2009 recap

SHAMEFUL. I only submitted to agents at the end of the year and they were all rejections. I didn't write anything new and only did a wee bit of editing. Bad, bad, bad Elle. I have my brilliant 2010 writing strategy though, which should make up for 2009's lack of progress and also curb my reading(!).

I read 321 books in a variety of genres. Hi, I'm a bookaholic. I also hosted Jane Austen January.

I started the year unemployed, but thankfully had a telephone call in the first week of January offering me a job interview. I was offered the job the same afternoon and started in February, though I missed my first day due to the Blighty-halting snow. I'm still there now; it's my longest job to-date!

My work highlight was profiling Brawn GP's Andrew Shovlin (Jenson Button's senior race engineer) for the magazine - he's a lovely man.

On stage:
I saw Thriller: Live, Billy Elliot, Priscilla Queen of the Desert, Avenue Q and Jersey Boys on the West End, and also Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials at the West Yorkshire Playhouse.

On screen:
My DVD find was Across the Universe and I enjoyed watching Glee and the F1 races on the tellybox (I was *incredibly* happy that Jenson won the World Championship).

At the cinema, I saw *many* films; New Moon and The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus were probably my most-anticipated ... though they then disappointed me. Go figure. From what I recall, in 2009 I enjoyed Bronson, District 9, Role Models, I Love You Man, The Hangover, Zombieland, In the Loop, The Young Victoria, Slumdog Millionaire and Confessions of a Shopaholic.

I re-launched on a new URL mid-year, but I was a bad blogger and commenter in 2009... I was a fab tweeter though! I took part in a competition to win a trip to Sydney - I didn't win - but I was very pleased with my children's story and 'criminal' guide for two of the challenges.

In May I jetted off to the Middle East to visit Egypt and Jordan; in September I went to Turkey. UK-wise, I spent many weekends in London, went to Newcastle for a hen do, and spent Christmas in Dorset with the family. It was very nice to be able to go to the beach on Christmas Day, even if it was freezing!

The Noughties in numbers

Numbers are not my thing - I admit, I'm one of those people who uses their fingers to work out sums - but I have decided to sum up the Noughties in numbers, just to be different. {^_^}

  • 67 qualification-gaining exams --> 12 GCSEs, 5 A-Levels and 1 M.A (Hons) degree

  • 9 countries visited (6 visa stamps)

  • 2 countries lived in

  • 1 car (Sulley)

  • 2 lawsuits

  • 1 death

  • 2 weddings

  • 3 family additions (Sister-in-law, nephew, niece)

  • 150 pairs of jeans bought

  • 1,500 books read (probably a good guesstimate!)

  • 3 books written

  • 18 West End musicals seen

  • 9 jobs (2 internships)

  • 18,250 cups of tea drank (probably accurate!)

    I think that's covered everything! Tomorrow I'll be reviewing 2009, but what's your decade been like? x
  • 2010 writing goal #8

    8. Enter at least 3 writing competitions.

    Forward planning is required for this goal; if I looked at it next year, I would have no doubt missed the deadlines! My goal is to enter at least three writing competitions, but I think I'll be entering these five (I'm being very ambitious in 2010!):

    • The Bristol Short Story Prize

    Deadline: March 31st
    Word-count and content: 3,000 words maximum, no minimum. Any theme/subject/style.
    Fee: £7
    Prize(s): 1st = £500 and £150 Waterstone’s Gift Card; 2nd = £350 and £100 Waterstone’s Gift Card; 3rd = £200 and £100 Waterstone’s Gift Card. The next 17 shortlisted finalists receive £50; the top 20 entries will be published in the Bristol Short Story Prize Anthology Volume 3.

    Vogue Talent Contest - under 25's only

    Deadline: TBC for 2010 (was announced February 2009, with an April deadline).
    Word-count and content: TBC. (Last year two 800 word pieces were required. The first on a personal memory, the second either a contemporary arts review, a fashion trend piece or a piece of social observation).
    Fee: Free
    Prize(s): First prize is £1,000 and a month's paid work experience at Vogue(!). The runner-up gets £500.

    • Guardian Short Story Competition

    Deadline: TBC (10th July in 2009).
    Word-count and content: 2,000 words. Any subject/style.
    Fee: Free.
    Prize(s): Winning story published in the Guardian Weekend magazine. Five runners-up published on website.

    The Manchester Fiction Prize

    Deadline: TBC (2009 deadline was 7th August 2009).
    Word-count and content: Short story <5,000 words. Any subject/style.
    Fee: £15
    Prize(s): £10,000 first prize. Those aged 18-25, can also be entered in the Jeffrey Wainwright Manchester Young Writer of the Year Award to win a bursary to study Creative Writing at MMU.

    • The Dundee International Book Prize

    Deadline: TBC for 2010 (Opened July 1st in 2009; deadline November 30th).
    Word-count and content: An original work of fiction from unpublished authors, around 80,000 words in length. A <500 words synopsis is also required. No children's novels.
    Fee: Free
    Prize(s): £10,000 royalty advance and publication of novel.

    I'll keep you posted with my progress, but does anyone know any other writing competitions I should also enter? -x-

    2009 Soundtrack

    These are the songs which will always remind me of 2009:

    1. The Killers - For Reasons Unknown
    This was the song that started the New Year for me.

    2. Lady GaGa - Poker Face
    Awesome tune by the Gaga, which just happened to be released when I started my first grown-up job in February.

    3. The Communards - Don't Leave Me This Way
    This song is featured in Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, which is the West End musical I saw on my 24th birthday in April.

    4. Tinchy Stryder feat N-Dubz - Number One
    This is the tune I'll always associate with my trip to Egypt and Jordan in May.

    5. Freemasons feat. Sophie Ellis Bextor - Heartbreak (Make Me a Dancer)
    The summer song, which represents my many weekends in London and my trip to Turkey in September.

    6. The Four Seasons - Beggin'
    This is Christmas in London and Dorset. It may seem random and old, but it's because I saw Jersey Boys on the West End and this song stuck in my head!

    What songs will always remind you of 2009? xoxo

    If you're stuck remembering them, here's a fab mash-up of 2009 pop from DJ Earworm (spotted on Perez, but I found where you can download the song for free):

    Top chick lit reads of 2009

    In no particular order, here are my top ten chick lit reads of 2009:

    * Wives v. Girlfriends - Katie Agnew
    * Luxury - Jessica Ruston
    * Heiresses - Lulu Taylor
    * Johnny Be Good - Paige Toon
    * Valley of the Dolls - Jacqueline Susann
    * Gossip Girl - Cecily von Ziegesar
    * Remember Me? - Sophie Kinsella
    * Sex, Lies and Fairytales - Kate Thompson
    * A Vintage Affair - Isabel Wolff
    * Something Blue - Emily Giffin

    My top ten overall reads can be found here. What are your favourite reads of 2009?

    2010 goals

    Writing goals:

    1. Finish the first draft of Tabitha and edit.
    2. Re-work Lottie alongside Tabitha edits (Tabitha is a spin-off of Lottie).
    3. Package Lottie and Tabitha for submission.
    4. Re-work TROG submission package.
    5. Tweak Geli and Geli submission package.
    6. Write crime/thriller book - I really want to try my hand at a new genre and I started writing a crime/thriller called Boudica's Attic set in 1920s New York. Must finish it!
    7. Write chick-lit book #5 - possibly TROG #2.
    8. Enter at least 3 writing competitions.
    9. Freelance work for newspapers/magazines to build-up writing credentials.
    10. Get agent and book deal.
    11. Keep a personal journal for 2010 - up until 2005 I used to write in a journal most days; have bought a Moleskine diary to revive this!

    Other goals:

    1. Limit myself to 12 reads a month (144 reads a year is still respectable; 322 reads for 2009 was a wee bit excessive!).
    2. Blog online at least 5 times a month.
    3. Visit 2 new countries.
    4. See 2 West End musicals.

