#MondayBlogs: When authors don’t do their research

#MondayBlogs: When authors don’t do their research

Plot holes, oddities and other (near) misses which could easily have been remedied

I read a lot, at least when I’m not writing, and most of the books I read are amazingly written. But every now and then I come across a book that is, for all intents and purposes, not finished yet. The research is sloppy (if researched at all), there are plot holes etc. Why? I do a lot of research into my novels, recently even traveling to the area that is included. But even when I can’t go to the area, the research conducted is extensive.

It’s easier to see Sacré-Coeur from The Arc the Triomphe than vice versa. But you have beautiful views from the elevated vantage point of the famous basilica. Photo: Aarya through Wikimedia Commons

Let me exemplify. You write a scene taking place in Paris. Your protagonist resides in a hotel up on Montmartre, near the Basilica of Sacré-Coeur, with a beautiful view over Paris, looking southwest. Describe what you see? Landmarks, rivers etc. Well, given that we are in Paris, what would you see from the elevated vantage point that the place provides? Yes? No? Well, allow me to help, since I’ve actually been both in a hotel in that scene and seen the view on many occasions: You see you see the Louvre, Bois de Boulogne, you see the islands in the Seine with the Cathedral Notre Dame (almost due south), the impressive tower of Montparnasse, you can spot Le Trocadéro etc., but most importantly, you see the Eiffel Tower, probably the most important sight in Paris. However, you may not see the Seine, or only a tiny sliver, because of the buildings that are in the line of sight. The same is true for e.g. the Arc de Triomphe, impressive if you stand on the Champs Elysées or any of the other streets approaching it, but from afar? You might not be able to spot it.

Whether your readers have been to Paris themselves, or not, is not essential. If they have, they’ll relive wonderful memories of vacations past, if they haven’t, they most likely will have seen a picture of Paris, either in a newspaper, on TV or in a movie. Now, follow me a bit further: imagine a story where the protagonist is looking over Paris at night, relishing the sights. The author beautifully describes the views but forgets to mention the Eiffel Tower… Would you notice?

Where’s the Eiffel Tower? Didn’t you just say you could see it? I did, but it all depends on the angle and where on Montmartre you stand… It’s around the corner to the right, the people in front can probably see it. Whether you see it, or not, you’ll need to let people know why! The devil is in the details… Image: Neo007 via Wikimedia Commons

Well, would you notice if an author described London without Buckingham Palace? New York without Manhattan? How could something like this happen? I can only assume two things: the author hasn’t been on site, and they haven’t done their research. Because you can’t go to certain places and not notice these things. I once wrote a scene on a Caribbean island involving a jetty and a path leading to that jetty from the airport terminal. However, I hadn’t been on the island myself, and my research online was inconclusive. I couldn’t be 100% sure if the pathway was leading all the way or if there was a fence in the way somewhere. I was lucky. Three months after I published the book, I was on site to walk the walk myself. This was a tiny detail, and nobody would’ve noticed if you hadn’t been on site. Pathways from small airports are not common knowledge, other things are.

See? You can see it, it’s just a matter of vantage point.

Colloquialisms are another pitfall. While English is a global language, there are countless local varieties in its use, and even native speakers don’t always catch the finer details. I’ve made mistakes myself in this area. Color me very embarrassed. But I’ve also seen authors use fairly well-known terms the wrong way, by the wrong people, in a failed effort to sound a certain way. Thing is, the devil is in the detail.

One more example: plot holes. What if your story has a plot hole you are aware of? How likely do you think your readers are going to see it, too? Particularly if you mention it in the book as an inconsistency? Make it a “thing”? Leaving it unresolved is just going to get people confused. Keeping a story “plausible”, “credible”, “believable” is important, even if you write fantasy or science-fiction.

So, how do you avoid such mistakes? The easy way out is to write about that which you know, which is probably the easiest way. I’ve read books from authors that all play out in the same city. Or, you could make up a town, thus making the story more generic. I did that in Jonathan’s Hope. Or, you have to do your research. I got myself into a lot of trouble when I decided to use a street called “fifth avenue” in my most recent book. No, not New York, but the character makes that reference, too. And then you begin to research where, if at all, such a place exists… It affected the rest of the book immensely because that bloody place is in a state that affected my protagonists in many ways.

Do mistakes like that affect your enjoyment of a book? Sadly they do. Particularly when there are many such mistakes in one single story. Does all the blame fall on the author? No. Unless they self-publish. I’ve seen how some publishers are more thorough in their editing, and there are some publishers I avoid these days, simply because they don’t care enough about the quality of the works they publish.

Readers, what is your experience? Is this something that bothers you when you read? Authors, how do you research your stories? Have you made mistakes you’re ashamed of? Let’s hear from you…

If you like my writing, feel free to subscribe to my monthly newsletter (top right on this page) with competitions and hopefully interesting reading, or to interact with me on TwitterFacebookYouTube, and/or Instagram. I’m also gratefully accepting donations of any size from fans (see top right on the page).

Thanks,

Hans

 

Maintenance: not my favorite topic, but alas, we all get to do it #amwriting (not) #asmsg

Maintenance: not my favorite topic, but alas, we all get to do it #amwriting (not) #asmsg

Maintenance: to keep your author site up to date, and other little chores we all have to do

Good morning. It’s been a weird week for me. I’ve had handy men in the house every day this week, and I just didn’t get a chance to sit down and actually do any writing. Go figure! So I did maintenance on my authorship. Well, mainly my website, but you know what I mean. But before I jump into that, let me go back to last Saturday:

I finally got to meet Michael Bakkensen at my table at the Rainbow Book Fair. Great guy!

