Finally, a new blog post!

Thank you to everyone who entered my Goodreads November giveaway! Ten paperback copies of my novella, LIVE FAST, DIE YOUNG, are now on their way to ten lucky winners across the U.S. Congrats, everyone!

Some lovely reviews of the novella have come in recently. It’s always amazing and humbling to hear that people are taking time out to read my work. Soren from Ripley’s Booklist said it had “A nice blend of humor and emotion, with a realistic teen voice.” And Sabina on Goodreads said she “cried a lot,” which, believe, me is a huge compliment! I cried when I wrote this story too because I adore my poor tortured characters. Check out more reviews on my website.

Soooo, December, huh? This year went by in a flash. One of the highlights of 2016 for me was going to the U.S. for the RWA conference in San Diego, where I saw my two critique partners win the highest honours in romance writing — Pintip Dunn nabbed the RITA for Best First Book and Kim MacCarron earned a Golden Heart Award for Best Inspirational Romance manuscript. Golden Heart winner and fellow Aussie Gabrielle Luthy and I trotted off to a cat cafe and got our feline fix. We giggled over buying American laundry “souvenirs” from a supermarket — a magical wrinkle eraser and a Tide spot-stain remover. #ohtheglamour.

Kim and Pintip - winnahs!
Kim and Pintip – winnahs!
Gabrielle Luthy, Golden Heart winner and fellow cat enthusiast
Gabrielle Luthy, Golden Heart winner and fellow cat enthusiast
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Ghost-hunting with Kim in San Diego

My agent and I were treated to an impromptu dolphin show while we had lunch by the water. Apparently, dolphins are enlisted by the navy for mine detection among other things.

In Nashville, I saw my favourite band of all time, Duran Duran. (Actually, I almost missed them because my plane was delayed first by a janitorial issue and then storm activity.) Nile Rodgers and Chic were the support act. OMG – gobsmackingly good. DD and Nile performed a tribute to David Bowie, blending ‘Planet Earth’ with ‘Space Oddity’.

Spare a thought (or ‘Save a Prayer’) for DD, who’ve just lost a high court battle for the rights to their early works. Read about it here. Heartbreaking stuff. In the meantime, I urge you to listen to and download their later works, like the albums ‘All You Need Is Now’ (I made a tiny reference to it in my novella) and ‘Paper Gods’.

Duran Duran's Simon Le Bon.
Duran Duran’s Simon Le Bon in Nashville.
John Taylor
John Taylor

In more heartbreaking news, my 17-year-old cat, Possum, has been diagnosed with an inoperable tumour. We don’t know how much time we’ve got together, but we’re making the most of it. She’s pretty much glued to my lap, “helping” me write as always!

Brave little Possum (who is actually a cat, I assure you!)
Brave little Possum (who is actually a cat, I assure you!)

How about you? Was 2016 a good, bad or meh year for you?

Around the World in 21 Days – Part 3

This weekend marks 25 years since Germany’s reunification, so I thought it was only fitting to post my third and last entry Around the World in 21 Days series. After New York and Amsterdam, I flew off to Berlin with my sister, her husband, their children and our cousins for four uber-short days. We booked this fantastic holiday apartment in Prenzlauer Berg, an area which is undergoing gentrification. For years, I had assumed the architecture of East Germany would be austere and functional-looking, but in fact it was full of wonderful neoclassical-style buildings that reminded me of Paris and London. That was the case in Prenzlauer Berg, anyway.

