Fantasy Maps, Book Launches and Chris Pratt!

You only have an epiphany moment maybe once or twice in your lifetime – a moment where suddenly you see yourself and your life in crystal clear clarity and the path you must take. Well, that happened to me twelve days ago at a book launch of all things and it was like a jolt of lightning to the senses. The only frustrating question that was left was why didn’t I do this years ago? Why did this take me so long?

As many of you know I’m an illustrator as well as a writer and back in February I was approached by HarperCollins to work for them as one of their official illustrators. Yippee! Since then it’s been an utterly manic year with very little opportunity to breathe between projects, but I’m not complaining, I’d rather be busy than struggling to find jobs. Amongst the illustrations I do for other people, it’s fair to say that fantasy maps are the most popular!

The highest profile illustration jobs I’ve done of late, were both fantasy world maps for HarperCollins and their HarperVoyager imprint and were both for exciting new authors called Anna – yes, it got a little confusing at times! 😀

The first was for Anna Smith-Spark and her stunning grimdark debut, The Court of Broken Knives, published 29th June 2017.

The second was for Anna Stephens and her highly anticipated grimdark debut, Godblind, published 15th June 2017.

It’s strange, from the earliest age I’ve always had a fascination for all things map-ish. I’ve poured over geography books, old cartography records, maps, atlases and globes, learning about far flung places, exotic locales, topographical features and the geology of landscapes. That love of maps was fuelled further by fiction, finding immersive fictional worlds depicted in the maps of Tolkien, CS Lewis, AA Milne with E.H. Shepherd’s wonderful ‘100 acre wood’, even the Moomin map!

Maps have become so associated with quality fantasy fiction that GRR Martin’s, Games of Thrones, inspired television series features nothing but an evolving map in its opening title sequence!

My passion for maps has caused me to blog about this subject more than any other, check out these earlier map inspired posts.

For The Love Of Maps!

Mapping Your Fantasy

Mapping The Imagination

As the mapmaker for Godblind, I was lucky enough to be invited to the grand book launch of Anna Stephen’s debut at Waterstones Birmingham on the Thursday 15th June. Waterstones had reserved the whole of the second floor for this function – very impressive! So I trundled up to Birmingham where I’d arranged to meet my two fellow Grimbold Books gals, my publisher and writer friend, Sammy HK Smith and my writer friend and editor, Kate Coe, both of whom had sensibly taken the train.

A word of warning folks – NEVER drive through Birmingham at rush hour – total insanity! 😦

Having left home at 4pm for this 6:30pm Book Launch event, I was sure I’d give myself plenty of time, after all Birmingham isn’t that far away. Sure enough, driving at my usual…ahem…speed on the motorway, I hit the outskirts of Birmingham at 5:40pm with oodles of time to spare. Yeah right. To my dismay, I was then in unmoving bumper to bumper traffic for over an hour! I couldn’t believe it, I was going to be bloody late!

Finally I got into the centre at 6:40pm, parked at the Bull Ring and walked briskly to where I thought Waterstones was. Despite looking at maps and asking about five people, I couldn’t find it. Panic set in, it was nearly 7pm, I was desperately late. As it turned out, I’d actually walked past the bloody place about three times. If you’ve ever been to Waterstones Birmingham (a 4 storey bookshop), you’ll know that the ground floor from the outside looks rather like a café, all you can see are signs for coffee and snacks…ahem, though I seemed to have missed the rather large WATERSTONES sign above!

I raced inside exactly how I didn’t want to arrive, late, hot, bothered and basically a sweaty mess! Already exhausted by the walking and with feet which had clearly developed blisters, I knew I couldn’t manage the stairs so took the lift. The second floor button had been taped over so customers had to either get off on the first floor or the fourth, as they’d reserved the second floor for this event. Embarrassingly, what I didn’t know was that the glass lift was directly behind the event itself, with all the chairs and audience facing it. So as I hit the fourth button, thinking I’d rather walk down a flight of stairs than up one, I was on full display to all as I went up. It was farcical!