I finally got to meet Michael Bakkensen at my table at the Rainbow Book Fair. Great guy!

New York, the city that doesn’t sleep. I arrived timely on Friday night and went straight to my lodging to basically go to sleep. My host, Brent Cope, is also an author, his debut was published in December, so that was a bonus. I slept for a few hours (you know what jet lag and a new bed is like) and was up early enough for my day: Rainbow Book Fair. To meet lots of old friends, like cartoonist Greg Fox, Michael Murphy, Johnny Williams et al.

I also, finally, got to meet the man who narrated my first audio book, Family Ties, Michael Bakkensen. Great guy and we had breakfast the next day up where he and his gorgeous family live. Quite the treat! I can’t wait to work more with this talented actor. The day went by in a haze. It was scorching (for a Swede) hot that Saturday and yeah, not as many people attended as I could’ve expected, but I sold a few books and only carried home three. So that was really good.

Seaport, Brooklyn Bridge, New York

So difficult to choose a shot of New York, but I really did enjoy seeing this part of town with the Brooklyn Bridge looming in the background. Photo: Private

Andrew, a New Yorker in training (his words, not mine), and I spent Saturday night in the company of the hosts of GayTalk 2.0, the ultimate (it is!) podcast, having a great dinner. Sunday was sightseeing, and I don’t think I ever walked this much in one day. We started out downtown, at the new subway station slash shopping center, the Oculus, rode up to the top of the Freedom Tower, before we began to walk through downtown, down to the piers on the east end by Southport, over the Brooklyn Bridge into Brooklyn and Dumbo (an area between the Brooklyn foundations of the Brooklyn and Manhattan bridges), walked back to Manhattan on the latter bridge and finally walked all the way up to the 14th street subway station via Christopher Street and the Stonewall Inn (I had actually never been there before). Phew! I was exhausted that night.

On Monday, I met with another person who’s been following my writing career for years, photographer and artist Alina Oswald. We’d first met after she’d written an amazing review in A&U Magazine for my novel The Fallen Angels of Karnataka, and we became friends in the years since. She was the first to highlight the HIV component in the novel. Not that I wasn’t aware of it, but I never saw it as an HIV novel, yet given that Haakon is positive means a lot to a community who doesn’t have a lot of role models that are described in a positive way.

Anyway, we had brunch and then she took some new photos of me. She did an amazing job, and Central Park basking in sunshine were the perfect backdrop. Here’s just one example:

Photographing author Hans M. Hirschi in Central Park, NYC. May 1, 2017. Photo: Alina Oswald

Photographing author Hans M. Hirschi in Central Park, NYC. May 1, 2017. Photo: Alina Oswald

After that it was time for me to head home to Sweden, and you guessed right, maintenance and handy men. They came Tuesday, an hour after I reached the house, and immediately went to work, tearing down parts of the tiled wall, redrawing water pipes etc. Let’s just say they’re still not done. The installation of the bath tub proved more complicated than they thought… They’re coming back today, one last time, I hope.

Meanwhile, when not serving them coffee or checking in on progress, I spent time working on my website. I tweaked the look and feel, and replaced the static images on the book pages with a neat little Amazon plugin that allows readers to get a preview of the text and buy the book straight from my website. Neat little feature!

I also added a plugin from a site called Authorgraph. I know it sounds “wrong”, but alas, that’s the name of the site. It is geared toward ebooks, and allows readers of ebooks to get autographs for their cherished possessions. You should check it out. I’ve uploaded all my works. It doesn’t add the autograph to the book, but if you have a Kindle account, it will add the page to your Kindle. I can personalize the greeting and – once I get my hand on an iPad large enough, I might even be able to personalize the signature (signing with my fat digit just feels weird and looks yikes!)

Did I ever mention my “Donation” button? I added that a while ago. Now I’m not expecting to make a fortune through it, but if you like my work, if you appreciate my blogging or my videos, or my books, you have the possibility to support me with a voluntary donation. Why am I doing that? Since I can’t make a living on my writing, this is just one way to possibly earn a few bucks extra. I have been considering a Patreon account, but given my obscurity and how “unknown” I am, the extra work to fulfill all the promises you have to make to get funding, I just don’t think I will have the time to do it. Who knows what the future holds.

Anyway. It’s Friday, the week is almost over, and hopefully, after a week of mostly maintenance, I’ll get back to writing next week. I have a novel to finish in time for GRL this fall. But not today. The sun is shining, and I just need to get those workers focused and out of my house so that we finally, two weeks late, get our new bathroom…

Have a wonderful weekend, and if you like what you read, subscribe to my monthly newsletter (top right on this page) with competitions and hopefully interesting reading, or feel free to interact with me on TwitterFacebookYouTube, and/or Instagram.

Hans

Book research: the day the earth spoke to me and I listened #amwriting #asmsg #sapmi #LGBT

Book research: the day the earth spoke to me and I listened #amwriting #asmsg #sapmi #LGBT

I am grateful beyond measure for the trip I took this week

Sometimes you do things just for fun. You know to visit a place you’ve dreamt for seeing. And sometimes that place leaves a mark on you. I recall the Taj Mahal in Agra or Uluru being two such places which have left deep marks in my soul. Those places, albeit visited just for pleasure, as a tourist, are very powerful. They taught me things I never thought possible, never thought I needed to know. They’ve changed who I am as a human being. As an author, I am lucky to have been able to use those lessons and the imagery etched onto my retinas in more than one of my books, but mainly The Fallen Angels of Karnataka. This week, I did something I had not done before. I left my house to travel to a place I have already written about, in my current work in progress (WIP), tentatively still called “The Pillow“, although that, too, may change.

