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Toodles!

Just a quick post to say I'll be back blogging on the 8th - I'm heading off to Ölüdeniz in Turkey for a week!

Hope you all have a fab upcoming week! -x-

Challenge 4: Call of the Wild

We want you to take inspiration from the various animals that can be found in and around Sydney, and create your own Australian creature – whether it be a mash-up of existing animals (platypus, koala, wombat, emu– there’s plenty to choose from!) or a completely new species.

Thanks to Anna for suggesting I look at Unique Australian Animals - my protagonist is named in your honour! I also used the Blue Mountains National Park site in my research and every writer's cheat site, Wikipedia! For challenge #4 I've written a children's story:


"300 million years ago," the voice drawls, "the landscape here was mainly made of quartzite. Now quartzite is a fascinating material. You see, it's a hard metamorphic rock that is created when sandstone is subjected to tectonic pressure within orogenic belts. Now when that happens ..."

Now was the time for Anna to sneak off. Their tour guide was dull, dull, dull, yet all the grown-ups looked captivated. Either that or they had had years of practice to perfect an interested face. Well, Anna wasn't going to pretend. She wasn't going to waste time listening to dull tour guides, not when she had animals to find!

Anna was in New South Wales on holiday with her parents, who had finally relented and allowed them to vacation Down Under just so Anna could see an actual real-life koala (though she suspected her parents had a hidden agenda to the trip, they usually did). Ever since she was a little girl she had hankered to see a real-life koala all because she had fallen in love with the cuddly stuffed koala her godmother had bestowed upon her. As always, Trip - her koala - was with Anna. In her bag she also had her book of Unique Australian Animals.

" ... that was in the Triassic Period, 250 million years ago ..."

Anna shot a quick look at her parents - they were enthralled - no one would miss her and Trip if they just went for a little scout around.

"Ooh, look Trip. It's a echidna! Isn't it cute? Like a hedgehog really. And look, Trip! Could that be a -"

Anna flipped through her book.

"Now we must be very quiet, Trip," Anna whispered. "For that looks like it could be a quoll! Can you believe it, Trip? A quoll! I thought they were mainly nocturnal, but not only that," Anna told Trip seriously, "they are also endangered."

Trip wasn't sure what endangered meant, but it didn't sound good. And speaking of not sounding good, what was that noise? That very dangerous rustling noise coming from the closed forest? Surely Anna wouldn't want to investigate, but Trip knew she would.

"Ooh, dare we, Trip? Shall we have a peek?"

Hadn't she read her book carefully enough? Did she not realise this was a very bad idea? They were in Australia, not back home in the New Forest. This was land of dangerous creatures a-plenty. Trip didn't want to be a bore, but surely they should be re-joining Mr Boring Tour Guide and not stepping into dark and threatening woodland.

But, Trip had to admit, he was was glad they ventured in because what they stumbled across ... well, he reckoned hardly anyone had ever seen what they got to see.

At first Anna thought it was a sheltering swamp wallaby, but then it twitched its tail and Anna realised it had the tail of a wombat. Mutation, perhaps? Anna knew all about mutations as her parents were scientists, but somehow she knew that this was no wombat, nor a sheltering swamp wallaby - this was something completely different.

Anna edged closer. The creature, whatever it was, was a jumble of everything! It had the colouring of a tree frog around its arms and legs, a rich red and orange colour that contrasted wildly with its dull body fur usually found on bandicoots. Around its neck was a frill, identical to those of the frilled neck lizard, but Anna couldn't see the creature's face - it was luckily turned in the opposite direction to Anna and Trip. It had the short ears of a kangaroo, but it didn't seem to have the kangaroo's excellent hearing. What was this thing?!

"I will call you the Annatrip," Anna declared, forgetting that she should really be quiet.

At that, the Annatrip swiftly turned to face Anna and that's when she saw it had the deadly face of an emu, Anna's worst nightmare. She stumbled back, but she knew it was too late because of its strong dingo-like legs - it would catch her and probably devour her within seconds. The Annatrip let out a harsh cry, and that's when everything went black as Anna and Trip hurtled into a pile of leaves ...

