Meet our September Star Author – Mary McCallum

Our super September Star Author is Mary McCallum.  As well as an author Mary has worked as a creative writing tutor, a bookseller, book reviewer, broadcast journalist and television presenter.  Mary’s first children’s book, Dappled Annie and the Tigrish was published earlier this year.

Thanks for joining us Mary!  We look forward to hearing all about your book and your writing.

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Final blog

Good morning from our Rome Hotel.  I was thinking this morning at breakfast what would be in the last blog and when should I do it!  Well today is the day!  I am packed and waiting for David and Amelia to finish their packing.  Its always a little challenging.  You need to  think and  pack, in such a way, to meet the requirements of the airline.

So we are off to Hong Kong today before heading back home.   I will leave you with some wise words from Amelia.

Amelia’sl Shopping Questions:

Do I want it?

Do I need it?

Will I use it?

Will it help me with anything?

Can it make my life easier?

Is it good quality?

Will MUM buy it for me?

____________________

Her list made me smile.

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Rome Summary

As I look out the window from our hotel I see tour buses; walking tour groups; people rushing here and there; tourists looking at maps; motorbikes; push bikes; parked cars in every spot; local buses; police cars – everything that makes this a busy city.

Can you guess what we did with 30,000 other people today.  We have sore feet and are all happy to have some relaxing time. Have you guessed?  Yes we went to the Vatican Museum, Sistine Chapel (not the 16 Chapel someone in Amelias class said it was called),  St. Peter’s Basilica and St. Peter’s Square.  We went with a tour to skip the line entrance which was a long line when we got there.  After the tour we decided that we should take the opportunity to go up in the Dome.  Amelia was unimpressed with the time it took us to line up move forward.  The thought of walking up 320 steps after 3 solid hours of walking around was not exciting Amelia.  I promised the biggest gelato we could find at the end.

We found a nice restaruant for lunch and a refreshing glass of beer.  Arriving home to our hotel at 4.15 – a very full on day.

So packing, dinner and early night and we will be on our way to Hong Kong.  We will sleep well tonight even though I dislike the bed here. It is far to hard for my liking.

You might remember we were getting back here to the hotel in central Rome on Friday night.  So the weekend was full of walking with Margaret and visiting lots of sites.  So many photos were taken and there was lots of gazing at marble and granite and  battling thru 1/2 of the world’s population at places like Trevi fountain, the Pantheon & the Spanish Steps.  Both David and Margaret proved that their navigational skills need upgrading. Often walking in a direction other than where we ought to have been. Amelia to her credit just kept on walking and there was no complaints.

We bused to  our Saturday night dinner with Margaret’s familly.  Nigel cooked us a great meal of pasta with wild boar sauce, the meat with bitter broccoletti (didn’t enjoy that) and peas.  Isalena  had made pameir biscuits with fruit salad  and Amelia said homemade  ice cream was better than the expensive bought stuff.  Nigel took us high up on the roof and we saw all the major icons at night.  St Peters had singing and it was magical to hear it.

Sunday’s was another feast all cooked on the BBQ;  lamb, veal ribs, peppers,potatoes, and very long beans.  Isalena had been up early and  made lemon slice (we now have the receipe).  Phillipa (varsity mate of Nigel’s – lives in Perugia) brought pinenut biscuits.  As Margaret said we were still at the table at 5 pm; all quite memorable. It was a beautiful calm day,  perfect for sitting on the terrace.

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Rome – Naples – Pompeii — Sorrento – Capri – Positano – Rome

Good afternoon – message coming to you from our hotel in Sorrento.

We had our first day in Rome (Tuesday I think) with our own personal tour guide.  David’s cousin Margaret is visiting Rome to see her daughter and her family.  She had the day to be with us and it was amazing the things she could point outto us and the stories she could tell Amelia. Amelia is like a sponge soaking up the history and lucky we have a few more days in Rome as we have some biggies to do!