This is Sápmi, the land of the Sami people. Source: samer.se

This trip was different. I had planned it to learn. I did not go there to have fun. I went alone, without my family, at a time where there are no tourists (I was the only guest in town) to understand the soul of the Sami people, to learn what it means to be Sami. Not having been brought up in the Swedish school system, I knew nothing about that people, yet somehow, in my semi-conscious efforts to highlight diversity in my work, my main character decided to appear as a Sami. To do him justice, I had to learn. When I write about a specific place, particularly if I haven’t been there, is to go online, look at pictures, maps, and web sites to get the information I need. I tend to keep it generic and I rarely go into great detail. When I’ve been to the place, it’s obviously much easier to be specific. Although, my storytelling focuses more on the emotional impact of a place than lengthy descriptions of wall papers or architectural details. A choice.

The mountains are impressive. Different than the Alps, the Andes or the Himalayas, but massive nonetheless. The cultural landscapes of Sápmi.

For some reason, and the faithful among you are free to claim divine intervention, the land of the Sami, Sápmi, called to me. The mountains around Ammarnäs called to me, and I had an almost physical urge to visit. Yes, to learn about the Sami, but I was sure it was primarily to ‘see’ what Nilas would see, to get a feeling for the land.

Now I understand it was more than that. The Sami ARE the land. There was a point in my conversations with my guide Mikael where he told us how deeply wounded his people feel every time the colonists (aka the Swedish) talk about the “wilderness” of the mountain landscapes of northern Scandinavia, where in fact, they would never apply that term to their own back yard.

There are traces of Sami cultures everywhere, but they’re invisible to most of us. This for instance is a trail marker.

To the Sami, who have lived around these mountains for thousands of years, this is not wilderness, it is their home, a cultural landscape. And while we as visitors or colonizers may be unable to see it, there are countless signs of culture: trails, places of worship and sacrifice to the gods, homesteads, milking stations, etc.

The Sami live in harmony with nature, and unlike the Abrahamic Peoples who believe that the earth is ‘theirs to subdue’ (Genesis 1:28-29), this indigenous people understands to take only what they need to live. Not more. And their needs are simple. Their joy is to watch a reindeer calve, to see an arctic fox hunt lemming, an eagle soar, or commune with a bear, the carrier of messages to and from the afterlife.

After my first day on the mountain I was exhausted. More so from the stories I was told, the lessons I had learned, than from the physical fatigue of riding a snowmobile all day. And it wasn’t until the end of the second day when I realized the power of this land, how it beckons and calls. I’ve learned to see it differently, and I now understand that it called upon me because Nilas is the mountains and the land is Nilas.

Back in Gothenburg, in my own four walls, I wonder how the first draft will be affected. How much of the Sami story will find its way into the pages of it? Nilas has morphed before my eyes. I see him much clearer now, his life, his soul. I also understand why the books ends the way it does, and it is the perfect ending (if I may say so). I have a lot of work to do in the coming two weeks before the manuscript is due to reach my publisher.

The Sami are the land and the land is the Sami. In the total absence of sound you finally hear earth talk to you, if you’re ready to listen.

I’m glad for this enlightening journey, this pilgrimage of sorts, because it has once again instilled in me a sense of purpose, and maybe, just maybe this is what we need from time to time: to shut up and listen. Not just to each other, as important as that is, but to listen to the earth talk to us. I know this sounds very new age and strange, particularly coming from someone who does not believe in deities. However, I do believe that we and all living things are connected somehow and that we simply don’t fully understand how the neutrons, protons and electrons that make up everything, how the basic strings resonate. Maybe when we’re totally still, in a place where silence reigns, maybe, just maybe, we can here those strings swing, resonate and talk to us…

Have a wonderful weekend!

If you’ve enjoyed this post, please share it with others. I love to connect with my readers, I really do, so feel free to interact with me on TwitterFacebookYouTube, and/or Instagram.

Hans

#MondayBlogs: Getting ready for GRL (@gayromlit), literally the last second… #amwriting #amreading #LGBT

#MondayBlogs: Getting ready for GRL (@gayromlit), literally the last second… #amwriting #amreading #LGBT

Unpacking, laundry, washing horse hair and packing for GRL, all in a few hours…

Time to head out to Kansas City, for this year's final author event, the biggest, the greatest, the one and only GRL!

Time to head out to Kansas City, for this year’s final author event, the biggest, the greatest, the one and only GRL!

As I write this (not that I have anything else to do tonight), it is seven hours and 17 minutes to the ring of my alarm clock, the time I’ll have to get up in time to make my ferry, to catch my taxi, to get to my flight, which connects to another flight, which – after a thorough immigration at O’Hare – leads to yet another flight, before I arrive in Kansas City to grab an Uber to my hotel, where, on Thursday, we kick off another GRL Retreat, or in other terms, the most biggest and most wonderful LGBT reader-writer conference in the whole wide world. Now, if my SEO engine doesn’t complain about the meaning I just wrote, then there’s something wrong with da thing.

We spent the past four days in Switzerland, at my home town’s annual county/trade fair, complete with pigs and cows and sheep and horses and anything else a kid’s heart could desire: which would also include rides, candy and cheap toys… My son was in seventh heaven, at least every now and then, when us adults did not engage in idle conversation or buy grandpa a new KitchenAid mixer for his diet’s new smoothies. Those were the times when Sascha looked absolutely dreadful and bored to death…

This is just a tiny detail of the amazing food we ate. Now I'm no fan of parsley, quite the contrary, but this little bouquet of herbs looked pretty and complemented the amazing food on the plate.

This is just a tiny detail of the amazing food we ate. Now I’m no fan of parsley, quite the contrary, but this little bouquet of herbs looked pretty and complemented the amazing food on the plate.

