Last week, my family and I took a road trip down from the SF Bay Area to Los Angeles. We haven’t done a road trip with just me, my mom, and my brother for a good ten years, and it was great. On the way down, we stopped at Marina State Beach (near Monterey).The next stop was at Pismo Beach, which was lovely, and we spent the night in Santa Barbara. The next day, we explored Santa Barbara, going to the marine center and the Presidio, before we battled traffic to Los Angeles.
In LA, we stayed with my Aunt Debby, Uncle Kurt, and my cousin Jake. My aunt has changed careers lately and become an interior designer, and you can see her work here. They have a beautiful home right by LAX, so at night I heard the planes flying overhead.
We had a busy time when we were down south. On the Friday, me, my mom, and my aunt had a girl’s morning and had manicures and pedicures. Then we all met up for sushi. After that, my brother had to play chauffeur and bring me to a meeting with one of my film agents, Jon Cassir. It was really surreal sitting in the lobby of Creative Artists Agency, realizing I was represented by the same company that reps so many film stars. It was one of those moments where at the low point at the start of 2014 where I thought my career was over and you told me in 1.5 years I’d be sitting there, I wouldn’t have believed you. It was a great meeting where I learned more about how film options and development works, as I wasn’t entirely sure before.
After that, my brother and I went down to Long Beach to meet my older half-sister Wendy, who lives in Anaheim. My dad had two kids as a teenager and two kids in his forties, so my older sister is 52. We had a nice meal at a diner then came back, getting lost about 50x in the process.
Saturday was devoted to book research. My option book for my Tor contract is set in LA, so it was incredibly useful to be able to crawl around downtown and see some buildings I’d googled while drafting the first half of the book. It was sad to see how certain parts of downtown, like the area around the Bradbury building, had once been so lovely but now looked a bit tired and run down, with most of the grand theatres shut or turned into random shops.
Saturday night was my aunt’s birthday, where I was able to see my cousin Dylan and his wife, Rixt, and their adorable daughter Ava for the first time since they moved away from Amsterdam in 2013. Rixt’s parents were also out, and last time I was in Amsterdam we went to their very adorable home outside the city.
Sunday, my childhood friend Natalie drove up from Orange County with her also adorable daughter, Isis. We wandered around Hollywood, which was a trip. So loud and crowded and so many different people smooshed together. People dressed up in costumes or street performers trying to make a buck. People hawking tours around the star’s homes. Religious people in conservative clothing trying to save all the sinners. Little kids amazed at the princesses. Gawping tourists, locals just trying to get from one side of Hollywood to the other.
Monday was Disneyland. We left the house early and was actually through parking and the lines and into the park by 9 am. We left the park at around half ten at night. We went on 18 rides, walked almost 11 miles, and got to have dinner at the Blue Bayou, aka the restaurant inside the Pirates of the Caribbean ride.
Tuesday it was time to head back up north. We said farewell to our family and hit the road. I was feeling so drained from Disneyland (near the end of the night I’d half-lost my voice), so I slept in the car. We took a hike at Point Lobos and saw seals!
That night we spent in Carmel, which was very cute and quaint but would be crazy expensive to live there. We had some amazing Mediterranean food.
The last day of the road trip, we explored Carmel a little more, spent some time on the beach, and went to the nearby mission. By then, we were nearly home, and it felt good to be back and knowing Craig, my husband, would be flying out the next day.
Now I’m still hanging out with family a lot, but trying to get back into work, doing such joyous tasks as my UK and US taxes. I’ve finished a short story and will soon tackle my half-finished book, which should be easier now that I’ve visited the setting. It’s been nice to be back 🙂
Last week, I went to the Isle of Skye with Kim Curran and Amy Alward for a writing retreat. And, unexpectedly, the photographer JB Knibbs, due to a fortunate communication mishap. After getting over the surprise of someone already being at the house, and her expected solitude interrupted, we all got along brilliantly.
We wrote some words, we did some adventuring (rain or shine–mostly rain, except for the one day we tried to go for a walk and didn’t even make it to the gate due to horizontal rain-hail in the face). We ate scones and drank mulled cider. It was an excellent trip in a beautiful corner of the world.
