Shaved for a Cure!

On Friday I said goodbye to my hair–and the ability to go an hour without touching my head (it feels so weird! But in a good way!). I promised an update, and have been procrastinating, because I really don’t know what to say. So I finally decided to let the pictures speak for themselves!

 

Of course, the entire point of this was not how weird my head feels (when I pulled my hoodie on after the cut and the fabric just dragged across my skull–it was the oddest sensation and I was not expecting it all). The point of this was raising money for Shave for a Cure, who supports patients with leukaemia and blood cancer and their families. I was hoping to raise five hundred dollars, and I ended up raising eight hundred and thirty-five dollars with the chance of a little more.

I feel really good. The support I received was incredible, and I’m really pleased to be able to pass that on to the many New Zealanders battling blood cancer. I’m also really relieved. I confess, I actually waited until my niece had left for the UK before going in for the shave because I was really afraid that she wouldn’t recognise me without my hair. It sounds stupid, but it was probably the thing I was most afraid of doing this. However, my sister facetimed me from the UK and my niece looked at me, frowned, and then asked me where her kiwi toy that we’d been playing with before she left was, so I had to find the toy and do the kiwi voice for her, and that was that.

Thank you everyone who left me comments of support and/or made donations! I am really pleased that together we made this happen–I hope you are, too.

I Sat in Dame Ngaio Marsh’s chair!

Dame Ngaio Marsh was—along with Agatha Christie and Dorothy L. Sayers—one of the Queens of Crime, a group of women writing during the Golden Age of the Detective story. In addition, she was an artist and an enthusiast for the theatre, becoming recognised as much for her services to New Zealand theatre as she was for her detective novels. And yes-she was a New Zealander. In fact, she lived in Christchurch most of her life. And it never occurred to me that her house might still be here and that you can visit it.

Turns out her house is here in Christchurch and you can visit it. You simply need to arrange a time and date with one of the tour guides and off you go (http://www.ngaio-marsh.org.nz)! I e-mailed and have been binge-reading Ngaio Marsh any free moment I got since.

I was lucky enough to join an already booked group, and visit on a day when a guide was being trained, so there were five of us Ngaio Marsh enthusiasts in the same place. This never happens! It was hugely exciting–as exciting as her house.

By modern standards it’s small–but full of treasures. Ngaio was an only child, so she inherited a few family heirlooms from both sides of her family, as well as those she collected herself in her travels. Some of her dresses still hang in her wardrobe, and her the furnishing are just as they were when she lived in the house–with a few exceptions (there were some breakages because of the earthquake and a few repairs).

What I found most interesting is how the rooms were used. There was no spare room, no office. In this lovely dining room, Ngaio Marsh entertained visiting celebrities including Laurence Olivier. This room is the least altered from the house’s original appearance. Marsh’s parents built it, and originally the entire house was this dark wood.

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Her kitchen was practical, small (despite being enlarged from its original size), and an amazing collection of seventies style. Our guide was not a fan. I thought it looked neat–but then, I didn’t have to try and cook in it!

Ngaio’s bedroom was fantastic. It blended her theatrical and artistic sides. Her passport is there, along with her travelling trunk and there were hatboxes stacked on top of the wardrobe. I was happy to spot some Japanese woodcuts in one corner, but my favourite discovery was the copy of Lord of the Rings on the shelf.

The long room. It was a combination living room and office. I gravitated to an impressive looking typewriter, but it turns out Ngaio wrote longhand sitting in her green armchair. Later her secretary typed things up for her.

Towards the end of her life, Ngaio had her basement converted into an office/bedroom/bathroom/studio so that she wouldn’t have to climb the stairs to her house.

The tour takes an hour, but after it finished, we must have spent a good thirty minutes just talking with our guide. The gentleman visiting with his wife seems to know a lot about New Zealand theatre, going to school with a few of the successful actors that Ngaio promoted, and he and our guide reminisced about people they knew connected with Ngaio. I felt really glad that I timed my visit to coincide with another group, as I feel I got more of an insight into that side of her life.

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I took a lot of photos, but I feel hesitant about sharing all of them. Instead, here is my highlight—the moment I got to sit in the chair where Ngaio Marsh wrote her mystery novels. The bookcase directly in front of me had all of her first editions. Actually, she had bookcases in every room we visited. It was definitely my kind of house. Any Christchurch visitors (M. Caspian, what do you think?): Just so you know, I will totally return to this house and tour with you anytime.

 

 

Name This Dog! Contest and Excerpt.

I’ve been working away at Thorns and Fangs Three (yes, it does have a title—but considering that this is the fifth title I’ve come up with, I’m sitting on a bit longer to be sure this is the one). It’s going a little slower than I would like, but I am pleased with how it’s coming along.