    What are your 2010 goals? -x-

    Top reads of 2009

    In no particular order, here are my top ten reads of 2009:

    * My Father's Notebook - Kader Abdolah
    * The Gift of Rain - Tan Twan Eng
    * Sookie Stackhouse - Charlaine Harris
    * Valley of the Dolls - Jacqueline Susann
    * The Nightingale - Morganna Gallaway
    * The Host - Stephenie Meyer
    * The Mozart Conspiracy - Scott Mariani
    * Johnny Be Good - Paige Toon
    * Moth Smoke - Mohsin Hamid
    * Revolutionary Road - Richard Yates

    What have been your favourite reads this year? xoxo

    Back up your back-ups!

    In May 2008, I suffered the nightmare of having my laptop blow up on me. Now, this probably wouldn't have been an issue - apart from the cost of having to buy a new one - but I stupidly hadn't backed up my files. It wasn't merely that I could lose photos and music, it was my books I would have been saying bye-bye to as well. Panic.

    Thankfully, my files were retrievable and I learnt a very valuable lesson to back up my work. Call me over-zealous but I do that now on not one, but two external hard drives.

    Except, last night, I wanted to access some photos... and both wouldn't work. At all. It wasn't as bad as I originally feared as I found a CD back-up of some of the photos, but I was missing my graduation ceremony and trip to the Caribbean. Thankfully I've managed to retrieve those photos, but it just shows how unreliable flash disks can be.

    If you don't want to lose your files, back up your back-ups. You can never have too many copies judging by what happened to me last night!

    Has anyone ever suffered a nightmare like this? How many copies do you make of your most important files?

    The trouble with speech recognition...

    As some of you may recall, I write my first drafts by hand. However, this has one major downside: I then have to type up this draft. Given I hate this, I had the idea of trying speech recognition software because, in theory, it should be quicker for me to read from my notes than it is for me to type up my notes... it's not. I ended up with this A Clockwork Orange style weirdness:

    I snap my case nature.

    Bottle, time, I burst in non-commitment there, that feeling of more Michael Vinn departments that best is me, sloppiness her. This is a crime punishable by extreme measures, is seen as the last person I detect a hint of love in him like in the girl when he found that she marry his spots, that it was all with profits overwhelmed. Except, I needn’t have treatment by administrative by him and how! I know his punishment will be severe in that ammunition getting his over, doubt she says there’s no love lost between me and him on that ground – space, you will meet thee.

    "Go on then, enlighten in, and the pain of different," he says.

    I guess this could be useful if I ever decide to make my writing dark, twisted and very odd, but I like happy writing that makes a bit more sense than the above! Looks like I'll have to stick to the pain-staking and horrible task of typing up my drafts myself. Yuck.

    Does everyone else write straight onto a computer screen? Or, like me, do you write your drafts by hand? x

    Across the Universe

    Has anyone seen the film Across the Universe? I am amazed this film escaped my attention back in 2007, but in the UK it was barely released into cinemas which explains why I've only just randomly come across this now.

    It's set to songs from The Beatles, and how it opens made me automatically think of Moulin Rouge. It's certainly as colourful and kooky as MR. The choreography and art direction is amazing.

    I'm not a fan of The Beatles in their own right (I have the memory of listening to one of their more trippy albums stuck in the middle-of-nowhere in a chateau in France and thinking WTF), but I love the use of their music in the likes of LOVE by Cirque du Soleil, and now in Across the Universe.

    Trailer below. Awesome film. This is the sort of all-singing, all-dancing, highly-visual film I would love to pen one day. It's all in my head (and it actually is and has been for a few years now - I can watch it as I would stick on a DVD to watch), I just need to get it down on paper.

    Book review: 24 Hours London

    Despite not been born there, and currently not living there (boo!), I am a London girl through and through. Which is funny, because the first time I ever stepped foot into Blighty's capital as a child, I HATED the place.

    But, London is a place that truly has something for everyone - a true melting pot - as I went on to discover once I'd put my disastrous visit aside. So much so, I thought there would be very little to surprise me when I read Marsha Moore's 24 Hours London - I was wrong.

    24 Hours London is different in that it is an around-the-clock guide to what to do in London. Which, when I thought about it, makes it not only the perfect book for me as a London-lover, but also for my characters if, let's say, they are stuck for something to do at 5am. If Arielle had Marsha's book then she might have gone to Breakfast at Egg instead of Piers' house and *that* could have made for an entirely different ending! ;)

    The book has the sorts of suggestions that truly are London's best-kept secrets (forget Hamleys, go play at the Playlounge; listen to a free lunchtime lecture at Gresham College, or visit the largest Hindu temple outside of India), and it really shows off the depth and breadth of what London has beyond the known and obvious tourist traps (though these are of course still pretty fabbity to visit!). Written not as a stiff, formal guide, it's easy-to-read, plus includes all relevant details.

    Whether it's for a personal trip or as a location tool for making your characters post-Cool Britannia, this book is definitely worth buying.

    November - December 2009 Reads

    Continuing on from January - April Reads, May - August Reads and September - October Reads, I will be updating this post with what I've read in November and December.

    [B] indicates a brand new read
    [R] a re-read
    [RR] a re-re-read!

    250. Microserfs - Douglas Coupland [B]
    251. Corpsing - Toby Litt [B]
    252. Trespassing - Uzma Aslam Khan [B]
    253. Sloppy Firsts - Megan McCafferty [B]
    254. Cause Celeb - Helen Fielding [B]
    255. English as a Second Language - Megan Crane [B]
    256. Second Helpings - Megan McCafferty [B]
    257. Blonde Roots - Bernardine Evaristo [B]
    258. Barefoot in the Dark - Lynne Barrett-Lee [B]
    259. My Father's Notebook - Kader Abdolah [B]
    260. Beyond Good and Evil - Friedrich Nietzsche [B]
    261. The Giver - Lois Lowry [B]
    262. A Tale of Two Cities - Charles Dickens [R]
    263. Naked in Knightsbridge - Nicky Schmidt [B]
    264. Thunderball - Ian Fleming [B]
    265. Slaughterhouse 5 - Kurt Vonnegut [B]
    266. Of Mice and Men - John Steinbeck [B]
    267. Good Girls Don't Have Fangs - Molly Harper [B]
    268. Personal Demons - Stacia Kane [B]
    269. For Your Eyes Only - Ben MacIntyre [B]
    270. The Gift of Rain - Tan Twan Eng [B]
    271. Straight on Till Morning - Lynne Barrett-Lee [B]
    272. The Cybergypsies - Indra Sinha [B]
    273. Airhead - Meg Cabot [B]
    274. Fahrenheit 451 - Ray Bradbury [B]
    275. Demon Inside - Stacia Kane [B]
    276. This Lullaby - Sarah Dessen [B]
    277. The Truth About Forever - Sarah Dessen [B]
    278. The Story of Forgetting - Stefan Merrill Block [B]
    279. Luxury - Jessica Ruston [B]
    280. The Hobbit - JRR Tolkien [RR]
    281. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix - JK Rowling [RR]
    282. Confessions of a Reluctant Recessionista - Amy Silver [B]
    283. London Fields - Martin Amis [B]
    284. Being Nicki - Meg Cabot [B]
    285. Godmother: Secret Cinderella Story - Carolyn Turgeon [B]
    286. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince - JK Rowling [RR]
    287. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - JK Rowling [RR]
    288. The Girls' Guide to Hunting and Fishing - Melissa Bank [B]
    289. Me and Miss M - Jemma Forte [B]
    290. The End of Innocence - Moni Mohsin [B]
    291. Wives v. Girlfriends - Katie Agnew [B]
    292. Dead Until Dark - Charlaine Harris [R]
    293. Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood - Rebecca Wells [B]
    294. Midnight's Children - Salman Rushdie [B]
    295. The Secret Life of Bees - Sue Monk Kidd [B]
    296. Living Dead in Dallas - Charlaine Harris [R]
    297. On Her Majesty's Secret Service - Ian Fleming [B]
    298. Club Dead - Charlaine Harris [R]
    299. Notes from a Small Island - Bill Bryson [RR]
    300. Private Members - Leonie Fox [B]
    301. Passion - Louise Bagshawe [B]
    302. Dead to the World - Charlaine Harris [R]
    303. Before We Were Thirty - Katie Agnew [B]
    304. Dead as a Doornail - Charlaine Harris [R]
    305. Three Cups of Tea - Greg Mortenson [B]
    306. Definitely Dead - Charlaine Harris [R]
    307. Q & A - Vikas Swarup [B]
    308. Valley of the Dolls - Jacqueline Susann [B]
    309. All Together Dead - Charlaine Harris [R]
    310. A Hopeless Romantic - Harriet Evans [B]
    311. Fanny Hill - John Cleland [B]
    312. Human Traces - Sebastian Faulks [B]
    313. Revelation - Bill Napier [B]
    314. Insomnia - Stephen King [B]
    315. The House - Danielle Steel [B]
    316. The Potter's House - Rosie Thomas [B]
    317. Belshazzar's Daughter - Barbara Nadel [B]
    318. This Year It Will Be Different - Maeve Binchy [B]
    319. My Old Man - Amy Sohn [B]
    320. Last Chance Saloon - Marian Keyes [R]
    321. You Only Live Twice - Ian Fleming [B]