*

"Anna, Anna," a voice called, a hand shaking her. "My, she must be jet-lagged," she heard her mother tinkle. "Wake up, sweetie. It's time for you to meet a koala - you'll like that, won't you?"

Anna opened her eyes, she was certain she'd just been staring into the venomous eyes of ... well, that - whatever that was - but here she was with her parents and Mr Boring Tour Guide looking down disapprovingly at her and or perhaps at Trip cuddled in her arm.

Oh. A dream.

Except, as Anna picked up Trip to follow the rest of the group onto the next part of their tour, she noticed that she and Trip were covered in manna, a sugary deposit left by feeding insects on leaves. If they'd been with the group all along, how could ...

It had been real! She was never going to forget her trip to Australia now, though she would always think twice about entering closed forests where mysterious creatures could be roaming!

Are you generic?

Do you stick to reading one genre of choice, or do you read many different genres of books? What's your favourite genre? Your least favourite?

Pulp, free and holiday Fiction!

First up, Pulp Fiction. Here's me to the left recreating Mia for a fancy dress party. I look bizarre (but I wanted to share)! Moving on!

Last week I won The White Queen via @simonschusterUK. They were looking for the 1st, 5th, 10th, 14th, 20th, 25th, 28th, 30th, 35th, 40th replies... I was the 40th! I'm very happy for the freebie (obviously), but I'm a Phillipa Gregory fan so would have bought her book anyway! Thank you @simonschusterUK (Twitter's great!)

Finally, holiday fiction! I feel very lucky this summer because I get two summer holidays! I was in Jordan and Egypt in May (see here and here), and I'm heading to Turkey for a week. Ah, sunshine!

If anyone wants to help me choose a few books to take, have a look at my to-read pile. As we all know, choosing holiday fiction is a *very* important decision! Thanks!

Going Wild!

This week's challenge is looking at Wildlife:

We want you to take inspiration from the various animals that can be found in and around Sydney, and create your own Australian creature – whether it be a mash-up of existing animals (platypus, koala, wombat, emu– there’s plenty to choose from!) or a completely new species.

A little help, please? (But no emus!! They absolutely TERRIFY me - always have done, always will! :s)

Piece of cake!

When I read the blurb for the third challenge, I thought it would be a piece of cake to: recreate a well-known building, monument or geographical feature, and have your photo taken in front of it. How you go about making the icon is entirely up to you - we're thinking about going down the mashed-potato Sydney Opera House avenue (seems perfectly sane to us)!

So, I literally chose cake as my material! I really hope you recognise the Sydney Opera House as my icon!

Now, let me just say, I thought it would be easy peasy to cut a round sponge cake into the opera house shape. Ah. No. No, it's not! On my first attempt, the entire thing crumbled! Trying to get the icing smooth caused it to crumble more, and then when I dyed the icing blue... my hands are currently a *lovely* colour!!

But, I persevered, and I don't think the end result is too bad! o_O Here's how I did it:

Make sponge base.

Use template to cut out cake and start spreading icing (you can see the failed attempt at the back of this picture).

Finish icing cake white. Make blue icing using food colouring!

Spread blue icing to create sea. Use icing pen to write Sydney on plate! Voila!

(It's terrible, I know.)

An Iconic Week

I've survived sports and fashion, the next challenge is themed around Sydney icons:

We want to see you recreate a well-known building, monument or geographical feature, and have your photo taken in front of it. How you go about making the icon is entirely up to you - we're thinking about going down the mashed-potato Sydney Opera House avenue (seems perfectly sane to us)!

There's another example here of how a Sydney icon can be created, but does anyone have any ideas for this week's challenge? Which icon should I pick, and how should I recreate it? I'll just remind you of what the prize is for your thoughts! ;p

Sydney Style

Last week's challenge was to create an outfit that screams Sydney, so I've decided to do two outfits because everyone from London to LA, Tokyo to Sydney knows you can't just stick to one outfit per day. Pfiut! (Though if I can only be judged on one, go for the evening one!)

