Books Holidays

Being an Outsider

Sometimes, being an outsider is all right.

On our many trips abroad over the years, we have always been outsiders. Not so much in the UK, where most people don’t usually realise we’re not one of them, but most definitely in places like India, Ethiopia, Egypt and Japan, even when we dressed like the indigenous population.

India – Odisha – Bison Horn Maria village.
Dancing in Egypt
Ethiopia 2017: Wakonos Village.
We are Japanese, if you please.

In my childhood, I was an unwilling outsider. Like all children, I wanted to fit in but I never did.

However, my outsiderness was never as severe as Martin’s. He suffered in silence, learning behaviours that made life bearable as a child, but didn’t prepare him for being adult.

That all changed for Martin when he was sent to Japan to represent his company, not necessarily in a good way, although ultimately…

No, I won’t tell you the ending of Cultivating a Fuji, the new edition of which is out in one week: 19th January. You can pre-order it now from Amazon.

Nowadays, I’m happy to be an outsider. As an author, it’s helpful to get an outsider’s perspective. And I like being unique, rather than fitting some pattern. What a shame that children can’t see those benefits, or accept differences.


Chanukah, Day 8

To make up for my recent lack of attention to this blog, I’m posting thoughts about Chanukah for each day of the eight-day festival. Today, I’m talking about:


There are women associated with Chanukah. Their names are Hannah and Judith (Yehudit). That’s two women. Or maybe three. Or only one. I’ll explain.

Here’s a story about Hannah. It’s a story of sexual violation and hardly surprising, it seems to me, that it’s not told in kindergartens. But there is another story that’s told about Hannah.

Hannah witnessed all seven of her sons being tortured, one by one, and killed for refusing to bow down to an idol, or for refusing to eat pork – the story varies. Never did she beg any of them to comply with the commands in order to stay alive.

Is that the same Hannah or a different one? Then there’s Judith (Yehudit), who might also have been Hannah. She beheaded the Assyrian general, Holofernes.

Reading these stories makes me regard those ancient times as violent and dangerous. But are human beings really any better now?

We will continue to light candles and hope to bring light to a dark world.

Thank you for reading this series of posts. I wish you all a happy and healthy 2023. My plans for 2023 begin with republishing my uplit book, Cultivating a Fuji, through Ocelot Press. More about that soon.


Chanukah, Day 7

To make up for my recent lack of attention to this blog, I’m posting thoughts about Chanukah for each day of the eight-day festival. Today, I’m talking about:


Festivals are not only about eating. There’s also singing. Of the many songs associated with Chanukah, here are some that I particularly like.

I’ll start with the two songs recited every evening with the lighting of the candles, but with tunes I prefer to the ones normally heard. Well, I would have done, but I couldn’t find my favourite tune for Hanerot Halalu at all on YouTube. I had to listen to numerous versions of Ma’oz Tzur until I found the one I wanted:

Of all the other songs for Chanukah, this is the one I like the best, just because of the tune:

Here’s a folk dance that’s associated with Chanukah, although it’s really about lighting candles in general. You can see the “candles” near the beginning and at the end.


Chanukah, Day 6

To make up for my recent lack of attention to this blog, I’m posting thoughts about Chanukah for each day of the eight-day festival. Today, I’m talking about:


Salutations! On the day of this post, you’re either approaching the end of a holiday, or just starting one, or neither, but I expect most of my readers will be in the first two categories, probably the second.

How do I greet those? Well, I know most people say, “Merry Christmas,” but I’m a bit wary of that because I remember certain Christians are less keen on the word “merry” because of its association with alcohol which they don’t drink. So I tend to say, “Happy Christmas.”

Likewise, “Happy Chanukah” is fine and so is “Chag Sameach” which means “Happy Holiday” and fits all the festivals.

But on most years, Chanukah is over before Christmas begins, and people feel they need to wish me something in return to my greeting, so they wish me a happy holiday season or something of that nature. While that would work for Jews living in the diapora, who are caught up in the holiday atmosphere, it doesn’t really work in Israel where life continues as usual. A better answer would be, “Thank you.” Pretend I’m wishing you happy birthday.

This year, of course, there’s no problem. So, to most readers,



Chanukah, Day 5

To make up for my recent lack of attention to this blog, I’m posting thoughts about Chanukah for each day of the eight-day festival. Today, I’m talking about:


They say that every Jewish festival can be summed up like this: They tried exterminate us; they failed; let’s eat. Chanukah follows the pattern.

Sufganiya (plural sufganiyot) is Hebrew for doughnut and shares its root with the word for sponge, due to its texture. Most are filled with jam. We prefer the ones with dulce de leche. Chocolate is also a popular filling. Some have exciting toppings.

Then there’s levivot (latkes) and other items from the various Jewish communities.

What all these foods have in common is that they’re fried in oil, linking them to the miracle, which I recounted on Day 2.

And yes, they’re all delicious and unhealthy. Fortunately, Chanukah lasts for only eight days!

Me, ten years ago

Chanukah, Day 4

To make up for my recent lack of attention to this blog, I’m posting thoughts about Chanukah for each day of the eight-day festival. Today, I’m talking about:


Sevivon is Hebrew for spinning top. In Yiddish, it’s called a dreidel.

Don McLean wrote a song about it.

On the each of the four vertical sides of the spinning top cube is a single letter that stand for a word in a sentence:

נ – Nנס – Nesmiracle
ג – Gגדול – Gadolbig
ה – Hהיה – Hayawas
פ – Pפה – Pohere

In other words: A big miracle happened here.

But that’s only in Israel. In other countries, the last letter is ש – Sh, standing for שם – Sham, meaning: there.

