tried to move his short legs downstairs. He lost grip and fell; his body spinning round like a doll made of fluffy cloths. It was only seconds before the shutter fell back in place and only seconds before his head touched the ground with a sickening cracking sound that he finally shouted: "Mommy!!!!!"

   "Hello??" He listened to the soft feminine voice. "Hello? Anybody home?". But he could not answer any more. His body long ago mingled with the dust of the basement floor and nobody would ever recognize him. Still he tried to call and call.
The girl who entered the abandoned house could swear that some one answered her hello and when she repeated it, she heard it again at the same time the curtains moved in the wind that blew through the broken windows in the kitchen.

Helen

Word of thanks: the photo of @soul_mining (Instagram) inspired me to write this story and I was given permission to use the photo as an illustration for which I am very grateful. Thank you Dan!

Link: please visit the beautiful Instagram account of @soul_mining

Note: the story is pure fiction!A figment of my imagination!

Writing Contest

Participating in a writing contest is not only exciting but also fun!! Particularly with two stories....
Which one will be on the longlist? Everything beyond the longlist is a bonus!

Some stories evolve during writing, others in my head for days before I get my laptop to put them on 'paper'.
I often know the end and from there the rest of the story develops. And the last part is the titel.
This was the same during the last contest with the subject 'The Sun'. We were all free to write what we wanted as long as we focussed on 'the sun'. One story evolved on 'paper' and the other in my head.

After I e-mailed them to the publisher I tried not to think of the date of the dead line. Instead I concentrated on writing my book and short stories on both my Blog's (Dutch and English).
Because I wasn't successful with a previous contest from a different publisher (which only encouraged me to participate in others) I didn't expect a positive outcome. Who cares, writing is a passion and I have enough imagination to write for the rest of my life!

But this morning I received an e-mail from the Publisher Leessst which said "Congratulations".
It turned out that not only one story will be published but both! And not only both, I am also one of the winners, second to be precise. I have to admit that I read the e-mail a few times before I understood it all; it had to sink in. I was not only over the moon but also very, very thankful!! And of course I want to congratulate my fellow participants who won the first and the third place! I am so much looking forward to read your (and all other) stories!

There are 51 authors in total and all stories will be published in an e-book (from August 1 for sale at Bol.com and Kobo. If you read Dutch it is worth to buy it because from every book sold, one Euro goes to a Dutch Cancer Foundation called 'KWF Kankerbestrijding'.

The paperback will be for sale too for 12,95 Euro excl. P&P but you need to order it before August 1 - 2017. More information in Dutch on Leessst.

Last but not least a big thank you to all members of the jury who did such a great job reading all the stories of all participants. I would love to give you a hug!!

Helen

Monday, July 03, 2017

The Camera (short story)

There is almost complete silence but a good listener hears the sound of the flies who want to escape through the windows. Or the occasional flutter of the wings of a moth or butterfly who also craves for light and fresh air but soon will be caught by the sticky threads of the numerous cob webs that hang strategically in the corners of the filthy windows.
The windowsills and floors are covered in tiny dead bodies of insects that were never meant to live a long life but who died in a desolated decaying black and white world where dust prevents the light to penetrate the rooms.

It is a warm Summer day and the smell is that of dust and old chalk hanging down the wall like grey and forgotten lace. It is only occasionally that the chalk decides to let go because it is tired of holding on to walls that are filled with moist during rainy seasons and crumbling of thirst during days as today.
I do not mind warm days although the times that the wind whistles its way through the cracks in the half rotten roof, are more in line with my usual moods. It is that sound that is my language, the hauling and  the spooky effects are I.
Often visitors don't hear the difference but as soon as they see me, they know the difference. Needless to say I will never see them again. I don't mind, it cheers me up!

The whole house is mine but my bedroom is a place where I do not want to see anyone else and I am often successful in scaring my visitors before they discover my room.
It has always been my room, since I was born. It was a place I loved to be until I reached the age that my father noticed I was not his little girl any more but a beautiful (forgive me for saying such vain things about myself) young woman. At this point his attitude changed and he more or less locked me up in my room. My mother begged him not to do so but the begging stopped. Even worse, I was not allowed to leave my room any more and did not know my mother had died until I died too.
Don't be afraid that I will bore you with this story today.