But we had a great time, ate amazing food and I was planning the final details for my trip to Kansas City. Now, as I wrote in my blog last week, the three days before Switzerland were crazy hectic, and while Switzerland was nice and calm, for the most part, the never ending walking at a huge fair with extensive grounds, the huge amounts of people, the stop and go etc. made for perfect reasons to be absolutely and totally exhausted at night. We walked a good seven miles, every day. Among a good 30K others.

We got home at 4:30 pm and we’ve been unpacking, doing laundry and getting the week ahead ready ever since. While I may board a flight in ten hours, that doesn’t stop my husband from going to work or my son going to school. Not to mention that there’s extra preparations to be made given that he’ll be on his own all week, or that we have a double surgery planned on the day after my home-coming. yay!

What? Horse Hair?

What? Horse Hair?

I know, I know, your mind is probably totally zoned out by now of boredom, or – more likely – still thinking “washing horse hair?” And I can’t blame you. I would probably, too. So here’s a photo to give you an idea. Not more. I would have to kill you if i did. And that would be rather boring, wouldn’t it?

You’ll just have to watch this space and see. Next week, on Monday, I’ll be sharing some images with you. If you ask nicely. So, I wish I could tell you more, but I can’t. Instead, I’ll bore you just a tad more with my preparations for GRL: I have a reading and a Q&A session, and on Friday, I’ll host a game show with nine other author friends. There will be a raffle with amazing (I’m not kidding) prizes to be won, attendees get to ask us authors embarrassing questions, which we – in case we don’t dare answering them – will lead to a fun dare.

Four days in St. Gallen, here with the view toward the old town, a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Four days in St. Gallen, here with the view toward the old town, a UNESCO World Heritage site.

We’ll play Jeopardy, and the contestants get to win up to fifteen novels. I’m sponsoring GRL this year (again), with a lot of money, and I’ve not even done the math yet, but we’re looking at well over three grand by now.

Half-packed suitcase. Looks VERY heave already... and still stuff mission.

Half-packed suitcase. Looks VERY heave already… and still lots of stuff missing.

The organizers of GRL do an amazing job, so I wanted to help them out. Whether that pays out or if it’s worth it in the long run? I don’t know. I’m not really in the ROI business, at least not with monetary regards.. There are other, more important, aspects to my authorship.

Which leads me to the final picture for the day, my half-packed suitcase. Time to get that ready, and finish packing before I hit the sack. It’s already 9:28 pm, I have less than seven hours before I have to get up and I’m already an hour short of what I need to sleep every day, so…

Ciao, have a great week, and if you’re going to GRL, come by my table or any of my events and say hi. I don’t bite, not even if you ask me…

If you’ve enjoyed this post, please share it with others. I love to connect with my readers, I really do, so feel free to interact with me on TwitterFacebookYouTube, and/or Instagram.

Have a wonderful week!

Hans

PS: By the time this is published, I’ll hopefully be on my way to 30,000 feet, on my first flight from Gothenburg to Frankfurt, from where I’ll fly to Chicago.

@CruiseNorwegian #Review: Luxury #Cruise in the Mediterranean aboard the NCL Norwegian Jade  #MondayBlogs

@CruiseNorwegian #Review: Luxury #Cruise in the Mediterranean aboard the NCL Norwegian Jade #MondayBlogs

From Venice to Athens and back: The Haven aboard NCL’s fleet promises and delivers (mostly)

Reviewing a cruise isn’t easy. It’s certainly a lot more difficult than reviewing a flight or a hotel. Why? Well, a flight lasts 12-13 hours at the most, you’ll be served one or two meals and all you see is your own class. The same with hotels. You see your room, eat your breakfast and maybe, maybe, have a meal at a restaurant. And while we often refer to cruise ships, such as the NCL Norwegian Jade, as floating hotels, with the “only” difference that you wake up in a new destination more or less every morning, there is still a big difference:

The Haven by NCL – a ship within the ship

Leaving Venice ever so slowly in order not to damage the fragile city is a marvel and a once in a lifetime (?) experience. Photo: Private

Leaving Venice ever so slowly in order not to damage the fragile city is a marvel and a once in a lifetime (?) experience. Photo: Private

Cruise ships are a) huge, they’re more like villages in a way, and b) you’re trapped aboard while not in a harbor. Unlike a hotel, where the entertainment lies outside the hotel doors (unless you’re in Vegas baby…) In a way, you’re stuck with everyone from coach (decks four to six where most cabins don’t even have windows) to business class and first class, or – as NCL prefers to call it – The Haven.

The Haven on the NCL Norwegian Jade, the ship we cruised on recently, is located on deck 14, midship. It consists of a dozen suites plus two huge three bedroom villas on either side of the ship, one starboard, and one port side. Ever since our first cruise on the Pride of America, the NCL ship touring the Hawaiian archipelago, we’ve been suite customers. It started with us wanting to have a separate room from our snoring toddler, and when grandpa decided to tag along, it was really nice to have a common living area with a connecting door to his stateroom (as NCL and other cruise lines prefer to call their cabins). The Pride of America doesn’t have a Haven, but the service is similar.

Our ship at the harbor in Corfu Town. We didn't take that many photos of the ship since this is already our fourth cruise on NCL. Photo: Private

Our ship at the harbor in Corfu Town. We didn’t take that many photos of the ship since this is already our fourth cruise on NCL. Photo: Private

Unlike on a plane (and I’ll stop the analogies here, because they only get you so far), the passengers in the Haven descend to the bowels of the ship to shop, eat, mingle, do sports and get entertained. However, the passengers from the lower echelons aren’t welcome upstairs. You need your key card for the elevator and the door in the stair case. Unfortunately, this doesn’t stop people, or should I say “curiosity kills the cat”?

