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Creativity, Writing

Five Fun Facts about the Lucy & Dee Series

The Lucy & Dee series required dozens of inspirations and decisions, large and small. Many involved extensive research which I absolutely loved. Although it’s easy to go down a rabbit hole only to emerge hours later!

Here are answers to five of my most frequently asked questions.

The fantasy land of Sericea was inspired by my travels throughout Asia.

For more than a decade I’ve travel to Asia – from Hong Kong to Chiang Mai, and many points in between. I loved the geography, the people, the culture, the food, and the mythology. When I began to write The Silk Road, it seemed natural to have an Asian flavour.

The title The Silk Road comes from…no surprises here, the fabled Silk Road that united Europe with the mysterious Orient.

I was always intrigued by Marco Polo’s travels to China – it seemed like a fantasy adventure. Having the silk road in Lucy & Dee literally made of silk just seemed like too good an opportunity to miss for a small joke.

Dee’s fascination with alchemy stems from my love of history and science.

The study of alchemy can be traced from ancient Egypt through to sixteenth century Europe. During this time, early philosophers built the foundations of modern chemistry and physics through alchemy, rational thought, and reason. While there was a line of alchemists interested in occult matters, these philosopher alchemists were particularly interested in metallurgy (including turning base metals into gold); the production of paints, inks, and dyes; and cosmetics. During their investigations they refined the scientific method.  

In parallel, China had its own alchemists. They were focused more on medical knowledge and how to live in harmony with the natural order of the universe and traditional Chinese medicine. Acupuncture, Tai Chi and meditation all focus on the purification of the spirit in the hope of achieving immortality, a core value in alchemy.  While trying to uncover an elixir for immortality Chinese alchemists accidentally invented gunpowder.

Lucy was inspired by the character from The Lion, the Witch & the Wardrobe.

I read voraciously as a child and my favourite books were the fantasy series and stand-alone titles. The Narnia series was a particular favourite as were The Borrowers, A Wrinkle in Time, His Dark Materials and The Diamond in the Window. By age eight, I was determined to write fantasy adventure books of my own.

The Vermilion Bird (Shuka), the Xami, the Azure Dragon, and the White Tiger (Baiku) are based on Asian mythological creatures.

Shuka, the Azure Dragon of the East and the Baiku are three of the four cardinal directions in Chinese mythology. Shuka represent south, The Azure Dragon represents east, and Baiku represents west. Omitted from the story (so far) is the Black Tortoise (north) only because I can’t find a role for this one…yet.

The Xami are based on the Qilin, another Chinese mythological creature.

There will be more fun facts about the series in future posts, but feel free to leave a message with any specific questions you have.

Creativity, Productivity, Writing

Sweet, Sweet Solitude

It’s been a busy, chaotic and exhilarating week with my family. We rented a beach house and spent our days walking a long, pristine, and sparsely populated beach, playing in the water, reading, eating, and talking, talking, talking. And I was spectacularly unproductive – no writing at all. It was great!

But…

Time for some solitude

If I’m going to get book 3 in the Lucy & Dee series written in the next year or two I have to find a door to close behind me. It’s time for some solitude.

What I’ve learned about solitude

The need to spend time alone was, and still is, common among many poets, novelists, composers, artists, innovators, and inventors. According to Michael Harris in his book, Solitude (2017), there are three crucial benefits provided by solitude: “new ideas; an understanding of the self; and a closeness to others.” In addition, it increases our ability to solve hard problems.

The mind needs some space from constant stimulation in order to let all of those fabulous, unique connections, forged during REM sleep, to burble to the surface of our conscious minds.

There is no need to go all hermit to get the benefits of solitude, nor do we need to isolate ourselves for long periods.  We can maximize the benefits of solitude by simply striving to cycle between periods of solitude and engagement with the outside world. Solitude is about what’s happening in our brains, not the environment around us. It’s simply a state in which our mind is free from input from other minds. So, we can be solitary on even our morning commutes on the train if we allow ourselves to just be with our own thoughts rather than being on social media, listening to the radio/podcasts/audiobooks, reading, or otherwise engaging with another human. Moments of solitude—even small ones—when self-imposed, intentional, and fully appreciated, can have profound effects on our productivity and creative thinking.

Stepping away from the routine and disruption of daily life allows us to connect ideas we’ve been struggling with in new ways, follow creative impulses, and simply think about one thing at a time.

I know it’s something I’ve needed in regular doses all my life. It’s the one and only thing that helps me reset, recharge and let fresh thoughts flow.

