Friday, June 16, 2017

The Catacombs of Paris #pariscatacombs #thewitchslist #fridayreads

The Catacombs is one of the scariest places in Paris. It is a huge maze of tunnels, and contains the bones of about 6 million people. Enter at your peril, as two adolescents recently found out. They went exploring, entering the underground maze through one of the unofficial doorways and got lost. Search parties thankfully managed to rescue them safe and sound after 72 hours. See story here: 

Catacombes de Paris - Le bain de pied des carriers 1

They were lucky, compared to Philibert Aspairt, who got lost in the catacombs in 1793. His body was only found 11 years later.

Here is a passage from The Witch's List, which describes a visit to the Catacombs. Hopefully it will whet your appetite to read the whole novel, or to go on a visit of the place yourself - via the official museum entrance!

Henry proposed a visit to the catacombs on Saturday afternoon.
After a year living in Paris, I’d done all the main sights: Eiffel
Tower, Sacre Coeur, Notre Dame, Louvre, Musée d’Orsay, Centre
Pompidou, Versailles; and some of the lesser known ones:
Marmottan Monet museum, Arab Institute, Musée de l’Homme
and of course Père Lachaise cemetery, where I’d visited the tomb
of the legendary Jim Morrison of the Doors. I’d heard of the
catacombs of course, having read about it in guide books and in
the ‘Officiel’ magazine – a weekly what’s on guide I often bought
for a few centimes. It was described as an underground
necropolis (remember Glasgow!) containing the remains of over six
million people, mostly removed from other, overflowing
cemeteries in the late eighteenth century and early nineteenth. I’d
frankly thought of the place as less of a ‘must-see’ and more of a
‘better to avoid.’
“It’ll be awesome, dude, the biggest necropolis in the world;
creepy underground passageways, like something from an
Indiana Jones movie.” He really talked the place up.
“A collection of peoples’ bones, disrespectfully removed from
their original graveyards, stacked up in dusty claustrophobic
corridors, and put on display for our macabre amusement. It’s
just not right, sacrilegious even.”I replied.
“You know what I think about God and religions.” He’d
already expressed his atheistic views on several occasions.
“Morbid then. Shouldn’t we just let the dead rest in peace?”
“Come on, man, don’t be such a square,” he chided me.
I eventually agreed to accompany him on the visit, despite my
better judgement. At least I got a favour out of him: he gave me
the keys for his room on Friday night, so I could sleep with
Rocky, while he went off to Beverly’s room.
Friday evening, Rocky came for a meal on campus. I took her
to the Spanish house, then we frolicked on the grass – kissing
ever more ardently and rolling on top of each other while the sun
set. Then I took her back to Henry’s room and we made mad
passionate love.
The next morning I didn’t really fancy going back to my room
to face Maria’s accusations. I’d already brought spare clothes and
toiletries to Henry’s room, so it wasn’t as if I needed to go back
right away. Rocky had brought an overnight bag too. So we just
showered, changed and took a walk around campus, before
grabbing sandwiches and eating them outside on the big lawn.
“Got anything planned for the rest of the weekend?” I asked
“Well nothing today, but you know, the usual family Sunday
– church and so on,” she replied.
“Fancy coming to visit the catacombs,” I proposed. “I’m going
with Henry later this afternoon.”
“Ooh! The catacombs – a bit scary, so I’ve heard. Okay, why
not. At least we can hang out a bit longer together today. Then I’ll
probably head back home for dinner with the family.”
Henry met us back at his room around two p.m. and off we
went – it was just one stop on the RER to Denfert-Rochereau.
The visit was just as macabre as I had feared.
We walked down steps until we were twenty metres underground
– into what used to be a stone mine. After a small
museum section explaining the history of the place, there was a
gallery containing sculptures, carved directly out of the stone. I
noted with trepidation that the sculptor – a certain Décure, alias
‘Beauséjour’, which ironically means ‘nice stay’ – was killed
when he attempted to create a stairway to an upper level of the
quarry and provoked a cave-in.
Then we went into the actual ossuary, which had a plaque at
the entrance reading ‘Stop! This is the empire of death.’ Once
inside there were human skulls and bones everywhere, from
floor to ceiling, sometimes ‘artistically’ arranged, other times just
indiscriminately stacked up. There were plaques telling where
the bones were from and when they were inhumed in the
catacombs. For example, ‘Bones from the cemetery of the
innocent deposited in April 1786.’ Other plaques offered quotations
from the Bible, or from famous poets such as Dante and
Desmartin, or ominous warnings. ‘Whichever way you turn
death is watching you,’ was the one that marked me the most, as
it seemed to describe the eerie way in which the skulls appeared
to be staring at us, as we made our way along the passageways.
Henry and Rocky didn’t seem as affected as I was, fingering
the bones and skulls throughout the visit. At one point Henry
even lay on top of one of the stone altars, crossed two tibia bones
over his chest, then hissed in a mock evil tone, “Awaken,
“Cut it out!” I chided him. “Have you no respect for the
He just smirked back at me.
Rocky also played the joker at one point, holding up a skull
and quoting from Hamlet, “Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him,
They both guffawed. I just shook my head and rolled my eyes.
Hopeless cases the pair of them. I was surprised, though, that
Rocky could correctly quote from Shakespeare. Her English was
Despite their joking I was glad to get out of the place, the
whole atmosphere weighed heavily on me. At the exit they
actually frisked us down to make sure we hadn’t stolen anything.
There was a little display showing the bones and even a skull that
people had tried to smuggled out.
“What, you mean someone actually tried to walk out of here
with a skull?” I asked the security guy incredulously.
“Yes, you’d be surprised,” he answered.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Around the World in 80 Books! #thewitchslist #goodreads

