Sunday, 30 December 2018

35 Years.

35 years ago today I was 20 minutes late for the most important moment of my life (courtesy of my boss, Grant McKenzie, and soon to be brother-in-law, Paddy Coogan, who thought it a great joke! Thank you!) It has never been forgotten!)
However, it was definitely the start of the best years of my life. Of course, it hasn't all been plain-sailing - how boring would that be? This is life, after all! But considering what many would have called 'the obstacles' we started with - the bride was 13 years older than the groom and had four teenage children, three of whom were still at home - I am feeling totally blessed. So glad we had the strength to go with how we felt 35 years ago instead of bowing to 'what people would think'!
What richness we have shared. love you even more today than when you waited those awful 20 minutes 35 years ago...!

Sunday, 9 December 2018

The Birds Told Me...

Am feeling very grateful for my life.
I have just had a week in writing paradise, a lovely holiday home among the bush, above Lake Taupo, at Pukawa. The only sounds were the birds and the breeze. A single beautiful flax was blooming just off the deck and tui came to visit it several times a day. Tui are nectar eaters and they start at the top flowers and systematically dip into every blossom on the way down the stalk.
Their magical song made up of ringing bell-like tones and deep 'churr' noises can be heard above the bush all day long.
They are also quite territorial, and noisy about it!

A kowhai tree grew a little further back which attracted a big fat kereru (wood pigeon) to munch on the green foliage. He only visited once but I was able to capture the moment.
Kereru are as large as a small hen and look rather incongruous perched in the delicate branches of the kowhai, but they seem to manage without mishap.

One afternoon while writing at the table on the deck, an odd sound caught my attention and I turned to see a pair of quail come out onto the small patch of lawn. I grabbed my camera and began videoing. Suddenly there appeared what I thought was a small flock of sparrows about their feet. It took me a minute to realise that it was baby quail, looking like bumblebees on stilts! There must have been a dozen at least. Unfortunately, the video is on it's side and I don't know how to turn it round and  I didn't get a still shot of them. So - a sideways video of the quail!
That same afternoon a bird that I didn't recognise visited the birdbath. And I will share another sideways video of it, hoping someone might know what it is. It was a little bit smaller than the tui and had a solid white ring about its neck.

Strangely enough, I did get quite a bit of writing done while I was there!
And the final morning Mother Nature gave us a glorious farewell.

Saturday, 24 November 2018

Cabbage Trees - and - er - Superstitions or somesuch...

I love cabbage trees - Ti kouka, in Maori.
It is said that Maori believed when ti kouka flowered profusely it was the sign of a hot summer, or drought.
Whatever the cause they are particularly showy this year. They grow all over New Zealand and love swampy ground.

Below are some facts from a Dept. of Conservation article:-

  • Māori used cabbage trees as a food, fibre and medicine. The root, stem and top are all edible, a good source of starch and sugar. The fibre is separated by long cooking or by breaking up before cooking. 
  • The leaves were woven into baskets, sandals, rope, rain capes and other items and were also made into tea to cure diarrhoea and dysentery.
  • Cabbage trees were also planted to mark trails, boundaries, urupā (cemeteries) and births, since they are generally long-lived.
Beautiful and useful too!
I'm writing this post because I can't resist taking photos and these beautiful trees were in my sights lately. Just want to share a few photos with you.

Thursday, 15 November 2018

Keeping Promises

Are you good at keeping promises? I like to think I am, but when the promises are to myself - about writing a regular blog - I seem to lack dependability.
It's a wonder I haven't 'unfriended' myself, I'm so slack.
Trouble is, there are many things I'm meant to be doing towards my writing career, but the only thing I actually want to do is lose myself in writing my character's stories.
Everything else is a chore and I've always had difficulties with chores!
But here's what's distracting me from the things I should be doing.

My next writing project, 'The Stannesford Chronicles' is a series of 10 books (so far!) and an opening novella, all set in Regency era England, and it goes without saying, they will be sexy.
I have created a village and here is part of it. I'm no artist, but it certainly helps to keep track of who lives where and what route they would take to get elsewhere.

