New Horizons!

SAM_4591Okay, yesterday was my birthday and I’ve never been fond of birthdays, but the last few days have been glorious. All in all 2014 is shaping up to be an amazing year, despite having one hell of a bumpy start. As we pass into out of summer, with its sunshine drenched buzz of activity, and into the darker evenings of Autumn, it is a time of excitement for what is to come and a time to reflect for what has gone.

The beginning of the year couldn’t have been worse. After having spent most of 2013 very ill, I had no choice but to leave my teaching job of the last 12 years. I have always worked, even through college I worked (actually it was a pretty cool job working in a video shop, surrounded by great films all day!), so the prospect of suddenly being unemployed through no fault of my own, was very daunting and pretty scary.

Martin-Hobb-1024x457[1]We haven’t worked out all the kinks yet and things are still tighter than I’d like, certainly the prospect of spending £45 to go and see Robin Hobb and George RR Martin in London on the 19th August, plus travel and hotel expenses, was simply out of my price range.

However, worries over jobs, money and financial matters paled into insignificance when my good friend and fellow fantasy writer, Lindsey J Parsons suddenly died on the 5th January 2014, only days after I had spoken to her to wish her a Happy New Year and talk excitedly about what 2014 would bring. Lindsey had so many plans for this coming year. She was going to write and release her third book, Shegal, the final book in her wonderful Return of the Effra trilogy. She and I were planning to go off to Las Vegas together, to a writing convention there. That’s where I would have been this summer if things had turned out differently.

Lindsey’s passing was a dreadful shock to all who knew and loved her, and the sadness of her passing has haunted all of us this year. I have always been an insomniac and so, in the wee small hours of the night when I used to chat to Lindsey til 2 or 3am, I miss her the most.

But her tragic death also did something else. It was a tannoy (loud speaker to my US friends) to the rest of us, that none of us know how long we have on this planet, none of us know which breath will be out last, and so the imperative is upon us to STOP WASTING TIME!!!!

It was then, that I decided to get on with the rest of my life. Put my dreadful experiences of 2013 behind me, not just my illness and having to leave my job, but also some thoroughly rotten experiences with my ex-publishers (who shall remain nameless), but who almost put me off writing anything ever again. Once bitten by a shark, you are very wary to dip your toes in the water again! I won’t spend anymore time or energy on them, as quite frankly they’re not worth it.

I also decided to be more proactive. There has been one really huge accomplishment in my life that I have wanted, really since I turned 30, some ten years ago now, and I am eventually doing something about it. This time next year, I hope to share a very different life story with you.

Another part of being pro-active, was deciding not to be ruled over by fear. I had been paralysed by fear pretty much all of last year. Fear that I would never recover and get better, fear that my goals were simply not achievable, fear of losing my job, of losing my way. One of my fears was that I would never be able to write again.

I’m not talking about the commonal garden variety ‘writer’s block’ which plagues many authors, I’m talking about total physical and mental incapacity! Part of my vestibular illness, apart from the migraines, blurred vision, dizziness, nausea, vomiting and head pain, was short term memory problems and a complete inability to concentrate for more than a few minutes at a time. My brain simply couldn’t cope with it. It took me days to write a simple letter, because I couldn’t concentrate for longer than 3 or 4 minutes, and the mental exertion and sheer exhaustion it caused, would flare up my symptoms again.

I’d try reading or writing and I’d be staring at a page of text like a zombie for 40mins, my mind simply ‘zoned’ out. Apparently this was very common with severe vestibular conditions, where the concentration needed to read and write was tantamount to asking a person on crutches to climb a mountain! So the whole of last year, I was crippled by thoughts that I’d never be able to climb back on that horse again and write. That my first novel would be my last!

But, after Lindsey, I decided to stop letting that fear rule me. I WOULD write again, and now, I AM!

69190_4684701805703_297748057_n[1]A HUGE part of that, has been the incredible support I have received from family and friends. A massive shout out to all my Alliance of Worldbuilders (AWB) brothers and sisters – without you guys, I’d be a sad little shadow of myself and certainly wouldn’t be sat here writing this. smiling-cat[1]

Another incredible turn of fate and good fortune, was finding the most amazing new publishers who were willing to take a chance on me and wanted to publish my first novel, despite it having been published (badly) before.

