Waikiki Beach… the start of two weeks in paradise

It took us almost 24 hours, but some destinations are worth the journey.

Hawaii is the perfect meeting-up point for my family, dispersed as we are all across the globe (L and I, from the UK; my parents from Canada, my sister and her bf from Australia). We started as most people do – with a couple of nights on Waikiki beach. And what a place. Full of life and action, Waikiki is not what I would refer to as ‘chilled out’ (and especially not where my parents were staying, the frenetic and huge Hilton Hawaiian Village) but it is so much fun.

waikiki

How else would I sum up Waikiki?

1) It’s a surfer’s paradise

The time difference between the UK and Hawaii is 11 hours – so long it’s almost meaningless. We were up early the first morning, but still not as early as these surfers – who hit the water at first light.
surfers waikiki

2) It’s a shopper’s paradise

Along Kalakaua Avenue, you’ll find every luxury boutique you can think of (although who wants to wear stuffy designer clothes in laid-back Hawaii? I’ll never know. I’m thinking of permanently ditching all footwear for flip-flops for the rest of the trip). We did do some sale shopping (of course!) in Ala Moana shopping centre, but if you have to shop anywhere, doing so in a bright, breezy open air mall is the way to do it.

3) It’s a foodie haven

We were only there for two days, but we ate some of the most amazing food – and not at ridiculous prices. My highlights were the ahi katsu at Chai’s cafe. Food this good should not be served in a box (but when it does, hallelujah!). Chai Chaowasaree is a world class high-end chef but this restaurant of his is no frills. Perfect for eating top quality food while not changing out of your sarong. Also delicious was the Luau Eggs Benedict from Tropics cafe in Hilton Hawaiian Village with kalua pork and a purple taro roll. Yum.

tuna

eggs benny

4) It’s ridiculously beautiful. 

Who knew a major city could be this gorgeous? With sunsets like this, it’s tempting never to leave. But with Maui ahead, I’m looking forward to some major R&R…

sunset waikiki

sunset waikiki1

Easter in Edinburgh, with a side trip to East Lothian!

ImageAh Edinburgh. What a fantastic city! And what a weekend for it… absolutely bright blue skies the entire time set the scene for great food, fantastic people and awe-inspiring sights. ImageA panoramic view from half-way up Arthur’s SeatImageThe view from the top!

We had an amazing dinner at The Witchery by the Castle, but can I just shout out to the most excellent breakfasts we had? The Edinburgh Larder made some of the best scrambled eggs I’ve ever had out, and Urban Angel had amazing hot chocolate and eggs benedict. I’m a brunch addict, so this made me extraordinarily happy!ImageThe walk back to EdinburghImageAmy tries to stick em with the pointy end at Edinburgh castle…ImageOn Sunday we left the city centre and headed out into East Lothian, to the Craigielaw Lodge and golf club. We played the 35th oldest golf course in the world (allegedly – how random!) called Kilspindie, which was right along the coast. We were quite lucky that the forecast rain held off, although it was pretty windy.ImageI now just want to see way more of Scotland. In a lot of ways it reminded me of my favourite place in the world (New Zealand) and I’m sure there’s so much more to see and discover.

 

 

#Inspiration series… Travelling, part 2

Travel has always formed a big part of my life. My parents were not the sort to leave their children at home, or who avoided long travel until we got older, and we often went to distant places together as a family. They trained me well – even now, I can’t get on moving transport without falling asleep almost immediately (it makes it awkward on those long tube journeys home, though).

So two things were prevalent in my life: travel, and carpets. The latter won’t be a surprise if you’ve been following the blog, but for those of you who don’t know, my parents own an oriental carpet store in Ottawa, Canada, and when I was a child he worked as the carpet buyer for Harrods, and later Bentalls department stores. As a result, my sister and I spent a lot of time playing hide and seek through stacks of carpets. And, yes, dealing with all the requisite high school jokes later on.

20 CRT 1997

Me and my sister, hanging out at my parent’s store

There’s no doubt that accompanying my parents on trips while I was young shaped and influenced me as a writer. One of the most influential trips I went on came in 1995, when I was 9, and we had the privilege of being invited to a huge, 10-day wedding celebration in New Delhi, India.

12 India wedding 1995

At a Hindu wedding in New Dehli, 1995

The wedding was lavish and spectacular, and my sister and I both loved dressing up for the occasion in our saris chosen especially for the colour of each particular day. But India also equalled enormous culture shock. It was the first time I can vividly remember witnessing extreme poverty: we were driving in the car from the hotel to the wedding venue, and when we were stopped in traffic, dozens of children surrounded the car, banging on the windows and begging. The driver just pulled away. After that I remember being shocked into stunned silence – partly fear, but also partly curiosity. I asked my parents why children had to live like that. Children ask the most difficult questions, I feel.

18 India wedding  1995

All the bangles you could ask for!

But there were other abiding memories too – the wedding was also a riot of colour and ritual and amazing food. I wore bangles up to my elbows, and had henna designs drawn on my hands. I managed to irritate the woman doing mine, and so I was bestowed a (what I remember to be) hideous henna pattern, with thick blobs like a chessboard, where everyone else had delicate vines and flowers. The jealousy still stings.

