Posted in Self-publishing, Writing

Introducing Commissioner Debbie

This post gives an overview of one of the many freelance roles that make up my working week – the editing role that, with echoes of Batman’s Commissioner Gordon, I refer to in my head as my “Commissioner Debbie” job.

 

Picture of my desk
It’s not always this tidy

As you may know, I work full-time from home in the comfort of my own study, overlooking the garden of my little cottage in the English Cotswolds.

My working week is a patchwork of many things, of which the largest is the role of Commissioning Editor of the Self-publishing Advice blog run by the Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi).

Yes, that is a long title – and no wonder we often abbreviate this when talking amongst ourselves in the group to the ALLi SPA blog.

ALLi is the global organisation that brings together self-publishing authors from around the world to share best practice and to campaign for a higher profile for indie writing.

Editing

ALLi logoAs its blog’s Commissioning Editor, my remit is:

  • to identify suitable topics for inclusion
  • to arrange for appropriate people (usually other self-publishing authors) to write guest posts
  • and to set them up to go live on the blog at the appropriate time

There’s a new and interesting post just about every day. To make it easier for readers to find what they’re looking for, the posts are loosely grouped into different strands according to the days of the week. For example, Monday is the “Opinion” slot in which writers sound off about controversial issues, and Thursday is the “Writing” slot in which we address topics related to the craft of writing.

Writing

World Book Day logo 2014Occasionally I write posts myself. This is either because my chosen topic is one that I’m well qualified to write about (for example, World Book Day), or because I’ve been inspired and informed by discussions on ALLi’s Facebook forum (a members-only group in which we discuss all aspects of self-publishing).

My latest post falls into that second category. Following a conversation about which version of English ALLi’s members choose to write in, I drew on my own experience of having lived in other English-speaking environments and stated my preference for adhering to British English (no surprises there). Although I can translate reasonably well into American English at least, I stick with what comes naturally. I also included quotes from authors writing in English in other countries, including the Scottish-born Catriona Troth, who grew up in Canada but now lives and writes in England (where she’s recently written a book set in Canada).

The post  – which you can read in full here – received lots of social media shares (53 at the time of writing this YoungByName post) and a flurry of comments (16 at last count, to each of which I gave a personal reply).

The author graduating from her American-style high school in 1978It also gave me the opportunity to use a photo that my editor at the Tetbury Advertiser used to illustrate my latest column there. It shows making a speech on graduation day at my American-style high school in Germany, Frankfurt International School. Worth every bit as much as my high school diploma was the fluency I gained in American English, though I retained my British accent.

Which version of English do you prefer? Do tell!

If you’re an aspiring writer or are already self-publishing your work, you might like to consider joining ALLi: click here for more information.

Posted in Travel

Plopsaland – It’s Nicer Than It Sounds!

The next instalment about our half-term trip to France, Belgium and Luxembourg, focusing on the delightfully-named Belgian theme park Plopsaland

Entrance to Mayaland, part of Plopsaland
Getting ready for a bee’s eye view

“Plopsaland – it’s not just about toilets!”

As we tour this amusement park near the Belgian seaside town of De Panne, I’m trying to devise a slogan that will do it justice, unlike its name, which sounds less than alluring to the English speaker’s ear.

Sign in Flemish with French translation
Putting Flemish first

Plopsaland is defiantly Belgian. Its directional signs are all in Flemish, with a less prominent French translation. There is not a word of English in sight – but why should there be? The polyglots of Disneyland have given us English an inflated idea of the importance of our native tongue.

Model of Maya
Meet Maya

It seems Plopsaland doesn’t especially welcome the French speaker either. When I ask an attendant a question in French, he looks at me blankly, saying “Je ne parle pas Français”. A Belgian who doesn’t speak French? I didn’t know such a person existed.