Photo: Darren Nisbett Fine Art Photography
Since my death my room hasn't changed much; my bed is still there with my favourite pillow where you can see the print of my head. The pillow that contains most of the tears I shed in all those years. If I am tired of dwelling through the house, I rest on this bed but leave no prints any more.
I don't leave prints on the floors either but leave mental prints in the heads of my visitors.
You will ask why I do not lock the front door to keep visitors out, well I did but to no avail, the visitors keep coming, it is the state of the house and the decoration that attracts them. I don't know why, it is old, half rotten and dusty.
But they keep coming and although I scare them off, I am also very jealous of their freedom. They can walk out the broken door where I have to stay inside. My death did not change the situation, I am still a prisoner of this house which I hate so much.

It is that hate that makes me more and more hostile and the longer I stay here, the more I look for ways to escape. And I found one! It took me a long time to understand how and when but it is only today, when the man with the advanced photo camera arrived that I know how.
He does not see or hear me, he looks immune to my power and visibility. And he enters my room which no-one had ever done before since the day I died.
A very strange feeling comes over me, I see no need any more to haunt him. Instead I follow him and look through the lens of his camera which allows me a totally different view on my world. Imagine that I could enter the camera!!

I see what he sees: the diffuse light peeping through the filthy windows, lightening the old curtains, the bed but most of all my nightgown. And it is in this nightgown that I recognize myself. Hanging to be forgotten, to pulverize to dust.
I am impressed by the way he captures my room and realize he sees beyond the dust. It feels he looks into the past, it feels he steps into my world.  With the photo he pays respect to my past, something I  never encountered before. His respect makes me aware that I can finally leave this house. Although I do not know anything about the modern world, I am a ghost and move through doors and walls. So I move inside his camera, nestling myself in the photo of my bedroom, knowing this is going to be my new world.

The house is now allowed to decay further and further, people can now explore my room; I found a new one. I do not know what my new future looks like, I do not even know if I can leave this camera again but I know when I am in the right mood again, I may haunt my new friend. Or even you!!

Helen

 Word of thanks: the photo of @darrennisbett (Instagram) inspired me to write this story and I was given permission to use the photo as an illustration for which I am very grateful. Thank you Darren!

Link: the beautiful website Darren Nisbett Fine Art Photography

Note: the story is (of course) pure fiction!A figment of my imagination!

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

The Reader (short story)

He always loved reading. He read books and newspapers even before his governess was supposed to teach him reading and writing.
His parents were so proud of him and his father loved to tell everyone who showed even a little interest, how intelligent his son was. Yes, 'his' son. It was only 'their' son if the little boy did not live up the expectation of his father who also wanted to teach him horse riding, hunting and mathematics because, one day he was going to be the Monarch of the Glen. The grand estate and Loch Locherty was going to be his, long after everyone else had gone. Therefore the father was hoping for male offspring of his son and decided who the boy was going to marry long before he could read. As said before, this was at a very young age.

The father introduced his son to the visitors, standing near the enormous fireplace in the cold and dark hallway with in the middle a pompous staircase that led to the first floor, surrounded by hunting trophies and portraits of proud and grim looking ancestors.
Waving with one of his costly cigars made of the finest tobacco, his round belly pushed forward like a display for the golden watch chain, he exposed his young child as the 'natural equivalent' of his own bright and well developed brains which of course his whole pedigree was well known for.
The child learned at a young age that he was more a subject of proud presentation than a son of flesh and blood with emotions and feelings.
His books rescued him from the harsh and cruel world within the boundaries of his existence in the Scottish Highlands with no one else than his father, a mother with a long lasting migraine, a governess who was not known for her exceptional beauty and a long row of servants he was not allowed to talk to: "They will not add anything valuable to your intelligence."

Maybe this was one of the reasons he started to read books at such a young age. His governess was more than willing to teach him the alphabet and to help him to decrypt the symbols called letters.
The children books given to him were soon not satisfying enough and he silently slipped into the library to hide a book or two under his silk blouse to read them in the nursery.