And now the ten snaps:
For more photos, follow me on Instagram. In addition to travel snaps, I also post photos of cats, food, bookish things, and things I see while walking about.
In January, I went to Hong Kong with my husband, Craig. It was our first holiday outside of North America & Europe. I also had tentative plans to set a book there, so it was also a chance to see if the setting would work. Plus, eat all the food and see all the things.
The first night, we arrived quite late, so only took the coach in from the airport (and were wide-eyed at all the skyscrapers) and found somewhere near the hotel to eat. It was a chain and the servers spoke no English, so we very much felt like Ultimate Tourists as we pointed at the menu, glad of the pictures and the English subtitles. I really liked the century egg in spicy sauce.
The next day we woke up super early thanks to jetlag, and went out exploring. We were staying in Fortress Hill and journeyed on the crowded MTR to nearby Causeway Bay, which has a lot of shopping. We wandered around, had some food (the Muji stores there have cafes in them!), bought some clothes, and gawped at everything being so tall. We then went to Din Tai Fung, one of the cheapest Michelin starred restaurants in the world, for some dim sum. It was unsurprisingly delicious. For dessert I tried ice cream frozen with liquid nitrogen for the first time. So smooth! Then we went to Sheung Wan to visit PMQ, which stands for Police Married Headquarters. That’s what the buildings were, lodgings for cops, but now they’ve been converted into shops for local artists and designers. We hung out there and the surrounding area for hours, and then went for dinner at a golf club in the hills thanks to two people Craig knew from the internet. We got to drive around and see the city at night, and then had a drink in the top floor of our hotel, overlooking Victoria Harbour. An excellent first day.
The next day we went south to Aberdeen Harbour because how could we not, living in the original Aberdeen? There wasn’t as many touristy things to do there as we weren’t interested in going to the floating seafood restaurant, but it was interesting to explore the area. We went to the local Tin Hau Temple. There are over 100 Tin Hau Temples in Hong Kong, for worshipping the goddess of the sea. In the late afternoon, jet lag hit us hard so we went back to the hotel to nap and then stayed near the hotel, buying local snacks we couldn’t get back home and watching TV in the hotel room.
On the third day we ventured across the harbour to Kowloon. First we went to the Museum of Hong Kong. Craig and I have been to a few of these “history of the city museums” in our travels, but this one was the best. Very well organised and interesting, and I felt we learned a lot about the history, the different cultures, and festivals and traditions. When we left the museum, the weather was glorious and so we meandered along the Avenue of Stars, dodging the other tourists and looking for names we knew on the sidewalk. We wandered around the area before hopping in a cab and going north to Kowloon Walled City Park. Here’s some history of the walled city. Basically it was a military outpost and after WWII a lot of Japanese refugees went there. Its population swelled and it didn’t really have a justice system. The police stayed out of it and it was basically its own teeny tiny little country. Crime grew rampant as it was run by the Triads, and illegal construction made it a hive of people. In the 90s it was demolished and now it’s a pretty park.
After wandering around the park, we explored the surrounding area a bit. We found a bakery with a familiar looking cat on it, as two days before we found a brochure at the PMQ advertising Cream Bro, HK’s celebrity cat. We weren’t sure how famous he actually was, but there he was on the bakery. Cute! We had some sugary treats at a nearby cafe and then headed back to the waterfront. We stayed until night time and watched the light show that’s on every night, the skyscrapers flashing lights in time to cheesy music. While we waited, we saw a youth band play to a crowd, a small child on his father’s shoulders gleefully bouncing along to the rock music, and also saw a dance group perform by the water.
The next day, we went to another dim sum place, Tim Ho Wan, but had to wait about an hour to be seated. It was worth it though. The food was so delicious, and it was another Michelin star despite it only being about £20 for us to be totally stuffed. We then went back to Sheung Wan, to an area called the Mid-Levels with has the longest outdoor escalator in the world. We took that (which featured in a film we watched not long before we went to HK, Chungking Express). We wandered around, looking at the street art and visiting another temple. Then we went back to Causeway Bay and had some delicious waffles, and as a second dinner we had a picnic back in our hotel room.
