Friday, August 22, 2014

How do you find your voice?

This is something I've been thinking about for a while now. When I wrote my recent WIP I found my main characters voice as something that was a cross between mine and my little sister's. There are so many times the words she speak could be coming out of my little sister's mouth it's not funny. It was entirely unintentional to write like that, it just sort of .... happened.

So I'm wondering, how do you find your character voice? Is it someone close to you you draw inspiration from? Is it yourself? Is it pulled out of thin air?

Do you write in third person or do you prefer to write in first? What drives that choice?

My most recent WIP was written entirely in first person. I'm not sure why I chose to write it like that. I think maybe it was because at times I feel so like my MC. So like it could be me in her shoes, promoting what she's promoting and trying to achieve what she's trying to achieve. So maybe I thought it would be easier to write in first person. Well.... it wasn't. But it was certainly a great learning experience!

It's interesting, talking to different writers about how they write and why they choose to write like that. Why choose first or third person, why choose that particular voice, why choose that hair colour for your character. It's such a complex and complicated process the way we develop every tiny strand of our book and it's amazing how each person does it so incredibly differently!

Friday, August 15, 2014

My Travels Part Three

The third and final 'chapter' of my travels from earlier this year is here - if you're interested (if not I totally don't blame you for moving on to find a blog that is solidly about writing and reading!)
The first two parts covered our time in Africa which was amazing, not we move on to Egypt (which technically is Africa, I know) and Europe!

We arrived in Cairo very early in the morning and were worried the hotel might not have sent the car to pick us up. However, the driver was ready and waiting with a sign with our name on it! He didn't speak much English though so chit chat was limited. He drove us through a quiet and almost deserted Cairo to The Windsor Hotel, an old Victorian era hotel with a lot of charm. You have to love charm to stay in a place like this because it really is very vintage and rustic - the original elevator, the rooms haven't exactly been updated, but nevertheless it's got a huge amount of character and makes for an interesting stay! It's history is so vast many films have been made in the hotel!
The Windsor Hotel Restaurant

The service at the hotel was really wonderful and we even had the owner come and chat with us to make sure everything is okay. The reason, I suspect, is because of all the conflict and the lack of tourists. There are so many staff bending over backward to do whatever you wish because there are so few guests coming to stay. The owner doesn't want to lay anyone off yet he worries the hotel will close if the tourists don't come back soon. It was rather sad actually.

Just a few hours after we arrived we were awake again and being given breakfast before a big day of touring the city. We'd originally planned for a two day tour but having spent more than we intended in southern and eastern Africa we thought it better to just do one day. On reflection possibly the two day would have been better but that's hindsight for you! Our guide's name was Mina Samir - if you're ever in Egypt and find yourself needing a guide, he is wonderful. he speaks perfect English and even has a degree in Egyptology specifically for tour guiding.

Our first stop was visiting Saqqara the oldest and first pyramid in Cairo, also known as the step pyramid. It was fascinating! And given all the trouble Egypt had been having, all the tourists had pretty much stopped
coming, i'm not kidding we had the place to ourselves. This was good and bad. Great for photos but bad as it meant all the peddlers would try and get every penny out of you. Seriously. It was quite awful actually but you have to just be strong enough to say no. Occasionally Mina would offer to pay for a photo on a donkey or whatever as a way to continue good relations with the locals since he brings many tourists through regularly.

After checking out Saqqara we visited the Papyrus shop. It's the authentic Papyrus paper and it really is
quite spectacular especially with the Egyptian paintings on them. They could also write your names in hyroglifics as well as special dates in arabic on the painting you chose. It was very cool and we got a demonstration of how the paper is made. There was one we loved.... really loved, but it was just too much for us to afford at the moment. We chose a much cheaper one and what happened next was evidence of how hard the country has been hit by the conflict. When the city is thriving, you cannot bargain in these places. The prices are fixed... However they don't have enough customers and they're desperate for a sale. We genuinely weren't trying to bargain them down, we were happy with the smaller cheaper one we'd chosen, yet we really did want the other bigger one. He brought the price down from 1300 Egyptian pound to 750 Egyptian pound and threw in a small version of another big one we liked. We felt SO bad. We were of course really happy to get our beautiful painting but we felt awful. If only we could've afforded the full price! We said we'd come back when we had more money. They said, next year? Ahhh might take us a bit longer than that...!

