Distant Worlds – Welcomes Andrea Baker!

This is the fifteenth outing of a new blog series, as I dabble my toes into the mysterious waters of author interviews!

Having watched so many fantastic interviewers (Tricia Drammeh and her Authors to Watch, AFE Smith (see below), Katrina Jack and her New Authors section and Susan Finlay’s Meet the Author to name a few of the best – please check out their wonderful blogs), I’ve always been a little reluctant to throw my hat into the ring…but here goes!

One of my all-time favourite worldbuilding PC games, is Sid Meier’s ‘Alpha Centauri’. So, in homage to that (and a shameless rip off of BBC Radio 4’s ‘Desert Island Discs’ and AFE Smith’s brilliant blog series Barren Island Books), here is my own author interview series – Distant Worlds.

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The Distant Worlds strand started a few months ago, focusing on fellow fantasy and sci-fi authors from ultra-cool UK publishing house, Grimbold Books and their imprints, Kristell Ink and Tenebris Books – a bunch of uber-talented and whacky characters who I am also proud to call friends. Check out their cool titles while they’re still at bargain prices! hyperurl.co/GrimboldBooks 

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A World Of Their Own – an awesome anthology of fantasy, sci-fi and literary short stories, with ALL profits going to charity!

But now we’re branching out and will be zoning in on an extraordinary group of people, The Alliance of Worldbuilders (AWB), who I am also VERY proud to call close friends.

The AWB – a bunch of uber-talented fantasy and sci-fi writers and artists who met on the HarperCollins writing site, Authonomy, back in 2010. We formed The Alliance of Worldbuilders, a friendly, inclusive and wacky group and our collective friendships have seen us through some very hard times, including the sad loss of one of our own, Lindsey J Parsons. In honour of Lindsey, our dear friend who tragically died in January 2014, the AWB have created an awesome anthology of short stories, which was published in glorious paperback and e-book on 4th September 2015! It makes the perfect prezzie and ALL profits go to charity, the World Literacy Fund, fighting illiteracy around the world, so grab a great book and help a great cause too! Amazon UK & Amazon US

Right, now to our fifteenth author interview, and our third AWB interview, our very own fantasy castle of paranormal loveliness…

Andrea Baker

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Andrea, YOU find yourself cast adrift in deep space, your colony pod’s life support is failing, your only chance of survival is a distant habitable world…

What 5 essentials would you choose to help you survive?

Oh there are so many unanswered questions about this distant world Sophie, and my first thought was my family, but as I wouldn’t travel without them they’d be right there with me! So, all that said…

  1. Water filtration system, with enough spares to keep us going for a while, until we could find suitable clean water to maintain life.
  2. Medical pack, being a practical person, making sure the flint is in there for starting a fire, as the difference between night and day can be hundreds of degrees.
  3. Books – the whole pod library if I could get it down there, I’d need something to take my mind away and allow me to dream.
  4. As much food as we could carry, to give us chance to check out the supplies on the planet first, rather than poisoning ourselves on day one.
  5. A communication system, so we can keep track of what is happening on Earth

What 5 personal items would you salvage from your crashed ship before it explodes?

That’s a difficult one, and some things would be with me anyway, so they don’t count in the five, do they? I’m thinking of the rings my husband gave me that I always wear. The others, let’s see…

  1. My photographs, a reminder of home.
  2. Plenty of notepaper and pens!
  3. My glasses. I normally wear contact lenses, but there would be no point taking those because I’d never get replacements. I need my glasses though, I’m very short-sighted without them!
  4. My daughter has made me lots of little “I love you” signs over the years, and I’ve kept them all, so I’d take these.
  5. Music – I’d make sure I’d got some sort of solar-electric power conversion to keep this going. I need music in my life.

Would you seek life-forms for help or go it alone?

I wouldn’t actively seek out others, I’m quite the introvert, so I’d stick with the close group I have to be honest. Having said that, I wouldn’t turn them away if they found us and were friendly.

What 5 fantasy/sci-fi books would you have to keep with you and why?