The place was packed, I was the last and only late comer. Thankfully my mates had saved a seat for me. I’d missed Anna’s wonderful reading and had joined midway through the Q&A session. I sat down wishing I was invisible, unable to curtail my copious sweating. I tend to sweat profusely when I’m nervous anyway, but add exercise and exhaustion on top and I was a melting mess! I quickly tied my hair up in the vain hope of cooling down. It didn’t work. As quickly as I moped my brow the sweat came back. I was dripping. 😦

Anna very kindly asked if the illustrator/map-maker was in the audience and I timidly raised my hand. Sammy & Kate being sweet were pointing to me as well. I stood up and made some self-deprecating comment about being the late sweaty one then promptly sat down again. The event finished with rapturous applause before people lined up to get their book signed. I’d brought my hardback copy along, very nicely sent to me by the Head of Fiction Art at HarperCollins. While I was queuing, Anna’s lovely Mum and Auntie came over to me to say how much they liked the map, which was so  sweet of them. The response I’ve had from people has been amazing! I reached Anna, who had been signing copious copies of her wonderful book and we chatted. She is so lovely and I wish her all the success in the world, I’m sure the book will be a huge smash, I just wish I hadn’t been such a disgusting mess when I finally met her.

BUT…this experience became the lightning bolt I needed.

After the event, Sammy, Kate and I had a quick coffee and catch up before we walked Sammy to the train station. Every step hurt, my feet were absolutely killing me, I struggled to keep up, even though they were only walking normally, it was too fast for me. We said goodbye and then Kate and I walked back to my car. I was done in. Anyone would have thought I’d just walked a marathon.

I got home a few hours later to find massive blisters the size of £2 coins on the sole of each foot. My thighs had rubbed together and generally I was just uncomfortable, painful and feeling awful. I was a total mess. It was then that I had my epiphany moment – suddenly for the first time in years I really looked at myself.

What the hell was I doing?

Here I am in my early forties, feeling as young and immature as ever (having never really grown up), but with a fat frumpy body that was falling apart just from a bit of bloody walking! I had had enough! Enough of feeling uncomfortable in my own skin, enough of being so unfit and feeling heavy, bloated and generally awful about myself, enough of wheezing after a few steps, enough of feeling like an ugly blob next to my slimmer friends, enough of struggling to find something I can wear often choosing to smother myself in tent like clothes to hide in, enough of being embarrassed in social situations because I was hot and overly sweaty or just felt like the odd one out, enough of having a bad body and bad body image…ENOUGH!

Yes I was once a skinny kid and before I gained all my weight (mostly through comfort eating as a means of coping with trauma), I actually had a figure to die for (34D bust, 22inch waist, 34inch hips), your basic hourglass figure and yes, the likelihood after years of abusing my body of ever getting back to that is minus zero. BUT, that doesn’t mean I have to just settle for what I am now and give up on myself either! I have a personal life goal my close mates know about and if I am ever going to achieve it, I NEED TO LOSE WEIGHT and GET FIT NOW!!!!

That daft incident at the book launch finally opened my eyes to what I was doing to myself and to my life. It’s not enough to just sit in the same rut, day in day out, and let life pass you by as if you’re just a piece of flotsam on the current and not actually a part of the stream.

My epiphany was simple…I HAD to change my life.

That’s where Chris Pratt comes in, lol, no not literally, well almost! Unlike other Hollywood types and famous hunks called Chris, like Thor himself Chris Hemsworth, Chris Pratt for all his money and fame is just like so many of us, a mere mortal who has struggled with his weight. That’s when inspiration hit. Chris Pratt had ballooned to 300lbs (21 stone) for his film role in The Delivery Man then had a life changing moment of his own when he was cast as Peter Quill, Star-Lord himself, in Guardians of the Galaxy (one of my favourite films).

To secure the role he needed to lose 60lbs in 6 months. THAT was my inspiration jump off point – to give myself 6 months and a fixed date I could focus on (for the first time ever) to lose 60lbs or as much weight as I could! Thus The Chris Pratt Challenge was born!