And since I’m enjoying myself, I thought I’d share the fun. Check out this handsome fellow:

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Woof.

He needs a name. Or rather, his Thorns and Fangs counterpart needs a name.

I know that not everyone reads excerpts, so for the spoiler-free crowd, Nate adopts a stray dog, Aki wants no part of it, and they have to agree on a name for the poor creature (if you enjoy spoilers, read on to see what the poor dog has already endured). Please give me possible names for the dog (a comment on Facebook, Goodreads or WordPress, a tweet, an e-mail, any method okay). The deadline is midnight March 31st NZ time, at which point I will pick the most suitable name to use in the story (and hopefully be able to give the winner a prize as well).

You can make as many suggestions as you like, but unfortunately there is only one dog, so only one winner.

Thank you very much for reading and I look forward to your suggestions!

(more…)

Hair Today … gone March 24th.

IMPORTANT NOTE: This is a personal update, nothing to do with writing or writing promo at all. In real life, I’m fundraising to support leukaemia and blood cancer patients in New Zealand, a cause that I really want to help–and not one that I want tainted by the suggestion of self-promo. At the same time, I believe I have a lot of writing friends who will want to support me–and I need all the support I can get. I’ve made the decision to reach out to my writing and reading friends twice only–once in this post, and once again in the aftermath. This is a fine line to walk, and I’m going to do my best not to cross it, but if this strikes you as inappropriate in anyway, do let me know.


 

Okay. Important note out of the way, I am freaking out. I’ve committed to participating in the 2017 fundraising campaign organised by Shave for a Cure by–you guessed it–shaving my head.

As far back as I can remember, people have been complimenting me on my hair. Hairdressers tell me how lovely and thick it is, people in the street tell me how nice my curls are, almost every time I see her my grandma says ‘how nice your hair looks,’–and that’s not even getting into the incredulous reactions from my students in Japan when I told them it was natural.

My two best hair stories both involve students in Japan. Once after going from very long hair, to cutting it very short, I went to school to be greeted by various amusing double-takes. The best was a student I’d taught for five years who saw me from behind and asked his homeroom teacher ‘When did we get a new English teacher?’

The best story happened while I was still on my island. Deciding there was no point in having long hair if I never did anything wore it, I wore my hair loose to school. Unfortunately it was a windy day, and by the time I arrived at school my hair was somewhat worse for the trip. I walked into the third year classroom. One of my girl’s shrieked. ‘Sensei! You look like that character from Harry Potter. What’s her name? Harry’s friend.’ The boy beside her called out ‘Dumbledore!’ And for the rest of the week, that class called me ‘Dumbledore-sensei.’

Giving it up is a lot harder than I thought it would be. In fact, the closer it gets to shave-day, the less I want to do this–but the more I know I have to. I do invest a lot of my ego into my hair–it’s a big part of my identity. And I really hope that by taking part in the Shave for a Cure challenge, I’ll be able to raise money for a worthy cause.

If you want to support me in my challenge, please go to my personal page (yup, using my non-author name): Here

If you can donate, that is amazing and very gratefully received! Although this is an NZ charity, you don’t need to be in NZ to support this cause. If you’re unable to donate, please share this post, leave me a message of support (trust me, I will need those), or maybe even be inspired to consider something like this yourself.

Thanks for reading! And yeah, there will be an update, March 27th, with the after photos (gulp).

Mindful March

Time for the monthly recap! As you may have gathered from my January recap and Accelerated February posts, February was a busy month. The decision to track my writing, health and money made a big difference, not so much in keeping me on track, but making me aware of what is holding me back currently. Despite the lack of word count, I feel I am making really good progress towards my writing goals. I have a lot of work to do if I want to make my 2017 goals, but I feel confident that I can make it happen.

Quick and dirty recap: February Goals

  • finish Murder #1 – NOT AT ALL
  • re-plot TDL – Almost finished!
  • Freelance project 1 AND 2 – Finished project 1. 2 was not finished, but my client was dealing with IRL stuff, so I am counting this as a success.
  • Complete Freelance Project 3 (weekly)- Great Success.
  • regular blog posts- More or less!
  • read 9 books- YES!
  • establish a daily writing habit.-NO

I started February all fired up to write every day. Unfortunately, until I resolve the plot issues I’m having with Murder#1, working on this project is like pulling teeth. I managed for two days, before sinking into a depressed funk. Not writing also made me fall into a depressed funk, until I realised that I could count plotting as writing. Being able to check off time spent plotting as writing made me feel productive and happy, and that encouraged me to keep at it. I came to the conclusion that I have a lot more work to do with research on Murder#1, but that if I came up with a solid plot for Thorns and Fangs #3, then I could work on that while continuing to research Murder#1. All in all, I wrote 12 out of 28 days in February, which while far from the results I wanted, have meant that I am in a really good position to try again for a daily writing habit in March.

