20 December 2013

Have a Happy Day

Over the past couple of months we’ve had our own little mayoral problem here in Auckland. Internationally it hasn’t caught on, unlike the Toronto mayor, but it has kept the local papers busy.

The reason I mention it here is that on my way to work I saw the headline that it was a big decision day for the mayor and whether he would keep his job. I scanned the headline as I walked past and then continued thinking about work concerns (well I was on my way there), and the other personal and writing thoughts pushing through.

In our lives there are days we will never forget. Some of them are planned and anticipated such as a wedding, a milestone birthday or anniversary, or the birth of a child. Others happen when we least expect it: meeting someone who will have a big impact on our life, illness or the death of someone close. Those particular days, whether happy or heart-breaking, are momentous, but they are only momentous to us, and possibly to a few other people we know. Even hearing of the death of a favourite actor or famous person is unlikely to have the same effect on us.

For most of the time we’re unaware of these momentous occasions in other people’s lives. The people walking along the street around you may be bubbling with excitement and anticipation over an upcoming event, or in the depths of misery over the loss of someone close or an illness or health diagnosis.

I recall being very aware of this a few years ago when my father died unexpectedly, and instead of going to work that morning I found myself flying back to England. I looked around at the other people on the plane and wondered about their reasons for travel: holiday, business, family or some occasion not so happy.

We don’t know what’s going on in the life of others so why not give them a break if someone reacts unexpectedly or unpleasantly to us. Sure they may just be grumpy and rude all the time, but that’s their problem. However, they may be going through the worst day of their life.

I know it’s a cliché for this time of year, but by treating other people kindly we never know the effect it may have on them.

I still remember the unexpected pleasure and boost of happiness I had when a stranger smiled at me and wished me a ‘Happy Friday’ on the way to work one day.

If nothing else it will make you feel good.

15 December 2013


'History is memory, when our history is lost; our memory is always diminished.'

I jotted that quotation down in one of my notebooks some time ago, unfortunately I didn't make a note of where I found it or who said it, and therefore I’m not sure of the context of the quote, but it reminded me of an incident on holiday.

We spent a morning
walking and enjoying spectacular views at Cape Byron, and during our visit we saw a pod of humpback whales. It was a brilliant half hour watching these magnificent creatures on their migration journey. Needless to say most people had their camera’s, phones or tablets out taking photos. As I stood next to a small group I overheard one of them say, ‘Why don’t you come out from behind your camera for a few minutes and just enjoy watching.’

The technology we have is brilliant. We can capture events and upload the photos or video for the world to see. A lot of the news information we gain comes from ‘people on the street’ watching events unfold. However with that ability to capture so much, we also lose a lot. I guess it comes back to being in the moment. When we’re constantly behind a lens, or a phone or tablet screen, we don’t actually see the view other than through a lens.

I wouldn’t swap the technology we enjoy, but we shouldn’t forget what our memories capture: the feel of a child’s hand in ours, the sun on our skin, the scent of the sea, the sound of the waves pounding the rocks and children’s laughter.

I don't need a photo to remind me of the
sense of anticipation I had as a child on Christmas Eve, or going on holiday and wanting to be the first to catch that first glimpse of the sea, and the joy of holding my daughters as babies.

Yes, we should take photos and video, but we must live the memories as well.

03 December 2013

Book Reviews

As I mentioned in this post one of the things I love about holidays is the extra (not feeling guilty) time for reading. After Pride and Prejudice and Death Comes to Pemberley, I read Blackberry Wine by Joanne Harris. I cheated on this one as I have read it before. I think my feelings about it were much the same as the first reading quite a few years ago. It has a slow, lush, intoxicating feel to it that was perfectly suited to a holiday. However, it does have flaws. The plot is slight and the speed with which Jay manages to renovate his house and garden is amazing, but part of the delight of the lovely prose is to suspend your disbelief.

Changing the mood totally I turned to a murder mystery Bleeding Hearts by Ian Rankin writing as Jack Harvey. The premise was interesting but ultimately I didn’t enjoy the book. I found there was too much information on the guns and ammunition being used. I imagine people who enjoy guns would appreciate the research Ian Rankin did before writing the book, but it it bored me. Ian Rankin has been on my To Be Read list for a long time, and when I first bought the book I hadn’t actually realised he was writing as someone else as the Jack Harvey name was much smaller. However, I’ve heard so many good things about his Inspector Rebus books I will certainly try one of those next time.

The last two books were both 500+ page books and I was glad to be reading them on my Kindle. The Last Dark by Stephen Donaldson was the final episode in Donaldson’s epic Thomas Covenant series. I loved the first two trilogies even though I wouldn’t call myself a fantasy fan. The initial books in this last segment were excellent but the final two books left me feeling that too many things were Deus ex machina. I was always going to read the final Thomas Covenant books but I didn’t feel they were Stephen Donaldson at his best.

The other book was The Casual Vacancy by JK Rowling. I’d been interested in reading this book since it first came out simply to see what JK could write for adults, and because like a huge number of other people I’d read all the Harry Potter books.

