Monday, January 25, 2021

Author Interview: Liesbet Collaert

Liesbet with Kali and Darwin
  Today I am happy to bring you an interview with the writer, Liesbet Collaert. Liesbet has recently published her travel memoir, Plunge. It is a fascinating account of ten years that she spent living on a sailboat and exploring parts of the world that most of us only dream of. 

 

Jude: 

 

You have spent most of your adult life travelling throughout the world, and you describe yourself as a nomad. In what ways is your nomadic life different from a typical western lifestyle?

 

Liesbet: 

 

The beauty of a typical western lifestyle, in my opinion, is the stability, comfort, and familiarity it offers. You know what to expect, you have neighbors/friends/family/ colleagues around, you easily find products in your grocery store, you have favorite restaurants, trails, outings, hobbies, and your planned activities usually work out.

 

Life on the road, or the water, as a nomad is insecure, unfamiliar, and rather challenging because of these reasons and others. Yet, the adventure and freedom make it worthwhile. My husband and I love that novel feeling of each new place, have learned to be flexible, and keep our expectations low or non-existent. We are self-contained, fix issues ourselves as much as possible, and don’t rely on people. We figure things out as they come and enjoy discovering unique locations, cultures, foods, …

 

Another big difference are the amenities everyone takes for granted: running water, unlimited electricity, reliable internet, a washer and a dryer. Each time I stay in a house of relatives, I embrace my hot, pressurized shower, the space in my room (I can walk more than one step before I bump into something), the fact that my computer can stay plugged in, and the real bed. If there’s a comfortable couch, I might never leave! 😊

 Jude: 

Your memoir, Plunge: One Woman’s Pursuit of a Life Less Ordinary, spans about a decade. Why did you focus your memoir on those ten years in particular?

Liesbet: 

That’s a great question, Jude! I knew so little about writing books that the first time I ever considered this project, I didn’t even know that my kind of story was called a memoir. One of the first things I learned about that genre is that it covers a “slice” of your life. I wanted that particular “slice” to have a definite beginning and end. It seemed most intuitive to start with how I met my now husband, Mark, a life-changing, somewhat crazy occurrence that led to a new adventure. And, I finish the memoir when that adventure ended. Coincidentally, this period encapsulated ten years: my tumultuous thirties. In the epilogue, I leave the door open to the next adventure…

 

Jude: 

 

Briefly, what is your book about?

 

Liesbet:  

 

Plunge encompasses the ups and downs of a life less ordinary in the tropics. The story is about a 30-year-old nomad who seeks adventure and freedom at sea, but finds herself at odds with love, work, immigration, weather, and health as she navigates the world and her relationship.

 

The book is written in a unique voice and seamlessly intertwines travelogue and introspective, so the reader is immersed into each new scene, physically as well as psychologically. The story takes place in the present tense to accommodate this effect and incorporates foreshadowing, flashbacks, and cliff hangers, like a novel.

 

Jude: 

 

In your book, you present an account of the nitty-gritty experiences of life aboard a sailboat, and well as a close-up view of your romantic relationship. Can you talk about the challenges of writing about such personal material?

 

Liesbet: 

 

Most people who know me (including you, Jude) are aware of my straightforwardness and urge to be myself. My memoir had to be a fair representation of this. The two major factors that define my personality and feelings are my lifestyle and my relationship. But, how do you pull the reader into these situations? How do you make them understand what you go through?

 

This is only possible by allowing them inside your head and by being totally (some call it “brutally”) honest. Therefore, I touch on the good and the bad in my relationship; the strengths and the flaws in my personality. While lots of memoir authors struggle to put those moments and factions down, it came easy to me. Maybe because I hope that – just like in real life – people will take me the way I am; true to myself and others, while sometimes being a bitch.

 

I also mention discriminating elements about my spouse. He knows this; he was the first one to read my book. He also knows about my desire to tell the truth. His reaction when others ask him about those parts in Plunge: “It all happened. I was a jerk sometimes.” While it might put some people off, this “raw honesty,” most readers have complimented me about my voice and the themes touched upon and, whether they admit it or not, they can relate to many of the situations.