Day 5: Went out for dim sum again with Craig’s friend from the internet, Abe. So good. Afterwards we wandered around, including through Chunking Mansions, another area that used to be pretty shady but isn’t really anymore. After some more wandering, we went to the Museum of Art. My favourite exhibit was of the wood sculptor Tong Sim-Kun. I preferred his realistic work to his more abstract and modern sculptures, but they were all beautiful. The weather was rainy, so in the evening we were soaked as we went back to our side of the city.
The next day, the weather was great, and so it was off to Ocean Park! It’s an amusement park to the south of the city. Since we went on a weekday, thankfully it wasn’t totally swamped. The views from the cable car were incredible, and they had lots of animals and shows. I was ridiculously excited by the red pandas and took about 200 photos of them. There was also a panda and some cute otters. We rode a few rides, but then it was getting rather crowded so we headed back to the city. We wanted to take the tram up to Victoria Peak to watch the sun set, but it looked like the wait would be an hour and a half so…no Peak. Back near the hotel, we had dinner at a tasty place called Campers, which served fresh, delicious Japanese food.
On day 7, our trip was winding down, so we had to prioritize what we were going to do with the time we had left. Initially, we were thinking of taking a ferry to Lantau Island, but instead we stayed in the city and went to Chi Lin Nunnery. It was a quiet, lovely haven right in the middle of the bustle of the city. It was so calming to stroll around, eat some vegetarian food, and see some greenery. Afterwards, it was back to exploring the city, and we ended up going to Mong Kok, one of the busiest areas of Hong Kong, which also has lots of markets.
And then it was our last day. We checked out of the hotel in the morning and stashed our bags before going back to Tim Ho Wan to have the delicious pork buns, getting there early enough we didn’t have to queue for an hour. Then we took the Star Ferry around the Harbour for a last look of the city. After some more wandering around and buying snack food to take back (and we’ve already eaten it all, darn it), we had a last meal at Campers. And then it was time for the airport and the 22 hour journey home, Cream Bro wished us farewell from an advert on a baggage trolley.
I’ve been back for over a week now, and finally over the jetlag. Hong Kong was definitely one of the best holidays I’ve ever been on. And it wasn’t only a holiday–I think I’ll be setting my next book there, or at least partly so. It’s the perfect setting for a near-future thriller.
Last Saturday I had an Intercompany Rowing Competition with a few colleagues from work. After the 10k I did recently, I thought it’d be a different sort of challenge. And it was! Though as our coach says, we’re supposed to use mostly our legs, I still feel like I built up some more upper body strength.
The fun part of the competition is that everyone’s in fancy dress. My favourite costumes were “The Coffin Dodgers” – everyone dressed up as old men and the cox (coach) was the Grim Reaper. We dressed up as Star Wars characters – A Jedi, Darth Vader, Han Solo, a Stormtrooper, and Princess Leia. In the first race, we lost to a group of physiotherapists dressed as Where’s Wallys (Waldos to Americans). In the second race, we beat some minions from Despicable Me 2. In the third race, we won against a group in yellow shirts. We won our group, but in the knock out rounds, we were up against the physiotherapists again and we were thrashed.
It was still fun, though the weather wasn’t the greatest. Don’t think I’ll keep up rowing, but it was a good experience and something different.
First photo is from my camera, and other photos are courtesy of Kevin, an engineer from work.
The present, a signed copy of Renegade’s Magic and Pantomime, were found by Louise Keating.
Location: Victoria Park, Rosemount, Aberdeen, Scotland, UK
I’m going to lead you down the rabbit hole.
The place you are meant to go is named after a queen.
She perhaps didn’t scream “Off with their heads!” but she
led an empire. That’s clear enough, isn’t it?
It’s a place of greenery and trees. Perhaps you played there as a child.
Got it? Start at the entrance.
On your right there will be a gatehouse, looking like something out of a fairy tale.
Perhaps smoke curls from the chimney. Perhaps you wonder who lives in it.
Continue down the promenade, under the trees, bare in the winter chill.
