21 October 2014

Light, Lifting

I really didn't arrange these last couple of holiday lets very well, since going up to the north of Wales after the Forest of Dean, and then down again, meant a lot of driving that wouldn't have been necessary if I'd swapped a couple of houses around.  We've driven around 3,000 miles so far.

I'm kind of over driving.

Particularly after the amusing gone-down-the-wrong-way incident in Wales, where we ended up in a winding single car-width lane between a rock wall and a watery ditch - only to find the lane stopped at a farm gate.  I'm not someone who particularly enjoys driving, let alone trying to reverse (what felt like miles) with the prospect of scraped paint on one side and bogging on the other.  And then, of course, someone came driving along from the direction of the gate.  They kindly didn't seem to laugh too much and waited patiently as my sister hung out the window and called left, right, other right!, for a short eternity.

So over driving.

But otherwise, northern Wales was very pretty.  We were staying near Conwy, which has a big castle sitting over a bay, and was marvellously scenic in every direction.




The weather was again variable, but we had a couple of good sunny days, one of which we used to visit Bodnant Gardens, which was up there with the absolute top gardens I've ever been to.  It wasn't very floral at this time of year, but still managed to be lovely - there were both multiple tiers of formal gardens below the house:


and the sculptured woodland ramble:


We weren't particularly early, but there in time to see the dew steaming off the foliage:


Bodnant also finally made clear a mysterious term from many a novel.  Pictured here is a ha-ha.


The purpose of the ha-ha is to stop stock from wandering into the bit of the garden you don't want them in, while not blocking your sweeping view of a lawn.  [This picture is from the 'stock' side of the ha-ha, showing the wall - the other direction you'd only see grass.]  The word ha-ha comes from the French term for this ditch, which is 'ah-ah' - the sound you apparently make when you fall into it.

We were also near one of the bigger seaside resorts in Wales, Llandudno, and headed up there to check out the very long pier, and also to take a cable car up a hill called "The Great Orme", which had some pretty fine views.



Visiting Wales also involved eating lots of Welsh Rarebit. :)  Next up, Exmoor.

16 October 2014

Among the Ents

The Forest of Dean was reputedly an area that inspired a lot of the forests in The Lord of the Rings.  And it certainly wasn't hard to spot a few tree people here and there.


We'd had a brilliant run of mostly sunny weather until this rather wet week, but still had a couple of cloud-free days, making for some lovely forest walks


Our first walk here was at a sculpture trail, where a forest walk has been interspersed with various sculptures (and the funniest, most earnest arty descriptions of them in the map guide we were following).  The most spectacular was definitely a stained glass window suspended above the path.



We also visited Puzzlewood, apparently a favourite filming spot for movies and tv shows (we just missed the filming of the latest Star Wars, apparently).  An excessively mossy locale.


The longest walk we did (and probably the longest walk we will do) was from Symonds Yat Rock, down across the River Wye, and back around.



This took four hours (my poor, sore feet), but with time out for an interesting ferry crossing (the ferryman hauls the ferry across by looping along the chain).


After all this walking we changed things up a little by taking a train to Bath.  Research!  I wanted to see the Roman Bath House there (even though I've, ah, blown it up in my alt world).  Bath is very pretty and sandstoney and fortunately we lucked out on another sunny day.


Bath was called Aqua Sulis by the Romans, after the sacred hot spring to Sulis located here, and Sulis is the primary god-in-charge in Prytennia.  I've linked her to the Suleviae (who are, probably, a separate trifold set of goddesses, not centred around Bath).  Bath does have a trifold goddess depiction, but this is known as "The Mothers" (because, yeah, a picture of women and it's either going to be 'maiden, mother, crone' or all about babies).  I'm quite happy to co-opt this as a depiction of the Suleviae, who are a little more...combat oriented.


Next, Northern Wales.

08 October 2014

Peaks and Broads

A double post, since the last place I stayed didn't have wi-fi.

Our first day out in the Peak District, we headed to Bakewell, which was having a market day.  We promptly bought Bakewell Tarts, Bakewell Squares, Bakewell Crumble...  There were a lot of variations on these themes. [I liked the Bakewell Squares most.]

The Peak District has lots of fun railway bridges and things to drive under.


Our first walk in the district started at the Stepping Stones in Dovedale.


