U.K. Castles n Mushy Peas: Harlech, Conwy, Penrith, Ullswater by da-AL


Our visit to the United Kingdom was studded with castles, each well worth a stop. We were on our way to see Harlech Castle, Conwy Castle, and then to overnight in Penrith with a look at Ullswater.

On my way to Harlech Castle.

Our vacation began in London, where we enjoyed the British Museum here and here and here. We left with a rented car and were almost accustomed to driving (my husband) and riding (me) on the ‘wrong’ side only inches from England’s gorgeous stone-walled roads by the time we reached Bath. We admired Avebury, then a little of Wales on the route to Stokesay Castle, and later we would be awed by the Kelpies of Scotland.

Even this black dog admires the sights.

Harlech Castle in Harlech, Wales, a World Heritage Site, is categorized by UNESCO as one of “the finest examples of late 13th-century and early 14th-century military architecture in Europe.” Enormous, it offers grand views…

The panoramic views from Harlech Castle are impressive…
…even on a cloudy day.
The city of Harloch is lovely…
…including when you see it…
…from here with my honey.

It was time for lunch. A short drive further up the coast, we stopped in the city of Conwy for fish and chips fried in beef fat for Khashayar, and mushy peas (marrowfat peas cooked down to mush — a love-it or hate-it staple throughout the U.K.) with vegan gravy for me. Conwy is a walled market town in the north of Wales. After the filling meal, we strolled the nearby river and marveled at the Conwy Castle’s exterior. Writer/TV personality/activist Rick Steves offers a fascinating view of the interior. UNESCO calls Conwy Castle one of “the finest examples of late 13th-century and early 14th-century military architecture in Europe.”

Conwy Castle is worth a visit…
…and so is the region around it.

We spent the night in Penrith, Cumbria, a market town with more sights than we could take in. Exhausted and the evening late, we checked into a beautiful bed and breakfast, glad to find an attractive room with a scenic window. Once settled, we strolled to what must have been a theater at one time. Whatever it was, it’s now the biggest Indian food restaurant I’ve ever seen!

Elaine, Richard, and Dora are terrific hosts.

That following morning, our hosts, Elaine and Richard plus their lovely Dora, charmed us with their kindness. Their extensive English breakfast equally accommodated my meat-lover husband and my veggie self.

Ullswater is a quick twenty-minute drive away, so we enjoyed a nine-mile ride along the lake. It’s the second largest lake in the English Lake District. Here’s a video by someone else of the boat jaunt we took.

Rain or shine, a ride down Ullswater is fun.

What’s your fave region in the U.K.?

Part 3 of 3: British Museum, where dwarfism is divine n Video by da-AL


There’s much to learn at the British Museum! (Our trip there began with Part 1 and Part 2, an overall tour of London, plus we visited the Kelpies of Scotland, and later BathAvebury henge, and Harlech and Conwy and Penrith and Ullswater, and Stokesay Castle.) For instance…

Here lies a favored retainer. Nefer, a.k.a ‘beautiful’! He was buried with extra care alongside First Dynasty kings. He has achondroplasia, the most common type of dwarfism. Ancient Egyptians regarded dwarfism as the mark of divine favor. Highly esteemed, little people often served as personal attendants to the king, in charge of his clothing and jewelry. Egypt, c. 3150 – c. 2890 BCE

“When you meet someone different, what part of their day do you want to be?” That’s what filmmaker Jonathan Novick asks in, “Don’t Look Down on Me,” his documentary about his experiences in New York City as a little person.

Tang Dynasty tomb figures. Horses and camels weren’t indigenous to 700 BC China.
Yellow-painted jar in the form of an animal, probably 12th-13th century AD, from Soba (former capital of the medieval Nubian kingdom of Alodia).
Goddess? Priestess? Ritual participant? Whatever her duties, she’s covered in Nile Valley elements; a hippo on her belly, symbols probably for water and plants, collared hunting dogs on her back, and jewelry around her wrists, ankles, and neck. Early-Middle Predynastic, before 3900-3300 BC.
The statuette sports even black dogs on her back!
Lookin’ cute for the afterlife — or the beach? Back in the day, these ivory figurines might have sported wigs and lapis lazuli eyes. Egypt, 3900-3300 BC.
Here’s an artifact — a drawing of myself that I did when I was tiny!