After four hours solid walking we stopped for lunch and then Margaret showed us whichbus stop to get off at for our hotel.  I had to push through many people to get off I did say excuse me but don’t think anyone understood.

So Wednesday morning with a 6.00am wakeup call we were checked out and waiting for the tour bus to collect us.

YES we were joining a tour for the first time on our trip and we were not sure how we would go with that.  By 7.15 David was back inside and asking reception of our hotel to ring and find outwhere they were.  They said they would send a taxi.  On arrival the taxi driver asked wherewe were going and we showed him the address.  He could not work out where to take us.Thankfully he was able to ring his office and we got on the bus and were on our way toNaples.  A highlight was seeing so many policemen and women around waiting forsomeone to come.  I asked who was coming but they didn’t have English and my Italianis not the best!

Next stop lunch and a drink before we toured Pompeii.  This buried city is  amazing and Ameliawas able to remember her year 4 learning.  If I remember correctly, 22,000 escaped and4000 were buried alive.  It was heart wrenching to see the Mother that laid over her baby for protection.  The ancient Roman city was destroyed by the eruption of ‘Mount Vesuvio in79 BC and buried it in stones and ash.  4-6 metres.

From Pompeii it was to our hotel in Sorrento.

Day two – picked up and taken to the ferry to Capri.

Marco our super Italian guide gave us instructions to be the first off the ferry.Stay down the back.  Following instructions. We all did what we were asked and thatenabled us to get on to our waiting boat and make our way to the Blue Grotto.We were going “grotting” – that is what David called it – a new word.Anyway, into little boats in fours we waited a short time and entered into a magicalplace.  This is very much a weather permitting activity and we learnt no one got through the next day.

Visited the Augustus Gardens and had free time to meet up again.The Spanish speaking people (3 in toal) ruined our guides day.  We waited forty-five minutes.  Missed our bus and had to get another one andmissed our lunch slot.  Got on the ferry to return and still no sign of the 3 people.Everyone knows Marco and he left heaps of messages trying to find them.

Day 3 – the 3 of us caught a local bus and went to  Positano, a town on the Amalfi coast. Spectacular road carved ito the cliffs.Caught the bus back and had lunch and cruised the shops of Sorrento,

Here we are waiting to do a few pickups of people and transfer back to Roma.

POSTSCRIPT – late into our hotel  9.15pm.

Long story.

 

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SANTORINI

Quiz question:  Where in the world do churches and buildings have blue domes?

Answer: Santorini

That was apparently a question Amelia was asked as a part of a classroom quiz during the third term.  Amelia was able to tell her team members because she was coming here.  The schools are now on holiday in New Zealand and it will be Monday when you read this.  I find it interesting that Amelia is the only child here on holiday.  She gets more than her share of double takes.

Amelia  is now over us taking her photo.  It was to be expected as David and I are having an undeclared competition with our new cameras who can get the best photos.  Don’t tell him, but he is winning as my camera has a little time delay and I sometimes miss that opportunity and in real life you cannot go back and say do that again.

Like this morning a bus wanting to turn into a narrow one way street in Thira.  Some foolish driver had parked with hazard lights on and left the car in the way of the turning bus.  Yesterday seeing a bride rushing down a little road.  This is the get married and have your photos taken in the Greek Islands place to be.  Seeing a group of donkeys walk up the path.  Another blue dome and another ice cream with Amelia having it all round her mouth.

We have had a car so we have been able to get around.  We have explored the prehistoric settlement of Akrotiri at the southern end of the island of Thera.  This is where the city whose ruins can be seen by the modern vistor dates from the first phase of the Late Bronze Age (1650-1500 BC). Finds discovered in the earlier levels of the dig indicate that the site was continuously inhabited from the Middle Neolithic period (that is the middlfe of the 5th millennium BC).  Earthquakes and a volcanic eruption over the different periods of time has seen it damaged and burried under the mantle of pumice and volcanic ash, which have preserved it for posterity.  The part they have unearthed is covered in a huge building and there is many years of work ahead of them to unearth the entire 1.2 hectare area.

