Monday, 16 September 2013

Tulips from Amsterdam

We continue in the exploration of book settings and what inspired authors to choose a particular place for their story. Today I'm joined by Nancy Jardine who tells us why Amsterdam features as one of the locations for her mystery adventure novel "Topaz Eyes".


Hello, Michela. I’m absolutely delighted to make a visit to your blog and discuss the theme of ‘locations’. In my contemporary novels, almost all of the locations have been particularly chosen because I’ve visited the cities and wanted to include them in my writing. In my historical novels, the locations have been selected because the places were historically strategic during the era I’ve written about- and also because I’ve visited the areas in my own travels.

Choosing which location to talk about, today, is very difficult since I’ve particular ‘bondings’ with almost all of the locations that I’ve written about in my ancestral novel, Topaz Eyes. Heidelberg and Vienna feature quite prominently, but I’d love to explain why Amsterdam, a city of bikes, boats and busy streets, gets a fair bit of the  action in my mystery adventure.

I’ve an empathy with Holland, initially acquired during a residence period of three years from 1979 to 1981. My two daughters were born in Holland during that time, but in two different locations since we first lived in a village which was on a bus route to Amsterdam, and secondly in a village which was on a bus route to Rotterdam. Buses were very important to me since I couldn’t drive at that time and the regular bus service got me, the buggy, and the kids into the cities to visit the museums and other tourist traps. Those years made a great impact in my life and I’ve many fond memories of experiencing Holland, so much that I had to include it, somehow, in my writing.

I’ve no Dutch relatives though, in 1979, I met a lovely couple in Holland who became surrogate grandparents to my children. The man was originally from Scotland but met his Dutch wife during World War 2. During the years 1981 through to about 2002, we met up frequently when they visited us in Scotland for Christmas and New Year, or during the summer when they either visited us, or we went holidaying in Holland. A way of not forgetting their involvement with my family was to include something in my novel Topaz Eyes which vaguely mirrored my own experience.

One of the main characters in Topaz Eyes, Keira Drummond, is from Scotland but has a Dutch connection. Via that connection, Keira finds herself embroiled in the hunt to find all the missing pieces of the Tiru Salana jewel collection which has her visiting many exciting cities and world locations- all of which I’ve been to bar one. I’d love anyone who reads Topaz Eyes to work out which location I’ve never actually been to, though it’s clearly not Amsterdam.

Keira has some very exciting moments in Amsterdam- a city of fantastic streets and waterways. The canal system is extensive, the sizes of the canals determining their Dutch name. The canal that features in Topaz Eyes is part of the main Amsterdam canals system, the ‘grachts’ being wider waterways, forming the concentric rings around the old city centre.  

Browersgracht was my chosen site for a little bit of excitement. Very similar to many other canals, the streets that flank Browersgracht are cobbled; often very busy with car traffic and the typical plain bicycles that are almost interchangeable. In fact, the bikes often are removed if they’ve not been properly secured and locked- a similar one left nearby. Padlocking, and the lack of, features quite dramatically in Topaz Eyes at Browersgracht.

What else do I love about Amsterdam? The main streets of Amsterdam throng with visitors and locals alike, the tall narrow buildings jostling with each other for space. Some of the quaint buildings seem lopsided, as though leaning against the next one and, in fact, they are since in some cases the ancient foundations are sinking. The architectural styles actually vary a lot, even though the general appearance might initially seem common. If you get the opportunity to visit, spend some time examining all the little variations in the roof tops and gable styles. It’s an especial treat if you see furniture being installed in through the upper windows, via the pulley systems which are attached to the roof, the narrow doors and inside staircases too small to enable the furniture to be carried up through the interior. I also love looking at the painted hues of the brickwork. 

Tourist venues are numerous in Amsterdam and seem to be on every corner of the old city centre, which is quite extensive. A good tramp around is often easier than finding places by taxi or car, since traffic can slow the process down a great deal- though the cobbles are hell on the feet. A good pair of well-fitting Dutch wooden clogs can solve that problem, of course! Walking around the canals and streets is also an excellent way to experience the ambience of Amsterdam, though you do tend to have to battle the teeming throngs in the most popular areas.

Museums are plentiful in Amsterdam; the Rijksmuseum and the Van Gogh being larger venues. There are also many other small ones including Anne Franks House which I’ve visited on a few occasions - a place that can affect one very greatly but well worth the usual lengthy queuing to visit. All those years ago, I wandered around the museums many times with a baby in a sling, and later with the kids in a double buggy, and never ever saw everything that was on offer.

The long pedestrianised shopping street- Kalverstraat- which features in Topaz Eyes has shops selling everything you can imagine. As you walk its length, the varied food smells mingle with many other aromas, including the scents from specialised soap shops and little tiny shops selling tobacco. It’s rare to find Kalverstraat empty, even in the evening since the shops are often open late and there are many small cinemas along its length which seem now to be open all hours.


Born and raised in Glasgow, Scotland, Nancy Jardine's writing spans different genres: light-hearted contemporary-some ancestral mysteries, historical romance, and fiction for children 9-12yrs. Whenever possible, Scotland features somewhere in her work, as do all the fantastic places around the globe that she has managed to visit. Read her novels to find out where in the world she has been... and maybe a few places she's still to visit.

Her ancestral adventure novel Topaz Eyes was published by Crooked Cat in 2012.


  1. A very interesting post, Nancy. Thanks for sharing your views on Amsterdam.

    We visited in June and are already planning to return. A truly fantastic city. Oh, and a tip: If readers wish to visit the Anne Frank house, buy tickets online - you can bypass the queues which were quite long. ;-)

    A fabulous read, by the way.

  2. Thank you, Cathie , and I agree with all you say about Amsterdam. I'd love to return every year, but that may be too idealistic!

  3. Thank you, Nancy and Michela. A fascinating post, bringing back memories of several visits to Amsterdam - it was the first foreign place I visited after joining the Royal Navy. And the Rijksmuseum was my first stop!

  4. Good choice, Nik! I'm sure you saw some fantastic places, too. A few years ago I took a longer boat tour of Amsterdam.Usually with friends and relatives we'd do the 'canals' tour but hubby and I were on our own and we took what was more of a harbour tour. It was amazing to see just how many naval ships were there. I don't remember the nationalities, though the tour guide told us at the time, but they weren't all Dutch Navy.

  5. One European city I would very much like to visit. So much so, that it makes an appearance in A Summer of Love even if I've never been there!

  6. I'm a big fan of Amsterdam, and I thought the Hague was beautiful too.

  7. Patg- I agree about Den Haag, but so can I say for Delft, and lots of other lovely places. The whole country has some fabulous sights and they're not all touristy.

  8. Hi Michela, thank you so much for inviting me to visit your blog.