We had a bit of a nightmare experience on this tour when a couple of Spanish tourists decided to tour our stateroom in the middle of the night, as maintenance workers who were trying to repair the AC unit in one of the bedrooms had left all doors open. My dad, my husband our son and I (me with a sleeping pill, as it was the first night aboard and I hadn’t slept much the night before) had gone to bed shortly after ten pm. The only ones up were my aunt and uncle, occupying the room with the faulty AC unit. When my uncle walked into the living room, he discovered the uninvited guests taking in our living room. When he asked them to leave, they refused and – instead – walked out into the open patio and up the stairs to our private sun deck. Only after our butler had been fetched to take care of it, did the intruders leave the apartment. Later, interviewed by the head of security (thank goodness for security cameras), they claimed to have thought our room was a public area. Yeah, right…

Our suite: the garden villa

A rare view of our living room with dining area and our grand piano (which plays for you, in case you don't have a concert pianist in your travel party, compliments Toshiba) Photo: Private

A rare view of our living room with dining area and our grand piano (which plays for you, in case you don’t have a concert pianist in your travel party, compliments Toshiba) Photo: Private

The incident was a bit nerve-wracking. Knowing I was out like a light and didn’t hear a thing of the whole raucous was deeply disconcerting, and the fact that you pay a lot of money for privacy, only to have that invaded like that? Luckily, nothing was stolen, even though two laptops and other valuables were in the living room. The upside? The crew handled the situation very well, and the head of security kept us informed of his investigation. But still. Imagine a stranger walking into your house? That’s how that felt. Only I was asleep. Creepy!

Our suite was HUGE, in fact, almost twice the size of our house. Three bedrooms, each with their own bath, the smaller ones with private balconies, the master bedroom with huge walk-in closet and a separate bath and shower with double sinks, a guest lavatory and a huge living room with grand piano, dining table for eight and a bar stocked with liquor and wines we chose beforehand, and a coffee maker that was working hard throughout the entire cruise. Sodas, juices and a constant flow of snacks, cookies and sweets completed the ensemble. Between the living room (check out videos on YouTube for a better impression) and the bedrooms is a courtyard with seating area, an 8 person jacuzzi and another 8 people dining table. Stairs take you to deck fifteen and a huge sun deck, just for the guests of the garden villa. There are TV sets in every room, and even a refrigerator (not that I’d know what to do with it, as the one in the living room is fully stocked…) along with great amenities, towels etc.

A shot of the family having dinner outside in the courtyard, with amazing views forward and to the side. Paired with good food, great wines and company, makes for unforgettable evenings. Note the Jacuzzi, just for us, where - downstairs - up to 20 kids would be cramming into... Photo: Private

A shot of the family having dinner outside in the courtyard, with amazing views forward and to the side. Paired with good food, great wines and company, makes for unforgettable evenings. Note the Jacuzzi, just for us, where – downstairs – up to 20 kids would be cramming into… Photo: Private

When we boarded the ship, we quickly noticed that the room had not been properly cleaned. There were false eyelashes in bathroom drawers, Q-tips on the floor, not to mention hair. And I hate other people’s loose hairs lying around the floor, in bathtubs or even worse, on towels that hadn’t been exchanged. In the living room, I found entire plates and food lying under a side board. It seemed the crew had been in an awful rush to get the room ready for us… Naturally, I complained and ended up spending almost six hours in various meetings with executive staff members to discuss this and other mishaps (e.g. uninvited guests, birthday cake etc.) That is not how you want to spend the first sea day… Trust me. But after a proper clean up, things were a lot better. Still not perfect (not the way I’d clean…) but a lot better.

The cruise itself and the destinations spelt “dreamy”: Corfu (a first for all of us), Santorini (my favorite of the Cyclades), Mykonos (a new gem we discovered), Athens (always worth a visit) and Split (with an amazing old town to linger in and an archipelago to sail through that is simply breathtakingly beautiful. Since our garden villa came with its own outdoor dining area, we spent three nights of our eight days aboard out there for dinner. Ordering from the speciality restaurants, the butler would serve us. White linens and decent china while we were dressed in t-shirts and shorts, enjoying the evening sun and the amazing sunsets. Undisturbed by other guests, with breathtaking views.

Entertainment

Hubby and I enjoying a glass of Prosecco in the aft bar on deck 12. We got a few minutes out while the rest of the family looked after our sleeping son. Photo: Private

Hubby and I enjoying a glass of Prosecco in the aft bar on deck 12. We got a few minutes out while the rest of the family looked after our sleeping son. Photo: Private

Norwegian Cruise Lines are known for their “Freestyle Cruising”, which basically means “no hassle, no stress”. You can come as you like, wear pretty much whatever you feel comfortable in, and eat wherever and whatever you like. I’ve walked through their buffet café a number of times and I have to say, the food looked really tasty, at least to the eye. And it was super convenient to grab a soft ice for the kid while we were scouring through the ship to pass time between one thing or another.

As we spent most days ashore, and since we’re traveling with a three year old with semi-decent bed times, we spent most of our ship time in our suite, part due to necessity, in part due to the comfort of it: our own private jacuzzi, our own private sun deck, huge living room, lots of food all the time and beds to nap on after hours in the scorching sun. There is so much entertainment aboard those ships. And since we didn’t have a babysitter, we spent most evenings in the room, but we did catch a couple of shows, one singing show by a quartet of professional singers and a cirque du Soleil inspired show. I’m really surprised by the quality of those acts. While some of the dancers were obviously not material for big ballets, all in all, we were very well entertained.

