A truly¬†AWESOME collection of books, to fulfil every fantasy fan’s wish list! You see? Christmas CAN come more than once a year!

I’m so honoured and proud to be included amongst them! Huge thanks to Kate! ūüėÄ xx

Please check out Katrina Jack’s wonderful blog guys! http://kateannejack.wordpress.com

Readathon UK – My seventh interview in the company of giants!

Nobody tells you, when you embark on this journey, how mesmeric it can be.

Exhausting, yes, hard work, always, painful with little or no obvious gain, sometimes, but also truly magical and inspiring and…well…life-changing! ūüėÄ

I often find that at profound moments in my life I am quite incapable of forming words, let alone coherent sentences. Emotions take over.  That guttural chord within us that lets us know in unequivocal terms, that we are in the middle of something special, a moment to cherish, to define our lives in a certain time and place.

Isn’t that what life is, after all?¬†A series of connected and interconnected moments, and out of that messy melee, one or two fleeting¬†moments suddenly catch fire and flare like stars against the grey.¬†So in moments like these, I find myself¬†through garbled speech and stuttering syllables, uttering¬†inferences like¬†“awesome” “cool” “wow” “amazing” like I’m¬†an awestruck teenager!

Well, another one of those moments happened only a few weeks ago when I was approached by the lovely Debbie Young (http://youngbyname.wordpress.com/) of Readathon UK. In simple terms, Readathon UK is a national charity and reading scheme that gets children to read for pleasure, sparking a passion that can last a lifetime, whilst helping seriously ill children in hospital. What could be a better or more noble endeavour? Рbooks, reading, inspiring young minds and helping sick children?

I admit, to my shame, that I had never heard of Readathon¬†UK before, a fact I find astounding not only due to the close proximity of Readathon’s UK headquarters (only a mile from the school I have taught in for the last eleven years and close to where I used to live!) but due to the long glittering line of literary giants associated with it!

Roald Dahl, Quentin Blake, Michael Morpurgo, Michael Rosen, Julia Donaldson, Anthony Horowitz etc etc…then…ahem…ME?!!!! How bizarre and wonderful?

Check out my interview on Readathon UK’s wonderful website http://www.readathon.org/blog/2012/11/author-teacher-joins-forces-with-readathon/

“When we discovered via our local high street bookseller,The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop, that a teacher at one of the schools closest to our office had just published her first book, we had to meet her!

And so it was that Sophie E Tallis, author of fantasy novel White Mountain, came to visit us during the half term break, fitting us in between a whirlwind tour of local bookshops, where she is in demand for book-signing events.

Sophie is delighted to be associated with Readathon, being an avid reader who has just installed the twelfth bookcase in her home!”

*****

“It’s great if you can read but the question is: do you read? If you do the world is yours. This is what Readathon is all about.” Michael Rosen, Children’s Laureate 2007-2009

Authors, poets and illustrators love Readathon because it encourages children to enjoy reading for pleasure which brings them many joys and advantages that last a lifetime.

Readathon’s first ever Honorary Chairman was the legendary Roald Dahl, which is one the reasons we now raise money for the charity founded in his memory: Roald Dahl’s Marvellous Children’s Charity.

After the sad death of Roald Dahl in 1990, this role was taken up by his long-time collaborator Quentin Blake, who the following year was named Children’s Laureate.

The current Children’s Laureate Julia Donaldson¬†is also an ardent supporter. She says “Inspiring children to read is one of the greatest gifts you can give them. I’d recommend Readathon to any school or group.”

‚ÄúApart from developing the creative powers of the imagination, reading as a teenager helps you to come to a sense of who you are, to define your own identity.‚ÄĚ Sir Andrew Motion, Poet Laureate 1999-2009 & Chair of Selection Panel for Children’s Laureate 2009-11

“Books open up the windows of the mind while habitual television can brick them up. The more books children read the better. Reading is like jogging for the brain. Get your feet up, kids, and get reading! Good luck to Readathon.” Spike Milligan

“I didn’t discover the joys of reading until late in life because I am dyslexic. I feel I missed so much because of this, so I’m naturally whole-heartedly behind Readathon. It is a wonderful way of encouraging children to read.” Susan Hampshire

