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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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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LONDON catch up blog

We were lucky to spend 4 nights in London and during the day we took the tube to get

around places in London.

The London Eye was a great place to be able to see all the significant landmarks

in London.  We also had an introduction to the art of queuing.  Interesting to see that

some people from other countries didn’t think that they needed to stand in line like everyone

else.

David worked a number of years ago in Convent Garden area so we went back

to see where he worked,.and found it was all boarded up.

Before we left we were happy to help a busker, the Mighty Gareth, form a crowd and to

entertain us with his routine.  A few coins for his hat were well earned.

Seeing Buckingham Palace and the Beefeater Guards was very special.

Thousands of people waited with us, then we walked up The Mall.

The guards and the horses that came around the square were very regal.

A visit to the tower of London and seeing the Crown Jewels another highlight.

Amelia will always remember her 11th birthday.

Where do you think we went with a writer in the family?

Yes Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre.  Matt our guide was a character, and gave

Amelia a few jibes in good fun.  We learnt some interesting information.

Enjoying our travels.

Julie, David and Amelia

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BARCELONA

“Sleep is the best meditation”  Dalai Lama - that is what we found on a little card on our pillows when we arrived at our hotel in Barcelona.

No sign of gangs of pick-pockets at the train station.   Lots of warnings to be very careful and consider security

of money and other valuables.  Even being told to report thefts to the police for insurance purposes as you

won’t get them back.

After settling in we went looking for the swimming pool.  Very disappointed as it is so tiny – about the size of

two double beds..  Then it was time to search  for lunch/dinner.

Getting with the Barcelona atmosphere we sat outside in the outdoor dining area on  Rambla  Catalunya  and dined.

Paella, garlic mushbrooms, pesto ravoli.  Such beautiful food.

We will enjoy our stay in Barcelona.

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PARIS 2

Bonjour, & merci.
We are again back in the hotel room with sore legs.
.
Yesterday, was the Louvre. In the queue early and then raced to see Mona Lisa before the hordes. Only about 20 in front of her when we got there. I hate to think what it was like when the Japanese & American tour groups arrived – we saw them heading there later.  Extremely impressive building.  I took so many photos my camera battery died and I felt lost.
We did the old Greek, Roman & Egyptian stuff which was our interest – way to much to look at, you would need several days.  Then on to Notre Dame then eventually to the metro station.
Today a bit slower start to the day and on the metro to experience the  real Paris. No one smiles – feeling sad!
Into the Pompidou Centre, visited a few shops, Amelia tried on some sneakers, looked at t-shirts – didn’t buy anything other than lunch.  For the first time a nice waiter asked us where we were from.  Coconut ice cream is very nice – Amelia thinks chocolate is the best
Sitting outside the French Cafe – Amelia and I watched the people of Paris and the tourists go by.  We all thought that Paris would have a high standard of dress.  As you can gather we saw it all.  It was very nice taking time out to do what you do in Paris – eat, drink and watch the people go past.
Packed, as in the morning we will be off to Barcelona by train.
Early start – departing 6.30am.
Note:  I plan to do a catch up post on London – as it will be good to keep a record.  Each day we do so much, that this will be a great place to look back at.
Julie, David and Amelia

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