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Welcome - The International Writers Magazine - August 2010

Welcome to Hackwriters: Are You an Aspiring Journalist? Beaverbrook Foundation to launch new scholarship lecture and awards for UK Print Journalism. The Beaverbrook Foundation, a charity established in 1954 by the first Lord Beaverbrook, is set to launch a new £250,000 annual scholarship and awards scheme to support young Journalists and reward excellence and ingenuity within print and online journalism across the UK. The scholarship will offer support to students studying at a number of universities in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. In addition to receiving an annual grant, to pay for their tuition fees and accommodation, each student will be provided with training through continuous work placements at a selection of the country’s leading regional newspapers. The winners of the scholarships and awards will be announced during an annual gala dinner, in London. Three awards, which will include significant cash sums, will be presented for the following categories: Five Beaverbrook Scholarships for Journalism and English undergraduates
Young Reporter of the Year Award
Innovation in Journalism Award
The Beaverbrook Prize for Lifetime Achievement in Journalism
For more information, Henry Sands can be reached
Editorial August 24th: On Lille & Bruges

Eurostar is great from St Pancras.  The cafés actually serve things you want to eat, although it is a shame you can’t take coffee onto the train.  (The catering on the Eurostar is ABYSMAL – the Lille Station cafe is AWFUL – so consider that in mind when travelling).  The trains are packed solid, people bring way too much luggage, but luckily the trip is very short, so it’s all over before you finish The Times basically. Bruges

I took my sister on holiday, as she hasn’t been away for years.  Eurostar breaks aren’t cheap but the journey is way better than Ryanair or Easyjet and more convenient, so you don’t mind the extra cost so much.  (In fact when flying to Biarritz last month the air fare and the cost of getting to Stansted turned out to be more than if I had gone by train all the way and only three hours shorter given the wait in airports and delays.  Add the sheer unpleasantness of flying Ryanair and the surly staff….  I can’t really think of a reason to fly to Europe.

Lille was flooded when we arrived.  The joy of finding the dreaded Comfort hotel whilst knee deep in rivers of water was not the best start.  I might add that Comfort is somewhat relative at the Comfort hotel.  For 90 Euros a night you get paper thin walls, people playing their TV’s at full volume next door, (no CNN or any other language TV at that) broken showers and if foolish enough to try breakfast at 9 Euros it’s a very expensive poor quality option.

  I guess just because I have never been to Lille there was no sensible reason to consider it a 'destination' city.  August is a bad time to visit France I guess with most things closed.  Visiting it during a downpour wearing only one pair of soggy Converse will not make it easier.  We went to the 2nd largest Museum in France Palais Beaux-Arts.  The sight of standing by a bucket next to two Monet’s as water dripped from the roof and pooled onto the polished wooden floor told us everything about how much pride they take in this museum.  Water was actually splashing up on the Bosch painting. Just these three paintings had to be worth maybe $20 million and they can’t be bothered to fix the roof? (Sell the paintings and fix the roof and then open the bloody coffee bar whilst you are at it Lille).  Pools of water were all over the place and in the end the well preserved brick cellar offered the most intriguing sight: 3D relief maps that occupy almost all the huge basement area constructed around 1600 plus to plan sieges of Lille, Namur and other cities in the region.  Extraordinary. 

Rue de Monnai (Rue St Andre) attracted my sister the most, with chic boutiques offering little dresses and skirts for fantastic prices.  We stood and gawped at the prices.  Indeed we stood bemused at the prices of everything.  The pound is worthless.  How can people afford to live in Europe?  We asked where we could actually get pastry and coffee and we were recommended Café Meert. The line–up should have told us to stay away.  Rather like Betty’s in York but classier, they charged £19 quid for a small cup of tea, hot chocolate and two rather dull pastries dropped on the table like a lump of ….

I hesitate to recommend the best place to eat in Lille because they must pay Google something not to be listed on the map so tourists wont find it, but here goes - the best kept secret in Lille is the Basilic Café at 10, rue du Pont Neuf.

