Dry and dusty but no place like home

When I arrived back home after a month away in December, I was shocked at the transformation of the land. When I left things were still relatively green, but it seems there was no rain at all while I was away and I returned to find parched brown paddocks and wilting plants. The recent spate of hot weather over January has only made everything look even more parched. Smoke from the Gippsland bushfires has spread across the state, leaving a grey haze over the landscape. I’ve been keeping an eye on the CFA website and staying close to home in case of fires, while sparing many thoughts to the embattled firefighters in other parts of the country.

It’s all a harsh contrast from the lushness of the landscape in Patagonia, Chile, where we were rugged up against the cold wind and the summer snow left picturesque stripes on the mountains.

Riding out in the lush summer landscape of Patagonia, Chile.

Every time I travel to a new place and appreciate the amazing landscapes I have had the privilege of riding in, I marvel at the magnificence of the world around us. But my greatest pleasure is still to see the ever-changing hills from my own front deck, and while we all swelter in the heat and pray for rain to quench the thirsty ground, I know this harsh and beautiful land of Australia will always be the place I know and love as home.

Me and the lovely mare, Pitooka, at El Saltamonte, Chile.

Cherry Pie in Patagonia

So my riding adventures in Sth America have been and gone and I’m back at my desk, contemplating the year ahead and promising myself that this year will be one of writing and routine, with no travel plans on the horizon to distract me.
Instead I’ll bask in the memory of my time in Chile and Argentina until the time is right for me to embark on a new adventure.
Although we had short stays in the big cities of Santiago and Buenos Aires, most of the time away, in both countries, was spent at two remote estancias in the Andes mountains, deep in Patagonia.
I was taken by the wonderful way that horses are still so much a working part of the culture and day-to-day life in both countries, and of course the spectacular vistas in every direction. Patagonia is wild and rugged, and completely breathtaking. Among such forces of nature as the magnificent Andes Mountains and overwhelming winds, I felt a strong sense of my own insignificance, and many times I felt like I may have only to ride a few more miles and I just might drop off the edge of the world.
My hosts at both estancias were wonderful people, as were the staff and volunteers who helped to make my stay so enjoyable. Heartfelt thanks to the wonderful Kate, Steven, Sally, and Finn of Globetrotting.com for making all that travel in planes, buses, boats and cars as stress free as possible. I also want to thank Robin from Sth Carolina, my partner in crime for the second time around, and Elaine, who joined us in Argentina.
On the estancias, Natalia and Jose, Seb and the rest of the staff at El Saltamonte, Chile, and also Thomas (TA), Ashley, Victor and Eline, Alda, Lulu and Tim, and the other volunteers for their great company and guidance at Ranquilco, Argentina.

Seb, Marcella and Natalia from El Saltamonte

I’ve returned home with lots of special memories. A couple of days shine brighter than the rest. That last day with Natalia, riding the beautiful Buckskin, Dandy, when after a magical picnic, we splashed and cantered our way up the river, laughing like loons (at least I was), then Kate and I finished with a headlong galloping race up the airstrip. And the other a wonderful ride along the river at Ranquilco, our destination a grove of cherry trees. we picked and ate until we were spent, then rode back to Ranquilco, where the lovely Eline proceeded to turn our haul into a wonderful cherry pie. Perfect.

Eline and the delicious Cherry Pie.

Exploring Santiago!

So here I am in Santiago, Chile, and decided to take a quiet moment after my morning walk to post while I still have the luxury of an internet connection. Thursday was a day of greetings and reunions as I met up with my travel buddies and settled in at Villa Franca, a gorgeous little boutique bed and breakfast in the heart of the city. We have the rushing Mapocho River behind us and the spectacular Andes in front. Yesterday we spent a long but very satisfying day exploring the city, beginning with a trip on the crowded metro to the Museum of Memory and Human Rights.

This museum is a sad but lasting memorial to the many who lost their lives and to those who were tortured and beaten but managed to survive during the military occupation led by Pinochet that changed Chile forever. I think I, as a visitor to the country, have come away from my visit to the museum with a further appreciation of how lucky we are in Australia and a deeper understanding and of what it must have been like for the people of Chile, who endured 17 years of Tyrannic dictatorship. The museum is also a testament to the strength and character of these gentle people, who have chosen to keep the memory of those years alive, with the aim to make sure that they will never again have to experience such an evil in their beautiful land.

After our visit we enjoyed a traditional Chilean lunch at El Caramano, where we were serenaded by guitar and danced our own (very flawed but lots of fun) version of the Flamenco, in the middle of the restaurant with a young Chilean man. Lots of laughs and great fun! We followed lunch with a walk through the streets to the house of the famous poet, Pablo Neruda, whose beautiful poetry is known all over the world. The house had been restored after being ransacked during the occupation but it’s quirky design and the remains of the many collections that were saved was fabulous to see.

