Category Archives: travel

Scarborough, Slugs and Suicide

Scarborough, Fantasycon, writng, speculative writers, seaside resort

The short side of the Grand Hotel. To the right is the front facing the sea and going down several more stories.

I’ve been meaning to post pictures and tales from my trip to the UK last September. I traveled to the midlands, starting in Scarborough, a seaside town on the east coast. English seaside resorts were all the rage in the early 1900s. The Brits tell me that they’re falling into decline because everyone can now catch a cheap flight to a warm Mediterranean coastline. These places are happy to have some cheaper rates and conventions still help fill the towns. So it was that I went to Scarborough for the Fantasycon by the Sea, put on by the British Fantasy Society. I’ve been to the UK a few times but never to the midlands so I combined it with a vacation.

I went a day early with a Brit I met at the last con, Paul Woodward, one of many writers I’ve met on my writer journeys. We went to Whitby Abbey the day before the con, and a beautiful day it was too. I’ll post about that soon but the night before the convention there was a walk through the amusement called the Terror Towers, where supposedly part of Michael Jackson’s Killer was filmed. It’s one of those cheesy scare factories with creepy clowns and vampire girls and spooky animatronics. These things never even get me with a jump-scare and I think I creeped out the creepy clown at one point when I sneaked up behind him.

slugs, Scarborough, creepy things, slimy

Just a small sampling of the slimy congregation.

After we went through the amusement (these seaside towns are famous for arcades, candy cane, tacky souvenirs and other amusements, we wandered back to the Not So Grand Hotel. It’s a behemoth that was once a a grand dam in its heyday, stories tall and overlooks the ocean. Now it’s a bit shabby, with plastic plants, weird baby blue and pink painted walls and some weird rooms like jail cells (not all though). The side facing the water is about eight stories tall with probably 100 stairs up one side. We chose to take the ramp up around the other side to the top. There, we came across a very strange site, something like 50 slugs congregating on the sidewalk like the best lettuce was to be found. It was dark and we couldn’t see any reason for the massive oozerama, almost like a visitation from the dark side.

overpass, suicide, jumping, Scarborough

To the very left of the picture is where the girl was first standing. To the right, you can see the road far below.

Then, as we moved up toward the hotel there is a pedestrian walkway that goes about a hundred feet over the road by the sea. We passed a teenage girl on the other side of the mint colored, cast-iron railing. It was waist-high and I said, wow she’s going to have trouble getting over to the other side. I thought she was trying to climb over and that she’d come up from the incline below. But something just didn’t feel right. I looked back, then stopped and looked back again. I realized this girl was not trying to get over to the right side, but was gradually working her way out over the bridge. I walked over to her and asked what she was doing, not quite believing what I suspected.

She pulled up her hood kept working her way out over the bridge. At this point I started to realize she was serious and tried grabbing her hand. She kept pushing me off and I turned to Paul and said call the police. Things like this tend to slow down time. It felt like long minutes, a half hour but it may have been no more than ten. Two older men walked over the ramp and I called out, asking can you help or call the police. She’s trying to jump. They pretty much said, let her jump and kept walking. I was so stunned at this and told them that I hoped nobody stops for them some day when they need help.

writing convention, British Fantasycon, teenage suicide

Yes, the drop off of this picturesque bridge would have killed the girl. Taken from the ramp, where the slugs were.

I finally clamped my hands around the girl’s wrist and put my back to the railing trying to hold her on. A young guy and his littledaughter came by and I got him to call the police and then another guy who had just finished working also came by and he came over to help me hold her on. Eventually a couple came by and they helped, with the woman spelling me off. The whole time this girl never said a word.

Scarborough, bridge, overpass, design

The ornate bridge from below.

Four police officers arrived and handcuffed her to the railing. Since several were women, none had the height to lift her over the railing. Four more arrived right away and they pulled her over. At that point, our job was done. We saw a couple of women walk over and I presume they were social workers. I hope that girl got the help she needed and that her life will get better.

grand-hotel

Inside the Grand Hotel, not looking as shabby as it does in real life.

All I can say is that I’ve never stood by when I saw something bad going down. I would not have been able to live with myself had I walked away and then heard the girl had killed herself. As the saying goes, the only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing, or in this case, for bad to happen is to stand by and not be involved. I got involved and at least saved someone’s life.

2 Comments

Filed under life, people, travel, Writing

Playground of Lost Toys Interviews: Abrahamson & Renwick

toys, childhood, nostalgia, fantasy, SF, fiction, short stories

Playground of Lost Toys is available through Amazon published by Exile Writers

Karen Abrahamson’s “With One Shoe,” and Alex C. Renwick’s story “Between the Branches of the Nine” are two of the last three stories in the Playground of Lost Toys, with Geoffery Cole’s “Wheatiesfields in Fall” in between. When editing a themed anthology, the editors always look at balance. Are there too many SF stories and not enough fantasy; are there authors of various genders; are there too many doll stories, etc.

As well as that balance, after we’ve selected the final stories, we need to decide on what order they should appear. Do you put all the SF together, do you put the train stories or the chess stories together? There were many ways to arrange everything. Because several of the stories are very dark and horrific and some are lighter and uplifting, would it make sense to put the darkest next to the lightest?

In some cases we eased readers toward the dark and then eased them back away. Cole’s story is humorous and SF. Abrahamson’s is a tale of hope and a mystery. Last was Renwick’s, which deals with games of the gods and it seemed a great way to end the anthology with the cyclical and immortal aspect of time. Karen comments first on her tale.