The best place for wine is a wine bar on the tourist trap of Rue Louis Bettignies. The market in Wazemmes in Nouvelle Aventure is well worth a visit on Thursdays and Sundays 7am-1pm. Plenty of fantastic vegetables, flowers and breads. Some interesting junk too. The population here is quite different to the rest of the city too. At least here one can afford to eat. Lille is one of those cities you tick off on a list of places you have been to but probably won’t return.  (Like Brussels). Fate would make you live in Lille of course, but there is a big Catholic University there with an arts and fashion emphasis with Agnes B as patron - so that can't be bad.

Pump and Post We did a side trip to Bruges and this was great. (Pre-book your tickets, it is cheaper). We arrived after just an hour’s trip and whilst most people went to the buses and lined- up, we strolled into the city.  A lovely walk and although we were taken aback by the sheer volume of people in the town square wondering where Colin Farrell met the girl or looking for the spot where Brendan Gleeson met his death at the base of the tower, just go a little way on any of the side streets and wander, it is a sheer delight.  Take lunch by the canal, then supper at the other big secret of Bruges (the Lumiere cinema Sint-Jakobsstraat 36) which plays VO movies (Version Original) has a terrific reasonably priced restaurant attached and a great big courtyard and somehow I got sunburned drinking a coke there.   Do not order the groot sized Spaghetti you will EXPLODE.
Photo: @ Sam North 2010
Bruges I really liked Bruges, it was clean, wonderful to meander the streets and discover architectural gems, the little cafés are excellent and everyone was really friendly.  There are new developments being built in old industrial areas but nothing brutish or out of style. Modern and old sit well together. I guess it must be annoying to live on a canal and have these boats filled with tourists go by with a loudspeaker blaring out everything of interest. Horrid actually.
Photo: @ Sam North 2010
Bruges' second burst of glory days must have been from 1600 to 1700 and the Dutch influence is incredibly strong. 1000 years ago Bruges was actually on the coast but silting up closed that off until the Zwin canal access was formally dug. It's wealth was based around textiles and I believe the very first stock exchange was built here in the 13th century. Printing started here with William Caxton who had moved there from London. The city began a decline when the canal silted up and in fact declined for centuries until it was discovered by 19th century tourists and from there began a long climb back up to becoming the European 'Capital of Culture' in 2002. The dog in the photo posed elegantly from his window ledge - enjoying a moment in the sun.

Flemish is a lot like Afrikaans we discovered to our surprise.  Bruges is one of those places you go to and think, yes I could live here. A perfect place for an artist or writer.
Photo: @ Sam North 2010
dog bruges
The Sixties We were very upset to discover we could have stayed in the fantastic Relais Ravestein - one the most stylish hotels in the city for the same amount as the crappy Comfort in Lille. Eat at 'The Sixties' restaurant on the canal and enjoy the elegant rooms there. (Around 97 Euros a night)
Photo: @ Sam North 2010

Basically I came away from both places thinking that I’d like to open a Café Nero empire across Europe just for tourists who want a decent café latte and a pastry at the same time.  (You’ll be surprised how hard it is to find a place that sells both). I met a Canadian woman who’d just started a coffee shop in Bruges using Bean Around the World coffee and she told me you have to have a degree in accountancy to start a coffee shop by law there.  I kind of hope not, but suspect it is true. Oh well…. Another dream gone.
Back in blighty one realises that life here is around 40% cheaper – something to hold onto in the cold nights of the coming autumn.

On Spain in July

Vigo I decided on Spain for the summer. After all they have won Wimbledon, The World Cup, Tour De France and the German Grand Prix (by default) – the Spanish must be doing something right.
(Images © Sam North - Vigo Port taken from Park Castro with my trusty Nikon Film Camera. yes still using film!)

Foolishly you decided to drive from Bayonne in France to Vigo on the North Atlantic coast, if only because you have never been there. Vigo you learn is where La Pinta left to discover America (not that it was ever ‘lost’ mind).