It took a few years before the father heavily disappointed, discovered that all his son could do was reading. Of course he blamed his wife - still suffering from headaches - who had little interest in her son. But to no avail.
The governess was blamed but was not fired because she kept his Lordship's bed warm during lonely nights and she was good at it.

The boy grew up without love but with the wonderful stories in all the books of the library of Bramhall Castle. He read and read and read. And after his father passed away and the governess became the nurse of his mother, he openly sat in a chair near the roaring fire in the library. The servants brought him food and drinks and kept the fire burning all year round.

The boy became a man who's mother passed away. The governess stayed but was seldom seen; her old rheumatic feet could not walk the stairs any more. And when she finally died followed by a modest funeral, the Reader did not even notice it.
Surrounded by his books, he never felt lonely. Not even when all the servants left the house and he had to take care of his own. He survived a long time on little food and water. While he sat in his straight chair behind the old folding table covered in books, the castle crumbled down around him. Ceilings gave up and caused an extra layer of dust on top of the books in the library. And on top of the reader with his long white beard and hair, his skin tightly leathered around his bones.

Photo: @forgottenheritage (Instagram)
This is what the brave adventurist saw when he explored the long forgotten castle, embedded in large bramble bushes, ferns, trees and so many varieties of weed he never saw before.
The silence in the library, the old man in the chair who still held a book in his mummified hands, he would never forget this.
The police came and said they were going to investigate the 'suspicious' death of the man everybody had forgotten about.

The adventurist returned to the castle shortly after the body was removed and took a photo. The chair as shiny as 30 years ago; shielded by the body of the Reader against thick layers of dust.

Helen

Word of thanks: the photo of @forgottenheritage (Instagram) inspired me to write this story and I was given permission to use the photo as an illustration for which I am very grateful. "I am a great admirer of the photo's of your Instagram account!"

Link: the beautiful book Forgotten Heritage by Matthew Emmett

Note: the story is pure fiction!A figment of my imagination!

Monday, June 26, 2017

One of those days

It is one of those days today.

A day full of all sorts of emotions and one of them is feeling homesick. Strange though as I am at home! And I do feel at home at home! I blogged about homesickness in my Dutch Blog (translation button available) so are not dwelling on that subject here.

The first emotion is my drive to write. The chapters in my new book are adding up nicely. I love the subject and hopefully find Dutch proofreaders to bring me back down to earth as I might be too lyrical at times. Please contact me if you like to volunteer.
When I am writing and need to stop because it is dinner time for the ZOO and me, it feels like I want to take my book to bed and read more and more before falling asleep. But there isn't 'more and more' yet as I still need to write it. That is how I feel about the book, the characters and the development of the story.
I once read: "Just write what you know and invent the rest" and this is so applicable for this book. One of my own fantasies dating from 2002 is going to be fulfilled in the book. Word count today: 22.000

And all of this I write at home. When I look up from my laptop, I see a green garden, yellow sweet smelling roses, lazy dogs enjoying sunshine (finally after a few dark rainy days), I hear the wind in the trees and adorable baby birds yelling for food.
The table in the kitchen is my writing desk. In the corner of the work surface near the oven, is my beloved Slow Cooker sending lovely smells of Thai Chicken Curry
my way. Next to the laptop my favourite Wiener Melange (my only sin). Parrot Rose is saying funny things sitting comfortably on her perch.

This morning my dear friend Elizabeth was here and we had a lovely time, as always.
I am looking forward to the visit of a second cousin - well, in this case a 12th or so cousin as we share the same great great etc grandfather in 1600 - next Saturday. I promised him (the cousin) a Slow Cooker meal, of course British as we both love the UK and Scotland.

Life is good. I know that and that is how it feels and still there is that indefinable feeling that came over me a few days ago and that refuses to leave me.
Photo: Helen Varras
Maybe it is indeed a little bit homesickness as my thoughts often wander off to Yorkshire.
No, I was not born in Yorkshire but ever since I visit it since 1979, I do feel at home. The Dales, the Moors, the lovely villages, the sound of the Grouse, sheep and their lambs. Even the bad weather - often 4 seasons in 1 day - is appealing. And last but not least, the Yorkshire people with their wonderful sense of humour which you don't find anywhere else (Scotland, yes).
Wonderful and wicked. They play with words in a way that makes me laugh and it challenges me to reply which I do without thinking too much. It comes naturally. And the humour keeps your mind sharp.