From here we wound our way along the river, then climbed a very vertical wooded hillside (trying not to inhale mosquitos), and wandered around farmland (lots of stiles to cross) until finally getting back to where we started.


The next walk I wanted to do after this was Mam Tor from Castleton, but the weather had turned a bit rainy (and hills in the rain can be rather chancy), so since it was still drizzling by the time we got to Castleton, we detoured off to a thing called Speedwell Cavern, which is an old rather unsuccessful coal mine that had been flooded to make it easier to get the coal out.  To get to the cavern you don a hard hat, go down a whole heap of stairs, get into boats, and listen to your guide make you extremely glad you weren't one of the poor kids (and adults) stuck down here back in the day with a tallow candle in your teeth and an owner who was definitely inclined to put profit over health & safety.


The next day we headed back to Castleton in hopes of better weather.  Still more drizzle, but not as much, so we risked it and fortunately the day cleared after about an hour of getting wet.  [It's better to be rained on going up rather than down because it's a lot easier to slip going down.]  We were doing a fairly long (3 1/2 hours?) walk via Cave Dale, but for anyone who wants to skip straight to the spectacular bit, you can drive most of the way up to Mam Tor and then climb up to the incredibly windy peak and walk along the spine of the ridge.  This was awesome - thoroughly recommend it to anyone in the area.


After the Peak District we headed off to the Norfolk Broads - a network of lakes and rivers that they only figured out in the 1960s were artificial - caused by water gradually filling a huge peat mining operation.

We were staying in a converted mill house.


Very cool, but at the same time living in old converted buildings like that is pretty inconvenient.  This one had no road access, so we had to park down the river and haul our bags and shopping about 400 yards past all these docked boats and riverside houselets.  We were quite thankful for the little wagon.


However, three dykes converged at the patio of the mill, so we saw a lot of bird life - a little family of moor hens lived there, swans passed daily, and I got to watch a heron fishing.


Norfolk doesn't seem to have much in the way of public walking paths, so we didn't do a great deal of walking here, but went on a boat trip, and also headed to the (relatively) nearby Cambridge - full of old buildings and 'punt touts' on every corner, trying to get you to sign up for a ride.  From the looks of it, it wasn't the high season for punting.


Next stop, the Forest of Dean.

26 September 2014

Five Thousand Stars

Nearly two years ago now I marked a milestone of 1000 ratings on Goodreads.  The time since seems to have whizzed by, and a lot of reading has obviously gone on.  Not every one of those ratings has been positive, but it's still a privilege for a self-pub like me to be read at all, and I definitely want to celebrate the milestone.

This time I've put together a give-away with three different prize options (and will be picking three winners).  All you need do is use the rafflecopter giveaway below, and select your preferred prize from the included survey.  [If. for some reason, you can't complete the rafflecopter survey, just email me with your preferred option and I'll add you.]

The prizes are:

Complete your collection

Let me know which books of mine you don't have, and I'll send them to you - ebook or trade paperback format (or mix and match).  [Includes the upcoming The Pyramids of London.]

A draft Touchstone

Back when I was getting Touchstone ready for publishing, I got myself a couple of galleys printed up.  These are basically as the story was when it was a blog, without the minor edits and corrections I made for publication.  [No really significant differences - just a bit of Touchstone history.]

A partial!

I've written a TON of partial novels.  I've grown better at finishing what I start (and, ah, generally better, I suspect - some of these are kinda embarrassing).  But I quite like a lot of these stories, and will happily convert one to an ebook and send it to someone if they can stand typos, awkward writing, and the fact that most of them stop halfway through, with no kind of resolution at all.

The choices for the partials are;

