Our first 2016 adventure: Porto, Portugal  

I can’t believe the first week of 2016 has come and gone – how has that happened? Is it already too late for resolutions? I posted a few of mine on Twitter, but I’ll repeat them here for posterity:

My 2016 resolutions

  • Stop going on Goodreads (I have made it a week so far, which is longer than I thought! I love Goodreads and the community but it wasn’t healthy for my creativity, which leads on to resolution number two…)
  • Focus on my art (guilt-free, allowing myself to learn and get better)
  • Eat less sugar (failing slightly on this one already… there’s still time)
  • Live in the moment & not on my phone (hmm)

I’m not so sure I believe in resolutions, but it’s still fun to make them! At any rate, 2016 is going to be Our Year of Adventure, and so starting as we mean to go on, we took off on our first trip of the year… to Porto, Portugal!

I’ve never really thought of Porto as a top destination, but as one of Lofty’s friends (hi Steve!) is a pilot who is based there, it was the perfect opportunity to go and visit him and the city. To be honest, Porto surprised me in so many ways! Strolling along the banks of the river Douro from Steve’s home in Vila Nova de Gaia (just across the river from Porto proper), passing world-famous Port houses, stunning shops with blue-tiled frontages and buzzing restaurants, I was really impressed.

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Of course, Porto also found a place in my heart because it has a great literary tradition, home to one of the world’s most beautiful bookstores and also once home to that great idol of mine, JK Rowling. And it’s easy to see why so many people tie Harry Potter back to Porto – it’s a got a mysterious, meandering vibe that reminds me of the novels… streets to get lost in, with delights and surprises around each corner. Even the McDonald’s has an entrance that immediately put me in mind of the entrance to Dumbledore’s office… as if you just needed to utter ‘lemon drops’ to be transported from the land of Big Macs straight into Hogwarts. The Livraria Lello is renowned for his magnificent staircase – you do need to pay 3 euros for the privilege of seeing it, but to me it was worth it!

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Porto also feels different to the rest of Portugal because of its climate. It rains here. A lot. And the temperature is fairly stable throughout the year – there is no extreme heat or freezing cold like they get further inland, in the Douro valley (where they grow the grapes for the Port wine). Speaking of which… its climate also made it the perfect destination for Porto’s other major role: as the home of delicious Port wine! It wouldn’t have been a visit to Porto without stopping in at one of the Port wine houses – we chose Graham’s as one of the most recognizable, but there were so many to choose from. We had a tour of the cellar (where the aforementioned temperature helps keep the wine nice and cool as it matures) and, of course, had a tasting of three different varieties of port.

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Whenever it comes to a destination, I’m all about the food. Luckily, Porto did not disappoint. I was already a big fan of the Portuguese custard tarts known as pasteles de nata, and they were available everywhere! But I was not prepared for a ginormous sandwich known as the francesinha – a decadent spread of meats (steak, sausage and ham) between two thick slices of bread, covered in molten cheese, sitting in a bath of tomato soup and topped with an egg. Yes, it was just as rich and hearty as you’re imagining. Yes, we had to split one. I recommend Brasao Cervejaria as the place to go if you’re interested in trying one too!

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Porto is also extremely well known for its rich abundance of seafood. The supermarkets have huge sections devoted to dried cod (a Christmas specialty, apparently), and there was no shortage of seafood on every menu. We headed out to the coastal town of Matosinhos, where the restaurants are just across the street from where the fishermen bring in their catch. The seafood could literally not get any fresher! There are huge grills lining the street where fish is seared to perfection – alas, it was raining (typical Porto) so we headed for sanctuary inside. At the Matosinhos restaurant we visited (called O Valentim), we didn’t even bother looking at the menu. The waiter brought over a giant, fresh sea bass and we gave him the thumbs up. It returned a few minutes later, perfectly grilled and absolutely delicious. Who needs a menu?

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Another beautiful part of Porto – especially during the breaks in the rain – is the beach town of Foz. Here, we watched the waves batter the lighthouse from the cosy comfort of the Confeitaria Tavi, with its beautiful infinity views out over the ocean. Over a cup of strong Portuguese coffee and a nata, it quickly became clear that 2016 was getting off to a pretty great start indeed.

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New #booktube video is up! The Booktube Newbie Tag!

This week, I did the #booktube newbie tag! This video also features a clip of this month’s Super Relaxed Fantasy Club, where I debuted a reading of THE POTION DIARIES! And James Dawson read a preview of UNDER MY SKIN, which sounds incredibly creepy and wonderful and has put me off a tattoo.

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#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!

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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!

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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!

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