I've done a lot of characterization for the 22 main characters as well as a few other important ones who figure in several of the books. I hope they will stay in character and not go off causing mayhem where none is required.
But - they also need to be ready to step up to the mark when I need a villain or a helping hand somewhere. The businesses etc in the village are named and so are their proprietors.
Timelines for each of the characters are important too, as some events will affect all, so it matters how old they were at the time and what beliefs they have built around those events.
One, in particular, the death of Lady Liberty, has a wide-reaching effect on all the heroines as well as some of the heroes. Her story will not be revealed until Book 7. I've been doing a lot of plotting!

And once the stories are finished there are the covers. The cover for Book 1. is causing me a little angst, because it's titled 'My Lady in Buckskins'.
Buckskins are Regency gentlemen's trousers, worn for riding and pretty much as men would wear jeans today. A terribly scandalous thing for a woman to wear. (I couldn't resist using the picture of the glorious Great Bax from 'The Virgin Widow', the third title in my last series.)
However, I don't believe folk were any different back then to what they are today. There would have been those who rebelled and 'bucked' the system, like Lady Lucy.
Trouble is, it seems impossible to find a stock photo of a woman in male regency attire to use on the cover. So I might have to stick with the manly chest wrapped around a lady dressed (or partly undressed) in a Regency gown, which usually epitomizes the genre. I just hope readers aren't expecting her to be wearing fringed American Indian trousers!

Friday, 28 September 2018

Of Pinterest and Rabbit Holes…

Have you ever wondered how a writer’s mind works? If you can imagine getting lost down a rabbit warren, then you will understand.
I lay in bed this morning until I had a clear vision for the ‘The Miller’s Lady’, the prequel to the ‘Stannesford Chronicles’, the next series I am writing. There are 10 full-length books planned for this series, (not saying that number is finite!), each one a standalone, 100,000 word story.

There have been weeks of planning with my writing buddy, Caroline Bagshaw. (Watch out for this name. She’s not yet published but writes Romantic Scottish Mysteries with a real feeling for the ancient Celtic ways. For a taste of what you have to look forward to, visit her website at )

I still have one more heroine and hero to bring to life in the imaginary village of Stannesford, which I’ve ‘planted’ in the south of Oxfordshire.
(I'm a Kiwi writing in New Zealand, so Google Maps is an intimate friend. My ancestors came from England, but I have never been! It's #1 on my bucket list. Though I do wonder, if I get there —will I ever come back?).
And here I am, waffling off down yet another rabbit hole! Rabbit holes are fascinating places for writers. Ask Lewis Carroll.

Back to the Prequel! I the first sentence and needed to know the nearest point to Stannesford at which my heroine would exit the stagecoach. I brought it up on Google Maps, pinpointed where I decided to ‘plant’ Stannesford, printed several maps, and satellite views, some local and some extending to London so I knew what route they would take when they ‘bolted to town’, as the saying was.

Then I remembered I needed to research village flour mills so I knew what she would see when she first arrived in the village—not that she had any expectation of ever living at the mill. Of course, I needed to save the images I found to Pinterest, but I'd only set up one board for the series so far. Oddly enough it was for Bk.10!
‘Oh yes, I have a vague recollection of doing that now! What did I put in it? Well, some of those images should also be on the boards for some of the other books. Several of the heroes were in the Horse Guards! And those mill images I just put on the Prequel board would also pertain to two of the other books…’
 Heavens, I need to make all the other boards­—and one for the novella—now!

Two hours later—I've not finished the first sentence of the novella, but I've had a lot of fun, AND decided I should blog about it.
Which I just have!
Now, where was it again that Catherine got off the stagecoach en route to Stannesford? 

Tuesday, 25 September 2018

The Best Gift for a Writer - Ever!