I’m not sure I’ve ever played with a sevivon, but there’s a tradition of playing with it while the candles are alight, usually trying to win chocolate money or low denomination coins.


Chanukah, Day 3

To make up for my recent lack of attention to this blog, I’m posting thoughts about Chanukah for each day of the eight-day festival. Today, I’m talking about:


What do you call that thing you stick the candles into?

In the UK, where I grew up, we always called it a menorah. But that name is wrong and should be reserved for the seven-branched candelabrum that stood in Jerusalem’s Holy Temple.

In modern-day Jerusalem there’s a menorah, created by Benno Elkan (1877-1960) that depicts “29 formative events, figures and concepts from the Old Testament and the history of the Jewish People.”

In Israel, we stick the candles into a chanukia. It has nine branches, one of which is set apart from the rest. The candle on that branch is called the shamash and is used to light all the other candles.


Chanukah, Day 2

To make up for my recent lack of attention to this blog, I’m posting thoughts about Chanukah for each day of the eight-day festival. Today, I’m talking about:


Do you know the story of Chanukah?

The generally accepted (though disputed) story took place in the middle of the second century B.C.E (or B.C.) when the Second Temple stood in Jerusalem. The ruler of the Land of Israel at the time, Antiochus IV of Syria, led his soldiers to massacre thousands of Jews and desecrate the Temple. A rebellion was led by Mattityahu (Mattathias) and later his son, Yehuda (Judah) the Maccabee. The Jews drove the Syrians out of Jerusalem and set about cleansing the Temple.

The seven-branched candelabrum, representing knowledge and creation, was supposed to be kept burning every day, but there was only enough olive oil to burn for one day. By a miracle, the flames kept alight for eight days, leaving the people time to find a fresh supply of oil.

Jerusalem: a light show on the Old City walls.

The festival of Chanukah concentrates on the miracle and not on massacres. It’s a fun festival and also a minor one. In recent times, its proximity to Christmas (this year they coincide) has raised its status.


Chanukah, Day 1

To make up for my recent lack of attention to this blog, I’m posting thoughts about Chanukah for each day of the eight-day festival. Today, I’m talking about:


How do you spell it? I saw this list, today:

There are many more variants in Latin script. French speakers, for instance, tend to place an o before the u. Fortunately, there’s only one spelling in Hebrew:


Possibly, it’s significant that the topic of spelling comes up each year. The story of Chanukah involves a ‘spell’, which is called a miracle. I’ll write more about that on another day.

Whatever you’re celebrating at this season, enjoy it.

Vietnam, 2018
Books Holidays

Teamwork in Dark Venice

No one can work entirely alone. We all have friends, colleagues, partners in crime. Even authors, whose work is notoriously solitary, get advice from other authors and eventually connect with agents, publishers and readers.

That’s the message of my story, Teamwork, in Dark Venice, the new and wonderful anthology of short stories from Darkstroke.

The two women in the story are thrown into a situation where their only chance of extricating themselves lies in pooling their abilities.

I have visited Venice three times. It’s a unique and fascinating city. If you haven’t been, I highly recommend going there. And in the meantime, read these dark and delightful stories. Click on the link.


Still here? Read some hints of what you can find in the book.

Anna Legat
Veni Vidi Perivi
Hundreds of years from now Venice has sunk to the bottom of the sea but it is still capable of seducing a random traveller with its hypnotic charm. And there is a price to pay for feasting on its beauty.
Anne-Marie Ormsby
Night Call
A young woman searches Venice after dark when her best friend disappears, but the investigation is haunted by disturbing calls from the missing girl’s mobile phone.
Cathie Dunn
The Girl in the Lagoon
In the early 20th century, when fascism is gathering support across northern Italy, the discovery of a young woman’s dead body in a lagoon reveals a sinister plot way beyond Francesco di Luca’s imagination.
Christopher Stanfield
A Rose By Another Name
Reunited with her best friend Cindy Nix, notorious serial killer Apple Rose settles in the beautiful city of Venice. But a specter from the past returns and it won’t be long before they have to reckon with a bloody choice made long ago.
Cory Maddalena
And Venice Slept
While on her honeymoon in Venice, a young newlywed navigates the city’s winding streets and canals. The last thing she expects is to be haunted by an insidious entity known only through folklore as the poverella.
Donna Cuttress
The Tarot Reader
A Tarot card reader reluctantly becomes involved in deception, smuggling and murder.
GJ Scobie
The Inference Machine
While in Venice celebrating their twentieth wedding anniversary, Greg leaves Sally to spend an afternoon by herself in the Leonardo Da Vinci Museum, where a mysterious invention reveals secrets about her marriage she had never dared to contemplate.
Jenna Morrison
Devil’s Town
For years, Venice Harbor has been rumored to be cursed, and it is now known as Devil’s Town. An epidemic hit the island and Doctor Harvey Hardy is chosen to treat the natives of Devil’s Town; however, strange things begin to happen as soon as he arrives, which ultimately places his life in jeopardy.
Linda Conn Amstutz
When you have experienced this kind of love, nothing, not even death, can change it.
Mary Kendall
Paradiso Perduto
Simone stumbles upon a couple violently fighting in a dark Venetian alley one night which triggers haunting and painful memories best left forgotten. Can she reconcile the woman she has become with a younger self who had been brimming with brazen moxie and big dreams?
Miriam Drori
Two women – a British pianist and her Venetian tour guide – are only just getting to know each other when calamity strikes. Neither can extricate them from the situation alone, but together there might be a chance.
Ross Alexander
State of Love and Trust
A restaurant owner with a troubled past plans drastic actions to prevent a troubled future.
Sue Barnard
La Serenissima
A young writer travels round Italy in search of inspiration for his work. On arriving in Venice, what he finds will change his life for ever.