“I wish somebody had sponsored me for the hours I spent reading when I as a lad… It is such a good idea to sponsor children reading… The point about Readathon is that it is both an enjoyable and beneficial sponsorship for those taking part – no hardship, no sore feet, no wet clothes, just lots of lovely books, knowledge gained painlessly and unconsciously and enjoyment all the way.” Frank Delaney

‚ÄúAt the heart of every child, new-born, is a unique genius and personality. What we should be doing is to allow the spark of that genius to catch fire, burn brightly and shine.‚ÄĚ Michael Morpurgo, children‚Äôs author, Children’s Laureate 2003-5

Readathon proudly supports both CLIC Sargent and Roald Dahl’s Marvellous Children’s Charity.

CLIC Sargent:¬†Every day 10 children and young people in the UK are told they have cancer.¬† CLIC Sargent is the UK’s leading cancer charity for children and young people, providing care and support for them and their families from diagnosis, during treatment and beyond. We think they‚Äôre amazing. You can find out more here.

Roald Dahl‚Äôs Marvellous Children‚Äôs Charity:¬†This charity was set up by Roald Dahl’s widow in 1990. It specialises in helping children with serious neurological or blood conditions, providing children‚Äôs nurses, equipment, carers and toys, working with hospitals and care organisations or directly with patients. This charity is as marvellous as the children it helps. You can find out more here.

Please do check out Readathon Uk’s website and perhaps even get involved yourself! :¬†¬†http://www.readathon.org/

A HUGE thank you to Debbie Young and Readathon UK for showing such interest in a local author and inviting me to part of the magic! ūüėÄ xxx

UPDATE!!!

A wonderful post about the interview on Debbie Young’s other website: http://offtheshelfbookpromotions.wordpress.com/

Make Hay not war! …A tribute to Hay, Ray and Sir Terry!

I’ll admit that my expectations of the Hay Festival were high…and I was NOT disappointed!

Returning home last night, at nearly 11pm, utterly exhausted¬†and elated with a boot full of books, I found myself in a blissful state of delirium. What an experience! Not just the festival itself, with its Tibetan-like¬†rainbow flags (perhaps fluttering in homage to the God of Books), its eco credentials and bohemian artsy feel,¬†but the whole town and how each compliments the other. The¬†entire vibe of the place…this little idyll, this heaven for book lovers nestled amongst the most breathtaking landscapes. Just bliss!

In a time of grim realities, economic meltdown, political confusion, conflict and war, to be immersed in such a haven is nothing short of magical. There are so few places where the written word is so celebrated. The minute my writer friend and I stepped foot in the town, you could almost feel a palpable tingle in the air. Everyone was there for the same reason…an unbridled love of books.

The rain, thankfully not as heavy as predicted, couldn’t dampen our spirits. So with twitching debit cards we started our foray into Hay’s wonderfully eclectic bookshops.

My advice for any visiting Hay-On-Wye? Bring a backpack…you can squeeze more books into it and leave your hands free to hold more!

Heading from one bookshop to another, via a cappuccino and slice of coffee cake, my growing rucksack and I quickly learned the ‘squeeze-squeeze-side shuffle’ needed in tight spaces and stacked shelves.

Amongst my prized buys of the day – a¬†beautiful first edition 1866 green leather-bound¬†collection of Lord Tennyson poems with gold-edged¬†hand cut pages, gold ‘Arts & Crafts’¬†embossing on the front and back AND…(discovered only this morning as I took delight in placing all my books on the correct bookcases)…gorgeous illustrations by Hunt, Millais & Gabriel Dante Rossetti, the founders and geniuses of the Pre-Raphaelite Movement!

Wow! I can’t believe I’ve found such a treat for the senses for a¬†mere ¬£6.50! What a find…now you don’t get that from a kindle!

My other highlight? Well, after some serious trawling round Hay, we headed back to the festival and its billowing tents for the main event, an hour-long talk from Sir Terry Pratchett! What a thrill! We jostled our way into the Barclays Pavillion and settled down to watch and listen to a master of the fantasy genre. A real privilege.

Terry spoke candidly about his work and life. Poignant but always humourous and sharply witted, the hour regrettably flew past, despite the continuous munching of the man mountain sitting in front of me and the irritating fidgeting of the teeny girls next to me whose constant moving kept rocking my chair and making me sea-sick!