To be fair, the pleasant young man on reception spoke perfect English. He apologised that only one of the park’s many zones was open, as it receives few visitors in February. Each zone is dedicated to a different Belgian cartoon, of which Maya is the only one I know, from an encounter during my teenage years in Germany, where she was known as Die Biene Maya  (Maya The Bee). I can still sing the theme tune. (I may not know Flemish, but I do speak fluent cartoon.) Fortunately, today’s open zone is Mayaland.

Giant strawberries overhead in Plopsaland
From a bee’s eye view

The entrance to Plopsaland is similar to Disneyland’s, a vast paved forecourt curving around you as if offering a welcoming embrace. Beyond the main gates lies Flanders’ equivalent to Disneyland’s Main Street, composed of eerily deserted Flemish merchants’ houses.

On the far side of the square is a heavily disguised industrial metal storage shed. It’s like a an aircraft hangar on acid, decked from floor to rafters with giant plants and flowers, scaled up to make us feel as if we are the same size as bees. Mushrooms dwarf the entrance, and just inside vast dusky strawberries hang tantalisingly above our heads. The hall is filled with flowers that have overdosed on plant food.

Waterlily boats in Plopsaland
By the light of the silvery moon

Laura’s eyes light up. She has spotted nestling among the floral forest seven or eight classic theme park rides, each with an added a dose of bee-appeal, and fit for children from toddler to 10 (Laura’s age).

Gordon and I take it in turns to accompany her on the rides. At The Dancing Tree, we sit in a massive hollowed log which swings, rocks and revolves in an arc. Strapped into waterlily boats, we weave a graceful figure-of-eight beneath three-metre bulrushes against the backdrop of a cloudless  midnight sky.  Harnessed into sturdy plastic seats, we ascend the Redwood of dandelion stems, reaching the ceiling, before plummeting, spinning, back to the floor.

Giant slide at Plopsaland
Please don’t change lanes

On Plopsaland’s answer to Disney’s Flying Dumbos, we soar aloft in flower cups, each huge bloom accompanied by a plump, smiling bee the size of a small dog. Now and again, we haul ourselves from one side of Mayaland to the other by way of a wood raft which is attached to a rope traversing the stream that divides the hall.

I climb the giant slide with trepidation. I still bear a scar on my wrist from too close an encounter with a Welsh helter-skelter a few years ago. At least this time I don’t inadvertently change lanes, as I did on the giant slide at Horseworld, when I became unexpectedly airborne half way through a steep drop.

The Dancing Log ride
Gordon and Laura take a spin on the log
Laura and giant grasshopper
Laura meets the giant grasshopper

Providing much-needed respite for the adults is a pleasant café, offering mass-produced Flemish dishes, from erstersoepe to flammekuche. The servings are on a scale with the flowers, and Laura is confronted there by the biggest crepe she has ever seen. Perhaps park policy is to provide extra ballast on the rides – or to plunge all the grown-ups into a post-prandial snooze, allowing the children longer to play undisturbed. While we’re dining, a seven foot grasshopper strolls around shaking small hands.

The advantage of visiting in February is that there are no queues, allowing us to ride non-stop all afternoon.

Giant dandelion ride
Enough to give any gardener nightmares: the giant dandelion ride

Finally, towards closing time, we pop into the shop to scoop up thew inevitable souvenirs: plastic play figures of Maya and friends for Laura and, in the absence of branded t-shirts,  for Laura’s younger cousin a small plastic lunch box featuring the name of the gnome after which we’ve discovered the place is named: Plop. Knowing his sense of humour, we are certain it will give him hours of pleasure.

As the gates are locked behind us, we stroll slowly out of the complex, lingering to take photos and storing the concepts in our memory for future recall. Laura and I lag considerably behind Gordon so are surprised when we get back to the van to discover he is not yet there. Then the penny drops.

“I bet I know where he is,” I tell Laura.

As I march her back to the toilet block at the entrance, we see Gordon emerging from the Gents.

“I thought so,” I tell Laura. “He’d gone for a Plop.”