Only 5!!!!!! I’m not sure I could live with only five of them! Oh well, here goes…

  1. Robin Hobb, probably the Rain Wild Chronicles
  2. Nora Roberts, The Cousin’s O’Dwyer series
  3. Neil Gaiman, Stardust is the one currently closest to me so it would have to be that if we’d crashed…
  4. Phillip Pullman, His Dark Materials
  5. CS Lewis, The Chronicles of Narnia

Sorry, I admit they’re almost all series, so I guess I’ve cheated a little. 🙂

What 5 songs or albums could you not live without?

Again, with the 5…. This is really hard 😦

  1. The Muse version of ‘Feeling Good’, I adore it!
  2. Adele, the Album 21
  3. Ed Sheeran, X
  4. Amy Winehouse, Back to Black
  5. REM – The Best of

You are all alone on a distant world with little chance of being rescued…do you choose water, vodka or coca-cola to drown your sorrows?

Vodka, although I’m not a heavy drinker of spirits, I don’t think I’d want to think too much about my predicament!

Random comet question: Marmite – love it or loathe it?

Loathe it, completely and utterly!

You have 30 seconds (max 100 words) to tell the alien approaching you about your latest book. Remember this is more pressurised than an elevator pitch – screw up and he’ll eat your brains! Go! 

My latest book is too raw to work this one through properly, so I’m going to focus on the current release, if that’s ok?

‘Leah’s nightmares are trying to tell her something, and will stop at nothing. When the dreams don’t get through, the message becomes physical in her waking life. What will it take for her to realise the truth?’

How would you choose to spend your time on this distant world?

Once my immediate needs are dealt with (food, water, shelter, heat, I would spend my time reading, listening to music, and writing. This is suddenly starting to sound like bliss!

What 5 things would you miss most about Earth?

  1. Companionship from those closest to me, and our dog!
  2. My family, as I know only some of them would have travelled with me, and I’d miss the others dreadfully (I sound like Lady Mary from Downton Abbey there!). It sounds sentimental, but I’m close to my family, and being apart from them, unable to speak to them every day would be unbearable.
  3. The beautiful scenery of Scotland, I dream my most vivid stories there.
  4. Independence – the ability to walk, or jump in my car, and visit wherever I wanted without being restricted.
  5. The smells of home – Vanilla, my daughter’s hair when she’s just washed and dried it, my favourite meal cooking. All the normal things about life I suppose.

What 5 things would you NOT miss about Earth?

  1. Politics! It drives me mad, you have each side accusing the other of manipulating the press, but of course everything that their own side puts out has to be the truth. As Billy Connolly once said, the desire to be a politician should automatically disbar you from ever being able to become one!
  2. Along the same lines, war and terrorism. I have my own belief system, and I know others disagree with that. I understand that is their right and have no intention of trying to “convert” them, or hate them for it. I can’t understand the desire to kill someone just because they’re ideas are not the same as your own. Having said that, I do believe that a country has a right to defend itself, and we have a duty to help those that are being victimised.
  3. Pollution – we’re slowly killing our planet, whether through fumes or the destruction of war.
  4. Traffic! I spend the best part of two and a half hours a day travelling, and most days am on the road for 06:45 in order to reach my clients at a reasonable time. I hate that this means I miss my daughter getting up in the morning, but it means I’m home for more hours with her in the evening.
  5. Insects – I’m an entomophobic, and am very scared of anything that crawls or flies. Having said that it stands to reason this new planet will be worse, because at least on Earth I recognise some of them…

Time-traveller questions (for Dr. Who fans): What is the one thing you wish you could turn back time and change?

That’s a really hard one, because of the ripple effect. We’ve just had Rememberance Sunday here, and I’d love to be able to stop so much death and destruction, but as history has proven, there is always going to be someone rising up trying to dominate the rest of the world. Perhaps I’d go back to the creation of man as we are today (however you believe we got her) and remove the gene that makes people hate one another and want to destroy anyone that disagrees with them! But then, perhaps we wouldn’t survive as a race then… Maybe I could wipe out the creation of guns and explosives…

If you had the chance again to go on this deep space adventure, would you take it?

Yes, providing you guaranteed me being able to return home!

What 5 indie authors and books you would recommend to any carbon based lifeform – and why?