We walked last night to the Pyrgos Tavern and Restuaruant for dinner last night.  Very nice and back to our hotel before dark.  You really don’t want to be walking along two way roads here in the dark – far to dangerous with tourists  from many countries driving cars and quad bikes.  More than once we have seen a close call and had a driver driving at us over the centre line.

We have of course driven to Oia for the recommended sunset views.  We went early and found somewhere to sit down for a drink and made a booking on their rooftop for dinner.  We then wandered along the narrow little alleys and admired the best Oia had to offer.  Amelia told me everytime I picked up something – what do you want that for.  David much to her disgust purchased a fridge magnet with the water and blue domed buildings.  Its probably good that we are challenged by having no room in our bags so it is easy to say lovely but no can’t take that home.

Oh by the way the sunset was not particularly good and the next night we saw an impressive sunset from the restauruant in our hotel.

The highlight for David would be the day  we went out sailing.  There was 4 Australian’s; 3 Kiwis (thats us) and the two sailing hosts – Greeks.  It was a five hour sail and were shown the major points of interest and learnt about how the Vulcano had created the caldera and Islands.  We were taken to a little bay where a man lives in isolation.  We donned life jackets and swam around into an area where the water was warmer and it is heated from the gases from the volcano.   it was smelly because of the sulphur. We were laughing and all agreed that we would be swimming fast back to the boat if it suddenly got very hot.

We moved to another spot and Amelia and two others went snorkelling and saw small fish.  Back on board we were shown a ship wreck underneath us, and Amelia steered the boat.  A very nice day.  Oh and a wonderful lunch on board!

Off to Rome in the morning.

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ATHENS to SANTORINI

We had a flying visit to Athens.

Let me explain.

We had a 6.00am wakeup call on Monday and flew to Athens and arrived at our accommodation about 3.00pm.  We went looking for lunch/dinner and went to a restaurant close by that our driver had told us about.  Said it was “Greek food just like his Mother made and cheap.”   We were waved in and a white paper table cloth was put on our table.   The economy has been challenged so we asked what he recommended and made our selections.  The Greek salad was lovely but the rest can be described as ok.

Our hotel was well placed in the heart of Athens and only steps away from the New Acropolis Museum and The  Acropolis that is pearched on the hill.  We walked up the hill and made our way to entrance way.  Got tickets for the next morning and climbed up some very slippery rocks to take photos along with heaps of others and by now it was 8.15pm.  Made our way down the hill to beds.  Night owls and good books on kindles makes for a late night.

6.00am wake up call for the second morning saw us eating breakfast at 7 and heading to the Acropolis for an 8.00 am opening.  Interesting opportunity for 100E we could have had a guided tour.  Very persistent lady came back at us with a offer of 50E – she was going to find another couple.  A case of indecision do we wait or do we go and we went.  Lucky we did!

I failed to mention last night we saw the guards arrived to guard the Acropolis.  Being their at the opening allowed us to see the guards leaving with much stamping of their feet coming down stairs and stamping.  I was told to get out of the way and I was somewhat offended as I had no intention of staying where I was.  Lots of photos and then heaps more photos of the sacred rock that for many centuries has been the most important religous centre of the city of Athens.

Choose the right exit and you see and learn so much more.

Heading to The Museum we had a plan.  We purchased tickets and left to explore more of Athens.  Decision to go on the Sunshine Express by train (not a train on tracks) and we the other important sites.  It was an on-off train but on limited time we stayed on for the full 40 minutes.  A short walk and final pack and storage of bags.

We eventually came across the Smile Family Restaurant for lunch.  It was our intention to head there but a wrong turning had us lost and we were delighted to sit down and drink and eat.  For .50E we could have decorated a stone and left it with their collection.  Might post photos on their Facfebook page when we get home.

The Museum was next and sitting watch the video on The Acropolis was very enlightening.  A wonderful musuem and Amelia recognised that Jack in her class would love to have been experiencing the days visits.

