New Zealand Odyssey Part IV – Desert Island Discs.

I left the magical Waipoua Forest with its towering kauri trees and took a breathtaking drive eastward across North Island to the Bay of Islands. The sun was shining and the old rental car I’d hired was humming along with the rhythm of the road. I arrived in Paihia, a quiet little coastal town and gateway to the Bay of Islands, surrounded by scenic forested hills and sail boats drifting lazily in the inlets and marinas.

I rented a self-contained unit by the beach, my base for the next few weeks. The apartment had a small balcony overlooking a little garden with an enormous flowering pohutukawa tree, the ‘New Zealand Christmas Tree’, its blooms a suitably vivid red for December. The air was warm and sweet somehow. A tui bird (found only in NZ) was perched outside my window singing furiously, while it proudly puffed its white chest plumage out.

Dumping my enormous backpack for a lighter day one, I headed out into the sunshine and the startling blue skies, apparently the second ‘bluest’ in the world after Rio de Janeiro (but obviously not in my photos!). Leaving the car for the first few days, I explored Paihia, looking every bit the awe-struck tourist. It didn’t matter though, the vibe of the whole place was friendly and ultra relaxed. I followed suit. Going under my own steam, I did the tourist thing, taking a ferry out to see the pods of dolphins that were famous to the area. If it’s possible to see pure joy in a wild animal, this was it. I watched enthralled as the twenty or so dolphins launched themselves out of the water beside the boat, doing back flips and somersaults, little did I know that in a couple of months I would have an even closer encounter at Kaikoura in the South Island!

I spent glorious day after glorious day soaking up the atmosphere and watching the incredible sunsets ignite the sky. Taking another boat, I sailed to Cape Brett and the hole in the wall rock, before returning to visit the historic town of Russell, a picturesque place with a rowdy sea-faring ‘wild west’ past!

But once again, it was my solitary travels away from the tourist trail that proved the most inspiring.

Waking early and packing a small provision along with my sketch pads, I took a ferry trip around some of the 150 islands scattered around, that make up the Bay of Islands. To describe them as miniature havens, islands of paradise, would not do them justice. But, most thrilling, after charting a small boat, and with a bit of persuasion, I was dropped off on a small deserted island just off the coast of Urupukapuka Island.

I was so excited I could hardly speak, as I saw the boat disappear from view. All I kept playing in my head was the theme tune to ‘Desert Island Discs’! Here I was, totally alone on my very own desert island…well, at least until 5:30pm!

Peeling off layers and clunky boots, I wandered barefoot over the island, not much more than a strip of rock with some trees and vegetation and a couple of beaches…but it was perfect! Boats sailed or powered by, but the place was quiet and incredibly serene. I sunk my feet into the sand and watched the light dance off the surface of the water. Life just didn’t get better than this.

I whiled away the day sketching and writing and dreaming, words and images tumbling out of me faster than I could grasp them. If there was a heaven, this was it. Blissful solitude with nothing but the clear sky above and nature around me. Again, snatches of the story that would become ‘White Mountain’ came to me. So as I dozed under the shade of another pohutukawa tree, I dreamed of dragons and ancient hidden civilisations, still surviving in our modern world…

Advertisements

Ah…Saturdays!

Blissful.

Quiet.

No alarm.

Away from the stresses of work.

Time for a breather… 

Lazing in bed til a ridiculous time…

Watching my doggies play in the garden, and the sheep in the fields behind, and the buzzard as it swoops over the pond where the moorhens live.

Just listening to birdsong fill the garden. Perfect.

 

Life can be damn hard…but sometimes, just sometimes…it can be great!

Having a perfect day, hope you all are too! 😀

Life…but not as we know it!

I have just had the unpleasant experience of having my Twitter account hacked last night, causing untold mayhem amongst myself and my friends!

No matter how savvy, how sophisticated we think we are, we are quickly reduced to wide-eyed children when something goes wrong…as it often does.

Having received a message from a friend, I opened it and was promptly hacked. The little blighter’s then proceeded to work through my contacts by sending out the same intriguing message. Oh dear, what a mess! Several apologies and changed passwords later and I think…think, the matter is sorted. But it got me thinking…

Firstly, an obvious point here, but as so many of us are increasingly reliant on the web for everything from social media, to banking, insurance even mortgages, we are also SO vulnerable to these sorts of random attacks. With identity theft on the increase, are we really safe on the web?

And secondly, it got me thinking about the individuals that do these sorts of things. Now, I’m well known for having a bit of the anarchist in me from time to time, daft as a brush, anti-establishment to a degree, and certainly non-conformist, but random hacking just seems so utterly pointless. They are not hacking a fat-cat company swindling the masses, they don’t even seem to be trying to fraudulently take people’s identities…they really are just doing it for the sake of doing it!

