#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!


Level 2 by Lenore Appelhans

Oh man, less than 50 days to The Oathbreaker’s Shadow UK publication. Now that *is* scary! I’m working on quite a few blogs and giveaways over the next few weeks, and there should be a first chapter excerpt available very soon! I’ve also been loading things up on Pinterest – go have a look there if you want some visual representation 🙂

But throughout the lead-up to the release, I’m going to pay things forward by shouting out to some brilliant Lucky 13 and Author Allsort books I’ve been reading recently. First up is Level 2 by the brilliant Lenore Appelhans, which was published earlier this year by Usborne books… which means you can head out and get a copy RIGHT NOW.

I was lucky enough to be able to attend Lenore’s launch party, which was held in a very cool venue known as the ‘ice tank’ in Central London. Everything in it was bright, industrial white – the perfect setting for Level 2. Usborne, Lenore’s publishers, had brought along some neat props – but the crazy telephone contraption thingy I’m wearing on my head gave me neck ache for days after! Worth it for awesome photos like this though:

Goofing around with Lenore at her launch!

Goofing around with Lenore at her launch!

Now, how about the book itself…

(Quick caveat: Level 2 is actually going to be better known in the US as ‘The Memory of After’, but will still be known as Level 2 over here in the UK. I love The Memory of After as a new title: it fits the book perfectly!)

Fiction-LEVEL-2-196x300Level 2 by Lenore Appelhans

Felicia Ward is dead. Trapped in Level 2, the hive-like waiting room between Earth and Heaven, she has spent endless days downloading and replaying memories of her family, friends, boyfriend, and the guy who broke her heart. Now a rebellion is brewing in this limbo world, and Felicia is the key. Suspended between Heaven and Earth, she must make a choice between two worlds, two lives and two loves. Her decision will change everything. An astonishing, imaginative and out-of-this-world story of love, life and death from debut author Lenore Applehans.

I really sped through this book as Lenore has developed a totally immersive concept and a very original portrayal of the Afterlife. Felicia is a complex character, and I love the idea of being able to access, share and rate memories with other people. Despite it being a novel of ‘what’s next’ after death, the memories of Felicia’s life were probably my favourite sections to read. One of the main elements that struck me was how naturally Lenore weaves in the details of Felicia’s travels. For me, the most vivid part was when Felicia travels into the Turkish hills to hunt for bell-ringing goats with her dad. Lenore’s writing completely transported me there – and I was amazed when she told me that this wasn’t actually one of her travel experiences (although she does have many!) but an encounter related to her by her husband. She really made it come to life.

An amazing debut, a blend of contemporary with science fiction, that deals with the big questions as well as delving closely into the personal relationships between characters. Highly recommended.

Buy it from Amazon UK


Sharm el Sheikh relaxing & chillaxing

My absolute favourite blogs to write are travel blogs – maybe because I kept one going for so long and it reminds me of my gap year (if you haven’t seen that blog, it’s still archived over on http://amytravels.wordpress.com). This holiday was much more of the ‘relax’ variety rather than the ‘adventure’ one, and ended up being the perfect antidote to the freezing cold winter weather we’ve been having in the UK right now. It also had the added benefit of kickstarting my writing routine and I wrote well over 12,000 words – clearly I need the occasional week in the sun to keep me productive!

We stayed at the Hilton Waterfalls all-inclusive in Sharm el Sheikh, Egypt, getting a great last-minute deal. Luckily Lofty had researched the hotels pretty thoroughly so we knew we’d be getting a decent place to stay. We both fell in love with Egypt on our trip there last year (check the Egypt tag for more trip reports) and the combination of decent price with guaranteed sunshine made it a good bet!

The hotel was lovely – but even better, it had its own funicular! So when we got a bit tired of all the walking… we could just hop in the glass elevator.


Both L & I are keen divers (we did our Advanced PADIs in Dahab last year), so our first port of call was the diving school at the hotel. Unfortunately they were asking ludicrous amounts (clearly Hilton Hotel Guest prices) for four dives, and we left feeling very disappointed. We weren’t about to drop around £200 each for four dives when we’d expected to pay less than half that. Luckily, our holiday rep used a different dive company, which was much more reasonable. We went out to the local reef for our refresher dives, which was pretty interesting in itself, but then the next day ventured out to Tiran Island, which had some pretty amazing coral gardens. We saw lots of blue-spotted stingrays, lionfish, napoleon wrasse, grouper, Nemos and brightly coloured coral. The only downside was that it was very busy on the reef – lots of boats, lots of divers, lots of snorkelers. I know it is Easter hols, but Egypt is hardly at the height of tourism at the moment… so I can’t imagine what it would be like when it was really packed!

One of the things we loved most about Dahab was the relaxed vibe – just chilling out on cushions under fairy lights… and I was worried that we wouldn’t really feel that in Sharm el Sheikh. And while it’s true that it was definitely much more of a Tourist (capital T) destination – filled with Brits, but mostly Russians! – our hotel had one little spot on the roof which fulfilled our bohemian traveller dreams – Shish Bish, a little shisha bar out under the stars. Suffice to say that most evenings were spent with some mint tea and a shisha pipe and a brightly coloured blanket to ward away the pesky mosquitos! It was a very relaxing way to end our days.

We didn’t spend every night cooped up in our hotel though, and we ventured out into Old Sharm to dine on some delicious seafood. We’d had a recommendation from a French family to head to Fares – which was definitely a good call. For around £20 for the two of us, we gorged on seafood soup, lobster, crab, grouper, calamari, shrimp… the works. It was delish! We then wandered around the market for a bit, stopping at El Mawardy – a cafe which had been recommended to us by our waiter at Fares. The owner was lovely, even if I was the only woman in the entire place… naturally they positioned us out front, probably to try to attract more tourists! That being said, pretty much every Egyptian I met assumed that I was Egyptian… but then no one can EVER guess my background so I can’t really blame them. (Spot the odd one out in the picture below…)


Ultimately though, the trip was an opportunity for me to get some writing done, which I thankfully managed to squeeze in between the sunbathing and the eating and the swimming and the diving and the shisha… but before you all think I had TOO much of a good time, I did end the trip with a not-so-pleasant case of Egypt Belly. And we were so good with the bottled water!


We’re back home now, and there’s been lots of exciting writing stuff happening, but that’s a blog for another time! Bye Egypt, I’m sure we’ll see you again soon…