  1. What was your main reason for submitting a story to Playground of Lost Toys?

 When I heard about the anthology theme it gave me a little shiver down my spine. I immediately had the idea for the story and so I just had to write it. I haven’t written a lot of short fiction over the years as I seem to prefer novel length. This was a chance to practice the short form.

  1. Does your story relate at all to anything from your own childhood?

    fantasy, magic, mystery, swings, toys, hope, speculative fiction, Karen Abrahamson

    Karen Abrahamson is the author of several serial novels. She also writes as Karen L McKee.

Funnily enough, yes it does. I had very vivid dreams as a child and one of them was of a magical swing. In my dreams I could swoop down and rescue my family and friends from evil giants and escape afterward. Writing the story was just a natural extension of the scenario of what would happen if a child really did leave on such a swing.

  1. What theme or idea were you exploring in your story?

Hope and how society kills hope through our expectations and institutions. I’ve been doing some work with youth in my day job and I hear so much about the importance of youth finding their passion in order to successfully transition to adulthood. The trouble is, too often we tell young people that their passion is impossible, like you can’t make a living as an artist so you’re better off becoming a lawyer. This story is about the desperate need to be what you are.

  1. Is there anything else you wish to mention about your story or the theme of the anthology?

I was surprised and a lot pleased that “With One Shoe” turned into a detective story. I’ve written a lot of fantasy and romance, but these days mystery really has me by the throat. I had fun with experimenting with that jaded Harry Bosch-type voice. I can see myself writing more like that.

  1. What other projects do you have in the works, pieces people can buy, or places to find you in the coming year?

Hmm. Lots to tell. My first mystery novel, Through Dark Water just came out this fall under the name K.L. Abrahamson. I also have an urban fantasy series, The American Geological Series that involves map magic, with the first book, Afterburn, currently available for free. Finally, along with a number of romantic suspense novels set internationally, I have a paranormal series, The Unlocking Series set in the sunny Okanagan. Book 4 was out over Christmas, Book 5 in January and Book 6 in February. More mystery and fantasy will be coming out next year. You can check out my novels at www.karenlabrahamson.com

Alex C. Renwick’s “Between the Branches of the Nine” is a great adventurous romp with two warriors bent on besting the other.

  1. What was your main reason for submitting a story to Playground of Lost Toys?

I’m a huge fan of the short story form, and always excited to be invited to participate in any worthy anthology endeavor. Shortfic FTW!

  1. Does your story relate at all to anything from your own childhood?
gods, Norse, fantasy, games, speculative fiction, Alex C Renwick

Alex C. Renwick’s tale deals with Norse gods and the game pieces they move through Midgaard.

My Norwegian grandmother had one of the most amazing private SF paperback collections I’d ever seen, all stirred together with her illustrated Scandinavian mythology books and cheesy 1970s Harlequin romances. She came to live with us when I was about ten years old, and nothing in her library was off limits. The character Sigunna’s name is a nod to my gran’ma Sigrid.

  1. What theme or idea were you exploring in your story?

I’m fascinated by the uncaring nature of the universe. We’re conditioned (by dint of being human) to try to attribute reasonableness and pattern to the courses of our individual existences…but the universe doesn’t care, no matter who or what is—or isn’t—running the show. Fate, Cosmic Intelligence, Ancient Norse Gods, Random Molecular Trajectory: we’re just ephemeral playing pieces on a vast and unfathomable board.

  1. Is there anything else you wish to mention about your story or the theme of the anthology?

I so rarely write full-tilt fantasy! Fun stuff. Had a blast.

  1. What other projects do you have in the works, pieces people can buy, or places to find you in the coming year?

I’d urge everyone to read another fantastic Canadian anthology from Exile Editions, cover to cover; (it) was one of the best contributor’s copies I’ve received in ages: The Exile Book of New Canadian Noir. Other current short stories of mine are just out or out soon in Tesseracts 19: Superhero Universe, Blurring the Line, Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, and PS Publishing’s Postscripts anthology, Breakout. If you’re up for more sword & sorcery mayhem check out my “Ravenblack” in Women in Practical Armor from Pacific Northwest micropress Evil Girlfriend. Anyone in this neck of the woods in 2016 can come find me at Seattle’s Norwescon, or around the known universe at alexcrenwick.com.

Leave a comment

Filed under crime, Culture, fantasy, myth, Publishing, travel, Writing

The TransLink Plebiscite for Vancouver

Greater Vancouver, transit plebiscite, rapid transit

We all want better SkyTrain service where it doesn’t break down, people aren’t mugged and it runs as late as the clubs, but at what price. From the http://mayorscouncil.ca/vancouver/ site.

Greater Vancouver is undergoing a plebiscite or referendum (it’s being called both) about whether to increase our provincial sales tax by .5% to cover upgrades to transit infrastructure. It’s becoming quite a fight because TransLink, the arms length governing body (so you can point fingers directly at the provincial government), has had an extremely bad history of providing good and competent governance and spending.

TransLink talked about the Evergreen line (rapid transit trains), scheduled to go east toCoquitlam and environs for twenty-some years. It’s been nicknamed the Nevergreen line. There were plans and then there weren’t plans. They had no money, they did have money. The reasoning changed back and forth. There have been other indications of incompetence which arrived with the firing of the CEO this year and appointing a new one. But now instead of paying for one, they’re keeping the old one on shuffling papers because I’m sure he received an overpriced severance package. How much is the new one working for: $35,000 per month.