As a writer and reader I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Initially I had thought the large cast of characters might make it difficult to keep track of them, but I found that each had their own distinct voice – not easy to do with that many characters. Another initial thought (as a writer) was that there was head hopping going on. Many of the chapters begin in third-person omniscient point of view before moving into a particular character's point of view, and sometimes after interacting with another character the point of view elegantly turns to the second character. No head-hopping just a neat handover.

I’ve read through a few of the Amazon reviews for this book – as of this moment in time there are 4,311 of them. I looked at a few of the four and five star reviews and then at some of the one and two star reviews. The interesting thing is that most of what people loved in the higher rated reviews are the things that people didn’t like in the one and two star reviews. I guess this shows that ‘you can’t please all the people all the time.’

As a writer I both love and hate reviews. It’s wonderful to read a great review or get an email from someone who loved your book, especially if they let you know what they liked about it. It’s obviously harder to read a harsh review, but not everyone is going to love everything we write. I often like an author’s work as a whole but there will be some books I like less than others. The brief reviews above show that. However, a well-written review from someone who hasn’t enjoyed a book can show what they didn’t like. That may well point to things that can be changed in future writing i.e. stereotype characters, unrealistic dialog, confusing plot etc.

What most writers (especially indie writers) want are reviews. Did you enjoy the book? Why? If not, why not? The review doesn’t have to be long, but it’s definitely best if it’s constructive rather than a rant, or working off bad temper.

Go on, give a writer a gift today, write a constructive review of a book you've recently finished.

20 November 2013

English or English?

There was an article in my local paper today on surviving the office Christmas party with your dignity intact. It reminded me that's one of the things I love about working for myself - no office party! 

The article had some good tips but was also quite an amusing read. I was about to tweet a link to it when I glanced through it again and was struck by some of the phrases.  I've lived in New Zealand for a number of years and so I’m up with most Kiwi-English jargon, which can be different to Australian-isms and different again to British English, and we all know that’s different to American English.

Even in a small country like England you can find yourself using different words for an item than someone living in a different part of the country. It's ironic that many of us speak this language called English, and yet don’t necessarily understand everything another English speaker may write or say.

The article used phrases such as, ‘three sheets to the wind’ and ‘hitting on’ which might not be understood by everyone, and the mention of mistletoe and your boss might pass you by if you don't know the old traditions.

Sometimes it's relatively easy to guess the meaning of a word in the context of the sentence, but at other times it can be hilariously or disastrously wrong. For example in England the casual open-toed sandal is called a flip-flop, here in New Zealand they're known as jandals, but in Australia they're called thongs which has always been something entirely different to me!

What differences have you noticed in language, or have you got into difficulties by using the wrong name for something?

14 November 2013

What's in a Name?

Some time ago I took the little people to the zoo. As you can probably guess there were lots of other little people there as well. One of the things I found fascinating (besides the animals of course) were some of the children's names - impossible not to hear when Mums and Dads are yelling to and at their offspring.

As a writer I’m always interested in names. They tend to be a good indicator of fashion and age, but that day I realised I might have to revise my ideas of the relationship between age and names. I heard shouts of Charles, William, Harry (obviously some royalist fans at the zoo that day), but there was also an Archie and a Henry.

When naming characters I choose a name that suits their personality, but I also try to give an indication of age, which in turn should enhance the authenticity.

Later at home I did a quick Google search for actors and pop stars over the age of 60 and I found the following names: Justin, Sean, Alan, Richard, Warren, Peter, Clint, Robert, Martin, Ryan and Jeff.

I don’t think I’ve ever used one of these names for an older character, or perhaps it's just my perception of age and names. 

What impressions have you gained of a character from their name?

11 November 2013

Travels in Oz (Brisbane and New South Wales coast)

We had planned the first part of our trip (up to arriving in Adelaide), but we decided to keep the last part a bit more free-wheeling. We had thought we’d like to drive the Pacific Highway coast from Adelaide to Melbourne as there are some great natural spots to visit on the route. However the temperatures dropped slightly the few days we were in Adelaide and when we checked the weather in Melbourne it wasn’t looking so good. Time for a change of plan.

We flew to Brisbane. We hadn’t ever spent any more than a couple of hours in Brisbane before this trip, so decided we’d stay overnight and have a look around. There is a great City Hopper Ferry that goes up and down the city part of the river, and best of all is completely free. We got on at Kangaroo Point and took the trip through to almost the last stop to get our bearings and then got off to investigate the city. 

We didn’t know the relative sizes of Adelaide and Brisbane, but Brisbane looked and felt significantly larger than Adelaide. Brisbane isn’t a coastal city but it makes the most of the river and has a purpose built beach on the river side. We enjoyed our short visit but were keen to be on the road. We've driven north of Brisbane before along the Sunshine coast, with our furthest point on that trip being the small township of 1770.

South of Brisbane is the Gold coast which we’ve also briefly visited, but what we decided to do was drive south into New South Wales and visit Coffs Harbour. Our reasoning was that on a previous trip we’d driven north from Sydney and reached Coffs Harbour and we wanted to close the gap so to speak.