And now for a moment of solitude

Get your Zen on.

Brought to you from Tallows Beach, Byron Bay, New South Wales.
Productivity, Writing

Space to create

Putting the question of money aside for the moment – ‘enough’ is different for everyone – I’ve found that writing does require space to think and create. And creating it can sometimes mean thinking laterally.

For five years my writing space was in a glorified hallway and the passing traffic didn’t hesitate to stop, have a chat, and ask for some of my time. My focus was shattered. I tried ignoring, I tried glowering, I tried everything short of physical violence. There would be a brief period of smiles, nods, and careful tiptoeing around me (can tiptoeing be sarcastic? Passive aggressive? I feel it can be!). Then behaviours would revert to baseline.

Beside myself, I was ready to give up and then a friend of mine, and master coach, Leah Badetscher suggested typing a sign to the back of my chair when I didn’t want to be disturbed.

Miraculously, it worked! I don’t know how, but it did. I’d hear the thudding of feet approaching, a hesitation, a sigh, and then retreating footsteps.

But I had a space of my own.

Another way of problem solving

When the Morton Bay fig trees are lit up like this at dusk, it makes me think of Lothlórien, the fairest realm of the Silvan Elves remaining in Middle Earth (Lord of the Rings).

Brisbane is full of Morton Bay figs. These spectacular trees don’t rely on anyone else to provide their support system. Instead, they send down shoots from their branches. These shoots root and become full tree trunks thus supporting the primary tree’s relentless quest for reach and height. One core tree can become a forest all by itself.

Productivity, Travel, Writing

Freedom!

I recently struck a blow for freedom by downloading…Freedom, the app that gives you your life back! (Note: this is not a paid promotion – I just like the app.)

My first task was to learn how to block my access to the App store – for days at a time – so I can’t re-download the solitaire game apps I deleted. And then I went on to blocking distracting websites for hours in the early morning and again in the evening.

So maybe I’ll really give myself a chance to kick the time-wasting habits now. The technology was too strong for my mere self-control and self-discipline. Using the Freedom app will give me time to break the bad habits.

I know I can do it, even though I’ve suffered from Shiny Object Syndrome (SOS), my whole life! My busy, active mind has always embraced everything with open arms, and encouraged me to wholeheartedly get carried away by the next new thing. Until the moment hits when I find myself trapped in a shiny globe of opportunities, pinging away madly from one thing to another with negligible results, far off track down a path I never meant to travel.

It’s like Dug. Dug is looking for love and friendship. Right up until the moment when…

Squirrel!

In other news, freeing up time wasted on stupid games has given me the space to enjoy the outdoors while we’re in Australia!

Hiking up to Baroon Lookout, Sunshine Coast, Queensland. I was, perhaps, overdressed.

Turn up the volume! Kookaburras heard but not seen.

Lead image Photo credit: Jamie Street, Unsplash

Writing

Welcome to 2023!

It’s the beginning of a bright new year. A few years ago, I started choosing a ‘Word for the Year’. A word that represented to me how I hoped to grow over the coming twelve months.

This year’s word is ‘Kaizen’.

Kaizen is a Japanese word meaning continuous improvement. Consistently finding something to improve on (or picking one key area of life) and make a little progress on it every day. In his book, Atomic Habits, author James Clear refers to 1% improvements.

It’s a three-step process:

  1. Show up. Commit to doing something every day.
  2. Focus on getting better at it every day.  

My commitment is to improve my writing both the quality and the quantity of it.

Which brings me to:

  • Choose only one thing or area to work on. I’m a champion at saying “ooooh, I want to get better and this, and this, and, oh yes, can’t forget that. And by week two I’m so overwhelmed that everything falls apart.

Another way to continuously improve is to take it from the other side and eliminating mistakes.

A little update: I am down to the short strokes in the editing process for the second book in the Lucy & Dee series (release date October 2023) and I’ve started drafting book 3.

I hope to sort out what I’ve learned from writing the first two books to make the process of writing the third for more smoothly (and faster).

Continuous progress is the journey of a lifetime. What a life we could live if we just improved a little bit every day – the results take care of themselves.

Thanksgiving & Gratitude

Happy October!

The days are rapidly getting shorter and the weather crisper. The scent of wood fires curls through the air as leaves crunch underfoot. It’s becoming more and more enticing to curl up with a good book, a cup of tea and a cozy blanket!

In Canada, it’s also the month of Thanksgiving – a feast day and a day of gratitude. I’m very grateful for you, lovely readers and supporters, my beloved family, and friends.