As I loved my surf example I gave last week when outlining the fashion challenge, that's my day look. The look to the left is the perfect Bondi beachwear look for the surfer girl. Billabong bikini (which is an Australian brand, and we all know 'billabong' means small oxbow lake), some sass & bide hotpants (you got it, Australian!), my sunnies and ... uh, a pair of thongs (because that sounds weird, I'll admit that they are my Havaianas and therefore not Australian - damnit!!).

When the tide turns, the hoody below by Oz brand Mossimo (I absolutely rate Mossimo for their vests - I have about 20 of them!) is the perfect item to throw on and head home to get ready for when the fun really begins in Sydney!

(NB: I think I deserve some extra points for exposing flesh on my blog. Plus, if I could have, I would have posed with a surfboard but I couldn't find one to borrow! I even contemplated adapting an ironing board! ;p Dedication!)

Anyway, onto the evening look! I, of course, recalled what Maggie Alderson says in Pants on Fire and Mad About The Boy about the Sydney look (they are both set there), plus I had a squiz at Vogue Australia to see what it is that is so distinct about that Sydney look. This is what I came up with:

Sydney Style


The marble silk dress is by Australian brand Willow - the colour is "burnt sand" but they'll be nothing burnt about our Sydney fashionista who knows to take care in the sun! Willow is quite a bohemian brand, but at the same time very elegant - I think is *key* to the Sydney evening look. I was torn between the Willow dress and a Collette Dinnigan one, but the Willow one won me over as it is gorgeous, yet subtle enough to team with the funky suede Manolo Blahnik heels. ♥ The heels set off the dress, but they are also very eye-catching and *very* playful. Again, I think this is a key Australian trait - casual may be preferred, but it's playful casual for the Aussies!

The blue diamond print Alexander McQueen jacket is optional, depending on whether you get cold or not, and the Chanel clutch and matching cuff highlight the love women have for key pieces , regardless of where they live in the world!

(It's always so, so, SO important to match up your handbag with an accessory, if you can't match it with your shoes. Best scenario is matching your heels, bag and one accessory, but the heels work with the jacket in this instance!)

Simple bronzed make-up, tousled hair à la model Elyse Taylor, and you'll be looking perfect for cocktails at the Blu Horizon Bar at Shangri-La!

YouWriteOn

I've not used YouWriteOn since December, 2008, but decided last month to reactivate the opening chapters I have up from my third book to see how it fared.

Very briefly, YouWriteOn is a website sponsored by the Arts Council England where you can upload your work (6,000 - 10,000 words for books; 2,000 - 5,000 for short stories) and have it critiqued by your peers. There are eight categories to be rated on, and each month you are entered into the chart; the top five receive professional advice.

On reactivation I ranked joint 21st, and a few days later I received this review:

I really enjoyed this. The characters were engaging and credible and I really liked Geli's narration - she was funny, self-deprecating and likeable. Also thought Toblerone was a good character and some of the references of others who may be introduced, like Glinda's boyfriend Jeeves and Geli's nemesis Tiggy, were 'fabbity' - I looked forward to meeting them.

Much of what Elle has written is witty and well observed - 'pods' and other corporate BS, the 'Hot or Not' column and itss impact - increases in Toblerone sales and the writer being sent free Tobleorones - and the way in which people use and react to Facebook. There were just lots of wry, accurate observations in there that would make me want to read on.

I also like some of the little jokes ' Claire Voyante' and 'Claire Sinclair' - and Geli's reaction of 'Bitch' when she hears her sister has a boyfriend. Very funny.

I can't really find anything to criticise, I really liked the work. I assume the Hillary-Obama race sets the time period we are in so that it sets a timeframe for the book.