We stopped for refreshments in a colourful market square and walked home in the twilight to enjoy a wonderful Spanish tapas meal and a refreshing Mohito. My companions for this leg of the trip are the lovely Robin, from South Carolina, Kate and Steven and baby Finn of Globetrotting fame, and the equally lovely Sally, Finn’s devoted grandmother and seasoned traveller.

The lovely Robin and I perusing the menu with the help of our trusty reading glasses

So today is the beginning of another day exploring here before we set off for Balmaceda and Puerto Montt in Patagonia. Bring it on!

A New Adventure!

This may be my last post for a little while as I am off soon on a new adventure in South America. I’ll be travelling in Chile and Argentina, visiting Santiago, Buenos Aires and in particular Patagonia in both countries. Much of the trip will be on horseback and I’m just a little bit excited at the prospect of riding Criollo ponies with the gauchos and living their lifestyle. I’m hoping to blog while I’m there but have no idea how often I’ll have internet access so I’ll just have to see how it all pans out. Meanwhile I’m scurrying around like a mouse in a cheese factory trying to get as much in to my days as I can to make sure all is done and in order at home before I leave. Here’s a sample of the kind of scenery I can expect. What’s not to look forward to?

The Way Of The Horse at Equitana 2012

Equitana 2012 was held this past weekend at the Melbourne Showgrounds. Like a pin to a magnet, I just can never seem to stay away, and once again I made the trek to Melbourne for three out of the four days to soak up the plethora of horsey exhibits, education and entertainment.

The shopping was good, and I managed to find myself quite a few pony bargains. There were lots of demonstrations and plenty to see.

Some of the highlights for me were that I got to see in action my favourite games pony, Jess, now known as The Wench, ridden by the very skilled Andrew Rodaughan, who bought Jess from me around five years ago and has taken her to new heights in state and national mounted games competitions. She is Jaspa’s mum, a clever, agile, and, it has to be said, sometimes cranky and opinionated little mare who will always hold a place in my heart.

Another highlight was sitting in on a session where I could hear words of wisdom about jumping from Mary King, 2012 Olympic eventing silver medallist from the United Kingdom.

I spent some time hanging out with lovely couple Kate and Steve Pilchard from www.globetrotting.com.au
They offer the most amazing adventure horseback holidays around the world. Last year I went with them to Africa, and in a few weeks I’ll be heading off with them again to Chile and Argentina. I suspect I’ll be starting to plan the next one as soon as I return. Maybe Namibia…or Mongolia…so many places in the world to see and enjoy. And what better way to do it than from the back of a horse?

But back to Melbourne and Equitana. The absolute highlight for me was the Way of the Horse, a competition where three trainers get to show off their skills by starting a young unhandled horse over three days. They are judged on their methods and results, and the audience gets to see great trainers at work and hopefully learn lots about good horsemanship. My favourite competitor was Ken Faulkner from Australian Natural Horsemanship. He had chosen to work with a chestnut Australian Stockhorse named Ginko, and the wonderfully kind, easy relaxed way he handled this young horse proved to be a winning formula. How lucky was Gingko and his future owner for him to have been given such a solid start to his lifelong training.

So now it’s all over, and won’t be back in Melbourne again until 2014. No doubt by then I’ll be lining up for yet another ticket to see and do it all again.

Young Australian Art & Writer’s Awards

On Saturday night, 17th November, I attended the 2012 Young Australian Art and Writer’s awards in Melbourne. The winners work was of such a high standard. Congratulations to the children who were recipients of the award, including some amazing artists from our remote indigenous communities. You all have done your families, schools and communities very proud. Congratulations to the Children’s Charity Network for providing such a wonderful opportunity to support, promote and showcase the talent among the young people of Australia! And thank you to Ford Publishing and Creative Net for allowing me the opportunity to see first hand the results of such a wonderful initiative. Along with the award winners and their families, and representatives from many of the sponsoring companies, scattered around the room were many well known children’s authors and illustrators, and others from the world of children’s literature. They are a fun bunch, and I always very much enjoy spending time with them all.

Naming Characters

Charles Dickens called the sickly character in A Christmas Carol “Small Sam” and “Puny Pete” before settling on “Tiny Tim.”

I can relate, Mr Dickens! Naming characters is a tricky business for most writers I suspect. Somehow the name has to ‘fit’ the character and finding just the right name can take a great deal of time. I start with a book of baby names and also keep my eyes and ears open for interesting names. I often take a quick note on my phone or in one of the notebooks I keep around the place. Sometimes the meaning origin of the name is the decider and sometimes it’s just the image that name conjures in my head. What are some characters from fiction that have stayed with you and how important is their name? How would you feel about Harry Potter if his name had been an old fashioned, Ignatius, or maybe a modern name like Joel? I wonder how much of Harry’s character is tied up in his name for readers. And if any of you would like to add to my collection of possible character names for humans or animals, feel free to leave a comment. All name donations will be happily accepted and who knows, they may even wind up in a book!

