First spring in Paris
I took this picture in February, not exactly Spring, but with a novel about Paris, rule No 1 is: the cover must ALWAYS show the Eiffel Tower.
Honeymoon in Rio
This one was taken in Brazil, although not in Rio, but in Minas Gerais. I never visited Rio, certainly not in 1952. Still, looks a bit like bushes at the limit of a favela, no?
A sculpture in the erstwhile communist zoo of Berlin. It must have held a painful irony for some East Germans visiting the zoo, this sculpture of scattering gulls.
The Desiderata Gold
I just had to take a picture of the Colosseum when I was in Rome, because that’s where the Desiderata gold was hidden… oops, spoiler!
Daisy and Bernard
An English garden was needed for this story where Battersea Park plays an important part. But the picture is from the botanical gardens in Louvain, Belgium. Same difference.
D for Daisy
These are the hands of my daughter, who kindly modelled for Daisy. At first I envisioned a series of cover pictures of hands, but flesh colours are hard to manage, so I changed to trees and plants.
The Nightlife of the Blind
This one at least fits the concept of ‘trees and vegetation’, but the bluebells would be blooming end of April, whereas the story is about a midsummer night. Still, the clearing is the right setting for the nightlife of the blind.
The Desiderata Riddle
A picture of the Forum in Rome. It seems old stones are inevitable on the covers of the Desiderata novels. We’ve somewhat lost sight of the ‘trees and vegetation’ theme.
Murder on the High Sea
This is a picture of the SS Rotterdam that is now a hotel and café-restaurant at anchor in the harbour there. Obviously you’re supposed to think it’s the RMS Histria racing towards the wide horizon.
Cockett's last Cock-up
My wife took this picture on a trip to the Cotswolds. Perfect evocation of England and of the messy tangles of Chief Inspector Nigel Cockett’s signature cock-ups!
The Desiderata Stone
A picture of a stone pine on Mallorca. The drought and the heat on my summer holiday there really put me in the atmosphere for writing The Desiderata Stone.
Daisy's Pushkin Duel
Everybody knows the iconic Matterhorn in Switzerland. I spent many holidays in Zermatt with my little family, and believe me, everybody can take a picture like this one from there!
Desiderata’s Lost Cause
The emperor Trajan built this shopping mall just off the Forum (Trajan’s Market in Rome). It can still be visited but nowadays it’s a bit empty.
Author Q&A with “The Fussy Librarian”
|SADYE:||How did you come to see yourself as a writer, and what inspired you to seek publication?|
At the age of twelve I started writing poetry in French. This was in Lausanne in the ’60s.
I wrote four poems about the seasons, not very original, but I’d recently moved from South Africa and the concept of four seasons was completely new to me. And the French language of course.
At any rate, my teacher was impressed and asked me to recite one of my four poems in front of the whole class. That was my first literary triumph, and the writing bug never left me. I spent my whole life seeking publication.
|SADYE:||Tell us something about your writing process that’s unusual or that you haven’t revealed before.|
|NICK:||I’m a very messy writer. That’s because I am really a poet and a short-story writer.
I struggle to even make it to the magical mark of 50,000 to 60,000 words for each of my novels.
That is also why each chapter of any book of mine can almost be read as a stand-alone short story. Because it basically is.
But all of these stand-alone chapters are organized around a solid plot so as to form one bigger story: the murder mystery.
Does this mean that I’m a master at plotting such a mystery in great detail? Alas, not even that. In fact I start out with very little. Just read the blurb of each book: that’s the first thing I write, and that is all I have to go on when I start on a novel. In fact the whole series is based on this simple crazy idea: what if a crime had to be solved by a blind girl? There is one big advantage to this approach: while I’m writing, I’m as eager as the reader to find out where the story is going. Of course each new twist of the plot requires a lot of reverse-engineering of the story, but in the end, the writing of the first draft is almost as full of surprises for me as for the reader.
|SADYE:||What have been the most surprising, rewarding, and challenging parts of your writing career?|
|NICK:||I spent forty years looking for a publisher, but I never got past their slush piles.
