Central Library, Oosterdok – The Jewel in Amsterdam’s Crown

OBA which stands for Openbare Bibliotheek Amsterdam boasts in total 26 branch libraries, 177,000 members and has 1.3 million books, CDs and DVDs in its collection. Amsterdam Central Library, Oosterdok is one of my favourite places in the city. The Central Library was designed by architect, Jo Coenen, the former state architect of the Netherlands. The Central Library project cost an eye-watering 80 million euros! It was completed in 2007 and was selected as the best library in the Netherlands in 2012.

Fond Memories?
When I moved to Amsterdam in 1986 I remember the rather shabby library on the Prinsengracht. Although I preferred its location along the historical ring of canals, and its homely feel, I was less charmed by the first thing that always greeted you as you entered the building; the smell of the public toilets! So it was with some excitement that I visited the new library in its location in 2007! And I still feel the same excitement and anticipation of enjoyment when I visit nowadays.

Membership isn’t Free
Unlike the UK, library membership is only free for those under 18 years old. Currently, an annual basic membership is 35 euros per year. However, you do get bang for your buck as it is not only a place to loan books, the Central Library (spread over 10 floors) has 600 computer work stations, 1200 seats and a floor entirely devoted to help those seeking work. There is also an auditorium, an exhibition room, the Gerard Reve Museum, and (not unimportant in Amsterdam) 2000 parking spaces for bicycles! On the seventh floor is a restaurant and summer terrace which offers fantastic views over the River Ij and the city. If you are visiting Amsterdam do go to the library even if it’s only to enjoy the views from the top floor.

Multi-Language Sections
One quarter of the second floor is entirely devoted to English language fiction. Also available are books in French, Spanish, Italian, German and Arabic, so that those who don’t speak Dutch as a first language still have plenty of literature to choose from.

Access to Libraries
It makes me sad to read about libraries in the UK closing down. It’s so very important that children and young adults have access to books. It is heartening to go to the Central Library, or indeed any of Amsterdam’s smaller local libraries, and see them being well used by people of all generations from a variety of cultural backgrounds. Libraries are one of the institutions, alongside schools, which enable social mobility and help young people to better themselves.

Back in the Seventies
Growing up in the English countryside, our school only had access to a mobile library. Being a pony-loving child I always devoured the Jill pony books by Ruby Ferguson, and of course the series by Elyne Mitchell about the wild Silver Brumby horses in Australia. If I had experienced the children’s section of the library in Amsterdam I would have exploded with excitement at all the choice on offer! The circular shelves, big stuffed animals, and soft chairs create a playful space for parents and children to enjoy together.

Children’s Section
My favourite thing in the children’s section is, The Mouse House,  made almost entirely by hand and inhabited by mice created from felt. Its creator is Karina Schaapman. The two main characters are Sam and Julia, and Schaapman has written a series of children’s books about their exploits. I could happily spend hours perusing each tiny room in the Mouse House, admiring the hand made details, imagining what Sam and Julia get up to when the library closes at night…

The OBA café
I also like just sitting in the OBA cafe situated on the ground floor and reading through the magazines. A regular thing for me is reading the short story in, The New Yorker. The stories are usually far too literary and go way over my head but I enjoy it nonetheless. Also, I find it more relaxing to catch up on UK news when reading from paper rather than a screen. The experience of smelling the news print and turning the pages helps one absorb the information more deeply. Anyway, I hope I have convinced you that the Central Library is worth a visit. Perhaps I’ll see you sometime in the OBA café! I’ll be the one reading The New Yorker with a puzzled expression on my face.




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The End of the Dutch Golden Age

A Night in the Museum
Only last week I was invited to an evening in the Rijksmuseum by a girlfriend who is a friend of the institution. The event offered a chance to speed-date with various experts dotted around the museum and you could linger by paintings or artefacts and learn from the specialists’ knowledge. Our first port of call was the doll’s house that featured in the book, The Miniaturist.