I didn’t actually see any signs on crossing the state border, but we knew that it was somewhere around Coolangatta. What we didn’t realise was that Queensland doesn’t have Daylight Savings, but New South Wales does. So once again we were an hour adrift. That’s the great thing about holidays – time doesn’t really matter too much. You know you’re relaxed when you aren’t sure what day it is. I think we spent most of one day with our watches on the wrong time before we decided to go and see a film and discovered the discrepancy and the Queensland/New South Wales Daylight Savings thing! 

We'd planned on staying at Byron Bay, a surfer’s mecca on the NSW coast, however when we arrived the small township was absolutely heaving with people, noise and cars so we drove straight back out of town and further down the coast.

We stopped at a town called Ballina about twenty minutes south of Byron Bay. Initially we’d decided to stay for two days but found it such a lovely place we spent the rest of our week there.

We visited Byron Bay during the week and spent a short time there although it was still very busy. However we spotted a sign to the lighthouse and decided to try there. The twisty road and the $7 parking ticket were well worth it. The views from the cliffs are stunning and to make our afternoon truly spectacular we watched a pod of humpback whales who appeared to be taking their time and enjoying the waters as well as entertaining the people watching.

The coastal route from Byron Bay to Ballina is beautiful and there are loads of places to pull over and enjoy watching waves crash onto glorious beaches.  Ballina has several beaches as well as the river, and we enjoyed a walk along the promontory most days to watch the waves crashing ashore. The rocks here are large and are aided at the end of the promontory by huge concrete structures. Most days we spotted a variety of lizards sunning themselves on the rocks - I’m sure there are more specific names for them, but lizards works for me.

In Ballina there were a number of pelicans, and one morning while walking along the promontory one flew over us. I saw the shadow first, and (just for a moment) it looked a lot like a Pterodactyl. Obviously our re-watch of the Jurassic Park films recently played a part!

To end the adventures in Oz, a couple of 'funny' things we noticed while away.

Here in New Zealand we’re used to seeing the ‘Mates’ adverts aimed at reducing drink-driving, but this one took those ads to a whole new level.

Mates don’t let mates drink… and use Tasers.


While driving along one day I noticed a roadside ad for a retirement village, problem was the billboard was placed in the grounds of a crematorium. Maybe someone needs to rethink.

And finally, a sight I never get tired of - a Jacaranda tree in bloom.

03 November 2013

Travels in Oz (Adelaide)

Our initial stops in Australia showed us quite a difference in temperature and humidity levels. Seasons in the Southern Hemisphere are opposite to those in the Northern Hemisphere and it is Spring here at the moment (October/November). I live in Auckland which has a temperate climate and winters are cool rather than cold, but I was looking forward to warmer temperatures in Australia.

Sydney was pleasantly warm (mid 20 degrees C) and a little humid when we arrived, rather like Auckland in the summer. Northern Queensland was hotter and sticky, and I’m not sure I could cope with the higher temperatures and humidity during summer, especially as that is also the rainy season. One morning we walked up a long steep hill to a lookout and I was less than nice-to-know by the time we reached the top. During the time we were there the temperatures ranged from high 20 degrees C to low 30s.

Ayers Rock was our next stop and I knew this would give us some extremes as it is a dry, desert environment. The temperatures were several degrees higher but felt vastly different due to the very low (around 8-9%) humidity. Mornings until around 10am were beautiful with light breezes and evenings were pleasant. Not surprisingly many of the organised trips take place during these times. One of the surprises I’d had was the lack of flies and other insects at Port Douglas and then the annoying amount of them at Ayers Rock. I had somehow expected it to be the opposite way around.

Our next stop was Adelaide which does have some extremes of weather and temperature but we enjoyed pleasant mid-20s C. We hadn’t expected to change our watches again but discovered that South Australia is an hour ahead of the Northern Territories.

Adelaide appears to be the butt of many Australian jokes, and a number of people asked why I was going there when I mentioned it was the next stop on the trip. Adelaide, like most places I’ve visited in Australia, enjoys beautiful beaches and it is also an incredibly green city in that it has lots of wooded areas and parks. The main business area is bounded by four terraces (north, south, east and west) which are parks, and so from the hills surrounding the city there is plenty of greenery.

The Barossa Valley is probably the place most people mention when talking about Adelaide and we enjoyed a trip to the Barossa with friends, and had a wonderful lunch in Tanunda at 1918 Bistro and Grill.

On our way to Tanunda we visited the German town of Hahndorf. It has a lovely village atmosphere and reminded me (in a good way) of the time I lived in Germany.

There is much to like about Adelaide but the best part for me was during our first evening. We stayed with friends who live in the wooded hills on the edge of Adelaide, and as we ate dinner on their deck a mother and baby koala ate their meal of eucalypt leaves from a tree next to the deck. We’ve seen koalas in wildlife sanctuaries, but nothing beats seeing a mother and baby living in their own environment. They weren’t at all bothered about us enjoying our meal or taking photos of them, and were obligingly quite mobile (for koalas), moving along the branch for more leaves and in the case of the baby climbing up and down branches. It was a magical experience.