The fight for the increase has the “yes” side saying it’s not about TransLink, it’s about making our tansportation better. And while this is correct, TransLInk is still at the help. Let me put it to you like this: If you gave me $100,000 to build you a house and I did but it was a year late, had shoddy workmanship, the windows kept falling out and the sidewalk I promised was still in the works, would you agree to increase the money to me because I promised that the next house would be better?

traffic, transit, TransLink, tansportation

Yes or no for the increases provincial sales tax. From @Doug88888 flickr

You can guess by this that I’m voting an adamant no for the referendum. Here are just some of the points to consider:

  • What does Prince George, or Penticton or Victoria get for an increased tax besides paying more for Greater Vancouver? Do they even get to vote? I doubt it. Or are we talking about a higher provincial sales tax for only some of the people? That sets a precedent for all sorts of regional taxes.
  • Once a tax, always a tax. No indication of how long this would last. We already have a 7% tax.
  • The Compass debacle-a year past the implementation date and the system is still not functional. There seems to be no end date in sight for it coming online.
  • Everyone who parks in a parkade or at a parking meter in BC pays a nearly 22% tax on parking. They call it the PST but it doesn’t stand for provincial sales tax. They sneaked in the change as parking sales tax without announcing it–where is this money going?
  • “Better roads, more buses, and more transit options will reduce commute times, lower pollution, and boost our economy – all for less than 35 cents a day.” Since it’s going on a sales tax, how is this figure even derived?
  • Past history shows that TransLink promised merchants on the Cambie corridor that they wouldn’t be inconvenienced
    TransLink, transit referendum, sales tax, increased PST, skytrain

    This fat cat makes more than the prime minister of Canada. From the notranslinktax.ca site.

    for long, definitely not more than a year. Merchants lost business over three years and some ceased to exist or moved.

  • Overpriced CEOs. New one gets $420K a year. (More than our prime minister)
  • Vancouver pays the highest prices for gasoline in the country with 48% tax. Where is this money going?

Here is a short history of BC provincial tax rates (from http://www.daveobee.com/victoria/20080224.htm)

July 1 1948 — 3%
April 1 1954 — 5%
March 27 1976 — 7%
April 11 1978 — 5%
April 3 1979 — 4%
March 10 1981 — 6%
July 8 1983 — 7%
March 20 1987 — 6%
March 31 1993 — 7%
February 20 2002 — 7.5%
October 21 2004 — 7%

I’m finding it hard to agree to a tax increase when TransLink is already reaping certain benefits. Another clincher for me is that I looked up fare rates for other large cities and compared them to Vancouver’s. In fact, I believe, geographically Calgary and Toronto are bigger. So if TransLink charges more for transit fares, and we have the highest gas tax, and there’s an exorbitant parking tax, where is all this money going? Click on fares to seem my comparison chart.

And for you to make your own informed decision you can check out the NO side and the YES side. I’m not against improved transit: I am against wasting my money and asking me for more.

1 Comment

Filed under cars, driving, transit, travel

Sailing a Viking Longship

longship, Vikings, Scandinavian, Norse

The Munin is a half-size replica of the boat Leif Erickson sailed to North America. copyright 2015

Last summer a friend and I were walking along the beach, off to see an art barge behind the Vancouver Maritime Museum. The barge had wooden staircases and rooms built on it and a little shuttle ferry took you out to it. It was interesting if not fascinating and we noticed that the dock we left from was called the Heritage Harbour. There were about a dozen wooden boats, all with signs indicating their history and construction. Some were sailboats, some fishing trawlers, all relatively small (but what do I know about boats).

It was a beautiful summer day so we read the information on each boat, figuring this was where owners of vintage boats could show off and attract additional attention for the Maritime Museum,which houses the Saint Roch, the first boat to sail the NW Passage, complete the sailing in one season and circumnavigate North America. We noticed two women stowing gear for a dark brown Viking longboat. The sails were down but it’s distinctive carved animal heads gave it away. I mentioned that I’d seen it out in the bay a few times.

Scandinavian Center, sailing, Viking longboat

The boat is out for repairs, and the heads are stowed for now but you can see some of the details.

It turns out that the ship is named the Munin (after one of Odin’s ravens) and for a donation you can reserve space on the boat for an approximate two-hour sail. That sounded fun, so we signed up. There is an upper and lower limit for sailing the boat as you need enough people to row the boat out of the harbor and not to many that there are no seats. Imagine a giant wooden rowboat and then imagine Leif Erickson sailing one to North America. The Gokstadt was the name of that historical boat and the Munin is a half-size replica at 40 feet long and 20 feet wide.

After I went out the first time, I had another group of friends who wanted to go so we went a second time. By the end of that trip, I was hooked and signed up to volunteer. I know nothing about sailing, or rowing for that matter, but I liked that sailing is outdoors, social and true exercise. Munin will sail in winter if weather permits and except for the bilge pump it’s all the way it was centuries ago. There are 10-foot wooden oars (approximately) and you must row in and out of harbor, then you can put up the sail.

hull, keel, longship, longboat

Some of the maintenance is check the boards for cracks and scraping the hull.

I’m learning the ropes, literally, and very green. I managed to go sailing twice more in the fall, with the last day being quite a challenge. The winds picked up and where the Munin usually goes no faster than 20 knots, I was told we hit 35. We had to row with the sail up just to try to get back to the harbor. As many hands as possible had to row that day. I’m still very new to rowing so my grasp of the oar isn’t very strong. Even my pinkies hurt the next day. The current and wind can grab the oar and slam you out of your seat. I wasn’t the only that got knocked over and we almost lost an oar once or twice. But it was exhilarating.