Of course I have a Museumjaarkaart, (an overpriced 64,90 euros per year) and I can visit the Rijksmuseum whenever I want, but I hadn’t seen the doll’s house since before the 10-year renovation, so pre 2003. More pertinently I hadn’t seen the doll’s house since reading historical novel with magic realist elements by Jessie Burton. The TV adaption was broadcast over Christmas 2017 and in the Rijks I recognised the house instantly from BBC set designs. Just the three of us alone in the room with the doll’s house was quite an experience. Usually one would have to shuffle behind endless amounts of tourists to admire this priceless, miniature world.

I told my Dutch girlfriends what a great novel The Miniaturist was and quickly googled to find out what the book was called in Dutch. Het Huis aan de Gouden Bocht. Literally translated; ‘The House along the Golden Bend.’ The Golden Bend is the curve in the Herengracht (one of the ring of canals) where the most prestigious houses were situated during the Dutch Golden Age.

het Gouden Bocht

Painting of The Herengracht in the Golden Bend

Lost in Translation
It amazes me how book titles can change so radically in translation. And it also got me wondering if now with the controversy around the Dutch Golden Age terminology, it hadn’t been a poor choice. The book is good, do read it, but pay no heed to the Dutch title, which to my mind makes it sound like a rather dull history book.

In September this year, the powers that be at The Amsterdam Museum, announced that they were going to scrap the term, Golden Age. In a bid to be more inclusive and truthful about history, this period will be known in the museum simply as the 17th Century.

The name Golden Age was coined because the Netherlands was an economic and military world power in the 17th century, said curator Tom van der Molen. “The term ignores the negative aspects such as poverty, war, enforced labour and the slave trade.”

Post-Colonial Guilt
Generally speaking the Dutch do not suffer greatly from post-colonial guilt, so this announcement has met with quite some resistance. The Rijksmuseum announced that they would continue using the term Golden Age because it also represented a flowering period in the visual arts and in their exhibitions they strive to show all sides of the the era, warts and all. Changing the name would simply be a whitewash of history.

The Prime Minister, Mark Rutte, said the discussion was rather silly (I’m paraphrasing)  and that a small country like the Netherlands should be rightly proud that it had achieved such power on the world stage. Of course there were things that wouldn’t stand the light of day nowadays but we should mention those too.

While I agree it wasn’t a Golden Age for everybody, I’m not entirely convinced that the term should be scrapped completely. Probably two generations from now youngsters will never even have heard of the Golden Age, and whether that’s a good or a bad thing, well I leave that up to you.

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Balloon Flight over the Chateau

Frank and I celebrated our 33rd wedding anniversary in September. On our ninth house-sit of this year we decided to book a balloon flight. Paying for our accommodation in kind (offering pet care) means we free up cash which can be spent on experiences otherwise beyond our budget. We’re staying in the Perigord Blanc region which is in SW France and the flight company which caught my eye, Montgolfiére Chateaux, operates from Beynac-et- Cazenac. Beynac is a picturesque town (arguably the prettiest in France) on the Dordogne which boasts an eponymous chateau. The chateau is much photographed because of its dramatic location on top of a rocky outcrop.


You know how it is when you arrange something online with a few clicks of the mouse then the day of the event dawns and you wonder what on earth had you been thinking? I did my maiden balloon flight in 2011 but when I looked on Tripadvisor the baskets used by this company looked worryingly tiny and cramped. Suddenly the idea of being more than 2,000 metres above the ground in a flimsy wicker basket gave me the collywobbles. During the last minute phone call to check weather conditions were good before we set off for Beynac, I was half wishing it would be called off…

Strangely enough though, when you are up in the air your nerves disappear completely. You don’t experience that giddy feeling and the pull of gravity that you get from the top of a high building. I wore ear protectors because the gas blowers are very noisy, but this isn’t obligatory. Not very flattering on the photos but anything is better than even more hearing loss! Pictures tell much more than words can. The camera was fixed on one of the balloon strings so that’s how the shots from outside the balloon are made.


