New Look Website In The Pipeline

A very generous friend of mine will soon be getting together with me to help me update my website with a fresh new look. Before we begin though, I need to think about the sorts of things to add, what to keep and what to do away with.

So I’ve been spending some time snooping around the web at other sites and having a think. A number of ideas are bubbling away but I thought it might be good to put out a call to see if any of you out there would care to put in your ten cents worth.
Readers – Any suggestions?
Teachers – Is there any thing you’d particularly like to see on an author site?
Other Authors – Have you any tips on what seems to work for your site or what doesn’t?
If any one has any feedback I’d really love to hear it. Meanwhile, watch this space for the results!

Reflections on Australia Day

This weekend we celebrate our national day. We even get a holiday on Monday, even though the actual day falls on a Saturday. As Australians we love an excuse for a celebration and many of us do just that.

For myself, I’ll be doing what I usually do when I’m at home on a weekend – a little bit of work and a little bit of leisure, hopefully nicely balanced and not too skewed either way.

But Australia Day has very different meanings for individuals, and I’ve been reading and digesting a whole lot of viewpoints, which has left me wondering how one day can provoke so much passion and pride in some, anger in others, even shame or denial. Always our emotions are generated by our personal experiences, whether by practice or example, and each one is justified in some way or another, even if only to ourselves.

I am not overtly patriotic. I don’t fit flags to my car or attend Australia day celebrations. But I am quietly proud to have the privilege and good luck to have been born in a country where we have the freedom to express our views and most of us have the opportunity to excel to the best of our ability if we choose to take it.

Our past and our present is chequered and colourful, with plenty of good and plenty of bad. Human beings being what they are, I expect our future will bear out more of the same. We cannot change what has been and gone, but we can each of us strive to be better, to look to what we can do for others or at the very least to do no harm. Collectively, that philosophy becomes more difficult, but to achieve it we have to believe it isn’t impossible.

In my day to day life I have found that negativity has a way of multiplying at a rapid rate if it’s allowed to breed. So for myself, I try hard to thwart negative thoughts with positive ones, to not allow myself to get all worked up over small stuff and to always keep the big picture in mind. Mostly I have found it works, especially if I combine that philosophy with a generous amount of willingness to put aside my doubts and keep trying.

So, although as I write this next part I realise how idealistic, even naive, the words may sound to some, wouldn’t it be great if we could channel all that anger and passion that Australia day provokes into a day-to-day effort that transcends greed and politics to become a force to work towards improving lives, both our own and others, by whatever means we have. May I suggest we start by utilising a few handy tools – forgiveness, kindness and tolerance.

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!