Hopefully Thursday was the last day that I will ever have to run away from my lesson in order not to miss the last train for the last bus before the bus switches over to the night bus. I left my room in Wachtberg Liessem on Sunday and moved to a hotel in Konigswinter. I had too much luggage of course. One suitcase for clothes, one for books and papers plus my novel and netbook. Of course the suitcases had wheels so all would have been well had Berlitz not given me two bags of teaching material five days before which also had to be transported by me. I have a long history of both taking on and attempting to carry too much but this was going some. Transport didn’t help – a bus, a train and then another train and another bus and what is it with stairs at stations? Surely in the absence of self-propelling suitcases (and I really think Terry Pratchett’s take on luggage transportation should be seriously looked at) it should be ramps all the way. However, I was lucky, I was in Bonn and I got so much help from the people there it almost made the struggle worthwhile. Though I hope no one ended up with a hernia as a response.
As one rental contract ended three days before the new one took effect I decided that three days in a hostel was a good idea and so to Konigswinter.
I had booked into a hostel on Drachenestrasse. The booking website said “entrance through the snack bar”. However an attempt to enter the snack bar with suitcases – or rather, my enquiry for the hostel was not well received and I was directed around the snack bar to a door on the other side of the building. As It was about 1.30pm and I couldn’t check in until 4pm, and the snack bar did not appear to be a very friendly place, I went down the road onto Hauptstrasse and, finally, came to an Italian restaurant so I spent the next 90 minutes or so speaking Italian and eating Wiener Schnitzel – or, as it is in Italy, Vitello Milanese. Kalbfleisch, mmm.
Dragging my luggage back up the street afterwards (and wondering how I’d managed before) I sat on the steps of the hostel until a young man came out and directed me back around to the snack bar on which a notice (previously unnoticed!) was sellotaped, directing visitors to call the manager for admission. I did as asked and he confirmed that he would arrive at 4pm. As it was just past 3pm I dragged everything back around to the step and waited. After a short while another man opened the door and, on hearing I had a reservation (perhaps he had been tipped off by the manager – apparently his boss) he not only let me in but helped me with my cases to the second floor. The manager appeared several hours later to confirm I had paid and disappeared again leaving me watching a war film that seemed to be set around Bonn / Meckenheim. Well, I certainly know where bloody Meckenheim is!
Monday morning brought a request for supply – substitution – teaching at 9.15am on Thursday. Very welcome indeed as I had lost 6 lessons of 2.15 hours each due to Berlitz training and my student going on holiday. This lesson was two units (2 x 45 min) rather than 3 x 45 min which is what I usually teach but still, it’s much much better than nothing so I accepted. The only thing was getting the material to me and the fact that I had already made an appointment to register at the Burgeramt in Bonn that same morning. I had tried to register on Friday before I moved, my landlady said she needed a copy of my new papers in order to forward my mail and insisted that not only was it possible to register a new address before you moved, it was also much better to do so. Her neighbour was visiting at the time and also agreed so, having nothing else to do, I went along to the office in Berliner Platz, took a number and waited for quite a while only to be told – very nicely – that I could not register a new address until I had moved into it, news that my landlady accepted without any particular surprise.
Anyway, I explained to the company offering this supply work that I had no internet access (apart from my phone) so if they were going to e-mail teaching material they would have to do it sharpish – by Tuesday morning at the latest. By 10am on Tuesday morning I had received no response at all and so I sent an e-mail saying that I would assume they had found someone else and that I was no longer required. In the same minute I pressed “send” I realised that my previous e-mail accepting the work had not reached them. My phone’s funny like that, sometimes it sends e-mails and sometimes it doesn’t. It isn’t a smart phone, writing an e-mail is like sending a long text message – pretty painful so I have recently got into the habit of “copying all” before hitting “send” . For some reason I hadn’t done that and hadn’t noticed the e-mail hadn’t gone. Anyway, apologies were sent, the work confirmed and I set out to find an internet café. I had a list but was slightly suspicious of how old the list was, the prevalence of internet cafes having fallen off a lot since the advent of the iPhone but, there is an internet café in Bonn (Koelnstrasse) so I downloaded my attendance sheet and went across town to the print shop, believing that the teaching material would be sent to my new address my post. Luckily I decided to buy a sandwich and linger in the sun at the Beethoven statue in Munster Platz and luckily I am a compulsive e-mail checker (that’s quite a nuisance really, but sometimes useful) for, two hours later I had another e-mail with all the teaching materials. So it was back to Koelnstrasse and then back across town to the print shop on Lennestrasse. I could have printed the stuff at the internet café but it was 25 cents v 10 cents per page – I thought for 17 pages, 15 cents a page was worth a walk.
