A shift in the way I write

Yes, dear reader,

I am aware that this post might not be as intriguing as one about a new book but this is something so different and new I want to tell ‘the world’ about it. This is about writing. Yes, I needed to add that, didn’t I?

Writer’s Café

Writer’s Café used to be my ultimate writing tool. It runs on every PC platform, Mac also. I wrote a lot using that program and I’ll defend it until the very end. But at times something comes along that just stuns the words and paragraphs out of me. And one of those times happened last week. It’s called

pandoc markdown

Right, what is markdown? Markdown is a way to ‘format’ flat text. In formatted text one uses italics, bold text, and even underlined text. With a plain text file like you make in Notepad or vi that’s not possible. Unless you use markdown. Markdown comes in several flavours, LaTeX is a famous one. I use pandoc. It’s less versatile than LaTeX but that makes it much easier to learn and use. How does markdown stuff work?

Suppose you want to write something in italics in this text way. You simply put asterisks around the text. So *italics* becomes italics. This also works with bold, you just add 2 asterisks: **bold** becomes bold.

You can also add a code for e.g. a chapter header. Simply put # in front of it. E.g. #Chapter 1.


The main reason for this is the ability to write anywhere, on anything. If I am on a PC I can use a plain text editor to write. When I have my Android tablet with me I can write the same stories without having to worry about converting it to some other system and lose something in formatting. Even if I copy a text file to my office iphone I can simply carry on with the story.

But what about creating real files for books?

That is where the real power is hidden. It requires a lack of fear from the dos prompt (or x-terminal in Linux) but making a Word .docx file from all the chapter text files is simple (note that I saved all the text files with an .md extension, for clarity):

pandoc *.md -o story.docx

That will collect all the *.md (md stands for MarkDown) files in alphabetical order and create a Word document called story.docx.

This is how that looks on my Linux machine:

Create it:
paul@Kelutral:~/BTSync/Schrijven$ pandoc *.md -o story.docx
Show it’s there:
paul@Kelutral:~/BTSync/Schrijven$ ls -l *.docx
-rw-rw-r– 1 paul paul 50908 aug 4 16:55 story.docx

Even more magic is there: you can create an epub from those files the same way:

paul@Kelutral:~/BTSync/Schrijven$ pandoc *.md -o story.epub
paul@Kelutral:~/BTSync/Schrijven$ ls -l *.epub
-rw-rw-r– 1 paul paul 55257 aug 4 16:58 story.epub

Do you need a webpage that shows the first 2 chapters? Just feed pandoc the names of the first 2 chapters and let it do the legwork:

paul@Kelutral:~/BTSync/Schrijven$ pandoc DeJongeHeks01.md DeJongeHeks02.md -o story.html
paul@Kelutral:~/BTSync/Schrijven$ ls -l *html
-rw-rw-r– 1 paul paul 22509 aug 4 16:59 story.html

There we are. No problem. Creating a PDF, a Kindle file, all that works with pandoc.

Maybe all this looks complicated and scary for those who are used to using nothing but Scrivener or Word, but I thought it worthwhile to show you there’s more out in the world than those programs. If you like to be versatile then this is worth looking into.

Sometimes I don’t write.

Yes, that’s right, dear reader.

There are times I don’t write. This doesn’t mean writing isn’t on my mind though. Last Sunday afternoon I discovered a problem in a story. Something crucial was missing and I had no idea what the crucial part was. Staring at the screen did nothing crucial for me or the story so I decided to do something drastic. I went outside for a walk.

treesThis is not a hazardous thing because I live in a nice area. These trees for instance are between the front door and the spot where I usually park my car.

I picked a good moment of the summer Sunday too because it wasn’t raining at that moment, and even many clouds had better places to go so I found myself facing sunshine. Very uncommon in these areas lately although I am not complaining.

After about 15 minutes I was wandering through my favourite forest (because it’s so close to home that I can walk there easily) and at a certain point I had the choice to go left (where I had never gone) or right (where I usually go). I went left.