Then, one day, the richest man in the world offered me a deal: write anything you want (almost), publish it whenever you want, and keep it on sale for as long as you want — a far better deal than any old-school publisher has ever offered anyone.
If you’d told me this fairy tale would ever become a reality, I would never have believed it.
The only downside is that this same deal is on offer for every frustrated would-be novelist on the planet, and hundreds of thousands of us have taken it up. So writing great stories is not the hard part: whole cohorts of excellent authors are doing just that every day. No, the hard part is to find a readership. You’re very lucky indeed if you manage to find your niche audience. And forget about making serious money; that is not likely to happen.
|SADYE:||What has been the most touching or memorable piece of reader feedback you’ve received?|
|NICK:||Getting reviews from readers is certainly the most exciting part of self-publishing: sometimes rewarding and sometimes challenging.
One gentleman wrote about Daisy and Bernard: “The author has a way of writing that is both light, with outrageous (one might say) scenes and a banter-like repartee and a bit of tongue-in-cheek. Below the surface, however, a seriousness.”
When I read that I knew I’d found at least one soulmate out there.
Likewise this simple remark about D for Daisy: “I fell in love with all the characters. Even the bad guys.” Wow! Of course I put a lot of care into creating villains that are not entirely bad, and even Daisy Hayes is not entirely nice, but I never thought one could “fall in love” with Chief Inspector Nigel Cockett or Ralph’s murderer!
Bad reviews can be painful, although they sometimes contain unintended compliments. A lady in the UK was so angry with me that she posted the same two-star put-down three times, under each volume of the original trilogy: “What a sad pity this writer cannot live up to the excellent plots he has come up with. The standard of writing is poor but the plots are pretty compelling, so it's a matter of reading on despite it all.” With such critics, who needs raves?
|SADYE:||What advice, as relates to your writing career, would you give your younger self?|
|NICK:||Stop writing about yourself! Of course you’ve had an incredibly interesting life, but so has everyone else, if you think about it. No, just sit down and make up a story. Try to write something compelling, as unputdownable for yourself as for your readers. You’ll be surprised by what happens then.|
Chronology of Daisy's life
It’s interesting to see how readers can sometimes obsess about the “correct order” of the books in a series. In the case of the Blind Sleuth Mysteries this is not a simple matter, because I did not write the novels in the chronological order, so the order of publication is not “acceptable” at all in that respect. On Amazon I was able to change the position of each book within the series as I went along, although it was never easy to cajole them into doing it. On all the other platforms like Google and Apple it’s a no-go anyway.
Having said that, even the chronological order is not that straightforward. The difficulties start right at the beginning, with the fact that “First Spring in Paris” takes place in 1946, entirely inside the timeframe of “D for Daisy”, 1939-1950. And what to do with stories like “The Nightlife of the Blind”,1940-1984, “Daisy’s Pushkin Duel”, 1949-1986, or “Daisy and Bernard”, 1950-1989? They span several decades without so much as a by your leave, it can’t be helped, I love that kind of thing! I’ve decided to date them at the moment the mystery is actually solved, but you could argue about that. Finally you have the “Millenia Mysteries”, that take place in 1964, 1992 and the first century AD, in ancient Rome. I wanted to keep Desiderata’s story in the right order, so the third book is dated AD 67, although Daisy and Morag are then back in ‘64, while the second story for them takes place in ‘92. That’s why I put a couple of Desiderata mysteries at the end of the list, dated in the first century.