Yabba Yabba Do!

Yesterday I had the great pleasure of visiting the Trinity grammar school in Kew, Melbourne, to attend the 2012 Yabba awards.

Yabba is a not-for-profit organisation who seek to provide children a voice within the general Australian children’s book industry. The YABBA Awards encourage children to read recent Australian published books, rate them against all others and then finally reward that book they feel is best. For me, this year’s shortlist had an added sparkle to it as two of my very good friends had books on the shortlist, Karen Tayleur with her wonderful ‘Six’ and Sue Lawson with the magnificent ‘After’.
This years full shortlist for each category were:

Picture Story Books

ENIGMA – Graeme Base
TERRIBLE PLOP – Ursula Dubosarky & Andrew Joyner
DRAGON’S LIE – Kym and Oliver Lardner
FEARLESS IN LOVE – Colin Thompson / Sarah Davis
CAPTAIN CRABCLAW’S CREW – Frances Watts / David Legge
RAT IN A STRIPY SOCK – Frances Watts / David Francis

Fiction for Younger Readers

SELBY SPRUNG – Duncan Ball / Allan Stomann
TASHI AND THE GOLEM – Anna & Barbara Fienberg, Kim Gamble
JUST MACBETH – Andy Griffiths & Terry Denton
SCHOOLING AROUND ?- SERIES – Andy Griffiths & Terry Denton
OUR AUSTRALIAN GIRL: MEET GRACE – Sophie Laguna / Lucia Masciullo
BILLIE B BROWN BIRTHDAY MIX? UP – Sally Rippin / Aki Fukuoka
OUR AUSTRALIAN GIRL: MEET POPPY – Gabrielle Wang / Lucia Masciullo

Fiction for Older Readers

GRIMSDON – Deb Abela
SPECKY MAGEE AND THE BEST OF OZ – Felice Arena & Garry Lyon
PIZZA CAKE – Morris Gleitzman
13 STOREY TREEHOUSE – Andy Griffith / Terry Denton
JUST DOOMED – Andy Griffith / Terry Denton
CONSPIRACY 365 – REVENGE – Gabrielle Lord
IVORY ROSE – Belinda Murrell
THAI-RIFFIC! – Oliver Phommovanh

Fiction for Year 7-9

GRAFFITI MOON – Cath Crowley
THYLA – Kate Gordon
MIDNIGHT ZOO – Sonya Hartnett
BOOFHEADS – Mo Johnson
AFTER – Sue Lawson
FINNIKIN OF THE ROCK – Melina Marchetta
HELLO GOD – Moya Simons & Lisa Coutts
SIX – Karen Tayleur
ALL I EVER WANTED – Vikki Wakefield”

And the winners:
Fiction Years 7-9 Phoenix Files—Arrival
Chris Morphew, Hardie Grant 2009

Fiction Older Readers 13-Storey Treehouse
Andy Griffiths & Terry Denton, Pan Macmillan 2011

Fiction Younger Readers Alice Miranda at School
Jacqueline Harvey, Random House 2010

Picture Storybooks Fearless in Love
Colin Thompson & Sarah Davis,

Congratulations to all of these talented authors and thank you to all the readers for taking the time to vote for your favourite books.

Promising Beginnings Need Endings

For the past couple of years I’ve chosen the slow lane on the writing road, just plodding away on one project while spending time on other things. But lately I find the ideas are flooding in so thick and fast it’s hard to keep up with them. Wonderfully, writing is once again taking centre-stage in my life.

Lots of travelling to exciting destinations, Mexico, Kenya, Uganda, Italy and Wales has been a huge source of inspiration, but other ideas still springboard from those random and sometimes bizarre thoughts that pop into my brain from time to time, leading me down all kinds of curious paths. Just yesterday I had an idea form and take root, and I found myself spending hours on character development and plotting.

The hard part is knowing which ideas to pursue and which to lie quietly for some future awakening. I love the discovery stage, where characters and settings form and plots and sub plots evolve with so much promise.

Beginnings are more fun than endings. Finishing a project carries with it a sadness, an ending of a relationship with your characters. Like a grown child leaving home for the first time, you know they’ll always be in your life but things will never quite be the same again.

So I find myself with a growing list of stories in various stages of development, and it really is time to get on with completing a few.
Like many authors, I’m always juggling the demands of family and work and precious time to myself for writing. And how do I choose? Which project is more deserving when all of them offer exciting new adventures?

Well of course just a few steps forward on a regular basis will take you to your destination, and I did finally finish that slow project. I’ve finished a couple more since then too. Okay, so on with the next one. Oh wait, I just had another idea…