Do you have art that depicts you?

Part 2 of 3: Strolling the British Museum by da-AL


There’s so much at the British Museum! I don’t recommend trying to see it all in one go — nor all in one blog post. Here’s Part 1 of our visit, here’s Part 3, here’s our overall visit to London, to Bath, Avebury henge, Stokesay Castle, Harlech and Conwy and Penrith and Ullswater, and to see the Kelpies of Scotland. Let’s start with the Parthenon for the second leg of our walk through the British Museum…

This chariot horse is worn out from carrying moon-goddess Selene to the Parthenon. 435 BC.
Does the Parthenon look inviting to you?…
At the Parthenon, who’s stronger — a centaur or a Lampith?
This maenad, two satyrs, and panther are followers of Dionysos, a.k.a. Bacchus, the god of wine. Roman, about 100 AD.
These Assyrians are hunting through a garden. About 645-635 BC.
“I’m looking at you.” This King Ramesses II was carved from one block that was quarried almost 200 kilometers south of the king’s mortuary temple!
General Horemheb has rather pronounced breasts — yet his wife’s are concave… Hmmm… 18th Dynasty, probably reign of Ay (about 1327-1323 BC), Horemheb’s tomb.
An ancestral figure from Easter Island, Chile, about AD 1000-1200.
The flames of Hindu god Shiva, here as Nataraja, the Lord of the Dance, demonstrate how one cycle gives over to another. He creates and then he destroys. About 1100, south India.
Only one flap of Garuda’s wings is needed to orbit the cosmos while he protects followers from serpent spirits. 1800s, Tibet.

Is there an era’s art that you prefer?… 

Part 1 of 3: the British Museum (plus silly video) by da-AL


The British Museum is amazing!!! Join my husband and me for the eye-opening stroll we enjoyed…

The British Museum’s outside isn’t nearly as interesting as its inside.

During this vacation, we visited jam-packed London, Bath, Avebury Henge, Stokesay Castle, Harlech and Conwy and Penrith and Ullswater, and the Kelpies of Scotland. The British Museum (here’s Part 2 and Part 3 of our trip to see it) is best known for the Rosetta Stone that helped scholars decipher ancient Egypt’s hieroglyphic writing. Here’s the front of it at another site. So dense was the crowd that I could only snap these photos…

Rosetta stone from the back.
Rosetta stone from the side.

There’s much of the relief sculpture from the Parthenon, a Greek temple finished in 438 BC. (Btw, ever visited Tennessee’s Parthenon, from 1897?)…

My fave art at the Parthenon’s frieze is on the left, wearing a llama t-shirt…
The Parthenon frieze is huge! This is only a small portion.

On it, the faces of hunters are differentiated by their postures, rather than by their features…

Galloping around the Parthenon…
Sacrificial animals on the frieze weren’t thrilled about their lot.
Iris, the winged messenger goddess, roomed at the Parthenon.

The British Museum’s collection is overwhelming. We only had time to see a smattering of it…

Clay mastiffs warded off devils and demons in about 645 BC, northern Iraq.
This god has appreciated his mastiff’s protection from evil since 800-700 BC, in southern Iraq.
Lely’s Venus (Aphrodite) does what she can to stay strategically covered. She’s a copy from 1st or 2nd AD.
Compared to lots of other items at the British Museum, these poker-style game cards from Iran, are freshly minted — they’re from 1800-1900.
This protective spirit lost his sheaf of twigs. Palace of Sargon II, Khorsabad, Iraq, 710-705 BC.