A friend said it was the modern equivalent of a ‘brick’. That there will always be vandals in society and these are just that…mindless vandals.

Yeap, I agree…but again, why? Why vandalise the area you live in? Why destroy when you can create? Vandalism may be in the eye of the beholder when it comes to graffiti – being a Bristol gal, I happen to love Banksey, but I know others don’t. But one thing everyone agrees on, is the utter mindlessness of a brick through a window, a concrete block thrown in the path of a train (yesterday a teenager threw a bicycle at on oncoming train). The consequences could have been utterly horrific!

Disaffected youth? Yes. But why have we as a society so completely failed to inspire these people to do something more creative with their energies? It sounds so old-fashioned, so parochial to say “Get a hobby!”. But in a strange sense, that is what a lot of our youth needs. In a climate where unemployment is spiralling out of control and our youth simply cannot find jobs or even training apprenticeships, if they had a creative outlet, be it art, music, writing, sport etc it would open up their potential and channel their energies in a far more positive direction.

But…I’m probably just a naive dreamer. All I know is that life can be damn hard, and if I hadn’t of had a whole host of interests and hobbies to occupy and inspire me, I’d be in a very different place!

😀

Sugar and Lemon Day!

Yeap…it’s Shrove Tuesday. The one day a year where we dust off the frying pan with the dodgy teflon coating and the wobbly handle.

Flour, milk and an egg later, I’m whisking my batter like no batter has been whisked before!

Freshly cut lemons waiting on the side, dogs out of tossing range…er…I hope. Only one thing left…I’ve GOT to sing the song my late Granny taught us:

“Shrove Tuesday, Shrove Tuesday,

Poor Jack went to work.

His mother made him some pancakes,

But she didn’t know how.

She tossed them, she turned them,

She made them quite black…

She put so much pepper in

That she poisoned poor Jack.”

That’s a little ‘Grimm’s Fairy Tales’ for you, but I’ve been hearing that song my whole life and a pancake just isn’t a pancake without it! 😛

Happy Pancake Day everyone, may your flipping and tossing be mighty! 😀

 

The Bedlam Media Daily!

My blog was featured on the front page of The Bedlam Media Daily, on Wed 15th February!

Woo and Hoo!

 

Check it out guys in the ‘Travel’ section: http://paper.li/bedlam_media/1315567686/2012/02/15

😀

The Wishing Tree

The Wishing Tree

Evan sat on the branch, swinging her legs as she had done a thousand times before, as she had done since she was a child. The Wishing Tree continued to whisper to her, soothing, caressing, each tender shoot and leaf urging her onwards. The pounding rain lost its power here. Nothing ugly could touch her in this magical place. Shards of moonlight poked intrusively from between the swaying canopy. She sighed. She could lose herself here, utterly. If happiness was a place, something tangible you could grasp or just be in, this was it.

She was vaguely aware of the acidic glow of the streetlights from the top of Hillrise and the distant hum of cars on the motorway. For so many people, this small neglected wood was no more than a dumping ground. Fly-tipping mounds, the cliché of broken shopping trolleys, used condoms, porno mags, beer cans and dog shit littered its dells and grassy knolls…but it was still beautiful.

From an early age Evan had been drawn to the Wishing Tree, though she never knew why. Only she was able to climb its awkward gnarled branches. Only she had ever been brave enough to reach its fingers stretching ever skyward, then dangle like a deranged monkey while her friends screamed and cackled below. She had been invincible. But age tears down such possibilities, age tells you to tread carefully…age puts the fear in you.

Evan watched the breeze catch the leaves around her, as they danced in the broken starlight. She closed her eyes and raised her arms in the air. She thought of the huge condors of South America, gliding on the thermals with their monstrous wings. The feel of the warm air under them, forcing them up. Only her balance could stop her from falling now. She looked into the gloom beneath her feet. At this height and with the rusty railings below, she knew if she fell she would kill herself.

The tree continued to whisper. She felt the soft wind pushing against her and the dappled light shifting over her eyelids. She had the overwhelming desire to let go.

That afternoon had passed in a haze. As always, Evan had trudged up the street to the bend in the road where she could see her house, sitting proudly at the end, and could see which cars were parked in front of it. An old rambling cottage, it sat on the corner of Wolfridge Street and the lane that led up to The Square. Its overgrown brambled garden, lined with old trees, stretched down the road toward her. She looked at the cars outside. Her father was still in and her mum hadn’t come back from work yet.

Evan stood for a moment, deciding what to do.

