stefan hertmans: war and turpentine

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Image © 2018 Kvocek via Shutterstock

“It was all so long ago, a century ago,” writes Stefan Hertmans in the closing pages of War and Turpentine, “I am walking here with his DNA in my body, lonelier than alone and too late for it all.”

This should not be misconstrued as an admission of failure. His book is successful at a number of levels: a touching tribute to a grandfather, a subtle sketch of a bygone era, a modern story laden with irony and self-reflection.

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the shadows cast by a falling child

SCFC mockupBack in 2011, when my novel was but an impulsive neuron playing Parkour across synapses somewhere in my brain, the title of my Magnum Opus was going to be The Bus Drivers. Shortly afterwards, that febrile neuron had to face the discipline board and its wiser elders settled upon Resilience as the working title for my book. The original title survives in the text as a little aside in a conversation––so you’ll be able to find out what I was thinking. Continue reading

bait: what are the chances?

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My latest short story, Bait, went live this week. It is the tale of three young men from Antwerp who set out on a camping trip to the Belgian Ardennes in the 1970s. When they arrive, the place is teeming with gendarmes (Belgian para-military police)…

Bait is not crime fiction but a portrait sketch of headstrong young men whose plans are thrown into disarray, with surprising ramifications. It is available only as an e-book; check my author website for links.

my writer’s toolkit

Popular wisdom has it that there are two types of writers: plotters, who write backstories for their characters and painstakingly plan every turn in the narrative; and pantsers, who fly by the seats of their eponymous trousers. Read this list, and you’ll probably have a good idea as to what type of writer I am. Okay, smart alecs out there, I accept your point: making a list in the first place is a dead giveaway…

Writing can be a lonely job, sitting in front of that high resolution screen, trying to squeeze elegant sentences out of an unwilling cortex. The apps we use are our toys, imaginary friends who help us get the job done. A bit like the Tooth Fairy, really, but with binary code and passwords.

So read on for a list of my digital accomplices: Continue reading

spitfire: a different kind of ghost writing

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Gilbert Delcon with his sister Georgette, Bonheiden ca. 1951.

To name your child after another person means to set up a connection from birth. To name your child after a loved one who perished under dramatic circumstances raises the stakes considerably. I was such a child, named after an uncle who died in 1952, a year before I was born. All through my childhood, Uncle Gilbert stared back at me from framed photographs at my grandparents’ place. Standing in the Texas desert, sitting in the cockpit of his training aircraft –  always with his kind, dimpled smile. As I grew up, the family resemblances became more pronounced. But unlike Dorian Gray’s, his picture stayed the same as my face developed wrinkles and grooves – a small price to pay for the privilege of ageing.

I knew the stories, of course. As a young boy in World War II, Gilbert refused to seek shelter when the air raid sirens went off over Bonheiden, a small village in Flanders. Much to his parents’ frustration, he ran outside to watch the Allied formations pass over on their way to Germany. He was enthralled with Spitfires in particular, captivated by the elegance of their design. One day, he resolved, he would be flying a Spitfire, and that would be the best day of his life. Continue reading

elena ferrante: my brilliant friend (2011)

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Naples streetscape – copyright ilolab 2016

You have to love a novel that starts with the disappearance of one of its protagonists. When Elena discovers that Lila, her childhood friend, has not only disappeared, but also removed all physical traces of her existence, she gets angry. She resolves to write a novel in which she will record all she has found out about Lila over the past sixty years. Story-telling as a corrective, an act of vengeance.

Having thus framed the novel in the prologue, Ferrante takes the reader back to 1950s Naples, a gritty and at times violent urban environment, where being male is a distinct advantage, and being streetwise a necessity. Enter the unlikely protagonists: two six-year-old girls.

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remembrance day

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It is an anniversary of sorts: 102 years ago, on 10 September 1914, my great-grandfather, Aloïs Delcon, was killed in his pub in Haacht (Belgium) by marauding German troops. His 16-year-old son fled the scene in a hail of gunfire and collapsed in an asparagus field with a shoulder wound.

In Fate and Asparagus (Kindle version) I tell the story of that encounter and the events that ensued and cast a shadow over our family for years to come. See the Fate and Asparagus page of my blog for other versions.

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