Again, because of dear Lindsey, I was pro-active and approached this very cool publishing house. To be honest, I felt it was a long-shot and didn’t hold much hope, but hell it was worth a go! I loved the books they produced, how friendly, approachable, honest and professional they were and how they put authors first (the total opposite of the experiences I had had before!).

grimbold-182x300[1]To my utter delight, I signed with them in June! I cannot tell you just what that has meant to me – to have my cherished work taken on and see new life breathed into it (and new life breathed into me!), by unbelievably passionate people who love books and prize quality above everything…wow! I owe Sammy HK Smith and Zoe Harris of Grimbold Books and Kristell Ink, more than I’ll ever be able to express in words…thank you, thank you, thank you! 1782001_779354595426279_1544248234_n[1]

 

2014 is turning out to be utterly AWESOME year after all! White Mountain – Book 1 of the Darkling Chronicles will be published this Autumn with a brilliant new cover and short stories, and I am eventually writing again!!!!

 

ea1ab-10582915_874217609273310_7073274247011447578_o5b15dSo, this week I celebrate not only my birthday, but a year full of promise and opportunities. At the beginning of August it was also the 5th Anniversary of getting my beautiful boys. 5 years ago, two gorgeous white wolves came into my life and it has never been the same since! Happy times and clear skies ahead! 😀 xxxx

004 (2)

 ea1ab-10582915_874217609273310_7073274247011447578_o5b15d

Advertisements

Dodging boomerangs, celebrating and passing 6,000!!!!

Strange how life throws boomerangs at you periodically.

You get something really great that happens to you and then you get a bunch of obstacles and unforeseen difficulties that get in the way.

How did Dickens describe it? It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…

It’s just life, eh?

Recently I’ve had one of the best days of my life, my wonderful book launch at Octavia’s Bookshop www.octaviasbookshop.co.uk a little over a week ago, which to my utter delight was a complete sell out! Yes, we sold out of every book in just over an hour!!

Then, despite wanting desperately to publicise and promote my novel and all the wonderful things that have happened, I’ve been struck down this week by severe migraines and sickness! Ughhh…I found myself saying “I don’t have time to be ill!” But of course, your body has a way of saying, “STOP!”

I hate being ill as we all do and I never, never take time off work…but have spent the last few days curled up in bed with the curtains drawn, like some oversized dormouse. Ughhh.

Juggling life, work and stress is tricky at the best of times but throw in illness and it’s a kicker.

So, it is with total unbridled joy that with a bag of frozen peas on my head, I popped onto the computer and saw that my beloved little blog has passed the 6,000 visitors mark!!!

I am SOOOOOOO thrilled and delighted and genuinely touched by all the amazing support I’ve received from friends and strangers a like!

Thank you to everyone who has dropped by this little blog to say hello, to hang out for a while, or just to whizz by. Whether you are frequent visitors or one-time passers-by, thank you, thank you, thank you!

I won’t share my migraines, but I’ll happily share the LOVE!!!!!

Thank you guys! 😀 xx

Inspired? Hell, yes!

Well after receiving the Sunshine Blogger Award from the lovely Kay Kauffman http://suddenlytheyalldied.com/ I’m utterly thrilled and humbled to be nominated for another award! The very talented and dragon friendly, Lindsey J Parsons  http://lindseyjparsons.wordpress.com/, has nominated me for the Very Inspiring Blogger Award! Wow, wow and wow! I’m so touched!

A huge thank you to Lindsey J Parsons. Lindsey is a fellow fantasy writer, lover of dragons, breather of fire and inspiring blogger herself. Please check out her wonderful site: http://lindseyjparsons.wordpress.com/ and be inspired yourself! Highly recommended!

The Rules:

1. Thank the blogger who nominated you.

2. Share seven things about yourself.

3. Nominate other bloggers you think deserve the award, and post on their blog to let them know they’ve been nominated.

*****

Right, ummm…seven things about me, eh? Here goes!

Seven Things:

1.      I have nine lives, as in a cat with nine lives, not previous reincarnated versions of myself…scary thought! I have currently used at least 3 of them as I have nearly died 3 times! I drowned and was brought back to life, was almost decapitated (a real close shave!) and was involved in a motorway pile up which wrecked my car and should have killed me, but left me with only scratches. I’d love to think I’m a superhero aka ‘Unbreakable’, but sadly no. That’s not counting all my mishaps as an adventurous Huckleberry Finn type tomboy, like falling twenty feet out of a tree while trying to build myself a tree house with some rusty nails and scrap pieces of wood I’d found!

