Friday, November 27, 2015

March to November Short Story Sequel to be released for Christmas

It's Thanksgiving weekend and in keeping with that I'd like to thank all of my readers for their great support of March to November. So many people have contacted me to tell me they loved the book and want a sequel, that it's been hard to ignore.

In fact, so hard to ignore, that I wrote a short story-length sequel called Then Came Christmas, and I'm releasing it for FREE on my website.

Then Came Christmas begins on December 20th, just over six weeks from where the book ends and shows how Tracey and the gang face Christmas in the aftermath of March to November. Each day, I'll put up the story as it unfolds. It ends on Christmas Day. 

You can follow it each day, or if you like, you can wait until Christmas Day and read the story in it's entirety.

Please think of it as my Christmas gift to you, the reader. Please share it with your friends too and post the link on your social media. It would be great of you can help me spread the word.

SPOILER ALERT - It does give away the ending of March to November, but can be a "stand alone" story as well.

It's a good time to get a copy of March to November for your friends for Christmas so that they can join in the short story release too.

This weekend Amazon are doing a discount of 30% on print books. March to November  is also on sale on Kindle for $0.99 until the end of the month too.

So let the countdown to Then Came Christmas begin!

And thanks again.


Friday, November 20, 2015

Time traveling as well as actually traveling - Arctic Trip 2007

After I'd posted the picture of the polar bear sign a few weeks back in Animal Road Signs Snap, a few people were asking me to write more about the Arctic Trip so here it is.

The photo's were taken in Spitsbergen, an island in the Svalbard Archipelago, north of Norway and 660 nautical miles (758 miles) from the North Pole.

This trip took place in July 2007. Some things may have changed, but I'll include links to websites which look pretty up-to-date to me.

When we first looked at doing this 10-day trip, it was  so expensive we nearly considered not doing it at all. But we wanted to see polar bears, and since we were planning to move to California the following summer, we wanted to stay in Europe. At first we'd looked at a tour from, but there were two things we didn't like - 1) the cost and 2) the itinerary was back to front for us. It began with a cruise and ended with a camping trip.

We wanted to get the camping out of the way first. I wanted the experiences that portion of the trip offered, the glacier hiking, and the kayaking, but I didn't relish lying awake in the freezing cold for two nights and then being wrecked for the rest of the trip. We'd camped in Donegal that Easter and it had been pretty Baltic! How much worse would the North Pole be? (And, yes, I know we weren't actually at the North Pole but close enough for me.)

Then we took note of the tour companies Explorer were using and decided to approach them ourselves, camping first, ending with the cruise. It became much more affordable. Saying that, it was, and still is, the most expensive vacation we've ever been on, if you consider cost per per day. Worth every penny though - the memories are still so vivid and so unique.

We booked the cheapest combination of flights to get there. It took nearly 24 hours to fly from Belfast (where we lived at the time) to Manchester to Oslo to Tromso to Longyearbyen,  one of four settlements on the island. We could have flown to New Zealand in the same time.

You couldn't tell it was 3 am when we landed at the airport in Longyearbyen since the sun was still high in the sky.
Spitsbergen at 3am
What was the interior designer thinking when he installed orange curtains in the budget hostel we stayed in that first night? Seriously - sunlight, all night, through these! Good job we'd to get up for an 8am start, so we'd only to stay in that crazy bright room for a few hours. If you go, take eye masks!
There are no roads out of Longyearbyen - the roads just vanish at the edge of town.  To get to the other settlement you go by sea or skidoo in the winter.
Surprisingly the camping was really comfortable. We went with a company called Svalbard Wildlife Services on a three day wilderness camp. They were amazing the guide was brilliant - friendly, knowledgeable and an amazing cook. Our group was small too, just me, My Husband and two others, nice women from Switzerland.

It's the most remote place I've ever been to, I think.
We lucked out with the weather. It stayed in the low to mid sixties and because it didn't get dark at night it didn't cool down much either. We had good sleeping bags and down jackets. Being cold was never an fact it had been colder to camp in Ireland in April!
We had an armed guide at all times. I hoped we didn't see a polar bear while camping as the guide would need to shoot it. The campsite was surrounded by tripwires that would ignite flares, as much to wake up the guide with his guns as to scare of the bears. You don't mess with polar bears.
You had to use this gate to enter and leave the campsite so you didn't trigger the flares. I worried that if you were going off to have a pee during the night you might trip over the wire, but it didn't get dark so it wasn't an issue. You still needed to bring a buddy in case a polar bear did catch you with your pants down! 