Yes, I know, even in Yorkshire you need to work for a living; life in the UK does not come cheap. I understand the people who move to Spain or France.
Still, nothing beats the beautiful scenery and the sense of humour of my most beloved Yorkshire.

Dear readers, I close my eyes and allow myself to cross the North Sea.
Fantasy and imagination; two beautiful gifts.

Helen

Saturday, June 17, 2017

My relationship with James

James is special, very special. I love him to bits.
No, he is not the love of my life but my feelings for James are.... eehhmmm... special to say the least.

He is always there for me, is patient, not afraid of trying new things, warm hearted, easy to handle (although sometimes I need gloves and no, James a not an animal), he is not demanding, he is a money saver and best of all, he cooks me lovely meals.
I can't tell James that his cooking skills are the only reason I love him. It would break his heart so please keep this between us
.
Yes, my cooking skills are at the bottom of my skill list. My mother (an excellent cook) tried hard to teach me cooking but never managed to be successful. It often smells delicious but doesn't taste good.
I love baking cakes and quiches and are very good in that but here it ends. Well, you can't do everything right, can you. My late husband was an excellent cook like a good friend in Spain but both could and can not bake cakes.

The problem with cooking is that you have to know in what order you need to prepare and cook, it feels like juggling with pots and pans. And here it is where it goes wrong for me.
Plus, when I write my book, I tend to forget the time. As soon as the dogs ask for food, I know it is half past 5 and always too late to cook a good meal.

That is how James came into my life. He saved me by taking care of my meals. Healthy meals.
Around 6 (Dutch dinner time) the only thing I have to do is laying the table. Nothing more and nothing less. James has taken care of the rest.

But (I can hear you asking) who is James exactly, how does he look like. Is he handsome, tall?
No, he isn't. He is (depending which James we are talking about) appr. 20 - 25 cm. 'tall'. James comes in Aluminium, Black or Red. James is either hand operated or digital. My James is Red and looks terrific in my kitchen. His favourite place is on the work top, always accessible.

James is his surname, Andrew his first name.
My James is Andrew James. My James is a Slow Cooker!

Bon Apetit.

www.deslowcookery.nl
Andrew James at 'De Slowcookery'
Helen

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Panda or a chimney sweeper's girlfriend?

Tears are rolling down my cheek, my nose is making awkward sniffing noises and my handkerchief is within reach. No doubt I am developing a brand new Panda look at the moment. Or maybe look like someone who made love to a chimney sweeper! My eye make up is not tear resistant, unfortunately.

Give me a moment please....... have to blow my nose.
Thank you.

Inspecting the black spots in my paper handkerchief, I realize I need a few more but feel almost sorry to spoil their virgin like white surface with my mascara.
This morning it is different to other times, I very, very seldom have tears running down my cheeks.
But today they are hard to stop.

I know, it should not have come this far. Yes, yes, I know I should have taken measures to minimize the risk of tears but I did not. And here I am, blowing my nose, hoping that nobody can see the black stripes on my face.
I can hear you asking "what are the measures you should have taken?"
Well, to be honest, for instance I should have been keeping a hot tap running. This is a very effective way to avoid tears. Or the exhaust. No no,  not the exhaust pipe! Just the exhaust....
But I did not so.

While typing this (I can assure you this is proving a improbable task at the moment) it feels like the tear-duct of my left eye is finally short of fluid, at least I can see again what I type. Please don't post comments about my typo's.

Sorry, I realize that you might not have a clue why I cry. Or what I just wrote about minimizing the risk for tears. My fault.
I did not tell you that I prepared my evening meal. All ingredients are in the Slow Cooker that automatically switches on at 12. Today is Buffalo Candied Yams. For sure that is where the word 'Yammie!" comes from.

"Did something go wrong with the ingredients?" you will ask.
No, on the contrary, but poor me, I can't stand cutting unions!!