As a bloke, I don't buy books that are described as 'chick-lit', but having started to read this I would definitely want to read on. I like Geli, I like her sardonic view of the world she inhabits and I want to find out what happens to her.

A really enjoyable read.

I find this is especially nice because this is the book I was absolutely slated on "professionally" (I use the word professional loosely because I have my doubts on those people, but I won't bring THAT sorry mess into this blog). It's lovely to know (and this counts for my other YWO reviews) that actual people would read my books, yet, so far, that's not been good enough to convince those who yield the power and can make that happen ... but, for now, it's encouragement and that's always a lovely thing to encourage a writer on.

If you're an aspiring writer, check out the site!

Fashion, Sydney-style

Thanks to everyone who has tweeted or mentioned my Sydney Challenge so far. Hopefully some of you are going to get more involved with this week's challenge (please, please do!) because it is FASHION!

I've been asked to: create an outfit that screams 'I'm all about Sydney'. Hand-stitched, elegantly sketched or charity-shop purchased, as long as it stays clear of the Crocodile Dundee 'cork-hung hat', it's up to you!

There are many different occasions an outfit could be created for. The photo above is definitely a Bondi look: Billabong bikini (which is an Australian brand, and we all know 'billabong' means small oxbow lake), some sass & bide hotpants (you got it, Australian!), my sunnies and... uh, a pair of thongs (because that sounds weird, I'll admit that they are my Havaianas and therefore not Australian - damn it!!).

However, I think that photo is too obvious for my entry, so I'd like YOUR help to come up with a truly Sydney outfit.

Check out Urban Walkabout, See Sydney and My Sydney, as well as Australian Vogue (where I found a Chanel surfboard ♥♥), plus I also think you should check out Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (which if you remember, I saw on the West End on my birthday this year ... with Jason Donovan!!! - I'd *love* to see some Priscilla drag-inspired entries, but nothing daggy, please! ;p). Comment on this post with your outfit links, tweet or e-mail me!

I'm certain I know plenty of fashionable blog and Twitter people, so prove me right and YOU could win the awesome prize! All other information can be found here on my blog, but you can also peek here to check out who I'm up against and other "official" updates about the Awesome Tour.

Buyer or a borrower?

Do you buy or borrow books? If you buy, where from? Independent or chain bookshops? The supermarket? Online? If you borrow, is it from friends or the library?

Personally, I buy books off Amazon, but occasionally some will fall into the supermarket trolley. I've not used a library recreationally in years!

How about you? Are you a book buyer, borrower, or both?

The Sydney Gold Cup

'Listen to that.'

'What?'

'Exactly,' I smile, opening my eyes and squinting against the fierce sunshine that's beating down, even at this early hour - or at least it feels early, I'm not quite sure what time it is; that's what jet lag does to a girl. 'It's the noise of what. As in whatever we want,' I expand. 'No gruelling commute. No 9-5 grind-'

'7-8, more like,' Cal interrupts, rolling his eyes.

'No rain,' I continue because the last thing I want to think about is work - not here. 'No deadlines. No nothing if we fancy. Just rest and relaxation,' I sigh happily.

'Recharge the batteries?'

'Exactly,' I smile, as I take in the energetic surfers riding the swell at Bondi. 'A bit of culture, some sight-seeing-'

'A go at that, perhaps?' Cal nods towards the surfers.

'Maybe in a week,' I consider, 'but today I'm going to do nothing. Glorious nothing,' I repeat as I ease myself back into the beach to scorch up some sun ...

... only to be interrupted what feels like two seconds later by a booming voice.

'There you are! Honestly, you two are more slippery than a pair of crocs!'

' Ethan,' I weakly say, struggling to sit up. I'm dumbfounded - what's Ethan doing here? True, I knew he'd moved back to Australia, but still ... Cal, on the other hand, looks less surprised.

'Couldn't let you two Poms loose without returning some of that great English hospitality you once showed me,' he beams good-naturedly at me as he slaps Cal on the back. Ouch, looks like someone didn't put his suncream on judging by Cal's wince - he needs to be careful. 'I'm here to show you the real Sydney.'

