Monday, 24 December 2012

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

(And don't forget the reason for the season...)

Monday, 5 November 2012

A Quest to Remember

Remember, remember, the fifth of November,
Gunpowder, treason and plot.
I see no reason why gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot.

On 5th November 1605, Guy Fawkes (a member of the Gunpowder Plot - an attempt to assassinate King James I of England and VI of Scotland by blowing up the House of Lords during the State Opening of England's Parliament) was arrested while guarding the explosives.  People lit bonfires around London to celebrate the fact the King had survived the attempt on his life, and this is a tradition that has carried on over the years.  We Brits call it Bonfire Night or Guy Fawkes Night, and usually celebrate with fireworks.

In the run-up to Bonfire Night, children would make effigies of Guy Fawkes (or other political figures) and ask for 'A penny for the guy'.  The effigies would then get placed on the bonfire and burnt.  I'm not sure whether this tradition is carried out these days (it's probably viewed as begging) and I'm also not sure what was done with the money collected (I suspect children probably spent it on sweets!).

I went to a firework display on Friday evening (never mind that Bonfire Night isn't until tonight - if we can make a celebration last out over several nights, then we will!), and there were some gorgeous fireworks - I particularly liked the ones that formed a heart shape and the ones that twinkled like stars (all whilst my favourite song - 'Rule the World' by Take That - was blaring out from the loudspeakers nearby).

Are you going to a fireworks display tonight?  (Or have you already been to one?)  What are your favourite fireworks?

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

A Quest for Wild Food

Most epic fantasy stories have their heroes journeying across the country on a quest. Perhaps they lodge overnight at a roadside inn, or maybe they have to sleep under a hedge or in an abandoned barn.  Along the way, they're unlikely to find a Pizza Hut or Subway if they're feeling peckish, so in all likelihood they're going to have to forage for some food.

I wouldn't have a clue what could be safely eaten and what would cause me an excruciating death if I were the heroine in my YA fantasy story, so when I heard about a Wild Food walk taking place at Wapley Bushes Nature Reserve I jumped at the chance to find out more.

Top tip of the day - red for danger, so avoid red berries.  Here we have briony (and Briony, incidentally, is the name of one of the characters in my novel - but she's lovely, so the warning of the name is no reflection on her!).
The not-so-lovely briony

Next, we have ergot, which is a fungus found on rye and other related plants.  Apparently it can cause hallucinations, so this one is best avoided when you're rooting through your grasses.

Sloe, sloe, quick, quick, sloe
The sloe berry is the fruit from the blackthorn shrub, and is used for sloe gin.

Upside down Bolete fungus

We found a Bolete fungus which some insect or creature had tried their best to devour.  Our instructor wasn't sure which type of Bolete it was, so he was going to take it home to check it out.

Looking rather burnt - King Alfred's cake
King Alfred's cake.  Now, with a name like that, you'd think this fungus would be edible, wouldn't you?  I wouldn't want to chance it though!  It's also known as cramp balls or coal fungus, and it's good to use as a firelighter, as it smoulders (and will keep your hands warm).  That's definitely something our fantasy heroes will want to make use of on a cold night. 

You're so sweet, meadowsweet
They'd also be interested in meadowsweet, which was the medieval equivalent of aspirin.

Heal my wound, woundwort
And woundwort is definitely a plant they'd want close at hand if they've been wounded, as the leaves are great for coagulating blood.

Finally, we came across some burdock, which I know from the drink Dandelion and Burdock (though I've never tasted it).

Of course, there are other wild foods like blackberries, apples and wild garlic, as well as other plants that can be used to season a meal - you just have to know what you're looking for!

If you were on a quest, would you be able to survive on the fruit of the land if you had to, or would you hotfoot it to the nearest inn?

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Quest for the perfect Danish pastry

Couldn't you just eat this right now?

Oh noes!  I haz been recognised.

You know you've been frequenting the local baker's a little too often when the lady behind the counter reaches for the cherry Danish before you've even opened your (drooling) mouth to order.

I love Danish pastries* like the one in the photo (baked to perfection by my local baker's).  Mountstevens Bakeries used to make 'em (with coloured gelatin bits sprinkled on the top as well as the cherry), but they sadly went bust several years back.  Since then, I have been on the hunt for the perfect Danish pastry.  A chain of bakeries down in Cornwall do a rather delicious one, but that's rather a long way to drive to satisfy a craving, so I shall just have to start donning disguises instead.