Where in your house do you do your best thinking?
That's quite important to establish - if you're a writer. And while you would automatically think that room would be the study, you'd be wrong!
For me, it's the shower.  There's nothing quite like standing there with warm water cascading over head and body while thinking!
Problem is, all those lovely scenes and plot twists tend to float off down the plughole with the water unless I record them immediately.
I shared my problem with my husband and rather than giving me a lecture on wasting hot water and the cost of power, he gave me the best gift ever.
Guests who stay over probably wonder why this piece of plastic board with a pencil attached lives in the shower caddy.
If your Muse lives in the shower, you need one!
Hubby's brother was into diving and this wondrous piece of apparatus can be purchased at Dive shops, I believe.
It was useful for recording cattle ear-tag numbers on a wet day on the farm! The plastic is slightly rough so the pencil will write on it - under water! Clean it off with a bit of 'Jif '- cream scouring cleanser - and you're good to go again.
Of course, one does need to be able to read what one has written afterwards! So I'd better go and write it out properly while it's still reasonably fresh in my mind and I can remember what the scrawl actually says!

Friday, 1 June 2018

On the Trail of Mountains

A frosty morning heralded a glorious day for Pete's last day off between shifts and since the power was going to be turned off most of the day for the replacement of a power pole, we decided to head out for brunch and a day of relaxation.
Where should we go? Pete suggested the restaurant, 'Out in the Styx' near Maungatautari Mountain. We'd only been there once several years ago. He set the GPS on his phone for Maungatautari , and off we went, zigzagging across the Waikato on lesser used roads, some completely new to us. In our minds we were heading for Pukeatua, which we vaguely remembered was where the restaurant was situated - to the south of the mountain.
We are house-sitting for my sister and her husband at a beautiful spot just north of Pirongia Mountain so we were cruising through the verdant Waikato with its lush dairy farms and horse studs. The land was soaking up the sunshine after weeks of rain. As were we! The very nice lady on the GPS was ever so helpful turning us this way and that - through Karapiro and onto Maungatautari Road, which took us up onto the flank of the mountain.
Maungatautari from Lake Karapiro
There the road ended and a walking track started. Mountain walking is way off my radar these days! This was not where we'd thought we'd end up. Wasn't that restaurant at or near Pukeatua? Another look at the map and we turned the GPS off and followed our noses in the good old-fashioned way, on around the mountain, through Arapuni and to Pukeatua on the south side.
We found 'Out in the Styx',more of a guest house with restaurant operating only by reservation.
Stymied in our intention to brunch there we decided to head for Cambridge where we knew we'd find something open! At the very least 'Fran's Cafe' where the custard squares are to die for! For brunch?
Well - one of us would eat them whenever!
47km of pest proof fence.
These predators are excluded.
But stomachs were put on hold to go and check out the visitor centre for the wildlife sanctuary that has been constructed on the mountain. A 47km fence (the longest multi-species pest-proof fence in the world) encloses the bushclad peak of the mountain providing sanctuary for endangered native birds and the tuatara. Before Europeans came to New Zealand the land was mammal free. This fence is creating a small piece of New Zealand as it was before European colonisation.

Maungatautari from the south side.
TeAra, The Encyclopedia of Nz states:
Maungatautari can be translated as ‘suspended mountain’. It is said that the name was given by Tainui tohunga Rakataura, who first saw the mountain rising above the fog that often blankets Waikato.  

Mt Ruapehu on the southern skyline

The view to the south and to the west across the Waikato from the visitor centre was inspiring! From mighty Ruapehu to cheeky little Kakepuku. What is it about mountains? I feel such an affinity for them and whenever I find myself on the plains there is this need to head for higher ground - or at least to where I can see it! I guess it goes back to primitive instincts for safety. If you hold the higher ground you definitely have the advantage!
A very satisfactory day, completely circumnavigating Maungatautari mountain and connecting with several others on the journey.
Kakepuku in the centre!
And we did get fed - extremely well - at the Lily Pad Cafe on Kaipaki Road - at about 1.30pm. And Pete did get his custard square! Best of all I didn't need to cook dinner when we got home. Neither of us needed it. Oh, and the power was back on.
No further excuse for skiving off. All things electrical are operational, including the computer.
Back to work.

