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14 May 2009 @ 06:54 pm

This last month, after my daily spell of writing, I've mostly spent my time cramming my way through Flemish literature. There are reasons for this, it's not just the fact that I'm caught in some strange masochistic urge. (Though halfway through the seminal 1860 classic, Max Havelaar, or The Coffee Auctions of the Dutch Trading Company, something very close to pleasure came through the pain, and I began to take genuine joy from the four-page-long paragraphs about colonial iniquities.)

I may have mentioned this before - but next week I'm acting as a lecturer on a cruise around the Low Countries. I was asked last year whether I felt I was up to the task of being one of the resident 'experts' employed on the rather posh end of the leisure cruise circuit, and naturally enough I was thrilled to accept. I love cruises - I love the fact that every day I'm in a different city, seeing new things; I love the people that I meet on these excursions; and I love the ships themselves, the elegance and the calm. So my first trip is around Belgium and the Netherlands, and I'll be delivering a maximum of three lectures, specialising in the history of Dutch and Flemish lit, and the relationship between fine art and the way it's characterised in the modern novel (with especial attention given to Rembrandt and Vermeer, as we'll be looking at some of their masterpieces at the Mauritshuis and the Rijksmuseum on the way). Then, in July, it's a two week voyage around the Baltic, where I'll be talking mainly about Russian and Swedish authors.

It's enormous fun. And a great opportunity for a book collector like myself, who buys up everything in translation by the bucketload (I have a weakness for author's names I can't pronounce), actually to *read* the damn things I've been putting on my shelves all these years. And if Max Havelaar is a bit painful - it's seen by the Dutch as their Great Classic Novel, don't you know. I beg to differ - then it's introduced me to the work of Harry Mulisch, Cees Nooteboom, Edwin Mortier, and Hugo Claus. Terrific writers who otherwise might have just sat on my overstuffed shelves gathering dust. I'm really looking forward to wittering on about them at great length to an audience trapped on both sides by a great expanse of water.

The difficulty with all this is that I agreed to do the lectures at a time when I really wasn't too busy. But the workload has really crept up this year. Last week I *finally* finished my new book of short stories, Love Songs for the Shy and Cynical, ready for its release this Autumn. (No, really. The contract's all signed and sorted. I'm so pleased. More news on this later!) And I'm now going through a series of other commissions, both for TV and for books, and enjoying it all hugely. But I'm keenly aware to make it all fit in, and to reach all the deadlines, that as most couples on board the cruise ships will spend the evening gazing dreamily out on to the banks of the Baltic, I'll be scribbling furiously into my notebook in my cabin trying to get my plotlines making sense.

I'm not complaining, mind you. After all, how great can Baltic banks be?

I'm travelling rather too much at the moment. When I got back from my latest Doctor Who convention, in Los Angeles this February, Janie sat me down gravely in the lounge, and told me that the cat no longer missed me. Usually Nero would spend his time searching my office for any signs of his master when I was out gallivanting around the world - but I'd been gone so frequently, that he'd given up. Indeed, I looked at Nero, then and there, and realised he was somewhat bemused to see me in the house at all. But if I'm in Europe come May and July, then I'm at Doctor Who conventions in June (Toronto), October (Orlando) and November (Chicago). And in August I'm in Singapore. One of the stories from Tiny Deaths, rather to my gobsmacked surprise, has been picked up by the National Library of Singapore as its international short story representative, so I'm going across there to give a few readings and talks. All rather exciting stuff, of course - but it'll only add fuel to that particular fire of Nero's, so that by Christmas there's a reasonable chance he'll no longer have a clue who I am.

The thing is, I'm a sucker for a foreign trip. Here we are. It's mid-May. I haven't been abroad now for nearly three months. I keep on googling random cities worldwide, just to see what the rainfall or the exchange rate might be. I can't *wait* to be on an aeroplane again. It almost doesn't matter where. It doesn't matter that I'll have to talk about the colonial disputes of the coffee trade in Java to get there, either.

It's not my fault the bloody cat hasn't got a passport. That's what I say.


spastasmagoriaspastasmagoria on May 14th, 2009 07:01 pm (UTC)
I'm trying to leash-train my cats so I can take them eeeeeverywhere LOL. They're having a pet fair here at work--maybe we should arrange one for a Con. Complete with little pet fashion shows where we dress them up like Zygons and such. Have fun on your cruise. I do like a soapbox, but a soapbox and a trapped audience sounds even better :)
thanatos_kalosthanatos_kalos on May 14th, 2009 07:32 pm (UTC)
Maybe it's a good thing he doesn't have a passport? I'm just picturing a US Customs agent interviewing your cat-- and, because he's got no fingerprints and is resistant to interrogation, I'm actually fairly sure he'd end up in Guantanamo Bay.

Enjoy the cruise(s)! And I'm told Baltic banks are quite nice-- I've an old professor who taught English in Estonia. :)
Rossaka: I <3 Zac Hansonrossaka on May 14th, 2009 09:10 pm (UTC)
Those names are pretty amazing. I think I may change my name to Cees Nooteboom.