Balancing Freelance projects with everything else will continue to be an ongoing problem in March, as I’m finding it hard to say no to clients adding extra work onto existing projects. I’m going to have to be strategic in what projects I take on, and in protecting my creative and research time.

Now that I’m back in the habit of regular blogging, I’m really enjoying it. Travelling was great fun, but while it gave me a lot of interesting places to write about for the blog, I also returned from Auckland totally exhausted. It took me about a week to recover. What is interesting is that the exhaustion was all mental. Physically, I was tired but otherwise fine. I was not sick at all during February, which, for me, is a huge accomplishment! I think this is Accelerated February already positively impacting my health.

Although I didn’t manage to take my vitamins, eat 5 plus servings of fruit and veges a day or walk every day, I am doing all three more regularly and it is having a tremendous impact, not only  on my health but on how I feel about myself. Another new addition to my health routine is a daily guided meditation using the smiling mind app. This is something I want to continue–hence Mindful March! And that brings us to March Goals:

  • Daily Writing Habit (Currently 2/31)
  • Write Thorns and Fangs #3 (3,894/100,000)
  • Balance Freelance and Creative Work
  • Read 9 books (3/9)
  • Regular blog posts (1/9)
  • Edit and release Deep Magic boxset
  • Complete Defensive Driving Course
  • Sit Full Licence Test
  • SECRET PROJECT TBA later.

All in the mind?

I mentioned that I came away from the Joanna Penn Successful Self-Publishing Seminar with a to-do list, right? One of 44 items, to be exact. Today, 14 days later, I have done precisely ten, all of which were things I had to do anyway because they were either freelance projects or blog posts, both of which have deadlines. When I looked at any of the actions I wanted to take around writing, a fog descended. I had so many choices I was paralysed. I then felt guilty for not accomplishing anything, and things were spiralling as they usually did. I knew that if I wanted to get anything done, I needed to battle the spiral with mindset. So I did.

This post is some of the tools that I’m currently using to keep me focused and productive during some stressful times at home and in the world at large (I don’t think it made the International news, but we have a huge out of control fire on the Port Hills here in Christchurch, and a couple of noticeably big shakes).

It’s no coincidence that The Successful Author Mindset is the book I asked Joanna Penn to sign for me. In many ways, I am my own worst enemy, and I’ve turned to Joanna’s book again and again to help ignore the brain wolves and keep me on the productive path. I cannot recommend this book enough for authors.

Monica Leonelle’s Prosperous Creation is what really woke me to the fact that mindset is an ongoing thing. She places it as the foundation tier of her creative framework, and recommends addressing ongoing habits of reflection and gratitude, to clear out the mental cobwebs and keep your attention reserved for your work.

M. Caspian introduced me to Kikki-k in Auckland. In addition to amazing stationary and notebooks, they offer habit, happiness, organisation and other workshops–including mindfulness. My sister and I went along to a Christchurch workshop, and it was a good introduction to some of the concepts, benefits and methods of practicing mindfulness. In many ways, mindfulness sounds a lot like the flow state that you get when writing is going very, very well–and who wouldn’t want more of that. I came away from the workshop with some new ideas–and a lovely journal (and two notebooks and another journal). Because kikki-k.

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Mindfulness Journal and friends. The gold letters on the journal cover read ‘Wherever you are, be all there.’

One of the recommendations I got from the mindfulness workshop was the use of a free meditation app to get into a daily mindfulness habit. Two were recommended, headspace and smiling mind. I’m using smiling mind, which is run by an Australian non profit, who want to reduce stress and promote healthier minds through guided meditations suitable for home, work or school.

It is early days yet, but I’m noticed that I’m much happier when I sit down to work, when I get in my car to drive somewhere, or when the unexpected happens and throws a wrench in my plans.

Rangitoto: Auckland’s Youngest Volcano

There are fifty volcanoes in Auckland. Fifty! Fortunately most of them are dormant, but that was not always the case–as Rangitoto reminds us. This iconic island rising out of the Auckland harbour came into being in its current form 600 years ago. Today it is a pest-free reserve that you can visit. So I did.

Rangitoto is separated from the rest of Auckland by the Rangitoto channel, so to get there I headed to Auckland’s ferry terminal. Sadly, this charming old building is not in operation as the ferry terminal any longer, but the new terminal is pretty cool. I grabbed my ferry tickets and tour ticket, did some last minute shopping and hopped aboard the Rangitoto ferry.

 

The last minute shopping was necessary because Rangitoto doesn’t have any shops or restaurants. There are three boats to the island every day and that’s it. You have to take anything you need with you–and take it away with you afterwards. I haven’t hiked in … a decade, but I really enjoyed making my preparations for this trip.