Now, we’ve had to pull the boat for the winter because the moorage is changing but more importantly the boat needs some repairs as it was taking on water. Part of volunteering is committing to the nitty gritty of boat maintenance. We are housing the longship at the Scandinavian Centre, (in Burnaby) where Norway House (one of the five Scandinavian houses) was the original sponsor for the construction of Munin 14 years ago.

Munin, Leif Erickson, Scandinavian, Norway

Even the captains scrape and clean.

Everyone who works on the boat or who is crew is a volunteer, giving time for free. Moorage is covered somewhat by people reserving for a ride and donations. But there are many costs. I worked at scraping the old paint off of the boat. The next stage is replacing the cracked or damaged boards, repairing other pieces, making sure the bilge pump is working, repainting the hull and then re-launching the ship. I learned a valuable lesson; when you’re scraping the hull of a boat, even if it’s been out of water for two months, the wood is still wet and there is wood, paint, dirt and who knows what else flying off. I didn’t have goggles (didn’t even know I should use them) and got debris in my eye. Now I’m dealing with a blocked duct.

I’ll be having more adventures once the boat is back in the water. I never knew that I would connect with my Danish & Norwegian heritage this way. In fact, I only knew the family name and the area in Norway where my ancestors came from.

Scandinavian Centre dinner, Munin ship. Viking longboat

Come out and support the Munin and meet the community on March 20.

To help support the continuance of this bit of history, the Scandinavian Centre will be hosting the Munin Ship Annual Pork Dinner. It takes place on March 20 and cost $30 for adults (cheaper for kids–clinic on the line above). You can support the Viking Longship, take a look at it, view the center, have a nice meal, and hear some seagoing songs by the band Corryvreken. I’ll be the MC and in traditional Norse dress to boot. Tickets should be bought by March 13, and it always sells out, so book early. Details:

Cash Bar 6 pm       Dinner 7 pm
Traditional Pork dinner with all the trimmings  
(gluten-free; dairy free choices)
Tickets from: Anne Haug     annehaug@eastlink.ca     604 943 0340

On another note, I saw this ad. You could go to Norway and get a summer job as captain of a Viking sailing ship. Too bad none of our crew is able. Imagine sailing the fjords as the Vikings once did. Here’s to more sailing and who knows what might be next, raiding and pillaging? Fair winds!

1 Comment

Filed under Culture, history, life, nature, travel

Writing: The Storm of 2013

writing, writing contests, short fiction, stories, competitions, horror, SF

To write or not to write; there is no question. Creative Commons: http://freshink.blogspot.com/2010_11_01_archive.html

I’m rather late to a sum up of 2014 (hahaha, I’m an idiot. This is why everyone needs an editor. I meant uh, 2013, because it really was that busy.) and it’s because it was one of the busiest years I’ve ever had. I barely had time to think or write on this blog. Hence, while I hoped to get out all of the Tesseracts 17 interviews within two months of its October release, it took me till January. And that’s how last year started; editing the 450 submissions for the anthology. I also participated in Women in Horror month in February, by posting interviews with Canadian writers or horror.

I had made a vow to have a rough draft of my ever languishing novel done by April but that was thrown to the wind. Along with the editing I also did a bit of other freelance editing around a full time job that went to double full time in April. That meant I was pretty worn out when I came home. I’d also injured my shoulder and was in unendurable pain that hit high levels in August. Using a mouse and typing aggravated it as well. So I had to add in physio on top of all that.

demons, anthologies, horror, fantasy, Demonologia Biblica

Available through Amazon. This is my favorite cover.

I then threw in a trip to Europe (Germany, France and England) where I also attended the World Fantasy Convention at the end of my three weeks. Luckily my shoulder was better enough to survive the trip. But guess what, I volunteered to be on the preliminary jury for the Bram Stoker awards (the major horror award in speculative fiction) and I was suddenly reading in every spare minute I had. It was probably around 50 entries in all . I hope to do some book reviews here at some point of the books I read.

So let’s see, there was editing, and copy editing, and reading, but was there writing? Why yes, there was writing and works being published. In fact, I had a pretty good year in published pieces, though a couple of publishers are in bad graces at the moment for not paying on time nor sending me my copy of the book. (More on that soon if I don’t hear from them.) Here is a list of works that came out last year:

  • “P is for Phartouche: The Blade” in Demonologia Biblica by Western Legends Publishing
  • “Red is the Color of My True Love’s Blood” in Deep Cuts by Evil Jester Press
  • “The Book With No End” in Bibliotheca Fantastica by Dagan Books
  • “The Highest Price” in Artifacts and Relics by Heathen Oracle
  • “Gingerbread People” in Chilling Tales 2 by EDGE SF & Fantasy
  • “Tower of Strength” in Irony of Survival by Zharmae Publishing
  • “The Diver” in Readshortfiction.com (free under literary)
  • Tesseracts 17: Speculating Canada from Coast to Coast to Coast by EDGE SF & Fantasy, co-editor with Steve Vernon
  • “Heart of Glass” in Polu Texni  (includes an interview and is free to view)
  • “Illuminating Thoughts” in Polu Texni
  • “Father’s Child” in Polu Texni
  • “Don Quixote’s Quandary” free in Heroic Fantasy Quarterly
writing, fantasy, horror, speculative fiction, anthologies

The Book With No End, is in this anthology out from Dagan Books.