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Sailing along the Amsterdam Canals

Dear readers, I promised you a blog about Amsterdam and here it is! You might remember that Frank and I are OOPOEHs. Omas en Opas Passen Op Een Huisdier, which translates into the rather unflattering; Grandpas and Grandmas look after a pet. Oopoeh is an award-winning social initiative to bring people over 55 together with dog owners who require dog-sitting services. Oopoeh is an exchange model which hopefully leads to canine and human companionship, enhancing both the dog’s, the owner’s and the Oopoeh’s lives. It’s nice if a friendship can blossom and that certainly has been the case with Rakker and his owner, Joanna. But sadly for us, they both have been away the last six months in Peru. Good news though, Rakker and his mummy and daddy are back in town. So to celebrate we organised a boat trip together!

There are loads of canal boat companies vying for the tourist euro in Amsterdam so instead of being bored listening to a dull commentary squashed next to a stranger on one of the bigger boats, I suggest you fork out a little extra cash and take some friends/family out with this smaller company which enables you to sail independently through the city; Boats4rent

Boats4rent B.V.
floating dock next to
Polonceaukade 2
1014 DA Amsterdam
+31 6 263 264 20

It costs a reasonable 79 euros for 3 hours on the canals. Maximum 6 passengers and room for a well-behaved dog too! No previous experience required. Tips for the best routes and a map are given by Boats4rent employees before you set sail.

Some useful tips (in English) to make your trip go well from the Boats4rent website. Have fun and maybe see you on the water!

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All Good Things…

After two months of house-sitting it is sadly almost time to go home again. We’ve travelled through Hertfordshire, Nottinghamshire, East Riding of Yorkshire, Derbyshire, Staffordshire, Cheshire, Leicestershire and spent the last two weeks in the smallest county in England, Rutland.

We’ve had truly wonderful experiences in each of the four houses we’ve stayed in, and have cared for in total; 3 llamas, 6 dogs, 2 cats, 6 horses, 2 sheep and 6 chickens. We have also had to make 4 trips to the vet in that period. One for an elderly Jack Russell’s gippy tummy and 3 trips for a grass seed in a Spaniel’s eye. The more often we house-sit the likelier trips to the vets are going to be of course. I tend to take it in my stride now and not get in too much of a panic about it. Happily all the pets made quick recoveries from their various maladies and we could hand them over fit as fiddles.

High points have been so many it’s hard to choose but I’ll give it a go!

  • Fabulous half-day ride from, Flash, the highest village in England, through the stunning Peak District. Courtesy of Northfield Farm Riding Centre and 16 h.h skewbald gelding, Marmite. (You either love him or hate him)
  • Monty’s chippie in Leek! We visited it thrice. Fortunately there’s no scales in present house sit but because they were small F&C I hope I won’t have put on too much weight.
  • Walking in the Chilterns and stumbling across Tring’s quirky National History Museum of stuffed animals including famous racing greyhound, Mick the Miller. (Yonks ago our derby donkey, Mick was named after him)
  • Guided tour giving solely for us about the silk weaving industry in Macclesfield by guide, Daniel, at the Paradise Mills.
  • Visiting Edale, Peak District, and stumbling across glamping site, The Gathering listed as one of the best ten escape-to-nature getaways in the UK. Going on the bucket list!
  • Walking around Rudyard Lake (Rudyard Kipling’s parents liked it so much they named their son after it) and visiting the carvery afterwards.
  • A sublime day at Chatsworth House.
  • Sunday dinner at The Star Inn, Sancton, East Riding (is there a food theme emerging here?)
  • Visiting York’s lesser known but equally beautiful little sister, the cathedral town of Beverley.
  • Discovering Stamford in Lincolnshire. Reputedly England’s prettiest town. A bit like the Cotswolds but less touristy.
  • Seeing my sister compete at Staffordshire Horse Trials.
  • Getting to know all the owners and the pets in our care.
  • Waking up each morning and looking out onto the fabulous Roaches. (escarpment in Peak District)
  • Cooking on an Aga
  • Collecting fresh eggs from the chucks every morning
  • Sampling the fabulous Rutland Pippin (posh pasty)
  • And the absolute icing on the cake, our final house-sit on this trip turned out to be almost as grand as Downton Abbey. Yes, I am totally Downton-struck; even the dog looks like Isis.