Solid human waste was an interesting problem. It had to be taken off the site with you, so you pooped in a bag, tied a knot in it and kept the bags a a bucket until it was time to take the ship back. 

Our campsite was at the base of a glacier and we went glacier hiking on it with crampons. I was nervous about falling down the crevasses. We were all roped together, but I was the smallest one in the group and where the others just stepped across I had to take a run and jump!
The ice formations were amazing.

I had the chance to geek out on the amazing rock collection in the terminal moraine deposited by the Glacier - Sedimentary, igneous and metamorphic all in one spot. I wish I'd studied geology ...
And check out erosion in action - the rock has fractures along seams where water seeped in then froze and expanded.
There was something to amaze me around every corner. Herds of Svalbard Reindeer, sort, stocky little chappies, their rotund bodies adapted to conserve heat.

The Arctic cousin of the Irish bog cotton, fluffier to insulate the precious seeds better.
The next day we went kayaking.
We were lucky to catch this glacier calving on camera, and luckier still not to be too close to it!

The scenery was truly spectacular.
 Even though we didn't have the fancy camera we have now, it was impossible to take a bad photo.
This ringed seal seemed to be quite happy to pose for us. I suppose he was just glad we weren't polar bears!
Camping done, we transferred back to Lonyearbyen and stayed the night in a nice hotel before setting off for our cruise with Spitsbergen Travel. The ship was small. It had been a research vessel but we did have a cabin with a window...
...that had a metal hatch to close over it - great at keeping out the light and we had our first dark night since arriving there. Though the engine room must have been right in our closet (I joke - we didn't have a closet - two bunks and shower room!)

We cruised north out of Longyearbyen and stopped at Russian mining settlement. It was pretty bleak.
But someone seemed to be happy about finding coal!
It was nice to see that technology was making some inroads to these remote spots
Maybe you had to call to be let in the door, because that handle look pretty secure!

If you ignored the frigid temperatures, sometimes the colors along the coastal waters looked quite inviting.
 We set ashore each day for guided hikes and nature walks, most times using these wee boats.
 From the shore the scenery dwarfed the ship we though of as home.
The captain promised us lots of wildlife viewing, and we began to think the animals were on the payroll.

There were three languages used on board, Norwegian naturally, German and English. If the crew spotted some wildlife, they would announce the best place to go on the ship to view it. There were about 150 passengers all hustling for the best photo spot. Invariably animals would pop up when we'd be in the dining room (maybe because we spent so much time in the dining room!) and there'd be a stampede (of humans not animals!) for the doors

Sometimes the announcement would begin in English, "Ladies and Gentlemen, a polar bear has been spotted off the starboard side." etc. (or maybe it was Klingons?)  People who understood English, (and knew where starboard was) would head off. Then the language would change and others would move too. We soon figured out, no matter what language they started with, just follow someone who looked like they understood.Waiting for your own language would mean missing the front row!
 Right in the middle is a polar bear eating a seal - I kid you not...

 Blurry - sorry - how I wished we'd our Nikkon D5000 in those days!
The icebergs were such strange colors - Had the captain ever heard of the Titanic I wondered?
We drank champagne was we crossed the 80°N parallel (not sure why, but I wasn't going to question anyone giving me free Champagne - especially in a place where a coffee cost $20!) We came upon Moffen Island and saw the Walruses, animals I half suspected were not real, seeming more like mythical creatures and ranked a rather ugly, cumbersome version of the unicorn. But there they were...sorry again about the picture quality.

This was our turn around point.

Each night we'd have to tear ourselves away from the scenery, staying up into the wee hours of the morning, our brains unwilling to accept that fact, seeing sunlight as we did. These pictures were taken between 3 and 4 am...
 And this picture reminded me of the island described in C.S Lewis' Narian Tale , The Voyage of the Dawn Treader - the one the made everyone really gloomy...
We had just headed down to the rattle and hum of our cabin when there was another animal announcement at 4am - polar bears again!
This mother was suckling her baby. And how cute is this pose!