October hosts the largest book fair in the world. The Frankfurt Book Fair is considered the most important book fair in the world for international deals and trading. Last year’s fair was attended by 36,000 trade visitors from 105 countries plus 37,000 private visitors from 85 countries (Source: Publishers Weekly). There are almost 4,000 exhibitors listed on the site this year. My publisher’s translation rights agency, DropCap will be presenting The Silk Road at their booth. And for this I am also grateful!

Recently Read

The Rose Code, by Kate Quinn

I thoroughly enjoyed The Alice Network by the same author, so I was thrilled to receive The Rose Code as a gift from a friend. It did not disappoint!

From the Goodreads description: “…three friends-turned-enemies are reunited by a mysterious encrypted letter—the key to which lies buried in the long-ago betrayal that destroyed their friendship and left one of them confined to an asylum. A mysterious traitor has emerged from the shadows of their Bletchley Park past, and now Osla, Mab, and Beth must resurrect their old alliance and crack one last code together. But each petal they remove from the rose code brings danger—and their true enemy—closer.”

Exciting stuff indeed! What intrigued me the most was the true stories behind the fictionalized ones. The women of Bletchley Park were heroines in the truest sense of the word.

Highly Recommended.

assorted books on shelf
Uncategorized

In Praise of Libraries

One of my earliest memories is weekly visits to the local public library with my mother and brothers. I would load up on the maximum number of books they allowed us to take out at once and it would just get me to the next Saturday. It was a sad day for me when I realized I had read everything in the children’s section but was still too young for the adult section! But it set my fate as a lifelong bibliophile.

Libraries have provided a critical service for society and culture for thousands of years. The world’s oldest known library was founded sometime in the 7th century B.C.E. for the use of the Assyrian ruler Ashurbanipal in Nineveh in modern day Iraq. The site included a treasure trove of some 30,000 cuneiform tablets organized according to subject. Cuneiform is a wedge-shaped writing made by using a reed stylus on a clay tablet and then letting it harden.

The oldest library continually operating library is at St Catherine’s Monastery, at the foot of the legendary Mount Sinai. It has the second largest collection of ancient manuscripts and codices, just after Vatican City including several unique and important texts, including the Syriac Sinaiticus and, until 1859, the Codex Sinaiticus, the oldest known complete Bible, dating back to around 345 CE.

Our modern libraries help to build literate, productive and engaged communities. They foster literacy of all kinds – a critical factor in economic and social participation that helps to remove barriers to education and employment. By providing safe community spaces, they create healthy communities, and their programming activities support culture and creativity.

Create your own libraries when you can, but don’t forget the vital services provided by your local library!

Why books matter

Building Empathy – One Novel at a Time

The other day someone asked me, “Why do you write for children? It’s a tough market to break into.”

“I’m so glad you asked,” I replied. “Aside from just a love of telling stories, there are some hard reasons why I think it’s so important to write for children. Here is just one.

It seems the qualities that reflect the best in our species have been under attack for some time now. Polarization is growing, as are divisiveness and demonizing those who differ from us in any way—ethnically, culturally, or politically.

Reading novels and stories builds empathy and helps to reduce divisiveness. When a child (or any of us) isreading a novel or story, they are immersing themselves in what it’s like to be in another person’s head. They’re experiencing the character’s experiences in deep and complex ways. Ways that current virtual reality can’t come close to replicating.

When a child is reading a novel or story, they are drawn into imagining the character’s motivations, their goals. This develops the same way of thinking that helps them to understand the people surrounding them in the real world:

  • It helps them to realize and understand that people from other cultures and ethnic groups have feelings, abilities, and desires, just like them.
  • They can come to understand that surface behaviours, particularly undesirable ones, may be driven by deeper underlying causes and shouldn’t necessarily be taken personally.
  • Discussing books and stories offers parents and children a way to discuss topics and feelings that might not be comfortable or come naturally otherwise.

Empathy and compassion are closely related, and both are increasingly precious in our turbulent and divisive world. Reading books and stories is one of the best ways to help our children develop both.”

Let’s help our children build their empathy muscles, one book at a time.

What I’ve Been Reading

Evil in Emerald, by A.M. Stuart

Craving a change of pace, Harriet Gordon, joins a local musical theatre production but when a fellow cast member is brutally killed, Harriet and Inspector Curran must turn the spotlight on murder in this all-new mystery from the author of Revenge in Rubies.

Harriet and Curran get better and better. I love the detailed and evocative setting in historical (1910) Singapore and the author includes a number of ‘real’ as well as fictional personages in the work.