Sounds complicated? Don’t worry, dear reader, the concept of this series is quite simple: the sleuth is always a blind woman, Daisy or Desiderata, and she solves a mystery in each novel. All these books are stand-alone, no cliffhanger endings to force you to buy the next installment (don’t you hate that?) Therefore it is not necessary to read the books in any particular order, but I know, most people just love sticking to the correct chronology:
1943: D for Daisy
1946: First Spring in Paris
1952: Honeymoon in Rio
1956: Cockett’s Last Cock-up
1960: Murder on the High Sea
1964: The Desiderata Stone
1967: Blind Angel of Wrath
1972: Berlin Fall
1984: The Nightlife of the Blind
1986: Daisy’s Pushkin Duel
1989: Daisy and Bernard
1992: The Desiderata Gold
AD 67: The Desiderata Riddle
AD 76: Desiderata’s Lost Cause
For those who are interested, here’s the actual publishing history of The Blind Sleuth Mysteries. I started writing “D for Daisy” in October 2016, completed the first draft in three months, but then I needed a lot of time to rewrite the whole thing. In fact I hired the services of a freelance editor, Alex Hammond, who made many useful rewriting suggestions. The novel went from 50 to 62 thousand words, and was finally published in November 2017. Meanwhile I had started working on a second, then a third Daisy Hayes novel. That is how I was able to publish two more books in January 2018. So we start with:—
1 — D for Daisy, published on 12 November 2017
2 — Blind Angel of Wrath, 9 January 2018
3 — Daisy and Bernard, 14 January 2018
These form the original Daisy Hayes Trilogy, “a story of crime, punishment, and redemption”.
4 — Honeymoon in Rio was published on 3 October 2018
5 — First Spring in Paris, 13 February 2019
6 — The Nightlife of the Blind, 17 July 2019
7 — Cockett’s Last Cock-up, 21 September 2019
I really got into the flow in 2019, and on a hiking trip on Mallorca, during a heatwave in July of that same year, I mentally connected with Desiderata in the summer of AD 64 in Ancient Rome, the year of the great fire.
8 — The Desiderata Stone was completed and published on 11 April 2020, followed by
9 — The desiderata Gold, 15 September 2020
10 — The Desiderata Riddle, 11 February 2021
The second and third “Mysteries Spanning Millennia” were written during the Covid lock-downs, when all over the world people had to stay home for long periods of time.
11 — Daisy’s Pushkin Duel followed on 11 May 2021
12 — Berlin Fall, 10 November 2021
13 — Murder on the High Sea, 7 April 2022
14 — Desiderata’s Lost Cause, 5 October 2022
With this fourth Desiderata novel completed, I’m hoping it will not be her last adventure, and looking back to October 2016, when it all started, I’m thinking I’ve come a long way in those six years.
The Badass Blind Skier
How did I ever get the idea to write about a blind sleuth? Some readers wonder if I’m visually impaired myself, if I have a blind family member or any experience with the blind. None of the above, is the answer. My urge to create a blind protagonist (or two if you count Desiderata as well) is something of a mystery in its own right.
If I start at the beginning, as a child in the bush of North Transvaal, South Africa, I saw a number of blind Bantu people who lived in the region where my father was a missionary pastor. Very often they had visibly crippled eyes, whether from birth defects or from “worms” I don’t know. (You have horrible parasite diseases in the tropics.) But these people were certainly too poor to afford prosthetics, or even a pair of dark glasses, and it filled me with dread when I saw them sitting in the shade of a tree on the village square, or being led around by elderly people or young girls.
Later we moved to Lausanne, Switzerland, and there at least they had an official ‘Asylum for the Blind’. The poor wretches were being taken care of in a kind of ‘home’, they wore dark glasses and a yellow armband with three black dots, so you couldn’t possibly overlook the fact that they were BLIND. At the asylum they learned to make brushes and sold them door to door. One day when I was home alone I answered the bell for one of these dismal peddlers, and I saw my opportunity: I took my mother’s grocery purse and bought an awful lot of brushes from the poor guy. Mama was furious: “We didn’t need any of those!” But the thing is, blind people just broke my tender young heart. I thought that being blind must be almost worse than death.
Fast-forward a couple of years, to when I became a gawky but not unfriendly teenager. My mother worked for a Protestant charity now, and one of her best friends and colleagues, Aimée, was married to a blind man. Aimée once mentioned to her that her husband went skiing with a special group for the blind, with sighted guides accompanying them and piloting them down the slopes. “It’s quite impressive, and they’ve made a film. If you want we can come round and show it.” Now that was a wonderful idea, in those days people loved to give private viewings of their self-made movies. So Aimée and her blind husband came by of an evening with their projector and a big 8mm film reel. The blind husband was led into the living room, where we’d pinned a clean sheet to the wall; with groping gestures he took the projector out of its case and placed it on top of the stepladder we’d provided.