30 October 2013

Travels in Oz (Uluru/Ayers Rock)

Since first travelling to Australia I’ve always wanted to visit Uluru (Ayers Rock). I often use the expression 'in the middle of no-where', but that's never been more true of anywhere than Uluru. It is almost 500km from the nearest town (Alice Springs) by road and close to the red centre of Australia.

I’ve always known (theoretically) that Australia is a big place, but that's really a huge understatement. Looking out of the plane window and seeing nothing but red earth and scrubby bushes in all directions certainly emphasises the point.  Auckland to Sydney is approximately a 3.5 hour flight and Cairns to Ayers Rock is about the same with a stop at Alice Springs. I won't even think about how long it takes to drive!

If you’ve heard of Alice Springs it’s probably from the book and/or film A Town Like Alice. Our flights only gave us a 45 minute stop there and so we didn’t have time to visit the town. Flying into Alice Springs the plane comes in low over red earth with seemingly nothing else around and then the runway appears – phew!!

For a small place Alice Springs airport has flights to all the major cities in Australia and is a busy hub. It’s the first time in years that I’ve got off a plane and walked across the pan to get to the airport buildings. It reminded me of my first flight ever, which was to Cyprus. My first impressions on coming out from the aircraft were the heat – high 30s searing dry heat - and the feeling of being under an enormous blue dome as the land is so flat.

The flight to Ayers Rock from Alice Springs is about 45 minutes and gave me my first look at the monolith. If you’re interested in facts the rock is about 3.6km long and 1.9km wide, and stands about 348m high with much of its bulk below ground.

One of the interesting things about travelling are the time differences you experience. Auckland is two hours ahead of Sydney, so if you leave early you don’t miss too much of your day in Sydney. Flying from Sydney, New South Wales to Cairns in Queensland we gained another hour. Ayers Rock is in the Northern Territory and here our watches went back half an hour! Interesting.

Ayers Rock is a World Heritage Site and to visit it you stay at one of the hotels in the Yulara Resort. The impression I gained was that everyone was here for a few days and packed as much in as possible before moving onto somewhere else. There are a lot of tours but most involve variations on the theme of visiting Uluru, Kata Tjuta which is a nearby group of large domed rock formations and Kings Canyon.

We played the tourist role and had a sunset dining experience in the desert. Before dining there were drinks and canapés at a look-out area to watch the sunset and view Uluru. The trip is called the Sounds of Silence, but unfortunately with around thirty of so other people there wasn’t a lot of silence, however the sunset was magnificent. The guide told us that Uluru is an arid desert, which I understand means it’s a category based on the amount of rainfall they have – very little, but enough for a variety of bushes and trees. To be honest I had expected no vegetation at all, but there was a surprising amount given the small rainfall.

Even before sunset the full moon was apparent and this was somewhat unfortunate for our stargazing, but it certainly lent its own attraction.
There were a number of tables set up in a dining area and we had a United Nations assortment of dining guests and enjoyed some great conversation and food. After dinner all the lamps were turned off and we had an opportunity for star gazing – as much as the full moon would allow – an interesting talk on the stars we could see, and a short period of silence to enjoy the night sky.

Before our holiday I booked a dawn trip as I’d been told that was the very best time to view the changing colours of the rock. The funny thing is when I booked the trip the fact it happened at dawn (i.e. very early) didn’t really sink in. The reality only became apparent when I set the clock for 3.30am, but it was an experience worth the early start.

It was the only time I needed a light top. The early morning air is refreshingly chilly, but once the sun appears it doesn’t take long to heat up.

During the time we were at Ayers Rock we enjoyed a tour around the hotel gardens where one of the local guides showed us some of the plants that grow in the area and their food and medicinal uses. The various uses of plants, whether their roots, leaves, flowers or seeds is amazing. I shouldn’t have been surprised, after all Aboriginal people have been in Australia for tens of thousands of years and would need all this knowledge to look after themselves, but it certainly made me realise how little I know and how much I rely on civilisation for food and especially medicine.

28 October 2013

Travels in Oz (and reading)

I’ve been travelling in Australia for the past few weeks visiting places I’ve never seen before (with the exception of our starting point - Sydney). It’s been a long time since I’ve done this type of free-wheeling type travelling and I've loved every minute.

The trip started in the lovely city of Sydney, which is a place I never tire of visiting.

The first place on our list of 'first-time' visits was Port Douglas in Far North Queensland.

I have to admit that while seeing new places was important, so also was having some downtime and this was the main reason for visiting Port Douglas. 

Port Douglas has a tropical monsoon climate and heavy rainfall during the summer season, but we were lucky with no more than a few drops of rain one evening. The average temperature for this time of year is the high 20s and it was every bit of that and tipping 30 some days.

*Spoiler Alert - there isn't much adventuring in this post - I guess a lot of people would rush around the Daintree forest and Great Barrier Reef, I didn't but I did enjoy my R&R time.