After the Papyrus store we headed out to Giza and saw the pyramids in all their glory. We went for a camel
ride (my gosh those poor camels I'm convinced they're treated very poorly. Jesse's camel whined the whole way :( it was sad I wish I could free them all!!!!) And then we went down to see the Sphinx. What wonders they are! It was strange too, all the local girls wanting to take their photo with me. I felt like a celebrity of something. Apparently the white skin and blonde hair is something they are fascinated with. We then headed to a local bazaar to pick up some souvenirs (they drive a hard bargain but when you genuinely don't want something and are happy to leave it behind they'll start bargaining with all they've got.) Then we headed to an Egyptian cotton factory. Would've bought something there if we had room in our luggage!

By that stage we were exhausted so headed back to the hotel, had dinner in their restaurant and slept. We were a little too afraid to leave the safety of the hotel! The next morning we headed to the Egyptian Museum. The receptionist at the hotel had no idea how to give us directions and naturally we got entirely lost. I have never been so scared in my life. We got lost in the Islamic area and I wasn't wearing a headscarf (novice). We got a number of looks... and walking past barricaded buildings wasn't fun. It took us an hour to find the museum. The museum itself was good. It was surrounded by more than 20 tanks all with at least 10 soldiers inside, that was a little disconcerting. The museum was very interesting but a complete mess in terms of layout. I was so freaked around the mummies. Silly really, they just.... I dunno, give me the heebie jeebies!

When it came time to head home I was worried we wouldn't find the way. We had no map, no address, no phone.... well done. We got utterly lost. Not in the Islamic direction this time though thank goodness. We just had no idea where to find our hotel. We walked around and around in circles until eventually we walked into another hotel.The hotel manager said he'd seen us wandering around half an hour ago.... clearly we stuck out like sore thumbs. They gave us very good directions and eventually we found our way back to the hotel. It was great to see the pyramids but honestly I didn't enjoy my time in Cairo. Most of the people, unless you were possibly going to give them money were really rude, the streets were full of rubbish and everyone drove where ever they wanted. No one followed the rules anymore because of all the problems with the government. It was chaos! We were really glad to leave to be honest.

By the next day we were safely in Athens and feeling like we were rejoining society a little bit! We spent the first night on an overnight ferry out to Crete. We bought the cabin ticket which was a really good idea as it meant we got a good night sleep in the beds while the people who just bought tickets for the seating areas looked exhausted. We spent the first day on Crete exploring Heraklion, checking out the city and its restaurants.

The next day hired a car and drove to Chania (we got really lost. again. and ended up on the other side of the island. Tourist time I called it. Jesse wasn't impressed at my navigating skills....) Chania was beautiful. A little Venetian style town right on the harbour. Gosh it was beautiful. Wonderful vibe, lovely people, all keen to share their stories. We had a great time there. We made good use of the car too, going out around the peninsulas and to the beaches around the area. If only it had been a bit warmer!

The blue of the water at this particular beach was so incredibly beautiful if I didn't know better I'd think it was fake. It was the most incredible beach. In the summer time it's packed with people swimming and sunbathing. It also has pink sand which is really incredible to see. It was pretty windy when we were there, would love to see it thriving in the summer months but it was quite a hike to get to!

We then headed inland and checked out this beautiful lake. This is one of those gems that usually get hidden away from the tourists simply because they don't know about it. I believe a lot of the locals love swimming here. There are paddling boats you can hire too and a restaurant right on the shore. It was quite breathtaking and at that time of the year (April) we had it all to ourselves!

The reason I chose Crete initially when planning our trip was because my granddad fought here during the war. He wrote a few of him memoirs down before he died and his time in Crete was one of them. He was stationed there however when the fighting came they were evacuated. His evacuation ship was hit and they swam back to shore. Many men were injured and couldn't go on but my granddad and other soldiers swam out to an abandoned fishing boat and used that boat to make their escape. It was really interesting visiting the area and seeing where he spent some of his time during the war. We also went to the graveyard where many of his friends and fellow soldiers were buried. The Kiwi soldiers take up a huge amount of room in that graveyard. It's a beautiful sight that's well cared for and overlooks the water.