Picture my amazement when this man started setting up the complicated apparatus, clipping the full reel onto its holder, threading the flimsy film through delicate sprockets and securing it to the reception spool. Not only was it astonishing that he should be able to do this—my father certainly couldn’t!—but the fact that he wouldn’t even be able to watch the movie made my head swim. The guy was obviously totally blind! When he started projecting the footage he rapidly brought it into focus with a little help from his wife, who told him when the picture was sharp.
And then another amazing thing happened: it was our blind guest who started giving a running commentary of what we were seeing. It was a silent movie of course, you only heard the relentless ticking of the reeling mechanism, and it depended on a steady flow of pleasant banter from the ‘showman’ to make a projection enjoyable.
“Here we get off the ski lift at the top station, all eager for a schuss down the ‘blue slope’, as you can see—well, you can’t see the sign is blue as the film is black-and-white.” Incredible.
It soon became clear that he knew exactly what was in the movie, that he could somehow keep track of the length of the different shots in his head, and was able to comment on them as if he could see the projection just like us. But he couldn’t. We all witnessed—and heard from him—how each blind skier was accompanied by a guide who directed him or her down the slope with verbal instructions, staying very close to his charge.
However, the presentation of this mind-boggling footage was not really pleasant. It also became quite clear that our guest was showing off, something terrible. He was hogging all the attention. He didn’t like it when his wife, who’d also been there, forgot herself and volunteered a comment. I remember how she remarked that the mountains visible in the background above the slope were ‘les Diablerets’, how the blind hubby snarled, “Not at all, Aimée, those are ‘les Dents du Midi’ of course!” and how he frowned as he went on with the presentation. I’m the blind skier, he seemed to think, it’s my film, it’s all about me. His wife didn’t dare put in another word after that.
The film ended with a flapping sound, our guest put away his apparatus in glum silence: he’d made his point. After the visitors had left later that night, I shared my impressions with my mother, “What a sourpuss that blind man was!” “Yes,” my mother agreed, “it can’t be easy for Aimée to be married to such a man.”
But I took an important lesson away from my encounter with ‘The Badass Blind Skier’ (we never saw him again): that if a blind man puts his mind to it, there’s not much he can’t achieve, apparently. And also that it must be frustrating to be constantly demeaned and underestimated. There must be a lot of anger in that. Fast-forward more than four decades, when I thought up the character of Daisy Hayes. It is clear that I owe a lot to Aimée’s blind husband (I never knew his name), and it makes me wonder: could it be that there’s a great deal of hidden anger and frustration in Daisy as well? I certainly hope she’s a lot more likeable than the man who inspired her character.
Interview with "Book Cave"
I'm Dutch, and I've never lived more than sixteen years in the same place. So: born in South Africa, moved to Switzerland as a kid, lived in Rotterdam for a while, then in Luxembourg. Now I live in Belgium, where I work as a proofreader. Married with two kids. Anything else? I write a lot.
Reading, sculpture and pottery, also weaving lately. Hiking and bycicling.
Most Exotic Place Visited
My birthplace, Pilgrim's Rest, South Africa.
What Shampoo Do You Use?
Shampoo, what's that? Have you seen my hair? Just plain soap for me.
Your Dream Car
The best car is the one you can dispense with. As it happens, I don’t have a driver's licence.
Hiking, jogging and bycicling. Team sports: ugh!
Mountains or Beach? Why?
Both, 'cos mountains are high and beaches are wide.
Cars. They have ruined the world.
Number of Published Books
Nineteen, I think. Some of them in French.
Book that Changed Your Life
The Bible, as a literary work, but also as a quest.
Favorite Place to Write
The sitting room, or my private cubicle. Sometimes family bustle, sometimes peace and quiet.
Do You Listen to Music While Writing? What Kind?
No way. I listen AFTER writing, though: Beethoven, Benny goodman, Leonard Cohen, anything.
Favorite Character You Created
Daisy Hayes, definitely. The character who is the least like me is the one I love most.
Where Do You Live?
In Malines, Belgium.