    2009 grand total:
    321 books
    Brand new reads: 265
    Second reads: 28
    Books read more than twice before: 28

    Playing catch-up

    OK, I really need to get back into blogging properly. When thinking back to the past few years, I made the conclusion that I am a seasonal writer. I figured it was the nights getting darker that made me stop reading books and inspired me to start writing them. But, actually, my main writing "season" also seems to correlate with the empty months between the end of the Formula 1 season and the start of the next one ... Hmm!

    Speaking of which, I am so happy Jenson (and Brawn GP) won the World Championship this year. I've been a massive fan of his since he started out in F1 back in 2000, and I really hope he signs back to Brawn GP for the 2010 season.

    Sadly, I didn't win the Sydney trip, but I'm very pleased that Mili did. {^_^} Thanks to everyone who commented/tweeted re: my Sydney posts - much appreciated!

    Now that I'm not getting a free jolly, I have to stop spending so much money on books (it's a crazy amount!). Since my Recommended Reads post, I now have to recommend: Moth Smoke (Mohsin Hamid), The Kite Runner (Khaled Hosseini), and Ian Fleming's James Bond books.

    I was a wee bit disappointed with The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets' Nest (Stieg Larsson), but I loved re-reading two of my favourite books: Bridget Jones's Diary (Helen Fielding) and The Secret Island (Enid Blyton). ♥ If you use GoodReads, add me to see what I rate each book I read. One day I'll be a GoodReads author and my books will be on there. {^_^}

    I'm still working on my submission package for TROG, and then I'm majorly excited about resuming Tabitha (once I've typed up what I have so far of that draft. Anyone know a decent, free voice-typing package? I hate typing up drafts!). I love Tabitha because I alternate chapters between the voice of Tabitha and the voice of her dishy doctor - it's very fun writing from a male perspective! :D

    Hope you're all well - even though I've not been commenting as much on blogs, I have been reading them; I'm going to get back into my good blogging habits of old, I promise! -x-

    Recommended Reads

    I can barely believe it myself, but in the past nine months, I've read over 200 books! So, I've decided to recommend my 20 best 2009 reads (so far, oh and most were published before 2009):

    • The Girl Who Played With Fire - Stieg Larsson
    • The Sookie Stackhouse series - Charlaine Harris
    • The Mozart Conspiracy - Scott Mariani
    • The Host - Stephenie Meyer
    • The Nightingale - Morganna Gallaway
    • The Reluctant Fundamentalist - Mohsin Hamid
    • Noughts and Crosses - Malorie Blackman
    • Marley and Me - John Grogan
    • Sex, Lies and Fairytales - Kate Thompson
    • Gossip Girl - Cecily von Ziegesar
    • My Sister's Keeper - Jodi Picoult
    • How to Lose Friends and Alienate People - Toby Young
    • Johnny Be Good - Paige Toon
    • The Rum Diary - Hunter S. Thompson
    • Arthur and George - Julian Barnes
    • Animal Farm - George Orwell
    • Rebecca - Daphne du Maurier
    • Prozac Nation - Elizabeth Wurtzel
    • Catch-22 - Joseph Heller
    • The Clothes on Their Backs - Linda Grant

    As for writing, I'm finding as the light disappears, I'm putting down other people's books and picking mine up. After reading so many books, this is a *very* good thing! I'll be blogging more about my writing progress in a few days time.

    Sydney: It's criminal not to visit!

    Don't worry, you no longer have to commit a crime to get to visit Sydney! Whilst Sydney has certainly increased in size since Arthur Phillip - commodore of the First Fleet, and first Governor of New South Wales - landed there in 1788, it's now a lot quicker to get there! Over 90,000 passengers travel through Sydney Airport every day, which is conveniently located just 9km from the city.

    But, once you're there, what can you do? The answer to that is what can't you do - Sydney, after all, is internationally renowned and one of the world's most multicultural cities. This Sydney guide gives you a taste of how Sydney lives up to its well-deserved reputation.

    When you think of Sydney, chances are you'll immediately think of the Opera House. But, you don't just have to be an Opera fan to explore what's inside. The Sydney Opera House is a multi-purpose venue and plays hosts to a wide range of excellent entertainment, from the Bangarra Dance Theatre's Fire - A Retrospective, to the Sydney Symphony. Though, of course, you can also catch a Gilbert & Sullivan, if you want!

    To get a sense of Sydney, what better way than to climb the bridge for breath-taking panoramic views. Yes, that's right, the Bridge Climb allows you to see Sydney from a whole new height, a height of 134m to be precise! Or, if you truly have a head for heights, head up another 130m to see the spectacular view from the Sydney Tower.

    After the breath-taking views, a trip to the Royal Botanic Gardens will bring you back down to earth! It's the site of the first farm in Australia, set up by ... Governor Arthur Phillip! Make sure you visit Arthur's statue in the Gardens, as well as the Palace Rose Garden. If you prefer your nature a little wilder, head to Sydney Wildlife World or the world-famous Taronga Zoo.

    Did you know, it used to be illegal to bathe in the ocean during daylight? It was considered too indecent! Thankfully, the law was changed, so feel safe you're not commiting any crimes when you take a trip down to Bondi Beach - Sydney's most famous beach. Try the north side of the beach if you're new to surfing, the rip is much more gentler than the south side.

    As surfing burns a lot of calories, food will be on your mind. If you're feeling fancy, stick on a Willow dress (if you're a girl!) and head to Tetsuya's, one of Sydney's top restaurants. Alternatively, if you've embraced the mellow attitude of Bondi and are feeling casual, pop to one of the many farmers' markets and rustle up a scintillating dish to delight your taste buds! Or, you could always just throw a steak on the barbie!

    Finally, Sydney nightlife. Don't let the word 'hotel' confuse you; in Australia this denotes a drinking establishment! The Argyle Hotel, Landsdowne Hotel and the Lord Nelson Brewery Hotel are popular venues, but just ask any Sydneysider where the hot spots are - they'll be sure to tell you the best places to dance the night away!

    Sydney is a fantastic place with lots to see, do and enjoy. And remember, if you decide to visit, they do let you back out of the country nowadays! ;p I hope you've enjoyed The Awesome Tour of Sydney - let me know what your favourite parts were (refresh your memory here) - and keep your fingers crossed that I get to see all of Sydney's delights in the flesh soon! If I do, please buy a raffle ticket and you too might get to enjoy the fabbity prize (and donate money to charity at the same time), or if you fancy booking a trip, check out STA Travel. Hooroo!

    What would YOU do in Sydney?

    Oops. Turns out I'm not done with the #sendmetosydney challenges just yet, though this is *definitely* the last one!

    We want you to put to use everything you’ve learnt and assume the role of Awesome Tour Guide. We’d like you to create a visitor’s guide for Sydney; it could be a city guide or a guide to a specific location, attraction or event, using knowledge gained from the last 5 Challenges for inspiration.

