Updated: Jan 18
I'm thrilled Val agreed to be my guest author this month! This lady is going to keep you riveted to your screens as she talks about life and writing, while on her barge in Rotterdam or cottage in Zeeland. Apart from books, she's also written articles and radio plays and you can follow her life on the water by clicking on the link further down the page. Thanks Val - take it away!
Firstly, thank you very much, Shirley, for inviting me to join you on your website here. I wasn't quite sure how to go about this guest post, so I took some interview questions I thought I'd have fun answering and wrote them up as a sort of Q&A online interview. I really hope your readers enjoy my answers. As I'm mainly known for writing memoirs and they were the first books I managed to complete, I've started off with why I began writing them. So, over to me
· What sparked off your (my) idea of writing memoirs?
I realise I've always enjoyed reading memoirs. As a child I read the Gerald Durrell books, then later, I read all of James Herriot's books, but I only thought about writing them when I arrived back in Europe after spending twenty years in South Africa. I read Peter Mayle's A Year in Provence, and that's what got me into writing my first memoir, African Ways. I enjoyed Mr Mayle's take on French country people so much, and it reminded me of my African neighbours on the farm in KwaZulu Natal. As I read it, I remember thinking 'I should do that'.
I absolutely loved South Africa and for me the Zulu people were just wonderful characters and personalities, so I decided to write a series of anecdotes about my experiences in the country. Eventually, I put them together and self-published the book back in 2006 long before Kindle books appeared. I had so much fun writing African Ways I decided to write another book about how I came to be living on a barge in the Netherlands. That one, Watery Ways, is a kind of diary of my first year in our harbour in Rotterdam.
· How do you plan your books?
I've written several memoirs since those first two and they've mostly taken different forms, but in general, I follow a time sequence and write a list of events and things that are important to what I'm trying to show. My aim is to tell other people what places and life are like in the countries or cities I've been lucky enough to call home. My memoirs are not really about me as an individual; they are more about my life in the context of where I am. As a result, I focus on giving impressions of what I see and feel about where I am. This applies very much to my boating memoirs as well.
· What are you working on at the moment?
I've just recently published the sequel to African Ways (African Ways Again – not very original, I know) and now I'm working on ideas for four books (Yes. It's too much), but I'm afraid they're going very slowly as I earn my main living as a writing skills teacher at our university in Rotterdam. This involves so much preparation and marking, writing for pleasure mostly has to wait until the quiet periods of the summer and then I'm usually off 'faring forth' on my barge with my partner, Koos. However, the memoir I'd really like to finish this year is the third in my South African series and covers my twelve years in Johannesburg, a city I came to love despite its reputation for violence and crime. I'd also like to get on with my novel about a Dutch barge skipper during WWII.
· Do you write for any websites other than your own blog?
I do, actually. I write for the Sunpenny Publishing blog. I used to be published by Sunpenny, but recently got my rights back and have re-published my books myself. However, I have a good relationship with Sunpenny's owner, Jo Holloway, and I suggested that I should keep writing the blog for her, which I enjoy very much. I also write for an online magazine called SisterShip, which is a special publication for women on the water. It's brilliant, and I have my own page called 'Flat Bottomed Girl' (I live on a flat-bottomed barge, you see...haha)
· Favourite book as a child and as an adult?
That depends on which phase of childhood I was in. Being painfully shy as a child, I was an obsessive reader as an escape route, but I do remember reading 'The Little White Horse' by Elizabeth Goudge several times. Later, in my early teens, I discovered Frenchman's Creek by Daphne du Maurier on my mother's bookshelves and must have read that about ten times. I really loved it. As an adult, my favourite book ever is Monsignor Quixote by Graham Greene. I find it the deepest, funniest, most moving and philosophically challenging book I have ever read. Still.
· Name one thing you miss about being a child?
I don't miss very much actually. To be honest, I wasn't a very happy child, probably because I was so shy - I'm not really sure. Going to university was my breakthrough; it was just the best time - all that freedom, first love, great friends, marvelous rock music. Just fantastic. I do miss having time to read the whole day, though. As a child, school holidays were perfect for that.
· What’s next to do on your list of personal achievements?
Ooh, I don't know! I don't make plans or bucket lists. I more or less decide what I want to do and just see if I can. Sailing my barge alone would be pretty amazing, but I don't know if I'd dare put other people and barges at risk like that! We have plans to go to Poland by boat in the coming years, however, so that would be a great achievement – not just for me, though. My partner has wanted to do that for years! Wish us luck!
Val was born in London, became an adult in Dorset in England's west country, and finally grew up (more or less) in South Africa, where she lived for twenty years between 1981 and 2001. She now lives in the Netherlands.