I'm pretty stoked for November. :-D
Dizzy Steinway, Cannonball Queen: barack obama // you wish you could quithailpoetry on May 14th, 2009 10:03 pm (UTC)
You look like a Cees Nooteboom.

I mean, uh, I love you?
Dizzy Steinway, Cannonball Queen: father ted // this sort of thinghailpoetry on May 14th, 2009 10:01 pm (UTC)
I doubt it's the passport. I know cats too well -- have ever you met one who could be bothered with the pre-travel quarantine? Honestly? If the choice is faithful companionship or that one perfect window at home to stalk, honey, you're losing to a window every time.
Transcendancingtranscendancing on May 15th, 2009 12:03 am (UTC)
I personally think it's interesting how close Singapore is to Perth *grins*

Why not come and visit? *displays the temptingness of Perth in order to help you with your decision*
girlie jonesgirliejones on May 15th, 2009 04:54 am (UTC)
Was jut gonna say - Singapore is a 5hr flight from Perth ...
grinnin foolegrinninfoole on May 15th, 2009 05:31 am (UTC)
Wow, that cruise/lecture gig sounds perfect for you. Please tape them, I'd love to listen in sometime. I bet they'd make perfect podcasts.

Are you reading any of these books in the original languages, or just in translation?

What conventions are you attending here in North America? Any chance you might fit in Dragoncon in Atlanta in early September? M and I shall be there.

The great thing about cats is that they adapt. Nero gets used to you not being around, and then, when you're around more, he gets used to that, too.
catsparxcatsparx on May 15th, 2009 11:40 pm (UTC)
have a great time cruising! I vaguely recall struggling through Max Havelaar back in high school when I was studying Indonesian. I found it all so droll (we called him Max Half-a-laugh). I was much more interested in ancient history cos it was all kings, queens and castles with exotic names. There was even this dude called Gajahmada who had the head of an elephant! Poor old Max... hard to compete with mere spice and serious trousers.
flinthartflinthart on May 16th, 2009 12:06 pm (UTC)
Bar steward! I'm extraordinarily jealous. Why don't you come here and wrangle my three kids in Tasmania? I could definitely stand in for you on a cruise. I could even lecture on Flemish literature. After all, your audience isn't going to know shit about the topic, so I could invent whatever the hell I wanted, so long as I sounded confident, and appropriately mucous-raddled in pronunciation. And I have a beard too. There's no need for them to suspect for an instant that you're not actually 6'3" tall, with an Australian accent.

Likewise, I think I can probably get my kids sufficiently drunk on overtaxed alcopops to convince them that their dad has shrunk drastically overnight, and acquired a peculiar English accent. My wife is another matter, but she'll probably appreciate the change anyhow. Best of luck with her, by the way... feed her lightly, but regularly, be aware that she likes cider and chardonnay and Thai food, and you'll probably be fine. Mostly.
Lauren Swartzmillerlswartzmiller on May 17th, 2009 01:46 pm (UTC)
I think it's important that Nero still recognize you. Granted that cats have the attention span of, well, cats and are easily distracted. But, they're used to people and routines and you're being home in your office cubby is a part of that. I'm not on the side of the cat, Sir, but on the side of you that is being put on the wait list at the moment. Your travels sound wonderful to she who rarely gets past the boundaries of her county in New York anymore. But, it all sounds a bit intense. Downtime at home, feet up, just being mellow is as important as lectures, income, working cruises, etc. Good for wellbeing, don't you know. Even good stress is stress. Your obit should not come before mine, Young Man.

Take time for self and family or I will break my rule and go to one of those silly DW conventions in my corner of the world, hunt you down, and give you the head slap you deserve. Okay, so it'll never happen. But, the sentiment is real. :-)

By the way, I'll say to you what I said to my sister a while back -- when books become your wallpaper in just about every room, it's time to either have a book sale or move to a bigger place. ;-)
Audry Taylor: Companions in the TARDIStalshannon on May 18th, 2009 06:47 pm (UTC)
Colonial iniquities. Intriguing.

Speaking of artistic lit, I recommend giving Donna Jo Napoli a try. For me, reading her books is like looking at a tapestry. "The Smile" might even be useful, since it's about the Mona Lisa.

Edited at 2009-05-18 06:47 pm (UTC)
Nickobobinus, the diligent aerialdinosaurcostume on May 19th, 2009 09:46 pm (UTC)
I love Cees Nooteboom. I read Rituals just before moving house because I was/am trying to cut down on my "to read" pile, thinking I could read it and then chuck it. It turned out to be hard to part with. It's cruel and dark and beautiful and so, so simple. I have The Following Story on my "to read" shelf (no longer a pile). Your tour sounds very exciting - have a fantastic time.
Garymandrake91 on July 24th, 2009 12:15 pm (UTC)
A cat with no passport?! Disgraceful!