Inn: (11 chapters)
Starts memorably with "The inn fell sideways".  This is an epic fantasy partial, where an entire inn (containing 50 people) is transported in moments to a magical wasteland.  Because. 
Lammersgach: (24 chapters - technically complete)
A spy meets a demon snake and regrets it.  I call this 'the demon rape book'.  It's not terrible, but not quite salvageable.
Lines of Resonance: (8 chapters)
A world where mages can enhance their powers by linking with particular people capable of amplifying power (not nearly so easily as a Touchstone!).  A prince is kidnapped, a mage needs power in a hurry, and the main character is in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Mage Trap: (6 chapters)
This is Sleeping Beauty if Sleeping Beauty was an annoying man with enormous magical power.
Rune-spinners: (13 chapters)
Space archaeology, black market 'jackals', world discovery, a genius hiding her smarts, and a fellow with purple-dyed hair, the face of a Pre-Raphaelite Angel and enough arrogance for two.
Solitary Stars: (8 chapters)
A solo survey pilot is kidnapped by people racing to be first to find a legendary planet.  [Reads much like an Andre Norton novel with excuses for sex.]
Surrogate: (11 1/2 chapters)
For a book I refer to as "the space naga smut" this has a whole one sex scene in it (so far).  The focus is mainly on being captured by space pirates, deadly mines, and, ah, the consequences of the sex.  [Title should give you some ideas there.]
Talismans of Godshelm: (5 chapters)
An attempt at a redraft of my first novel - a collection quest involving masses of cliches. [I can't send the original Tals, since I typed it on an actual typewriter and very much don't want to transcribe it.  However, I might entertain you all when I get home by scanning a few pages - iirc it starts with a prince falling into a puddle.]
The Shadow of Wings: (8 1/2 chapters)
A rare from a male viewpoint fantasy novel involving a super-stoic prince facing an oncoming evil, but struggling rather more with the discovery he has a heart to break.
The Sleeping Life: (14 1/2 chapters)
The sequel to Stained Glass Monsters - this will be finished in the next year or so, theoretically, so you'd at least get to see how it ends eventually.
Wellspring: (7 1/2 chapters)
One I intend to go on with one day - magic as a limited and difficult to transport resource.  Plus a murder mystery.  [I think I could add "plus a murder mystery" to half my story ideas.]
 The giveaway runs to mid-November (since I'm not back in Australia 'til then).  Best of luck!


a Rafflecopter giveaway

23 September 2014

Mountain Lakes

The "Lake District" sounds all very mild and bucolic, but those lakes are there because there's mountains holding them up.  The roads were all a bit too narrow, making the district the most dangerous so far in terms of driving - a good deal harder than the single lane roads, where people drive a little more cautiously rather than madly cut corners around blind turns.

Our holiday let this time was a little south of Ullswater, and just north of Kirkstone Pass, and a good base for walks.

Aira Force (a well known waterfall) was a short drive (and a...number of stairs) away.


One of my favourite walks was right from our door and down to the nearby lake of Brotherswater late in the afternoon. It was a very still evening, and the lake very reflective.


The weather for most of the time we were there was "sunny periods" which basically meant clouds with beams of sunlight breaking through - nice to look at but hard to photograph.  These two pics are from the same walk - up to a small lake tucked high up in the mountains near our holiday let.  This was a very vertical climb in parts, and featured a great many sheep and views of other mountains.



And, of course, an obligatory garden visit - Holehird Gardens down by Windermere, which had a nice walled area and a very extensive rock garden.


Finishing up, we detoured through the Yorkshire Dales (dodging millions of motorcyclists) to visit York, and then headed down to the Peak District.

16 September 2014

Northumberland

We started our time in Northumberland in the centre of Newcastle for the Diana Wynne Jones Conference.  I quite liked what I saw of Newcastle (though most of that was this massive mall-amoeba which had grown and sprawled underneath seemingly endless city blocks).

Sadly, the venue for the first day of the conference (Seven Stories) was - while a neat place - hot, stuffy and oddly-lit, which is a perfect trigger for migraines for me, so I had to go back to my hotel at midday and lie down.  The next day was at Newcastle University, which was very pretty (although confusingly right next to another, similarly-named university) and starting to be touched with autumn colours (I get two autumns this year and no spring).

After the conference, we spent an entertaining morning collecting our rental car (there was a big race in the city, the rental office was shut, two hours with suitcases by the roadside, etc, etc) and headed for the first of our holiday lets.  [Much cheaper to rent a place in a district for a week than constant hotel rooms, and so much nicer to have a whole house at our disposal rather than a single room.]

The cottage was near a place called Haydon Bridge.  We walked down into the village one day (and then, wheeze, we walked back up O.o).