I should also mention that I launched for Chizine Publications and Sandra Kasturi the Vancouver branch of the Chiaroscuro Reading Series. We began quarterly with three readers in April and then again in July and October. The new one is coming up on Feb. 12th, at Tangent Cafe in Vancouver, with speculative authors Ray Hsu, Geoff Cole and Noah Chinn. It’s free, so if you’re in town come out and enjoy some tales.

Somewhere in all this I did have a social life and I did sleep… I think. I also completed, by the very last day of the year, the rough draft of my novel. After so many stops and starts, it was done. Of course I have a massive rewrite to do but at least the plot and character arcs are down. So, yes, it was a very busy year and very productive.

CZP, Chizine, dark fiction, women in horror, Canadian writer, female authors

Colleen hosts the Vancouver ChiSeries, funded in part by CZP.

I’ve also found out that I made it onto the Bram Stoker Awards preliminary ballot for my short story “The Book With No End.” The Stokers are the top dark fiction awards for the genre and rank with the World Fantasy Awards, the Hugos and the Nebula. I will eventually write about the process for getting on the ballot because it’s a bit confusing. The Stoker prelininary ballots are a mix of recommendations from the membership and the jury. Once the membership votes, there will be a short form final ballot and then I believe another vote. I’ll find out if I make it that far.

Works to come out at some point soon in this year are “The Collector” in Cemetery Dance. I’m promised it will be very soon and I’ve been waiting over five years so it will be nice to see that one show up. Bull Spec also promises to publish my poem “Visitation” soon. I’ve also just learned that I’ve sold three poems to Burning Maiden and I’ll be featured in the next edition. Those poems are “Tea Party,” “Medusa” and “As I Sleep.”

So what’s in store this year. Obviously more writing and rewriting, and we’ll see. Some irons are in the fire but until I have an answer everything is just a dream. 😉 But we all should dream, shouldn’t we? May you all have a productive year.

1 Comment

Filed under Culture, entertainment, fantasy, health, horror, poetry, Publishing, science fiction, travel, Writing

Traveling in Europe: Calais

Europe 2011: Calais

Click on the above picture to go to the album.

Well, it seems a year after my travels I’m still going through photos. Life just got busy and I got distracted. So, tracking back in time, I needed to get to Calais from Belgium because I had to catch the Dover ferry to England and then get to Brighton for the British Fantasy Convention, held at the beginning of October.

Calais, travel, war, photos, Europe, France, French coast

The bunker in Calais. I’m not sure if it’s from the first or second World Wars.

There were ferries closer to where I was in Belgium but it turned out none took foot passengers except for the Dover ferry. By this time, I was getting a cold and my feet were actually blistered from walking so much. I was a bit tired. The train to Dover from Ghent took 2-3 hours with a stop in Lille. It was a beautiful clear day in Calais, a fairly modern looking city but then it was probably bombed a fair amount during WWII. I stayed in the Hotel Richelieu, a very short walk from the station and run by a man who was slowly renovating each suite. Breakfast was included but  declined as I needed to get up early the next morning to catch the ferry.

Calais, France, travel, Europe, Dover ferry

Calais’ warm, brown sand beach.

I wandered down to the beach, passing a bunker that I explored. It was sealed but obviously left over from the war. The beach itself was this amazing very fine-grain beige sand. I took my shoes off and walked into the water to soothe my feet. I wandered after that, taking a few pictures, then stopped in a cafe. I thought, because I was in France I would find cider, and using my very sad French, prefacing it first with “My French is not very good” (in French) I asked, “Vous avez cidre de pomme?” My answer was “quoi?” by a rather rude waiter (who tried his best to ignore me). I repeated and he said non so I ordered a glass of red wine. When it came time to pay the bill,  and I didn’t understand what he said, he reverted to English.

Later, when I wandered into a chocolate shop and repeated the experience I began to suspect that the people of Calais won’t speak English if they can get away with it. With ferries from England you can expect that they deal with English daily and maybe it’s a resistance to assimilation or the belief, when in France do as the French. I at least tried but they certainly didn’t give much for trying.

Calais, gardens, travel, peacock, France, Europe

The very large floral peacock on the main street in Calais.

I didn’t have time or energy to explore farther afield but Calais seems a small resort town. I found what I thought was city hall, with a lovely floral garden and a foliate peacock across the way. That evening I went to Le Restaurant Ancienne and had sea bream with balsamic rucola (arugula), tomatoes, bell peppers and mashed potatoes. Dessert was creme brulee with caramelized strawberries and lemon. It was creamy and all very good but too much for me to finish. In Europe so far, I found that unless you were ordering a bottle of wine, restaurants only have one choice by the glass.

The next morning I took a taxi to the ferry dock. I’m very glad I did as it turned out to be a very long and winding way. I would probably have missed the ferry and been exhausted. It didn’t cost that much for a taxi and I had a pleasant enough journey chatting with a man and his sons. The ferry ride was about three hours and for some reason, none of the sites seemed to have given an accurate time for the crossing.  I got to see the white cliffs of Dover but had no time to dally on the other side and made my way to Brighton.

Dover ferry, travel, France, Calais

The only ferry that takes foot passengers is in Calais. The Belgian ferries are only for cars.

Leave a comment

Filed under Culture, history, travel

News in the Summer

collection, speculative fiction, Colleen Anderson, dark fiction, horror, fantasy, science fiction, SF

A collection of previously published speculative fiction, available through Smashwords and soon through Amazon.