The very next day I announced to the world, as a way of stopping me from backing out, that I was doing this Chris Pratt Challenge, where I would check in every day to share my experiences of trying to lose weight, get fit and change my life. I even went as far (for the first time ever) of weighing myself and going public with my weight. Not Chris Pratt’s 21stone but still a massive 17st 12lbs! I was shocked I had gotten so big, but I was and am determined to change. No more yo-yo dieting, a permanent change.

My start date was 16th June 2017, the day after that fateful book launch and my deadline date is 16th December 2017. I pledge to have lost a significant amount of weight, a life changing amount of weight by that date. Not only am I eating healthy food now and not late at night, I am forcing myself to eat breakfast, which I haven’t done since I was 13 and…most unlike me, I’m doing something I haven’t done in over twenty years – exercise, in fact, I’m doing daily exercise! Starting off with a negative value of fitness the only way from here is up! 😀

I WILL do this, lol, I’m nothing if not a tenacious bastard! 😀

 

So, I am finally changing my life…what are YOU going to do today to change yours?

Good luck to us all! 😀 xxxx

 

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Happy World Book Day!!!

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Today, Thursday 6th March is World Book Day, a day of celebration for reading, writing, books and all things bookish!!! YAY!!!!

What makes World Book Day so wonderful and so unique, is the way it engages with children, in schools and libraries, on the web, radio and in bookshops. It focuses people into really thinking about the importance that literature and books play in our lives, how they inspire and enrich all of us, fill our dreams, push us onwards or simply provide a wondrous escape from the daily grime.

But for children, World Book Day really is magical. A chance to dress up as your favourite book character, costumes, swords, wands and wigs galore!!!! Puzzles, games, author readings and workshops, book reviews, book events, drawing character wanted posters, even making foody treats that your book characters eat…all great fun, and of course, a chance to read from your favourite book and talk about why you love a certain story and its characters as much as you do.

I can think of no nobler endeavour, than to instil in children, a life-long love of reading and books. VERY cool!!!!!

So Happy 17th World Book Day!!!!! May you continue inspiring all of us for many more glorious years to come!!

Check out their fabulous website http://www.worldbookday.com/ for plenty of book fun and free downloadable resources from mazes, colouring in sheets, to ‘We’re Going on a Bear Hunt’, for Nursery, Primary and Secondary School aged children! Miss it, miss out!!

If YOU could be any book character for a day, who would you choose and why?

😀 xxxx

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365 days – one year ago today!

The Flight of Fantasy Award

How time flies when you’re having fun?! 😀

Exactly one year ago today, on a rather chilly and snow-covered afternoon much like this, I decided to dip my toes in the shifting sea of blogging. Being not just an technophobe but also a certified techno-idiot, I severely doubted my skills in this area. SAM_2255

When it comes to computers I tend to push random buttons and hope for the best!

However, I am a quick learner and a tenacious little bugger so I keep trying and trying and by some mysterious force and the wonderful support of YOU, my lovely internet supporters, friends and family, this personal little blog has grown into something rather special.

So, what aims did I have when I started this blog?

594Probably much like any other I suppose. For me, this was always going to be a personal blog, not a commercial site, a buy buy buy me site, I find most marketing sites a complete turn off. No, this was an odyssey of self-expression, a way of making sense of an increasingly bizarre world, and a way of sharing poetry, short stories, travelogues, writing tips, a little philosophy and my experiences with others. Octavia's Bookshop signing 2012

As a writer, we all have very different paths and journeys to follow which take us in different directions. No author’s journey is ever the same, that is what makes it so special and so unique. Advice is wonderful and helpful, but of course as with life, one size doesn’t fit all. Take what you need and leave the rest. Decide what is important to you, what works and what doesn’t.

To thine own self be true.

Try not to be derailed or bullied into producing someone else’s vision. Your vision is your vision. Be proud of who and what you are, warts and all. Nobody is perfect. As a perfectionist myself, I know that to be true especially of myself, but strive and never stop striving!