From Chania we flew out to Athens where we spent two days checking out the Parthenon/Acropolis,
Lycabettus Hill and it's stunning view out over Athens, The Temple of Olympian Zeus, The National Archaeological Museum and wandered around the Plaka and the streets of the city. Athens was really lovely actually and we had a great time!

The food in Athens was actually really good too which was a nice change from what we'd become used to!

Then we headed over to Turkey! We headed straight down the South-West Coast to Kalkan where we were staying in a villa for a week. It was really beautiful but unfortunately we were there at the wrong time of the year and not a lot was open yet. We had hired a car but when we got there realised it was a manual. Jesse can't drive manuals and I'm not a super confident driver, particularly when it's driving on the opposite side of the road. We had the car for a night. We took it for a drive, we tried to visit another town, another beach.... I failed.
I freaked out, I couldn't do it. I don't know why... it was just so different driving from the other side of the car with the gear stick being changed with my other hand... I kept messing up and I really didn't like it. We decided we were on holiday and I didn't want to be that stressed, so we returned the car and spent the week lying by the pool in the sun reading and playing monopoly. Jesse got a bit bored but I loved it!

Then came Paris, the city of love! It's definitely not my favourite city in Europe and for me.... it didn't really live up to the hype. Going up the Eiffel Tower was cool as we saw the sunset from the top, and we were there with Jesse's sister and her family so that was really nice.

We enjoyed walking through Notre Dame during the Easter Mass too which was interesting. The food in Paris is not good. Unless you have a lot of money... all the touristy restaurants have exactly the same menu and it's dull and bland. There are plenty of crepe places though which are good. We also checked out Sainte-Chappelle which was so beautiful! What a church! Even better than the Notre Dame in terms of impressivenses I'd say. Those stain glasses... wow! We also took some time to check out Montmartre & Sacre Coeur which was lovely. We sat on the hill and ate gluten free treats from the gluten free bakery we'd discovered! We went to the Louvre and walked around looking at all the art, hello Mona Lisa.

We saw the Moulin Rouge (though we're too cheap to see a show there!) and we had an amazing day out at Versailles which was our Paris highlight. We did a bike tour through the gardens which included a stop at the Versailles market to stock up on food for a picnic.

We got strawberries, cheese, roast chicken, tomatos and a few gluten free treats and after biking past Marie Antoinette's house and various other places in the grounds we sat by the canal in the sun for a picnic. It was perfect! We ended the tour with a trip through the palace. Amazing.

The last thing we did was something I've wanted to do for a long time. We bought a padlock, wrote our names on, padlocked it to this 'over run with padlocks' bridge and threw the keys into the water :)

We took an overnight bus to Amsterdam which was not fun and as soon as we arrived were greeted with nastiness from public transport staff. Some people don't have a heart! I found quite a lot of that in
Amsterdam actually, general rudeness and disregard for others. Such a shame as it's a really beautiful city. We had arrived really early so were right at the front of the line for the Anne Frank House which was very sad and a really moving experience. That poor girl.... Then we had lunch at a delicious Dutch pancake house (Called Pancakes!) then headed for a canal cruise on one of the canal boats.

That was really nice, though both Jesse and I were having trouble staying awake not having got much sleep the night before on the bus! We were staying in an Airbnb apartment and fell asleep almost as soon as we got there! The next day we checked out the streets of Amsterdam, walking around the canals to Dam Square where there was an incredible festival going on, trying the famous hot chocolate, trying chips in a cone (huge in Amsterdam!) and checking out the Sex Museum and the Red Light District (when in Amsterdam!).

The next day was King's Day so it was madness with orange everywhere on the streets. There was a lot of partying, drinking, street stalls, food stalls, live music... it was quite epic, but I think it's the kind of thing that's best if you know the good places to go and if you have a big group of friends to celebrate with! We spent our final day at the Rijksmuseum which is a really impressive art museum in a beautiful building. I'm not a big art museum fan but this one I highly recommend!

That evening we jumped on another overnight bus and headed to our new lives in London. This bus trip was awful as we got woken multiple times, had to get off the bus for the ferry ride and for customs etc etc. horrible! But we got to London and that's what matters! We've been here ever since, exploring all the corners of our new city and trying to find jobs. We miss our travelling hugely and would love to get back on the road and explore more of Europe. It'll happen, in time I guess.