Brandenburg Gate at dusk
Brandenburg Gate at dusk

Berlin was boiling hot. Who would’ve thought? On the steamiest day of all (35C/95F), we went on a three-hour bike tour with Berlin on Bike. Since the rest of my group was from the Netherlands, the tour guide gave the tour in Dutch. But that was fine because the scenery was amazing and my sister and brother-in-law acted as interpreters for me. Another thing my Dutch companions had on me was bike-riding ability. For the Dutch, it’s no big deal to hop on their bikes and do errands. Their infrastructure is fantastic. Where I live? Hmm, not so much. It had been three years since I last rode my bike. I rode 10 metres on cobblestones and promptly fell off. I had a couple more falls. My fellow travellers seemed to find this very amusing. Look away now if you’re squeamish:

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I’m not exactly sure which accident caused that bruise. Up close, my flesh kind of looked like an uncooked bratwurst. It’s so severe that you can still see it, two months on! Despite the accidents, the bike tour was actually one of my favourite bits of the Berlin trip. It’s a great way to see the city. We shared the road with cars for the most part. I believe we did a 15-kilometre trip, tracing the line where the Berlin Wall once stood. It was quite moving (not to mention chilling) to see how the city was divided. Definitely sparked a few story ideas for me.

Food-wise, strangely, I didn’t touch a single wurst and not even a crumb of a schnitzel. A friend gave me firm instructions to go to KaDeWe‘s food hall. Of course, I obeyed and gobbled an amazing chocolate treat whose name escapes me. Something with layers of chocolate sponge possibly soaked in Cointreau plus chocolate ganache. Who cares what it was called? In Galeries Lafayette, I could have gone for a box of roasted crickets and worms, but ate Japanese food instead. The food hall was so packed that I ended up sharing a tiny table with a friendly Belgian man who was on his lunch break.

So after 21 days away, it was sadly time to say goodbye to my family and return to Sydney via London and Dubai. As I mentioned in Part 1, I listened to Qantas’ Inflight Radio on a loop. One of the songs that caught my ear and seems *totally* appropriate for this post was Home By Now by Bombay Bicycle Club. Here it is for you to enjoy:

Look closely and you'll see London Bridge.
Look closely and you’ll see London Bridge.

So that brings to an end my short series about a long trip. Click on the links for Around the World in 21 Days part 1 (New York) and part 2 (Amsterdam) if you missed them.

I’ve got a Facebook contest going until Oct 6, Australian Eastern Standard Daylight time. Go to my FB page, tell me your fantasy holiday destination and you could win e-books by Valerie Tejeda and Eric Smith!

Around the World in 21 Days – Part 2

Don’t you wish holidays lasted forever? Almost seems like a lifetime has passed since I returned from my Sydney-New York-Amsterdam-Berlin-Amsterdam-Sydney jaunt.

Last time, I blogged about New York, which was hotter than July. Today I’ve got a Dutch treat for you! Most of my family lives in the land of clogs and tulips, and I had a wonderful time with them. Sorry again to my niece for crashing her brand-new omafiets into a pole — at least there was no damage to the bike. Plenty of damage to me, though. Grapefruit-sized bruise on my thigh. A bruised ear. Oh, and a suspected fractured thumb. Ouch! This still doesn’t compare to the bike crash I had in Berlin. More on that next time.

When I wasn’t hanging out with my family and falling off bikes, I was travelling all over Holland as part of my World War II research for a new book — Arnhem, Rotterdam, Maastricht, Utrecht, and dozens of charming little villages in between. We stopped off at Barneveld, a town in the middle of the country and home of the Barnevelder breed of chicken.

I visited a gentleman who was a teenager during WWII and whose father was a member of the Dutch Resistance. I’m really grateful to him for sharing so many fascinating but harrowing stories (and to my brother-in-law for translating). He has a private collection of wartime artefacts, including hollowed-out books that were used by the Resistance to conceal weapons and tiny homemade radios. It’s said Holland’s Prince Bernhard wanted a sabre from this collection, and when the prince wanted something, he usually got it. But my gentleman friend refused to give it to him and sent the prince slinking away empty-handed.

If you’re ever in Amsterdam and want to learn more about how the Dutch dealt with the Nazi Germany occupation, I highly recommend visiting the Verzetzmusem (Dutch Resistance Museum). I visited Anne Frank House on a previous trip to Holland, and that was also incredibly moving.