Monday, 28 May 2018

Writing in Retreat

Writing is a solitary occupation - or so it is said. But if you can find 'your tribe', other writers who share the passion and understand the frequent need to stare into space or scribble or type frantically for hours at a time, it's like finding gold. Not necessary to be solitary after all. And the creative energy generated is increased many-fold through the sharing and supporting of each other's journey.
Six writers, who all belong to Romance Writers of NZ but who write in different genres, came to stay with me at my sister's home where I am currently house-sitting.
It's the perfect venue for a small retreat and I'm very grateful for the opportunity and her willingness for us to use her home in this way.
Genres included regency romance, crime, fantasy and contemporary and you would wonder how such diverse writers could help one another. The process and the business of writing is the same whatever genre is your passion. Things like keywords, target market, synopses, creation of covers and marketing strategies are issues for us all. And we can share our editing expertise with each other too. Often it's easier to edit someone else's work than it is to be clear about the issues in one's own.
We all set goals on Saturday morning and we all finished the weekend with happy smiles at what we'd achieved. One wrote 2000 words! My main goal was to create a cover for a prequel & sequel to a series that I want to publish as a permanent freebie. With lots of input from everyone else I have created something I'm really happy with. Six pairs of eyes, two of whom are also artists, were more valuable to me than I can say. Here's the result. Now to get down to the process of publishing it, always a little daunting at first.
But I have the cover and that makes me keen to start!

And by the by, when writers get together, they also need to eat. Looked like each of us came prepared to feed the masses! Thank goodness my sister's house has the perfect spot to accumulate it all!
Of course there had to be a superviser! Madame Pene made sure all kept their focus on the goals!
And focus we did. An awesome weekend.

Thursday, 29 March 2018

Voice Typing for Technophobes! / For 'Phobes not 'Savvies!

If you are a Techno-savvy person of the computer age you might want to skip this blog! It's for the 'Phobes, those of us who flounder about in the dark most of the time until something MOMENTOUS happens and we find a light switch!!! Each such event is quite stupendous, which I imagine would only make the 'Savvies shake their heads in wonderment.
However, if you belong to the 'Phobe brigade - follow me - to a light switch!

Caroline, my critique partner and I, discovered something MOMENTOUS yesterday! Her teenage son had been doing something on her phone and went into Google Docs and was voice typing. So Caroline began wondering if we could find it on our computers!! OMG! Go to the Google Icon that you go to for Google Maps >.>.>.>.>....
  Scroll down  to the 'Docs' icon. You might need to go down into 'More' to find it.
We thought you had to buy a special programme to do this! 

I have now dragged that icon to the top of the list right by Google Maps!!!  
Open a blank page ( no doubt you can do it with other stuff on there but this is easiest). 
Go to Tools on the Tool Bar and scroll down to 'Voice typing'.

A black microphone appears on left of screen. Click on it to turn it red and start talking! Speak clearly. 
I haven't done a lot with it yet but you can tell it 'full stop' ,  'new line' etc and no doubt I will discover how to do all punctuation. !  

Now I can READ my handwritten stuff to the computer instead of having to type it all! 
THEN, go to File, scroll down to 'Download as',   to save it as 'Microsoft .docx' !!!! You can also Share it via email! 
I write most of my first drafts by hand and I'm hopping with excitement!

It recognized my voice right off. I didn't have to train it! Though one does need to speak a little slower than normal, and clearly. It doesn't recognize some words and will substitute others.  Regular usage might help here - I'm hoping. But one just needs to read through and edit later!