Go travelling round the world, by reading books! Just joined this cool group on goodreads. The Witch's List gets a mention in the Côte d'Ivoire section!

Around the World in 80 Books's cote-d-ivoire book montage
Around the World in 80 Books 12437 members Reading takes you places. Where in the world will your next book take <b>you</b>? If you love world literature, travel writing, or exploring the world through books, you have come to the right place! ATW80 began in 2009 as a challenge on TNBBC. The separate group was established in 2011. Anyone can join and participate in the challenges or readings at any time. Challenge participation is not a requirement of joining. Anyone who loves reading books from around the world is welcome here. The main purpose of this group is to travel the world through books, experiencing new authors and cultures along the way. Want to read about the world? We have close to 40,000 books cataloged by setting and more are added each month. 
"The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you'll go.” - Dr. Suess
“There are too many books I haven’t read, too many places I haven’t seen, too many memories I haven’t kept long enough.” ― Irwin Shaw 

Our cote-d-ivoire shelf

Allah is Not Obliged
Nine Hills to Nambonkaha: Two Years in the Heart of an African Village
Queen Pokou
African Silences
As the Crow Flies
Aya of Yop City
Who Slashed Celanire's Throat?
The Civilized World: A Novel in Stories
Facing the Son, A Novel of Africa
Waiting for the Wild Beasts to Vote
Chocolate Nations: Living and Dying for Cocoa in West Africa
The Suns of Independence
The Big Killing
Aya: Life in Yop City
Cote D'Ivoire--Africa: Two Battles to Win
Black Cloth
The Secrets Come Out

View this group on Goodreads »

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Summer is coming! Pack a copy of "The Witch's List" in your travel bag! #thewitchslist #summerreading

Summer is officially here in 20 days! If you fancy a great book to read while travelling or loafing around on the beach, then grab a copy of The Witch's List for your holidays. There are some great offers on the net such as paperback for $2.53 on amazon:
Or just buy / order one at your local bookshop.
Happy reading! Bon voyage!

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Let There Be Blood! Article by author Jennifer S. Alderson! #JSAauthor #TravelByBook #TripFiction

This weekend, I'd like to present the work of another author who is widening people's knowledge of other cultures and practises through her travel writing. Jennifer S. Alderson worked as a journalist and website developer in Seattle, Washington before trading her financial security for a backpack. After travelling extensively around Asia and Central America, she moved to Darwin, Australia, before finally settling in the Netherlands.
Jennifer’s travels and experiences colour and inform her internationally-oriented fiction. Her novels, Down and Out in Kathmandu: adventures in backpacking and The Lover’s Portrait: An Art Mystery, transport readers to Nepal, Thailand and the Netherlands.
Her travelogue, Notes of a Naive Traveller: Nepal and Thailand, is a must-read for those interested in learning more about, or wishing to travel to Nepal and Thailand.
The following is a short article by Jennifer, which will hopefully whet your appetite to read more of her fascinating writing...