Remember, nobody ever truly fails from having high expectations, from pushing themselves that little bit harder. You may not attain the dizzying summits you are aiming for, but at least having them in your sights will bring them damn close. But if your dreams are limited, your expectation low, then so will be the results of your endeavours.

To strive and never give up no matter the odds or obstacles, believe me, there will be A LOT of them and from unexpected quarters!!!!

Yeap, one thing I can promise is that the life of a writer is never easy. Much of the time you will feel utterly alone and like you are constantly swimming against the current. You’ve just got to grow fins and be a bit of a salmon, keep swimming upstream, over waterfalls and harsh terrain until you reach your goal!

Life ain’t easy, but I guess nothing ever is. Just remember, no matter how difficult things get, you are NEVER alone, there are thousands of other little fish swimming upstream along side you. So when you can, stretch out and lend them a fin and share your journey with them. A trouble shared is not only a trouble halved, but it reminds us of our collective humanity and the ties that bind us all.

Again, a little kindness goes a long way… 😀

In the shark infested waters of the book business, where even the great can be easily swallowed by the tides and sink without a trace, it’s good to be a strong swimmer and help your fellow minnows along. There’s safety in numbers, right? 😛

To that fact, as well as thanking the 9,000 or so lovely visitors who have graciously visited this little blog over the last year and left their indelible presence behind (and to whom I owe so much), I must thank those wonderful talented fellow fantasy minnows that I first met back in November 2010. I speak of course, of The Alliance of Worldbuilders, brainchild of the Dark Lord himself, creator Tristan Mander (TRM)!!!

When I joined the Harpercollins writing site, Authonomy back in 2010, I had no idea what a profoundly wonderful experience I chanced upon. A collective group of truly amazing writers, each imbued with a generosity of spirit, a wicked sense of humour and a talent and passion for fantasy writing. These inspiring individuals have since gone on to not only take over Authonomy as by far the largest group and thread on the site, but have produced a staggering range of excellent fiction!

I am immensely proud to call myself a member of The Alliance of Worldbuilders (AWB), as Tollam (Thane of Fyrrens), and though I don’t visit my talented AWBer’s as often as I’d like, they are never far from my thoughts. Their friendship and support have been simply amazing! Thank you so much guys!

Please check out The Alliance of Worldbuilders website: http://theallianceofworldbuilders.weebly.com/

and Authonomy where the magic all began: www.authonomy.com and the AWB thread itself: http://www.authonomy.com/forums/threads/99758/the-alliance-of-worldbuilders-part-iii/

So, in reverence to these amazing individuals, I (techno-idiot extraordinaire) have decided to really commemorate this special one year blog anniversary, by creating my very own blog award – The Flight of Fantasy Award. 😀

The Flight of Fantasy Award

This award is specifically intended for fantasy writers only – creators and destroyers of worlds, fantasy authors who inspire us, who thrill us with their dark imaginings, ignite our dreams and fuel our imaginations. They can be writers of urban fantasy, high/classic/epic fantasy, comic fantasy, dark fantasy, fantasy horror, paranormal fantasy (ghosts are fine but no vampire stuff please) and sci-fi fantasy.

If you are lucky enough to be nominated for this award, then CONGRATULATIONS you officially ROCK!!!

The Rules of the Award are as follows:

  1. Display the award logo on your blog.
  2. Link back to the person who nominated you.
  3. State 11 things about yourself (it’s a Spinal Tap thing!), including why you love fantasy and your first or favourite fantasy book.
  4. Nominate 7 bloggers for this award and link to them. (If you want to link back to me as well, that would be lovely but isn’t required!)
  5. Notify those bloggers of the nomination and the award’s requirements.