Of course, during the course of day, the news also broke of the sad passing of another great author, the astonishing Ray Bradbury, whose seminal novels including Fahrenheit 451, have been incredibly influential and inspiring to readers and writers alike. Terry Pratchett himself commented on the sad event, saying what a wonderful writer and what a lovely person he was.

Together with the loss of Anne McCaffrey earlier in the year, it has been a time of literary loss, particularly in the fantasy and science fiction genres, but the legacy such writers and their astonishing body of work leaves behind, ensures their immortality in the pantheon of great writers and artists.

After the fabulous talk, we inevitably took the shuttle back into town for some more book grazing. Hay, rather splendidly, leaves many of the bookshops open into the evening.

We wandered over to the castle, a beautiful ruin of a place, and poured over yet more shelves of delights before reluctantly having to say goodbye to a truly wondrous little place.

May the sun never set on you Hay. I shall definitely be returning for a longer stay!

I raise a glass to the¬†glory of Hay, Ray and Sir Terry…marvels all!

See you next year! ūüėÄ

****

Tragically, Sir Terry Pratchett lost his long struggle against Alzheimer’s on the 12th March 2015, he will be greatly missed by all. I for one, shall think of him when I visit the Hay Festival again this year. A literary giant in his own life time, one of our brightest lights has been extinguished, may he shine on in the heavens and give Death a run for his money! xxx

ūüė¶

Make Hay while the sun…er…shines?

After visiting the beautiful town of Hay-On-Wye on the Herefordshire/Welsh border for many years, I am eventually visiting this little book idyll during the festival itself!

My idea of heaven…nothing but wall to wall books and people who love them!

The Hay Festival is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year, an ideal time for my first visit.

Of course, I’d¬†LOVE to have stayed for the entire duration, to immerse myself in the culture of it, the thrill of like-minded¬†‘lovers of the written word’…but unfortunately reality bites, i.e. a full-time¬†job with heavy workloads and a serious lack of accommodation. Those going know¬†all too well, that if you haven’t booked your accommodation by the end of January, you’re sleeping in your car!

But, none of that matters…I’m going and I’m thrilled! Along with a fellow writer friend of mine, we’ll be¬†soaking up the atmosphere, trawling through every bookshop and generally drifting round in a halcyon state of bliss, come rain or shine.

Then…drum roll please…we’ve got tickets to see Terry Pratchett! SO excited to see the great man. Whether you are a fan of the fantasy genre, comedic novels or of Terry Pratchett himself, none can deny the sheer creative genius¬†and inventiveness of the guy! Should be an excellent talk and a wonderful day! Can’t wait… ūüėÄ

Here’s a little ditty about the great festival:

Hay Festival founder Peter Florence remembers 25 years of what Bill Clinton called ‚Äúthe Woodstock of the mind‚ÄĚ

In a digital world, it seems more important than ever to be together: there‚Äôs nothing quite like the intimate contact of face-to-face conversation. In a way, Hay (and the festival, in particular) is like a physical manifestation of the internet. There are untold miles of second-hand books that hold browsable stories; thousands of old ‚Äď and potentially new ‚Äď friends in a real social network, all sharing their love of books and music; and people from all over the world discussing ideas. The big plusses are great food, spectacular landscape and the pleasures of mind and flesh.

There have been incredible moments: Van Morrison’s legendary five-hour gig in 2001; Ted Hughes reading against a storm in a tent that almost left the ground; Maya Angelou summoning a rainbow over the Wye through sheer force of poetry; the crowd roaring their love for Desmond Tutu and Wangari Maathai; and the opportunity to talk over many years and on four continents to my activist hero Bob Geldof. But the abiding memory is the pleasure of seeing friends year on year, the coming together bit of festivals that is so magical.

Thank you again to Beattie’s Book Blog for this.

Hay…here I come! ūüėÄ

‘Aspiring Author’, really?

writing

I was having a discussion with some writer friends recently and this topic came into the conversation. It is also popped up on my publisher’s website, and they are of the same opinion as me. That although it is certainly a very common turn of phrase on writing forums and social media sites, it is also a complete cop-out!