Plastic box with the Gnome Plop on the lid
We wonder what Laura’s cousin will keep in this box

Like to read my previous posts about our February trip to France, Belgium and the Netherlands? Here you go! (Next instalment to follow soon)

Posted in Family, Travel

The Benefits of Speaking a Foreign Language

Luxembourg City road train
All aboard for a multi-lingual tour of Luxembourg

Our Easter motorhome trip across France, Belgium, Luxembourg and Germany provides the perfect opportunity to demonstrate to my daughter the importance of learning a foreign language. This is  something I’ve been keen to impress upon her ever since the British government rescinded the rule that made it compulsory to study French to the age of 16. 

Although I’m not fluent in any language other than English, I know enough French and German to communicate effectively in all the countries that we traverse this holiday. Even though many of their population will be far more proficient in my language than I am in theirs, I take pains to at open every conversation with a few words in one of the native tongues.

As always, the people I speak to are pleased to hear a tourist make an effort, no matter how feeble. When our camper van runs out of water on the Luxembourg border, I’m able to ask very politely at the nearest  campsite if we may fill up our tank there, even though we’re not stopping overnight, and I negotiate a reasonable rate. The gnaediges Frau in charge is devastated when the freezing temperature prevents her standpipe from cooperating, “because you took the trouble so ask me so nicely in German”.

When continuing cold weather in Trier saps the life out of the motorhome battery, I’m able to accost the nearest motorist in an appropriate manner to ask for a jump-start.

Understanding the  local road signs enables me to navigate effectively whenever roadworks stump the satnav. My husband is surprised when I explain that Einbahnstrasse means “one-way street”:  he’d thought it was just a very common road name. He’d also been wondering why so many signs from different towns directed us to the unmapped resort of Umleitung. “That’s German for ‘diversion’,” I tell him.

Porta Nigra in Trier, Germany
Husband and daughter dwarfed by the glory that was the Roman Empire

Even so, I’m happy to opt for the English language setting on the Luxembourg City tourist train commentary. It’s accessible in any one of eight languages at the touch of a button.

On the upper deck of the open-top tourist bus in Trier, plugging my complimentary earphones into the socket on the panel in front of my knees, I flick to Option 1 for English and instruct my daughter to do the same.

On the hour-long sightseeing drive, pleasant music plays during breaks in the heavily-accented commentary. We pass breathtakingly ancient attractions: a 2,000 year old Roman bridge, still strong enough to withstand 21st century motor traffic; an amphitheatre with such precisely planned acoustics that it’s possible from the back row to hear a match struck centre stage; a beautiful Roman bath-house whose high arching walls alternate layers of brick and stone simply for decorative effect.

In between the music and the commentary comes the odd practical, deadpan aside  that makes my husband and I laugh aloud:

“Please refrain from throwing anything off the top of the bus.”

What kind of tourist are they expecting? I look around for the Visigoths and Vandals that ransacked the Roman Empire, but there are none (or if there are any, they’re hiding).

Suddenly I realise my daughter did not laugh, despite this being the kind of comment that would appeal to her slapstick sense of humour. I ask her why she’s not amused.

“Well, I can’t really understand much of what the lady’s saying, because her accent is so strong,” she sighs. “All I’ve understood so far is ‘hop-on, hop-off bus’.”

I peer down at the socket for her headphones. It looks as if she’s got it set to the right channel: 1. When I borrow one of her earphones to double check, I realise what’s happened. I may not speak this language, but I know it when I hear it. She’s inadvertently tuned in to Channel 7, which looks very like Channel 1 from this angle.

“That’s Dutch!” I inform her.

“OHHHH!”

Enlightenment spreads over her face and finally she starts to laugh.

“No wonder I couldn’t understand it.”

Fortunately, our hop-on, hop-off bus ticket allows us unlimited trips within 24 hours of purchase, so we go round again, this time with Laura tuned in to the English commentary. And she’s careful not to throw anything off the top of the bus.