On the way (it is nearly 900Ks) you might want to stop in the medieval city of Leon.

Everyone will tell you to stop in Burgos for the Cathedral, but Leon is much more interesting and welcoming. It has one of the finest Cathedrals in the world (the interior is all stained glass and wonderful to behold).

The city is truly welcoming, but rather hot. It was 38c whilst I was there and seems to be filled with very beautiful women – none of whom speak English. Worth learning Spanish just to talk to them I should think.
Leon door

Want a stroll by the rather empty river? Just walk from San Marcos Plaza, where the Parador is stunning and the dining room reminiscent of a medieval banquet room and the food (though expensive) wonderful.  Now just stroll into the old town and listen to the thousands of House Martins that fly about the city.  Dine in one of the many old bars of this city and enjoy the Rioja (served chilled). Explore secret doorways that lead to hidden restaurants and interesting bars.

If you book ahead, stay in the Parador San Marco. It is very elegant and the riverside shady patio a wonderful place to write on a hot afternoon.

Driving on to Vigo up the steep hills and mountains I realised quickly that I needed a car with a larger engine. A Peugeot 107 is great for parking, but not the hills with their sweeping viaducts and astonishing views, but it got there in the end and Vigo turned out to be much bigger than expected. You can see where a great deal of Euro money haas gone in building this road network and it must cost a great deal to maintain.

Vigo is a city of 300,000 people, it boasts a major Citroen factory, and a Freeport (hence why all the motorways are filled with trucks carrying vehicles and steel parts deeper into Spain.) It is also quite elegant and the coastline unspoiled. Quite the opposite the Med side of Spain. I might add Vigo is hard to get into. Beware the AP-9. You can almost reach your hotel and then suddenly you are on the AP-9 motorway heading right out again and there is no turn off! 25ks later you can turn around and blow me if it doesn't nearly happen again. Take the Estacion turn off in the city, never mind you dont want a train, it is the ONLY way into the old Port area, believe me.

It has an elegant restored old port area – although I warn you that if planning to stay there, bring earplugs.  The Spanish never sleep, they yell at the top of their voices on their phones at 4am and garbage is collected very nosily at 3pm, 4pm and bottles at 5pm.  Sleep at the front of any hotel is impossible. There is a great choice of restaurants and tapas bars and people in Vigo are very friendly.
The old port park sports this odd collection of 'art' suspended in the sky and quite often choirs and Galcian dancers come to entertain of an evening. Just sit in the many bars and restaurants around it and enjoy the spectacle.

I like the fact that the main shopping routes are all traffic free and if you judge a town by the bookshops, as I do, the choice is excellent. El Cortes Ingles the department store offer amazing bargains too if you search hard. Oh yes and on evening at the waterfront there are rows and rows of antiquarian books on sale that might sport a bargain or two in Spanish, of course.

Vigobeach I was lucky enough to be entertained by Hackwriters correspondent James Skinner there along with his lovely wife and they took me for lunch to their apartment on a private island.  Their home looks out across the bay to white sand and crystal blue waters. (Cold water I might add).  But there is a stunning beach area all the way from Vigo down to Baiona, not yet discovered by many British, thank god. 

James and wife are retired now and enjoying life, but he keeps his ear to the ground and remains worried about the state of Spain.  Catalan wanting to break away might mean others leave too and I was interested that the Catalans have banned bull fighting. About time too.
The odd thing about Spain, there may well be a crisis and 20 percent unemployment, but it is invisible and all looks very prosperous. (Take the wrong turn in town and you will spot junkies and hookers with needle marks, which also tells the story that Vigo, is (apparently) the gateway to major illegal drug imports from Columbia).  James is writing a book on this subject as I speak.