To be fair we like to house-sit for nice people who take into account our needs and want us to feel welcome and comfortable their home. Social status isn’t important to us. We look after everyone’s house and pets with the same amount of respect and care whatever walk of life they come from. A few photos for you below.

I promise to live up to this blog name and write about Amsterdam next time!

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Llamas, Outrageous Wealth and The Black Death

Our fourth house-sit of 2019 got off to a sticky start. On Sunday we had a gruelling five-hour journey from Amsterdam to Dunkirk in 30 degrees heat (no air-con). Then long tailbacks at British passport control in Dunkirk because according to the official it was one of the busiest weekends in the year with kids going back to school after half-term. The ferry was overrun with marauding teenagers so a quick upgrade to the Premium Lounge meant we could at least relax for the three-hour crossing and have ‘free’ non-alcoholic drinks and snacks in peace. Once on English soil journey-wise things didn’t improve much and an hour-long tailback on the M25 left me wondering why we do this house-sitting malarky! But then after a good night’s sleep and awaking in a beautiful spot life seemed good again.

Pet-sitting Llamas
I agreed on this house-sit early in the year and I knew it was in a grand and spacious Georgian farmhouse in Hertfordshire, and that two dogs and a cat needed caring for. Only in the last email from the owner before we arrived did we hear about llamas. There is no work involved with their care apart from looking over the fence and checking that they haven’t keeled over, so easy peasy, till so far anyway as one never knows with animals! Today it’s cold, windy and wet and the llamas were shorn before our arrival so I can’t help feeling a bit sorry for them out in the field with their backs to the rain. The neighbour’s horse looks none too happy about the weather either…

Plague Village

Spring of 1349 in Hertfordshire came with a black cloud – a plague that would wipe out as much as half the population. It brought death but also major social change.

Before the owners left, we were told that the llamas’ field butts onto the site of an abandoned plague village. The only visible remains of the settlement is a hollowed out track that leads to its centre, but the plague-ridden bodies are still buried there. *spooky sound effect* The farmhouse further up the lane does have ghosts, or entities that move chairs around we were told. (What is it with ghosts that they constantly have to move the furniture?) But the lady of ‘our’ house assured me that  there are no spooks in this building. Read more about Ardwick Village and the surprisingly positive effects of the plague on survivors’ social mobility and bargaining ability here.

Outrageous Riches

Yesterday was a gorgeous day and we took advantage of it and visited Waddesdon Manor just over the border in Buckinghamshire. Some people’s wealth is unimaginable to mortals like you and me, isn’t it? The French-style chateau was built between 1874 and 1889 for Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild as a weekend residence for grand entertaining and as a setting for his art collection. The last member of the Rothschild family to own Waddesdon was James de Rothschild (1878–1957). He bequeathed the house and its contents to the National Trust. It is one of the National Trust’s most visited properties, with over 466,000 visitors in 2018, and in 2017 Waddesdon Manor won ‘Visit England’s Large Visitor Attraction of the Year category.’ The Joshua Reynolds’ portraits were outstanding and it is a NT property that will stand out in my memory because of its opulence and grandeur. Entrance to the house was half-price on the day we visited due to upcoming filming but even so cost 16 pounds per person. It was worth it as we spend the biggest part of the day in the house and grounds.