Bon apetit!

Helen

Friday, June 09, 2017

Hermits and Internet connections

Do you know that feeling that you want to hide on one of the Hebride Isles? No matter what the weather will be? And preferable no neighbours other than the Seagulls (who can be as noisy as a lively family next door).
And of course the wind, the sound of the sea, the smell and taste of salt on a windy day.

Photo: Helen Varras (Isle of Skye)
In your cottage is a roaring fire, with the typical smell of an Autumn day.
A lazy chair and a cup of fresh brewed tea. The AGA is spreading the tantalizing smell of your evening  meal: Herbed Lamb Shanks with red wine. And you feel if you are in another world. 

At the table in the living room is your laptop, apart from electricity, the only link to the modern world.
Why a laptop in a setting of 200 years ago? Well, you have given up writing a book by hand. Too much paperwork, too much rewriting etc. The only good thing is that rejected pages keep the fire burning.
No, your laptop became a part of you and you tow it around where ever you go.
And with the laptop comes an internet connection.

You love to be a Hermit with an Internet connection.
That is what I call myself regularly for already many years. I am not a Social Butterfly, do not like parties and even managed to hide my own birthdays for others. Not many people know which date that is.
I love my house and the surroundings, I have lovely neighbours and nearby friends. I live in a part of the world that I truly love.
My house, the animals, my furniture, slow cooker (important item in my kitchen!), the garden, the view...... it all makes me feel comfortable and at home. I often think I live in someone else's dream and I value it to the most.
But.... there are times that I want to 'hide', being away from it all. And, indeed, just the sound of nature. No cars, no plains (if possible), no people (not realistic, I know), just me, my animals and the elements.
I love the sun in my face but also the wind or a storm. I love a clear view but also a small foggy world and rain. I love the smell of the sea but also of  fresh grass and wild flowers.

I love........... being a Hermit (but with an Internet connection!)

Just a thought and desire of today.

Happy weekend my dear readers, where ever you are.

Helen

Tuesday, June 06, 2017

Blog updates and reviews

Only two weeks to go and Summer begins.
Looking at the weather today, you might think we skipped the Summer and are in the middle of Autumn.
No, it is not cold but the forecast for today is thunderstorms, rain, and wind force 8!
Stormy weather isn't too bad when all the leaves are gone from the trees but right now 'high trees catch a lot of wind'. How true is that today.

I planned to go food shopping but wait until tomorrow. I already have an appointment with a dear friend who is also a hairdresser. She is always very successful in upgrading my market value. Unfortunately the value only lasts for two weeks or so ;-)
Instead I have been busy upgrading my Dutch Blog. I know, I did it a month ago as well but I wasn't satisfied with the look.
www.helenvarras.blogspot.comI plunged into the help section of Blogger to find out how I can add my own Header. It turned out to be very easy (click Lay Out and edit Header, choose if you want to replace it all - like I did - or another option).
Than I made a new Logo (wondefull app called Logopit Plus), went to Picmonkey.com and designed my own header.
It sounds and is as aimple as this but of course before I was happy with the logo's and the background (paper) of the header, it took me a while. It had to match with the colours of the new theme I have chosen on Blogger.
One day, when I have plenty of time on my hands (when ever that will be, I am probably still busy in the home for elderly people in 30 years time...) I am going to design my own theme.

I also added pages to my Dutch Blog.
One with Slow Cooker recipes (currently only one so please feel free to send me your recipes!) and a page with the reviews of my e-book 'Observaties'. The reviews are slowly but surely dropping in. A big thank you to everyone who took the effort to write one!

I also made the Dutch and English Blog easier to navigate; less bulk information, and added a Skype Chat button. Feel free to chat with me on Skype but please stay on topic: books, writing, translations. This will be much appreciated.

Keeping up with Social Media is time consuming and I do not have so much free time but I will do my very best and also added a Pinterest account. The link is in all my blogs next tot the Facebook, Instagram etc. tab under the header.

Off I go, writing on a short story for a writing contest, deadline end of June.

Enjoy your day!

Helen

Saturday, June 03, 2017

Are writers / authors normal people?