There may be people there, walking dogs, urging bundled children to run about.
Stop at the fountain. It is made of fourteen different types of granite.
No water runs from it. It stands tall and imposing.
Look to your left. There’s a little brick gate. Go through it.
A little further along, there will be the remnants of a chess board on the asphalt,
nearly erased by time, its pieces long missing.
Around you are slumbering rose bushes.
When they bloom, no one paints the white blooms red. They’re already crimson.
You’re almost there.
There are two pillars of greenery right in front of you.
Between them is a black flower box.
The treasure is against the wall closest to you, just hidden beneath the new soil.
There it is.
Take it home. Unwrap it. Read the letters.
Open the cover, run your fingertips along the pages.
Fall down the rabbit hole.
2013 was, overall, a very good year. Busy, and at times stressful, but overall, good. There were no catastrophes. My health was sound. I was surrounded by friends and family, did not have to worry about finances, and was able to travel. I had my first book out and now, at the end of the year, my second book has arrived and evidently is already available in some shops. I have a lot of be thankful for.
So, writing round-up. In 2013 I:
– Launched Pantomime, out into the big, wide world.
Edited Shadowplay at least 3 times. No idea of word count, as 10k was cut overall but there were plenty of tweaked scenes and such.
– Wrote 15k of Project GSS before I started over and re-wrote the 30k I had from 3rd person to 1st person. Then I decided it still wasn’t working so I changed the setting and plot and started over again and wrote 40k. Feedback says the 40k is vastly improved but needs more development, historical research, and expansion before I move towards the rest of the story, which is what I expected to hear.
– Wrote Bonkers Book, which was originally 66k, and has now grown to 74k in the second draft. That’s out with betas.
– Wrote 18k of Project M, and will hopefully be writing more of that in the new year.
– Wrote a Drystan short story called “The Snake Charm,” which is 10k.
– I’m a bit into another Drystan short story called “The Card Sharp,” which I’ll maybe finish by the end of this year, but unsure. I’m still not entirely sure what I’ll do with these short stories.
– Planned a Cyan short story called “The Tarot Reader”, but haven’t started it yet.
– Wrote a very short story for Halloween called The Ghost of Gold and Grey, which ties into project GSS.
– Wrote a poem of linked haiku called “Bamboo Moon” which is a lesbian re-telling of a Japanese fairy tale.
– I wrote about 40 guest posts, plus kept this blog up to date
– Events: spoke at Napier University, Gordonstoun school, Keith Academy, and Dollar Academy, appeared on SCHMU Radio, had a Pantomime launch at Forbidden Planet in London and Waterstones in Aberdeen, had another signing at the other Waterstones branch (now sadly closed), went to WFC in Brighton, and was a guest at the Inverness Book Festival.
Non-writing-wise, I continued to work full-time at my job as a document controller and did half of a PgCert in Information Management, which I received in May 2013. I’ve been better about fitness and go to the gym around 2-3 times a week, mainly doing yoga and running. I was able to travel, and went to the Czech Republic and Germany at the end of last year/start of this year. I also went to London and Edinburgh a few times, to Brighton, Barcelona, Amsterdam, and soon I’m flying back to San Francisco.
Put together – goodness me, but I was busy. No wonder I’m always tired.
Here’s one photo from each month, which I think gives a good overall picture of the year:
January: Cesky Krumlov, Czech Republic.
February. I’m doing two photos for this month as in March I was a hermit and can’t find any photos of anything during that time:
Waterstones Aberdeen launch.
London launch at Forbidden Planet.
Signing at Waterstones Langstane (now sadly closed).
Pantomime on the bestsellers paperback list at Gatwick airport in London.
The only photo I can find from that month is me showing off my spray tan. Yes, that is me with a spray tan. I am very pale.
My friend Erica and I outside the Dali Museum in Figures, Spain.
With James Smythe, Sam Copeland, my agent Juliet Mushens, at Kim Curran’s and Bryony Pearce’s joint launch for Control and The Weight of Souls in London.
A quiet evening with one of my cats, Mowgli.
The best photo ever taken with a langoustine & Tad Williams. WFC 2013 in Brighton.