    Check out the summary of the Tour so far here, and for additional inspiration for the Guide, see these links:

    * Try Paddle Surfing
    * Visit the Bondi Icebergs Club* Cuddle a Koala at the Sanctuary
    * Enjoy pub fare and ale at the Lord Nelson
    * Or look at these other Sydney highlights and events.

    So, is there anywhere in particular anyone would like me to feature? {^_^} Please, please get involved - it's the last challenge, and you could make all the difference and seal my win merely by suggesting some places for me and letting me know which of my challenge entries is your favourite! -x-

    Challenge 5: Making wishes come true

    The 5th and final Sydney challenge deadline is today and my task was to turn my attention to Sydney culture and nightlife and run my very own Sydney-themed event. As I was in Turkey, I must confess I've not had the time to organise an event. However, something about the challenge e-mail caught my eye:

    We will provide you with £200 to do it... the only rule is that the £200 is used responsibly.

    Now, this got me thinking. From the very start of this challenge, I've always kept in the back of mind that I should be thinking like an Australian. So, I researched into Australian culture and found out that:

    Australians are among the hardest-working people in the world with some of the longest working hours in the developed world.

    Another common perception of Australians is that they are informal, open and direct and say what they mean. They are also seen as people who believe in the principle of giving people a fair go and standing up for their mates, the disadvantaged and the underdog.

    Reading this made me think it wouldn't be very Australian to enjoy a £200 party, especially considering if I win I'll get a trip to Oz. So, I will be donating the £200 (AU $385) event money to the Australian branch of Make-A-Wish.

    The key mission of the charity is to grant wishes to children with life-threatening medical conditions, these vary per child but could be a trip to Disneyland or Australia's Gold Coast. The child might want to meet their favourite celebrity, or perhaps they want to go on a shopping spree. Whatever it is, Make-A-Wish makes their wish come true.

    I feel this is a much better utilisation of the money, but also a very Australian thing to do, and if I win, I'll also be raffling off the community tickets for charity. I'll let you know what the outcome is!

    Not so much a Turkish delight

    I'm back from my recent holiday to Turkey with mixed feelings. Whilst out there, the weather was lovely (though not as hot as when I was in Jordan and Egypt in May), but the attitude of local people - read, local men - made the holiday not be the Turkish delight it should have been.

    I hate being negative, but I've travelled to many different countries across the globe and never once come close to the level of hassle, rudeness and general feelings of unease experienced in Turkey. I'll probably only ever return there to go to Istanbul, but I suggest if you're female and travelling with female friends, you avoid Turkish coastal resorts... unless you want to be plagued, that is.

    Putting the negatives aside, I'll tell you about the delights! We went on a cruise down the Dalyan Delta and I amazingly got to see one of the endangered loggerhead turtles. They will be nesting on İztuzu Beach in a few weeks (pictured top left), and they are HUGE! Naturally, the boat chorused "aww" when she popped her head up. I know she was a she because the sex of a turtle is dependent upon temperature - it was female weather!

    The cruise also took us to the Sultaniye mud and sulphur baths. The mud was disgustingly squelchy, the sulphur pool smelly, but both have benefits - they supposingly cure ailments and make you look ten years younger! Nope, I can't say I look fourteen!

    The cruise also took us past the tombs of Lycia. Carved into the cliff-side is the resting place of the Kings of Kaunos:

    We were actually based in the resort of Ölüdeniz on the Aegean Coast though, staying here.

    Ölüdeniz is renowned world-wide for being where you can paraglide off the 1,975 m high Babadag Mountain. Of course, I did it! ;p

    OK, I didn't but, as you can see from the above photo, the paragliders really do land anywhere... that's not exactly restful when you're on the beach and you have people yelling at you to move so they can land! Meep!

    All-in-all, it's a nice enough place scenery-wise, but I wouldn't class it as a must-visit destination - unless you're a paragliding fanatic, that is.

    Still, looking on the bright side, I have a nice tan! {^_^}

    September - October 2009 Reads:

    Continuing on from January - April Reads and May - August Reads, I will be updating this post with what I've read between September - October.

    [B] indicates a brand new read
    [R] a re-read
    [RR] a re-re-read!

    156. Priceless - Olivia Darling [B]
    157. Secrets - Freya North [B]
    158. Captain Corelli's Mandolin - Louis de Bernières [B]
    159. The Devil's Star - Jo Nesbø [B]
    160. The Secret Garden - Frances Hodgson Burnett [RR]
    161. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire - JK Rowling [RR]
    162. We Are Family - Josie Lloyd & Emlyn Rees [B]
    163. Trading Up - Candace Bushnell [B]
    164. Exes Anonymous - Lauren Henderson [B]
    165. Cold Comfort Farm - Stella Gibbons [B]
    166. Sepulchre - Kate Mosse [B]
    167. The White Queen - Philippa Gregory [B]
    168. Labyrinth - Kate Mosse [B]
    169. The Mozart Conspiracy - Scott Mariani [B]
    170. The Heretic's Treasure - Scott Mariani [B]
    171. Wide Sargasso Sea - Jean Rhys [B]
    172. First Term at Malory Towers - Enid Blyton [RR]
    173. The Awakening - LJ Smith [B]
    174. The Struggle - LJ Smith [B]
    175. Chasing Daisy - Paige Toon [B]
    176. The Fury - L J Smith [B]
    177. Dark Reunion - L J Smith [B]
    178. The Picture of Dorian Gray - Oscar Wilde [B]
    179. Bad Kitty - Michele Jaffe [B]
    180. The Lost Symbol - Dan Brown [B]
    181. Second Form at Malory Towers - Enid Blyton [RR]
    182. Dead to the World - Charlaine Harris [B]
    183. Dead as a Doornail - Charlaine Harris [B]
    184. The Last Testament - Sam Bourne [B]
    185. Johnny Be Good - Paige Toon [B]
    186. Third Year at Malory Towers - Enid Blyton [RR]
    187. The Sister Diaries - Karen Quinn [B]
    188. Love Lies - Adele Parks [B]
    189. My Brother is an Only Child - Antonio Pennacchi [B]
    190. Definitely Dead - Charlaine Harris [B]
    191. All Together Dead - Charlaine Harris [B]
    192. From Dead to Worse - Charlaine Harris [B]
    193. The Alchemist's Secret - Scott Mariani [B]
    194. The Reluctant Fundamentalist - Mohsin Hamid [B]
    195. Love Letters of Great Men - Ursula Doyle (Ed) [B]
    196. The Road - Cormac McCarthy [B]
    197. I Heart New York - Lindsey Kelk [B]
    198. Secret Vampire - L J Smith [B]
    199. Daughters of Darkness - L J Smith [B]
    200. Enchantress - L J Smith [B]
    201. Backwards in High Heels - T. Kindersley & S. Vine [B]
    202. The Pursuit of Love - Nancy Mitford [B]
    203. Bookends - Jane Green [R]
    204. Brave New World - Aldous Huxley [R]
    205. The Notebook - Nicholas Sparks [B]
    206. Moth Smoke - Mohsin Hamid [B]
    207. Dead and Gone - Charlaine Harris [B]
    208. Outliers - Malcolm Gladwell [B]
    209. Grave Sight - Charlaine Harris [B]
    210. Lucy in the Sky - Paige Toon [B]
    211. The Pact - Jodi Picoult [B]
    212. Burial - Neil Cross [B]
    213. The Cellist of Sarajevo - Steven Galloway [B]
    214. Unsticky - Sarra Manning [B]
    215. Knots & Crosses - Ian Rankin [B]
    216. The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets' Nest - Stieg Larsson [B]
    217. Emma - Jane Austen [B]
    218. Bridget Jones's Diary - Helen Fielding [RR]
    219. The WAG's Diary - Alison Kervin [R]
    220. Casino Royale - Ian Fleming [B]
    221. Live and Let Die - Ian Fleming [B]
    222. Moonraker - Ian Fleming [B]
    223. Diamonds Are Forever - Ian Fleming [B]
    224. The Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseini [B]
    225. From Russia with Love - Ian Fleming [B]
    226. Dr No - Ian Fleming [B]
    227. The Secret Island - Enid Blyton [RR]
    228. Goldfinger - Ian Fleming [B]
    229. The Myth of Sisyphus - Albert Camus [R]
    230. The Diving Bell & the Butterfly - Jean-Dominique Bauby [B]
    231. Country Pursuits - Jo Carnegie [R]
    232. Naked Truths - Jo Carnegie [B]
    233. A Thousand Splendid Suns - Khaled Hosseini [B]
    234. Heiresses - Lulu Taylor [B]
    235. A WAG Abroad - Alison Kervin [B]
    236. To Kill A Mockingbird - Harper Lee [B]
    237. Twilight - Stephenie Meyer [RR]
    238. New Moon - Stephenie Meyer [RR]
    239. Eclipse - Stephenie Meyer [RR]
    240. Breaking Dawn - Stephenie Meyer [RR]
    241. Frenemies - Megan Crane [B]
    242. I Am Legend - Richard Matheson [B]
    243. Revolutionary Road - Richard Yates [B]
    244. Guilty Pleasures - Tasmina Perry [B]
    245. The Reader - Bernhard Schlink [B]
    246. 24 Hours London - Marsha Moore [B]
    247. The Prophecy - Chris Kuzneski [B]
    248. Crash - JG Ballard [B]
    249. Blah Blah Black Sheep - Maggie Gibson [B]