Why ‘Aspiring’? Yes, to be an author may well be a long-held dream, certainly in my case, it has been a lifetime’s ambition, harboured and nurtured since I was a child. So I understand the longing, the desire to achieve ‘Author’ status, what I don’t understand or agree with, is the sentiment behind the word ‘aspiring’. It is such a terribly¬†weak statement.

You are not an ‘aspiring¬†doctor’, or teacher, or lawyer, or dentist…you either ARE a doctor, teacher, lawyer, dentist, or you are NOT. There is no halfway house. Yes, you may be ‘in training’ to join one of those professions, but you should still consider yourself to BE one of them, even if you can’t practise on your patients! Have confidence in your abilities and in where you want to go. You wouldn’t consider yourself an ‘aspiring human’, would you? Ummm…well in some cases that may actually be true! ūüėÄ

Have the strength of your convictions and the confidence to see them through.

Putting yourself in the category of ‘Aspiring Author’, merely tells the world that you don’t have confidence in your own writing and that you don’t consider yourself to be a professional. Why should any publishing house take you on and take you seriously, if you don’t take yourself seriously. Publishing houses are not looking for amateurs. Debut novelists, new writers…YES! But ‘Aspiring Authors’? Really?

Your approach and your thinking must always be professional, from the outset. No¬†weak ‘aspiring’ here.

Some consider the sacred term ‘author’ to be based on sales. That you cannot call yourself an author until you are published and those royalty cheques start coming through your letterbox. Again…is this right? If you are basing your status as an author purely on sales…then you are in the wrong profession! Yes, being an author is a professional endeavour, but it is also a highly creative one. Creativity should and MUST always come before hard cash.

Although it is easy to get carried away with stories of instant success and truck loads of money, Christopher Paolini is a good example. If you are writing to get rich…you are DEFINITELY in the wrong profession! These stories hit the headlines precisely because they are so rare. Most writers struggle with sales and building their fan base for years and years, there’s nothing instant about it. It’s hard graft all the way. A good mate of mine, Will, once said that writing the book was the easiest part about it and he’s absolutely right. As hard or as easy as you may find the process of writing and editing your work, that really is the easiest part of being an author.

Think of the great writers of the 19th and 20th century, few of them had instant success with their very first book. They too had to build their readership, hone their craft and get on the carousel of marketing and promotion. Why a carousel? Because it NEVER stops! If they had dismissed themselves as merely ‘aspiring authors’, when their first book languished on the bookshelves due to poor sales, then they probably would never have written a second or third book and thus deprived us readers of some literary masterworks!

Sales has nothing to do with writing or wanting to be a writer. Yes, you’ve got to be professional and yes, good sales are what you want to strive for and achieve, but it should NEVER be a motivational tool or a yardstick by which you class yourself as an author or not.

Be what you want to be. Have confidence in your abilities, your imagination and your writing. There is nothing ‘aspiring’ about it…inspiring, hell yes! Wouldn’t you rather be an inspiring author than an aspiring one?

Whatever your professional day job…You ARE a writer…or you are not. That simple.

For me?

I am and have always been a writer, an author¬†and proud to be one. ūüėÄ

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 clich√©d¬†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…

Passing 2,000!

Like many of us, I’m sure, it’s true to say that I’ve been doing some frenzied juggling of late.

Between heavy workloads, writing my second book, other creative commitments, family life¬†and life in general, my ‘Daily Hello!’ has undoubtedly become a ‘Weekly Hello’!

So, I am utterly astonished, thrilled and very humbled, that my little blog, which only started life at the end of January this year, has passed the 2,000 hits mark!!!

 

WOO and HOO!!!!!!!!!

Thank you to all my supporters, whether you are frequent visitors, friends or inquisitive one-time frequenters. I welcome you all, and to you all, I give my heartfelt thanks.

I am genuinely touched…a MASSIVE thank you! ūüėÄ xxx

ūüėÄ ūüėÄ ūüėÄ ūüėÄ ūüėÄ ūüėÄ ūüėÄ ūüėÄ

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 f√Ņrrens 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…

For the love of maps!

mapsoftheimagination

Ever since I was a young child, I’ve had an absolute fascination for maps.