My favourite relaxing past-time is reading – hardly surprising as a writer! One of the pleasures of holiday reading is being able to read an entire book in a much shorter timeframe than usual.

I started with a book by Lisa Gardener. She has been on my list of authors to read for some time as a suspense/thriller author who writes a great page turner, but also paints realistic characters with great depth which is something often overlooked in the twists and turns of a plot.

As a complete contrast I then read Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. Since finishing English studies I’ve not read many of the classics, and I had an ulterior motive in my choice of classic. I’m a fan of PD James and had bought her book Death Comes To Pemberley which is based on the characters of Pride and Prejudice. While I knew the basic storyline I wanted to read the classic before PD James treatment of the characters.

What can I say about Pride and Prejudice? It’s certainly given me an appreciation of the time in which I am living. I wouldn't enjoy the restrictions of life at that time, but then I guess I wouldn’t have known any difference. Elizabeth Bennet is an interesting character and forthright in her opinions for the time. In respect of the writing it is interesting to see how style and type of writing comes and goes in fashion. I’m not a fan of omniscient point of view, but it was generally the style of the time. I find the omniscient POV pushes you away so you’re not as emotionally invested in the characters but I enjoyed the sharp wit of Elizabeth Bennet.

I thought PD James did a good job of writing in the style of the original book and following on with the lives of the characters, but it lacked the usual twists and turns of her other books.

If you’re thinking that I didn’t do an awful look of adventuring in Port Douglas I have to admit you’re right, but as it's been a busy year I really enjoyed a few peaceful days around the town and the edges of the Daintree Rainforest. 

Next on our travels was Uluru - Ayers Rock - and I promise the next installment will be all about Aventures in Oz rather than reading :) 

07 October 2013

Spring Clearing

We've had our annual inorganic collection this week. Every year around this time the local council collects the items that are too large to go out in the usual rubbish collection. A few days before we’re notified of the collection date, and over that weekend the neighbourhood turns into a gigantic jumble sale.  Everyone puts all their junk on the grass verges and the streets are full of vans and small trucks cruising along looking at the piles of stuff. As we put things out people were already picking through it to see if there was anything they wanted or could use. The weather has been lovely, and so it was conducive to a quick chat. 

As it’s Spring all this clearing out motivated me to sort through my bookshelves and cupboards, and the local Op shops have gained out of the exercise.  In England they’re called Charity shops. Here in New Zealand the shops also raise money for various charities, but they’re known as Opportunity Shops, shortened to Op shops. I like the name, it gives a feeling of extended life for books, clothes and other items. 

All this spring clearing – notice I said clearing not cleaning - reminded me of Spring when I was a child. My mother would change the curtains to lighter weight ones and clean all the windows. Very often this also coincided with a rearrangement of the furniture and my father would come home and do a double-take as he walked into a changed living room.

As I've mentioned before it still takes some getting used to having Spring at this time of year, but the urge to tidy out things and begin new projects is still strong. 

I think my mulling over of prospective book projects is beginning to look more like procrastination. Time to get moving!

25 September 2013

How Long to Read a Book?

I wrote a blog post some while ago outlining the length of time it took me to write a book. At the weekend I read this post on whether books should tell us how long it will take to read them.

Even before reading the article my first thought was how would we determine how long it would take someone to read a book? We all read at different speeds, and the speed I read at also varies depending on a number of things including: 

  • Whether the book is fiction or non-fiction
  • If non-fiction, am I learning how to do something new
  • Style of writing
  • How interested I am in the story (fiction)
  • Beauty of prose

Being able to speed read depends on how well the book, report or article has been written and laid out.

If it’s well laid out non-fiction I should be able to skim through the table of contents and/or section headings to find the specific parts that I need without actually having to read the entire book. The same should apply to a report or article.

What about the style of writing? Is it very dense academic writing or a pop-science read that is enjoyable as well as informative? This will make a vast difference on the length of time it takes me to read. It will also affect the length of time I’m able to stay awake while reading!

If reading a thriller or mystery novel, I would expect to be taken on a wild ride that doesn’t include a lot of heavy prose, but if I’m reading a more literary type novel I often like to re-read paragraphs just to enjoy the sound and flow of the prose. I may read parts of a short story several times as there are often layers of meaning that take time to see.

Non-fiction reading is often done for a reason and therefore I may have a time limit. I might be reading to understand information that I need to turn into training material. If I’m reading fiction then I’m reading for pleasure, and to me turning that into a timed exercise negates the enjoyment. I don't care how long it takes me to read the book as long as I’ve enjoyed the journey.

What do you think?

20 September 2013

Photos, Scenes and Memories

There’s nothing quite like pulling out a shoebox of photos or flicking through the family albums to bring back all sorts of memories. Reading through my writing is also a springboard for memories. 

None of the characters in my novels are me, but some of the things they see or places they visit obviously comes from my experiences. It isn’t always the major turning point scenes either that elicit memories. Here are a few from Lies of the Dead.