 

Liesbet and Mark on their Catamaran
   

Jude: 

 

As a regular reader of your blog, Roaming About, I recall posts in which you mentioned the frustrations of combining a writer’s life with a nomadic lifestyle. Please describe some of the issues you faced on the boat, and now while travelling around in your camper van.

 

Liesbet: 

 

These issues pretty much boil down to those differences between a nomadic lifestyle and a typical western one, described above. While we have solar panels to provide electricity to my computer and we can usually go about five to six days on our fresh water tank, I am never as productive as I would be in a house or a room with unlimited electricity, reliable internet, and a desk.

 

Problems often occur, whether they are weather-, dog-, errand-, or camper-related. Distraction abounds. And there is the fact that I live together with a husband and 60-pound furry creature in an 80-square foot (7.5 m2) metal box on wheels. Even when we decide to “sit still” for a while so I can write, edit, or promote, I struggle with not being available to my family members and feel guilty about hogging our one table, stressing out, and not partaking in walks. Finding a balance between my work and our “leisurely” lifestyle is a goal for 2021.

  

Jude: 

 

What did you find were some of the pros and cons of self-publishing?

 

Liesbet: 

 

Self-publishing is hard work! You need to be determined, patient, focused, and dedicated to make it happen. The process is time consuming and frustrating, especially when you are new to all the different steps (and there are many). You also need to pay for professionals upfront, so it’s more expensive than going the traditional route. And, I still feel there is less prestige than when “having a publisher.”

 

However, there are many pros. The first one: pulling it off quickly. Sure, I focused 100% on getting Plunge published this year, but the actual time involvement from the moment I received my final cover design to holding a proof copy in my hands was two months. My husband was a big help and we did all this from the road. Another positive of being self-published is that you hold all the strings. Decisions are yours, you can make corrections easily, offer discounts, work hard on promotion – or not, and it’s a huge accomplishment!

  

Jude: 

 

I imagine that you plunged into learning a lot of new skills when you went the self-publishing route. Can you share one specific example of something you learned?

 

Liesbet: 

 

The formatting process! Who knew there were so many decisions to make? Font style and size, spacing between the lines and towards the edges, placement of the page numbers (top, bottom, left, right, middle), kind of section breaks, order of the photos, where to hyphenate words at the end of the line, how about the chapter titles and table of content?

 

Jude: 

 

One reason I love reading memoirs is the chance to absorb an inside perspective about another person’s life. Can you share an insight with readers that came to you about yourself, your life choices, or your relationship, as you reflected on this period of your life in the memoir?

 

Liesbet: 

 

Yes. Because I wrote Plunge in the present tense, I wanted to mentally transport myself back to my thirties. In doing so, I realized how spoiled I had been in my twenties – I basically did whatever I wanted – and how, during the course of this story, I “grew up.” My experiences aboard our 35ft catamaran Irie made me realize I don’t always get what I want, that there are two people in a relationship, and that adventure comes in many different forms.

 

Jude: 

 

Do you have a new writing project on the horizon?

 

Liesbet: 

 

I have many ideas, but have not started anything new yet.

  

Jude: 

 

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

 

Liesbet: 

 

I want to thank you for your thoughtful and insightful questions, Jude, and for featuring me here today. I hope your readers will get a chance to read Plunge and that it entertains, inspires, or affects them.

 

Liesbet and Jude in 2018

I'm pleased to feature this author interview here on Dr Sock Writes Here today. I initially met Liesbet through blogging, but in 2018 I had a chance to meet her and Mark in person when they came to Vancouver Island and stayed with us.

 

I greatly enjoyed reading Liesbet's book. It gave me an inside scoop on some of the joys and challenges of the sailing lifestyle, and reminded me of the many of the important life decisions One makes in the decade of their thirties.  