So that's that. That is the end of my big adventure for 2014! I hope you enjoyed it and maybe it inspired you to do some travelling. I highly HIGHLY recommend Africa :)

Friday, August 8, 2014

My Travels Part Two!

Hello hello, this post is picking up from Part One. This is the part where I travelled from Victoria Falls up to Nairobi!

A day later we met our new group for the second part of our tour. We were doing a 42 day tour but it was broken in half. So the first half was Cape Town to Vic Falls and the second was Vic Falls to Nairobi. It was so sad saying goodbye to Jabulani and the new group were certainly very different from the first. We had a huge mix in this group. Canadian, English, German, Swedish, Spanish, Aussie and us Kiwi’s!

This part of the trip was a lot harder. While we made some good friends on this tour we didn’t all click as a whole as we had with Jabulani. We also spent most of the week days driving. And I mean long drives. 14 hour days. We were getting up at 3.30am for breakfast at 4am and would drive non-stop until 6pm where we’d set up camp, have dinner, go to bed and do it all again the next day. It really wasn’t that enjoyable to be honest. However there were some stand out points.

We went back to Chobe and did the overnighter again which was good as Jesse got a chance to do it the second time! I had a nightmare that night that I was getting attacked in my tent by the animals that wandered free through the camp. I’m a bit of a sleep talker and on this occasion I became a sleep screamer yelling “Oh my gosh please, get off me, help me” etc etc. I woke most of the camp. Except for the guides who had said ‘call out if you get in trouble’. No one came to check on me! But I got a lot of flack for it in the morning!

In Zambia we went to the South Luangwa National Park where we saw more hippos, impalas, another leopard – this one was super cool and walked in front of the safari truck for ages! We also had a hippo walk through our camp and spent a long night playing pool. We saw plenty of Cape Buffalo too. Funny looking animals. They almost look like they have pigtails don't you think?

This is the amazing and beautiful leopard that walked with us for a while. Isn't her coat beautiful? She didn't seem to be on the hunt but was just having a wander around, didn't seem phased by the fact we were right there. Stunning creature!

We spent several nights at Malawi beaches where we sunbathed, had prediction readings from a witch doctor (newsflash, they were pretty much all the same… right down to the things he was saying, so it was kind of silly but a cool experience.) We also had the option to do snorkling, diving and boat trips on the river. 

We all did a walking village tour through one of the villages in Malawi which was heart breaking. Some of those children are so unwell and so desperate for attention. They mostly live on cassava root as that is what their main export is. They spend all their days picking, drying and beating into powder the cassava. It's food but it means the children are severely malnourished. Their clothes are dirty, clean water is a luxury they don't have and any drinking water they want needs to be pumped into buckets and carried home.

One 5 year old girl… she looked like she was about 2, that’s how small she was. She fell asleep in my arms, desperate for attention yet too exhausted to keep her eyes open. She was just so sweet. I wish there was some way I could've helped make her life just a little bit better. 

Another little girl clung to me, even as the old boys tried to pull her away (I think they were scared the white people were going to take their kids away….). This girl was so unwell. She had an awful cough and was clearly miserable. I desperately wanted to help her…. But how could I? I asked a local doctor about her cough, he said her mother would have to bring her in and she’d have to take pills. Which she probably wouldn’t take. It was horrible and so sad.
The beaches in Malawi, however, were beautiful, although it did get a bit much all the local young boys trying to sell you weed or force you to buy their handmade goods. 

Zanzibar was BEAUTIFUL. What an island! We all had to cover up, particularly during our time in Stone Town so hit up the local markets to get some awesome baggy trousers to cover our skin (It's a Muslim country).  It's lovely though, so many tiny walkways, cobblestone streets, little market shops, lots of restaurants, and very cool cafes. A great vibe! Plus you can see Freddie Mercury's House! He was born here - crazy right!

There's a really awesome food market in Stone Town which we all checked out. Careful though as many of the fish and meat that they don't sell they just roll over to the next day. It's REALLY easy to get sick in Zanzibar. They have lots of different foods though - seafood, meats, BBQ corn, breads, fresh juices, fruits, fries... almost everything you could image! A very cool vibe down there too. Be wary of locals trying to sell you alcohol. It's illegal!