To my surprise I came upon a small lake. I had never seen that before! Amazing how lakes suddenly appear when you turn left. The soil around the lake had suffered from the rainfall. The sound of my shoes was interesting, to say the least. The water that seeped into my shoes was less interesting but colder, probably to make up for the difference.

BerenklauwOn the way back home I came across this fellow.

It’s a Heracleum sphondylium, commonly known as hogweed or cow parsnip, and a big one. It was as tall as I am!

I left it there as it looked happy where it was.

Incidentally in Dutch this plant is called a Bear claw.

The last special thing I encountered was this colourful bench in a park. Whoever the artist (or artists) was or were did a great job on creating something joyful! 


Today is the big day

Dear reader,

Today is the big day. The day of the 25 year anniversary of Museum Ceuclum (our local history museum) and the presentation of “In de ban van de stier”, which roughly translated means “Under the spell of the bull.” At 1 pm today the festivities will commence.

Museum Ceuclum
Museum Ceuclum

It all looks to be great and wonderful, with something for everyone – young and old. We’ll be seeing a Roman emperor with some of his soldier, the Cuijk council member for culture, Rob Poel, will be present and also the sun has promised to show up.

hilda01For me as a writer this will be a special day as well. I’ve had many amazing experiences since I started writing, for instance the success of my series “Hilda the wicked witch” and the e-mails of so many people all over the world who told me what my books mean to them.

And today another highlight will be added to that list. The presentation of my book about Cuijk. A project of almost 3 years when I add everything up. 2 years of thinking about it and after that 1 year of research, writing, checking and getting things ready for publication.

Today will be amazing. Just a few more hours before things begin.

A little update on… Hilda, book 18.

Dear reader.

Hilda the wicked witchIt may not come as a shock that there will actually be an 18th story about Hilda and William. A story full of surprises, I might add, but which ones will still be covered under a purple wizard’s cloak.

Private matters in the life of my editor have delayed progress on the appearance of this book.

We are however working on making this book a reality so don’t despair just yet. I’ll give you proper warning ample time in advance if your worrying is required.

If there was one question you could ask about this new book, which question would it be? Please don’t ask ‘when will it be available’; I’ll give you the answer on that right now: as soon as it’s done. I know that’s a bit of a dead give-away but some things in the life of a person can’t be rushed.

To ease your curiosity a little however I’ll drop a tiny hint on what you will encounter in the new book. What… I should rather say ‘who’.

Note: this is a hint. Arrr.

Incidentally the hat you see in this picture also is referred to in the story. This however is quite coincidental as I had no idea I would locate this image while I was writing about the hat and the person beneath it.

If this hint was not clear enough then I will also drop the words “September 19th” here. (That date falls on a Monday this year.) Employ your search engine skills and you might discover more than you bargained for!


Scifi, fantasy and portals

Food for happy thoughts.

Recently I read a post online that made me happy. The post dealt with things that are often seen as bad things in scifi and fantasy writing. One of the ‘bad’ things discussed was portals.

Why are portals considered bad?

Probably because they are easy. Portals can just be there without any further explanation. No one knows how it got there, nor who built it. The fun is to figure out if it still works, how it works, and how to get yourself out of the mess once you went through it.

Why do certain critics insist that writers should come up with other, more credible bits of equipment to get their characters into trouble? It will only add to the size of the book because the whole thing needs to be explained, invented, put into place, made credible. All that will draw the attention away from the actual story.

Of course, at times coming up with a new way to go from one place to another can be bunches of fun, but then that whole experience should be part of the story.  No such thing needed with a portal. Bam. It’s there. We’re in trouble Now what?


My own portals.

Seriously, I love portals. I’ve used one in Francis and Frankie for instance. And the times that Hilda and William travelled from Fairyland to ours and back, for instance in The Wytches Roone, that didn’t happen because of well-defined physics and other particle storm entities. Portal. Get them there and make the story happen. The titles I mentioned up here were fantasy stories. My Scifi story “Wanted: hero” also uses a portal to get to another planet. No space ships, no FTL-drives (Faster Than Light, another thing mentioned on the article I referred to). Without portals many stories would not have happened, and I’m not just referring to my own stories here.

