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.
Favourite book read in January: either City of Dragons by Robin Hobb or In the Shadow of Blackbirds by Cat Winters.
February 2014: Licked my wounds, battled depression and anxiety, and kept promoting Pantomime & Shadowplay. I went down to Newcastle for the North East Teen Book Awards, which ended up being very, very timely. I’d been tempted to take a writing hiatus (because I knew I could never quit completely), and here were teens saying my books were some of their favourites of all time, wanting to take photos and have my sign things, and just in general being so sweet and so enthusiastic about books and reading. I came back and threw myself into the new project I’d been editing. I’d finished the first draft at the end of November 2013, and after some great beta reader comments, I was working on turning it into a workable draft. I called it Bonkers Book on social media. I also announced the Vestigial Tales, or my plan to self-publish some short stories/novellas set in the same world as the Micah Grey series. I also had an Aberdeen launch at Waterstones for Shadowplay, and was really touched by how many people came out for it. I seemed pretty on top of things. Behind the scenes, I was still a mess, though I was getting myself together.
Favourite book read in February: Unteachable by Leah Raeder.
March 2014: I’d been approached to write a short story for an anthology and in March I was able to announce it as Fablecroft Press did a funding drive for the Cranky Ladies of History, which blasted through its goals. I also got to participate in Robin Hobb’s worldwide scavenger hunt (post with pictures illustrating the clues), and am now friends with the girl who found my present, Louise, and we meet for coffee occasionally. I found out Pantomime had been nominated for the Bisexual Book Award—yay! I went to my friend Rhona McKinnon’s wedding and danced at my first-ever ceilidh.
Favourite book read in March: The House of Small Shadows by Adam Nevill.
April 2014: There were some good events for #LGBTApril I participated in. I went to my first convention of the year—Eastercon, in Glasgow. As the conventions are usually in England, it was nice to only have to travel 2 hours to get to one, for once! I was on my first panel. I had fun but it was also a difficult convention, as my mental health was still patchy. There was more ceilidh dancing. I finished editing Bonkers Book and was working on the Vestigial Tales. Laya drew her first (of what proved to since be many) fan art pieces, and I also received some fan mail. I was so touched I wrote an emotional thank you to readers. I finished editing Bonkers Book & sent it to my agent and worked on the Vestigial Tales.
Favourite book read in April: This was a good reading month so I had three: The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black, Bitter Greens by Kate Forsyth, and Cress by Marissa Meyer.
Favourite book read in June: Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell.
July 2014 aka THE MONTH MY LIFE CHANGED: Vestigial Tales: I posted a roundup of “The Snake Charm” and its first month sales, launched “The Fisherman’s Net,” shared “The Tarot Reader’s” blurb and cover, and went on the local radio. Tor/Macmillan offered pre-emptively on Bonkers Book aka False Hearts, changing my life. It was right before a big work audit and I was trying to concentrate on spreadsheets while internally screaming with glee. The press release went live on July 25th. I told work I wanted to stop working full-time. My friend Erica came out to visit from California.
Favourite book read in July: Daughter of the Forest by Juliet Marillier and Natural Causes by James Oswald.
August 2014 aka THE MONTH OF ALL THE CONS: Vestigial Tales: I posted my month 2 roundup of being a hybrid author, launched “The Tarot Reader,” and unveiled the cover and blurb for “The Card Sharp.” Erica and I took a day trip to Edinburgh for the Fringe Festival. I went to Nine Worlds in London and had a great time—definitely my favourite con of the year. I went to some other London events such as the Broken Monsters launch for Lauren Beukes and the Fantasy in the Court event at Goldsboro Books, where I got to meet some people from my new publisher, like my editor Julie Crisp, for the first time. Then it was time for another convention, Loncon3. I went back to Aberdeen, exhausted.
Favourite book read in August: Tipping the Velvet by Sarah Waters.
