Mapping my soul in Amsterdam

I’m home from a mid-week pop-across-the-channel to Amsterdam: it was obviously awful. Horrible autumnal weather. Rubbish company. Hideous little nooks pop up everywhere offering books near-to-free, and terrible cups of floral tea. Or totally ugly views of the city centre. No time to daydream and walk and breathe and hold hands with one I love. Just awful.

Horrible autumnal weather. Rubbish company. Hideous little nooks pop up everywhere offering terrible cups of floral tea. No time to daydream and walk and breathe and hold hands with the one you love. Just awful.
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Dear Wildernis, walking through your door I experienced the same kind of delight I found when I was a kid half the world away in my grandmother’s tropical Australian garden, looking for the dark circle of grass that might take me up the Faraway Tree (which in Granny’s garden was an elderly mango tree). It was such a thrill to sit amongst your plants and flowers and cast my daydreams over your jasmine tea. Thank you for existing, and bringing the simple pleasure of plant joy to one of the world’s best cities. Verdantly yours, Holly.

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Fresh from the farm… autumnal treasures, Dutch style. As much as I love the green and cream, I don’t know that I could look my fairy godmother in the eye and choose any but the fiery orange for a carriage. With boots to match, please.

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“What people read revealed so much about them that she considered our card catalog a treasure house of privileged secrets; each card contained the map of an individual’s soul.” – Alice Hoffman, The Ice Queen.

One of my favourite things: giving someone you love to bits a book you love to bits. Years ago I gave this Dutch translation of The Ice Queen by the magical Alice Hoffman to my magical sister soul. Every time I see it on her bookshelf in Amsterdam, she and I share a little wink; we know it’s a map to some place in both of our souls.

A little girl makes a wish one night and ruins her life. She grows up with a splinter of ice in her heart until one day, she is struck by lightning. Instead of killing her, this event sparks off a new beginning. She seeks out Lazarus Jones, a fellow lightning survivor. He is her opposite, a man whose breath can boil water and whose touch scorches. The Ice Queen is a dark, compelling and magical novel about grief, addictive passion and second chances.

 

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In June 2013 I sat in Cafe Neilsen with my fella and my soul sister and had one of those conversations you remember forever. It was about blind spots – the things we willingly, yet somehow unknowingly protect ourselves from seeing – and courage. In my case it was about what might happen if I could be brave enough to look at what I wouldn’t let myself see and write from where that story was hidden in my heart.

Last week I stood gazing through the windows at the table where we sat and talked and laughed and cried while our coffee cups piled up, and I noticed for the first time that the top of the cafe is decorated in flowers – a major motif in my novel. Three years on now, the book I couldn’t/wouldn’t fathom writing then is written. And the process of writing it has changed me. Finding the courage to do it has changed me. I wonder if that’s something else that was hidden in my blind spot, knowing that if I could be brave enough to let it, writing would change my life.

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After I took this photo of the cafe it took me a while to walk away. Back home in Manchester now, and I’m still thinking about the place it marks on the map of me.

Sometimes the ghosts that linger in places we've left our hearts can be so good to revisit. Click To Tweet

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