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Now, as the creator of this prestigious award, I’m going to get the ball rolling by nominating the first fantasy bloggers…and yes, I’m being naughty and am nominating more than 7! 😀 xx

Please check out these extraordinary blogs and writers (in no order)!:

A.F.E. Smith  http://www.afesmith.com/

Lindsey J Parsons http://lindseyjparsons.wordpress.com

Will Macmillan Jones http://willmacmillanjones.wordpress.com/

Kay Kauffman http://suddenlytheyalldied.com/

Katrina Jack http://kateannejack.wordpress.com/

Lisa Wiedmeier http://lisawiedmeier.blogspot.co.uk/

Ryan Holmes (Griffin’s Quill) http://griffinsquill.com/

Tricia Drammeh http://theclaimingwords.com/

Ashen Venema http://courseofmirrors.wordpress.com/

Andrea Baker http://www.andreabakerauthor.com/

Gretchen Steen http://thedragonladyofraevencliffcastle.weebly.com/

Jeremy Rodden http://www.toonopolis.com/

Hazel Butler http://aadenianink.com/

Tamara Hickman http://tamarahickman.wordpress.com/

Sam Dogra http://indigolightning.blogspot.co.uk/

Emily Rebecca McKeon http://www.theabsenteeblogger.blogspot.com

AMAZING writers and bloggers one and all, check em’ out guys! 😀 xx

The Flight of Fantasy Award

Very Inspiring Again?

Three days ago, in a maelstrom of emotions – more than a little ploughed under with work and the weather, which looks gorgeous but as we all know is utterly treacherous to drive in, I found a truly wonderful surprise waiting for me!

It really couldn’t have come at a better time, a little ray of sunshine in these wintry blustery days.

Tricia Drammeh, fellow fantasy writer, blogger extraordinaire, interviewer, reviewer, mother of four, hugely talented wordsmith and all round lovely person, nominated me for the Very Inspiring Blogger Award!!!!!

http://blog.triciadrammeh.com/author/authortriciadrammeh/

If you haven’t already checked out her mindbogglingly wonderful blog, well, you’re really missing out! Get over there now folks you won’t regret it! 😀  http://blog.triciadrammeh.com/

She also has the most fantastic website: http://www.triciadrammeh.com/

I’m truly humbled and honoured to be nominated for this award by an author and blogger of such talents! A HUGE thank you to Tricia Drammeh!!! 😀 xx

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The Rules of the Award are as follows:

  1. Display the award logo on your blog.
  2. Link back to the person who nominated you.
  3. State 7 things about yourself.
  4. Nominate 15 bloggers for this award and link to them.
  5. Notify those bloggers of the nomination and the award’s requirements.

Okay, so we go…

  1. I have an encyclopedic knowledge of weird facts, especially world geography, just don’t ask me where the counties of England are!
  2. As a child I wanted to be an astronaut, writer and mermaid (2001 Space Odyssey and…er…the Splash movie had a huge influence!). Well, one out of three is pretty good?
  3. I’m happiest when I’m outside surrounded by nature, staring at the sky, horizon or the sea. It’s as important to me as breathing. Cities make me quite claustrophobic.
  4. As a young child, I started writing and drawing before I was even steady on my feet. I still have terrible balance. As I’m very bendy, I can do most of the yoga poses but cannot balance to save my life!
  5. I don’t drink at all – my taste buds are still as immature as they were when I first tried wine and I’m allergic to most of it. Yuk! But chocolate has an almost hypnotic effect on me!!!! 😛
  6. I love animals and can’t stand cruelty of any kind. I’m a member of most of the animal charities and used to campaign against circus cruelty to elephants.
  7. In fact, I can’t stand cruelty of any kind…To me there’s nothing worse than bullying and aggressive behaviour, there’s just no excuse for it. Why be rude and horrible when you can kind and tolerant? None of us are perfect but as my dear Granny used to say, “If you can’t say anything nice, say nothing at all.” A simple lesson we could all learn from.

Now for the nominees! Wow, this is really hard. Firstly a lot of my choices were quite rightly chosen by Tricia. Secondly, it’s hard picking just 15 bloggers, there are SO many great ones out there!

So…in no order at all, I nominate the following blogs for the Very Inspiring Blogger Award!

Please DO check out all their amazing blogs!