'No, no,' I protest quickly sounding very plummy all of a sudden, sort of how I sounded when we first met Ethan back at a random house party in Shepherd's Bush nine years ago. Half the house had been full of Aussies, all buoyant because of Ian Thorpe's swimming medals, not to mention all the other medals the Aussies had won on home turf that Olympics. 'It's so kind of you to offer, but we wouldn't want to be an imposition, Ethan, put you out.'

'Nonsense! I'm not falling for that Pommy politeness, so there's no point arguing with me. I'm going to give you two a taste of Sydney you'll never forget. Ah look, here come the cavalry,' he nods towards some of the very tanned and fit-looking surfers I'd noticed earlier. 'On the north side,' he tuts. 'Wusses.'

'Sorry?'

'The rip, it's only a four this side. Piece of piss! Come on you drongos,' he yells at them, as Cal looks at me apologetically. I'm in for a long day.

*

When I pictured our trip to Australia, our romantic getaway, I pictured sunsets overlooking the Harbour with a nice glass (or two) of Penfolds Grange. What I didn't count on was this.

'Are we clear then?' says Hunter.

Or it could be Hayden. Maybe Mason? I can't tell anymore. I'm exhausted after the day we've had - volleyball, drinking, watching some Rugby League, drinking, more drinking - and with the jet lag, I just want to sleep. But I can't. Because we're in a pub. Well, hotel is how they keep referring to it. And we're about to play some drinking game of ... Cameron's? Brayden's? I just don't know, and you think I'd be happy being surrounded by five fit Aussie men (oh, and Cal), but recalling Ethan's competitive spirit, I know this is going to get messy. Plus, I'm already quite drunk, drunk enough to have eaten a pie floater (there goes the healthy holiday eating) to try and soak up some of the alcohol. It's likely with this game I'm going to get wrecked.

'No, no,' Ethan interjects, 'those are the Melbourne rules. The Sydney Gold Cup is played like this. We split into pairs - one person being the jockey, the other being the horse. The jockey is piggybacked by the horse, who has a pint on his head. The jockey has to drink the pint with-'

'No hands!'

'That's right, with no hands off the horse's head. If the pint is knocked off, there's a time penalty when it comes to the sprint, and it's likely it'll fall,' Ethan grins wickedly, 'as the horsey has to throw three darts at the board at the same time. But, whichever pair gets the best darts score, gets a head start on the sprint. First one to the Opera House entrance wins-'

'The golden cup!'

'The golden cup,' Ethan beams, 'full of the amber delight! Lucy, you can be the umpire.'

I'm relieved I don't have to actively take part.

'Head down to the Opera House because you have the important task of deciding who's first-past-the-post!'

Like I said, as I head out into the warm night after seeing Cal jump onto Ethan's back, when I pictured our trip to Australia, our romantic getaway, I pictured sunsets overlooking the Harbour with a nice glass (or two) of Penfolds Grange. What I didn't count on was this ...

... but, when in Australia, I suppose!

Sydney Cricket Challenge

If you've seen this post, you'll know I'm currently participating in the a competition to win tickets to Sydney for myself and one lucky PD&P reader. This week I need help with this:

Sydney Cricket is a simple game you can play anywhere. All you need to get started is a coin and an idea of the rules, which can be altered to suit any situation.

Standard Rules:

* Players agree amongst themselves the number of overs that are to be played - each over giving the player six attempts at scoring ‘runs’ (much like real cricket).

* Once agreed, players take it in turns to spin their coin on the playing surface and attempt to score runs. The classic version uses the board to the left, with players spinning from the centre circle and scoring runs by landing their coin within the rings.

* If your coin finishes up off the board though, you’re out. If a coin lands between two rings, an umpire’s decision must be sought on where the majority of the coin lies and runs awarded accordingly.

The Challenge:
The first challenge is to come up with a cunning variant of Sydney Cricket. It doesn’t have to be cricket-based – remember, the Aussies love their sports (see here for what's popular Down Under), and there are no limits. Creativity will be rewarded.