    In September and October I read 94 books! 78 of those were brand new reads, 5 were second reads, and there were 11 books I've read several times before. Given I've had an absolute book binge in September and October, you can find November and December's reads here - the target is 300 books read in 2009!!


    Just a quick post to say I'll be back blogging on the 8th - I'm heading off to Ölüdeniz in Turkey for a week!

    Hope you all have a fab upcoming week! -x-

    Challenge 4: Call of the Wild

    We want you to take inspiration from the various animals that can be found in and around Sydney, and create your own Australian creature – whether it be a mash-up of existing animals (platypus, koala, wombat, emu– there’s plenty to choose from!) or a completely new species.

    Thanks to Anna for suggesting I look at Unique Australian Animals - my protagonist is named in your honour! I also used the Blue Mountains National Park site in my research and every writer's cheat site, Wikipedia! For challenge #4 I've written a children's story:

    "300 million years ago," the voice drawls, "the landscape here was mainly made of quartzite. Now quartzite is a fascinating material. You see, it's a hard metamorphic rock that is created when sandstone is subjected to tectonic pressure within orogenic belts. Now when that happens ..."

    Now was the time for Anna to sneak off. Their tour guide was dull, dull, dull, yet all the grown-ups looked captivated. Either that or they had had years of practice to perfect an interested face. Well, Anna wasn't going to pretend. She wasn't going to waste time listening to dull tour guides, not when she had animals to find!

    Anna was in New South Wales on holiday with her parents, who had finally relented and allowed them to vacation Down Under just so Anna could see an actual real-life koala (though she suspected her parents had a hidden agenda to the trip, they usually did). Ever since she was a little girl she had hankered to see a real-life koala all because she had fallen in love with the cuddly stuffed koala her godmother had bestowed upon her. As always, Trip - her koala - was with Anna. In her bag she also had her book of Unique Australian Animals.

    " ... that was in the Triassic Period, 250 million years ago ..."

    Anna shot a quick look at her parents - they were enthralled - no one would miss her and Trip if they just went for a little scout around.

    "Ooh, look Trip. It's a echidna! Isn't it cute? Like a hedgehog really. And look, Trip! Could that be a -"

    Anna flipped through her book.

    "Now we must be very quiet, Trip," Anna whispered. "For that looks like it could be a quoll! Can you believe it, Trip? A quoll! I thought they were mainly nocturnal, but not only that," Anna told Trip seriously, "they are also endangered."

    Trip wasn't sure what endangered meant, but it didn't sound good. And speaking of not sounding good, what was that noise? That very dangerous rustling noise coming from the closed forest? Surely Anna wouldn't want to investigate, but Trip knew she would.

    "Ooh, dare we, Trip? Shall we have a peek?"

    Hadn't she read her book carefully enough? Did she not realise this was a very bad idea? They were in Australia, not back home in the New Forest. This was land of dangerous creatures a-plenty. Trip didn't want to be a bore, but surely they should be re-joining Mr Boring Tour Guide and not stepping into dark and threatening woodland.

    But, Trip had to admit, he was was glad they ventured in because what they stumbled across ... well, he reckoned hardly anyone had ever seen what they got to see.

    At first Anna thought it was a sheltering swamp wallaby, but then it twitched its tail and Anna realised it had the tail of a wombat. Mutation, perhaps? Anna knew all about mutations as her parents were scientists, but somehow she knew that this was no wombat, nor a sheltering swamp wallaby - this was something completely different.

    Anna edged closer. The creature, whatever it was, was a jumble of everything! It had the colouring of a tree frog around its arms and legs, a rich red and orange colour that contrasted wildly with its dull body fur usually found on bandicoots. Around its neck was a frill, identical to those of the frilled neck lizard, but Anna couldn't see the creature's face - it was luckily turned in the opposite direction to Anna and Trip. It had the short ears of a kangaroo, but it didn't seem to have the kangaroo's excellent hearing. What was this thing?!

    "I will call you the Annatrip," Anna declared, forgetting that she should really be quiet.

    At that, the Annatrip swiftly turned to face Anna and that's when she saw it had the deadly face of an emu, Anna's worst nightmare. She stumbled back, but she knew it was too late because of its strong dingo-like legs - it would catch her and probably devour her within seconds. The Annatrip let out a harsh cry, and that's when everything went black as Anna and Trip hurtled into a pile of leaves ...


    "Anna, Anna," a voice called, a hand shaking her. "My, she must be jet-lagged," she heard her mother tinkle. "Wake up, sweetie. It's time for you to meet a koala - you'll like that, won't you?"

    Anna opened her eyes, she was certain she'd just been staring into the venomous eyes of ... well, that - whatever that was - but here she was with her parents and Mr Boring Tour Guide looking down disapprovingly at her and or perhaps at Trip cuddled in her arm.

    Oh. A dream.

    Except, as Anna picked up Trip to follow the rest of the group onto the next part of their tour, she noticed that she and Trip were covered in manna, a sugary deposit left by feeding insects on leaves. If they'd been with the group all along, how could ...

    It had been real! She was never going to forget her trip to Australia now, though she would always think twice about entering closed forests where mysterious creatures could be roaming!

    Are you generic?

    Do you stick to reading one genre of choice, or do you read many different genres of books? What's your favourite genre? Your least favourite?

    Pulp, free and holiday Fiction!

    First up, Pulp Fiction. Here's me to the left recreating Mia for a fancy dress party. I look bizarre (but I wanted to share)! Moving on!

    Last week I won The White Queen via @simonschusterUK. They were looking for the 1st, 5th, 10th, 14th, 20th, 25th, 28th, 30th, 35th, 40th replies... I was the 40th! I'm very happy for the freebie (obviously), but I'm a Phillipa Gregory fan so would have bought her book anyway! Thank you @simonschusterUK (Twitter's great!)

    Finally, holiday fiction! I feel very lucky this summer because I get two summer holidays! I was in Jordan and Egypt in May (see here and here), and I'm heading to Turkey for a week. Ah, sunshine!

    If anyone wants to help me choose a few books to take, have a look at my to-read pile. As we all know, choosing holiday fiction is a *very* important decision! Thanks!

    Going Wild!

    This week's challenge is looking at Wildlife:

    We want you to take inspiration from the various animals that can be found in and around Sydney, and create your own Australian creature – whether it be a mash-up of existing animals (platypus, koala, wombat, emu– there’s plenty to choose from!) or a completely new species.

    A little help, please? (But no emus!! They absolutely TERRIFY me - always have done, always will! :s)

    Piece of cake!

    When I read the blurb for the third challenge, I thought it would be a piece of cake to: recreate a well-known building, monument or geographical feature, and have your photo taken in front of it. How you go about making the icon is entirely up to you - we're thinking about going down the mashed-potato Sydney Opera House avenue (seems perfectly sane to us)!