Quest: successful!  Thanks, local baker!

Have you been recognised when visiting a local shop?  What's your particular downfall?

*Other types of pastries are available, and are quite tasty too!

Sunday, 9 September 2012

Quest for a Magical Birthday Adventure

Doesn't this look magical?

I decided I'd get out of the house and Have An Adventure for my birthday this year.

Here's me outside my ramshackle abode - the hole in the roof has worsened with all the rain we've had this summer.

The covered bridge to the bus stop was looking wonkier than usual, but the floorboards held (& the bridge didn't collapse), and it kept me dry when the rain hammered down around me.

The bus was waiting when I arrived at the bus stop.  I was a little surprised to find it was a triple decker (and purple!), but it was very cosy inside.

As we were wending our way through a quiet residential area, this giant spider attacked the bus (I think it was intending to set up base on the top deck in its quest for world domination of purple triple decker buses), and we all had to evacuate (or run screaming in terror in the driver's case).

The people living at this house let us use their facilities (under duress, it has to be said).

But time was a-ticking, so I took my leave.

As a book lover, I couldn't resist stopping off in this quaint little shop.

This was the book I bought with some of my birthday money.

Trouble is, it keeps snapping at me, and I've no idea how to get it to open.

Afterwards, I stopped off at the bank and deposited the rest of my birthday money in a high interest savings account for talented writers (they said I passed the application with aplomb, which surprised me as I thought a high interest savings account was a myth these days).

Whilst I was there, an earthquake struck and the foundations of the building shifted dramatically.

This elaborate door appeared in the bowels of the basement, and I ventured through - on a quest at last!

What mysteries would I find?  What secrets would be revealed?

Ah, a badly damaged tapestry.  Someone should sack the housekeeper.
This door led through to...

This corridor, which took me through into...

Rather a posh hall, laid out for my birthday banquet.

I was in chocolate heaven!

Not sure this was on the menu though.

If you haven't guessed, this was where I ended up:

Have you been to Leavesden for the Warner Bros. Studio Tour?  What was your favourite part of the tour? If you haven't been, have my pics enticed you to go?

'No story lives unless someone wants to listen' - J. K. Rowling
Quest: successful!  Thanks for a magical birthday, Warner Bros.!

Saturday, 11 August 2012

Quest for Olympic Gold

My niece and nephew proudly displaying their medals

The London 2012 Olympics are nearly over, and Team GB have been doing the nation proud.  Currently, we have 26 Gold medals, 15 Silver and 17 Bronze, making this our most successful Olympics for over 100 years.

I'm not a sporty person, but even I've been watching some of the events (and who knew there were so many of them?!).  I've caught gymnastics, cycling, diving, dressage, athletics, hockey, tennis (yay, Andy Murray!), and canoeing.  One thing that gets mentioned when the medallists are interviewed afterwards is the sheer sacrifice they've made to get to that winners' podium - all the hours spent in training, the setbacks and disappointments, the focus and determination, the injuries.  It's not easy to pursue your dream, and sometimes you wonder whether it'll be worth it.  Not everyone will win Gold, but you have to train, believing that it's possible.  Keep the goal or finishing line in sight, and run towards it with everything you've got.

The Olympics have inspired me.  (No, don't die of shock - I'm not about to take up a sport!)  I'm likening writing to going for Olympic Gold.  The hours I've spent pursuing my dream - crafting and polishing, suffering setbacks and disappointments - I wonder whether it will ever be worth it.  But you know what?  I love to write, and that gives its own reward.  Even if I may never achieve my Olympic Gold, I must keep the goal in sight and pursue it with my whole heart.  And Silver's not so shabby, right?  ;o)

Yeah, I know quad biking isn't an Olympic sport, but maybe it should be, huh?

Do you have any goals to achieve?  Are you willing to put in the hours and sacrifice necessary to achieve them?

Monday, 2 July 2012

Feel the fear ... and do it anyway!

Ben and Daisy

A year ago today (a Saturday), I was doing a Very Scary Thing.

I was the official videographer at a friend's wedding.

Yup, scary, huh? I'd never recorded a wedding before. What if I messed up? What if the video camera ran out of battery or recording time at a crucial moment? What if I cut heads off or just recorded feet? What if...? What if...? What if...?! My friend's enjoyment of the day would be ruined when he watched the DVD back later with his wife.