Having a play with it just before going to bed, I discovered it is also predictive! Or, in the scary way of computers, more switched on to my way of writing than I like to think about!
I said, 'The Earl of Windermere never ...set foot...'
While I was trying to think what else I might say, the computer wrote, 'The Earl of Windermere never...had sex...with you...'
Just as well really, because his problem would probably have earned him a biff round the ears from me!!! Jassie, on the other hand, loved the damned man, unconditionally!

'The Earl of Windermere Takes a Wife' is now available in print as well as ebook.  
Go here for the ebook:-
Go here for the print version:-

Controversial Sexy Regency. Love him/hate him, the Earl stirs you. Is Jassies love strong enough?

Saturday, 24 March 2018

Research Should be such Fun!

I came across an amusing Tweet about research on Twitter a few days ago which, judging by the number of likes and retweets, struck a chord with many.
It made me smile and think about the fun one has and the interesting and useless facts one might learn which bear no relevance to the topic being researched.

Here's the Tweet From @MeredithIreland:- 'Researching for a book is like going to Target. It starts with laser precision and then an hour later you're looking at cat beds and you don't have a cat'

However, sometimes research can be just plain fun. I am writing a novella, which I plan to publish 'permafree' on Amazon. It involves pirates/smugglers and sailing ships.

Never having been on a sailing ship (can't even recall that I've been on a yacht) I was concerned about my ability to invoke the true atmosphere of such a vessel. It had not actually occurred to me that I could do something about this lack of experience (beyond googling my way happily through the Cyber-Target of the Internet) until my husband was researching things to do up north for our recent short holiday.
He rather fancied a day out on the R. Tucker Thompson, a replica schooner sailing out of Russell in the Bay of Islands.

Here's a couple of links -  or  just in case you want to try it for yourself.

The tourist day trips fund the youth development program run by the Trust that operates the ship.
And here's a shot of the R. Tucker Thompson in full sail, taken from a postcard.
Looks like the Pirate has taken over!
We had a beautiful day for our trip but we never got the topsails up. Nevertheless, it was a glorious experience. I also was able to check out the elegant woodwork and very close confines below deck. I wasn't keen to try sleeping in a bunk. There was definitely no room to sit up. But I was impressed with the compact arrangement of everything.
(Apologies for my inability to arrange these photos any better. They were not particularly cooperative!)
The Captain looks the part.
Plotting our course on his cellphone?
Steering was fun!

Saloon. Cosy. 

Chynna in the galley.

Trying to imagine being up there in a storm!
Lots of rope on a sailing ship!

Battleship (Rock) ahead. Who gets right of
 way?  :)
Anchored at an island for lunch.

Fascinated by how you can see the weather out at sea.
Visitors capped off a perfect day.

Monday, 5 March 2018

Fascination of Old dictionaries

Do you enjoy old books? I have a copy of 'HAYDN'S DICTIONARY OF DATES' by B. VINCENT c.1863 and find it endlessly fascinating. Dictionaries and those kind of old books are my favourite.
I just want to share a few entries with you.

The history behind some mundane items is kind of mind-bending!

BREECHES. Among the Greeks, this garment indicated slavery. It was worn by the Dacians, Parthians and other northern nations; and in Italy it is said, was worn in the time of Augustus Caesar. in the reign of Honorius, about A.D. 394, the "braccarii or breeches-makers were expelled from Rome; but soon afterwards the use of breeches was adopted in other countries, and at length became general."
Hmm, could it be too many women were beginning to 'wear the breeches'? The Regency era leather breeches at right I have saved to a board on Pinterest.

"BUTTONS, an early manufacture in England; those covered with cloth were prohibited by a statute, thereby to encourage the manufacture of metal buttons, 8Geo, I. 1721. They are now made of glass, porcelain etc.."

Imagine - a law against cloth-covered buttons!

And cabbages have always been around - right? No!
"CABBAGES. Three varieties were brought to these realms (presumably England) from Holland, A.D. 1510. To sir Arthur Ashley of Dorset the first planting them in England is ascribed. This vegetable was previously imported from the continent. It was introduced into Scotland by the soldiers of Cromwell's army. "

Even the way we speak and write has changed so much that the phrasing often appears quaint or amusing, as in the following.