Val writes both non-fiction memoirs about the places she's lived in and the life she's lived there and fiction that is non-genre specific. Her first novel, The Skipper's Child is ostensibly for early/mid teen readers but has mostly been enjoyed by adults. It is a cat and mouse suspense story of loyalty and friendship set on Europe's waterways during the Cold War in the winter of 1962. It was awarded Silver in the Wishing Shelf Independent book awards for 2013. Her memoirs, African Ways, Watery Ways, Harbour Ways and Walloon Ways cover her life first on a farm in South Africa and latterly on barges in the Netherlands and Belgium. How to Breed Sheep, Geese and English Eccentrics is her second novel and can be described as humorous and feel good with dashes of romantic tension and lots of animals.
Excerpt: Chapter 1 - How to Breed Sheep, Geese and English Eccentrics:
I have chosen this as it sets the scene for the whole book. Fact is often stranger than fiction and this opening is based on a real-life incident. It was only after writing it into the opening of the book that I eventually came to terms with the fact that someone would actually do this. I've spent thirty-five years in shock....seriously!
The front half of my car looked perfectly natural propped against the wall. As if I could peer round the gatepost and see the rest of it sticking out the other side. The snag was I knew this was all there was. I’d met Simon, my boyfriend, pushing the other half into the barn as I cycled, frozen with cold, into the yard. Now he was looking at me with an absurd grin. Not even slightly apologetic. I scratched my chin and wondered what to say. Nothing came to mind. Well, how could it? I mean it’s not every day you go shopping in the village and come home to find your car’s been sawn in half. I wanted to say something scathingly witty, downright hilarious or even wonderfully forgiving. I just couldn’t think of a single darn thing at all. Well, not if you discount the fact that I wanted to cry and kill him all at once, and that in real life, being sharp, brilliantly scornful and devastatingly funny is what other people are. Not me.
So I smiled through my pained expression, cleared my throat and asked the obvious question.
“Um, just why did my car deserve to die, Simon?”
His grin faltered a moment. A soupçon of doubt, perhaps? No such luck. He regained confidence with amazing speed.
“It was its time!” he pronounced, flinging his arms dramatically. “And anyway,” he went on, shrugging in a bored sort of way, “I couldn’t fix it, so I thought it might at least have some sort of use as…erm… a trailer. Maybe.” He didn’t sound quite so sure again.
I just stared at him.
“You couldn’t fix it? And that’s sufficient reason to render it totally and utterly useless? Limb from limb, so to speak? Without asking me? Without even wondering what I might want to do with it?” I still couldn’t quite believe it.
Aha. Triumph. He had the grace to flush very, very slightly.
“Yes, well...oh come on, Maisie, it’s only a Renault 4.” He was definitely cringing now.
“Was a Renault 4, not is.”
“Oh don’t be like that! I thought you’d like it...you know, you being a veggie, latter-day hippy and that.”
“Well, it might surprise you to know that even latter-day hippies, not to mention veggies, like to have some say in what happens to their stuff. All you were going to do was change the clutch cable! I didn’t even ask you to do it! I would have done it myself...no, don’t try that,” I stopped the scoff that was inevitably coming. “You know perfectly well I would,” I finished in what I hoped was a dangerous and biting tone.
“Okay, okay, I know when I’m in the dog box,” Simon backed away, raising his arms in mock defeat. “I’ll go and do penance in my dark room, and I promise I’ll only come out when you tell me...hopefully that’ll be when supper’s ready,” he ended with a cheeky grin and scooted back through the tack room door before I could throw the hay fork at him.
I walked over to my newly adapted two-wheeler and opened the door. Sliding carefully into the driver’s seat, I realised Simon had put some kind of support under the floor, because it didn’t move. Turning to look over my shoulder, I ran my hand over the wall that was right behind me. Then I turned back and stared glumly through the windscreen.
The windscreen wipers were still halfway across the front window, just where they’d stopped last time I drove it. That had been yesterday. The key was still in the ignition, and out of curiosity, I turned it. The engine turned instantly and sprang into life. And so I sat. In my half a car with the engine chundering away to itself. And as I sat, I started laughing. I laughed so hard that in the end, I couldn’t tell whether my hacked up Renault 4 was shaking from my laughter or it was the vibration of its engine, but it didn’t really matter. It was just rather fitting, and I saw a few things in those moments – things that had to do with the growing gap between my life and the normal world. The best part of it was that I didn’t really mind. And so I sort of forgave Simon. For the moment.
Amazon author page: https://www.amazon.com/Valerie-Poore/e/B008LSV6CE/