September 2014: Vestigial Tales: another monthly roundup and launching the last of the Tales (for now), “The Card Sharp.” The cons weren’t over! I journeyed down to York for Fantasycon. My husband and I celebrated our 5 year anniversary/10 years of being together. I did some events for #WriteCity in Aberdeen, doing both public events and school visits throughout the city. I started my Masters in Creative Writing at the University of Aberdeen and began reducing my hours slightly at work. I was able to announce that False Hearts will be published in the US through Tor/Forge and in Italy through Fanucci Editore. Peter F. Hamilton blurbed the book (!), calling it: “A smart debut from someone who’s clearly got what it takes.” I went down to Winchester for Amy Alward’s beautiful wedding. I became a British citizen!
Favourite book read in September: Broken Monsters by Lauren Beukes.
October 2014, or THE MONTH OF NO FREE TIME: I did my full-time masters. I did more school visits. I worked around 30 hours a week at the day job. I tried to write, but that didn’t really happen. Pantomime was listed as Gay YA’s October Book of the Month and they did lots of great promotion. I managed to post another Vestigial Tale monthly roundup. I really missed sleep and free time, but by the end of the month, my replacement had started and been trained and I dropped down to around 12 hours a week for work. I finished the first draft of Masquerade, finally.
Favourite book read in October: Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë (for uni).
Favourite book read in November: Isla and the Happily Ever After by Stephanie Perkins, with an honourable mention to the Complete Atopia Chronicles by Matthew Mather.
December 2014: I finished up the first semester of my Masters degree. I went to London for my agent’s Christmas party. I went to the Isle of Arran on my first-ever writing retreat with Elizabeth May and Emma Trevayne, editing Masquerade for beta readers. I waited to hear about *stuff* and tried to be patient (and failed). I was called back into the day job almost full-time for a little bit. Stress. Stress. Stress. Aaaaand relax. Got ready for Christmas. Ate all the food. Now: reading, watching a lot of TV and slowly editing what I wrote of Brainfreeze Book and sorting through Masquerade beta comments.
Favourite book read in December: The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell.
Last week was my first proper week off in…a long time. Except it wasn’t really a week off–I went to the Isle of Arran with Elizabeth May and Emma Trevayne for a writing retreat. But it was the first week in so long where I wasn’t going to the day job, or going to a convention, or going to class or doing homework, or on holiday somewhere where you explore all day. I sat on my butt, didn’t move off of it much, and was a proper full time writer for one whole glorious week.
It did have a bit of drama: the day after we arrived the weather worsened, to the point where we were technically trapped on the island for two days as the ferries weren’t running. Due to the microclimates on the island, it’d be sunny one minute and furiously hailing the next. Wednesday night, lightning flashed and thunder shook the Retreat Cottage of Wonder (and Whisky). Because it was cold and we had the heating up high, a few wasps came out of hibernation. Only queen wasps hibernate. They were the size of small birds (slight exaggeration) and we had to vanquish them with a hoover.
Aside from that, it was a lot of writing and eating a lot of cheese.
What I did:
– Finished re-reading Pantomime (to refresh myself for Masquerade‘s edits. And whoo man, it was really weird reading a book I wrote in 2010-2012. In general I still like it, but there’s also plenty I’d change, and I can tell my writing’s grown and matured)
– Re-read Shadowplay (because this was written in 2012-2013, it wasn’t as painful to read)
– Edit Masquerade into a readable draft, as that first draft was most definitely not. This was what took most of the week. It’s now out with the first round of betas.
– Edit my short story, “The Lioness,” which will be released in the Cranky Ladies of History anthology from Fablecroft Press next year. It’s about a badass lady pirate who killed a lot of people (Jeanne de Clisson).
– Read 1 book for the Bisexual Book Award I’m helping judge (in the general fiction category).
– Finish my research book on corporate espionage for Brainfreeze Book (my option book for Tor).
