About Gilbert Van Hoeydonck

I have worked in education, child protection and mental health. These days I work as an independent writer. My interests include Zen, language, history, productivity, walking, humour, music and climate change mitigation. I am married and have two adult daughters. I love animals, especially cats and goats.

Where Angels Fear to Tread: the Joys and Perils of Self-Publishing

WebDon’t blow your own trumpet, I was taught. It is unseemly. Attention seeking. Narcissistic even.

Fair enough.

This is the problem though: when you’re a self-publishing author, you don’t have a wingman taking care of the brass section. Any laudatory trumpeting will have to be done by yours truly, for you are not only an author, but also a blinkered editor, a dilettante publisher, a lethargic sales manager and a goofy media liaison officer. And don’t start me on the joys of completing business activity statements…

You get the picture: there is a point where writing a novel feels like the easy bit. Continue reading

Print on demand: my self-publishing experience with IngramSpark

When it came to publishing the paperback version of my debut novel, IngramSpark seemed the obvious choice: it was a big player, with credibility in the industry and a massive distribution network. It had been recommended to me by authors and academics; and its website was brimming with helpful tools and tutorials about virtually every aspect of the publishing process. Continue reading

Unboxing that first novel!

All day I had waited for that first delivery from IngramSpark. I had skipped my daily walk. Five o’clock, I thought—he’s not coming now. Just as I laced up my runners for a belated stroll, I heard a low rumble in the street and looked down the driveway. A massive delivery truck pulled up; a stocky guy leapt out, opened the tailgate, lifted out a cardboard box and started labouring up the driveway and the 20-something steps from the carport up to my particular ivory tower…

“Boy, what a climb,” he sighed. “That was my last job for the day.” “Yes, and it’s the first box of my first novel,” I blurted out like an overexcited idiot. He looked at me strangely, handed me a stylus. I signed on a chunky electronic gadget that looked like a 1980s mobile phone, callously wishing he’d hurry back to his truck so I could open this box.

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I happened to be home alone that afternoon, except for the cat of course, but Jebedie Paw Paw’s interests tend to be culinary rather than literary and anyway, he had sought refuge in the furthest bedroom at the first sign of a man (= tradie = infernal noise = feline doom) approaching. So I grabbed my iPhone to document the unfolding of this milestone.2018-11-28 17.04.16I loved the warm colours of the cover (thank you Dane at Ebook Launch).

2018-11-28 17.04.28Then the joy of holding your book for the first time. Pressing that Publish button on Amazon and Smashwords had been a thrill, but not nearly as satisfying as feeling the weight of your book. The end point of the writer’s creative process. The transition from a mental construct to a physical product. The moment also where it can be shared with readers for the next part of the journey.

I could feel I had my stupid happy grin on my face, the one from ear to ear.

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Then there’s the panicky little voice inside your head that reminds you to check everything. Title, author name, yep, all there. Nice print quality inside, no printing or binding errors, just this thing that looks like a Real Book.

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And look, I can make piles of them. And my wife comes home just before I start mentally composing a love letter to IngramSpark, my new print-on-demand and distribution heroes.

Forgive me, Dear Reader, the exuberant narcissism of this post. Let me assure you that my novel is free of navel gazing and instead explores social and mental health issues that affect many of us. I just thought that, after seven years of hard work, a little bit of curative bragging was in order… Thank you for your forbearance.

And please check out the homepage of my book for more details about its plot and availability.

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My Debut Novel: The Best of Intentions

TheBestofIntentions_cover3Dmockup-woodAfter seven years of plot development, writing and seemingly endless revisions, my debut novel is now available.

Writing a novel was so different from any writing I had done during my working life. With policy or report writing you generally have a good idea about the purpose and contents of your document, and its structure is pretty much determined by those parameters. Writing a novel means creating a world from scratch, without a roadmap, and populating it with credible and distinct characters who can keep the reader engaged. Exhilarating. Scary too.

Not surprising then, that timelines blew out. And while I’ve always felt comfortable about having my professional writing edited, it has been more confronting to have my creative writing critiqued. It felt more personal––I had more skin in the game.

Set in Melbourne in 2009, against the background of the Black Saturday bushfires, The Best of Intentions is a sensitive and compelling portrayal of young people at risk and of the well-meaning but often ineffective child protection and mental health professionals charged with their care.

At more than 400 pages, it’s a good long read that follows a range of memorable characters whose paths cross in unexpected ways. Here’s an excerpt from the blurb:

Kurt is a disillusioned case worker struggling in an under-resourced child protection system. When he takes on the case of Gecko, a sixteen-year-old with a traumatic past and a shaky future, he is determined to make a difference. But the best of intentions are not enough.

While my novel is a work of fiction, some of my views about systemic shortcomings in child protection and public mental health services have found their way into the text.

The focus on ‘case finding’ and throughput in child protection, at the expense of providing a meaningful service to kids placed in care. The unrealistically high case loads.

In mental health, the high threshold for accessing a service, the one-dimensional nature of the medical treatment model; and the failure to abolish mixed gender wards in Victoria, leaving vulnerable young women exposed to harassment or assault at a time that they need optimal support and safety.

Does not sound like escapist reading? It isn’t. I have taken pains, though, to ensure that The Best of Intentions works as a novel in the first place, as a gripping story that will keep readers engaged to the end. No one wants to read a manifesto.

“Highly engaging … an intelligent and moving novel.” Dr Kate Ryan, Writers Victoria

The Best of Intentions is available as an e-book and can be bought from major distributors, including Amazon Kindle, Apple Books, Barnes & Noble and Kobo. Check my novel’s homepage for purchase links.

You will soon also be able to order a paperback version (currently in production) from your local bookseller or from an online distributor.

stefan hertmans: war and turpentine

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.

Continue reading

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?


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


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)


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.

Continue reading