  1. Will Macmillan Jones, The Banned Underground series, great books, and give you a good laugh too.
  2. Tricia Drammeh, Spellbringers series. It’s no secret that I love paranormal, and Tricia is brilliant with this series – I’d recommend it to everyone, and wish there was more to it!
  3. Lisa L Wiedmeier, The Timeless Series. This is a difficult one to explain. Lisa’s books appear to be set in the “real” world like my own, but there are significant differences. I love the concept of the Timeless Clans, and the stories that unfold. I’m a severe sufferer of CATTS (chronic addiction to the timeless series), I admit and can’t wait for each book to be released.
  4. AFE Smith, Darkhaven. I remember reading some of this when I first joined authonomy, and it hooked me even back then, you know how some snippets of books just stay with you. AFE has polished it and it is now published by Harper Voyager.
  5. It would have to be our very own anthology, A World Of Their Own. What a great way to discover the fantastic group of authors that have contributed to this, and for such fantastic causes too!

What advice can you give to fellow space travellers (writers and readers) out there?

  • Never let someone tell you that you read too much – reading is the best way to understand the people and world around you. Personally I think it makes you more tolerant as well.
  • Writers, never give up. It doesn’t have to be perfection, write your story, that is what is important.

Before we leave you and blast into another parallel universe, please tell us about yourself and your inspirations!

12248781_920049701420680_491530867_nAndrea in her own words…

I’ve made up stories for as long as I can remember – if you think about it we all do as children, in the imaginary worlds we create with our toys. As I got older I would “live” in the world from the latest discovery from the library, making up many “what happened next” stories, and even though I stopped playing, I still lived in those worlds until my late teens.

Once I graduated however I forced myself to stop this, thinking I needed to “grow up”, and that is one of my biggest regrets, as I’ve lost so many great ideas as a result.

I read so many books it’s hard to name inspirations – at one stage when I was younger I’d read 12-14 books a week, so to name them all would be impossible. I’m married, with an eleven year old daughter and a cocker spaniel named Ellie. In real life I’m a management consultant, specialising in transforming public services, which sounds quite boring doesn’t it?

Bio:

Andrea Baker was born and raised in the beautiful English county of Warwickshire, where she lived with her parents and older sister. She left home to study at the University of Wales, Aberystwyth, from where she graduated with a Bachelor of Science, with honours, in 1992. She now works as an independent management consultant, and lives less than five miles from the town and castle of Kenilworth, in Warwickshire, with her husband and their daughter.

Worlds Apart is a series of romantic fantasy books, the first of which, entitled Leah, was originally released on October 11th 2012. Since January 2014 it has been published by Rose Wall Publishing.

Writing History:  

I have made up, and written, stories for as long as I can remember, even before I could effectively write them down. Rose was a nickname that I had within the family as a child, and as a result, anything that I have written, has the pen name Rose Wall. Other than a few poems in student anthologies, none of my writing has been published.

The idea for Worlds Apart has been in my mind for quite a while now, and I often wrote ideas, and dream sequences down into a notebook. In 2010, I started converting these into a story, and completed almost thirty thousand words whilst still working full time, in a high profile programme run on behalf of the Department for Education.

The Programme was closed at the end of November 2010, and after managing the handover of outstanding matters to the Department for Education, I found myself unemployed in January 2011. During the next four months, while trying to find another job, I used my spare time to continue my writing, and this novel, Worlds Apart: Leah, and the outline for its sequel, is the result.

Waterstones

Amazon UK

Amazon US

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Book Blurb

Worlds Apart: Leah

Nightmares are just dreams, aren’t they? They cannot hurt you.

It is simply your mind playing tricks…

Or are they?

Leah’s nightmares are trying to tell her something, something her mind is refusing to let her see.

At nineteen, Leah is still mourning the untimely death of her mother in an accident five years earlier. Her Father decides to move them both to a small Warwickshire town, for a fresh start. But Leah is plagued with terrifying nightmares, that seem to spill into her waking hours, and which somehow bring her comfort as well as fear. Conscious of the warnings in her dreams, and nervous of his growing temper, she deliberately withholds the details of these dreams from her Father.

One morning, Leah sets off up to the Castle, even though her Father would be furious that she had gone there alone. Settling down in her favourite spot, she dozes off in the sunshine, and for the first time experiences a nightmare outside the safety of her home. Disorientated from being awoken mid-dream, she instinctively distrusts the handsome young stranger, Ben, who had awoken her from her dream, yet is strangely attracted to him.