There’s a short lunchtime scene I wrote from exactly the position Andi sat to eat her lunch. 

By the time she’d chosen a sandwich and paid for it the bench was empty and the man had disappeared.

She walked to the open area at the other end of the office blocks. The seats surrounding the small amphitheatre-like circle were all taken as people made the most of the sunshine, but the steps were deep enough to sit on comfortably for a short while.

She looked around as she ate, but no one resembled the man who had followed her. 

Tom and Andi’s cliff walks from the fictional village of Poldrayth all remind me of trips to Cornwall, walking along the cliffs and wandering around the ruins of the pumphouse. The last time I visited, the dark and light purple heather was a stunning contrast to the yellow gorse and I enjoyed amazing views of the jade green sea frothing around the rocks at the foot of steep cliffs. I had to make a few changes when I realised that for the time of year in the book, the gorse would be in flower but not the heather. Reality rears its head!

Anyone who has visited Bristol, or knows the city, will be familiar with the Clifton Suspension Bridge and therefore The Downs (the rock slide is also mentioned in the link). 

She ran around the paths avoiding the families with prams and people ambling along, and as some sort of punishment she made herself run up the hill to the observatory. She stopped and looked at the shiny rocks on the steep side of the hill. They hadn’t been here for years, but she remembered Sophie and Kristen’s happy shouts as they slid down the rocks. 

Lives Interrupted is set in London, and Dru and Kate’s walk along the embankment looking at the Sphinx and other memorials reminds me of my visits to London. I’ve always loved the theatre, and when living in England I sometimes treated myself to a visit to one of the London shows and always combined it with some tourist activities. Kate wasn't a theatre-lover so I had to forgo those visits for the book!

I’ve mentioned some of the inspirations for Driftwood in a previous post.

These memories were prompted while I was looking for a passage to read at an event last week. It also prompted memories of the initial writing and then editing, but that’s another story altogether!

17 September 2013

Spring Bliss

At the moment I’m feeling in harmony with nature. It’s early spring and just about light as I get up, which has allowed me to see a number of beautiful sunrises as I do my run.

Spring is my favourite season, bringing with it a sense of renewal and possibility. On a more down to earth level it’s warmer than winter and not as humid as summer can be. Even after a number of years in New Zealand, it still feels strange that Spring arrives late in the year rather than being something I looked forward to as soon as the Christmas decorations were packed away. But whatever the month of the year, I enjoy this feeling of newness.

We’re on the east coast and so I see more stunning sunrises than sunsets, and that too gives a feeling of limitless possibility at the start of a new day. I gaze spellbound at the vibrant reds and yellows appearing from the sea and feel a sense of awe at being able to experience this.

What I try to realise, especially on the not-so-good days, is that this is external to me. Spring bliss is there for me to experience whenever I want to.

A sunrise, spring flowers, a clear blue sky or whatever makes you feel good - these things only reveal what is already inside us. The secret is to find that place when the external world is not showing us the glorious sunrise, dainty snowdrops or sweet-smelling freesias.

Happy searching.

11 September 2013

Double Celebration

We had a great night at Takapuna Library last night with around 80 people attending the launch of Lies of the Dead and Sunstrike. Thank you to everyone who was there, I hope you enjoyed the evening.

A huge thanks to the library for hosting the launch and to the Friends of the Library for preparing the food and drink (and tidying up afterwards).

Helen Woodhouse graciously introduced Bev Robitai and myself for our fifteen minutes of fame, and I hope we didn't bore the audience too much.

I'm always interested in the background to novels I read, and so I talked about the inspiration for Lies of the Dead, the characters and the Cornish setting.

Bev did a brilliant job of painting a picture of her world after solar flares have knocked out all our electrical equipment, and talking of the things we would need to do to survive.

I've just realised that in addition to celebrating a great launch last night this blog is three years old today. Happy Birthday blog.

It's been an exciting journey - and still continuing!

I started the blog just before Driftwood was published and three years later I've just published my third novel. You could be mistaken for thinking that's three books in three years, but the reality is a little different. Both Lies of the Dead and Lives Interrupted existed in various forms at that time, but I'm proud and pleased that both are now out there

I did say at the launch last night that I'd like to actually write a book from start to finish within a year, so I'm making that my goal for the next one.

Watch this space.....

09 September 2013

Lies of the Dead Launch

After three novels, some short stories and non-fiction I've finally been talked into having a launch celebration for Lies of the Dead.

I say talked into it in the widest sense, as the launch celebration eventuated after a meeting with my friend and fellow-writer Bev Robitai when we were discussing publishing, deadlines and other assorted writing topics.

Bev's new book is Sunstrike. We will be talking about our new publications, writing and the story behind the story.

If you're in the Takapuna area tomorrow evening (Tuesday 10th September at 6pm) come and help us celebrate at Takapuna Library. Feel free to bring a friend, partner or passer-by (who looks as though they're interested in books). We'd love to see you there.