School had finished at 3:30, it was now 5:39. She couldn’t spend any more time wandering about, in case her mum phoned. She walked briskly, passing the overhanging holly and the three cars which had been left rotting in the garden for as long as she could remember. The radio was blaring in the kitchen as normal. She lifted the latch of the gate, hoping to avoid the usual squeak, but left it ajar in case she had to run. She stopped by the back door. Silence. She couldn’t hear him, no fridge door clattering open and shut, no screeching of chair legs on the quarry tiled floor. Evan turned her key in the lock, she’d perfected how to do this with no sound at all. She stood in the small lobby listening through the stable doors.

It was deathly quiet.

She closed the back door behind her. She’d chance it. With any luck he’d be kipped out on the couch in the living room glued to whatever sport was on, or he’d be upstairs sleeping it off and snoring.

The kitchen was empty. The dog didn’t greet her. He must be in the living room with it. She instinctively looked in the bin to count how many empty cans there were. Ten or twelve by her count.

Suddenly she heard a noise. Shit he’s awake, he’s coming! Evan grabbed her bag and as quickly and silently as she could, crept up the old cobbler stairs and along to her bedroom. If she was quiet enough he wouldn’t realise that she’d come home yet and he might piss on off to work or whatever.

She closed her bedroom door and sat on the edge of the bed, listening, perfectly still. The fridge door went again. The radio was highered. She could hear the muffled voice of her father probably speaking to Fluff their dog, or someone on the phone. Yes, now the back door was opening and he was calling Fluff to go out to toilet before he left. She waited. Eventually the dog came in. She waited for the shuffling he always did, trying to eventually sort himself out for work. She knew she was safe as long as he didn’t come upstairs. If he came upstairs he’d walk along to her room to check if she was in. He was in a hurry today. The back door slammed. Evan relaxed. She was safe. She waited for the gate to go then the predicted heavy footsteps back up to the door because he’d forgotten something. The keys in the door again, scraping chairs in the kitchen, heavy footsteps up the other stairs and the thud of him in her parents’ bedroom. Shit, please go down, don’t come along! Good, good…the steps were going down again.

“Evan? Evan? Are you in?” came the voice suddenly, calling up the old stairs.

She kept silent. Shit, shit! He was coming up. Panicked, she looked for somewhere to hide. Suddenly the stable door clattered shut and the back door slammed again. Keys locking it now then the gate, then his car. Wait, wait for the car to start and watch it leave. Wait…wait.

The street lights glowed red as Evan peered out of her window, keeping herself low, and watched as her father drove off.

Great! Relax. He’s gone.

She closed her eyes, the Wishing Tree was talking to her again, soothing and calming her. The Wishing Tree was always there for her, whispering the answers to her English test, telling her what to say to the bullies at school, warning her of danger. Oh, how she loved it…

She had relied on it more and more over the past few months, as the world around her seemed to slip away. Only she knew the secrets of the Wishing Tree, only she had been lucky enough, special enough, to be chosen. Every wish she had wished, had come true, every one! She only had one more wish to ask…

The evening came and the lights of the village glittered in the cold night. Mum’s voice echoed over the answer machine. Staying overnight for a 2-day conference, Evan had forgotten.

“…We’re going to go down for dinner in a minute.”

“Oh right. How’s the room?”

“You know, basic, it’s alright. Is Dad there?”

“Uh…no…He’s popped out to Tesco’s to get some more milk,” Evan lied. “D’you want me to get him to phone when he’s back?”

“No, don’t worry, we’ll probably be at dinner then. You’ve seen the dinner in the fridge?”

“Yes, thanks.”

“And there’s salad to go with it if you want.”

“Thanks.”

“Are you alright? You’re quiet tonight.”

“Yeah I’m fine.”

“How was school?”

“It was fine, Mum…honestly, everything’s fine.”

The phone went dead for a moment.

“Okay, well, I’ll be back tomorrow, it’ll probably be around 6 or 7 though. I’ll phone you if it’s later.”

“Okay, have a nice dinner.”

“I love you sweetheart.”

“I love you too, I’ll tell Dad you phoned…Have a good day tomorrow…I love you Mum.”

“I love you too, god bless, sweet dreams darling.”

“Love you…bye Mum…”

“Sweet dreams.” The phoned clicked off.

“I love you,” whispered Evan.

She held the receiver in her hand and pressed it against her forehead.

She could hear the tick of the grandfather clock in the kitchen and the hum of the fridge. She went downstairs and switched off the noise of the radio. She loved listening to the sounds of the house, the familiar creaks and groans she’d grown up with, in a home that she had loved and feared in equal amounts.