Before I will try to answer that question, let me first define the word 'normal'.

Normal:
adjective -    conforming to the standard or the common, usual, not abnormal, regular, natural

psychology - approximately average in any psychological trait, as intelligence, personality, or emotional adjusment.

If I hear some one say "I am just a normal guy" my first thought is "Oh dear, I am so sorry!" because 'normal' sounds sooo boring to me! I do not know about you though. Maybe you love 'normal' because it is predictable, no unexpected surprises or actions. You marry a normal person and know it will be like that for the next 60 odd years or so. You know what time the other person wakes up, goes to bed, the newspaper he or she reads, the things you talk about, the job, the holiday destination, the same camp site where other normal people stay each summer again, the same beach, towel and suntan lotion. Just to name a few but here of course, my assumption of 'normal' might be completely wrong.
Maybe you are brought up 'normal' and find happiness, shelter and comfort in 'normal'. And there is nothing wrong with that if it works for you.

But it does not work for me.
In many ways I am not brought up 'normal' which does not mean I was brought up 'abnormal'.
I come from a family not being afraid to look for and find unexpected things in life. But also things that happened to us without looking for it, were hugged to make the best of it.
No, my life has never been and still is not boring, thank goodness.
I am afraid I haven't inherited normal genes from both sides of the family. Changes of directions in life were often more common than uncommon (here is a contradiction! :-)

So... is a writer / author a normal human being?
To me, everybody who is creative is not (quote)conforming to the standard or the common, usual, not abnormal, regular, natural (unquote). If you have the gift to create something from nothing, whether others like it or not, there is a little door in your brain which opens to show you what you can do, create or achieve.
And if you are not afraid to open that door even wider, you can achieve or create more then you imagined at first. Said that, I understand that not everyone is gifted with doors or the same amount of doors. Who cares, you only need one to do something creative.

I also understand that the fear for failure is lurking around the corner and if you fail, what would others think of it. Can you cope with the feeling of failure, are you afraid that people point at you saying you are a looser. Afraid loosing friends.... Oh yes, I can think of many reasons why you prefer to keep the doors in your brains shut.
But does this not stop you from being creative? Exploring your gifts, even if you think you don't have one, is an adventure for life. And you know what is truly beautiful? Your gifts are not all visible at once. It is not so that at the age of  let's say 20, all your gifts suddenly pop up. No, sometimes and more often than not, they are there when something happens in your life. What ever you think of life, one thing is certain, you can not predict it! Fortunately you can't, it would kill all your skills and gifts.

Writers are 'fairly normal' people like you and me. Most of them live in houses, have family and friends, appreciate good food but they have a skill of making stories from scratch. Short stories, novels, poems. They play with words, sentences, chapters. They create people who don't exist who do things that they have never done before because the are invented by the writer. Maybe that is not normal. But definitely not abnormal!

Writing does not always come natural. Of course you must have the drive to write. Not everyone is a writer (or sculptor, photographer, marathon runner, back packer, bungy jumper etc).
It does not matter what you write and it does not always have to be published! If writing is just a way to express your self without offering it to the world, that is fine too. That is not abnormal.

Have I answered the question if writers are normal people? Is it abnormal when I confess I don't know?

Wishing you a wonderful weekend!

Helen

Friday, May 26, 2017

Fresh free range eggs and trimming hedges

Yesterday at Ascension Day, I gave myself a day off. Such luxury! Doing nothing but reading in the shadow, listening to the birds in the fields. A cup of tea, a sandwich and a meal from the Slow Cooker and home made ice cream  for dessert. I loved it.

It was also a bit charging the battery for today; I promised myself a few hours of gardening.
Due to all sorts of circumstances, the last weed in the front garden was in September last year (can you see me blushing??).
In my part of the world, weed does not grow during Winter and fortunately Spring did not come early this year. But as soon as the temperatures rose and the sun came out in between showers, the weed grew as never before. The front garden looked like a film set for 'The Jungle Book'. It became embarrassing.