I figure I’m doing alright as I still have 6 lives left! 😀

2.     I used to play the piano and reached Stage 4 of my examinations before quitting, something I still regret to this day. I had absolutely no natural ability for it, it was hard slog all the way, but I did enjoy it and my elderly music teacher, Miss Allen was a delight. Although I can’t read music anymore, I still remember and play one piece by heart, called ‘Breakers’ (C major so it’s easy!), which reminds me of the ocean and breaking waves…very soporific! One day I will return to my piano playing days, though I doubt I will ever find a gentler soul than Miss Allen to teach me.

3.     I love art and thankfully, unlike my music, I do have natural talent for it. Before I could walk I was drawing and painting with amazing precision for a two and three year old. At four I was drawing complex designs from art books and the decorative china we had around the house, including a very ornate Japanese cheese dish with birds all over it…don’t know why I remember that! As a young child at school I used draw portraits of people, or anything they liked, for pennies, not sure if I was being a little entrepreneur or a kindergarten con-man!

The first time I went to London and saw Leonardo Da Vinci’s ‘Madonna of the Rocks’ and Caravaggio’s ‘Supper at Emmaus’, at the National Gallery, I cried. It was so moving and inspirational to me. THAT was how I wanted to draw and paint!

I got a BA (Hons) in Fine Art, with a specialism in drawing, painting, sculptural ceramics and photography (studio & landscape), which I love! Dark rooms are wonderfully magical places!

Anyway, I’ve been a particular fan of Caravaggio’s work my whole life, and though I can’t paint like him, it doesn’t stop me trying! 😛

4.     I once kissed Michael Foot on the cheek! For those of you who are too young to remember or for my overseas friends, Michael Foot was this archaic looking gentleman with a wild scruffy shock of white hair, who was the leader of the Labour Party back in the late 1970’s and early 80’s. Being a lefty myself, I’ll always believe in helping those less fortunate than myself, but I must say, having a photograph of me kissing this old chap – wasn’t my best move! Ewwwwww!

5.     I do like my food, especially Italian, which is clearly visible on my hips! I adore Marmite – there, I’ve said it. Love it, love it, love it! When I’m on my own, I always prefer to have my dessert first then my savoury. That way, you get the sweet stuff out of the way and then you can fully appreciate and savour your main course! 😀

Alcohol and me don’t mix though. Something about the fermentation process, but so much as a sip of wine or beer and I want to throw up. Of course, it could be that I just have immature taste buds like the rest of me!

6.     I do have some strange quirks I admit. I am incredibly bendy, though you’d never guess it to look at me. Now, although I can no longer do the splits or get my feet behind my head, I can hoist them up to my shoulders and as all the children I have ever taught in my classes can attest, I do an amazing above the door high kick! That’s right…I’m a high kicking teacher! Damn, if only that was a usable skill in life. 😛

7.      Writing will always be my first love and passion. As a kid I was writing stories before I could really do anything else. Novel ideas, poetry, short stories and ideas for world building – some of it in incredible detail. I literally have bags and bags, reams and reams of character bios, story plots, background material for worlds, sketches of planets, ships, dwellings, really mostly rubbish, but it has always just been a part of who I am. The stories that always inspired me the most and fuelled my desire to be a writer, were always fantasy and science-fiction. When I wasn’t playing air guitar or climbing trees, I was buried in some sci-fi or fantasy book. If you cannot claw your way out of your reality, you can grow wings and soar instead!

Now, down to my nominees. There are many fabulous bloggers out there, but these are the ones I am most inspired by.

In no order at all, because they are all equally fabulous for different reasons…

Tricia Drammeh  http://theclaimingwords.com/

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

Morgen Bailey  http://morgenbailey.wordpress.com/

Rose Wall http://rosewall.weebly.com/

Hazel Butler http://aadenianink.com/

The Alliance of Worldbuilders http://theallianceofworldbuilders.weebly.com/

Mandy Ward (WelcomeTo Wherever)  http://welcometowherever.wordpress.com/

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

Lesley Carter (Bucket List Publications)  http://lesleycarter.wordpress.com/

Again, I would love to nominate Kate Jack http://kateannejack.wordpress.com/,  Will MacMillan Jones http://willmacmillanjones.wordpress.com/ , Kay Kauffman http://suddenlytheyalldied.com/ and of course Lindsey Parsons herself http://lindseyjparsons.wordpress.com/, but Lindsey has already, quite rightfully, nominated their wonderful blogs, so I won’t repeat. But please do check them out folks, inspiring every single one of them!