Over the next few weeks the two young people get to know each other better, and Leah finds herself more and more attracted to Ben. Her father finally discovers the relationship when she comes home late one evening. He attacks her, bruising her arm badly.

She fails to hide the injury from Ben the next day, avoiding the subject by questioning him about his music. As a thunder storm erupts they leave the shop at a run, racing together to his car. Suddenly, out of nowhere, a motorcycle skids in the rain, crashing into Leah and sending her flying into a wall.

Her recovery is hampered by her father’s temper and a break-in at the hospital, but this is tempered with the deepening relationship with Ben. Forced to move in with his family, Leah overhears mysterious conversations, her dreams begin to worsen and violent storms rage as she attempts to piece together the jigsaw of facts as they start to emerge.

A climactic event following a regional talent show final sees both Ben and Leah being severely injured, but they are saved by mysterious creatures. Passing out as a result of her injuries, and her discovery, Leah is transported back to the house, but when she awakes, Ben is missing. Forced into a journey of discovery, she finds hidden, surreal worlds within traditional English settings along with a truth about herself and her past that she can barely allow herself to believe, let alone understand.

***

Thank you, Andrea. Congratulations, you are survivor! A passing exploratory science vessel has honed in on your distress beacon, you’re going home!!!

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Happy Horizons! 😀 xx

April Bloom

Got home after work, rather knackered, and spent the next few hours outside in the glorious sunshine with my dogs, watching the wondrous display of daffodils and primroses swaying in the wind…sheer bliss!

So, here’s a little ditty…

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April Bloom

The blushing brides of peach and buttery gold

Blow upon the breeze as memories forgot,

The loves and lives of times gone by

In Spring’s embrace…forget-me-not.

 

The wings of warmer air descends

Bursting with humming lives,

Our fears and thoughts of months ago

Fizzle under sweltering skies.

*

Sophie E Tallis  © 2015

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April Showers…

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The last days of April for me, always herald the coming of summer…that glimpse into the near future of what you want your short-lived but longed for summer to be. All that promise, all those hazy dreams, just around the corner…

We British have such short summers, so few days of truly warm and glorious weather, that our all too brief summers take on an almost mythical significance. Even if it’s cold as ice outside, if the sun is shining, you’ll find some optimistic soul wandering around in nothing more than a thin T-shirt and shorts!

It is perhaps why we British are so obsessed with the weather over here, not just because our climate and seasons are so wildly unpredictable, but because it dominates our consciousness in a rather profound way. We invest so much time and energy into squeezing every last drop of enjoyment out of a sunny spell, no matter how fleeting, that we find ourselves almost lost in perpetual gloom when the skies cloud over!

It is for this reason, that I smile at April showers, a passing incumbrance which will inevitably lead onto to the warmer airs of May and then into summer!

Ah, our beloved showers, our glistening lawns groaning to be cut once more, our jewel like flowers bursting amongst the verdant green. The daffodils have faded now, replaced by a cobalt sea of bluebells…ah yes…goodbye to April showers and hello to the gentle bee-buzzing of May and beyond! 😀 xx

Han Solo, Passing 14,000 and The Liebster Award!!!!

Han Solo

Okay, first I’d like to say a massive THANK YOU to all my amazing talented followers for pushing this little blog past 14,000 hits!!! That’s truly humbling and astounding. So, whether you’re regular visitors, weekly watchers, new to the site, fly-by, one-stop-shop, pop-in pop-out kind of visitors, or hang out pull up your chair and relax visitors, THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU! This blog would be nothing without your support! 😀 xx

Right, before I get too gushy on you, I’ll get on with the post.

As I mentioned in my last nomination, The Versatile Blogger award, I’ve been very forgetful regarding the awards which have so kindly been bestowed upon me, but, I’ve now caught up with this latest one, the Liebster Award. Again, huge thanks must go out to the gorgeous, talented and thoroughly lovely Kay Kauffman (http://suddenlytheyalldied.com/), who nominated me for this award in May. Kay is an extraordinarily gifted fantasy author with a love of nascar, a gift for cooking and a huge heart!