I wasn't a complete newbie when it came to recording things (I've videoed quite a few of our drama group's productions), so my friend (who's in the drama group) asked me to video his wedding for him. At first, I thought he was just asking to borrow my camera - to which I blithely said 'yes', then realised what he was actually asking moments later.

I felt the fear, and did it anyway.

Drawing from my experiences in writing, I figured if I got enough raw material, I'd be able to edit it into something decent (I was becoming adept at editing stuff on Windows Movie Maker).  I LOVE the editing/polishing stage of the process, crafting something that vaguely resembles a story or a video into a - says modestly ;o) - work of art.  Working out that just because you wrote/filmed something in sequence doesn't mean it has to stay that way if something else works better, or starting or cutting a scene at the exact right moment so the audience aren't bored.

I was pleased with the end result.  I even added a montage set to the song the bride had as she walked down the aisle along with the song used for the first dance, and there was an outtakes montage too.  Priceless.

So, Ben and Daisy - Happy 1st Wedding Anniversary!  I hope the DVD brings back many happy memories of your special day.

Have you felt the fear and done it anyway?

Saturday, 5 May 2012

Encouragement when needed

Yesterday, I was in need of some encouragement.  Barely had I finished thinking this thought than the following picture appeared in my Facebook feed, from a link shared by a friend:-

Needless to say, it encouraged me.

Have there been moments when something unexpected has encouraged you?

(Picture used with permission by Christian Life of Faith.)

Saturday, 28 April 2012

Quest to read 100 YA books (Part 1)

My Andrew Lang 'Fairy' book collection
Read.  Read.  Read.

I've always loved reading.  When I was at junior school, my dad brought home some Famous Five books that a work colleague's children no longer wanted, and I devoured them (new books were a rarity in our household unless it was for a birthday or Christmas present).  I also went to the library regularly, and I remember being enthralled with Andrew Lang's 'Fairy' books (so much so that, many years later, I tracked 'em down and added these books to my collection).

When I started getting serious about writing for young adults, I thought I'd better familiarise myself with the YA scene (and, y'know, YA fiction is fun!).  Besides, reading totally counts as research, doesn't it?

So, in no particular order, here are the YA (or not so YA) books I've read in the last year or so.  I'm trying to hit 100 (but I don't think I'm quite there yet).  Here are the first 25:-

1) Beautiful Malice by Rebecca James
2) Entangled by Cat Clarke
3) Torn by Cat Clarke
4) Angel by L A Weatherly
5) Angel Fire by L A Weatherly
6) He's After Me by Chris Higgins
7) Twilight by Stephenie Meyer
8) Eclipse by Stephenie Meyer
9) New Moon by Stephenie Meyer
10) Breaking Dawn by Stephenie Meyer
11) The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner by Stephenie Meyer
12) The Host by Stephenie Meyer
13) The Ghosts by Antonia Barber
14) Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta
15) Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins
16) Mistwood by Leah Cypess
17) A Gathering Light by Jennifer Donnelly
18) Girl in the Attic by Valerie Mendes
19) Darkhenge by Catherine Fisher
20) The Lady in the Tower by Marie-Louise Jensen
21) Girl, Missing by Sophie McKenzie
22) Sister, Missing by Sophie McKenzie
23) The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne
24) Bad Alice by Jean Ure
25) Shadow of the Wolf by Andrew Matthews

Quest: To Be Continued...

What books are you reading?  Have you read any of the books mentioned in the list?  Which was your favourite?

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

It's a sign, I tell you

My PVR can be temperamental at times.  I don't know whether it's the particular model or the transmission signals, but I experience glitches on certain channels. BBC channels seem to be fine, but others have little blips where fractions of seconds (or longer) get skipped.  It also depends how full the HDD is at the time, as well.

Anyway, I was watching The Reader the other day.  I'd watched it before, but the glitches and blips from my previous recording meant I wasn't able to follow the story as completely as I would have liked (I know, I know - I should just invest in a new PVR, lol), so I figured I'd give it another try.  I'm glad I did as there was one particular scene I missed before.

