Celebration! My 100th post and zooming past 7000 hits!

Love

Celebrations come in all sizes…small and intimate to the grandiose, and in all colours – from little hints of pastel, hues to match your mood, to the vibrancy of fireworks or the acid splashes of billowing streamers and balloons.

Well, this is a little celebration for a little achievement but a very special one to me.

At the end of January 2012 I started this blog. I had no grand intentions at the time, no aspirations beyond wanting to share my passions and thoughts in a random sort of way. Having never been able to adhere to the regimented nature needed to write a daily diary entry, this blog has been as close as I can get to it. A way of making some semblance of sense from my chaotic life, of organising my thoughts and perhaps a forum for discussing creativity, the language of imagination.

Blogs are as individual as their creators. Some become mere extensions of the people behind them, streams of consciousness drifting over the internet. For me, it is that, but is also a place to tell stories, share poetry, life events, illuminate my journey to becoming a published writer and all the strange oddities that happen to you along the way.

A little nook n’ cranny amidst the ebbing flow of the web. An ocean of information and dead-ends, a place to get lost in or be swallowed whole…

This is a little modest blog, unassuming, not showy, a welcoming and cosy snug with an over-sized hearth and a shabby rug which reeks of candle smoke and coal but a place which promises warmth and comfort, good advice and honesty. A home of creative thinking (hopefully) and somewhere simply to be.

To ponder…isn’t that what every writer does? To ponder, to think, to imagine, to dream…ahhhh…per chance to dream!

So, on this my 100th post, I say a genuine heartfelt thank you to every passing visitor, every friend and acquaintance, every fly-by one stop blogger, every lingerer, lurker or frequent returner…

THANK YOU!         THANK YOU!         THANK YOU!

Love

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Breath

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The meerest breeze upon brushed cheek,

The silence between moments, lingering in the air,

The sound of breathing, the murmur of breath,

The stillness of life within,

The rush of blood to the head.

The likeness of being…

alive.

Sophie E Tallis © 2012

The joy of writing and building worlds…

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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/

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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…

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! 😀 xxx

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Funny Friday…Darwin may not be amused, but we are!

Well, my ‘Daily Hello’ has decidedly taken a more weekly turn.

So, it’s Friday. The chocolate excesses of Easter are over, though a scary amount of it lingers in my cupboard!

Spring has certainly sprung. Glorious drifts of daffodils, grape hyacinth and bluebells remind us of what a magical time of year this is.

But, for those of us still struggling under April showers, towering petrol prices, broken New Year resolutions (i.e. ruined diets) and a general gloomy economic climate…here is something that can’t fail to lighten your mood and put the funny in Friday!

…Behold, the glory of ‘The Darwin Awards’!

The  Darwin Awards are out!!!!

Yes, it’s that magical time of year again  when the Darwin Awards are bestowed,
honouring the least evolved among  us.
Here  is the glorious winner:
1. When his 38 calibre  revolver failed to fire at his intended victim during a hold-up in Long Beach ,  California would-be robber James Elliot did something that can only inspire  wonder.. He peered down the barrel and tried the trigger again. This time it  worked.
And now, the honourable  mentions:
2. The chef at a hotel in Switzerland  lost a finger in a meat cutting machine and after a little shopping around,  submitted a claim to his insurance company. The company expecting negligence  sent out one of its men to have a look for himself.. He tried the machine and he  also lost a finger.. The chef’s claim was approved.
3. A man who shovelled snow for an hour to  clear a space for his car during a blizzard in Chicago returned with his vehicle  to find a woman had taken the space. Understandably, he shot  her.
4. After stopping for drinks at an illegal  bar, a Zimbabwean bus driver found that the 20 mental patients he was supposed  to be transporting from Harare to Bulawayo had escaped. Not wanting to admit his  incompetence, the driver went to a nearby bus stop and offered everyone waiting  there a free ride. He then delivered the passengers to the mental hospital,  telling the staff that the patients were very excitable and prone to bizarre  fantasies. The deception wasn’t discovered for 3 days.
5. An American teenager was in the  hospital recovering from serious head wounds received from an oncoming train.  When asked how he received the injuries, the lad told police that he was simply  trying to see how close he could get his head to a moving train before he was  hit.
6. A man walked into a Louisiana Circle-K,  put a $20 bill on the counter, and asked for change. When the clerk opened the  cash drawer, the man pulled a gun and asked for all the cash in the register,  which the clerk promptly provided. The man took the cash from the clerk and  fled, leaving the $20 bill on the counter. The total amount of cash he got from  the drawer… $15. [If someone points a gun at you and gives you money, is a  crime committed?]
7. Seems an Arkansas guy wanted some  beer pretty badly.. He decided that he’d just throw a cinder block through a  liquor store window, grab some booze, and run. So he lifted the cinder block and  heaved it over his head at the window. The cinder block bounced back and hit the  would-be thief on the head, knocking him unconscious. The liquor store window  was made of Plexiglas. The whole event was caught on  videotape….
8. As a female shopper exited a New York  convenience store, a man grabbed her purse and ran. The clerk called 911  immediately, and the woman was able to give them a detailed description of the  snatcher. Within minutes, the police apprehended the snatcher. They put him in  the car and drove back to the store. The thief was then taken out of the car and  told to stand there for a positive ID. To which he replied, “Yes, officer,  that’s her. That’s the lady I stole the purse from.”
9.. The Ann Arbor News crime column  reported that a man walked into a Burger King in Ypsilanti , Michigan at 5 A.M.,  flashed a gun, and demanded cash. The clerk turned him down because he said he  couldn’t open the cash register without a food order. When the man ordered onion  rings, the clerk said they weren’t available for breakfast… The man,  frustrated, walked away. [*A 5-STAR STUPIDITY AWARD WINNER]
10. When a man attempted to siphon  gasoline from a motor home parked on a Seattle street by sucking on a hose, he  got much more than he bargained for.. Police arrived at the scene to find a very  sick man curled up next to a motor home near spilled sewage. A police spokesman  said that the man admitted to trying to steal gasoline, but he plugged his  siphon hose into the motor home’s sewage tank by mistake. The owner of the  vehicle declined to press charges saying that it was the best laugh he’d ever  had.
In the interest of bettering mankind,  please share these with friends and family….
Unless of course one of these individuals  by chance is a distant relative or long lost friend…
In that case, be glad they are distant and  hope they remain lost.

*** Remember…. They walk among us, they can reproduce***

Just SOOOOO funny! A HUGE thank you to Will for forwarding this to me.

Have a great weekend everyone! 😀

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…