She glided the bolts of the back door across and turned the key. Double locked. Safe. He would have to use the conservatory now. This old house held so many memories, so many secrets, such magical joy and nostalgic happiness and such terror. Evan stood, her back pressed against the stable doors, taking in the view. The cracked quarry tiles, the pine cupboards that never quite fitted together. The solemn stretch of the Victorian sideboard, its dark smooth wood and the brass handles of its heavy drawers.

In summers past, her mother would stand by the window watching her children play in the garden, chasing each other between runner bean canes and past tended borders full of pansies, sweet peas and love-in-the-mist. She remembered the constant wail of the radio and the shrill beating of the electric mixer. Her mum was always baking. The oven was always on. The wire racks loaded with hot jam tarts or cooling sponges, dishes half full with icing or buttercream, flour on counter tops, broken egg shells next to the sink…and always water splashed on the floor.

“Mother’s been in the kitchen!” They’d joke.

Evan touched the mixer, wiping her finger across the rim of the bowl, feeling a thin layer of dust under her skin.

Things change.

She didn’t understand why, but she knew they did.

Evan switched off the light and left the kitchen in darkness. It was raining. She could hear it clearly now, pounding on the roof of the conservatory. Even in light rain, the sound was so loud the cat would be too frightened to go in. Now, it was thumping down, hitting the PVC like so many fists. Evan found rain to be cleansing, a way of freeing oneself from worries. But rain like this, the sheer violence of it half frightened and half excited her. Standing in the midst of such an onslaught had a way of forcibly emptying any thoughts, filling the head and body with only the pounding noise.

She smiled.

She was glad it was raining. Like tears she thought…tears for me? She walked into the living room, the womb of the house. This, the smallest of rooms and the oldest in the cottage, with its low uneven ceiling and castle-width walls, was dominated by a fireplace far too large for the room, but somehow it worked. The leather sofa, now over 30 years old, bore more creases and lines, but had the warm steady comfort of something lived in, something that had seen and witnessed the best and worst of life and had still survived.

The Wishing Tree whispered again.

“Yes, I know. A fire, that’s what we need.”

A fire had already been laid in the hearth. Evan lit the paper sticks watching carefully as the embers spread until she was sure the fire was lit and well on its way. She didn’t know why, but wanted the house to be warm. With any luck, when father returned, at 2 or 3 in the morning, pissed as a newt, he would come in here and just pass out on the couch. She knew he wouldn’t check upstairs, so she had plenty of time now.

The smoke curled its way up the black chimney as flickers of flame caught light. The fire was blazing. Evan sat for a moment in its warm glow. The rain had stopped.

She glanced out of the window, it was still light, only just though.

The Wishing Tree was waiting…and the promise of yet more adventures. She wanted to reach it before dark. She quickly kissed the cat and dog then opened the conservatory door. She could smell the chimney smoke mixed with the fresh smell of rain. She closed and locked the door behind her. The house was warm and safe.

The sky was black now and amidst the rustling tree branches she could hear rain coming once more, perfect…Magic Time!

Climbing higher in the tree, Evan smiled, swinging her legs again. She had never felt so happy, so light. The Wishing Tree was calling her, calling her to its branches, to its loving embrace. She placed the heavy rope around her neck. 

It was time to go.

Sophie E Tallis © 2012

My links…

Facebook page for Book: http://www.facebook.com/FantasyEpic

Website: http://thedarklingchronicles.weebly.com

Author Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/sophie.e.tallis

LinkedIn page: http://uk.linkedin.com/pub/sophie-e-tallis/3a/413/870/

Amazon UK: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Mountain-Darkling-Chronicles-Sophie-Tallis/dp/1908208090/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1351168547&sr=8-1

Amazon US: http://www.amazon.com/Mountain-Darkling-Chronicles-Sophie-Tallis/dp/1908208090/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1351168662&sr=8-1&keywords=White+Mountain+%28Darkling+Chronicles%29

My interview with Kate Jack: http://wp.me/pWz0d-id

Authonomy: http://www.authonomy.com/books/28751/white-mountain-volume-one-of-the-darkling-chronicles/

My blog…hey, you’re here already!: http://www.sophieetallis.wordpress.com/

Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/SophieETallis

The Society of Authors: http://www.societyofauthors.org/node/56641

UK Arts Directory: http://ukartsdirectory.com/sophie-e-tallis/

ReadWave: http://www.readwave.com/sophie.e.tallis/edit/

Wattpad: http://wattpad.com/SophieTallis

Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/SophieETallis

Google+: https://plus.google.com/111183189901249080388

Artwork: http://tollam.deviantart.com/

Fantasy Book Review: http://www.fantasybookreview.co.uk/book-reviews/white-mountain-by-sophie-e-tallis/