After the museum, we meandered across the street — where a gift shop offered a different type of show…

What’s the silliest thing you’ve seen in or around a museum?…

Jam-Packed London, England by da-AL


London, England, is a sprawling city packed with everything from art and food to shopping and royalty. The transit system is terrific, so for the few days that my husband and I visited, we let our feet guide our itinerary. A city of immigrants, the bed and breakfast we stayed at in the Shoreditch district was run by a New York couple. Our first morning began with a view from their balcony…

Many of its most famed sights are near each other, a riot of shopping, eating, history, theater, and even China Town, all walking distance of each other. It had been ages since we saw our dear cousin Giulia, Italian by birth and now a Londoner (read about her beloved mom here)…

We had a fabulous time with her brother, cousin Stefano (2nd from right) and his friend, Federico, who was visiting from Italy…

The Victoria Memorial is at the end of The Mall road…

Just around the corner, we happened onto an unexpected marvelous reprieve from our travels — classical musicians practicing at St Martin-in-the-Field church…

Rain didn’t dampen the abundance of lovely sights…

Our night ended with a spectacular view!

Here’s a little more about our wonderful vacation to the United Kingdom.

Have you been to London? What impressed you most, or what would you like to see there?

Guest Blog Post: Self-Published Author Nadira Cotticollan


Traditional publishing, the kind that engages literary agents and monolithic publishing companies, has always been a challenge for writers. In my quest to find either for my soon-to-be-released novels, “Flamenco & the Sitting Cat” and “Tango & the Sitting Cat,” it feels akin to winning the lottery. Fortunately, self-publishing is rapidly becoming a mainstream empowering alternative. What’s your experience with either buying or publishing self-published novels?

A blogger from India, Nadira Cotticollan, shares her recent venture into releasing her fiction on her own…

When she’s not writing novels, Nadira Cotticollon loves being a grandmother.

“The Winnowing Waves” and Self-Publishing by Nadira Cotticollan

I belong to a  Muslim community from the coastal state of Kerala in South India. We are said to have been winnowed out from the rest of the Kerala populace by the inter-marriages that took place between the Arab traders and the local women. Most of the cultural aspects continued to be picked up from the customs prevalent in Kerala, with some changes to create a distinct identity.  But there was a marked Arab influence as well.

During the years I grew up, there were many changes that were happening which were, in fact, slowly erasing the differences in dress and lingo and the social mores of confining women indoors, etc. A female like me, therefore, got the benefit of education, which was a rare thing during my mother’s generation and almost non-existent before that.

Then, there was a  turn towards more strict observance of the religious customs although there was no going back on the education, fortunately.  In part, this had to do with the political changes that saw an upsurge of right-wing sentiments and the political events that they ushered in, as also with the influx of the Wahabian influence brought in by those who had found a livelihood in the Gulf countries. These attempts at aggressively establishing religious, political, and cultural identities between the Hindus and the Muslims, is now gradually bringing in a subtle divide and disturbing the harmony that had existed for thousands of years.

My novel has been woven through this backdrop, but it is in no way discourse on any of those aspects. It creeps in through the different characters, of course, but not stridently so.

The story is told from a woman’s perspective for the most part.

I am sixty-two now, and I have always cherished the idea of getting something that I wrote published. After finishing this novel, I did tentatively explore the regular publishing route. I realized that it would take a very long time and that there was no certainty of any of the established publishers taking it up. So I decided to look for self-publishing platforms. My children offered to bear the cost.

Notionpress, who I approached, came across as very professional, with a good team who managed the different aspects of the publication process. I chose the minimum package which would take care of the formatting, the cover design, the copyrights, and the online listing on their online store as well as on Flipkart and Amazon India. The editing is a facility available with a higher package. So I did the editing myself. They did allow for post-publication correction of the grammatical and spelling errors and a couple of errors in the names, etc. The whole process was completed in two weeks.

They do not do any promotion with this package, nor will the books be available in the bookshops.

But I’m happy.