19 India wedding  1995

During the mendhi session, having henna painted on my hands

We managed to see some of Northern India too – taking the train down to Agra to see the Taj Mahal. There, we spotted snake charmers lining the street up towards the beautiful marble building. I was obsessed with snakes at the time (so much so, that even now when it came to killing a snake in a scene in my book, I couldn’t do it!) and so I watched on, intrigued.

14 India 1995

Okay, maybe I look a little bit scared… But look at that rocking jumper

We also visited places like the Red Fort, which no doubt subtly planted the seeds in my mind of a vast, red castle, surrounded by heat and sand.

16 India 1995

My sister and me at the Red Fort, New Delhi

But no greater moment stayed with me longer than the main wedding day, where we walked alongside a procession of musicians, dancers and – wait for it – elephants, as the groom rode astride a beautiful white stallion covered in red and gold cloth. There were garlands of flowers everywhere, all in deep, rich colours: marigold, crimson and indigo. The bride was absolutely stunning, and both my sister and I watched with mouths agape throughout the entire ceremony.

When I look at the below picture, I can picture exactly a scene from The Oathbreaker’s Shadow, right near the end – so I won’t spoil it by saying too much more. It makes me wonder just how much I was influenced by what I had seen as a child, and why it was so natural for me to want to set my book in that particular environment. I’m going to be exploring this even more in a later post, but for now, I leave you with a painted elephant…

13 India wedding 1995

Beautiful painted elephant during the Hindu wedding

#Inspiration series… Travelling

The Oathbreaker’s Shadow is out in the world now (well, the parts of the world where the rights have sold!), so I thought I’d continue my blogging tradition by talking about different things that inspire the book and my writing, and hopefully give some useful tips along the way.

This week’s inspiration theme is: Travel!

To start things off, one of the Totally Random Tour stops last week was with Sable Caught, a lovely vlogger who I met at the Random House UK blogger brunch. Karen, Emma and I all provided her with a list of the top 5 places which inspire us. Check out her vlog to see our answers:

Did any of those places resonate with you? Check back tomorrow for more travel-inspiration, where I will delve a bit deeper into how it helps my writing and why I love it! And not just for the sunshine!

Art/photos that inspired The Oathbreaker’s Shadow over on The Lucky 13s

I’m over at The Lucky 13s blog today, talking about art that inspired The Oathbreaker’s Shadow. I thought the easiest way to showcase some of the main photos was to create a Pinterest board, so I encourage you to take a look at that too!
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“Art and photography have always inspired my writing, in a multitude of ways. In 2006, when The Oathbreaker’s Shadow was just an idea floating around in my head, I headed down to an achingly hip part of Toronto known as The Distillery District, a pedestrian-only zone lined with the converted Victorian industrial buildings of the old Gooderham and Worts distillery.  It’s packed with art galleries and amazing coffee shops (head to Balzacs immediately if you’re searching for good coffee in Toronto), and a fabulous place to spend an afternoon. Read more ->

Inspiration vlogs: Wadi Rum desert, Jordan

Oops – I’ve been rather neglecting the blog. You might forgive me though as it is one of the most hectic weeks in publishing: the week of London Book Fair! Last week I partied with George RR Martin and some of the Game of Thrones cast members at the Tower of London, went to my first ever party as an author (hopefully more on that when I can share the good news!), and – of course – worked the rights centre at LBF, trying to discover the next big talent for Voyager. Phew!

Now, back to regular blogging, I hope. Or in this case, maybe it’s back to vlogging? Here’s the next video in my ‘inspiration series’ of videos, this time set in the immense Wadi Rum desert in Jordan. Most of The Oathbreaker’s Shadow is set in a desert, and I always love a desert’s stark, barren beauty. I’ve seen where sand dunes touch the ocean in Namibia, been to the world’s smallest desert in the Yukon (the Carcross desert), shooed away flies in the Australian outback, but the Wadi Rum desert really took me by surprise not only for its rainbow coloured sands and immense rock formations, but also because of the people who I met there – the Bedouins – who were happy to demonstrate their way of life to us pesky tourists. You definitely get the feeling that the Bedouin harbour far more secrets than they share, however, and in a place like Wadi Rum, you can hide multitudes – even entire cities. That’s the kind of detail that goes straight into my novel.

This video is a little more awkward than the others, as we had to shoot it in one take before the sun disappeared completely. Hope you enjoy!

Inspiration vlogs: Abu Simbel, Egypt

It’s no secret that while writing The Oathbreaker’s Shadow, I took inspiration from numerous gorgeous settings around the world (take a look at my inspiration page if you want to see more). Mongolia, China, Thailand, Egypt, Jordan, Namibia, Zimbabwe… no place has truly been safe from my imagination’s safety (one-day-I-might-use-this) deposit box!

So while I was out in the Middle East, I thought it’d be a great opportunity to shoot a few vlogs in some pretty fantastic locations – and explain why these places have such an influence on me as a writer, and in particular on The Oathbreaker’s Shadow.

The first in my ‘Inspiration series’ of vlogs is from Abu Simbel, Egypt…

I hope you enjoy!