Reducing my library. One day, we'll have to move from this house to a smaller place, as prices of energy keep mounting steeply. Less room for books. The hardest question is not what to keep. I find I lost interest to quite a lot of stuff I accumulated over the years. The hardest question: how to reduce the further buying of books, since so many good new things are published.

Back in town

I might pick up this journal again, see if I got many friends left, probably not. Last entry was somewhere in 2008 (prehistory, actually), and many things happened. Live happened. Since then I've published ten crime novels, nominated for awards with three of them and won the Hercule Poirot Award with 'Absint', the first of the batch. Financial crisis happened, and the whole Fortis lot was sold to BNP Paribas, our new masters. Actually I'm currently a member of the European Works Council of BNPP, at least till early 2012.
O, and some good people died in the meantime.
And I'll be a grandfather for the second time in a couple of days.
So who is out there still?


I'm currently writing a pamphlet accusing groups of shareholders of Fortis Holding of endangering the jobs of some 25.000 employees of Fortis Bank and Fortis Insurance (both in Belgium).
These groups of shareholders, who saw their shares reduced to almost nothing in the last month, have now instigated a class action suit against Fortis Holding on account of selling its assets (Fortis Bank and Fortis Insurance amongst them) to third parties.
During the weekend of October 4-5 both parts of Fortis were sold off to BNP Paribas (for 75%, the rest is with the Belgian state).
All this on account of the financial crisis, and the dire position Fortis Bank was in at the end of September.
For the employees the sale to BNP Paribas is the only possible way to continue their banking and insurance operations.
As some of you know I'm personnel representative with Fortis Bank.
We're not going to let these groups of shareholders get away with this. I understand their need to save some of their life savings, but not at the detriment of the jobs of thousands of people.
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New Book.

Last version of the thriller to come ('Absinthe' -- notice the unusual spelling in Dutch) has been accepted by my publisher, after some rewriting. Publication date still February 2009. The story collection however is late: Roelof Goudriaan is still working on the final version and I have not seen the proofs yet.
I've been contacted by my polish translator (who will translate 'The Last Story' from Dutch into Polish), and things look well, although there's no publication date as yet. Contract is signed.
I'm on facebook now, something I've neglected for quite a while, due to lack of time. I should write a story set in Japan for the spring issue of Wonderwaan, the Dutch SF/F magazine, but haven't found the inspiration yet. The Fortis-affair takes up too much of my time, since I'm now part of the little group of representatives that sees the HR-people of Fortis Bank Belgium on a very regular basis. Soon we'll work under a new name: BNP Paribas Fortis -- and that's too much of a mouthful.

New Book.

It's more or less official now: Mynx will publish my crime book early next year. It's a new genre for me, as far as this is a mainstream thriller, without fantastic and/or SF-elements.

The whole idea originated in a meeting I had some time ago with Jürgen Snoeren, Mynx's publisher, and his careful proposal that I write a book in a contemporary Dutch setting.

The book is due to come out early next year, in time for 'thriller month' (june) in the Netherlands. All in all it will be a busy year to come, since Het Verschijnsel publishers (much smaller than Mynx) plans to publish a new novel and a four-book set of all the Orsenna material (novels and shorter material).

Mynx is part of De Boekerij, one of the largest publishing concerns in The Netherlands.

New Book(s)

Yesterday Jo Claes presented his new book ('De Zaak Torfs') at the Library in Leuven. I've known Jo for many years and it's great seeing that he now has moved (again) to a larger publisher. And with a crime book, situated in Leuven, of all things. He's working on the next one.
Louis Tobback, the mayor, introduced the book by saying that he hadn't read it yet. Speeches and a short reading by Jo were over fairly quickly (I like book launches but dislike the long speeches and the occasional music that so often accompanies these events) and afterward we all had drinks in the cafe downstairs (and outside). Some eighty, maybe a hundred people were present.
I had a long chat with Leo De Haes, who is the publisher at Houtekiet, the imprint that publishes Jo's book. He's interested in crime writing, since this is still an interesting market. I had the same reaction from Jurgen Snoeren, publisher at Mynx (part of the De Boekerij empire) who is actively looking for Dutch/Flemish crime writers. And since I'm turning to that genre myself -- having done enough semi-fantastic stuff for the time being -- I'm all ears. I've actually finished (or am finishing) two crime book 'proposals' (actually nearly completed manuscripts) that I'll present to Jurgen on june 12th, after the Boekerij Garden Party in Amsterdam.
Meanwhile my other new book is out: 'Einde van de Eeuwigheid' ('End of Eternity') from publisher Kramat is printed and ready for distribution, and I'll have my own copies next saturday. For those who want to order copies, it'll be on my website soon after that. It's an apocalyptic book: what happens to people after the upcoming end of the planet and all inhabitants is announced? I chose three female characters (three generations of women) ad central points in the book, and mainly the youngest one, Deedee, who is fifteen and has no intention to call this The End.
There will probably be a book launch soon, but I'm waiting for my other other publisher, who'll have a story collection out in september, and then we'll see about a collective book launch.