My friends were the ones who read the book first and gave me feedback. They have liked it and assure me that they can relate to it, that the flow is smooth, that it speaks to them of what I had wanted to convey and so on.

With the money I earned in the last two months, I decided to upgrade the package, which would make the book available outside India on Amazon.com

The pricing they suggested appeared to be almost the same as that of many well-established authors, and I expressed my doubts to them about that. I was told that my book would be printed only as per demand, which would hike up the production costs, as compared to the mass production of the books of established authors.

The royalty I get on the sale of one copy after they deduct the production costs and half of the profits (that was the agreement) is only about 2/5th of the MRP if purchased through the Notionpress store and much less (about 1/8th) if sold through Amazon and Flipkart.

But what’s more important to me is that more people get to read the book.

da-AL’s kind offer to let me put up a blog post here about it is therefore very much appreciated.

I do hope some of you will pick it up from Amazon.com and give me your feedback after you’ve read it. Go to Notionpress here. Go to Amazon here.

Thank you all very much for reading this ☺

What’s your experience with buying or publishing self-published novels?

Guest Blog Post: Writing – ways to learn the craft by M.L. Davis


Novelist/marketer/copywriter M.L. Davis blogs from South West England.

Love, practice, and persistence go far with any endeavor — including when it comes to writing. For me, it helps if I can tap into something fun about a project (like with my soon-to-be self-published novel, “Flamenco & the Sitting Cat”). What works for you?

Novelist/marketer/copywriter M.L. Davis blogs from South West England. Here’s how Davis hones her craft…

Uninspired Writers

Writing is a skill, and like all skills it cane be learned and honed. Some people have a natural talent and flare for certain things, others have to try a little harder. Wherever you stand, if you love writing you should write. And if you’d like to improve and grow there are plenty of ways to do so.

1. Write
Let’s start with the simple and most effective answer. Write. You learn as you do, and you improve as you do. As with all skills, you will get better with practice and perseverance.
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2. Read Fiction
If you’re writing fiction, you’ll learn a great deal about what you like/don’t like by reading fiction. You’ll get a sense of what works and what doesn’t. And if you’re going to tell stories, it’s important to get used to the way stories are shaped. (This can also be done by…

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Guest Blog Post: 12 easy tips for editing your book by David Jarrett


Good writing takes more than merely a great idea. It takes time to edit and re-edit, yet it can vault mediocre writing into stellar writing. Here UK author and blogger David Jarrett shares how he simplifies the process…

Sean Yeager Adventures - awesome books for ages 8 to 14

www.seanyeager.com

Hi there, after months of editing and updating here are some tried and tested tips for how to edit your draft book. I found this needed multiple passes, constructive feedback and dispassionate discipline. I also needed to re-learn key parts of grammar to understand what ‘good’ looks like.

1. Get the structure right first with feedback from others, check for consistency.

By this I mean – the plot, characterisation, events, scenes, order of events, plausibility of events, story arc for each character, etc.

Consistency of proper nouns, places, character names, etc. is also a key check. Word spellchecker can assist by highlighting those variants which are yet to be accepted into your dictionary. A Find and Replace can bring things back under control.

2. Screen your own writing for overuse of words and phrases.

I recommend running Wordcounter and the Hemmingway app on chapters of your work and noting the…

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Guest Blog Post: Who are you calling stupid? by Jean-Paul


I admit it. I’m a terrible friend to you. I’m sharing the following sample of London-based blogger Jean-Paul so that you’ll be snared like I am. Experience the same one-two-punch love-hate I have with his site. #1) I love that he’s so talented!!! (though I am jealous!), and #2) I hate that every time I visit, I can’t resist spending way more time there than I plan for — even his friends who comment are clever!! Read on, my forewarned friend…

Photo by blogger Jean-Paul of “myhusband&i: two guys making out & trying to make it”

“Who are you calling stupid?” by Jean-Paul

When it comes to math, I’ll admit I’m a complete dummy. At school, I understood a lot, but arithmetic? It was all mental to me. My husband, on the other hand, has a brain like a push button calculator.