 

To read more about Liesbet’s adventures and her writing life or to purchase the book, click here:

 

For more info about Plunge:

https://www.roamingabout.com/about-plunge/

 

To buy on Amazon: www.amzn.com/B08NHP3NHC

 

Liesbet’s alternative lifestyle blog: www.roamingabout.com

 

Liesbet’s sailing blog (2007 – 2015): www.itsirie.com

 

Liesbet’s Amazon author page: https://www.amazon.com/Liesbet-Collaert/e/B073C9F8TW

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sunday, January 17, 2021

Leaving 2020 Behind

Rock Formations at Jack Point
Each year as the old year rolls into a new year, I usually take some time to reflect. I am not a believer in New Year's resolutions. But I do like to look back at the year we have just had and think about the highlights and low-lights, and take note of any big changes. 

Often, I'll also spend some time thinking about the upcoming year. Although I've been known to write out specific goals organized under categories such as "Writing," "Art," Family & Social Life," "Health," and so forth, with numbered subheadings and bullet points, sometimes I simply write a general statement about my hopes for what the year might hold. 

But this year as the old year waned, I found did not want to revisit 2020 and the pandemic experience. Of course, we're still in the middle of it. 

And as I tried to think about 2021, not a single goal floated into my mind. Who knows what's going to happen next with respect to COVID-19? And for that matter, with American politics, systemic racism, and climate change? The experience of living through this pandemic for much of a year has served as a reminder that my personal control over the future is quite limited.

But although I might have thought I spent the entire year fretting about daily new cases of COVID or staring at screens, the photos in my camera tell a different story. I have written about the first half of 2020 here. This post covering July-December completes my account of 2020.

The summer started badly with the death of our beloved old dog, Kate. 

Summer Camping

Tree House

In the summer, the daily new case rate here was down to single digits, so public health relaxed some restrictions. We were able to go on some local camping trips. We especially enjoyed a short camping trip to Malcolm Island with one of my daughters. 

Our original destination was closer to home, but, once the campgrounds were allowed to open, everyone had the same idea and campsites were hard to get. Malcolm Island, near Port McNeill, is one of our favourite places and we had a lovely grassy site just across the road from the ocean. My daughter pitched her tent beside our camper.

   


Bere Point Hike
Whale-watching Blind










 


 Trip to the North

Near Lilloett
During the last half of August, we made a trip to northern British Columbia to visit family and friends. We were in our little house on wheels -- our truck and camper.

After spending several days visiting our northern grandchildren and their parents, we continued on to Terrace, a small city in northern BC where we used to live.

Although we didn't see everyone we would have wished, it was so wonderful to connect with a few family and friends.

Ferry Island
Watson Lakes Hike

We also revisited some familiar hikes and river walks. Unfortunately, almost the entire time that we were in the northern part of the province, the weather was rainy and cold.

We left Terrace and spent several days in Smithers, visiting my brothers and celebrating one brother's special day with him and his family. 

Always the intrepid hikers,  we did a mountain hike to Crater Lake, braving rain, wind, and sleet. This was in August!

Crater Lake Hike

 



Nieces






We returned to Vancouver Island via an overnight ferry from Prince Rupert. Despite the pandemic restrictions, it was still a beautiful trip. We stayed in a nice stateroom with a porthole that framed the view.

Although usually during the summer months, BC Ferries runs a large ferry through the inland passage, because of the reduced number of travellers, we went on a smaller boat this time. For safety, we spent most of the trip either outside, or in our stateroom. The food service on the small ferry was very limited. 

Around Home

In the early part of the summer, I took an all-day introductory kayak course. After that, I began to look in earnest for a secondhand sea kayak. You can read about the results of my search here

Parksville
I continued to do many walks and short hikes in areas nearby. For example, we did countless walks at the Parksville Community Beach, where I snapped this sunset photo one evening with Rob.
Oreo Tarts

Oliver

I tried out some new recipes, including these yummy tarts recommended by Donna at Retirement Reflections. I also have made the winter squash salad described in Donna's blog post -- yummy as well.

We have lavished attention on Oliver, our sole remaining pet. In this photo, he is wearing some jewellery made for him by my grandsons. 