Ralph Fiennes has just stepped out onto his balcony after being told Kate Winslet (in her Oscar-winning performance) would be released from prison.  Here's a pic for you:-

Ralph Fiennes in The Reader

Now, I expect you're wondering what the significance is, aren't you?  Would it make things clearer if I explained I named my main male character in my manuscript after Ralph (he pronounces it 'Rafe', which is how I spell my character's name)?  And would it make it clearer if I told you that my Rafe is part of a nomadic group of people that go by the name of 'Roamers'?

It's a sign, I tell you - a (literal) sign!

Have there been any moments when you've been given a sign?

Saturday, 14 April 2012

A Quest for the Meaning of Life

Life is one big quest, isn't it? If we've been around long enough, we start searching for meaning in our existence. Why am I here? Do I matter? What's the purpose of my life? Do I fit into some big, master plan?

Like most people, I struggle with these questions. But, as a Christian, I know my life has a purpose in God's plans. The hard part is figuring out what that purpose is.

What has He got planned for me? Well, I love writing and I'd like to think God gave me that passion for a purpose. It has long been a dream of mine to be a published author one day. I wrote a couple of novels when I was a teen (one was a rip-off of the Dungeons and Dragons cartoon (I loved that show), and the
Best.  Cartoon Series.  Ever.
other was a YA fantasy that, when I read through it now, makes me glad nobody else had to endure it - some things are better off never seeing the light of day!). Then I joined a drama group, and writing plays became my new focus (several of which have now been performed by the group). As I've always loved watching films, a natural progression was to attempt a screenplay or two. One particular one was a fantasy entitled 'Quest Seekers Unleashed'*, and I entered it in several screenplay competitions, but didn't get anywhere.

Over the years, the story (and the characters) refused to go away though, and my thoughts turned to developing it into a YA novel instead (thus returning to my first writing love). After a few false starts, I eventually had a first draft on my hands. Many, many long months have been spent polishing the manuscript (with the help of several fabulous readers who pointed out ways to improve the story), and I'm now trying to find an agent for my literary baby.

There's a quote which goes, 'Sacrifice is the ecstasy of giving the best we have to the One we love the most'. I'm not sure who the quote is by, but it resonates with me. I've written my book to the best of my ability and given it to God. If He wants to take it further, it's His call.

A few weeks ago, something I read in 'The Purpose Driven Life' by Rick Warren really spoke to me. It's at the end of Chapter/Day 30, 'Shaped for Serving God':-

We have all heard people say, "I took a job I hate in order to make a lot of money, so someday I can quit and do what I love to do."  That's a big mistake.  Don't waste your life in a job that doesn't express your heart.  Remember, the greatest things in life are not things.  Meaning is far more important than money.  The richest man in the world once said, "A simple life in the fear-of-God is better than a rich life with a ton of headaches."**

Don't settle for just achieving "the good life", because the good life is not good enough.  Ultimately it doesn't satisfy.  You can have a lot to live on and still have nothing to live for.  Aim instead for "the better life" - serving God in a way that expresses your heart.  Figure out what you love to do - what God gave you a heart to do - and then do it for his glory.***

I don't know what my future holds, but I've seen the way God has worked in my past, so I'm trusting Him for my future.  I am right where God wants me to be, and what more could I ask than that?

*Yup, that's where the Unleashed bit ties in to my previous blog entry.

** Proverbs 15 v 16 (Msg)

**Taken from 'The Purpose Driven Life' by Rick Warren.  Copyright (c) 2002 by Rick Warren.  Use by permission of Zondervan under the Fair Use policy.

Saturday, 7 April 2012

Quest Seekers now Unleashed*

I hate drawing attention to myself.  In a group, I'm the one sitting alongside you, listening and nodding along.  I'll only chip in if I've got something to say.

Big Time Introvert.

So it's kinda funny to be starting a blog.  But, hey, this is just between me and my computer (right?), and if there's one thing I'm good at, it's writing.

But back to drawing attention to myself - or not, as the case may be.  In public, I'm much better not being myself.  Give me a script and I shine.  For over half my life, I've been acting with - and writing for - an amateur drama group.  Favourite roles include Elvira in Blythe Spirit, Julia Darrow in Dead Guilty, and Wren in Cinderella II: the Ugly Sisters Strike Back!  (Yeah, that last one was one of mine.)

Elvira in Blythe Spirit (the make-up was murder to wash off afterwards!)

So watch out for the quiet ones in your classroom or work place or church or wherever.  They might surprise you one day.

*Yup, there's a reason there's a capital 'U'.  I'll get to that in another blog.  :o)