This was a view I had been particularly looking forward to: arriving in Santorini. I had been here three times before, by plane, but the view from a cruise ship of this island is spectacular. Photo: Private

This was a view I had been particularly looking forward to: arriving in Santorini. I had been here three times before, by plane, but the view from a cruise ship of this island is spectacular. Photo: Private

Then there are a gazillion other things to do, from crazy hook-up competitions to Miss pageants (I had to witness it from our living room, and I wasn’t amused), parties and art auctions, making sure that those passengers who’d crawl the walls of their windowless cabins are only spending time there with their eyes closed, to change clothes or shower. In a way, “The Haven” is a separate world, a ship inside a ship, with its own tiny gym (a treadmill and a cycle), a little pool and jacuzzi and snacks every now and then. During nice weather they can open the roof above the swimming pool, making the courtyard open to the fresh sea air, even for those guests in the Haven who do not stay in a villa. There’s also a separate private sun deck for the other Haven guests. We barely interacted with anyone.

Well, we tried. As a gay couple, my husband and I always try to make it to the LGBT meet and greet, but this time, the times were awkward, at 8:30 pm, too late to be before dinner and too early for us to be done with it. Having a kid made it almost impossible to get there. We made it once, but since the meets are unattended, there was no one there when we got there and only one couple walked in after a half hour, looked at us (checking out the meat) and left again. Oh well. We look forward to our next cruise, having been given tips from other LGBT travelers on what to do to improve the odds of making friends for real. I’ll try them out in December on the Norwegian Pearl…

To remember: Haven and suite guests have reserved balcony seats for all shows. We were always escorted to the theater by our concierge. Great seats, too!

Food & Drink

Leaving Athens, a rare shot from our sun deck. You can spot the little roof of our Jacuzzi below, in the courtyard. Photo: Private

Leaving Athens, a rare shot from our sun deck. You can spot the little roof of our Jacuzzi below, in the courtyard. Photo: Private

Needless to say I have to talk about the food. Haven passengers eat their breakfast at Cagney’s, NCL’s steakhouse, and the buffet is very well stocked with everything from fish to cold meats and lots of eggs and even streak to order from the menu. Once we’d taught our servers that us Europeans drink our coffee strong (i.e. not see through in the pot), we were fine. Sadly, the orange juice is from concentrate, something we’ve told NCL countless times to fix. Unacceptable if you aspire to be a first class establishment. Now it’s no better than a better breakfast joint, and that is sad. Charging us for an espresso for lunch after having paid money for free drinks and 40K US for the room? Come again?

However, apart from that the food on NCL is really, really good. Sure, not all dishes are top class, but given the circumstances (all food loaded at the beginning of the cruise, no daily runs to the market downtown), it is really astounding. The meats are among the best you can get, better than most in Europe. No wonder, most of the products are procured stateside and shipped to Europe. Whether that makes environmental sense is another story entirely…

This is the view forward from our port side suite. You see the midship pool and the main sun decks. However, from those decks, you have no view into the suites, except if your standing forward on the sun deck. Photo: Private

This is the view forward from our port side suite as we arrive in Piraeus, the harbor town of Athens. You see the midship pool and the main sun decks. However, from those decks, you have no view into the suites, except if your standing forward on the sun deck. Photo: Private

The wine list is extensive and we have a few favorites on board. Sadly, NCL is an American company, and the understanding for wine and vintages is very limited. Watch out, you could get served a 2012 followed by a 2013 or vice versa… This is sad, and comes with its own challenges during a dinner on say deck thirteen or twelve, as the servers have to run to the central storage area to get the more expensive and unusual bottles. Again, this is a village, not a house, and each run takes 15 minutes. When you order your second bottle of wine for your main course, you might be done by the time it gets to your table… We’ve slowly begun to learn, and order two bottles from the get go, as it’s simply impossible to expect the staff to understand “fine dining”.

To remember: speciality dining costs extra, the food in the main dining halls and the buffets are included in your fare. There are special drink and food “tickets” you can purchase to simplify life on board and staying on a budget.

Shore excursions

We got to enjoy more than one such spectacular evenings... Photo: Private

We got to enjoy more than one such spectacular evenings… Photo: Private

Let me be honest here: I have very little experience with those, as we cancelled all our shore excursions on the Pride of America after the first day. Buses with 50 people, queuing and mass tourism etc just aren’t our thing. Needless to say, the variety is endless and if you don’t mind group excursions, there’s plenty to choose from.

For the customers of The Haven, there’s the concierge, and on this trip, Patrick, our concierge from the Philippines, did an amazing job. He’d organize cars, guides and whatever else we wanted/needed. Also, as Haven guests, he’d always escort us to the gangway or the tender boat through a staff elevator, to get us off the ship quickly. Excellent service, particularly for us who really, really don’t like to queue.

Other experiences on the NCL Norwegian Jade

You just never get enough of these views... Photo: Private

You just never get enough of these views… Sailing through the Croatian archipelago off Split, heading west-north-west, back toward Venice. Photo: Private

Boarding… As a suite guest, you have a separate boarding counter. So far so good, but even without queueing, it still took us 45′ to check in as the computer broke down (Windows PC… sigh) and the slow connection to the ship. Not to mention that the people checking us in had no clue who they were dealing with. But once we got to the Haven lounge, things progressed smoothly and we were quickly brought aboard.

We tried to enlist our son into the children’s program, and gave up after waiting 45′ and being completely ignored. Well, not all children have a mother, and we were simply overlooked for a mom who’d arrived 20′ after us. Given my patience for queuing, I left and let the concierge deal with it. He did, thankfully. But I’ll be honest with you, I doubt I’d survive in cattle class on such a boat. Maybe I have to add that I don’t fly coach either. Ever. Yeah.