…in yourself and you can achieve anything! 😀 xx

The joy of writing and building worlds…

file171243264570[1]

The joy of writing is the act of creation.

A whole fantasy world made manifest – turning blank pages into battles of character, plot and the subtleties of prose.

But for me, the joy of writing is not merely the act of creating a story which engages and enthralls its readers but in creating a world I can immerse myself in. World building is a skill and one of the many challenges that fantasy and sci-fi writers face when weaving their tales. When done correctly, it compliments the story giving depth and gravitas to ground the fantasy. When done poorly, it smothers the story – turning it into an incidental neighbour you forgot to invite to the party, or worst still, jars with the story due to its utter lack of realism.file3121313815879[1]

The temptation for all writers who world build, is simply that it becomes SO enjoyable to construct your worlds, that you can get easily seduced by your own cleverness – by the intricacies of cultures, the development of language, the botany and animal life, geology, geography and rich histories of your creations. Now that’s fine, if you intend being the only reader of your novel. But, if you’re looking for a readership of more than one, you have to curtail your inner nerd…just a little!

I speak from experience here. Being a teacher of phonetics among other things, I love linguistics and the construction of language. As a result, between my love of phonics and etymology, I have constructed a working language for my characters – ancient Dworllish complete with a basic 24 character Dworllian alphabet based on Maori, Old English, Old Norse and African Bantu dialects! Yes…I did mention nerd, didn’t I?

So, did I include this language and all its nuisances in my book? No. Elements, occasional references and words, but that’s all. I want my novel to have as wide an appeal as possible and readers, even language loving nerds like me, simply don’t need all that information and certainly the story doesn’t.file0001006582285[1]

Okay, so you’ve curtailed your inner geek and taken out those character genealogies you were working on, but what makes a world work? If your novel is a fantasy, whether it be urban, steam punk, classic, high, crossover, contemporary or gothic, do you need to make your world real? HELL YES! No matter how fantastical your creations are, if they are not grounded in realism it makes it damn hard for the reader to connect or care about them.

Think of basic scientific laws, gravity, light speed, evolution etc, of course to bring the magic in, you’ll need to break or subvert these laws but you’ll need to bring realism in somewhere else. This for me, is my next joy…research, research, research!file000816536459[1]

SO much fun it should be illegal! If you’re writing about histories, cultures, mountains, desserts, jungles – research. Let me say that again…RESEARCH! (my nerdy self revels in this)

Even if you only use a fraction of your research in your novel, it will give an integrity and depth of realism to your world that you won’t be able to replicate without. But again, don’t overload it, use sparingly.

For White Mountain and the world behind The Darkling Chronicles, my research runs into three or four large box files and a plethora of books. Ancient history – particularly Sumeria, the Hittites and the Indus Valley civilisation. Indigenous people – like the Chukchi, Nenets, Khanty and Evenki of Russia and the Siberian tundra. The geography and geology of the real locations my characters travel to. Botany and wildlife etc etc. Make it REAL!

Kallorm ‘City of Light’, my subterranean metropolis beneath the Congolese jungles, in central Africa, feels real because so many things around it ARE real, from the colour of the earth in that region to the sapele and iroko trees that grow there. For my Fendellin ‘Kingdom of Dragons’, a lost realm amongst the Himalayas, I based on Tibetan Buddhist myths and Indian folklore about Shambhala – the same legend that inspired James Hilton’s 1933 novel Lost Horizon and his Shangri-La.

Oh…and any places you travel to, use them for inspiration too. The landscapes of Dartmoor and New Zealand have been particularly rich for me.

So, you’ve done your research, built your world, made it real but not overpowered or forgotten your story (remember – story and characters take gold & silver, setting – bronze), then you are on your way!