  1. Ryan Holmes http://griffinsquill.com/
  2. Morgen Bailey http://morgenbailey.wordpress.com/
  3. Lindsey J Parsons http://lindseyjparsons.wordpress.com/
  4. Ashen Venema (Course of Mirrors) http://courseofmirrors.wordpress.com/
  5. Andy Szpuk http://andyszpuk.wordpress.com/
  6. Lisa Scullard http://lisascullard.wordpress.com/
  7. Gretchen Steen http://gretchensteen.blogspot.co.uk/
  8. James Shortland http://fantasybastion.com/
  9. ashsilverlock http://ashsilverlock.wordpress.com/
  10. M T McGuire http://www.mtmcguire.co.uk/
  11. Dominick Swennen http://fantasticalimaginations.wordpress.com/
  12. Jane Dougherty http://janedougherty.wordpress.com/
  13. Freaky Folk Tales http://freakyfolktales.wordpress.com/
  14. Moment Matters http://momentmatters.wordpress.com/
  15. atoasttodragons http://atoasttodragons.wordpress.com/

Gosh…that WAS hard. I also need to mention Sheryl Browne http://sheryls-ramblings.blogspot.com/ , Debbie Young http://youngbyname.wordpress.com/ , Mandy Ward  http://welcometowherever.wordpress.com/ and the wonderful Lisa Wiedmeier http://lisawiedmeier.blogspot.co.uk/ 😀

Treks in the wilderness…Agatha Christie, Conan Doyle and deepest darkest Dartmoor!

Just returned from a wonderful holiday down in Devon and my beloved Dartmoor National Park. Backpacks and suitcases are still unpacked and littering the hall. The dogs are going crazy over the strange smells they’re getting from my trainers…I’m hoping it’s the wild pony poo and the great outdoors and NOT my feet! So, as I nurse my various bruises, scrapes, blisters and insect bites, I find myself grinning like the proverbial Cheshire cat!

Basking in uncharacteristic and glorious sunshine, I found myself lying on the soft golden sands of Bigbury-on-Sea, listening to the lapping waves, children playing and the occasional family disagreement! Under cerulean skies I watched the world’s only sea tractor cross the bay to Burgh Island, laden with passengers, to the island’s most famous landmark – the 1920’s Art Deco Burgh Island Hotel, haunt of such luminaries as Agatha Christie, Cole Porter and Noel Coward amongst others.

Agatha Christie wrote Evil Under the Sun whilst staying there, staring out across the cliffs and shifting sands, and it also proved inspiration for her novel, And Then There were None. You can easily see why writers from Christie and Arthur Conan Doyle to Du Maurier were drawn to Devon and Cornwall, it is simply breathtaking!

Leaving the coast though, I entered the magical mythical world of Dartmoor.

Ahhh Dartmoor…such a wondrous place. Wild, unspoilt, hauntingly beautiful. Drenched in rich history. Steeped in so much mythology and folklore you can practically taste it, not to mention the ghost tales…

My favourite ghost story, apart from the infamous ‘Hairy Hands’ that grab your steering wheel and send you careering off the road to your untimely death, is the forlorn and rather spooky tale of ‘Jay’s Grave’. There are various versions of the story, as is often the case with oral traditions.

Around 1790 a young girl, Mary Jay, later called Kitty Jay, left the Poor House to work as a servant girl at a local landowner’s farm. Once there, she quickly caught the attention of the landowner’s son who promised to marry her. But, when she fell pregnant he abandoned her and she was thrown out of the farm. With no where to go, no chance of employment anywhere else, and labelled as a ‘slut’, in despair Kitty Jay tragically took her own life. She was found hanging in one of the barns on the farm. The local church refused to have her buried on consecrated ground. The custom at the time was to bury suicides at crossroads, sometimes with a stake driven through their hearts to ensure that the restless soul of the departed could not return to haunt living, god-fearing mortals. This was the fate of poor Kitty Jay. She was interred at an intersection of a road and track high up in moors, just north-west of Hound Tor. The grave soon became known as ‘Jay’s Grave’ and it was not long before strange events were reported there. On some moonlit nights, a dark figure was seen kneeling beside the grave, head bowed, face in hands. But the phenomenon most associated with Kitty’s final resting place is the strange and daily appearance of fresh flowers placed on her grave. To this day, and no matter what time of the year it may be, every morning a new posy of flowers appears. No-one has ever been seen leaving them. Over the years many have tried to glimpse who may be responsible, even camping out all night to witness the event. Yet again and again, the mystery remains as the fresh flowers appear.