Apart from being a fellow member of The Alliance of Worldbuilders – http://theallianceofworldbuilders.weebly.com/index.html & http://www.facebook.com/TheAllianceOfWorldbuilders along with myself and a bunch of fantasy/sci-fi geeks, Kay Kauffman has also established the most amazing blog which I highly recommend you all checking out! http://suddenlytheyalldied.com/  – Thank you Kay! 😀 x

As usual, there are a few rules for this:

liebsterThe Rules:

  1. List eleven random facts about yourself.
  2. Answer the eleven questions that were asked of you by the blogger who nominated you.
  3. Nominate eleven other blogs for the Liebster Award and link to their blogs.
  4. Notify the bloggers of their award.
  5. Ask the award winners eleven questions, to be answered upon acceptance of the award.

Umm…I’m noticing a pattern in the number 11!liebster-award

Okay, so here is where I bend the rules a little…ahem…okay, break the rules again. Rules are made for breaking, right? The Liebster Award is supposed to be for blogs who have 200 followers or less. Well, as the lovely Kay Kauffman (http://suddenlytheyalldied.com/) suspected, I am very lucky to have more followers than that, first rule broken. but since she was kind enough to nominate me, I’m gladly accepting!

Okay…er…first eleven random facts about me:

  1. I’m a terrible insomniac and have been since I was about 14.
  2. I’m petrified of spiders but okay with snakes.
  3. I’ve nearly died at least 4 times, drowning, car crash, decapitation, run over, and that’s not counting all the times I fell twenty feet out of trees with hardly a bruise or scratch – I’ve never broken a bone!
  4. I have dreadful eyesight yet can see amazing details close up, like microscope vision, great for drawing and I ADORE looking at maps!
  5. I could talk before I could walk and was writing and drawing before 3yrs.
  6. My first crush was on Harrison Ford as Han Solo and Indiana Jones, I even posted an airmail love letter to Jackson Hole, Wyoming!
  7. I am very much a country girl, born and bred and love nature and wild landscapes – preferably with no people around, just the elements and me!
  8. I love animals and detest cruelty of any kind. I’m anti all ‘blood sports’ like fox hunting.
  9. I love green vegetables and have a real thing for runner beans! English: runner beans
  10. Star Wars was the very first film I ever saw at the cinema. It got me totally hooked on science-fiction and fantasy, but it also seeded a deep desire in me, ever since I was 4yrs old, to be an astronaut. To this day, I still have vivid dreams of flying my own spaceship!
  11. When I was 17 I went to Communist Russia on a school trip. Our plane was diverted to an airstrip north of Moscow due to a storm and the KGB boarded our plane and took our passports. It was very scary. I was frisked by one of the guards and we were all detained for four hours in a blizzard. It was an amazing trip though. We went to Lenin’s tomb – incredible. It was like a dream. Although he’d been dead for over 70 years at the time, he looked like he had just fallen asleep! Seriously freaky!

The questions Kay Kauffman (http://suddenlytheyalldied.com/) wanted answered:

  1. If you could have lunch with any one person, living or dead, who would it be and why? Probably my personal hero, David Attenborough.David Attenborough 1
  2. What is your favourite song and why? Mull of Kintyre by Wings. It was the first record I ever bought and even though I know it’s cheesy as hell, I still adore it. Something to do with being a soundtrack to nature I think.
  3. What is your dream job? Besides being a writer? Probably a film director. I love telling stories and being a highly visual person that would be ideal. Weirdly enough, my career’s advisor said ‘writer or film director’ as two of my best most suitable jobs!
  4. What is your favourite season? Spring, everything awakening, coming back to life and the promise of Summer yet to come.
  5. Why did you start blogging? Oops…I read this as ‘when’ – 26th January 2012! Why? Umm. To be honest I don’t know, I just kind of fell into it and found I loved it!
  6. What is your favourite comfort food? Bread and Marmite.
  7. If you had a time turner like Hermione’s in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, what would you do with it? Sorry, I’ve never read any HP more of a Tolkien girl, so don’t know what that is. I’m guessing it’s a time machine device or something? Uh…I’d probably go back in time and undo some mistakes, do a few things differently given the choice. I don’t live with regrets, but I’ve often made choices for other people and not for myself.
  8. If you could have lunch with one of the captains from Star Trek or one of the characters from Star Wars, who would you choose and why? Ooh, that’s hard. The 12yr old me would definitely go with Han Solo, now though, I think I’d pick Chris Pine’s Captain Kirk, he’s kinda cute and I think he’s a funny guy. It would be a fun lunch!
  9. Do you use your cell phone mostly for talking or mostly for other things? Mostly for texting, but mostly not at all. I’m an email girl not a cell/mobile phone girl.
  10. What makes you dance? Most music.
  11. And the follow-up, what makes you sing? “You’re Just Too Good To Be True…” & “Sweet Caroline…ba ba ba”, the classic drunken sing-a-long songs!