Looking down on your floating hotel from the top of the caldera of Santorini at eight pm. Photo: Private

Looking down on your floating hotel from the top of the caldera of Santorini at eight pm. Photo: Private

The spa is always something we look forward to, and every time, we end up disappointed. My husband and I both don’t feel comfortable with female massage therapists, and this time we had been promised to male staff members would be working on board during our cruise. We were looking forward to daily pampering. No such luck. No male therapists for the third cruise in a row. I understand that most women and most straight men prefer female therapists, but there are people who for cultural, religious or personal reasons prefer (need…) male therapists. Luckily, we were able to find a therapist in Mykonos for at least one massage.

As this cruise was also a celebration of my father’s 75th birthday, I wanted to surprise him with flowers and a cake on the first night. Everything had been arranged and confirmed through Miami. But on the ship no-one knew anything. Luckily, Patrick, our concierge and our butler whipped up a beautiful and delicious cake and a beautiful bouquet of red roses. Dad was thrilled! But those two examples show that the communication between NCL HQ in Miami and the ships doesn’t always work.

There is no real anchoring in the caldera of Santorini, so the engines are at station keeping, thanks to modern technology. In the background the new volcano. Photo: Private.

There is no real anchoring in the caldera of Santorini, so the engines are at station keeping, thanks to modern technology. In the background the new volcano. Photo: Private.

The only other really bad experience was when we tried to break two €100 bills into smaller notes and failed. We were only allowed to change one bill. We had to send my husband down to deck seven an hour later to trick the cashier (we still needed the money). I’m sure they would’ve treated us differently if we’d been accompanied by the butler or concierge or if we’d told them we were Haven guests, but should that be necessary to get good service? Do I have to mention how rude the lady was? Arrogant?

As a whole, we often felt that the crew on the Jade was “tired”, disengaged. Maybe many of them were on the final legs of their eight month (pretty long!) tours, but the attention level wasn’t what we’ve come to expect and enjoy from NCL. This was, I’m afraid to say, the worst NCL ship we’ve been on, all in all, compared to the Pride of America, the Norwegian Gem and the Norwegian Sky (which was named best ship in the fleet last summer when we cruised the Bahamas). Now, having said that, the service level is still high.

To remember: the devil sits in the details and in the individual staff members…

The Haven: trying to square the circle?

As the less than perfect memories from the ship fade, these things will always remain: sun, warmth, great food, good wines and amazing sights to feast your eyes upon, like the old town of Mykonos. That is what really matters, in the long run. Photo: Private

As the less than perfect memories from the ship fade, these things will always remain: sun, warmth, great food, good wines and amazing sights to feast your eyes upon, like the old town of Mykonos. That is what really matters, in the long run. Photo: Private

Whenever there are issues, the upper echelons of the ship’s crew are readily available to meet with us. Sadly, so far, it’s been necessary on every cruise. When you pay forty thousand dollars for a cruise, you expect a great product, and I won’t apologize for that. The problem Norwegian seem to have is trying to offer a bit of everything to everybody, and I’m not sure that ultimately works. If your crew is educated to a Mc Donald’s level, they won’t be able to serve Bocuse customers to their satisfaction. And even our own butler had little to no idea how to properly open a bottle of wine and serve it. Even he had to go back and change the vintage. I’m not sure there’s an easy answer to this conundrum. On the new, larger vessels, the Haven has grown larger, with its own restaurants, lounge and bar. That certainly enables to have better trained staff serve those customers, but on the other hands, it separates Haven guests even further from the rest of the ship, the entertainment options, the sports etc.

We’ve tried to provide the crew with constructive feedback for four cruises now, but we don’t see the changes happening. I recently learned that Norwegian operate a second, upscale cruise line, for suite-only guests. Maybe that will be our next destination if the Pearl doesn’t deliver an unforgettable cruise? We like NCL, because they’re laid back, the food is great and we’ve really had some great experiences. What we’re scared of is stuffy “old” cruise lines with dress-up dinners and having to sit in humongous dining halls with people you might now like for an entire cruise. Norwegian gives us the flexibility to be ourselves, to eat with other when we want to (e.g. New Year’s Eve two years ago) or alone in our suite when we don’t feel like being social.

Ultimately, I’m not convinced that NCL will be successful with The Haven, and it’s down to two things: staff training and product refinement.

Conclusion

There's something about the Greek sun. Here's the view from our dinner venue with the perfect view of it all and then some... Photo: Private

There’s something about the Greek sun. Here’s the view from our dinner venue with the perfect view of it all and then some… Photo: Private

When I say this was our “worst” cruise so far, it feel very wrong to say so. Because the cruise was amazing, wonderful, so many beautiful sunsets, such amazing sights and experiences, and we had a blast on board. But the staff of the Norwegian Jade lag behind their comrades on the other ships we’ve experienced, and as I said, “tired” is the best word we’ve been able to come up with. Very few people were unfriendly.

I couldn’t even tell you not to go aboard the Jade, because by the time you embark, the crew will have been replaced, probably even the command crew, so your experience will be a completely different one, I’d imagine. The Norwegian Jade is a great ship, size wise: 2,500 passengers and approx. 1,300 crew, making it a decent sized village of just under four thousand people. Not too small, not too big. If you look for a luxury cruise experience, you should try NCL’s The Haven, but be prepared for hiccups. If you’re willing to overlook some things and wait for others to be righted, you’ll be just fine.