A famous portal.

Sg1 stargate frontDo you remember the first Stargate film? What else is that star gate but a big, old portal? An entire network of them even!

As the series went on, the origin of the star gate was divulged, little by little. A great way to do this because it gave the people writing the series time to come up with credible parts to make this sound plausible. For me they did a great job with that.

(And since I’m a book lover: did you know that there are books published about the Stargate universe? Really! Follow the link and be surprised if you’re a fan and didn’t know about this yet!)

Gimme my portal and no one gets hurt.

Portals. I love them. Because they’re so convenient and versatile. How do you feel about portals in fiction (and film) to move to other places, other times, other worlds? Heck, maybe I’ll write a book called Portal World some day. I can see interesting things happening in such a place…

Hilda and her younger years

Dear reader,

Hilda16_the youngeryears_320I am certain that many of you, who are Hilda fans or even Hildaholics, have by now read that infamous book about Hilda when she wasn’t yet the wicked witch she is now.

You may have seen that there are a number of references to older books and stories in book number 16. This was only partly my intention, but as the story grew I saw more and more opportunity to clarify how certain things had come to pass in Hilda’s life and history.

I have now taken it upon myself to outline the references to the older books as I did take notes on them. Are you ready for them? I am curious if you have found the same ones, and if you perhaps discovered something that I missed!

Reference number 1. Chapter 1. Rompford.

medieval villageThis one primarily goes to book 8, Dragon Master, where Hilda mentions her town of birth for the first time.

Another reference here would be book 11, Rock ‘n’ Troll which acts out almost entirely in Rompford. I still hope to see a Rompfordian football match…

I admit, this was quite an obvious reference, perhaps even so obvious you missed it. No worries though, there are many more to come.

Reference number 2. Chapter 2. Special wood.

Hilda 13 the house 320In this chapter Hilda’s dad goes out to acquire some ‘special wood’. This of course is wood from the Squeamish which is brought to our attention in book 13, The House. This is actually something I thought of later, after having written that particular chapter already.

The house that Zoraia and Ludwig live in was a talking house – remember that it talked with Hilda on occasion? That suddenly reminded me there had to be a connection to Squeamish wood, so I had to send Ludwig out shopping for that particular kind of wood. Which he did.

Reference number 3. Chapter 3. The school of magic.

schoolHere we have references to several books again. First of course there is book 7, Back to School.

But also book 10, Magic on the Rocks, is definitely meant to be referenced here. As you may remember, the school was quite an interesting place for Hilda and also Baba Yaga. I really enjoyed working out the classes, the other class mates and their quirks and habits, and the problems someone can have with flying a broom.

I’m still grateful for the writers of Arabian stories who came up with flying carpets…

Reference number 4. Chapter 4. Two vanishing cats.

Two-black-catsThis was a tricky one to spot, I am sure. In chapter 4 Zoraia casts a spell onto two cats that were tormented by a few village boys and those cats disappeared – but where to? Well, they went to book 4 for starters, Hilda and Zelda. This is the first place where I originally made the two black cats appear, seemingly out of nowhere. Now, magical cats do wild things but they need to come from somewhere. Now you know where that somewhere was: the marketplace of Rompford, when Hilda was small. Another reference to the two cats was of course Hilda book 5: Cats. Now that was an easier one, wasn’t it?

Reference number 5. Chapter 4. Big sister.

But that’s not all for this chapter. In chapter 4 Hilda also learns that she’s ‘the older sister’ now and that she has to take care of her baby sister. Hidden in here is a reference to The House, again, where Hilda realises she has to do what her parents told her to do: take care of Charisma!

Reference number 6. Chapter 5. A hut on legs.

In chapter 6 of Hilda’s Younger Years Hilda sees the hut of Babs’s parents for the first time. A hut on legs. Where does this point at? Believe it or not, this goes to book 3, The Challenge, where William appears and faces Baba Yaga’s living environment for the first time. Another reference here is Phargene, book 14, where Hilda meets Baba Yaga’s parents, Papa Yaga and Mama Yaga.