Ah…the joy of writing and building worlds… 😀

For some useful advice on the subject, check out Fantasy Faction and their post ‘Why World Build?’ http://fantasy-faction.com/2012/why-would-build/

file4181288401747

New Zealand Odyssey Part VIII – Capital Blues and the Gateway to the South.

With a heavy heart, I dragged myself away from magical Lake Taupo and the wonders of the Tongariro National Park.

Leaving my rental car and the majesty of New Zealand’s active volcanoes behind, I grabbed a cheap bus ride and headed south towards the country’s capital, Wellington, the southernmost capital in the world!

Known as ‘Windy Wellington’, it certainly lived up to its name! Situated in the latitudes of the ‘Roaring Forties’ and perched on a range of steep-sided hills that run down to the harbour and the sea beyond, Wellington is also particularly exposed to the coastal gusts that blow through the Cook Strait. The city also lies on an active geological fault line and has a high degree of seismic activity as a result, with several small earthquakes occurring every year, and was the sight of New Zealand’s most powerful recently recorded earthquake, in 1855, reaching a massive 8.2 magnitude.

Arriving, somewhat weighed down by my now massively heavy backpack, I got a room in a small B&B then set out to explore the wonders of Wellington.

I wandered amongst the harbour and quayside, a picture of city tranquility and civic pride. None of the dirt, litter and graffiti so prevalent in our own capital. Public sculptures and fountains jostled amongst neatly clipped lawns and perfectly manicured flowerbeds. Only the unpredictability of the sea reminded you of the wildness beyond the city fringes.

I took the cable car and drank in the breathtaking views over the city as I passed Kelburn cricket grounds and headed up the hillside to the botanical gardens above and the Carter Observatory and Planetarium. Seeing the stars of the Southern Cross for the first time and a different night sky to one you’ve always known, is strange and thrilling.

The next few days whirled by in haze of sightseeing, but there was always something dogging my tracks, like a whisper on the wind, a feeling of melancholia that I couldn’t shake…

Rarely in life do we realise that we are having the time of our lives while we are actually having them! Yet I was all too aware, as I reached the mid-point of my four-month odyssey, that I had never felt happier, freer and more contented, and that the experiences and memories I was making, would stay with me for a life-time and shape my life in ways I could never have predicted.

Booking my ferry ticket, I posted home some of the encumbering weight of my backpack, before bordering the Interislander Cook Strait Ferry and saying farewell to New Zealand’s North Island!

93km and 3 hours later, for what has been deservedly described as ‘one of the most beautiful ferry rides in the world’, I saw the stunning inlets and channels of the South Island’s Marlborough Sounds. A 4000km2 maze of coastal ‘sea-drowned valleys’, of heavily wooded hills and sparsely populated quiet bays at the far north of the South Island, which evoke the best of ancient Scandinavian legends. A heady mixture of mystery, Maori mythology, spectacular landscapes and sweet solitude. Nature at her best!

I arrived at the sheltered harbour of Picton, gateway to the South Island. Grabbing another cheap bus, I headed west through the glorious rolling hills and vineyards of Marlborough’s famous wine region to the bohemian city of Nelson, the geographical centre of New Zealand. A small but wonderfully artsy feeling place, full of galleries, indie record shops and festivals, Nelson became my base for the next week.

Bathed in the highest amount of sunshine per year, making it the ‘Sunshine Capital’ of New Zealand, you can understand why it’s cerulean skies and dry heat are so perfect for making fine wines. And so, despite sadly not being a lover of wines myself (my immature palate makes them taste as disgustingly sour, as when I tried sipping them at age 13), I found myself getting lost down empty country tracks, picking grapes and macadamia nuts from the roadside! Bliss.

After happy days soaking up the sunshine and culture of friendly Nelson, I took my rental car and headed west, as I found myself aching once more for wild places. Branching off from the State Highway, I took the picturesque coastal road past Motueka and onto the pretty little town of Kaiteriteri with its sandy beaches and cafes…But still the wild beckoned me.

Following a twisting road, which can only be described as a single gravel track hardly wide enough for a car, with sheer drops inches from my wheels, I gingerly skirted the forested hills and cliffs towards my destination, Marahau, hoping against hope not to met a car coming in the opposite direction!