After lolling about for a day or so, we headed off to our only castle for this particular county, a place called Alnwick - once Hotspur's castle - and also Alnwick Gardens, which had both a very nice walled garden section, and a garden dedicated to plants that can kill you:


The next day we headed to Vindolanda, an excavated Roman Fort:


We were also planning to do a big walk along Hadrian's Wall the next day, but my sister had been nursing a cold the entire week, and finally managed to pass it on to me, so we did part of a circle walk around Sycamore Gap:


It was very misty most of the time we were in Northumberland, but it had burned off by the time we did get up to the top of the wall after doing the flat part of the walk. It was actually quite flat for most of the wall once you got up to the top as well - the photo quite fails to convey the being on top of a hill part.  I can't help but feel sorry for the people who had to build this thing.


After this, enormous amounts of snot and phlegm, and a relocation to the Lakes District.

06 September 2014

Four Castles and a Rock

In Scotland, it's hard to drive down the road without stumbling across a castle, so it's a matter of willpower (or, increasingly, of 'meh, another castle') to not be stopping every five miles to poke about another.

I'd checked off a couple of castles to visit (more or less by googling 'castles with nice gardens'), and once we were back on the mainland we headed first to the Castle of Mey.



I am very fond of high walled gardens (necessary here due to the exposed position on the north coast of Scotland), but also found this castle tour rather interesting.  Mey was the holiday home of the late Queen Mother (and so functions as something of a shrine to her).  The tour was full of fascinating tidbits about the battle over tacky gifts, and the soundproofing to the kitchen.  Writer hat very thoroughly on there.

Our next visit, Dunrobin Castle, was one we were passing on the way to another castle.  It had a bagpiping busker girl at the front door and some lovely formal gardens below.


I actually ended up liking it more than the castle we were going to see, Cawdor Castle, which was perfectly nice but not quite so spectacular.


All three of these castles, however, paled in comparison with a castle that had little in the way of garden at all (or roofs, for the matter).  Dunnottar Castle, however, has a coastline walk, and the kind of stairs-from-the-bottom access that is exactly what I pictured for the Castle Rotation in Touchstone.



We had a gorgeous morning's walk to it from nearby Stonehaven (and a contrasting woodland walk on the return trip).

After this, however, we were fairly 'castled out', and when in Edinburgh didn't go for a tour of the castle there, but instead took in a nice view of it from Arthur's Seat in Holyrood Park.


I expect we'll be seeing more castles in England and Wales, but for now a relative break in Newcastle.

31 August 2014

Islands of -ithics

So, the Orkneys are basically big windy cattle and sheep farms on islands, but seething with 5000 year old monuments and ruins.

Getting there involved driving onto a ferry - a first for me, and one of those things that could do with a little handy 'this is how it works' dot point list on the back of your ticket.  While it is remarkably straightforward, it would be even easier if we'd known little things beforehand, like when you're allowed to get out of your car.

We had beautiful weather for our first full day there.  I must admit that Skara Brae reminded me strongly of a mini-golf course.  Though being wedged between two groups from cruise ships probably helped that impression along.


We went on from there to the Ring of Brodgar, and really enjoyed that, both for the relative solitude, and for the lovely circuit walk through fields and along the edge of the nearest loch.


My favourite walk, however, was next day, when we went to visit the Tomb of the Eagles.  Getting into the Tomb was a little...challenging.


The fun part was the cliff walk back, since the sunny weather of the previous day had been replaced by a blasting gale.  But the direction of the wind was 'in' not 'over the cliff you go', and was really spectacular - we were at the same height that the local sea birds were hovering, which is always incredible to watch.

There is a ton of stuff to see on the Orkneys - I wish we'd scheduled more time there.

27 August 2014

Inverewe Gardens ; Kernsary Loch

The Inverewe Gardens, while well up in the Highlands, are in a sheltered position and their combination of sheltered garden beds:



and somewhat overgrown woodland walk were well worth the trip north.




The next day we headed out for this walk around Loch Kernsary (a name I pronounced so badly that the local we asked about it had trouble figuring out what I was talking about).  We did this walk in reverse order to the guide (accidentally, thanks to following signs rather than maps), so it started out really simple and easy (except for the raining on us part).  Fortunately it had stopped raining by the time we got to the boggy part:


And the narrow path above the twenty metre drop to the loch.


As you can see, it was also very lovely - though balancing on rocks for a large portion of the return leg left us thoroughly tired.

Fish