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Have been spending part of last weekend in the emergency section of Gasthuisberg Hospital. Did a bit of (too) heavy work in the garden on Saturday morning and probably strained some (or all) lower back muscles. Could hardly move after that. Down on my back on the coach in the evening and when I got up to go to bed I fainted. Just for a short while, but enough for the doctor (whom we didn't get to see and whom we spoke to over the phone only) to send me to emergency. Over there they checked me out as completely as possible but found nothing to worry about.
All of which gave me the opportunity to watch these people at work. My daughter is a nurse in the same hospital, so I know something about the circumstances these people work in, but seeing them patiently and professionally at work kinda restores my faith in humanity. All of the patients in emergency were elderly people (seventies and even in their eighties), confused, immobile and only there to be transferred to another ward for treatment. Some of them didn't realize where they were, wanted to get out of bed at four in the morning, repeatedly had to be washed etc, and all the time the staff remained friendly, forthcoming, comforting and above all patient.
I never had a problem with seeing doctors or going to hospital, and after this I'm sure I want to live as close as possible to a large and well-equipped hospital as possible. The idea of going to live in a remote village in the Ardennes does seem less attractive now. All this thanks to the excellent Belgian public health system, that allows hospitals to almost completely check emergency patients even on a saturday night. No waiting line, no fuss.

Last couple of weeks have been more than busy. On May 6 the employees of Fortis Bank (Belgium, at least) choose their union representatives for another four years, and since I'm heading my union's Flemish delegation for the national works council, I'm supposed to do my bit in soliciting support. I might even be elected for the European Works Council, but that's something to worry about later.
All this involved working out a strategy and preparing a number of brochures which we used in Flanders, and a two and a half week trip around the branches of my own region. Visited some forty branches in parts of Vlaams-Brabant and around Brussels. All this takes time away from doing the really important thing, which is devising strategies to counter the management in their plans to work with less people and less branches, but it has to be done.

Meanwhile I'm even getting some writing done. I've written two articles for a new client, the Dutch science magazine Kijk, and there still are two pieces with the weekly Knack that they'll use soon. I'm slowly expanding in the field of journalism again, but nevertheless the main interest remains with writing fiction. I'm writing a future-thriller and planning to do more of the same, that's where probably the commercial interest lies.

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Finished reading 'No Country for Old men' in what amounts to one extended sitting. Am currently not inclined to go see the movie. Just yesterday I saw Steven Pinker on TED explaining that violence and wars etc are much less frequent than in previous historical periods. McCarthy would probably not agree with him.
Previously read (but just a tad slower) 'Amnesia Moon' and 'Gun, with occasional Music' by Jonathan Lethem. Very entertaining and you can see where he got some of his main ideas (Phil Dick in A.M.).
Am currently concerned with starting up a sort of professional society for genre writers in Netherlands/Flanders (because we share the language). The idea comes from a number of writers and publishers that want to promote 'local' genre-writing. Should include detective fiction and thrillers as well, I guess. If we ever get there, we should have writing and creative courses and workshops and that sort of this. There's already the Paul Harland Award for best SF/F story annually, which we think of expanding to other genres. All this will take up quite a bit of time, and since I'm expanding my professional writing to the Dutch science magazine 'Kijk' -- and with two books in the making this year (and two other projects in different stages), I'm going to be quite busy.
Just as I like it.

Iain Banks

Iain Banks at Scotland House in Brussels this afternoon (thanks to Nicholas for pointing my attention at the event). Iain, whom I met and corresponded with some twenty years ago -- not so long before internet, actually -- was his usual interesting and playful self. He talked about the two sorts of fiction he writers, under his two almost identical names, and about how his novels come into being. Read a portion of 'The Steep Approach to Garbadale', which sounds all the more funny than just reading it.
Talked to him, shortly, about our idea of having him as Guest of Honour at the next/next Beneluxcon -- the one planned for Belgium in 2009, not this year's con in Eindhoven. He was quite positive about the idea, all the more since Ken Macleod told him he had a good time last November in Leuven.


Just back from Amsterdam and London. Interviewed Robert Reich in Amsterdam and Kasra Naji (an Iranian journalist who has written a book on Ahmadinejad) in London.

Amsterdam: more than six hours on trains, and less than three hours in the city itself, in pouring rain, cold etc, so no time to go to the bookstores. London: clear, dry (first day at least), event in the Frontline Club in the evening, and interview in the Starbucks at Selfridges the next morning.

Both interesting subjects and writers. The book by Naji (published by I.N.Tauris in London) is absolutely worth reading since it looks like a detailed and rather faithful account of the position of Ahmadinejad. He's perhaps not the next president of Iran, but surely the conservatives and the extreme right will win again, mostly because the Guardian Council will prevent reformists to enter the elections.

The book by Reich (Supercapitalism) tells us we should behave more like citizens and less like consumers and investors, so that companies are forced to do 'the good thing'. Recommended, also.

Both interviews are for a Belgian magazine called Knack (something along the lines of Newsweek of The Economist), in Dutch.