There you go! Now for my eleven nominees, as always, these really are in no order at all!

  1. Tricia Drammeh – http://blog.triciadrammeh.com/ &  http://theclaimingwords.com/
  2. Lindsey Parsons – http://lindseyjparsons.wordpress.com/
  3. Susan Finlay – http://susansbooks37.wordpress.com/
  4. Kate Jack – http://kateannejack.wordpress.com/
  5. Andrea Baker – http://www.andreabakerauthor.com/ & http://rosewallauthor.wordpress.com/
  6. Will Macmillan Jones – http://willmacmillanjones.wordpress.com/
  7. Jane Dougherty – http://janedougherty.wordpress.com/
  8. Lisa Scullard – http://lisascullard.wordpress.com/ & http://hardinkcafe.wordpress.com/
  9. Emily Mckeon – http://theabsenteeblogger.blogspot.com/
  10. Joanne Hall – http://hierath.wordpress.com/
  11. Ashen Venema – http://courseofmirrors.wordpress.com/

Wow…there are a LOT of lists on this post! Okay, now for the last fun part…he he he!

Eleven questions I would like my nominees to answer, should they choose to accept the award. Here goes!

  • What was the first book you ever read, and the last one you read/are reading?
  • What superpower do you wish you had and why?
  • Better to burn like a comet or fade away? Quick and bright or slow and dull? How best you do live your life?
  • If you were transported into a Grimm’s Fairy Tale, Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings or one of G.R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones stories, which character would you play and why?
  • Joss Whedon or JJ Abrams?
  • Favourite movie and why?
  • Favourite all time character from fiction and why?
  • DC or Marvel?
  • Guilty pleasure?
  • If you were granted one wish, what would it be and why?
  • What book has had the most profound affect upon you and why?

There you go, a mixture of absurdly silly, shallow questions with a few sensible ones thrown in! 😉

How would YOU answer these? Eh? Huh? Wanna give it a try? Yes, you sitting there in the corner, yes YOU! Come on over here and ask yourself these questions, come join our little nerdfest! 😀 xxx

Indiana Jones in Raiders of the Lost Ark

Post-weekend Poetry 063: The Silver Chalice by Sophie E Tallis

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Post-weekend Poetry 063: The Silver Chalice by Sophie E Tallis.

Without boring you all, I’m just posting this quickly as I’ll be off my blog for a little while…been struck down by an acute bout of damn labyrinthitis which basically means I can’t drive, walk or even stand without getting violently dizzy and throwing up. It also means that I can’t use my laptop for more than the briefest of moments without covering it in a very unpleasant layer of human chutney! 😛

…I’ve heard about suffering for your art but this is ridiculous!

Anyway, the lovely Morgen Bailey http://morgenbailey.wordpress.com/ has posted a piece of my poetry http://wp.me/p18Ztn-5Rb on her spectacular blog which I HIGHLY recommend for anyone even vaguely interested in writing and reading to visit!

🙂 xx

Oh and my poetry piece is also featured on Indie Authors http://paper.li/jcx27/1320459836?edition_id=a6e3c8d0-7faa-11e2-b61a-0025907210e8#!stories

Sleep tight my lovely world wide webbers and I hope to join you soon when I’m not green about the gills! 😦

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Winter haze, snow days…life goes on!

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It’s been a little while since I last posted, sorry folks for the delay, just a few unforeseen bumps along the road of life, but hey, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, right?