Up early, no shower (would not make sense with the high temperatures of today and all the dirty work), a fruity breakfast.
I gathered all the garden equipments and started with the weed. Their never seemed to come an end to it.
After an hour or so, I got out the trimmer for the Box tree hedges. There are quite a few metres.....
I was not even half way and although all my precautions, I cut the wire and there was silence.
Fortunately I have some more but know I need to restore it as soon as possible. Of course it shut off all electricity of that group in the meter box. I went in to switch it on again and managed to trim the rest without any other accidents (I learn fast....)

My neighbour was also working in his garden and together we drank a cup of Wiener Melange, our favourite drink. We talked a while sitting in the shadow of one of my pear trees. Our conversation was about cars.
People who know me, know this is one of my favourite subjects. I dislike talking about shopping! I dislike shopping too. Do you recognize the feeling of entering a shop like Mr. Jekyll and leaving it like Mr. Hyde??

Temperatures rose and rose and at 2 PM I called it a day, the heat was killing me and I have to admit that I am not in the best shape after a Winter Sleep. But today was a true workout. I feel muscles I forgot all about. It feels good, I feel alive!

Around 12 PM the local sheepfarmer, a lovely man in his 70's and the proud owner of a white bushy beard, passed by on his bicycle with a box with 12 fresh eggs in his hand. He stopped for as what I thought one of his enjoyable conversations but this time it was also to give me the eggs. And I did not had to pay for them. I don't have to say that I am very happy with the eggs, they taste delicious and can't be any fresher.
The sheep farmer often stops for a chat and spoiling me with fresh vegetables from his own land. And the taste is so much better than we you buy them.
I am always grateful!
The sheep farmer received a phone call from his wife who needed him at home so off he went half way one of his stories.

There is still a lot to do in the front garden but enough was enough, there is always a tomorrow, even a next week.

The shower took care of all the dust in my hair and anywhere else dust likes to settle.
Yours truly is writing this post nice and clean. Any complains will be deleted ;-)

Enjoy a wonderful weekend!

Helen

Monday, May 22, 2017

Scandinavian thrillers and fresh tasty Ciabatta

The sun is out and the forecast for this week sounds good. I deliberately say 'sounds' and not 'is'.
I don't know about where you live, but here in Holland they can't even properly predict for the next 24 hours....

The sun was out yesterday too but the wind was still too cold and when the wind blows in the direction of my back door, I can not sit in the garden.
Fortunately it turned for the better: two hours of pure joy in the sunshine with the book 'Hofnarren in Murmansk' of the Danish thriller writer Jens Henrik Jenssen 
Somewhere in March I received an invitation on Facebook to like his FB page which I did of course but felt a bit ashamed that I never read one of his books. Although I love Scandinavian thrillers!! As wel on TV as reading.
The first Scandinavian thriller I read (back in the 80's) was of the couple Sjöwall and Wahlöö, known from the Martin Beck adventures, still on TV.
And of course Stieg Larsson (Millennium), Henning Mankell (Kurt Wallander), Emilie Schepp and many others, more or less well known.

But we also have excellent thriller writers in Holland and my most favourite is Isa Maron (Isa Maron's FB page) with 'De Noordzeemoorden': 4 books you need to read (only available in Dutch and German). When I read them I could not put them away.....

Are you a thriller / krimi addict? I am afraid I am!

Not much reading today as I need to write my own book. Usually I start just after lunch, the mornings I use for domestic purposes. I still don't have a Butler and Housekeeper.
But some unexpected administration spoilt most of my afternoon. Well, tomorrow is an other day and I will start writing early; so many ideas in my head!

The smell in my kitchen which is also a living area and my 'office',  is lovely. My Ciabatta bread with black olives and sundried tomatoes is spreading its wonderful scent, it is almost ready and I can not wait to see the light golden colour and to taste a warm slice with olive oil.
I love baking cakes, bread and quiches. I am not an excellent Chef but since I own a Slow Cooker I enjoy tasty meals.
By the way, my slow cooker is some sort of a Butler. I can work all day and the food is ready to eat by the end of the day. And healthy too. Excellent invention.

Mmmmm... please advice.... will I spend the last 90 minutes before dinner in the sun or will I work on my book?