03 September 2013

Dreams and Aspirations

Recently one of the little people wrote a story. The teacher was impressed and the little person was asked to read her story to other classes in the school. She's an avid reader who adores books and so was excited and pleased that other people enjoyed her story. Her dreams are now of being a writer.

Being excited about this lightbulb moment she told some friends she was going to be a writer. One of them commented that no-one would buy a book by a child.

I'm sure we all have friends like that - although whether they stay friends is another blog post altogether. It doesn't matter whether our dream is to write a book, climb Everest or find a cure for cancer, there is often someone who will ridicule the idea and tell us why we're wasting our time. I'm not talking about the person who points out realistic challenges but who still supports us, I mean the ones who don't have the vision and ideas, and only want to keep everyone else in their bland we're all the same and will never do anything special worldview.

We may never make the bestseller list, reach the peak of Everest or find that cure for cancer, but the journey to wherever our dream takes us is what is important.

29 August 2013


After finishing a novel recently I was delighted to find additional material at the end of the book in which the author wrote about his initial idea for the novel, and what had inspired him with the characters and plot.

As a reader I'm fascinated by these insights. I'm not sure whether it's because I'm a writer, or just nosy.

As a writer I'm also fascinated by the things that people see in my writing - some intentional and some that truly amaze me, as I'd never thought of them.

Sometimes I finish a book, put it down and don’t think much more about it, but other times the characters remain with me for longer and I think about character choices and actions.

Writers are often urged to consider the underlying theme in their work. To me this suggests we look for the theme once we’ve finished writing. I think this is the appropriate time, as writing with a theme in mind can lead to preachy writing or overdoing the emphasis. Themes need a light touch, rather like sprinkling fairy dust! Better that some readers miss it than being trampled underfoot by the lecture.

When I first started writing Lives Interrupted, I began with the idea of how people would deal with the aftermath and consequences of being involved in a major catastrophe that changed their lives. It was only while reading and editing a draft version of the novel that I saw the theme - the strength of friendship. This was shown in the stories of Rosa and Ellie, and Kate and Francine. It was also echoed in a plot line I removed in an early version. 

If you’ve read Lives Interrupted you may well have seen other themes and not noticed this one. It doesn’t really matter. Reading is a very individual activity. When I’ve discussed books or films with friends I often find that we have very different ideas of the theme, or alternatively the plot was so gripping we couldn’t turn the pages fast enough to even think about theme. We read to be entertained, and sometimes we don’t need to analyse what the author really meant. What do you think?

22 August 2013

Guest Post on Bookish Whimsy

Today I'm over at Bookish Whimsy with a guest post on Charlene's excellent blog. If you'd like to know a little more about me, my writing space and how many houses I've lived in then pop on over and say hello.

15 August 2013

Book Reviews

Book reviews were in the news for many of the wrong reasons last year and earlier this year, and possibly because of this I guess many people discount some reviews thinking they've been written by the author’s friends and/or family.

When my husband sent me a link to this blog post, I realised that perhaps the struggle to get reviews might have become my latest fixation!

I laughed out loud when I read the post, but found myself nodding in agreement at much of it.

Good reviews are wonderful – they give the author a huge boost of encouragement and lots of warm fluffy feelings. By a good review I don’t necessarily mean 5-stars (though that is brilliant). A sentence or two outlining what you've enjoyed about the plot/characters/prose is great as well as useful, and finding out what someone hasn't liked is also helpful. It's harder to read, but constructive feedback is good, though sometimes the phrase might sound more like a mantra through gritted teeth!

Yesterday my morning started brilliantly when I discovered this review on the Rabid Readers Review site.

08 August 2013

Great Expectations

Someone asked me what I'm working on at the moment. I’ve just published Lies of the Dead so I’m in the phase of deciding which bubbling idea to go with next. I have two quite different book ideas I’ve been considering, but one is definitely making all the running at the moment.

I love this part of the process, although it’s so nebulous it can hardly be called a process. I recall vividly sitting in a café on the coast somewhere between Sydney and Brisbane – okay I recall the moment and the café just not exactly where it was - reading a magazine article, when THE IDEA struck. 

As with the previous ideas that became books, at that point THE IDEA was just a premise with the main character appearing as little more than a silhouette.

She (the main character) is still nameless. I always take a long time with names before the correct one comes, but I know a lot more about her now than I did in that café. I know how she feels about some of the things that concern her and how she will react to situations. I know her family situation, her husband’s job (which is important to the plot), and with each piece of the puzzle she comes a little further out of the shadows.

The thing I love most about this part of the process is that there is all this possibility ahead of me before the internal critic gets to work and tells me I haven't quite captured the brilliance of my original idea!

On this subject my favourite philosopher (Winnie the Pooh) says, 'When you are a Bear of Very Little Brain, and you Think of Things, you find sometimes that a Thing which seemed very Thingish inside you is quite different when it gets out into the open and has other people looking at it.'

Neil Gaiman said, ‘Perfection is like chasing the horizon. Keep moving.

So I’ll keep moving and in the meantime I’m enjoying the nebulous part of the process.