    So, I literally chose cake as my material! I really hope you recognise the Sydney Opera House as my icon!

    Now, let me just say, I thought it would be easy peasy to cut a round sponge cake into the opera house shape. Ah. No. No, it's not! On my first attempt, the entire thing crumbled! Trying to get the icing smooth caused it to crumble more, and then when I dyed the icing blue... my hands are currently a *lovely* colour!!

    But, I persevered, and I don't think the end result is too bad! o_O Here's how I did it:

    Make sponge base.

    Use template to cut out cake and start spreading icing (you can see the failed attempt at the back of this picture).

    Finish icing cake white. Make blue icing using food colouring!

    Spread blue icing to create sea. Use icing pen to write Sydney on plate! Voila!

    (It's terrible, I know.)

    An Iconic Week

    I've survived sports and fashion, the next challenge is themed around Sydney icons:

    We want to see you recreate a well-known building, monument or geographical feature, and have your photo taken in front of it. How you go about making the icon is entirely up to you - we're thinking about going down the mashed-potato Sydney Opera House avenue (seems perfectly sane to us)!

    There's another example here of how a Sydney icon can be created, but does anyone have any ideas for this week's challenge? Which icon should I pick, and how should I recreate it? I'll just remind you of what the prize is for your thoughts! ;p

    Sydney Style

    Last week's challenge was to create an outfit that screams Sydney, so I've decided to do two outfits because everyone from London to LA, Tokyo to Sydney knows you can't just stick to one outfit per day. Pfiut! (Though if I can only be judged on one, go for the evening one!)

    As I loved my surf example I gave last week when outlining the fashion challenge, that's my day look. The look to the left is the perfect Bondi beachwear look for the surfer girl. Billabong bikini (which is an Australian brand, and we all know 'billabong' means small oxbow lake), some sass & bide hotpants (you got it, Australian!), my sunnies and ... uh, a pair of thongs (because that sounds weird, I'll admit that they are my Havaianas and therefore not Australian - damnit!!).

    When the tide turns, the hoody below by Oz brand Mossimo (I absolutely rate Mossimo for their vests - I have about 20 of them!) is the perfect item to throw on and head home to get ready for when the fun really begins in Sydney!

    (NB: I think I deserve some extra points for exposing flesh on my blog. Plus, if I could have, I would have posed with a surfboard but I couldn't find one to borrow! I even contemplated adapting an ironing board! ;p Dedication!)

    Anyway, onto the evening look! I, of course, recalled what Maggie Alderson says in Pants on Fire and Mad About The Boy about the Sydney look (they are both set there), plus I had a squiz at Vogue Australia to see what it is that is so distinct about that Sydney look. This is what I came up with:

    Sydney Style

    The marble silk dress is by Australian brand Willow - the colour is "burnt sand" but they'll be nothing burnt about our Sydney fashionista who knows to take care in the sun! Willow is quite a bohemian brand, but at the same time very elegant - I think is *key* to the Sydney evening look. I was torn between the Willow dress and a Collette Dinnigan one, but the Willow one won me over as it is gorgeous, yet subtle enough to team with the funky suede Manolo Blahnik heels. ♥ The heels set off the dress, but they are also very eye-catching and *very* playful. Again, I think this is a key Australian trait - casual may be preferred, but it's playful casual for the Aussies!

    The blue diamond print Alexander McQueen jacket is optional, depending on whether you get cold or not, and the Chanel clutch and matching cuff highlight the love women have for key pieces , regardless of where they live in the world!

    (It's always so, so, SO important to match up your handbag with an accessory, if you can't match it with your shoes. Best scenario is matching your heels, bag and one accessory, but the heels work with the jacket in this instance!)

    Simple bronzed make-up, tousled hair à la model Elyse Taylor, and you'll be looking perfect for cocktails at the Blu Horizon Bar at Shangri-La!


    I've not used YouWriteOn since December, 2008, but decided last month to reactivate the opening chapters I have up from my third book to see how it fared.

    Very briefly, YouWriteOn is a website sponsored by the Arts Council England where you can upload your work (6,000 - 10,000 words for books; 2,000 - 5,000 for short stories) and have it critiqued by your peers. There are eight categories to be rated on, and each month you are entered into the chart; the top five receive professional advice.

    On reactivation I ranked joint 21st, and a few days later I received this review:

    I really enjoyed this. The characters were engaging and credible and I really liked Geli's narration - she was funny, self-deprecating and likeable. Also thought Toblerone was a good character and some of the references of others who may be introduced, like Glinda's boyfriend Jeeves and Geli's nemesis Tiggy, were 'fabbity' - I looked forward to meeting them.

    Much of what Elle has written is witty and well observed - 'pods' and other corporate BS, the 'Hot or Not' column and itss impact - increases in Toblerone sales and the writer being sent free Tobleorones - and the way in which people use and react to Facebook. There were just lots of wry, accurate observations in there that would make me want to read on.

    I also like some of the little jokes ' Claire Voyante' and 'Claire Sinclair' - and Geli's reaction of 'Bitch' when she hears her sister has a boyfriend. Very funny.

    I can't really find anything to criticise, I really liked the work. I assume the Hillary-Obama race sets the time period we are in so that it sets a timeframe for the book.

    As a bloke, I don't buy books that are described as 'chick-lit', but having started to read this I would definitely want to read on. I like Geli, I like her sardonic view of the world she inhabits and I want to find out what happens to her.

    A really enjoyable read.

    I find this is especially nice because this is the book I was absolutely slated on "professionally" (I use the word professional loosely because I have my doubts on those people, but I won't bring THAT sorry mess into this blog). It's lovely to know (and this counts for my other YWO reviews) that actual people would read my books, yet, so far, that's not been good enough to convince those who yield the power and can make that happen ... but, for now, it's encouragement and that's always a lovely thing to encourage a writer on.

    If you're an aspiring writer, check out the site!

    Fashion, Sydney-style

    Thanks to everyone who has tweeted or mentioned my Sydney Challenge so far. Hopefully some of you are going to get more involved with this week's challenge (please, please do!) because it is FASHION!

    I've been asked to: create an outfit that screams 'I'm all about Sydney'. Hand-stitched, elegantly sketched or charity-shop purchased, as long as it stays clear of the Crocodile Dundee 'cork-hung hat', it's up to you!

    There are many different occasions an outfit could be created for. The photo above is definitely a Bondi look: Billabong bikini (which is an Australian brand, and we all know 'billabong' means small oxbow lake), some sass & bide hotpants (you got it, Australian!), my sunnies and... uh, a pair of thongs (because that sounds weird, I'll admit that they are my Havaianas and therefore not Australian - damn it!!).

    However, I think that photo is too obvious for my entry, so I'd like YOUR help to come up with a truly Sydney outfit.

    Check out Urban Walkabout, See Sydney and My Sydney, as well as Australian Vogue (where I found a Chanel surfboard ♥♥), plus I also think you should check out Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (which if you remember, I saw on the West End on my birthday this year ... with Jason Donovan!!! - I'd *love* to see some Priscilla drag-inspired entries, but nothing daggy, please! ;p). Comment on this post with your outfit links, tweet or e-mail me!

    I'm certain I know plenty of fashionable blog and Twitter people, so prove me right and YOU could win the awesome prize! All other information can be found here on my blog, but you can also peek here to check out who I'm up against and other "official" updates about the Awesome Tour.

    Buyer or a borrower?

    Do you buy or borrow books? If you buy, where from? Independent or chain bookshops? The supermarket? Online? If you borrow, is it from friends or the library?

    Personally, I buy books off Amazon, but occasionally some will fall into the supermarket trolley. I've not used a library recreationally in years!

    How about you? Are you a book buyer, borrower, or both?

    The Sydney Gold Cup

    'Listen to that.'


    'Exactly,' I smile, opening my eyes and squinting against the fierce sunshine that's beating down, even at this early hour - or at least it feels early, I'm not quite sure what time it is; that's what jet lag does to a girl. 'It's the noise of what. As in whatever we want,' I expand. 'No gruelling commute. No 9-5 grind-'

    '7-8, more like,' Cal interrupts, rolling his eyes.