I’d recommend that one doesn’t stay in the old port area (unless there on business), try to find a hotel on the beaches if you can – you don’t need a car either. The buses run for only 1 Euro and 17 cents. A bargain. If you have 5 Star money then stay in the wonderful Hotel Pazo Los Escudos and you will be guaranteed sleep.

Parking in Vigo is tough.  16 Euros a day if you put it in a car park, but free if you can find a space up by Castro Park.  A place you should visit first to get a stunning view of the whole city.  Vigo remains one of the few undiscovered (read not yet ruined) cities in Europe and Galicia is clearly proud of it.  Well worth a visit. (Ferry to Santander or flights to Oporto in Portugal nearby).

*Take your E1-11 card with you. I fell ill after using the swimming pool in Leon and still have a major ear infection.  But the Spanish doctors dealt with me immediately and were very helpful.  That little card is invaluable, believe me.

Cies From Vigo you can take little ferries or Catamarans out to the pristine beaches on the Isla Cies nature reserve.  Take a picnic and spent a whole day there.  Well worth it. (Isla Cies pictured)

I returned to Bayonne in France to discover it was the annual Fete and over a million red and white clothed revellers were roaming the streets.  No sleep there either.

Luckily the beach was waiting in Biarritz and the ocean was calm.  One can hide there then retire to Bar Jean for Gambas supper.

Thanks go to Lionel and Catherine for making me so welcome in their home in France and this Pays Basque region of France remains one of the most beautiful in all of Europe.  Well worth the visit, athough if you can find a way of getting there without Ryanair and Stansted I’d recommend it. *I ended up driving 2500ks but at least saw a lot of Spain.

Many thanks to all those who have contributed to this August edition. We really are pretty darn international now. Many thanks too to those who have bought my books recently. Another Place to Die has passed the 2800 figure now and that cheers me up. Now if I could get Mean Tide or Diamonds to sell as well, I'd be really happy. It really does help keep Hackswriters going. Take care out there.  Get writing.

© Sam North August 2010
Editor –

You probably need cheering up now. As of 25 July 2010 , worldwide more than 214 countries and overseas territories or communities have reported laboratory confirmed cases of pandemic influenza H1N1 2009, including at least 18398 deaths (WHO figures) with recent outbreaks in Eygpt and Pakistan remains at risk after the floods. WHO have said the threat is now low, but it remains to be seen what changes will occur and how long it will remain at this level. Download my book Another Place to Die if you want to be ready for when the next flu pandemic really does take off in the future. They have announced that this variant of Swine Flu is resistant to Tamiflu, who is to say this vaccine they are now giving us will work on the next variant? For most it is mild, for some it is a very painful assault on the respiritory system indeed. *Many thanks to those who have ordered my book recently. It is selling pretty well now. (Over 2800 copies sold to date - not too shabby for a book only available on-line. Thanks too to those who spread the word on it. I really appreciate that.) Often being a writer, especially for one whose books are only mostly available on-line it is very isolating, but now I know it is selling every month it really feels as though the two years writing it were worth it.

Mean Tide by Sam North
'Extraordinary novel about a child's psychic awakening'

Lulu Press - ISBN: 978-1-4092-0354-4
Review: 'An engaging, unusual and completely engrossing read'
- Beverly Birch author of 'Rift'

His father has disappeared, his mother is sick. Oliver, recovering from chemo, is sent to live with his psychic Grandma by the river in Greenwich. Oliver quickly discovers he is living with a world of strange people. When he finds a dog with its throat cut on the riverside, everything changes. Oliver wants to find the people who did this terrible thing. (Young Adult Mystery)

The Curse of the Nibelung - A Sherlock Holmes Mystery
by Sam North

ISBN: 13: 978-1-4116-3748-1
302 pages - Lulu Press USA
'Chocolate will never be the same again' - Sunday Express
Buy from your favourite on-line retailer

Amazon UK
Amazon USA
Barnes and Noble
& Waterstones
Book also available from The Nineveh Gallery, 11 The Pallant Havant, PO9 1BE. UK  and to order from Blackwells in Portsmouth

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