Home County
I didn’t know much about Hertfordshire before we came here. I always found it a vaguely annoying place because people always muddle it with Herefordshire where I grew up. But it’s a beautiful county, and not as built up as I’d expected. It seems generally affluent because of its proximity to London, but the villages have plenty of rural charm. Nearby Tring has a wonderful High Street and all independent shops. A Midsomer Murders episode was shot in nearby Watlington. That will probably be next on the itinerary once this rain clears up…




Hornless unicorn and llamas




Waddesdon Manor




Lafite by J. Vasconcelos


In front of the country pile


Over the top automaton


Job for Grandad and Rodney


Artist, Gerard Douw


Subject Madam Pompadour


Dining room WM


Waddesdon Manor


Got the summer dress out.


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Is it OK to trample on the tulips, in pursuit of the ultimate selfie?

We live in an era of narcissism fuelled by sites such as Facebook and Instagram. Many people post images of themselves amongst the tulip fields surrounding the famous spring gardens, de Keukenhof and this often involves traipsing through and destroying farmers’ crops. One such tulip farmer, Simon Pennings claims to have sustained 10,000 euros of damage through tourist vandalism. It may not be intentional but the consequences are the same. Read more about selfie-madness in this Guardian article.

Simon Pennings, a grower near the town of Noordwijkerhout in the bulb region of south-west Netherlands, was the first to erect a barrier in his field, emblazoned with the slogan of a pilot campaign backed by the local tourist board: “Enjoy the flowers, respect our pride.”

During the Easter Bank Holiday roads around the Keukenhof were gridlocked and even visitors with reservations were advised not to come (by car) because of the congested car parks and roads.

My very first blog showed photos taken at the Keukenhof in 2012 and this year I visited again with friends from England. It was busier than I was used to as mid-April is the peak season for the surrounding tulip fields to bloom. Even so, the paths in the garden are fairly wide and people behaved amicably towards each other so that it wasn’t a stressful visit.

Top Tips for visiting the Keukenhof

Go on a week day and avoid Bank holidays if you can.
Park at the additional entrance rather than the main entrance.
Take sandwiches and water because the food on offer is only the unhealthy kind, and overpriced.
Get there before 11 am as that is when the coaches arrive from either Schiphol or Amsterdam.
Take photos of the surrounding fields but resist the urge to trample into the middle of the crop. Better still hire a bike and dodge the tailbacks.
Be mindful that this is not an authentic experience of the country. Dutch people tend to avoid the Keukenhof like the plague!

Some photos of my 2019 visit. The theme was flower power!


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Creative Hub – De Ceuvel in #Amsterdam

Sorry for the radio silence, dear followers! I have been doing a turbo-boost fiction course which I blogged about for Writers Abroad here. That took up my writing energy for a bit.

Clichéd Vision
The new series on BBC1, Sunday evenings at 9pm, Baptiste, is set in Amsterdam. Occasionally it shows the city in a flattering light, but generally the usual clichés are peppered throughout; scantily clad women in windows being leched at by drunken men in stag parties, a tulip farmer who hasn’t seen a bath in months, Romanian underworld figures who specialise in decapitation, and drugs being sold in every café. These are supposedly the types of people and activities that abound in my adopted hometown. No doubt this has a smidgen of realism, it would be naïve not to believe so, but it’s pretty easy to avoid seedy areas if you just look a little further afield and don’t fall into tourist traps.

Get the Ferry Instead
Few weekends ago, when the weather was all balmy, I got the ferry from behind Central Station across the River Ij, to visit The Ceuvel. This is a creative hub of start-ups, unicorns, and community projects based in a former shipyard that looks out over the River Ij. The community is entirely off-grid, in what the Dutch call a circular-living economy. All energy sources are renewables, everything, including the boats and their refurbishments are made from re-used and recycled material. It has a post-apocalyptic vibe, the phoenix arising from the ashes, but the views over the water are calming and it feels inclusive. Anyone can walk amongst the boats and soak up the atmosphere. It was fun to wander along the boardwalk wondering what all those creative young things were getting up to in their wooden houseboats. There is also a nice café called, unexpectedly enough, Café, de Ceuvel. So next time you are heading Amsterdam way, avoid the clichés and take ferry 901 towards Buiksloterweg instead. All passengers travel free. See another aspect of Amsterdam, just as real as the clichés, a little harder to find but definitely a lot more wholesome.

