so you want to be a writer?

Image by Drew Coffman, used under a CC 2.0 license
Image by Drew Coffman, used under a CC 2.0 license

For my 17th birthday I got a collection of Charles Bukowski’s poems. I remember reading it and one poem in particular standing out to me. In fact, ‘so you want to be a writer?‘ hit me in the guts the way Charles Bukowski says writing should explode out of them.

if it doesn’t come busting out of you 
in spite of everything 
don’t do it. 

unless it comes out of
your soul like a rocket,
unless being still would 
drive you to madness or
suicide or murder, 
don’t do it.  Continue readingso you want to be a writer?

Crossing borders: Amsterdam to Duisburg


This weekend I caught the train to Duisburg to visit my stepmum and younger brothers. Duisburg is just across the border from the Netherlands, so I wasn’t sure that I would be able to tell when the train had crossed over. I expected the landscape would be similar to the one I’m familiar with (mainly the western portion of the Netherlands) and that the border would be indecipherable. After the train pulled out of Arnhem, which I knew was very close to the border, I watched attentively from the train window. And there it was, a subtle shift in the lay of the land, a change in the palette, and the thought popped into my head – we’ve crossed the border. A little further along I saw a German flag, which confirmed my suspicion (though I later saw plenty of Dutch flags (and even Union Jacks) in Duisburg, which made me question whether the flag was really a reliable guide). Continue readingCrossing borders: Amsterdam to Duisburg

Where are you from?

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Where are you from?

I get asked that question a lot these days and I usually have to pause for a moment. Am I from the UK? Manchester? Amsterdam? What about all those other places I have lived in and that have shaped me – St Andrews, Cornwall, Nottingham? It feels wrong to leave them out. I realise that when people ask me, they don’t want my whole life story. When you ask someone where they’re from, you’re asking because you’re trying to get a read on them, because even if you have been separated by thousands of miles your whole lives you will still try to find some connection, however tenuous. Ah yes, my sister’s husband once worked in a town not too far from there. Or, I’ve never been there, but I read an article about it in The Guardian a few years back, sounds like a lovely place! And sometimes, every once in a while, you meet someone from a place you have absolutely nothing on. Continue readingWhere are you from?

An island day: exploring Texel

Image by Jan-Willem van Aalst via Wikimedia Commons.
Image by Jan-Willem van Aalst via Wikimedia Commons.

Last Friday, we decided that we would get up early the next day, catch a train to Den Helder, hire bikes, hop on a ferry and spend the day cycling round Texel (pronounced Tessel). Why? Because Texel is an island and isn’t that reason enough?

Texel is part of the Frisian Islands – a chain of islands that stretches from the Netherlands up along the coasts of Germany and Denmark. Before I moved to Amsterdam, I loaned of a guide book to the Netherlands from the library. I remember flicking through it and coming across a section on the Frisian Islands. I’m not even sure what it said about the islands – perhaps just that they existed – but whatever it was, the idea of visiting them was lodged in my head. Continue readingAn island day: exploring Texel

On writing nostalgically and being in place

Manchester Oxford Rd train station (because apparently this is the only picture of Manchester I've taken)
Manchester Oxford Rd train station (because apparently this is the only picture of Manchester I’ve taken)

Two weeks ago I spent a few days back in the UK. I thought I’d probably end up writing a blog post about it, because I expected it to be a noteworthy experience. In a lot of ways it was, but not in the ways I expected it to be. I had expected to feel as though I was back in the UK, to feel a sense of having returned. I expected reverse culture shock.

I did notice a few differences. Oddly, one thing that really stood out to me is that people in the UK look, well, kind of miserable. Though perhaps that’s not so odd considering that Dutch children are the happiest in the world (UK children rank 16th), whilst the Netherlands was ranked 4th in the 2013 UN World Happiness Report. But on the whole, I didn’t really feel a sense of being back in the UK. Continue readingOn writing nostalgically and being in place

A Sense of Place: trains and train stations

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I recently started a new job in Tilburg (yay!), which means I’ll be spending a lot more time on trains. So, it’s a good job I like train travel. In fact, I like most forms of public transport, even buses and especially trams. I know I’m not supposed to. I know I’m supposed to complain endlessly about how cramped, smelly, dirty, expensive, slow etc. they are. I agree, public transport can be expensive. In fact, in my second year of sixth form, I stopped using Stagecoach buses in protest against the constant price hikes, and walked the hour and fifteen minutes there instead (I like long walks too). Public transport can also be very filthy at times – I’m looking at you, East Midlands train service between Manchester and Nottingham. And slow. I’ll admit even I got bored after eight hours on the train going from Cornwall to Manchester. Continue readingA Sense of Place: trains and train stations