After a night in Stone Town we headed up north to a place called Nungwai. We stayed in a little resort and wow, it was incredible. We were in paradise. The beach was stunning, the resort was like a little village with salon, shops, restaurants and bars. The pool was huge and warm… It was honestly perfect. 
There were a number of beaches we could use which all had volleyball nets and plenty of room for sunbathing!

The only problem was there were tiny invisible jellyfish in the ocean that stung you when you swum (we swum anyway, they stopped stinging within an hour) and almost all of us got stomach bugs either from the ice they put in the drinks or from the food itself – I suspect a mixture of both. We were all sick for the next week at least!

One cool thing we did in Zanzibar was swim with the turtles which was very cool although one of them did bite me!! It hurt a lot! A lot of the others swam with dolphins as well which they said was amazing. I swam with dolphins in New Zealand a few years ago so opted not to in an attempt try and save some money! Zanzibar was very cool though!

After Zanzibar we stayed a night on the beach by Dar Es Salaam. My gosh that city is SO busy. So much litter, so much craziness and the traffic.... wow. It took us three hours to get from the outskirts to the centre of the city. It was madness! But the beach was beautiful and the water warm and the sunrises.... oh my goodness. I've never seen so many sunrises in my life but the ones in Africa.... they're unrivaled.

Finally we headed up to Arusha – the gateway to the Serengeti. The trip into the Serengeti was an extra $500 USD so we had been umming and ahhing for the whole trip about whether or not to do it. So many people said we should just do everything to ensure we didn’t regret it. Everyone said it was amazing and the tour leaders said it was the highlight. Eventually we gave in. I’m so glad we did. I wouldn’t have wanted to stay behind at the campsite! It was the highlight of my entire Africa trip. It was beyond incredible!
We started out by getting some supplies in Arusha and visiting the store that sells Tanzanite. For those that don’t know Tanzanite is a beautiful blue/purple stone that is 1000 times rarer than diamonds and is mined in Arusha. Because of that it’s much cheaper at the source. Prices of Tanzanite are rocketing worldwide so we figured it was too good of an opportunity to miss. Sam brought Jess a Tanzanite engagement ring and proposed when they were in Thailand a few weeks later which was exciting!

After the Tanzanite store we headed back to camp and checked out the snake park. I held a snake. No kidding. It was small and terrifying but I held it. And then I had a baby croc. I felt bad about that though as he seemed really distressed whereas the snakes were pretty chilled about it.

Then we packed up our gear and were picked up by the crew from Bee Eater Safari’s who drove us out to the starting point. We had the evening to relax and then was served an incredible dinner by the Bee Eater cooks. I have awful food allergies and hadn’t been fed particularly well on the second half of the trip (the chef on the second half really didn’t get it. He would only manage to process one thing eg. Oh she’s allergic to gluten. Good. And then serve me onions which I’m highly allergic to. Or he’d serve me beef despite me not eating red meat. 
Or he’d serve the vegetarian girl a plate of eggplant. Or he’d just give us rice. It was pretty crap! But in the Serengeti… oh my goodness! Heaven. The food was SO good. And there was so much of it! Honestly, huge kudos to the chef with Bee Eater because he was amazing. The next morning we headed out very early making it in good time to the Ngorongoro Crater. It’s stunning beautiful and absolutely packed full of animals. We saw so many wildebeest, gazelles, another black rhino, flamingos, cape buffalo, elephants and of course the lions. We hadn’t seen that many lions up until this point so we really wanted to see lions.

Well we saw them. They were busy mating. It was quite amusing. Then we saw a pack of female lions out on the prowl trying to take down wildebeest. Then we saw hyenas and more zebras…oh man it was so incredible. We had lunch by a beautiful lake which was filled with hippos. We were eating outside but then hawks started swooping us trying to steal our food so we had to eat in the trucks! 

After lunch we headed to a Masaai Village which was really interesting and gave me ideas for my book! Their culture is very interesting and the way they live is very basic. Their huts are tiny and usually fit 5 or more people. They’re made out of cow and goat poop and grass plus flax. They retain their traditional dress and their orders of rank and we were welcomed with a jumping ceremony. We all had to jump while they sung. 

The boys jumped first, holding the sticks and the girls then had to wear necklaces and jump. Then we looked around the village and market, the guys showed us their homes and told us about their lives and then we visited the school where the kids sung for us and showed us how they could do the alphabet! Pretty cute!

