I don’t know what my paternal Granddad did for a living. I’ve never known. It never occurred to me to ask my dad what his dad did for a crust. Genealogy has never really been much of a thing for me. Though recently I did comes across a very old black and white picture of Edna Fields in a white frilly dress, aged 2, my maternal Grandmother, which brought a tear to my eye because of all my grandparents she is the only one I actually remember properly. A strong Leeds woman full of life who raised her daughters on her own after her husbands early passing, and used to slip 50p coins in my hand and give me a sip of sherry when my mum wasn’t looking…
My paternal grandfather had a stroke when I was little more than a toddler and though he lived on for several years all I really remember is a shuffling old man who couldn’t talk properly and scared me just a little. In fairness I very much doubt that image does any justice to Mathew Hayes, or that he would ever wish to scare his young grandson. But the image of an sick old man is all I really have of him, beyond that I really know nothing.
Just how little I know of my family can be summed up by an old brown suitcase, probably at least 80 years old, currently sat on my kitchen table. A suitcase I dug out of the loft at my parents old house a few weeks ago, along with several boxes of more recent photos and photo albums that cover the entirety of my parents lives together and mine and my siblings childhoods, as well as all their grandchildren…
Basically some idiot volunteered to digitise 60+ years of family photos. A task of near herculean proportions, and looking at many many murky pictures of landscapes, the sea, and figures that could be someone I know but may have just wondered through frame…
That suitcase though is a treasure trove of a different nature. A Fields family history in really old photo’s like the one of Edna aged 2, ration books, bomber crew manifests, pictures of war graves, and other oddities. Stuff I want to documents but don’t really know where to start with. For instance why was one of my maternal ancestors in the highland infantry? I aren’t aware of any Scottish blood in the family.
In short, I don’t know what either of my grandfathers did for a living, let alone my great grandfathers… Something I find myself feeling slightly sad about.
Anyway, on that slightly down note, I feel its time to take about something more cheery. But in keeping with the genealogy theme, because yes of cause there was a point to all that preamble, lets talk about the fascinating and slightly wonderful genealogy of Nils Visser… Writer of many things ( and several names)
The Flying Dutchman is one of those fabulous myths of the European cannon that sprung up from no where much, based on sailors tales, and took on a life of its own thanks to the core of the myth being leapt upon by writers, playwrights and an Opera.
The Opera genesis is a fun story all on it’s own. Wagnar adapted his ‘The Flying Dutchman’ from a chapter in a satirical novel by German writer Heinrich Heine ‘The memoirs of Mister Von Schnablewopski’ in which the lead character attend a performance of ‘The Flying Dutchman’ a play by the English playwright Edward Fitzball. A play which Hiene was believed to attended a performance of in London for many years, despite not arriving in London until seven days after the plays run at the Adelphi theatre ended.
So its a German opera, base on a chapter of German satire (who knew), based on an English play, that the author never saw…
As an aside, here is my favourite Wagnar fact you never really hear as everyone always says the one about him being Hitlers favourite composer. They always say this as if Wagnar’s is some how at fault for Hitler, which is harsh given he died six years before the goosestepping nazi twuddlefunk was even born… My favourite fact about Wagner is he was close friend of Nietzsche and had an affair with the old void starers sister. Though of course the same could be said of Nietzsche, theirs was a close family.
I read a fabulous book by a friend of mine about Nietzsche sister once, It’s why I know things…. (clink here to find out more)
That German opera, (which in fairness, given its Wagner, is really good if a tad Teutonic…) went on to inspire the writing of ‘Der Fliegende Hollander’ by German author Philipp Korber. Presumably in the 19th century equivalent of ‘The book of the movie’. Because cashing in on the popularity of a story in another medium ain’t even slightly new as a concept… Dutch publishing company Gebroders Kluitman then had it translated into Dutch, possibly just because the dutch and the Germans have such a friendly relationship… Then later, the translation being reasonably successful the publishers decided to pay a writer called Piet Visser to do a full rewrite.
Piet who, as it turns out, is the great-grand-uncle of Nils Visser a man who may or may not know what his granddad did for a living, but did stumble into his great-grand-uncle’s profession and become aware of Piet’s work. About this point he decided it would be an interesting idea to write his own version of the myth, however because its Nils and he’s incapable of doing anything by halves, that was four years ago, and his research notes at the end of book one would give Grandpapa Tolkien raise a smile.
(Nils once asked me to go through three chapters of another book he is still writing in order to fix the dialogue of one character so it was in an authentic 18th century Yorkshire dialect, Nils takes authenticity seriously as anyone who has read his Sussex Smugglepunk tales will testify, (and if you haven’t read them you should))
The result of years of arduous and meticulous research turned what was originally planned to be a single novel into a trilogy. The first of which was finally released last month. It’s extremely good and has only one flaw that I have noticed, and I ain’t telling anyone what that is… But anyway that, and the grand Hayes family photo history project are what got me Wondering what my granddad did for a living… But anyway I should probably do a review of the book don’t you think? Yes, that is the point of all this waffling on after all…
Bleak Future : The flying Dutchman book 1 ~ Nils Visser
Nils Visser is one of the finest writers of historical fiction I know. This novel, all be it leaning into fantasy, is no exception. Nils is not one to shirk his research, he must agonise about every detail because he gets those details right. Not just little things like the kind of boots people wear, but the big things that matter that so many writers of historical fiction get wrong. The world Nils creates, in this case the early Dutch Republic, feels as it should because the way people speak and think reflects the time period and the region. Social attitudes, political attitudes and peoples relative positions in society all just fit together. And then, having built this society, he tears it down from within.
Most writers writing a strong female character in a historical setting have them reflecting modern attitudes and virtues. Indeed the same can be said for those writers male characters. All of which is fine,if that is the intent in the first place. The Princess Bride is a fine example of modern characters in a ‘historical’ setting. The trouble is most writers doing this fail. What Nils does is something that requires far more talent and skill than most writers possess. He writes characters that fit the worlds they are in perfectly, and rail against it or double down. A trick he has pulled off perfectly with the POV characters in this novel, twins Liselotte and Andries Haelen. The first you will love for her ‘screw this’ rebellion and determined attitude. The latter you will slap some sense into, or just slap, because he is exactly what his father and society made him, with a few redeeming qualities, that even then require him taking a good hard slap somewhere along the way.
It says something about both characters and how well they are written, that when I read page 177 I punched the air and said ‘Yes, about bloody time you said that to the twat’ rather loudly, for one in the morning…
Andries grows up a little as the book goes on, which makes you less inclined to slap him silly. Lotte on the other hand just erupts from the page and from the confines of a society in which she should be seen and not be heard. Much to both the horror and the pride of her twin.
This is a novel of Character and detail. So many details that in the hands of a less charming, skilful writer would weigh down the text. Nils manages to do the opposite, all his details, his painstaking research, his careful attention to place and period, lift up the text. It gives it life, vigour and a sense of truth.
I honestly have no idea just how true to the 17th century Dutch world Nils’s novel is. But that’s not the point, it feels real and it feels like all the details are correct, so they just become the canvas upon with the story and characters are painted.
Its a fabulous, engrossing read, and I can not wait for the next two books in the trilogy.
It also has wonderful art work, both on the Tom/Nimue Brown cover and the internal illustrations (I love a novel with illustrations) by Julie Gorringe. which is just lushous.
Anyway, you should invest in a copy of Bleak Future. As for me , I am off to message my uncle Denis last surviving member of a generation on my paternal side, and ask him what his dad did for a living. I feel its something I should know, after all we all need to know where we come from.
It helps us know where we are going.