The pacing is brisk, the characters continue to develop in interesting ways and complexity, and the climax was very satisfying.
I am impatiently awaiting the next title in the series!

What I've been reading, Writing

It’s My Book Birthday!

A Writer’s Journey

Magic! Adventure! Fabulous, mythical animals and wicked witches! These were the story elements that enthralled me as a child and inspired me to create the magical, mystical world of Sericea.

Lucy & Dee, The Silk Road is now available at your bookseller of choice!

It’s been a long journey. I knew I wanted to be a writer when I was eight years old and fashioning little booklets out of folded paper. I’d write and illustrate fantasy – heavily influenced at the time by The Borrowers series.

Then, as so often happens, I was overtaken by events, school, early stages of career and family… Oh, I wrote…some truly dreadful novels that mercifully I let languish in my computer hard drive. But over time, the writing bug strengthened. I wrote more. And as I wrote, my writing improved. Participation in various writing groups helped along the way along with writing buddies and writing coaches.

Finally, perseverance has paid off!

Never give up on a dream. It may take much longer than you expect to achieve it, but that’s okay.

Things I’m Grateful for Today

Spring has truly sprung here on the Island and I’m loving seeing new flowers every day. Some of my favourites are camellias, rhododendrons, and flowering plums. Every day, there’s something new to discover!

A crackling fire while I work on the second book in the Lucy & Dee series

An almost three-hour phone call with a beloved friend this morning. We’re separated by thousands of miles and a substantial time difference, but each call is as if we’re sitting having a cup of tea together.

A heron landed by the pool in my neighbour’s garden yesterday. There is a blue heron colony in a public garden, not too far from our house. In the Celtic traditions, herons represent autonomy, persistence, and longevity.

What I’m Reading Now

When I start a series, I tend to go right through it and there are twenty-four Hugh Corbett medieval mysteries to date. This is only book 11. Paul Doherty has based every novel in the series so far on an actual event happening in the reign of Edward 1 of England. A historian as well as an author, Doherty brings the early 14th century vividly to life.

Book reviews, What I've been reading

Inspiration, Regret and a Snarky Cat

An interviewer asked me the other day what inspired me to write Lucy & Dee, The Silk Road. The “author” answer comes from my childhood reading history. Of all the wonderful books I read as a child, my favourites were the classic fantasy adventure stories by authors like C. S. Lewis, Madeleine L’Engle, Mary Norton, P. L. Travers and E.Nesbitt. I wanted to write books as magical and transportive as they did. So, from the age of eight, I was making little books—literally folding pieces of paper into a book-like shape. From there, I wrote facsimiles of Borrower’s stories and other fantasy adventures.

My happy place in Brisbane, the Botanical Gardens. I have a favourite Morton Bay fig tree I sit beneath and think deep thoughts.

The more personal answers come from my family. Fast forward a couple of decades and I had children of my own. I told them my stories and my son always begged me to write them down. I’d start, and even finish, manuscripts and leave them languishing in my laptop. Someday, I thought. Someday I’ll have time to get these published so my children can hold them in their hands.

A few more decades passed, and it was my mother’s death in the spring of 2021 that finally pushed me to finish The Silk Road. My parents were huge readers and encouraged us to read and write. They would have been thrilled to hold a book I’d written in their hands. I was so angry with myself for always thinking ‘oh, I’ll have time later.’

If you’re inspired to write a book, make the time now!

What I’ve been Reading

I love it when I find a new series and each title draws me inexorably to the next!

A snarky, magical cat, Gobbelino, one half of a Private Investigator partnership, narrates the Gobbelino London series. Scruffy, loner Callum (he’s deeply attached to a disreputable trench coat) makes up the other half of the duo. Witty dialogue, hints at their past lives that make you want to know more, and the deep commitment and respect they have for each other fill the books. Their characters develop in satisfactory ways and each title reveals more about their fascinating backstories.

Each book centres on solving an unusual magical mystery from neutralizing a homicidal grimoire (A Scourge of Pleasantries), defeating an infestation of zombies (A Contagion of Zombies), rounding up a gang trafficking in powdered unicorn horn (Complications of Unicorns) and preventing the end of humanity (A Melee of Mages). As they careen from one scrape to another with the help of an eclectic and fascinating collection of secondary characters they manage to save the day. If you need to smile, to laugh, to get invested in some characters you are really going to care about, then please give this series and this author a read. You won’t regret it and the world will seem just a bit more optimistic afterwards too. I am impatiently awaiting the next book in the series.