The ‘tone and timbre’ as I call it, of an old map, holds within it such beauty and mystery. The texture of the parchment, the ink used and how it has aged over time like the best of wines. To follow the winding paths and coastlines, the mountain ranges and sprawling settlements. Every mark, every crease, every nuance holds a story. As objects, they are works of art and are simply gorgeous to look at.

file000816536459[1]But of course, maps can and have been highly divisive. History shows us that in the wrong hands they were the latest and most effective tools of warfare, propaganda, divisions of state, ideology, ethnicity. They were the bringers of colonialism and with it, the most terrible atrocities and suffering through the destruction of indigenous tribes, the conquering of nations and the carriers of disease. In a world without the internet, without weapons of mass destruction, the nation with the most skilled mapmakers found themselves at the top of the ruling tree. Empires were made or broken by those who could claim the seas and conquer the new chartered lands. Maps were the driving force of every expansionists dream.

But, in literary terms, maps can be the most wondrous of additions to any story!

Cartography, and particularly fantasy cartography is the stuff of dreams. map-of-middle-earth-lord-of-the-rings-2329809-1600-1200

As a child I would get utterly lost in the detailed maps of¬†Milne’s¬†100 acre wood from ‘Winnie the Pooh’,¬†Lewis Carroll’s ‘Alice in Wonderland’,¬†C.S. Lewis’s ‘Narnia’, and of course Tolkien’s ‘The Hobbit’ and ‘Lord Of The Rings’. Now, maps are just as prevalent and cherished as they ever were, from Warhammer¬†to Jordan’s ‘Wheel of Time’, Paolini’s¬†‘Eragon’ and George Martin’s ‘Song of Ice and Fire’.

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Maps serve as keys to the imagination, holders of knowledge, portals to lose yourself and unlock the greatest flights of fantasy…

Below, my¬†own flight of fantasy, ‘The Lay of Fendellin’ taken from my debut novel, ‘White Mountain’ – Book 1 of ‘The Darkling Chronicles’.

The only limits, are our own imaginations!

Post World Book Day – Hobbits and other wonders!

Okay, so World Book Day was the 1st March, so I’m a few days behind, the rigours of work I’m afraid. I celebrated the day,¬†by getting the children I teach to show and talk about their favourite books. It was¬†fantastic to see the huge range of books that really captivate the children’s imaginations, including a couple of wonderful non-fiction books on animals and the natural world, a far more prevalent subject nowadays than when I was a child.

It really highlighted the importance that stories and books in general have on us all, and just how vital they are for a child’s growing imagination. It also got me thinking about the books that I loved as a child and how our tastes change or remain.

For me, as a very young child it was the books of Richard Scarry, with his finely detailed and labelled illustrations and his wonderful anthropomorphic animals. I still fondly remember¬†‘The Busy Busy World’, and the hours I spent looking at each page. Then it was a staple diet of Beatrix Potter, Enid Blyton, Frances Hodgson Burnett and Lewis Carroll among others and the wonderful ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ stories of the early 80’s, interactive fiction books where you became the protagonist and actually choose from two or three options at the bottom of each page, deciding where the story goes. Amazing for developing storytelling!

Then…when I was¬†8, I read The Hobbit!

What a revelation it was! My first foray into the world of dragons and dwarves and great deeds to be done! I was hooked. Magic, adventure, epic storytelling and my first glimpse of a hobbit! That was it. Seeing Star Wars at the cinema (my very first film) when I was four years old, had had¬†a HUGE impact on me and started my life-long love of science-fiction…but that was nothing compared to the ignition button that went off in my imagination at reading, The Hobbit! I devoured it, re-reading it again and again, then more Tolkien and any other fantasy I could get my hands on! My dreams were filled with wyverns and warriors, escapism of the most wondrous kind.

So…now I’m all grown up, do the same books hold the same power for me? Do we ever get over our first book love affair? Probably not, like most things we really¬†love, they always have a profoundly special place in our hearts. So, though I won’t be picking up a beloved Richard Scarry or Beatrix Potter anytime soon, I’ll let them stay snuggled up in my literary past, my love of¬†fantasy is a part of me now and as such I shall always love pioneers like Tolkien and C.S Lewis and all the other fantasy luminaries that followed.

Forget a single day…Happy World Book Year! ūüėÄ