But my trip wasn’t all about the war. It was also about ice-cream, getting dressed up in funny costumes, finding the perfect patat met (= fries with mayo). In Rotterdam, we went to the awesome Market Hall. An apartment complex arches over the food hall, so if you have a flat there, you can look out your bedroom window at all the cheeses, seafood, vegies, meaty things and sweets. We wolfed down burgers at an excellent joint called Firma Pickles. On the way back, we passed the famous Cube Houses. My pic of the exterior is below, and here’s a YouTuber’s video of the interior if you’re curious. Caution: It may cause dizziness!

Cube Houses, Rotterdam
Cube Houses, Rotterdam

Maastricht is a gorgeous town right down the very bottom of Holland, near the German and Belgian borders. My sister and I went into a centuries-old man-made limestone cave system. The tour guide turned out the gas lamps after a while and left us to find our way in total darkness for five minutes. All part of the tour, of course. We were told the Dutch hid priceless artworks, like Rembrandt’s Night Watch, deep in the caves during WWII. Maastricht is also home to an impressive cathedral that is now a bookshop. That’s what I call heavenly!

The Netherlands is one of my favourite places on earth to visit. The people are wonderful, especially my family. 🙂 I love, love, LOVE the bike infrastructure as well as the ancient architecture and those tall, crooked townhouses. But a word of warning to travellers — credit cards are not accepted everywhere. I couldn’t use my Australian debit/credit cards for train ticket vending machines, for booking museum tix online, and some physical stores wouldn’t take non-Dutch cards. American Express is pretty much dead to retailers. So try to keep a little cash on you for those patat met purchases.

Next time, on my third and last Around the World in 21 Days post, Berlin! For now, enjoy a bunch of random pictures from my time in Holland.

Dag (= goodbye)! 

Around the World in 21 Days – Part 1

I’m recovering from an epic holiday that took me from Sydney to New York to Amsterdam to Berlin to Amsterdam and back to Sydney again. This trip was so epic that I’ll have to tell you about it across several blog posts. (And I’ve got to write it down before everything fades from my jet-lagged head.) So here’s Part 1…

In New York, I attended the Romance Writers of America national conference, where I caught up with some of my very best writing friends. Erica O’Rourke introduced me to Courtney Milan, and together we had a veritable love-in over Courtney’s Apple Watch. I honestly had zero interest in getting one until she said you could send someone your heartbeat via the watch.

A super-cool thing that happened in super-hot Manhattan was the OKRWA’s awards reception for the National Readers’ Choice Award. My book, THIS IS YOUR AFTERLIFE, picked up the winner’s trophy in the YA category. Thank you SO much to the judges and everyone involved in this contest — this is a huge honour!

 

I went to a couple of great Broadway shows. Big Bang Theory’s Jim Parsons was hilarious as God in An Act of GodAt the stage door, he graciously signed autographs for fans. I got a brilliant shot of his forehead. My dear friend Kim MacCarron, who was a finalist in RWA’s Golden Heart Award, took me to see Kinky Boots — a colourful, toe-tapping spectacular.

My agent, Beth Miller, took me and hot debut author Pintip Dunn (also my agency sister, critique partner and fab friend) to the Frying Pan on the Hudson River. Once a lighthouse, the Pan is now a floating bar/eatery. Their sangria cured me of motion sickness, I think. 😉

When I wasn’t purchasing discounted shoes at Macy’s or getting my hair did at the Drybar salon with Pintip, I was actually attending writing workshops. In the Seven Sins of Self-Promotion, I learned it’s useful to keep a bunch of promo postcards, bookmarks or even a physical book in your handbag. Give them out at parties, etc, when people ask that perennial question, “So what do you do?” This can be more effective than simply leaving a bunch of promo material in a conference goody room because you’re actually interacting with potential readers.

On my way to JFK airport, my taxi was rear-ended by another driver. It was minor, no damage to either vehicle. Definitely nothing compared to the bike accidents that I would have days later in Europe… More on that next time!

Until then, I’ll leave you with a Qantas Inflight Radio song that haunted me during the many hours in transit, ‘Beloved‘ by Say Lou Lou, a twin-sister duo from Australia/Sweden.