Grandmothering

One of the unexpected joys of this pandemic has been spending more time with my two grandsons. Childcare options have been greatly curtailed because of the pandemic restrictions. I have been providing  part-time childcare while my daughter has worked and gone back to school. 

Fall Becomes Winter

As daily cases rose over the fall, more stringent restrictions were put in place again. Because of my child care role, I still see my grandson's family. However, we can no longer see anyone else, except outdoors with physical distancing. 

At Thanksgiving, we met at Neck Point for a family hike, as we couldn't all gather for a big dinner.

 

We continue to explore trails and shorelines near home. I sometimes meet with friends for physically -distanced hikes and walks. For example, I met up with Deb who blogs at The Widow Badass for a hike to Jack Point recently. 

Deb and Petroglyphs
Rob and I celebrated New Year's Day by hiking the trails at Moorecroft Park. It was rainy, of course.

As I look through my photos and share them with you, one thing becomes very clear. Although it has been an unusual year, and a difficult year, life went on. My life was mostly filled with joy. And that joy took the form of friends, family, and nature. 


Saturday, January 2, 2021

Happy Highlights in a Bleak Year

The Big Picture

There is no doubt that 2020 was a tough year. More than 83 million people worldwide were infected with covid-19 in 2020, and more than 1.8 million have died. Every one of us knows someone who has had the disease, and even if the lives of those close to us were spared, we have heard the tragic stories of so many who have passed away, including, especially, our elders. 

Add to that the extreme wildfires in Australia and California, the explosion in Beirut, the murder of George Floyd, and the stomach-churning in-your-face pandemonium of American politics, and it is clear that 2020 has been a bleak year. 

Of course, there also have been heroes, collaborative efforts, and sweeping changes that have reaffirmed my faith in human nature and science. 

 Thank-you to the physicians, nurses, other health care workers, and long term care home staff who have worked so hard to save lives during this pandemic, even while putting their own health and well-being at risk. 

Thank-you to governments and public health leaders who have made the right choices during the pandemic, whether by quickly allocating funding to workers forced to stay at home, or by making the hard decisions to order unpopular public health restrictions before our hospitals were overwhelmed. I count our public health officer here in BC, Dr. Bonnie Henry, among the heroes of the pandemic.

Thank-you to the essential workers who have made it possible for others of us to stay home. As well, I thank the everyday heroes, my friends and neighbours, who have trusted science and chosen to comply with quarantines, physical-distancing guidelines, and mask wearing to protect themselves and others around them, day after day after day. It has been hard, and will continue to be hard for some months to come. 

Thank-you to the scientists who have pulled out all the stops to develop safe vaccines in record time. This accomplishment has involved a level of international scientific collaboration that is unprecedented. It shows we can work together when we understand the gravity of an problem. Let's hope the same level of dedication and global collaboration will next be applied to the existential problems of climate change and species extinction. 

At a Personal Level

I have been very fortunate in most ways throughout this pandemic, and for that I am deeply grateful. Yet, even so, there have been some sad times, personally, during 2020. Our beloved dog, Kate, died in July. Shortly after, our cat became ill and his health continues to decline. Our retaining wall at the back of our property failed, and repairing it will be difficult and expensive. We've missed being able to spend time with friends and family in person during much of the year. 

Yet, in the grand scheme of things, these are minor and temporary wrinkles. 

Overall, for me 2020 has been a year of much new learning and many happy moments (in spite of the dire pandemic backdrop). I realized Rob and I have had many joyful experiences in 2020 when I looked in my phone to find a few photos to illustrate this blog and ended up choosing 50!

Hawaii

 

 
 
 
 
We made a trip to Hawaii in January of the year with Rob's daughter and son-in-law and our two grandchildren. 
 
We had a wonderful time together, and we thank our lucky stars that we travelled when we did, before the Sars2 corona virus had begun to spread widely. 
Under the Banyan Tree
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
We loved spending time with the grandkids.
Bamboo

 

 

 

The island of Maui is beautiful. I found the varied topography fascinating, from the beach, to the tropical rain forest, to the top of the Haleakala volcano.