Crossing the Otuwhero Inlet, I was immediately amazed by the startling azure of the Tasman Bay and the Pacific beyond and the almost ethereal white of the beaches. Sheer paradise. Marahau, a tiny inaccessible village, gateway to the Abel Tasman National Park and outpost for laid back beach bums, surfers, hikers, adventurers and those wishing to get lost, had the most magical feel to it. Artisan and bohemian in the extreme, with only one way in or out, its solitary grocery shop, cafe, post box and the few dotted roads, houses, caravans, water taxis and kayaks, invited you to stay a while…and so I did.

THIS was a place to live and breathe and write! Hemingway, Greene, Kerouac…if they knew this place existed, they would have packed their cigars, white shirts and shades and headed here on the first plane. Du Maurier too…but maybe without the cigars!

I splashed out, booking myself into the rather posh, Ocean View Chalets, self-contained wooden chalets perched on stilts and overlooking the sea. The view from my balcony was nothing short of spectacular. This was the stuff of dreams. If you couldn’t be inspired here, then you couldn’t be inspired anywhere.

Wishing every minute would stretch itself and every hour would become a day, I spent the next three glorious weeks in a heightened state of happy delirium. No drugs needed, just utterly intoxicated on life.

Taking the Abel Tasman walkway and coastal track deep into the rainforest, I was astonished to see a passing group of little wild blue penguins casually crossing the path in front of me, as a cacophony of exotic birds cooed in the canopy above.

Abandoning shoes, I spent most of my days walking barefoot, hanging out on the beach as if it were a religion, beach combing, sketching and horse riding along the surf…yes, as clichéd as it is, there is nothing like it! Writing for hours and hours as the sun hovered overhead, a guiding light for my imagination. Watching the sunset blaze into the ocean, or the drifting embers of a bonfire on the beach, sharing gentle conversation with strangers, all as blissfully happy as me.

Days were meant to be like this…

New Zealand Odyssey Part VII – Volcanoes, Fendellin and the Road Less Travelled.

I left the bubbling visceral wonders of Rotorua and headed south, deeper into the heart of New Zealand’s North Island. Driving on long mostly empty roads in blissful sunshine with ‘The Cult’ blaring out of my rental car, I found myself with a constant smile on my face.

I headed towards Lake Taupo, a huge sunken supervolcano or caldera and not only the country’s largest  freshwater lake, but the largest in all of Australasia. The 485-square-mile caldera itself, not visible due to the lake waters, was the world’s largest known eruption in the past 70,000 years and tends to blow every 1,000 years. It’s overdue.

Stopping off first, I came to the extraordinary Huka Falls (Huka meaning ‘foam’ in Maori) and the Waikato River. One of New Zealand’s longest rivers, it suddenly narrows from 100m across to only 15m , as its squeezed into a granite canyon before dropping in a series of falls and rapids. The last waterfall being the most impressive, as approximately 220,000 litres per second tumbles over the final drop. Standing on a viewing platform perched just beside it, with the roar of the falls in my ears and the water vapour drenching me, was thrilling, but it was the astonishing colour of it which surprised me. The purest brightest blue.

I eventually left the falls, utterly soaked but gloriously happy and followed the highway south to the town of Taupo, nestling on the shores of Lake Taupo. The lake, more of an inland sea, is enormous, the town though, was small and welcoming. Cruising in an unhurried fashion along the lakefront and stopping for views, I found a cheap motel to call my base for the next few weeks. I dumped my equally enormous backpack, now getting almost too heavy with mementos to carry and checked into the Lakefront Motor Lodge. To my delight, my little room overlooked the lake and had the most stunning views.

I walked along the lakeshore losing myself in the beauty of it all and splashed out on a restaurant for my first evening meal. To describe Taupo as picturesque, is to do it a disservice. Watching spectacular sunsets over its shifting waters night after night, with the volcanoes of Tongariro National Park clearly visible in the distance, it became like a dream world for me and…a dream I didn’t want to wake from.

I spent lazy days exploring the town itself with its marinas and harbours, little shops and lack back bistros. Venturing out I visited the aptly named, the ‘Craters of the Moon’, a geothermal and volcanic lunar landscape that brought to life once more, just how powerful mother nature is. Then I tried some of the hot springs in the area. The sensation of having a very hot bubbling public bath, is strange to say the least, but oddly liberating (…no, I kept my bathing costume on at all times!).

