“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.
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.
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 →
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.
What happened to Aloïs Delcon, my great-grandfather, on 10 September 1914, when German troops overran the Belgian village of Haacht?
As I grew up, my grandfather’s wartime stories became darker and more complex. One day he told me a story he had never even told his wife.
Little did I know at the time that his tale would continue to dog me with surprising insistence, and that moving to the other side of the world would bring me closer to my family’s history in an unforeseen way…
Running a pub can be tricky. You need to be the sociable type, good at defusing conflict. But what can you do when an entire army turns up on your doorstep, half drunk and looking for more? That is what … Continue reading →
At 1,160 words it is a very slight short story. It evokes a special morning in the life of a schoolboy in Belgium in the 1960s. And yet its publication feels like a milestone to me. This is the first time I have published fiction since I was peddling stencilled poetry, way back in the 1970s. The years in between have been filled with writing annual reports, policy papers and guidelines. The world of stakeholder management, deliverables and competitive tendering. Benevolent in its vision but orwellian in its language. At the start of this year I decided to become a full-time writer. The great ‘tendering’ of looking back in, reconnecting with people, emotions and the past. An indie author – break out the quinoa, I am coming home! Continue reading →