Being up on the moors myself, you can easily understand where Sir Arthur Conan Doyle got his inspiration for his most famous work and possibly the best crime fiction mystery of all time, The Hound of the Baskervilles. Climbing to the top of a tor to survey the wild windswept moors below, is just a magical sight. Watching the weather play its own role in maintaining the character and mystery of the place. One moment bright sunshine, the next thick mists and fogs to ensnare the weary traveller. Every place, every rock, has a story to tell or a story to inspire. Certainly, years before, I found my own novel growing there, amongst the tussock grasses, gorse and bracken.

Very few places can fire the imagination that way, but Dartmoor IS such a place. Clapper bridges, ancient wizened oak forests, leafy glades, rushing rivers, dark foreboding dells and weather-beaten tors. If you truly want to step back in time and be transported to a magical land of fantasy and history…you MUST visit!

So, after my second exhausting hike, having negotiated the very uneven stepping-stones that cross the River Dart, I sat stretched out in the gusts that so often howl over the moors and watched Dartmoor’s wild ponies. Sheer bliss! 😀

New Zealand Odyssey Part IX – Pancakes, White Mountain and The Wonders of the South…

Feeling myself dissolving into the sands of Maraharu, the endless blue horizon before me and the exotic delights of the Abel Tasman rainforest, I felt once more the pull of the road.

Dragging myself away, my heart full of a strange tranquility I had never known, I rejoined my odyssey…afterall, who knew what wonders might lie around the next corner?

I took the winding hill roads and said goodbye to the sun-kissed vineyards of the Nelson and Marlborough regions. Passing through the thick coastal rainforests I joined the main highway and turned south towards the wildness of the South Island’s craggy coastlines and mountain ranges. That is New Zealand’s beauty and its magic…the drama of its ever-changing landscapes. Nowhere on earth, do you have a country only the size of Britain and yet with such varied geology. White sandy beaches and deserted islands, tropical jungles, active volcanoes, mountains, grasslands, fiordlands, moorland, temperate rainforests, huge freshwater lakes, giant sandhills…New Zealand has it all!

Leaving my rental car in Murchison, a small isolated town surrounded by towering hills in the heart of the Nelson Lakes National Park, I took a cheap bus and followed the highway west towards the coast, feeling the temperature visibly cool. With so few roads, dictated by the mountainous landscape, so many places I passed through felt like frontier towns, places completely out of time.

I hit the coast just south of Westport. Here the State Highway hugged the shoreline like a ribboning snake, giving the most amazing views out to sea. Again, with nothing but the wild ocean for thousands of miles, you were instantly reminded of just how remote New Zealand is and just how beautiful.

With the impenetrable forests of the Paparoa National Park on my left and long stretches of wind-blown beaches on my right, the landscape grew evermore wild and evermore spectacular. Not being much of a coach passenger, I stopped off at the suitably named Pancake Rocks and Blow Holes of Punakaiki. A weird and wonderful natural geological formation of…well…pancake stacked rocks, perched right on the water’s edge!

After whiling away most of the day, scrabbling over the rocks and trying not to fall into one of the many gaping holes that opened up before you, I caught another bus and continued south, my eyes inextricably drawn to the far off snowy peaks of the Southern Alps.

Trundling into Greymouth, the largest town I’d seen since leaving Nelson, I managed to find a lovely holiday cabin right on the beach, my base for the next few nights. Named after the mighty Grey River-Mawheranui, whose mouth Greymouth literally straddles, it was a strange sort of town. A mismatch somehow, of grey urban sprawl and border town with a dour kind of feel.