Okay, it’s been a very busy couple of weeks. I was working hard to get my book up on Smashwords, and Embers Amongst the Fallen is available now there. It turns out that Smashwords, while they say they put it up on Amazon, doesn’t really because Amazon won’t accept from Smashwords. So I next have that to do.

I also put up two previously published erotic stories, under my pen name, T.C. Calligari. Those are all available now but will soon be up on Amazon. I’m still hoping to have my end of the month goal of the print edition of Embers.  I have other writing news, some that I can reveal and some that is in the works.

erotic, spanking, fetish, erotic fiction, T.C. Calligari, writing, short stories

Obvious what this one is about.

Imaginarium: the best Canadian speculative writing has come out through ChiZine Publications and is edited by Sandra Kasturi and Halli Vallegas. Any one who has had published speculative pieces for 2012 can submit to the next one, as long as you’re Canadian, living in Canada or expat Canadian. None of my pieces placed in it but I did received two honorable mentions fro poems:

  • Anderson, Colleen. “Darkside,” ChiZine.com, April 2011
  • Anderson, Colleen. “Shadow Realms,” Witches & Pagans #23

I did sell another poem to Polu Texni.It’s a villanelle titled “Mermaid” and I don’t know yet when it will be up on the site. As well, just before I left for holidays (hence the big lag in posts) I found out I had sold my flash fiction piece “Lady of the Bleeding Heart” to Fantastic Frontiers for their second issue. Their first issue will be coming soon.

anthology, speculative fiction, Bibliotheca Fantastica, Dagan Books, writing, dark fiction

Through Dagan Books, available soon.

I’m still waiting for another poem to go up at Bull Spec. Better ask them again as it’s been a year. And I think Bibliotheca Fantastica is coming out soon with my story “The Book with No End.” I’m negotiating a contract for a story right now and if we can agree on that contract I will be able to announce that information soon. As well, I will be editing an anthology and I’m just waiting for the moment to announce that, when the publisher gives the go. More details by September. So, yes, it’s been very busy in the writing front, and I’m certainly not done. Rewriting a story, working on several others and of course trying to get more works up on Smashwords in the near future.

The posts were on hold for the last two weeks because I drove from Vancouver to Calgary to visit family, friends and to go to the When Words Collide writing convention. The Aurora Awards were also being presented and I was a nominee in the poetry category. I did not win but Helen Marshall did for Skeleton Leaves and it was well deserved. If you can, go get a copy of this lovely book that is a poem that is a story.

When Words Collide was great fun. Held at the Best Western in NW Calgary, it wasn’t all about speculative literature but there was definitely a large portion that favored this area. The Romance Writers were also present. Panels abounded and numerous authors from across Canada were there to read, be on panels and hobnob. Jack Whyte was guest of honor but had to leave early due to a family emergency. But not before he showed up at a room party wearing a dapper shirt, singing in his deep voice, chatting amiably with his lovely thick accent and flirting with the crowd. I’m not sure he was responsible for all the scotch but he was definitely a major contributor. Perhaps it was the power of his dark sorcery that left a few people looking a little green in the morning.

There were book launches and parties by ChiZine Publications, Bundoran Press, the Steampunk group, Edge Publications and others. I got to meet many new people and put faces to some names. I bought a few books and am currently reading Nancy Kilpatrick’s collection Vampyric Variations.

The weather was hot, the hailstones, when they fell, the size of golfballs & then peas, and the company great. In between all that I made a trip to Edmonton to visit more family. It’s been a long time since I did the long drive out to Alberta. I broke it up by staying with friends in Penticton. Overall the trip was really good and that’s because I saw lots of people and visited with some great friends including Andy Tarrant, the talented artist of Trespasser Ceramics. If you’re looking for a gift, check out his site.

One thing I forgot on my drive, was how beautiful the mountains really are. Rogers pass was filled with blues; azure, indigo, phthalo, navy, and greens: emerald, kelly, peridot, lime, forest and more. The scenery is truly amazing and the weather was perfect. Of course I didn’t stop, thinking I would do this on the way back and then I couldn’t find my camera. I thought I had left it in Calgary until I got to Revelstoke and realized it was in a bag with books. Of course it was too late then. I love the scenery around Merritt as well where it turns into rolling hills spilling out of the Coquihalla, with ponds tucked in between. So lovely. Too bad the drive is so long and a bit hard for me. Next time I might see if I can snag someone to share.

I had limited internet and decided to just enjoy the break. I’m right back in the swing of things now, and on to the new writing projects. I expect to be quite busy this fall, and hope to even get a few readings going where my book will be available for sale. More on the writing front as it happens.

Leave a comment

Filed under art, Culture, driving, entertainment, erotica, fantasy, horror, people, poetry, Publishing, science fiction, travel, Writing

The Luxury of Recycling

recyle, reuse, recycling, garbage, littering, environment, environmental disasters, slums

Find your own way to Reduce, Reuse and Recycle but don’t use laziness as an excuse not to. Creative Commons: timtak flickr

Long ago I took on the recycling mindset. I didn’t want to litter, and if I’m getting rid of something that’s still usable I can’t just throw it out; I have to find a place or person where it can have more purpose. Vancouver has now had curbside recycling for a number of years. Even before that I would save up items (mostly paper) and take them to the recycling depot. But then I was a book rep and would have boxes of catalogues and order forms that would get outdated.