"CALLAO (Peru). Here, after an earthquake, the sea retired from the shore, and returned in mountainous waves , which destroyed the city, A.D. 1687. The same phenomenon took place, Oct. 28, 1746, when all the inhabitants perished, with the exception of one man, who was standing on an eminence, and to whose succour a wave providentially threw a boat."

Quite explicit! You can see it happening...

Enough trivia for the night!

Saturday, 24 February 2018

It All Started with Putting Away the Groceries...!

Pine Nuts! I couldn't find any to put in the stir-fry I made a couple of nights ago. I have a drawer in which I keep various dried foods - nuts, seeds, fruits - and things like amaranth seeds and raw cacao nibs, which I saw in a recipe once and never found again.

Quite a bit of stuff like that in that drawer! Wishing now I'd taken a 'before' photo! But I was just putting the groceries away! Why didn't I have a marked container for the pine nuts as I do for other things? Why are there little bags containing a few raisins/dates/chopped walnuts - about a tablespoonful! Why is this container empty and that one unmarked?

Out it all comes. Got to be sorted NOW so I can finish putting the groceries away. Oh look! A little baggy thing of pine nuts! Bother, could've had them in the stir fry after all.
Definitely time this lot was sorted, properly contained and properly marked - and the few bits of dried soup mix and the odd raisin lining the back of the drawer vacuumed out!

Once the drawer is cleaned I need some more decent containers, so into the TUPPERWARE cupboard I go, searching. (NB. I used to be a Tupperware dealer and am what my daughter likes to term a 'Tupperware Slut'! I think it should actually be  'Plastic Slut' cos I've never managed to confine my needs to just Tupperware! Sorry - but - plasticcontainersaresousefulokay!!! )

To find what I want in the cupboard in the corner under the bench where I keep the smaller containers I have to pull everything out! (NB. Walking sticks are useful for this!) It was all neatly organized once - probably when we first moved in a few years ago! (I digress!) As with all good organization, there are goblins and gremlins who delight in discombobulating it! Well, I sorted that and beware all goblins and gremlins who dare to enter said cupboard hereafter!

And OMG, there is still a mess of stuff on the bench waiting to be put away in the dried foods drawer! But having found some suitable containers and their lids (along with some other pieces of Tupperware I'd thought lost and now gleefully retrieved) I can label them and store stuff in them and arrange them neatly in the drawer.

You know, really, you need to get among some of this stuff and use it instead of just buying more and poking it into the drawer on top of everything else! Actually, the drawer is a bit of a commentary on various healthy food fads we've thought we should try. Went through a stage of cooking a lot with various seeds until we both found them to be rather indigestible - or maybe we were just eating too much of them! So we stopped!
What am I to do with all these sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds? I can't quite bring myself to dump them in the pig bucket or feed the birds. Better go and Google some likely recipes. Armed with about three, I return to the kitchen...

Oh, that's right. I was tidying the cupboard. Yes, and the drawer! If you make that slice recipe and add a bit of this and that like you usually do (so it rarely even resembles the original)  you could use up quite a bit of stuff which would mean less to sort and store. Good idea. Double the recipe while you're at it! The final result is edible, though a bit dry. Might be quite nice broken up and dowsed with milk for breakfast... or if all else fails there are the pigs and the birds...

Now, to finally tidy the cupboard and then the drawer - where it all began!

The sense of satisfaction now it's all so tidy is gratifying and so far the g&g's haven't had time to mess anything up! But I'm a writer and such domestic activity is not usual for me - and I haven't written a word today! In fact, the whole thing has been a bit of an odd departure - blogworthy even.

Ah, yes, now I'm happy. Writing...
(Evil cackles. Goblins and Gremlins are watching her settle into her chair at the computer, and skipping and sidling gleefully into the kitchen. She's oblivious. Where to start? Where to start? Cackle, chortle...)