👍🏽 Ship size is perfect
👍🏽 Food & restaurant choices
👍🏽 Freestyle cruising

👎🏽 Staff training
👎🏽 Room cleanliness
👎🏽 squaring the circle: The Haven isn’t living up to the promise…

This is a very long review. Then again, it’s not just a room or a flight I’m reviewing, but an experience, eight days in a floating village, the Norwegian Jade from NCL. I hope you’ve found this valuable and if you have questions, please get in touch…

If you’ve enjoyed this post, please share it with others. I love to connect with my readers, I really do, so feel free to interact with me on TwitterFacebookYouTube, and/or Instagram.

Have a wonderful week!

Hans

Will the #Brexit affect me as #author? I’m afraid so. #asmsg

Will the #Brexit affect me as #author? I’m afraid so. #asmsg

Brexit: Nightmare meets hangover!

Who knows how sunny the future of the Union Jack will be... Will the blue be but a fading memory?

Who knows how sunny the future of the Union Jack will be… Will the blue be but a fading memory? Photo: Vaughan Leiberum / Wikimedia Commons

The Brexit is here: it’s like waking up to a nightmare or with a huge hangover, and the cold that is making itself known across my airways doesn’t make me feel any better. Last night’s decision by Great Britain to leave Europe is a sad decision, and it’s left the country deeply divided. Politically, this is a huge nightmare, and another show of just how egotistical we’ve become in the wake of the 2008 economic meltdown. The argument, widely used by the leave side to close borders, to let “continental” Europe fence with the refugee crisis alone, is only one such tell tale sign. Only time will tell how this well affect the hundreds of thousands of Britons living in other EU/EES countries and how the Europeans on the Isles will be affected. I’m not even going to venture a guess as to what Scotland will do, being more than 60% for remaining in the UK, the only of the four “pretend-countries” to want to stay. What this will do to the Good Friday agreement in Northern Ireland is anyone’s best guess. Peace won’t be on the top three list if you ask me.

So it’s a very sad day for Europe, for the UK and the rest of the world. I’ve never been one to believe that we’re stronger alone. But what does this mean to me? As an author with strong ties to the British Isles? My publisher, my editor, several of my proof readers live and work in the UK. The first effect, sadly, is positive: with the Sterling falling like a stone, purchasing services from the UK will be cheaper for us, and I regret paying that last invoice as quickly as I did. Would’ve saved me a good 10%. Continuing to use the services from the UK will undoubtedly be cheaper for a while, as stock and foreign exchange markets try to figure out what to make of this.

No, the EU flag will not lose a star. It's always had twelve, but we'll lose a bit of luster, and the sky is a lot cloudier than it appears... Photo: MPD01605 / Wikimedia Commons

No, the EU flag will not lose a star. It’s always had twelve, but we’ll lose a bit of luster, and the sky is a lot cloudier than it appears… Photo: MPD01605 / Wikimedia Commons

The free and common market the UK now will be leaving will be replaced by something else, and while I personally don’t think (hope?) that the UK will be leaving much, there is still a risk of increased taxes (and higher prices) and even customs to be levied. No longer part of the common market (which includes financial assets), sending money to, and receiving money from the UK might become more complex. Will the UK impose taxes on my royalties in the future? We don’t know what the Brexit entails.

But what I fear is that purchasing books from the UK, my author copies, could become very expensive in the future. When I imported my books from the U.S. (using CreateSpace), the Swedish government added not only VAT of 6%, but also customs, and I remember some very gruesome invoices from my government. If this is the future with my current publisher (who’s been treated like a domestic one until today) that remains to be seen. There is of course a risk that whatever UK printing company was used in the past, that will be printed elsewhere in the EU in the future, to avoid for EU customers having to pay for expensive VAT and customs charges. That might be good for remaining EU countries, but bad for the UK industry. But for all intents and purposes, the post-Brexit UK will be no different than importing from India or Argentina from now on (well, at least after the divorce is finalized, and the dust has settled).

I dread future travel to the UK. For us it’s been ‘relatively’ easy in the past twenty something years. While never having joined Schengen, EU member state citizens have always had a “quick pass” into the UK. No paper work (I still remember that), no silly forms to be filled in, and being able to bypass the endless queues from third country citizens. I’ve seen those queues at terminal three at Heathrow. People waiting for hours on end (heck, even we had to sometimes wait 45 minutes in the morning, as all flights arrived at the same time…) America immigration will await us at Heathrow soon enough, and going to my author conventions in England could become a nightmare. I can’t even imagine how British seniors living in Spain must feel, not knowing what will become of them, or how long immigration queues to Ibiza or Mallorca will be for Brits in the future…

The UK leaving the EU is much bigger, and so much worse than we can possibly imagine, which is why it’s such a “bad” idea to hold referenda on these things. While people can’t fathom losing what they don’t even know they’re having, we can’t really foresee what the big changes will be like. Naturally, if you never leave your village in Cornwall or Yorkshire, not much might change. The devil, as always, lies in the details, the little things, that which we don’t necessarily think of. Over time, the people of the UK will realize just what they’re missing out on: goods will be more expensive due to different requirements in the UK and the EU (or they’ll just adopt EU rules without a say…), travel, studies abroad for their kids, and what not. But more importantly, we’re no longer one European voice, and that only helps those who wish us ill.

The really big thing for me is the fact that this is just another little step of divisiveness, egoism, the erroneous belief that you’re stronger on your own. That is a real recipe for disaster, because it’s just been proven wrong by history, again and again.

If you’ve enjoyed this post, please share it with others. I love to connect with my readers, I really do, so feel free to interact with me on TwitterFacebookYouTube, and/or Instagram.

Hans M Hirschi
Proud European and Earth citizen

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