Dashain Festival of Nepal

I am fully aware the meat so nicely packaged up in grocery stores comes from living animals that have been slaughtered. I am one of those people who doesn’t mind, as long as I don’t have to see it happen.
In Nepal, ‘fresh meat’ means recently butchered. While volunteering as an English teacher for three months in Kathmandu, I witness several meals being prepared; their heads cut off with a single swipe of a khukuri before their carcasses were cut up, usually on our rooftop terrace. I have even eaten a cake made of congealed fresh goat’s blood, a delicacy prepared for my Nepali father’s birthday. How could I refuse?
As a city girl eating ‘fresh meat’ was an entirely new experience for me, as were most things I encountered while in Nepal. I wrote about these experiences and many more in my newly released travelogue, Notes of a Naive Traveler: Nepal and Thailand. Here is an excerpt, my account of Dashain, one of the most important Hindu festivals during which locals offers sacrifices to the bloodthirsty goddess Kali – in the form of one-thousand and eight animals.
I have never seen so much blood in all of my life!

Excerpt from Notes of a Naive Traveler: Nepal and Thailand:

Today Tammy, Lorie and I went to Dakshinkali to witness the big blood festival of sacrifice. This was simply one of the most powerful and somber events I have witnessed. When I see dead animals in the streets, I have a hard time looking. But the dead animals at Dakshinkali were serving a higher purpose. Somehow this made seeing be-headed goats, ducks and chickens simultaneously easier and more difficult to watch.
People would enter the temple proper with an animal, get it blessed at the shrine then step to the right and get in line. A middle-aged man in a ratty T-shirt and jeans was the ‘khukuri master’ who did the killing. He grabbed the animal’s neck and sliced its head off (always with one stroke of the knife otherwise it’s not considered pure), usually while chatting with friends. Depending on the animal’s size he would grab a small butcher-knifed sized khukuri, or a longer saber-like one. For the goats, the animal’s owner would hold it down while he went to work. The most disturbing part was watching him saw at some of the larger animal’s necks before they died. Overall this wasn’t a disturbing or morbid ritual. In fact it all seemed so casual – perhaps that’s why it was so powerful.

I guess I was expecting a sacred alter surrounded by candles and a high priest wielding a knife. Instead, the sacrifice took place in a corner of the temple and the guy wielding the knife wore a T-shirt and joked with friends between be-headings.
As animals were being slaughtered on one side of the temple, a throng of people were trying to shove their way to the front of the shrine for the blessing. Because this huge crowd was surging inside the temple complex, there was barely any room for the animal sacrifices to happen. I kept waiting for someone to get drenched in blood or slip through a pool of it.
After the khukuri master cuts the animal’s head off, the family hands him money then collects the two pieces. Goat and duck heads were kept, chicken heads discarded. Families would either put the severed head into a bag or their sons would proudly show it off while helping their fathers carry the animal’s carcass to the nearby river. Goats are the most revered – or at least most expensive – so often boys would grip the dead animal’s ears in one hand in order to display their prize, using the other hand to grasp the hind legs.
It took two people – usually a father and son – each holding two legs, to get a goat safely down to the river’s edge. The neck dangled down, dripping blood, which marked a path across the steps and bridges leading from the temple to one of the two holy rivers the Dakshinkali temple straddles. There the animals are washed, turning the water in both rivers red.

Goats were disassembled, parts cleaned and saved for later. Some families put chunks of meat into fire pits or large metal barrels and cooked them immediately, others bagged all the pieces up for later. Heads were kept intact so they could be offered to other temples. I’ve been told that blood from each animal will be saved then sprinkled onto cars, shovels, tractors, tempos, garages and the like. The blood of a sacrificed animal is considered good luck for vehicles or tools, bringing safety and prosperity for the next year. That’s why every Royal Nepal Airplane has a goat sacrificed to it.

Connect with Jennifer via her website, blog, Facebook, Goodreads or Twitter.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Taking one step at a time! #thewitchslist #busywriting

Writing the follow-up to The Witch's List, one step at a time.
Am I taking the floor or driving myself up the wall?

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

An Algerian Oasis in Paris! #thewitchslist #busywriting

Came across this Algerian restaurant, named l'Oasis. Strange coincidence, since that is the name I gave to the restaurant where some of the action takes place in my new book!

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Book festivals 2017 - look out for The Witch's List! #thewitchslist #bookfestivals

Still trying to get my book on the programme of some of the book festivals taking place in Scotland this summer / autumn.
Edinburgh said try again next year :(
Waiting on replies from Dundee, Nairn, Wigtown...
Also checked out the Bookmark book festival (Blairgowrie, Rattray & The Glens):