Hugs,

Helen


Friday, May 19, 2017

Not about Skype but about writing

It has been a long time ago since I posted on my Blog Skype Lifestyle.

So much changed since 2009.... only 8 years but it feels like a life time.
First of all I stopped working for Skype. My own free will.
I married the love of my life in 2009, my husband was 15 years older and a pensioner who wanted more in life than offering me cups of tea, lunches and dinners (which was of course ever so sweet of him!) and conversations like "What time do you like lunch, dinner etc?"

I remember one occasion when I was in a webcam meeting when my husband climbed the stairs to my office with a cup of tea. In Tallinn were 8 people gathered around the table, I was on my own, projected more than large on a screen in Tallinn's meeting room. And so was my husband with his cup of tea which caused complete silence at the other end of the Skype connection. Until someone asked: "And who is he?"

We discussed half a sebatical to see if I could live without a Skype life and surprisingly this was the case.
I am not going to say it was an easy decision, my few years at Skype were educative, entertaining, hectic and above all wonderful. I still feel privalidged that I worked for Skype, an experience I will never forget and with colleagues I will never forget. Needless to say I am still in touch with a few.

A new lifestyle with my husband and our motorhome started.
We travelled everywhere in Europe, I took numerous photo's, wrote numerous log books and wrote stories about peole we watched from a distance and who behaved a little different than one would expect. I made up names and back grounds so all fiction but with a little truth in it. The beautiful thing of writing is that you can combine a gentleman in France with a lady from Norway in an odd situation in Germany (believe me, there are far more combinations possible).

I once read the following advices for writeres: "Write what you know and add lots of  fantasy" and "It is not just about writing, it is about making it visuable!".

In 2014 my husband was diagnosed with a heart problem, more specific; two problems and we stayed at home for at least a year. Than we continued our travels. Motorhoming was a wonderful way to travel for him: I did most of the driving, no luguage to carry (no flights, delayes etc.), our own bed (no noisy hotels), his afternoon naps where ever we were at that very moment, staying put on his bad days and driving to the next locations on his good days.

But in November 2016, one week after we arrived home from our last holiday, my husband's heart stopped working, just after lunch. Altough his heart diseases, no one expected the cardiac arrest.
For him it was a wonderful way to go; no pain, no stress, no hospital. Isn't that what we all want?
For me... I don't think I have to explain that it was very difficut to say goodbye. To addopt a diferent way of life without him.

The past six months I discovered that the wordt 'time' is just a word, there are no time frames anymore.
So much happened, the changes were so massive that often it feels like much longer that 6 months since he passed away.
But there are often moments when I sit down and all of a sudden see him in front of me, at the other side of the table, leaning forward. The moment I realized that his heart had stopped ticking. During these moments it only feels like yesterday. Not only the memory but above all the pain.

But life goes on, I do know that and there is no other choice which I am (as in the past 18 years in my life) well aware off.
One of the major concerns is an income. According the Dutch law I don't get a pension of any kind.

The choice wasn't difficult. Of course I still look for a part time job but my main 'job' now is writing, something I have always liked, often did, but never published.
Writing is a huge part of me. I still think it is a miracle to write letters, collumns, short stories, books with only the 26 letters of the alphabet!!

Against all odds I pubished my first little book 'Observaties' in March 2017.
It contains 12 short stories based on unexpected behaviours of people during our travels. But again, they are all fiction!!! And I never write stories about people I talk to! So don't be afraid you will recognize yourself in the book. You will most likely say: "Oh John, this storie reminds me off...."
I think most motorhomers, caranvaners, backpackers etc. will recognize the stories. And I hope that it will encourage others to travel as well.
Unfortunately the book is (still) only available in Dutch and as an e-book. You will find more information of where to buy it (right upper corner) in my Blog www.helenvarras.blogspot.com
Helen Varras is my pseudonym.

But there is not only a Blog, there is also Helen Varras' Facebook and Helen Varras on Twitter.
And Helen offers freelance writing, proof reading and translations. Feel free to e-mail.

I keep my Helen Varras Blog updated and I will try to post on here in English. After all Skype changed my Lifestyle and Skype is still my tool to connect with family and friends!

From now on signed,

Helen