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Silence: an elusive pot of gold at the end of the rainbow

Cityscape with traffic noise

At least 1m healthy life-years are lost every year in western European countries because of environmental noise, according to World Health Organization.

Noise, it’s everywhere, isn’t it? Loud machines and vehicles are associated with importance and personal status. It’s even infiltrated our language. The idiom; he/she’s a big noise means someone is an important person.

Fire Alarm set too loud
Even if you live out in the sticks there are increasingly loud household appliances to contend with. Mistakenly, we associate noise with efficacy or at social occasions, conviviality. After getting irreparable tinnitus in the 90s from a fire alarm that was set too loud, nowadays, I never go anywhere without ear plugs. Visiting the cinema can be an ear-damaging experience (theatres control the sound levels and the trailers and ads are often set above acceptable norms). I’ve given up on music concerts all together. It just isn’t worth the risk.

Discovering a low tolerance for noise
But before sustaining permanent tinnitus, I was always sensitive to noise. One of my earliest memories is of Mum hoovering the front room and me stamping on the red switch at the back of the machine to silence it. I was then just a toddler.


The offending vacuum cleaner

I still have, ‘tender’ senses, a characteristic of a hypersensitive type. For example, meeting a friend at a noisy café with a growling coffee machine, cacophonous conversation and scraping chairs to contend with, the occasion can turn into a trial rather than a treat. Hyper Sensitive People (HSP) are now becoming better understood mainly because of the book, The Highly Sensitive Person: How To Thrive When The World Overwhelms You by Dr. Elaine N. Aron which was published in 1999. HSP make up around 20% of adults and this comprehensive list of traits is helpful in identifying if you or someone around you is an HSP;

The habits of Highly Sensitive People

*They react strongly to noisy environments and need regular downtime to recover.

*They’ve often been told to stop being so sensitive or to toughen up.

*They agonise over decisions: as well as having great attention to detail, being more aware of consequences they also worry about upsetting others. “But they tend to make very good decisions in the end,” says Dr Aron.

*They notice small details: “An HSP will notice somebody’s new haircut or the design of a hotel carpet when others won’t,” says Dr Aron.

*They’re people pleasers: because they’re so sensitive to criticism they tend to overcompensate.

*They feel other people’s pain: “HSP tend to have incredible empathy and will worry about others a lot and be in tune with how they’re feeling,” says Dr Aron

Light bulb Moment
I completed a mindfulness course in 2014, and the aforementioned book about HSP was recommended to me. After reading the first few pages, I experienced a light bulb moment. At last, at the tender age of 54, I understood why I was different from others and needed to recover from evenings in noisy restaurants or parties, and why other people’s bad moods or unhappiness affected me so much.

Childhood is an important time for helping a child cope with hypersensitivity. If a child is taught to accept and value their emotions instead of being told to toughen up, then this can lead to better mental health in adulthood. One important trait which isn’t mentioned on the list above is that HSPs often have a special affinity with animals. As a child growing up on a smallholding, animals were an extension of my family. Animals didn’t judge or worry about me. They accepted me as I was.

Coping Strategies
However, you don’t have to be HSP to suffer from the ill effects of noise so my coping strategies may help you!