An ice cream and we were waiting for our transfer to the airport.

Yes Santorini we are on our way.  A short flight with Aegean air and had to pay 75E for our bags and thinking it is strange that wasn’t done online as it would have been only $45E,  We were squashed into buses and  poor Amelia was somewhat challenged being on the shorter side.  They bus you from the plane to the arrivals lounge.  Waiting for the bags is challenging at best and Amelia was pleased to finally get her bag she did a victory dance.

The outlook from our hotel is stunning and the pool very inviting.

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Little brothers

web cover low resI have two brothers, both younger than me, but only one that I think of as my ‘little brother’. He’s called Andy and he was born when I was six and going to Karori Normal School. My brother Pete is so close in age I can barely remember a time in my life without him (he was my first best friend), but I remember the day Andy was born. I drew a picture at school of what looked like a tadpole with a baby’s face – Andy in his white blanket. You couldn’t see his fuzz of red hair. I wrote underneath about ‘my baby’, and about how I liked bathing him and looking after him.

When he started walking I was Andy’s unpaid protector, dragging him from the edges of bush tracks and wharves, sure he’d die a terrible death (and convinced my mother wasn’t paying enough attention.) Later, I rolled my eyes when his little friends came over and played cars and Lego – brmmm, brmmm etc. Boys!

Andy liked collecting things, small things. He ate the cuffs of his jerseys. He was loud and sticky. His hair got redder and redder, and he got taller … and taller.

When I was writing Dappled Annie and the Tigrish, I gave Annie a little brother called Robbie. He’s six years younger than Annie – he’s 4 and Annie’s nearly 10 – and like my brother Andy, he’s loud and sticky, and likes collecting small things. He collects them in his pockets so that when he walks he rattles. His father calls them the shinies.

I hadn’t expected Robbie to be such an important character in the book. When I first wrote it, he stayed at home with his mum while Annie went on her adventure with the tigrish. But he didn’t like that. Neither did I. I kept feeling something was missing.

So I rewrote the book and found that (without being asked) Robbie charged off on the adventure too. Much to Annie’s annoyance at first – because he is loud and he is sticky and he is 4 … but, like all little brothers, she discovers he has his moments. When they’re stuck in the Giant Wood with all sorts of scary things going on, Robbie’s collection of shinies and ‘commando moves’ help save the day.

Robbie has a lot of my brother Andy in him, but he has other important little boys wrapped up in him too: especially my son Adam and godson Ned – who were/are both loud and sticky and smart and adventurous. There are glimpses too of my brother Pete and son Paul who did less of the loud, sticky, physical thing and more talking, and two little boys who came regularly to my house when I was writing: Lincoln and Carter.

Boys! Who’d be without them? As a big sister of two, and a mum of two (and a girl too, my youngest), I know I wouldn’t. Above all else these lovely boys have given me a lot to laugh about. Here’s a taste of Robbie in the book. He and Annie are visiting Mr and Mrs Hedge who are part of the hedge at the end of the garden. There’s a nest of baby fantails for Robbie to see, including Bud, the smallest …

Robbie climbed up so his blue shorts were level with Annie’s eyes. She could see his back pocket had bulgy bits where he’d put his little things, what he called his shinies: small stones and bottle tops and dice and Lego bricks and walnut shells. They weren’t all shiny, really, but their dad said Robbie was a magpie and magpies liked shiny things, so that’s how they came to be called that.

Annie could see the way Mrs. Hedge had cupped her branches around Robbie and was watching him closely. Just a glimpse of her eyes, and then they were gone.

“Bud’s the littlest one,” said Annie. “The one with the wobbly head.”

“Getting bigger,” said Mrs. Hedge, “and noisier—listen to that squeaking! They think you’ve brought worms, Robbie.”

“One, two, three, four, five,” said Robbie, counting. “There are five baby birds.”

“They’re hungry,” said Mr. Hedge. “Bud especially—he misses out. He’s small and the other babies push him aside.”