 

 

 

 

We were in full tourist mode in Maui, and we saw a lot.

While we were there, we began hearing on the news about a new and lethal virus spreading throughout China. Like so many other North Americans, we hadn't yet realized that we were on the verge of a worldwide pandemic.
Playing with Trucks on top of Haleakala

 In the meantime, we hiked, snorkeled, swam, kayaked, and went out on boat cruises. We marvelled at the sea life at the aquarium, and swam with turtles. 

We had a condo with a kitchen, so we breakfasted at the condo, and then usually made a picnic to take along on our day trips.  

Most evenings, we enjoyed trying out the various restaurants on Maui.

I have been to Maui before, but it was many years ago. So I was intrigued to revisit places I remembered from that trip.

We were lucky to have fabulous weather while we were there. Many evenings, we walked through the parks admiring the sunset. I have dozens of sunset photos, but I decided to only include the one. 

Our trip to Maui was the last foreign travel we will do for a long time. 

 

Enjoying the Outdoors on Vancouver Island

Back home in Canada, we had a wonderful time skiing at our local ski hill during February and the first half of March. In fact, we had the skis packed in the truck and were about to leave to drive to the ski hill on the day everything closed down in BC in mid-March.

We checked the website one last time before we left (it's a 75 minute drive), and found out that the ski hill was closed because of covid-19 restrictions.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We live on beautiful Vancouver Island, so we switched to other outdoor activities.

 

In the initial six weeks of the pandemic restrictions, everyone was encouraged to stay home and only to go out among people as little as possible. However, outdoor activities were allowed, as long as we employed physical distancing. 

We are fortunate to live in a semi-rural area, where there are lots of trails through the forest and along the ocean shore. 

 As it became safe to do so, we began to meet up with friends and my adult kids for hikes and picnics. 

Hiking with my Son

 I realized that for me, not seeing my kids and grandkids throughout the spring months has been the most difficult period of the pandemic so far.

Hiking with my Daughter



 

 

 

 

 

 

 Although we talked on the phone and used videoconferencing, it was not like being together in person. 

In the summer months, the numbers of daily new cases in BC were in the single digits. So many of the earlier restrictions were lifted.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I helped my daughter out providing part-time childcare while she worked. I loved having "Grandma time" with the two boys!

So, although it was a terrible year in many ways, for me, the first six months of 2020 also had many happy highlights. During this pandemic, I have learned that being able to spend time with those I love, and also spending time in nature are things that allow me to find joy even in difficult times. 


Tuesday, December 8, 2020

Author Interview: Gail Madjzoub

Author Gail Madjzoub

Today, I am delighted to bring you an interview with the author, Gail Madjzoub. Gail is currently based on Vancouver Island in British Columbia, Canada, but she has spent her life living all over the world.  

Gail is a member of my writers' group. I had the opportunity to serve as a preliminary reader for her recently published novel, and was very pleased when Gail agreed to do an interview with me for Dr Sock Writes Here.

 

Jude: 

 

Your novel, Crimson Ink, spans a period of more than five decades in modern Iran. Tell us, briefly, what the novel is about.

 

Gail:

             

After the Islamic Revolution, Fereshteh, a woman doctor and a Baha'i, experiences along with her family and religious brethren far greater than usual persecution for their beliefs; they struggle to survive. Compassion for the countless others who also run afoul of the regime prompt her and her physician husband to treat those emerging from the torment of prison in the ‘80s and again following the chaotic aftermath of the 2009 election. 

 

Meanwhile, Fereshteh joins forces with others to help women enduring not only the regime’s oppression but also domestic abuse. Her work and her religion become the pretext for her imprisonment and worse. This has unintended consequences for other family members, yet there is resilience and there is hope.

 

Jude: 

 

The story is told from several points of view. As a writer, what strategies did you use to provide narrative structure and coherence, given the various points of view and long timeline?

 

Gail:

 

To help readers make sense of the large cast of characters from three different Iranian families (all with names unfamiliar to a Western reader), I created family trees, bolding the names of those who are important, especially whose point of view drive the story. At the end I added Glossaries and References.