Look for silent household appliances. I recently purchased a quiet vacuum cleaner, and earplugs help me cope with noisy environments. I use paper towels or hand wipes in public toilets instead of Dyson dryers. I have a very understanding husband who also cherishes his peace, and through house-sitting we can spend time in quiet places away from the sometimes overwhelming hubbub of the city. Writing and reading are two favourite activities, neither of which involve noise. I go to a dance class where the teacher is mature about the noise levels of the music. I can enjoy the cinema and theatre as long as earplugs are always at the ready! The Dutch company Alpine sells the best earplugs in terms of comfort and noise control.


A quiet place in Mongolia

Read more about HSP here in an article in the Telegraph.

More in-depth information on HSP at Dr Aron’s website.

Potentially devastating health effects of noise in this Guardian article

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A Ghost Story for #Christmas!

Decorations, reindeer and jolly, rotund gentlemen are all very well, but there’s another tradition of Christmas which I love as much as the aforementioned, and that is a cracking good ghost story. The last few weeks I’ve been hooked on Netflix series, ‘The Haunting of Hill House,’ directed by Mike Flanagan. The series is loosely based on the book by Shirley Jackson. Horror writer, Stephen King, describes the series as, ‘close to genius’.

Memories or Ghosts?
The story is told through two timelines; switching between one summer the Crain family spent at Hill House when the children were growing up, and their lives as adults in the present. The story is told over ten episodes in a non-linear way and we get to know what led up to a night in Hill House that changed the family’s lives forever. We also learn why the truly terrifying Bent Neck Lady haunted Nell Cairn when she was a kid and still haunts her in adulthood long after leaving Hill House.
THoHH plays with that numinous area between emotional vulnerabilities and supernatural possession suggesting that we are all, like the Crain family, ‘haunted’ in some way; perhaps by family trauma, relationships that went wrong or wishes that never came to fruition.

Inspired by Poe
When I was at secondary school, we had to write a story in response to Edgar Allen Poe’s tale, ‘The Black Cat’. I wrote about a girl walking in a wood at night who witnessed a murder through the lighted window of a log cabin. She didn’t see the actual figures but events unfolded in silhouette on the cabin wall. I was really proud to be asked to read it to the class. My first published short story had ghosts and witchcraft, but since then I have generally stayed away from the horror genre because of its reputation as trashy entertainment, and the fact that it’s so easy to get it wrong and end up with something farcical.

Can we learn from the horror genre?
My opinions on horror changed however, when I went to a workshop at a writers’ conference a few years ago. The tutor explained how fiction writers, regardless of genre, can learn so much from the horror story. All stories need powerful antagonists, and horror stories have to deliver on that score. Readers must care deeply about the main character and at the climax of the action you know that your MC will be isolated and face-to-face with the antagonist. The classic three act structure of fiction; inciting incident, building to a climax, and resolution is already blue-printed into the ghost story.

Jekyll and Hyde
In many horror stories, protagonist and antagonist even merge into one, so that hitherto ‘good’ characters step over to the dark side. Indeed, the characters’ struggles with light and dark forces are major plot points in THoHH. This merging with dark forces also happens in Stephen King’s novel, The Shining. King famously hated Stanley Kubrick’s film of his book. In the novel, protagonist, Jack Torrance, tries his utmost to resist the evil forces in the haunted Overlook Hotel, retaining traces of his humanity almost until the end of the story. In the film, lapsed alcoholic, Jack, quickly sides with malevolent spirits and carries out their evil bidding without resistance.

Why do we need ghost stories?
Kubrick said that, ‘The Shining,’ is a positive movie because any evidence of life after death offers reassurance to mortals.
Ghost-story doyenne, Susan Hill, theorises in this Guardian article that we all enjoy thrills in a safe environment and in doing so prepare ourselves for the real frights and dangers in life. And Stephen King suggests that it’s much more diverting to be scared of ghosts than it is to worry about the true horrors of life such as serious illness, loss of loved ones and the grim reaper.

What about you? Do you like ghost/supernatural horror stories? Which ones are your favourites? Maybe you are a rationalist who has no truck with ghosts, fictional or otherwise?

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