“You’re not stupid,” said Guido after dinner last night, “you just need some math practice with imagination. I have an idea,” he said, “sit back right this second and imagine yourself in a farmyard.”

As you can see, we really do need to get out more.

This was worrying. I had a sneaking feeling I was going to be asked to talk algebra to a chicken. I’ve only ever visited a farm once in my entire life, and I seem to recall a pungent odour. It was strong enough to make me squeeze my nostrils all day long.

“Okay,” I said involuntarily pinching my nose, “what’s next?”

There was a pause.

“What are you doing?” Guido asked, eyebrow raised.

“I just think it’s important that I embrace this part of the exercise before we move on to any complex multiplications or differential equations. Though I’ll admit, I’m becoming anxious about whether I should go put on rubber boots?”

Take it from me, this was a totally bona fide concern. If you’ve ever walked around a farmyard, then you’ll know there are some big brown stinky things you really don’t want to stand in. Did I mention the flies?

“Don’t worry about that. This is the cleanest farm ever.”

This was reassuring, but I held onto my nostrils just in case of an unexpected whiff of ammonia. I couldn’t see any flies though.  Which was even more re-assuring on account of my limited one arm swatting abilities.

“Now imagine there are 13 animal heads and 40 legs in front of you,” said Guido.

One moment I’m in a loft apartment eating a perfectly adequate mid-week lasagna and the next I’ve suddenly been put out to pasture herding a bunch of unidentifiable livestock. As you can tell, I like to take my visualisation pretty seriously. Which is more than I can say about the math. I mean, where was the straw?

“Now tell me,” said Guido, “how many sheep and how many ducks can you count?”

I closed my eyes. I could actually see the sheep just standing there staring at me. They seemed pretty friendly with only the occasional baa. The ducks, on the other hand, were all over the place quack quack quacking and waving their wings about. Anyone would think they’d just been told the hunting season had started.

There was another short pause.

“Well?” asked Guido.

“Hang on,” I said, “I’ve counted the sheep, but the ducks are proving problematic. Have you got any stale bread I could feed them?”

It was, I think, at that point, Guido began to understand the challenges my teachers had all those years ago.

“Hmm, I think we’ll leave this lesson for now,” said Guido wisely pouring me a glass of wine.

Back from the country, safely at our kitchen table, I let go of my nose. In the end, I couldn’t teach Guido that much about the sheep but what I did tell him was if something walks like a duck and talks like a duck then it’s usually a duck. And there’s nothing stupid about that.

Guest Blog Post: The World of Mr. Wolf


What’s your favorite book from your childhood? I loved Winnie the Pooh.

The best children’s books are ones I appreciate all the more with the passage of time. Here Mr. Wolf, an author of the kinds of children’s books that adults can enjoy too, shares a few of his illustrations…

Here's Captain Bee Beard - a pirate who has a beard made out of bees! (From Mr. Wolf's children's book: Terry The Time Travelling Tortoise.)
Here’s Captain Bee Beard – a pirate who has a beard made out of bees! (From Mr. Wolf’s children’s book: Terry The Time Travelling Tortoise.)

 

Mr. Pong gets his comeuppance! (From Mr. Wolf's children's book: The Top Secret Cheese.)
Mr. Pong gets his comeuppance! (From Mr. Wolf’s children’s book: The Top Secret Cheese.)

 

Have you ever seen a Posh-Me-Posh-Ewe animal before? (From Mr. Wolf's forthcoming children's book: Mr. Zumpo's Amazing Zoo of Unusual Animals.)
Have you ever seen a Posh-Me-Posh-Ewe animal before? (From Mr. Wolf’s forthcoming children’s book: Mr. Zumpo’s Amazing Zoo of Unusual Animals.)

 

About the illustrator of these wonderful pictures: Mr. Wolf is an English freelance cartoon illustrator and an author of funny children’s books which adults seem to love too. I met him at Goodreads (a sort of Facebook for book lovers).