“Worms,” said Robbie, and he pushed one hand into his back pocket. Out came a broken rubber band. Robbie wiggled it in front of his nose, sniffed, then pushed it back where it had come from. He fiddled around some more. A cotton reel. String. Then a fat thing that was brown and pinkish. It wriggled.

“Here, Bud,” Robbie said, and dropped it into the nest.

All Annie could hear were the cicadas. Then:

“He did eat it!”

“Yes, he did,” said Mrs. Hedge. “Thank you, Robbie.” And the leaves parted, and there were the leafy eyes. Robbie didn’t see them—he was too busy watching the nest.

“In one gulp!” said Robbie.

“I would think so,” said Mr. Hedge. “That was a nice fat worm.”

“I’ve got my worm-hunting tee-shirt on,” said Robbie, “that’s why I found it,” and he waved towards the rose bush. “You know, Mrs. Hedge, birds are cute dinosaurs, too.”

That’s when the leaves around Robbie shivered and shivered. Then they shook and shook. And a sound like a huge wave rushed towards them. Annie tugged hard at one of Robbie’s back pockets.               “Let’s get down.”

Robbie stayed as he was.

Annie tugged again—sharper this time—and the pocket wriggled. A cute something was in there. She let go.

The wave of sound made her feel like she’d jumped into a pool of icy water—there were goosebumps all over her arms and neck. Whatever it was, it was coming closer, sweeping the wire fence and crashing across the lawn…

Wind. Sending the wire fence twanging, billowing the sheets on the line, pushing and shoving its way between Annie and Robbie and the Hedges, roaring in their faces. Mrs. Hedge’s mouth moved but didn’t make a sound as she struggled to keep a grip on the nest. Mr. Hedge gripped Mrs. Hedge.

“Robbie,” yelled Annie over the torrent of air, “get down!”

from Dappled Annie and the Tigrish (Gecko Press 2014)

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BARCALONA 2

Today is Monday and we realise that back in New Zealand  this is the last week of school before the holidays.

Today we went to Park Guell which was designed by Gaudi, who designed the Sagria Familia. This park construction began in 1900.  It was originally constructed as an estate for well-off families in a large property.  It was not until 1922 that it was gifted to the Barcelona city Council and four years later turned into this public park.  It was evident by the number of people visiting today that it is an attraction for visitors from all around the world.

While there four visitors, from South Korea, said Amelia was cute.  I think they asked why she was not in school and where we came from.  We said “Christchurch, New Zealand” and they said “Aahhh, Christchurch, New Zealand”.

Did you realise everywhere in the world attractions have a gift shop that you must exit through – Amelia is very good at saying “You don’t need that”.

Taxi to the older part of Barcelona where we saw momuments to the battle that took place back on 11 September 1714.

For the first time we have had rain today – on and off.  Its not been a problem and the street sellers have had a chance to sell the supply of umbrellas as they quickly got them out for the passing walkers today.

Amelia must have internal radar for ice cream shops.  Chocolate and white chocolate ice cream – seems to cover her face but she is happy!  Very happy as we let her go to a shop called “Happy Pills”.  Can you guess what kind of shop that is for children and adults?  Mainly for children.

After shared Tapas and Paella we went to the Sagrada Familia.  A very famous building In Barcalona.  The brochure actually says “The Church of La Sagrade Familia – a Barcelona landmark and an artistic and spirutal symbol of Catalonia.”  It was good advice to book the tickets on-line before the day and ask the hotel to print them out.

We sat in the Church in silence and reflection and also watched the thousands of people taking photos and some not showing any respect at all.  Who would enter a church with an umbrella up.  Yes it was raining but getting well inside and continuing to walk around with it seemed strange.

We will go out tonight for our final meal here in Barcelona as we fly to Greece in the morning.

Exciting another place to visit.

Note:  Yesterday was walking and visiting the sites closer to our hotel.  So many people, so much history and a lesson for Amelia on cost benefit analysis. She understands now the concept.

Julie, David and Amelia

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