Reference number 7. Chapter 7. Where we meet tailors.

tailorThis chapter references the Zola family, the famous tailors who fell victim to burglary in Hilda’s adventure Rock ‘n’ Troll. Do you remember how Hilda and William went into the store of Gorgon Zola and his wife, for Hilda to order a new dress?

I had far too much fun with that tailor. I thought Zola was quite an interesting name as it’s not very common, and then I thought of the famous cheese, Gorgonzola, and now you know how the good clothes maker got his first name…

Reference number 8. Chapter 10. A heady teacher.

You have probably recognised Hepatia Strunk, the not so beloved head teacher at the Magic School. Here of course we have a reference to Back to School as well as Magic on the Rocks again.

Reference number 9. Chapter 10. Meeting an old friend.

JennealYes, two references in this same chapter, and all to different books. In chapter 10 of the Younger Years Hilda meets Jenneal, the red-dressed, red-haired witch with a fox fixation.

This points us back to Rock ‘n’ Troll again where William and Hilda visit Jenneal and actually recruit her to battle the huge walking rock men that are threatening the village of Rompford.

There actually is a link from Rock ‘n’ Troll to the latest book, The Wytches Roone as well. I didn’t know that when I was taking these notes, but the twins with their harps on the carts in Rock ‘n’ Troll are based on the same Harp Twins that play a major part in the The Wytches Roone!

Don’t worry, we’re getting to the end of the references. Somewhere…

Reference number 10. Chapter 13. Witch meets Goddess.

CirceThis is probably one of the very easy ones to spot. Hilda meets Circe for the first time in chapter 13.

Circe, the Greek Goddess who calls for Hilda’s help in Hilda – Aiaia.

It was very entertaining to bring Circe back into the story since Hilda told William about how she’d met Circe in school, how she’d been late for the start of the lessons, and the strange manner in which she’d seen Circe’s parents back then.

Reference number 11. Chapter 18. Wet clothes.

In this chapter Hilda gets fished out of the water. That was a very terrifying experience for her as you can imagine. The reference here, believe it or not, is Phargene. Can you spot why? Think back to the story and the flooding tunnels where witch and wizard are trying to shut the valves…

Reference number 12. Chapter 19. The Ring.

ringThis is a feeble reference, I’ll admit that. The ring that Hilda gets from Circe, the dachtilìdi. It’s a bit of a pointer to Charisma, the young witch, who steals that very same ring from her older sister and has adventures with her friends.

Reference number 13. Chapter 21. Scary Mountain.

Who doesn’t remember the scene in Hilda 2, Snow White revisited, where Hilda and Babs are performing their magical arts at the witches meeting on Scary Mountain?

Reference number 14. Chapter 25. Back to School.

Really, they don’t come easier than this one. The title of the chapter is the same as that of book 7. Back to School, so let’s immediately roll on to

reference number 14. Chapter 25 again. A hut in the water.

Here is a nice reference to Rock ‘n’ Troll again, to the time when Hilda and Jenneal remember the time that the hut of Baba Yaga’s parents had walked into the river. 🙂

Reference number 15. Chapter 28. Finally…

foxThe last one. You must be relieved. In this chapter Jenneal has her affair with the fox and the hunters. Yes, we’re once again back at Rock ‘n’ Troll.

You made it!

Well, that was it for Hilda’s Younger Years. Did you recall or remember the events I described? If so, I hope you had fun travelling through Hilda’s history with me. If not I suggest you go back to book 1 and start reading again.

(Joking of course!)

Have a wonderful day, from Paul, Hilda, William, and the cats. And the rest of the crew!


Language battle.

Language battle.