But when I finally came to realized how much garbarge we produced, I wanted to cut down even more on what goes into the landfill so we’re not living on a giant garbage heap. In amongst all these thoughts and growing awareness, I traveled to India. India’s population wasn’t yet a billion people but it was overcrowded and impoverished. I remember coming into Calcutta and passing fields where garbage speckled the fields. The streets of Calcutta were not just filthy. They included a dead cat, feces and other items not wanted. But much was recycled. People tore up any piece of tin or cardboard or concrete sidewalk to create shanty shacks in the mediums between the roads. It was sad and startling.

The air was so thick with diesel and pollution that a handkerchief held over my nose and mouth was black in two hours. The air garbage, recycling, pollution, Asia, culture, trash, landfillremained hazy and thick. When I walked to see the Taj Mahal at dawn the sky displayed an orangey rosey glow that was mostly pollution. Not only did the Ganges have a dead cow floating along, people doing laundry, ablutions and religious observances, it also had the ashes sifting down from the burning ghats where they cremated bodies. I made sure not to touch one drop of that river water and I already had dysentery.

When I arrived in Meghalaya, one of India’s seven tribal states, and more affluent than the general Hindu culture, I found pollution that was heartbreaking. The Khasis had a sacred grove of trees outside of Shillong. One day we drove up there, and it gave a great view of the city. But everywhere I looked there were plastic bags, bottles, straws and tetra packs. Another day we went to see some sites and then sat on a hillside by a waterfall.  We ate our lunch, which was wrapped in banana leaves and then in plastic bags (there were no neat takeout containers). After we finished the other people tossed the banana leaves and then the plastic bags. I ran around gathering up the plastic and exclaiming, You can’t do that. It’s bad.

These people are educated. They go to school and university and drive jeeps but they had no idea about environmentalism. I triedto explain that not only is it visually unappealing but unlike the banana leaf, the bag will go into the ground, poison the earth, or a cow will eat it and then when you eat part of that cow (the Khasis are not Hindus, who don’t eat cows) you could get sick from the plastic. I simplified it but I tried to impress that they shouldn’t leave garbage in the natural environment. But they also had no form of recycling.

trash, garbage, pollution, India, slums, recycling, recyle, reuse, reduce, environment

In many ways India does more of the Reuse part of the three Rs than we do. But Reduce is something that all countries need to do so that there isn’t so much garbage in the beginning. From: Indianimages.com

For much of India, it would have been fairly difficult to go up to someone and say, Don’t cut down that tree or you will have no trees at all, when that tree might be the only means for them to cook food. Seeing such destitution, filth and pollution in areas made me realize that we in North America have the luxury to recycle. It’s not that easy in a third world country where survival is your first most thought. You want shelter, security and food, and little else matters after that. In fact your full day might be taken up with finding enough food for your family. Such images fill me with despair but I try to hold out hope, from my teenage years example, that things will change for the better.

This doesn’t mean it can’t be done. It can, and when the teenage Khasis boys looked at North America and coveted the standard of living and all the trappings of popular culture that we have, then it became even more of our onus to make sure people don’t repeat the mistakes. India has rampant pollution but then Canada and the US’s shores and land are not pristine. We work at it but there is always room for improvement. You cannot deprive another society or deny them to have what you have, but you can try to show them it can be done better.  Pollution and recycling isn’t just something for some people. Every person and ever nation has to do it and India’s government could at least start the ball rolling, and maybe they have. I haven’t been there in years. One thing I know is I’ll continue to try to lead by example and I have room for improvement too.

2 Comments

Filed under Culture, environment, health, life, travel

Traveling in Europe: Bruges

Europe 2011: Bruges

Clicking on the above picture will take you to the web album.

Bruges (Brugge) was by far my favorite of the three places, including Antwerp and Ghent, which I visited in Belgium. I actually took the tram or bus from Ghent to Bruges, a fairly short trip. The weather was perfect and quite warm and while I found the many brick buildings of Bruges and the canals to be particularly picturesque the smell wafting out of the sewers was fetid. Luckily, within a few feet the stink would dissipate.

I think I counted at least a dozen chocolate shops in the town center, but of course by the end of the day when I wanted to buy some I couldn’t find my way back or find any. I’m notoriously directionally challenged and old medieval lanes and streets tend to wend their way here and there and around buildings and canals. Given that, the area wasn’t large and I could always find my way back with a bit of exploration.

Brugges, Bruge, canals, history, medieval, architecture, travel, Belgium

Brugge canals have building buttressing the water and red trim to compliment the blue of the sky.

Belgium doesn’t have a museum/gallery pass like Holland does. However there was a day pass for several museums and galleries and even for a day trip it saved me money. It’s always good to ask at the train stations, tourist centers or the first gallery you go to (as I did in Brugge) if such a thing exists. My pass was for three days but at 15 Euros even for one day, I saved money.  Arenthuis is an 18th century mansion that housed contemporary art and works but the Bruges artist Frank Brangwyn. His paintings were bold and colorful and I quite enjoyed the style. He had also designed furniture and other items.

Bruggemuseum is actually a collection of historic buildings. I wandered into some of them and missed others. It was only one day after all and many things close at 5 pm including shops.  One of my favorites was the Basilica of the Holy Blood, a small chapel up on the second floor of a gothic building. It was beautiful both in simplicity and elaborateness. A gothic cathedral, it was small, with vaulted wood ceilings and every inch of wall and ceiling painted in patterns and colors. I loved it. It had such a great sense of peace as well. Somewhere, tucked away is a reliquary with an old rag supposedly covered in the blood of Christ.

gothic architecture, patterns, religion, basilica, Brugges, Bruge, relics, history, medieval

Details of the Basilica of the Holy Blood. Every inch of the interior was painted.

