Blacktop Rain

…and other secret joys


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How do you treat your books?

I’m reading a collection of essays at the moment called Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader by Anne Fadiman. The essays explore the various aspects of the reading and writing life, such as: how to marry someone else’s books, messages on flyleaves, You-Are-There reading, the pitfalls of being a compulsive proofreading and plagiarism. However, I particularly enjoyed the essay ‘Never Do That To A Book’ about how people treat their books.

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Of gibbons and unexpected things

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I woke up this morning at 6, looked out the window, saw a white sheet of cloud across the sky and contemplated going back to bed. I forced myself not too. For a long time I’ve been wanting to get up early and go walking in the city. I had a romantic idea of what it would be like: the morning sun pooling on the old canal houses and in the trees that line the water, steam rising from vents down winding alleyways, shopkeepers lifting shutters and setting out tables, the smell of bread baking in the air, people on balconies with hot mugs of coffee, and a profound sense of peace and calm before the rush of the day begins. Continue reading


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Elections and directions (or lack thereof)

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Image by bulbocode909. Used under a CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 license.

Last weekend I went back to Manchester for a few days. Spending time back home is always a slightly disorientating experience. Both going to Manchester and coming back to Amsterdam, I’m confronted by just how different the two cities are. There are the obvious things like the language, the way people dress, and the architecture. And then there are the differences like never seeing homeless people in Amsterdam, but always seeing several on the streets of Manchester. It was also disorientating to wake up on Friday morning to see a map of the UK swathed in blue, when I had been hoping for a very different outcome. All weekend and for days afterwards I felt a sense of sadness and disbelief whenever I remembered that the Conservatives are still in power. Continue reading


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A history of urban nature writing

Image from Wildlife in the City by Alan C. Jenkins

Image from Wildlife in the City by Alan C. Jenkins

Some time ago (I don’t remember when or how – though I can guess that I was probably on a train, which is where I have all my best ideas) the idea popped into my head to read and review every work of urban nature writing ever published, from Richard Jefferies’s Nature Near London, right up to the present day when the genre seems to have exploded. Once lodged in my mind, the idea refused to budge and it has been there ever since. Continue reading


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On writing and prestige

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A few years back I came across an article by Paul Graham called ‘How To Do What You Love‘. I’ve read it periodically since then and every time I seem to take something new from it. On the most recent reading, the bits about prestige seemed to stand out to me. Graham writes:

What you should not do, I think, is worry about the opinion of anyone beyond your friends. You shouldn’t worry about prestige. Prestige is the opinion of the rest of the world. When you can ask the opinions of people whose judgement you respect, what does it add to consider the opinions of people you don’t even know? Continue reading


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Where’d you get a name like that?

'Naomi entreating Ruth and Orpah to return to the land of Moab' by William Blake, 1795. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

‘Naomi entreating Ruth and Orpah to return to the land of Moab’ by William Blake, 1795. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

The other day I went to my local library to sign up for a Dutch speaking programme. I filled out the forms and handed them over to the lady at the desk. She checked over my answers and when she saw my surname she asked, is that a Czech name? No, I replied, it’s Hungarian. I didn’t think anything of it because I’m so used to people asking me about my name. Usually I’m asked if it’s Polish. No one, except Hungarians, guesses that it’s Hungarian, so the answer has become rote for me. No, it’s Hungarian. My grandfather was HungarianContinue reading


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On fighting the origami beast

Image by Gerwin Sturm, used under a CC2.0 license

Image by Gerwin Sturm, used under a CC2.0 license

I have a problem. I am constantly coming up with good ideas for writing projects, but they never come to much. It’s been a constant problem in my writing life, ever since I was 14 and jotting down idea after idea for novels that would never get written. Some would get a few chapters along, but they invariably died a death at some point. Continue reading