Dear reader,

english nederlandseAs you may know I write in two languages. English and Dutch. Usually not at the same time, but sometimes it happens. Now (not as in at this very moment, but lately and still) I do that. I write in Dutch and English at the same time. This is because of the sequel to ‘Wanted: hero‘. Yes. There will be a sequel. I wrote most of the draft text during last year’s Nanowrimo. In English. And now I am writing the text again, in Dutch. No, that’s not merely translating, it’s literally writing it because of the many difference between the two languages.

Word play, double meanings, expressions, those are language items you don’t simply translate. You write them again. This in turn means that I rewrite much of the English text again as well though.

Question from a fictitious reader: how does that happen? Didn’t you already write the English version?

Answer from the writer: yes, I did. I wrote the English first. I write the same sentence or paragraph in Dutch, which makes me think about the sentence and remodel it to Dutch style, grammar and spelling. Occasionally the sentence will come out much better in Dutch than in English which in turn makes me adjust the English sentence so it’s more like the Dutch one. And voila (which is French and means look there, since we’re on the subject of languages anyway), the English is rewritten.

I have found this a fabulous way to duplicate a story into Dutch. It makes me reconsider the English original, which in turn can make me change both English and Dutch a few times before it’s just right. Things like that take time. Lots of time. But in the end they’re worth it.

This post appeared on my Dutch blog earlier. In Dutch. Click here if you’re interested to see it. 🙂


Everyday things of importance

Yes, dear reader.

postmanEveryday things can be of importance. Especially for writers who pay attention to detail. One of those occasions happened to me a few days ago as I walked home from the library. The rain had just stopped for a few minutes at that point. I saw a mail woman putting mail in the designated locations. Mail slots. Indeed. But that wasn’t so important. The important part started when suddenly she looked into the street and started waving. She was not waving at me. Then she called out, “Isn’t this great?”

This, dear reader, had me sort of puzzled. What is so great about handling mail? Granted, envelopes come in all colours these days, but still… the answer to this came a few moments later, when a fellow mail man came by on his bike. He replied something to his female counterpart which I could not understand, but then I understood.

These people are outside all the time. Also in the rain. And that very rain had just stopped falling down. That is something which makes mail people happy. It’s an everyday thing that not many may catch, but I think it’s precious. It’s something that might be useful in a story, as a little detail. But it could be an important one.

Perhaps you remember Lily Marin…

Dear reader,

Lily Marin Novel CoverYes, Lily Marin. After six short stories and a novel, there is news about this remarkable singer from the Victorian era we like to call Steampunk.

It’s been a while, but I have finally gathered enough ideas, material and courage to dedicate a new novel to Lily and her friends. We’ll encounter her original nemesis in this story, and Dr Calgori is there again of course. I have only just started the new book, the third chapter is currently being penned down, so it will take a while before this new work will be out in the world. However I thought this worthy of announcing.

If you have any questions about Lily Marin, I would advise you to read the short stories I wrote about her. These are free on Smashwords (all you need is an account there and that’s also free); Barnes & Noble (book 1, book 2, equally free) and on Apple Itunes (book 1, book 2, both free). Amazon unfortunately doesn’t allow me to make the books free, but you can find a Kindle version on Smashwords. Just locate the .mobi file. And if you get hooked and you want more, there’s always the first proper novel!

Book review – Terminal World, Alastair Reynolds.

Title: Terminal World
Author: Alastair Reynolds
Genre: Steampunk
Rating: 5 of 5 stars

terminal world

Terminal World is classified as a steampunk book. I agree with that but it has a large amount of future in it so it also is science fiction for me.

Terminal World was worth reading. We meet all kinds of fascinating people and not-people in the story, which starts in a very complicated, high structure called Spearpoint. As the story progresses, steampunk becomes more prominent (steam, airships etc). The pace of the story is good, I like how it flowed along, and also the way Mr Reynolds managed to express himself in descriptions is very nice. At some point in the story I feared that things would turn into a ‘Mad Max’ environment as the Skullboys made their appearance but that proved to be not so. Such a relief.
The end of this book was very good, amazing in some places even (I name Tulwar and Nimcha in particular). And I definitely liked the Mad Machines.

If you are in search of a great story to read, I can recommend Terminal World.