Because I will still battling travel ills and a cold I got started later in the day and wandered the streets, missing some of the historical buildings. In a way, after seeing so many churches over two weeks it was fine to miss a few. However, if I hadn’t needed to get to Brighton for the British Fantasy convention I would have stayed an extra day to explore Brugge longer.

By dusk I was trying to find a restaurant to eat at but they were tucked away on different streets so it took me a bit to find one. The place I entered was packed, with warm brick walls and a sweating owner trying to keep everyone seated. I don’t remember its name but I had begun to learn that the portions were quite large in Belgium so I ordered an appetizer and dessert, with a couple of glasses of wine. Beside me this couple had ordered mussels and the very large metal mixing bowl they threw their shells into was at least 16-20 inches across. My meal filled me nicely.

Brugges, Bruge, Belgium, history, travel, Flanders, medievalI was in Brugge at the end of September, as evidenced by the turning leaves with the weather at about 25-27 degrees, unusually warm for that time of year. The night came on early and I headed back to Ghent where I would leave for Calais the next day.

 

1 Comment

Filed under art, Culture, history, travel

Traveling in Europe: Ghent

Europe 2011: Ghent

Clicking on the above picture will take you to the photo album.

After two days in Antwerp, I took a train to Ghent. I stayed at Het Rommelwater and Renee had sent me directions and which station to disembark from. It was a short walk down the major road, where the street curved away. Like Holland, Belgium has many tall narrow buildings and I lugged my heavy suitcase up to the second floor. The room was a double (since renovations were underway outside of the single room), and had a little sitting area and table. Outside the room was a fridge, toaster and microwave for use by the guests. Like many guesthouses, there were maps and information on the city.

gargoyles, waterspouts, belfry, belfort, clock tower, Ghent, Gent, Belgium, gothic, medieval

A view from the belfort overlooking Ghent.

 

I probably could have taken a bus but I walked to the city center along one of the canals in about twenty minutes. The weather was excellent so I didn’t mind the walk and a chance to take pictures. It looked like Ghent was going through a major reconstruction of some of its oldest buildings, which included the  town hall, a mixture of several centuries’ architecture. Some places you cannot get into unless you take a tour so I signed up to see inside the stadhuis. I was the only non-Dutch speaker (Belgians speak French and/or Dutch but it’s called Flemish) so I ended up getting a private tour. This was awesome because I could ask all the questions I liked. The hall is a blend of gothic architecture at one end and the more plain 17th century architecture at the other. As buildings of civic fortitude it wasn’t magnificent but it was interesting. There was even a throne room, with red velvet, a canopy and some ostentation. Supposedly one of the round seats with a cushion on top actually hid a commode underneath.

After the stadhuis I went over to the belfort, constructed in the 1300s. It also was the old cloth hall and this part of Belgium was known for its linen, wool and especially its lace. From the guildhall you could go up the clock tower or belfry, which houses at least four floors including many bells, a giant music box tumbler that controls the carillon bells, and the metal skeleton of the last gilded dragon that adorns the steeple. I decided to walk up all the stairs, that’s 366 or so, although there is an elevator that goes part way up. I stopped in at each floor to read the displays and let myself breathe. At the very top you can lookout over the heads of gargoyle waterspouts in 360 degrees. I took the elevator down, then wandered about the streets.

gothic architecture, medieval, Ghent, Gent, Belgium, travel, history,

This medieval building had more modern whimsical statues.

I did go into Saint Bavo cathedral but after the churches of Holland and Antwerp I was a little oversaturated and it was pretty tame in comparison.  I found Het Gravensteen (meaning castle of the count), which was built in the 12th century. Unfortunately it was so late in the day that it was closed. The castle is not as large as a city block, though it looks impressive and has a tiny moat around it. I would have loved to see the inside as castles were few and far between in these areas. Still, the weather was lovely for wandering along the streets and canals.

When it came time for dinner, there were many restaurants lining the canals. Ghent was my biggest food fail of the whole trip, which included England and Holland. One place was canopied, looking a little better class than some of the other places, and had this variety of shellfish including whelks and cockles. I’d never tried these so I walked in and asked for a table. They told me to take a seat outside and a waiter would be by. As I perused the menu I saw that you received a selection of shellfish for about 35 euros, definitely not cheap. But I waited and waited and waited. I don’t know if there was a prejudice over serving a single person, I wasn’t dressed well enough or the waiter just couldn’t see me sitting there but after 15 minutes with no service I left.

Ghent, Gent, Belgium, canals, architecture, travel

Ghent's canals are wider and fewer than those in Holland's cities.

The next place I chose didn’t work because the menu was almost all fried food. By the time I found a place to eat it was dark. I sat outside since the weather was still fairly mild and decided to try the eel, which I’ve only had as sushi before. The eel was cut in chunks and deep friend, rather tasteless and greasy. It came with a salad and mediocre fries, which is saying something for a country that prides itself on its frites.

I think the combination of all the construction around the cathedral and clock tower, the sad dining experience and some places being closed before I got to them, left me with little memory of Ghent. I was also coming down with a cold. The travel guide said you could do Belgium in two days (if you just hit the highlights) and Ghent could definitely be done in a day.

Ghent, Gent, travel, Belgium, belfort, belfry, clock tower, history

These life size statues were in the bottom most level of the clocktower.

4 Comments

Filed under art, Culture, history, travel