After that we headed to the Serengeti. I’m sure you’ve seen the Lion King? This is where it’s set. We even saw what should be Pride Rock, except it’s called Lion Rock and they all hang out there! So cool. Saw plenty of Wart Hogs running around too! Lots more wildebeest (it was their migration season), and zebras, hippos, giraffes, antelopes, dik-diks (a type of antelope – SO CUTE!), and lots of lazy sleeping lions. 

Even better, as we were heading to the camp for the night we saw a serval! Most people don’t know about servals but Jesse LOVES them (they’re like really big house cats) so it was awesome to see one in the wild, although the baboons were trying to corner it and eat it! We also saw two leopards sleeping in the trees. One of them had a dead gazelle strung up which she’d obviously killed earlier that day.

That night we had another delicious dinner and took some epic photos with the amazing stars that were on display. We had to grab something out of the truck at one point and Jesse and I were actually pretty scared…there were lions and hyenas roaming. One of our group had spotted a hyena near the kitchen so it was a little scary! We went to bed early that night! (Actually since we were up before the sun almost every day and there was no internet or TV we were usually in bed by 10pm at the latest!

TIA This Is Africa

That night the hyenas walked around our tents laughing and calling to each other. They went right through the rubbish we’d left in the bins and scattered the remains all over the ground. Scavengers! I’m glad I didn’t need to go to the bathroom during the night!

The next day was our final game drive. We saw our two leopard friends again, they were together this time feasting on the gazelle and at the bottom of the tree sat a hyena (they’re actually very cute animals). We saw another serval and more elephants, hippos and giraffes. I was still desperate for some good lion action. Everyone didn’t think it would happen but hey, according to our guide on both Cape Town – Vic Falls and Vic Falls to Nairobi, we were the luckiest group (the common thread was the four kiwis, clearly Me, Jess, Jesse and Sam brought the luck! Haha!) 

We were driving along a dirt path and in the middle of the road lay a lone young male lion. He stood up as we approached and we turned off our engine. Over the next five minutes, 12 young lions, mostly female surrounded our truck. Some lay in the shadow of our truck trying to get a break from the sun, others just wandered around. It was AMAZING. 

After about half an hour the lions wandered off and climbed a tree, keeping a very close eye on a nearby elephant who was wandering alone. We watched those lions for about an hour and I reckon we would’ve watched way longer if we hadn’t had to get back to camp! It was an incredible experience!

So close!!!
Here's some pics of the other amazing animals we saw in Serengeti....






Female Leopard

Male Leopard






The Crater


The next day we headed through the Kenya border and up to Nairobi where our tour ended. That evening the four kiwis jumped in a taxi and headed out to the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust. My mum is a HUGE elephant lover. Her house, the house Jess and I grew up in is FILLED with all things elephants. So for Christmas we adopted her an elephant from DSWT. The work these guys do is really incredible. They rescue baby elephants (or any other animal) who has been orphaned or injured and help them recover slowly allowing them time out in the nearby national park and interaction with other elephants. 
 As the orphans grow they learn how to be a wild elephant and are eventually released back into the wild. In order to do the work they do it costs them 900 USD per month per elephant. And to adopt one of these beautiful babies is only $50 USD per year. We gave mum a booklet of all the baby elephants they had. She wanted a little girl elephant who was still very young and chose Kamok. Jess and I made it our mission to go and see Kamok when we were in Kenya and we were worried it wouldn’t happen. But it did. 

She was so tiny and so beautiful! She was sleeping
under her blanket when we arrived but her keeper woke her up to say hi to us. She played with a ball and a blanket for a while and came up to us, wrapping her trunk around our arms. It was amazing. The keeper literally lives in her pen, sleeping on a bunk bed, being there all the time for Kamok. Kamok herself has become a little matriarch amongst the baby elephants. It’s very cute. I highly recommend checking out the work they do. It was incredible to see!

The next day Sam and Jesse swapped photos and then in the early afternoon we said goodbye! I’m not sure when I’ll see my sister again but it was really nice to be able to spend that time traveling with her! Jesse and I flew off to Egypt and Sam and Jess flew off to Thailand. 

More soon - stay tuned for part three, the final chapter :-)