So all sorted! Hoorah. It meant that I had failed again to visit the Siebengebirge Museum in Konigswinter as by the time I got back that evening it was closed but I was pleased to have a lesson to plan, having trailed around rather miserably the evening before. There is something wonderful about knowing you can travel all over (Western) Europe alone – that you can cope with the different languages and basically get from one place to the other without needing a companion but oh it is tiring to always have to. I may well throttle the next person who tells me to be grateful for having so much free time. I think solitude is the heaviest piece of luggage – and you do carry it. Sometimes you can feel it weighing you down until you are almost bent double under it and long to simply lie down in the street and say “I’ve had enough, let someone else pick me up”. (I wouldn’t actually advise you do this, in Bonn you are likely to be run over by a cyclist who do seem to insist on cycling across pedestrian areas and on pavements even though the German motorists are not bent on their destruction – something I have frequently suspected in UK motorists). The trouble is, you can get used to being alone, even if you don’t really like it, so that you can be rather hostile to the prospect of company – part of it is shyness, certainly with me, and also that destructive belligerence – I’ve been on my own all this time but what? Now you want something?
This state of mind is not ameliorated by being a writer in search of an agent. If you had an inferiority complex before you’ll be battling delusions of unrecognised genius afterwards. I am a good writer – I know, I know, Sin of Pride and all that, but I am genuinely bad at too many things to do the false modesty of this one thing that is mine. I am, however, a writer before I am a storyteller. I like reading rollicking good yarns but I have little interest in writing them and so I am not a money spinner and I think in publishing that is sadly all that now matters. That is not to say that good writers don’t get agents and writing contracts, they most certainly do but so do a lot of people who are excellent story tellers but not natural writers – it’s just of supply and demand.
Still, every now and then I feel the need for intellectual self-harm and send out “Healed” to agents. The last thing I did before I left Liessem was sent it out to 4. One replied thus:
Sorry this is not for us.
Good luck elsewhere.
THE GIFT OF DARKNESS (pb) and THE DARK (hb) by V.M.Giambanco – Out on September 25th – published by Quercus. The first and the second book in the Homicide Detective Alice Madison series.
‘A thoroughly thrilling debut.’ Jake Kerridge, crime reviewer for the Telegraph.
Now at the risk of sounding like a bad loser (though given their strict requirements for submission, I do rather think that some small effort could be expended to sound a little less dismissive) I personally would think twice before using a rejection e-mail to plug a novel I had not only taken on but successfully placed with a publisher. Perhaps it’s just me, but it does feel like my attempt to gain admittance to the Establishment has not simply met refused but that I have been picked up and flung out onto the street while the revellers toast each other within. I knew I shouldn’t have worn trainers.
A friend of mine recently asked me what Germany had that the UK didn’t (apart from jobs). I told him that, in England, the answer is always no. Obviously as far as the writing goes, I’ve just put myself in the linguistic position of not even being able to ask the question but there’s relief in that. From a work point of view, I must say sitting across from an interviewer who actually says “We want you” is a novelty I think I shall never tire off.
Anyway, I have now moved into my new flat and it is lovely. I have a massive room which also has a sofa bed (and it’s ok to have people to stay) and there are washing machines in the cellar so, after registering my address and delivering my substitute lesson – it went ok I think, my first group!) I spent a happy day washing my clothes. At one point I almost fell over a parcel that had been left at the bottom of the stairs and found that it was for me. A parcel of essentials from my sister in England:
The book in the parcel is “The Returning Tide” by Julia Sokota which you can buy from the usual channels. Rather a good story set in Cornwall so worth a read. The most valuable commodity though is TEA. I am not being sponsored for this photo though, having received my first work invoice and realising that even when my student doesn’t go on holiday, the pay doesn’t quite cover my rent, I am more than willing to “sell out” with the odd endorsement.
So, I have decided two things: I need more company and I need (a lot) more work. Last night I had another look at the list of language schools in Bonn (Cologne yet to come as there remains the matter of travel costs). A social event I had signed up for on Sunday has been cancelled but I’ve made contact with some new language exchange people and I have found the Anglican church community online. Now I know where Bonn-Beuel actually is (embarrassingly close now I know!) I may force myself to be brave (not my natural calling)and turn up on Sunday. When you are on your own, shyness can be a bastard.
Anyway, on that happy note, I will leave you. Today is a public day off so in a while I will get on my walking shoes and see how far Beuel really is. It doesn’t look too bad on the map. Then I shall come home and do the ironing and then work on the new novel. With regard to the last novel, I had a play with the webcam on my netbook last night and recorded the Prologue of “And I Shall Be Healed”. It isn’t a great recording and was a bit spur of the moment so do bear with me. I may try and do a chapter a week and hopefully will improve as I go.
Today, I have been in Germany for exactly two months. Cor.