So, I need your help thinking up a game, based on the above, and I need it by this Monday 10th August! More about the grand prize package can be found here, though if I win I personally will also be giving away some pretty neat mini-prizes!

Hopefully all this makes sense, but drop me a comment if you want anything clarifying! Also, let me know if you tweet about this, or post about it on your blog. Use http://tinyurl.com/lulnnn if you do!

Don't worry either, my blog won't be Sydney, Sydney, Sydney for the next six weeks - I'll be continuing my writing posts as well!

The Prize

For helping me out, if I win the Awesome Tour, I'll be giving away this Sydney package worth £1,000 per person(!):

Prize package:

- 2 x return economy flights to Sydney (from London Heathrow)
- 7 nights accommodation in Base Backpacker Hostel, Sydney (twin share)
- 2 x Bondi Surf Experience (half day)
- 2 x 'High Power Ticket' (including jetboat ride)
- 2 x Blue Mountains Day Tour
- 2 x Bonza Bike 1/2 day tour STA

(If you look here, you can see what the excursions involve.)

Terms and conditions:

- All bookings must be made by 31st December 2009.
- All travel must be made by 31st October 2010 (can make this sooner if you like).
- Prize is not transferable for cash and not valid with any other offer.
- Prize must be booked through an STA Travel branch, as facilitated by STA Travel head office
- There are no black-out days or seasonal restrictions on the flights however the total prize value attributed to the flight will be £750 per person. Any cost above this amount must be paid for by the prize winner.
- Any other products, including but not limited to insurance, car hire and additional accommodation on tours can be booked through STA Travel but must be paid for by the prize winner.
- All bookings subject to availability.

Fancy a free trip to Sydney?

For those of you who saw some of my intriguing tweets on Sunday, you'll know I'm offering two tickets to Sydney for some creative help over the next six weeks.

I need that help more than ever as I'm wearily typing this entry from bed, dosed up on drugs. To explain briefly, I was rushed to A&E yesterday morning with strange, crippling pains... the NHS response after a long cattle market encounter in the waiting room: "It's a bit puzzling actually. Just rest and hopefully it will be a random one-off pain."

Yes, let's hope. *rolls eyes*

Anyway! I was contacted by a company called 1000heads about taking part in Tourism New South Wales' Awesome Tour of Sydney because of my posts on my trip to the Middle East. So, off I tootled to a BBQ meeting in Wandsworth (where, to make this slightly about my writing, a key scene in TROG is actually set!) to meet my competitors, learn about what the challenge entails, and find out about what I win... Or should I say, what we win.

Up for grabs are a pair of tickets to Sydney for me, and a pair of tickets for one of my lovely PD&P readers! The package is worth about £1,000 per person and includes return flights from Heathrow, accommodation, and some excursions. I'll post more details about that when I have more energy but, trust me, it's pretty fabbity! So, this is where I need your help to complete the challenges; if I don't win, I can't give away two tickets... but if I do, then one of you will snag tickets, too! I'll tag all related posts under sendmetosydney, and will also try to tweet everything related with a #sendmetosydney tag.

I will post about what needs to be done tomorrow (I'm fading fast here!), but I want anyone who is interested to comment on here, but to also spread the word. Now, if you're thinking that you're not going to spread the word because it will reduce your chances... well you're just not thinking like  a Sydney-sider. The challenge is won by whoever gets Sydney the most, and Australians are COMPETITIVE. You're not afraid of a little competition, are you?! Also, have a think about Australian sports and coin games like two-up (Sydney Cricket was the example given, but I'll have to explain that later as I'm too tired).

Cheers, everyone! (And if we win, I'll personally be giving away other prizes because, as you may already know, I prize loyalty above most things!) Here's to PD&P's glorious Sydney trip (another piece of writing-related trivia: in the first draft of Geli, the book actually ended on Bondi Beach)! -x-

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