SAM_2173Just over a couple of weeks ago I was staring out of my window at a scene of almost indescribable beauty.

SAM_2120Everything lay shrouded under a mantle of magical white. Landscapes I knew so well, were suddenly alien. Formless lumps and bumps smothered beneath snow. The trees and thickets, so stark and mournful in winter, had grown frosty fruits of their own over night. Icicles adorned gutters and everywhere lay a stillness and silence so strange to behold in a garden which usually resembles an aviary. SAM_2181

Little three-pronged footprints skitted across the lawn, looking this way and that in the hope of food. Deeper imprints from the various wild creatures that frequent our wooded garden, could be seen gathering round the feeders we put out.

SAM_2269The pond had frozen solid and there, as reminder of the beauty and cruelty of life, was a track, leading from the edge of the pond across the frozen water to the little island where the moorhens live. A mink.

A creature never intended to be on this little sceptred isle of ours, not indigenous but introduced, brought over here for the cruelest of reasons, to farm them not for meat, for us to live from, but for the vanity of fashion – for fur to adorn the wealthy and arrogant. And why was this mink suddenly roaming our countryside? Because it’s freedom had been given by those who oppose the fur trade. A noble endeavour, but of course a short-sighted one, and our indigenous wildlife has paid the price. Much like our poor English crayfish, on the brink of extinction from introduced foreign invaders, our otters struggle against the competition and our birds fall prey.SAM_2258

And so, in this scene of snowy loveliness I was reminded of the arrogance of man, the ‘great interferer’, who has through ignorance, apathy or intention caused the suffering of so much of our planet’s wildlife – species that were here long before us but whose lives now hang in the balance on the most tenuous of threads because of us.

041The moorhens, a breeding pair who had mated for life, had been living on the little island in my pond for longer than I have been living in this house. Last year with utter delight, we saw them raise three broods of chicks – little black balls of fluff with outsized feet, 18 chicks in total! We put out corn for them daily in addition to the wild bird seed mixes, peanut feeders, vegetable suet and dried fruit we put out daily for all the garden birds. Helping nature where we can. Anyway, there was the track of this mink, heading straight for where the moorhens have their permanent home. No, I didn’t see any blood, just a few brown black feathers. But unmistakably, there will be no moorhen chicks this year.  Only a single moorhen remains, the male, left alone nervously swimming the pond as it thawed, running and flying at the first sign of danger, seeming to look for its lost partner.

SAM_2145A sad tale to be sure…but it got me thinking about life, about all those calamities that befall us, those obstacles we have to overcome, those hoops we jump through, those times of strife.

Certainly for me, tough times are when I “go to the mattresses”, I’ve been through enough really tough times to recognise when something truly qualifies as a major disaster or simply another pot hole in the journey we all find ourselves on. That’s not to minimise anyone’s ‘bad time’, we all have days even weeks when we just shouldn’t have crept out from under the duvet, when everything we touch turns to pig slop, but you do find a perspective in life when you’ve really had struggles. As a result, you are able to deal with the odd crisis or recognise simply when things aren’t as bad as they seem – a lucky escape wrapped in a drama!

SAM_2135For me, everything is a matter of perspective. Everything I have and have achieved has been through damn hard work, sweat, blood, tears and persistence – no fickle luck, no easy hand outs or rich family members, just slog, but that does build character. SAM_2179

So, when the dust settles and you’ve picked yourself up. Look around. Smell the air, breathe deep and realise that things always happen for a reason. That you may just have had a lucky escape from a bad situation that could, and probably would, have become a lot worse. See those silver linings? They’re for you.

SAM_2235So, the next time something ‘bad’ or unexpected happens to you, take the time to reflect, look up from your duvet and simply breathe and you may just find that a new door opens up for you and a new horizon brighter than any you could have imagined! SAM_2104

SAM_2294As for my lonely moorhen, I cannot promise that he will find another partner, that life will get any easier for him, despite my efforts, but life does go on. Within days a pair of wild ducks arrived and a couple of pheasant have been taking up residence…life goes on. SAM_2232

So good luck to you all, my friends, my supporters, my family, life IS a wondrous and beautiful trip, make sure you don’t miss it!  😀 xx

SAM_2127

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! 😀