Sunday, July 29, 2012

Real glass demons! - and more

As I mentioned in my last post, I have recently returned from a trip to my former home town of Bad Münstereifel in Germany. Bad Münstereifel is a truly wonderful place but if there is one thing it doesn't have a lot of, it's wifi access. This is probably partly because a lot of Germans use an internet "stick" that plugs into their laptop when they want mobile internet access, rather than relying on joining local wifi networks. I was able to get onto the net in the local library but to my horror it closed for a summer break a few days after we arrived. Before the trip I had fondly imagined that going "internet cold turkey" wouldn't be a problem, might even be relaxing, but pretty soon both the kids and I were desperate to get online! I happened to mention this to some friends we visited, and they very kindly offered to give me the keys to the beautiful and historic Weinhaus an der Rauschen, a hotel and restaurant which has (roll of drums) wifi, so that I could log on there. However when I got inside, the wifi was pretty quickly forgotten, as I laid eyes on the wonderful stained glass windows in the restaurant. I have a real "thing" for stained glass, especially the antique stuff, so I couldn't photograph it quickly enough. With the kind permission of the owners I am reproducing some of the photographs here. One of my favourites apparently shows a real "glass demon" like the one in my second novel!

Below: the Weinhaus an der Rauschen. It is situated on the Heisterbacherstrasse in Bad Münstereifel, upon which Pia Kolvenbach, the heroine of my first novel The Vanishing of Katharina Linden, lives. So if you ever visit the town, this is the place to stay if you want to live on the same street as Pia!

Below: arms of Jülich. I especially like this one because I used the name in Wish Me Dead; one of the characters is called Kai von Jülich.

Below: head of Christ. I think this might possibly be a representation of the image of Christ's face on the cloth of Saint Veronika.

This is a very interesting window (below): it shows a knight with a real "glass demon" being subdued under the hooves of his charger!

...and here is a close-up of that demon (below).

This is also fascinating (below). At first glance this is a romantic scene of courtly love...

...but if you look more closely (below) you can see something rather grotesque peeping out from behind a tree at the two lovers! It may be a personification of the sin of Lust.

P.S. If you really do visit Bad Münstereifel, here's the hotel's website: - it is in German but the owners speak perfect English. 

Friday, July 27, 2012

Return to Bad Münstereifel

Last night I got home from a week in Bad Münstereifel, my former home town and location of two of my books, The Vanishing of Katharina Linden and Wish Me Dead. When we lived in Belgium, it was quite possible to go back to Bad Münstereifel for the weekend or even a single day, but since we moved to Scotland this is no longer possible. This was my first visit to the town in over a year. It was a strange experience in a way; when I wrote those books, I located them in Bad Münstereifel because it was my home town. When I did school visits, people occasionally asked me why I set my books in Germany and I explained that amongst other reasons I couldn't have set anything in the UK at that time because I was so out of touch with life there, having lived away for years. Bad Münstereifel was my home environment. It's also a fascinating place with a long and interesting history (floods, plague, war) and culture (ghosts, witches and monsters), all of which I found very inspiring. 
We left Bad Münstereifel in 2008 and with the passage of four years I have slowly become out of touch with everyday life in the town. When I went back, there were some very big changes. such as the building of an enormous multi-storied old people's home opposite the Hauptschule - I remember when that spot was occupied by a terrace of tumbledown houses. The Printenhaus cafe has been knocked down and a carpark is being built in its place. The former department store Bollenrath has been boarded up pending redevelopment. I was very aware that there were things I had missed, that I am no longer a "local" of Bad Münstereifel. All the same, in spite of being away for so long, I still spend a lot of time in the Bad Münstereifel of my memories. Because of that sense of dislocation that I now have, the Bad Münstereifel of my books seems almost as real to me as the real town. After all, memories often have the same fuzzy edges as the imaginary scenes of a book. So it was quite strange being there - it felt as though I had stepped right into the pages of one of my own novels. I sometimes felt that if I were to run into Pia Kolvenbach (who would now be about 23) or Steffi Nett, I shouldn't have been at all surprised! 

I took lots of photographs of Bad Münstereifel as I am not sure when I will next visit. I am posting some here, and lots of others on Twitter. Someone asked me to take a photograph of Herr Schiller's house, which was an interesting challenge! Most of the places in my books are real-life places, including certain shops, but I always try to avoid identifying anyone's actual home as one of the houses in a book in case it causes offence. So I located Herr Schiller's house on Orchheimerstrasse, which is mostly shops, not homes. I did however photograph houses of the type Herr Schiller might have inhabited, in other streets. 

 Above: Orchheimerstrasse, where Herr Schiller is supposed to have lived. These are all shops!
 The houses in the photos above and below are on Heisterbacherstrasse, which is actually the street where Pia Kolvenbach lives in The Vanishing of Katharina Linden - I imagined that Herr Schiller would also live in an older style of house like one of these.

Here is a photograph of my favourite cafe in Bad Münstereifel, the Erft Cafe! I am sad to say that the cafe will be closing later this year, which is why I wanted to post a pic of it. Herr Nipp, who runs this cafe with his wife, was one of two bakers who advised me on the running of a German bakery for Wish Me Dead, and in my opinion he makes the world's best cherry streusel! All is not lost, however - Herr Nipp also runs the Cafe Am Salzmarkt so next time I am in the town I need not do without my favourite streusel! 

Monday, July 2, 2012

My favourite independent bookseller

It's Independent Booksellers' Week 2012 (see ) so I'd like to raise a glass to my very favourite independent bookshop, the inimitable Treasure Trove in Tervuren, Belgium. It may seem odd to pick a shop overseas but we lived near Tervuren from 2008 until 2011 and it was our "local" bookshop. Also, in spite of its location, Treasure Trove is an English language bookshop selling mainly children's and YA books.
It's also an amazing success story, thriving in a country where English is not the first language and the potential market is therefore smaller than it would be in the UK. They have achieved this through their energy and enthusiasm, organising regular events for their young customers including readings, craft activities and author visits. I have held two book events there myself and felt incredibly welcomed and supported. Treasure Trove, I think you're fab!