    'No rain,' I continue because the last thing I want to think about is work - not here. 'No deadlines. No nothing if we fancy. Just rest and relaxation,' I sigh happily.

    'Recharge the batteries?'

    'Exactly,' I smile, as I take in the energetic surfers riding the swell at Bondi. 'A bit of culture, some sight-seeing-'

    'A go at that, perhaps?' Cal nods towards the surfers.

    'Maybe in a week,' I consider, 'but today I'm going to do nothing. Glorious nothing,' I repeat as I ease myself back into the beach to scorch up some sun ...

    ... only to be interrupted what feels like two seconds later by a booming voice.

    'There you are! Honestly, you two are more slippery than a pair of crocs!'

    ' Ethan,' I weakly say, struggling to sit up. I'm dumbfounded - what's Ethan doing here? True, I knew he'd moved back to Australia, but still ... Cal, on the other hand, looks less surprised.

    'Couldn't let you two Poms loose without returning some of that great English hospitality you once showed me,' he beams good-naturedly at me as he slaps Cal on the back. Ouch, looks like someone didn't put his suncream on judging by Cal's wince - he needs to be careful. 'I'm here to show you the real Sydney.'

    'No, no,' I protest quickly sounding very plummy all of a sudden, sort of how I sounded when we first met Ethan back at a random house party in Shepherd's Bush nine years ago. Half the house had been full of Aussies, all buoyant because of Ian Thorpe's swimming medals, not to mention all the other medals the Aussies had won on home turf that Olympics. 'It's so kind of you to offer, but we wouldn't want to be an imposition, Ethan, put you out.'

    'Nonsense! I'm not falling for that Pommy politeness, so there's no point arguing with me. I'm going to give you two a taste of Sydney you'll never forget. Ah look, here come the cavalry,' he nods towards some of the very tanned and fit-looking surfers I'd noticed earlier. 'On the north side,' he tuts. 'Wusses.'


    'The rip, it's only a four this side. Piece of piss! Come on you drongos,' he yells at them, as Cal looks at me apologetically. I'm in for a long day.


    When I pictured our trip to Australia, our romantic getaway, I pictured sunsets overlooking the Harbour with a nice glass (or two) of Penfolds Grange. What I didn't count on was this.

    'Are we clear then?' says Hunter.

    Or it could be Hayden. Maybe Mason? I can't tell anymore. I'm exhausted after the day we've had - volleyball, drinking, watching some Rugby League, drinking, more drinking - and with the jet lag, I just want to sleep. But I can't. Because we're in a pub. Well, hotel is how they keep referring to it. And we're about to play some drinking game of ... Cameron's? Brayden's? I just don't know, and you think I'd be happy being surrounded by five fit Aussie men (oh, and Cal), but recalling Ethan's competitive spirit, I know this is going to get messy. Plus, I'm already quite drunk, drunk enough to have eaten a pie floater (there goes the healthy holiday eating) to try and soak up some of the alcohol. It's likely with this game I'm going to get wrecked.

    'No, no,' Ethan interjects, 'those are the Melbourne rules. The Sydney Gold Cup is played like this. We split into pairs - one person being the jockey, the other being the horse. The jockey is piggybacked by the horse, who has a pint on his head. The jockey has to drink the pint with-'

    'No hands!'

    'That's right, with no hands off the horse's head. If the pint is knocked off, there's a time penalty when it comes to the sprint, and it's likely it'll fall,' Ethan grins wickedly, 'as the horsey has to throw three darts at the board at the same time. But, whichever pair gets the best darts score, gets a head start on the sprint. First one to the Opera House entrance wins-'

    'The golden cup!'

    'The golden cup,' Ethan beams, 'full of the amber delight! Lucy, you can be the umpire.'

    I'm relieved I don't have to actively take part.

    'Head down to the Opera House because you have the important task of deciding who's first-past-the-post!'

    Like I said, as I head out into the warm night after seeing Cal jump onto Ethan's back, when I pictured our trip to Australia, our romantic getaway, I pictured sunsets overlooking the Harbour with a nice glass (or two) of Penfolds Grange. What I didn't count on was this ...

    ... but, when in Australia, I suppose!

    Sydney Cricket Challenge

    If you've seen this post, you'll know I'm currently participating in the a competition to win tickets to Sydney for myself and one lucky PD&P reader. This week I need help with this:

    Sydney Cricket is a simple game you can play anywhere. All you need to get started is a coin and an idea of the rules, which can be altered to suit any situation.

    Standard Rules:

    * Players agree amongst themselves the number of overs that are to be played - each over giving the player six attempts at scoring ‘runs’ (much like real cricket).

    * Once agreed, players take it in turns to spin their coin on the playing surface and attempt to score runs. The classic version uses the board to the left, with players spinning from the centre circle and scoring runs by landing their coin within the rings.

    * If your coin finishes up off the board though, you’re out. If a coin lands between two rings, an umpire’s decision must be sought on where the majority of the coin lies and runs awarded accordingly.

    The Challenge:
    The first challenge is to come up with a cunning variant of Sydney Cricket. It doesn’t have to be cricket-based – remember, the Aussies love their sports (see here for what's popular Down Under), and there are no limits. Creativity will be rewarded.

    So, I need your help thinking up a game, based on the above, and I need it by this Monday 10th August! More about the grand prize package can be found here, though if I win I personally will also be giving away some pretty neat mini-prizes!

    Hopefully all this makes sense, but drop me a comment if you want anything clarifying! Also, let me know if you tweet about this, or post about it on your blog. Use if you do!

    Don't worry either, my blog won't be Sydney, Sydney, Sydney for the next six weeks - I'll be continuing my writing posts as well!

    The Prize

    For helping me out, if I win the Awesome Tour, I'll be giving away this Sydney package worth £1,000 per person(!):

    Prize package:

    - 2 x return economy flights to Sydney (from London Heathrow)
    - 7 nights accommodation in Base Backpacker Hostel, Sydney (twin share)
    - 2 x Bondi Surf Experience (half day)
    - 2 x 'High Power Ticket' (including jetboat ride)
    - 2 x Blue Mountains Day Tour
    - 2 x Bonza Bike 1/2 day tour STA

    (If you look here, you can see what the excursions involve.)

    Terms and conditions:

    - All bookings must be made by 31st December 2009.
    - All travel must be made by 31st October 2010 (can make this sooner if you like).
    - Prize is not transferable for cash and not valid with any other offer.
    - Prize must be booked through an STA Travel branch, as facilitated by STA Travel head office
    - There are no black-out days or seasonal restrictions on the flights however the total prize value attributed to the flight will be £750 per person. Any cost above this amount must be paid for by the prize winner.
    - Any other products, including but not limited to insurance, car hire and additional accommodation on tours can be booked through STA Travel but must be paid for by the prize winner.
    - All bookings subject to availability.

    Fancy a free trip to Sydney?

    For those of you who saw some of my intriguing tweets on Sunday, you'll know I'm offering two tickets to Sydney for some creative help over the next six weeks.

    I need that help more than ever as I'm wearily typing this entry from bed, dosed up on drugs. To explain briefly, I was rushed to A&E yesterday morning with strange, crippling pains... the NHS response after a long cattle market encounter in the waiting room: "It's a bit puzzling actually. Just rest and hopefully it will be a random one-off pain."

    Yes, let's hope. *rolls eyes*

    Anyway! I was contacted by a company called 1000heads about taking part in Tourism New South Wales' Awesome Tour of Sydney because of my posts on my trip to the Middle East. So, off I tootled to a BBQ meeting in Wandsworth (where, to make this slightly about my writing, a key scene in TROG is actually set!) to meet my competitors, learn about what the challenge entails, and find out about what I win... Or should I say, what we win.