 

To manage the long timeline I grouped chapters into “Books” that reflected eras: Pre-Revolution (1955-1978), Revolution (1979-1980), Post-Revolution (1989-1993), “2008”, and Reform (2009-2011). Within these I selected only significant years, months and seasons, showing each family separately but simultaneously up until 2008. Only during the final three years of the narrative do all three become inextricably intertwined; their interaction then drives the plot to its climax and resolution.

 

Jude: 

 

One of the themes in the novel that I found very interesting is the complexity of family. Could you talk about that?

 

Gail:

 

The main characters come from a large extended family split down their religious lines: a Muslim brother and a Baha'i sister. While the sister’s family embraces everyone, it’s only because of the brother’s love and loyalty to his sister, despite what he considers her religious ‘defection’, that he and his family tolerate hers. Sinister undercurrents, and secrets and betrayals born of fear carry grim consequences for many, some of which emerge only over decades.

 

In the second family, the one fair-minded son finds he can’t escape his family’s legacy. This and the Revolution tether him to a path that causes him to forget who he is.

 

The third family produces a son out of squalor, desperation and neglect. His eventual reconnection with his powerful cleric father gives him free reign for his yet undiscovered aberrant proclivities. His dealings with and marriage into the first family, and his professional relationship with the son from the second family complicate all relationships in unforeseen ways. 


Jude: 

 

Although your story is fictional, it speaks about real political and social events. What challenges did you face in meshing fact and fiction?

 

Gail:

 

Historical events created a solid framework for the story and details of these helped fill it in. It was actually easy for me to fit my fictional characters and their personal stories into this. They’re a mix: composites of real people whose stories I knew or read about, and purely fictional ones based on probable personality types likely to be found within such a narrative.

 

The real challenge was balancing my portrayals of characters and events. I didn’t want to get into the quagmire of politics and known personalities, nor did I want to reduce characters, politics, social justice and religion to simple black and white depiction. All are complex and I saw my task as providing nuance and opposing perspectives without becoming dogmatic. This took a great deal of time. Discussions with early readers helped me in this.

 

Jude: 

 

There are many routes to publishing. What approach did you take, and why?


Gail:

 

I researched all possibilities and had conversations with other writers. Then sat on the fence for a long time. Finally, after forays into the world of query letters, agents and publishers, consideration of the issues with publishing contracts, intellectual property rights, the long timelines, and possible frustrations of being at the mercy of other peoples’ demands and delays, I felt that self-publishing was the only route for this book. It had taken me many years to research, write and edit, and I wanted it to be published on my own terms and timeline.

 

Jude: 

 

Are you working on a writing project now? Can you say a few words about it? 

 

Gail:

 

 Yes. It’s a sequel to Crimson Ink. I’d thought I was done with the story, but in early 2020 I realised this wasn’t so. In light of current events my characters were agitating and telling me they had more to say. Iran has become increasingly harsh in its treatment of many of its citizens, particularly women and minorities. Social justice questions continue to loom large. In my sequel, at least, I can bring some resolution to a couple of the issues I addressed in Crimson Ink.

 

Jude: 

 

What advice do you have for writers, either about writing or publishing?

 

Gail:

 

You can write at any age. I’m a late bloomer, having started when I was 50. You simply must have passion and the courage to set words onto a page. And now, many years later I also know that you can learn about and navigate the publishing game. There’s a wealth of information and tools out there. You can learn new technology: how to use writer-specialised software, software for formatting a manuscript, the ins and outs of self-publishing, and social media as a marketing tool. If you want your book published, you will learn how to do it. 😊

 

Bio: Originally from the American East Coast, I lived & worked for more than 30 years in Europe and Africa & have traveled extensively.  After settling again in North America I began writing.  My professional background includes education, health care, life coaching & facilitation.

 

To follow Gail’s writing updates click here:

Website: https://www.gailmadjzoub.com

Instagram: Gail Madjzoub  

Facebook:  Gail Madjzoub, Author

Email:  gail@gailmadjzoub.com


The book is available on all Amazon sites.