– I also managed some fun reading: most of The Fire Sermon by Francesca Haig and some of The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell.
The morning we left, the rain cleared up a little, and a perfect, marvelous double rainbow bid us farewell.
This week I’ve been thrown back into day job stress, but as of next week that calms down and then there’s the Christmas break. I’ll either actually take the break off work entirely, or I’ll start drafting Brainfreeze Book again (which I’m currently 40k through).
It was a marvelous week, and I think I’m going to have to find a way to go on more writing retreats.
Here’s the link to the roundup of my last Fantasycon, and my first con in the UK. It was my third post on this blog. Re-reading that made me smile. It’s where I met Adam Christopher, who is still a good friend, and many of the people I met at that first con I know much better now.
It’s also crazy to think how much things can change. Three years ago my first novel was under consideration with Angry Robot. I went to the masterclass and wondered if I’d ever find an agent. Now I’ve two books out and more to come and I’m going part-time at my job. I have the best agent and ten of her other authors were at the con, too. The Mushens Cabal. If you’d told me that all that was to come in 2011 I’d have had to sit down.
Nostalgia out of the way, I did enjoy Fantasycon 2014. I was still worn out from the Loncon cons. Usually there’s all the excitement of seeing people you’ve not seen in months, but this time it was like “oh, hello! I saw you three weeks ago.” I took it a lot easier this con. I arrived at 3 pm on the Friday, taking the train down from Aberdeen. I checked in and hung about briefly, then Craig and I snuck off into town because it was our five year anniversary.
After dinner I headed back to the hotel and went to the karaoke. I made a very poor song choice in California Dreaming and messed it up. Juliet impressed everyone with as the killed “9 to 5” and then “Fat Lip” and lastly did a moving debut with Andrew Reid. Around 11, I called it a night.
The next morning I had all my programming back to back, which was actually nice as it means I sort of stayed in “professional author” mode. I had a signing, where I mainly hung out with the other authors, then my two panels. The dystopia panel was great, with everyone having great points to contribute and Guy Adams moderating very well. The main point I took away from it was that teen dystopia is often an escape because it’s teens potentially taking back control of the poor decisions their parents made. Right after that I had to dash to my next panel, about the lack of parents in YA. Mainly, it’s because parents can be inconvenient to stories. They cant very well nag about homework when the world is at stake.
After my panels, I snuck away for a few hours to see more of York. It’s such a beautiful town.
Afterward I saw Tea and Jeopardy live with Emma Newman and Peter Newman. I have never laughed so hard as when I heard a room of grown men and women clucking the Doctor Who theme as chickens. And to those who weren’t there: I shall not put that in context.
Later on was the Super Relaxed Fantasy Club, which normally is held in London, and is co-run by Den Patrick and Jen Williams (moar Team Mushens authors. We’re in ur genre, writing ur bookz etc). Simon Spanton of Gollancz was interviewed by James Barclay, and it was an excellent look into life as an editor in SFF. Then I had to read! Luckily, the opening of False Hearts seemed to go down well.
After me, it was readings from Edward Cox, Emma Newman, and Niel Bushnell. After that it was the disco, where I chatted with people and then boogied a little.
Sunday was another somewhat relaxed day. After breakfast I went back into York for a bit to do some work in a coffeeshop. The Cafe W in the Waterstones is adorable! Then in the afternoon was the British Fantasy Awards. I was up for Best Newcomer, and unsurprisingly lost to Ann Leckie, which I was fully expecting 🙂 I still got to go up on stage and accept the award for Lauren Beukes and The Shining Girls for Best Horror Novel, so that was fun.
And then it was pretty much time to head back. Thanks to everyone I chatted with. I’m not going to list everyone by name because it’s late and I’ll forget someone and then feel rubbish. It was a nice, sun-filled weekend.
And so my cons for this year are finished. Thank you to Creative Scotland for the Professional Development Bursary, which will have made it much, much easier to go to these events.