    Up for grabs are a pair of tickets to Sydney for me, and a pair of tickets for one of my lovely PD&P readers! The package is worth about £1,000 per person and includes return flights from Heathrow, accommodation, and some excursions. I'll post more details about that when I have more energy but, trust me, it's pretty fabbity! So, this is where I need your help to complete the challenges; if I don't win, I can't give away two tickets... but if I do, then one of you will snag tickets, too! I'll tag all related posts under sendmetosydney, and will also try to tweet everything related with a #sendmetosydney tag.

    I will post about what needs to be done tomorrow (I'm fading fast here!), but I want anyone who is interested to comment on here, but to also spread the word. Now, if you're thinking that you're not going to spread the word because it will reduce your chances... well you're just not thinking like  a Sydney-sider. The challenge is won by whoever gets Sydney the most, and Australians are COMPETITIVE. You're not afraid of a little competition, are you?! Also, have a think about Australian sports and coin games like two-up (Sydney Cricket was the example given, but I'll have to explain that later as I'm too tired).

    Cheers, everyone! (And if we win, I'll personally be giving away other prizes because, as you may already know, I prize loyalty above most things!) Here's to PD&P's glorious Sydney trip (another piece of writing-related trivia: in the first draft of Geli, the book actually ended on Bondi Beach)! -x-

    Make it tight

    The title isn't my take on jeans, but rather on the editing process. At the moment I'm working my way through my second book - of which the title is taken from this blog, though I usually refer to it as TROG - I'm altering the tense, but I'm also making the MS tighter.

    Quite often during the writing process, it's easy to use excess words - possibly to pad it out, possibly because it's natural to elaborate when you're flowing along. However, when editing, it's worth bearing in mind the context; the context allows you to make the MS tighter, and ultimately makes the MS a better read. For example:

    'Blah blah blah,' he smiles at me.

    If you've established that there are only two characters in a room having this conversation, drop the "at me" - after all, who else could he be smiling at? The door?!

    'Etc etc etc,' I suggest as a plan begins to formulate in my mind.

    Where else would this plan form?! In this case, cutting "in my mind" would tighten the MS and improve the readability. Of course, there is the need to set the scene, but not if it pointlessly over-explains. If this was a sci-fi piece (it isn't), it could have been necessary to explain the plan was formulating in the mind ... if other alien characters have been revealed to think in their feet, that is!

    If you really don't want to "kill your darlings" but need to get your word-count reduced, consider your sentence structure! Right, it's back to editing with my red pen ... or should that just be "back to editing"?!

    May - August 2009 Reads:

    Continuing on from January - April Reads, I will be updating this post with what I've read between May - August.

    [B] indicates a brand new read
    [R] a re-read
    [RR] a re-re-read!

    62. You Know You Love Me - Cecily von Ziegesar [B]
    63. The Alchemist - Paulo Coelho [R]
    64. Twilight - Stephenie Meyer [RR]
    65. Marley and Me - John Grogan [B]
    66. New Moon - Stephenie Meyer [RR]
    67. The Graveyard Book - Neil Gaiman [B]
    68. Eclipse - Stephenie Meyer [RR]
    69. Breaking Dawn - Stephenie Meyer [RR]
    70. Noughts and Crosses - Malorie Blackman [B]
    71. Animal Farm - George Orwell [B]
    72. It had to be you - Cecily von Ziegesar [B]
    73. Lady Susan - Jane Austen [B]
    74. Angels and Demons - Dan Brown [RR]
    75. Jinxed - Sara Lawrence [B]
    76. The Beautiful People - Simon Doonan [B]
    77. Eat, Pray, Love - Elizabeth Gilbert [B]
    78. He's Just Not That Into You - Greg Berhendt [B]
    79. Bergdorf Blondes - Plum Sykes [B]
    80. The Other Queen - Philippa Gregory [B]
    81. A Clockwork Orange - Anthony Burgess [B]
    82. Child 44 - Tom Rob Smith [B]
    83. The Suspicions of Mr Whicher - Kate Summerscale [B]
    84. Out of the Blue - Belinda Jones [B]
    85. The Nanny - Melissa Nathan [B]
    86. A Friend of the Family - Lisa Jewell [B]
    87. 31 Dream Street - Lisa Jewell [B]
    88. The Clothes on Their Backs - Linda Grant [B]
    89. The Secret Life of a Slummy Mummy - Fiona Neill [B]
    90. White Teeth - Zadie Smith [B]
    91. Love Eternally - Deborah Wright [B]
    92. Knife Edge - Malorie Blackman [B]
    93. The Handmaid's Tale - Margaret Atwood [R]
    94. The White Tiger - Aravind Adiga [B]
    95. The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie - Muriel Spark [B]
    96. Rebecca - Daphne du Maurier [B]
    97. A Vintage Affair - Isabel Wolff [B]
    98. The Second Wives Club - Jane Moore [B]
    99. Playing with the Grown-ups - Sophie Dahl [B]
    100. Blackberry Wine - Joanne Harris [R]
    101. Babydreams - Maxine Paetro [B]
    102. The Heartbreaker - Susan Howatch [B]
    103. Lipstick Jungle - Candance Bushnell [B]
    104. Baby Proof - Emily Giffin [B]
    105. Harry, A History - Melissa Anelli [B]
    106. Platinum - Jo Rees [B]
    107. Rubbish Boyfriends - Jessie Jones [B]
    108. The Host - Stephenie Meyer [B]
    109. My Sister's Keeper - Jodi Picoult [B]
    110. Queen of Babble Gets Hitched - Meg Cabot [B]
    111. Crystal - Katie Price [B]
    112. How to Break Your Own Heart - Maggie Alderson [B]
    113. How to Lose Friends and Alienate People - Toby Young [B]
    114. Persuasion - Jane Austen [B]
    115. Artemis Fowl: The Time Paradox - Eoin Colfer [B]
    116. Back After the Break - Anita Notaro [B]
    117. The Northern Clemency - Philip Hensher [B]
    118. Girl, Interrupted - Susanna Kaysen [B]
    119. Nineteen Minutes - Jodi Picoult [B]
    120. Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone - JK Rowling [RR]
    121. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets - JK Rowling [RR]
    122. Being Jordan - Katie Price [R]
    123. Jordan: A Whole New World - Katie Price [B]
    124. Jordan: Pushed to the Limit - Katie Price [B]
    125. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban - JK Rowling [RR]
    126. Decent Exposure - Phillipa Ashley [RR]
    127. Generation X - Douglas Coupland [B]
    128. Dead Until Dark - Charlaine Harris [B]
    129. The Luxe - Anna Godbersen [B]
    130. The Other Half - Sarah Rayner [B]
    131. Legally Blonde - Amanda Brown [B]
    132. The Doomsday Prophecy - Scott Mariani [B]
    133. The Last Templar - Raymond Khoury [B]
    134. Seven Ancient Wonders - Matthew Reilly [B]
    135. The Eye of Ra - Michael Asher [B]
    136. Prozac Nation - Elizabeth Wurtzel [B]
    137. Family Trust - Amanda Brown [B]
    138. Alice in Wonderland - Lewis Caroll [RR]
    139. Devil May Care - Sebastian Faulks, as Ian Fleming [B]
    140. Mother's Day - Kirsty Scott [B]
    141. One Fifth Avenue - Candace Bushnell [B]
    142. Vanity Fair - William Makepeace Thackeray [B]
    143. Waterloo Sunset - Richard Ayres [B]
    144. Catch-22 - Joseph Heller [B]
    145. The Host - Stephenie Meyer [R]
    146. Rumours - Anna Godbersen [B]
    147. Envy - Anna Godbersen [B]
    148. Breakfast at Tiffany's - Truman Capote [B]
    149. The Thoughtful Dresser - Linda Grant [B]
    150. Living Dead in Dallas - Charlaine Harris [B]
    151. Club Dead - Charlaine Harris [B]
    152. Four Blondes - Candace Bushnell [B]
    153. The Nightingale - Morganna Gallaway [B]
    154. Breathing in Colour - Clare Jay [B]
    155. The Secret Countess - Eva Ibbotson [B]

    Between May and August 2009, I read 94 books! 80 of those were brand new reads, 4 were second reads, and 10 were books I've read several times before. September - October Reads can be found here.


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