12 July 2013

Lies of the Dead

The nine months of a pregnancy often seem to last for longer than that, though at times pass too quickly - okay maybe just in hindsight!

In my experience writing a book is a much longer affair, though painful in different ways, but today I'm absolutely thrilled to say that Lies of the Dead is well and truly published and out there.
I had the initial idea for the story and the three siblings who are the main characters about four years ago, though they sat quietly for a while at the back of my mind, but gradually they clamoured more and more to be heard.

Liam, the youngest of the three, was the one who claimed my attention initially, and I intended to tell the story through him, but every time I thought about scenes, or tried to write, it was Tom, the oldest brother, whose voice came through. Eventually I gave in and listened to him.

Lies of the Dead is set mostly in Cornwall, though Andi lives in Bristol and Liam in London. The Cornish scenery and people played a large part in forming the story, and it is an area of England I love.

What would you risk to find the truth?

How well do we know those closest to us? When Liam kills himself, his older brother Tom needs to know why suicide was the only solution.

Tom, and his sister Andi, search for answers but don't know who they can believe. Are Liam's friends and associates the people they claim to be? Tom and Andi are propelled into a world where their ideas of right and wrong don't exist, and where people demand what neither of them possesses.

Liam's legacy of deceit is dangerous, and when Andi and her twin daughters are threatened, Tom realises that truth may have too high a price.

The main idea of the story remains as it first came to me, but the path it took has changed considerably, although I find that is often the way.

Lies of the Dead is available in print and Kindle through Amazon and Amazon UK and the other Amazon stores, and in alternative electronic formats through Smashwords. It will shortly be available through other retailers including the Apple store, Barnes and Noble and Sony store.

If you read the story of Tom, Andi and Liam I hope you enjoy it. Please let me know.

09 July 2013

Words and Pictures

At the moment we have a friend from England staying with us. This is his first visit to New Zealand, and we are enjoying the opportunity of showing him the local sights as well as places further afield we love to visit. One of the great things about doing this is that it makes you look at familiar places as if you’ve never seen them before.

Last week we spent a few glorious days in Sydney, and it was great to look at this city we love as if it was our first visit.

We took lots of photos – although we already have plenty! 

There is a saying that a picture paints a thousand words, but words can also paint magical pictures.

About half of Driftwood is set in Sydney and while I haven’t experienced any of Juliet’s problems or had someone try to kill me, there are a number of elements and snatches of scenes included in the book that are places I’ve visited or things I’ve seen. When I read those scenes it brings back the incident I witnessed, or alternatively, when I visit a place I’ve included in Driftwood it reminds me how I used it in Juliet’s story.

Alex takes Juliet to dinner in Darling Harbour – this is a favourite spot of mine and while the restaurant they visited doesn’t exist, there are heaps of good places to eat in Darling Harbour.

In another scene Juliet watches a street entertainer in Circular Quay – I’ve since cut back this description, but the little I’ve left reminds me of his act and I can still see him clearly.

One of the chapters ends with Juliet watching a bride and groom in the gardens close to the Opera House. I watched the couple I describe posing for their wedding photographs by the harbour, and I sometimes wonder where they are now, and hope they are as happy as they were that day.

The New Zealand sections of Driftwood are set in Auckland, Christchurch and the Tasman area at the top of the South Island.

Juliet’s view from her home of the Auckland Harbour is the one we had at the time I was writing the book. The scenes set in Christchurch are ones I remember vividly, and with great sadness, as some of the places were badly damaged in the earthquake in 2010 and the severe aftershock in February 2011.

The Nelson and Abel Tasman areas of the South Island are outstandingly beautiful and we’ve spent many happy holidays exploring the beaches and walking the tracks through the National Park.

If you’re interested in seeing some of the places, I’ve been working on a board using photographs I’ve taken during visits, and I’ll be adding more images over the coming weeks.

28 June 2013

Lies of the Dead - Cover

I'm really excited that my latest book Lies of the Dead is just about there and thrilled to unveil the cover created by the talented Andrew Brown of Design for Writers.

Unlike Driftwood and Lives Interrupted I had absolutely no ideas for the cover of Lies of the Dead, but working with Andrew makes the process incredibly easy. He asks a lot of questions about the plot and characters, important (poster) scenes, my own likes and dislikes, and then he goes away and works his magic.

Lies of the Dead is set predominantly in Cornwall which is an area I love. Writing those scenes has allowed me to wander through villages, along beautiful cliff walks and feel the sand under my feet on the glorious beaches. The setting of Poldrayth is fictitious but it is based on a real Cornish village to allow me to play around with the geography a little.

What would you risk to find the truth?

How well do we know those closest to us? When Liam kills himself, his older brother Tom needs to know why suicide was the only answer.

Tom's search leads him, and his sister Andi, to a criminal world where their ideas of right and wrong don’t exist, and where people aren’t who they claim to be.

Liam’s legacy of deceit is dangerous and when Tom and Andi and her twin daughters are threatened, Tom realises that truth may have too high a price. 

Thanks a million Andrew for a wonderful cover - drumroll