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Rangitoto has three types of scenery. This is the mangrove.

Upon arrival you can set off on your own to explore, but I decided to take the tour. I thought that it would be good to have Rangitoto’s features explained by a guide, and I’m really glad I did. For a start, I’ve never seen landscape like Rangitoto. The island is mostly made up of expanses of black, pumice-like rock. These are the remains of lava flows. The top of the lava cooled faster and became rock, even while the lava beneath it stayed molten and moving. The still molten lava carried the rocks with it, breaking them up into the smaller rocks they are now.

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Lava rocks with pohutakawa ‘islands’ in the background.

When water falls on Rangitoto, the fresh rain water goes pretty much straight through the lava-rock, and sits on top of the saltwater, beneath the island. Pohutakawa, a native tree here, are able to penetrate deep within the lava rock to reach that fresh water. They grow, eventually spreading branches and forming a canopy, beneath which other plants can grow, surviving in the shade the pohutakawa provides and living on the dirt formed by the pohutakawa’s fallen leaves. Amidst the black oceans of rock, islands of greenery form around the pohutakawa trees. In places, the islands have joined together, and a bush is forming. Rangitoto is home to the largest remaining pohutakawa forest.

 

As you climb the summit of Rangitoto, the forest is more established. It’s hard work walking over the lava-rock, but the forest paths are cushioned by dirt and shaded by many trees. The pohutakawa give way to a variety of trees. This is where Rangitoto’s celebrated birdlife is. After the island was established as a pest-free reserve, a number of endangered species were reintroduced to the island, including the saddleback. I’d never seen one, but was really hopeful I would. The only problem was would I recognise it if I saw it? I know what most of New Zealand’s more outlandish native birds look like, but had never heard of a saddleback prior to visiting Auckland.

 

The tour dropped us off at a series of steps leading towards the summit. It was an easier climb, but I dawdled, letting most people pass me, hoping to see some birds in the forest. I was lucky! Three kakariki–a type of parakeet, green except for a splash of red above their beaks. I then heard something digging through leaves and spent a good ten minutes anxiously stalking my unseen quarry along the track, only to discover it was a common blackbird! I decided to complete the climb to the summit, and ate my lunch enjoying the view across Auckland harbour. On my way down, I saw a British tourist trying to spot a tui that was eluding him. I helped him identify the tui, and from his description, a fantail he’d spotted earlier. He was delighted. ‘I saw a saddleback too,’ he said. ‘I knew it was a saddleback, because it had the patch of brown on its back.’

Now I knew what the saddleback looked like–and that it was close by! I wasn’t lucky enough to spot it before those on the tour had to meet at the bottom of the summit track, to continue the tour, but I was coming back. After the tour, I’d decided to double back and head to the lava caves. After the birds, the lava caves were what attracted me to Rangitoto. All I knew about them was that you needed a torch, which had to promise fairly considerable caves!

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Lava cave. Currently without lava! 

The caves were cool. Not as big as I’d imagined, but I really enjoyed following the tunnel through. The walk there was pretty tough going–40 minutes across the lava-rocks, which were hard to walk on. As there was no cover from surrounding trees, it was really hot–probably not helped by the rocks, which can sometimes have a temperature above 50 degrees celsius! Once I reached the forest it was a lot more pleasant. Shaded, and the path was much more comfortable. I took my photos of the cave, stopped for another snack, then started back to catch the boat.

On my way back, I saw a black bird over head. I couldn’t tell whether it was a blackbird or a tui, so I paused to watch it. I was looking for the white tuft of feathers that identify a tui, when another walker appeared. ‘Spotted something?’ he asked. I pointed at my bird. ‘Nice! A saddleback,’ he said. Saddleback! I looked again–yes, there were the brown feathers in a saddle shape on the bird’s back.

The walker pointed out the saddleback to his two friends, who just caught up with him, pointing out the shape and length of the bird’s beak as other identifying features. He then spotted a whitehead and its chick in the trees, watching us. The whitehead is common–but only in the North Island, so this was another good find for me! I not only visited a volcano and climbed through lava caves, but can add three more NZ birds to my ‘have seen for reals’ list–but I had to get back to catch the ferry.

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The one bird I managed to get a decent photo of–the whitehead! Note you cannot actually see its white head, but trust me. It had one.

I would love to end my Auckland adventures with triumphant cannoli eating at the Italian restaurant on the Viaduct that M Caspian told me about. Unfortunately, that is not what happened! I would have been in time, except that when I got back to the pier, there were two boats waiting. I followed the crowd and climbed aboard the first boat to depart–which turned out to be the wrong boat. Whoops! I had a really enjoyable time on the harbour cruise, but I did not get to try my Italian pastry.

Obviously, I need to return to Auckland!