But always, it was the volcanoes on the horizon that kept drawing me in. Packing some small provisions, I headed south, skirting around the eastern edge of the lake, towards the National Park.

Stopping halfway, I ventured off to the Kaingaroa Forest, the largest manmade forest in the world! Made entirely of plantation pines, with a few native ferns and species struggling to survive beneath the canopy, it was the strangest, spookiest forest I have ever visited. I loved the feeling of isolation but the silence was overwhelming, no birds, no animals. So alien to the rich diversity of the Waipoua Kauri Forest in the far north, or any of the woods I had wandered in.

Following the State Highway south as it hugged the lakeshore, I passed through Turangi at the southern most tip of Lake Taupo,  and entered the Tongariro National Park, one of only 28 UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Trying to keep my excitement in check, I left the main highway or Desert Road as it’s known and came to the much smaller Lake Rotoaira. Sitting on the lake side I had a picnic lunch, watching black swans glide effortlessly as the mountainside behind vented sulphurous steam into the air. Everywhere I went, I found myself saying the same thing over and over, “I’ve found my Fendellin, I’ve found my Fendellin, ‘Lost Kingdom of Dragons!”

“Pass now beyond the mountains white

Where frosted rivers leap and spring,

Amongst the golden grasses light

Where fÿrrens dwell and soar and sing.

 

A land as old and fair as stars

Of snowy peaks and moonlit seas,

Of darkling woods we travel far

To gaze upon its silvery leaves.

 

Far East beyond heart’s lost desire

The birthplace of the eldest kin,

Through rising sun on wings of fire

Lies forgotten Fendellin.”

As I travelled further south, nothing could have prepared me for the awe-inspiring spectacle of Tongariro National Park’s crowning glory, its three active volcanoes, Mount Tongariro, the perfect cone of Mount Ngauruhoe and the monstrous size of the explosive giant, Mount Ruapehu!

Leaving the State Highway, I took the road less travelled into a world of epic fantasy and landscapes on a grandeur I could never have imagined before. Raw, untamed, magnificent and the true stuff of imagination!

Climbing the lower slopes of Mount Ruapehu, still steaming from eruptions only a few months before, camping beneath the stars in a sea of yellow gorse as I watched the sunsets bathe the volcanoes in gold…I found myself profoundly moved and in tears so many times, yet I have never felt freer.

Little did I realise while I was immersed in the whole majesty of it, that only a few years later, a certain Peter Jackson would use the same landscapes which had become such an inspiration to me and my first novel, ‘White Mountain’. As I travelled around, I kept seeing real-life locations for my ‘Darkling Trilogy’, suddenly brought to life in front of me. Watching the ‘Lord of the Rings’, some four years later, was made even more surreal and magical as a result, not only by recognising places I had visited but by seeing parts of my Fendellin used as their Mordor, my Kallorm used for their Fangorn! Very strange but thrilling!

But my awe-inspiring and magical odyssey was not over yet…

When the Griffin met the Dragon – My second interview!

My second in-depth interview! Woo-and Hoo!

(Yes, it is strange that this and Tricia’s blog came out on the same day, but you know…life IS strange and wonderful and bizarre!)

A few weeks ago I was thrilled and VERY humbled to be approached by the multi-talented, Ryan Holmes – a fellow fantasy writer, a skilled ‘Quiz Master General’, blogger extraordinaire and all round lovely guy.

Oh…did I mention that he also has my dream job?

He works for…(drum roll please)…NASA!

Ryan Holmes is also the creator of Griffin’s Quill, a fantastic website “created by authors for authors and their readership.”

Not only does it feature Ryan’s own writing, ‘Dawn of Resurgence’, but it is also dedicated to encouraging and nurturing new writing talent.

A great place and a real haven for writing and writers in general – highly recommended!

Well, over the course of the last few weeks I’ve had an absolute blast, as Ryan has well and truly quizzed me over my reasons for writing and my debut novel, ‘White Mountain’, Book 1 of ‘The Darkling Chronicles’ – published by Safkhet Publishing 30th September 2012.

Massive thanks to Ryan Holmes for all his incredible hard work and for making the interview so much fun! Check out the results here:

http://griffinsquill.com/2012/03/21/sophie-e-tallis/

Griffin’s Quill: http://griffinsquill.com/

😀

P.S. I still want to join NASA!