Nonetheless, my little beach hut was just the thing, going to sleep and waking with nothing but the sound of the waves! Utter bliss! Half the time I felt as if I had stumbled into Bronte’s Wuthering Heights or an Ingmar Bergman film, so hauntingly barren was the place!

Doing the touristy thing, I headed for the Kumara Junction and boarded a train on one of the world’s most spectacular train rides, the famous Arthur’s Pass. Linking Greymouth and the west coast of New Zealand to Christchurch in the east, it bestrides the country and takes in the most breathtaking scenery imaginable. What a trip! Following the valley floors, with mountainous peaks rising either side, the train climbed and took us up to the alpine heights of Arthur’s Pass, snaking its way through the lofty terrain, before plunging down to the flat Canterbury Plains surrounding Christchurch.

I spent a few hours wandering the very civilised and surprisingly English feeling city of Christchurch, before boarding the train for the spectacular return journey. One incredible journey I’ll never forget…but the best was to come.

Spending a few lazy days beach combing and exploring the area I set off again and headed for Hokitika, famous for its greenstone or jade, determined to buy some locally carved jewelery. But always, the looming mountains of the Southern Alps were calling to me in a way I just couldn’t explain.

And so, hauling my backpack and picking up another rental car, I succumbed to the pull of the mountains and headed towards the Franz Josef glacier. Taking the state highway once more, as it left the coast and wound its way inland over rushing rivers, valley basins and beside beautiful lakes, I felt myself falling in love once more with the sheer unspoilt majesty of the landscape.

Reaching West Coast, the nearest settlement to the glacier, I found a cheap place to stay and started my next adventure…

It was a bright February morning. The sky was the kind of electric blue you never really believe is real somehow. A perfect day. Cold but full of sunshine and possibilities.

I took my car, a run-down automatic transmission thing, down to this little air field…and then I saw it. The tiniest aeroplane I had ever seen! My banged up jalopy looked bigger!

Without much regard, I climbed into the small seat beside the pilot and off we went! Soaring  above the lower slopes of the Southern Alps. Trying desperately not to vomit all over the cock-pit, I stared out of the window, nodding at the pilot’s remarks while I kept my mouth firmly shut! (doesn’t happen often)

Rivers snaked beneath us. As we flew over the snow-capped mountains, Mount Cook loomed in the distance – New Zealand’s tallest mountain and the tallest in the Southern Hemisphere. Utterly stunning in its grandeur. Nausea disappeared. I looked on in astonishment as we circled Mount Cook’s flanks. I’d never seen anything so beautiful. All I could think of was…”I’ve found it! I’ve found my White Mountain!”

We left Mount Cook, Aoraki in Maori, and landed on a pristine snow field just above the Franz Josef glacier. Nothing could have prepared me for what I saw.

This was nature at its simplest and purest. Nothing but white and the startling blue above. The snow here had a covering of ice crystals which crunched beneath my feet as I left the plane and went walking. I followed the contours of the peaks around me and looked down to the glacier below with its gaping crevasses.

This was a once in a lifetime moment and the real stuff of magic.

With Mr. Agyk whispering in my head, the story of White Mountain began to unfold…

Injustice for all? Why does dead wood float?

Listening to a friend recently, as we both collectively joined others in having a damn good moan, the phrase ‘dead wood floats’ was mentioned. It occurred to me, as we all groaned and agreed, that we have in this country such a skewed system of ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’ and that the reason the gap between these polar opposites keeps growing, is that we applaud and even reward failure!

Look at the bankers and banking system. Take the former head honcho of Barclay’s, a man who looked the part, talked the talk, great ‘front of house’, could charm and smarm his way into any boardroom, a man of power and charisma who abused that power dreadfully, took everyone for a ride…looks like he’s going to be given an enormous golden handshake for failing in his job, in addition to his multi-million pound salary!

Words fail.

In such an unfair world, where dead wood floats to the top, while the rest of us work our fingers to the bone for a crumb at the master’s table, all we can do is continue to hope and dream and make our own worlds as beautiful as possible!

😀