 This is a whale - I promise!
We stopped at the research station. It claims to have the most northern post office in the world...I wonder if this is where Santa posts his letters! I just had to send a post card to my Mum.

 Some insane people were having a swim...totally not tempted!
 Even if it looked as beautiful as this.

Spitsbergen was a magical place. I'm glad we figured out a way to make it work. I'd always wanted to see polars bears in the wild and it was definitely one huge series of ticks off the bucket list.

 Byddi Lee

 P.S. Some of these scenery shots look amazing if you click on them and view then full screen - go on - I dare you :-)

Friday, November 13, 2015

What The Judge Said...

One of the problems of being a self published author is convincing the world that your book is a professional product, that the writing is good, the story well structured and that standards are high, guaranteeing a quality experience for the reader.

Many people think that traditional publishers are one way of ensuring a good read but fail to realize that these big publishing houses focus more on marketability, sometimes pushing out sub-standard work by big names, knowing that they will sell anyway, and are less concerned with launching new, unknown authors with a better book but questionable sales potential.

The book world is full of this bias. For example, it is extremely difficult for a self-published author to get a review in The News York Times, or a mention on Oprah's book list - in fact, it is impossible. There's just no getting around the line often in bold type on websites that states "Self-published books not accepted."

It's an unfair world. That's just a fact and no amount of bemoaning it will change it.  I also understand why this is the case. The quality issue - we need some way to set a standard for self published books.

With this in mind, I entered March to November in the Writer's Digest Self-published Book Awards.

Before we get too excited I will say upfront that, no - it didn't win! But every entry is sent a judge's appraisal. As I opened my email, my heart was thumping in my throat. These guys would be honest, no need to to suck up to me, no need to be gentle - They would call a spade a spade.

The email begins with an explanation of the grading system from 1-5.
"Books are evaluated on a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 meaning “needs improvement” and 5 meaning “outstanding”. This scale is strictly to provide a point of reference, it is not a cumulative score and does not reflect ranking..."
As I read through the grading system, I was praying for at least 3's. All my writing insecurities rushed in on me - I was a scientist. Who was I fooling? I hated English Lit in school. I cannot figure out Shakespeare. I got bored with Joyce (there - I said it!) And, yes, I over-use exclamation marks!

These judges would crucify me. I gulped, put on my big girl head and read on.

And to my astonishment...well, read the scores for yourself...

Structure, Organization, and Pacing: 5

Spelling, Punctuation, and Grammar: 5

Production Quality and Cover Design: 4

Plot and Story Appeal: 5

Character Appeal and Development: 5

Voice and Writing Style: 5

And this is the Judges full comentary

"Congratulations on writing and publishing your book! The packaging is extremely professional. The title and front cover design made me curious as to what this book was about. The back cover copy is well written although it’s a little hard to read against the brick backdrop design. You have an intriguing story to tell and I enjoyed your writing style. Your novel should have a wide appeal among readers of fiction. Great job with pacing: you focus on showing us the story in action and dialogue and yet manage to include a great deal of vivid details and description. The structure of your chapters is excellent: each one left me wanting to keep reading to the next. Great job with grammar and proofreading. The formatting of the interior of the book is excellent. You have a great web site to market this book. I loved seeing the photographs of the book’s locations, and I enjoyed reading and looking at the excellent photos on your blog. I would definitely think about continuing to build and promote your blog and possibly turning it into a book someday. An excellent entry and I look forward to reading more of your work in the future!"

Judge, 23rd Annual Writer’s Digest Self-Published Book Awards.

So I'm off now to go do my happy dance, for it seems that scientists can write!

Byddi Lee

Friday, November 6, 2015

A Plethora of Pomegranates

When you have a garden, you often experience either feast or famine conditions. The year we first moved in I pruned the pomegranate tree away back. Admittedly, I didn't really know what I was doing but I'd been been told by a reliable source (Google!) what to do and how to do it. Maybe I pruned it a bit too much, because the following year it only produced 3 fruits. Albeit 3 massive fruits the size of my head!

In the years that followed, I've laid off the pruning and only cut back where the tree grows across the path. Every year, we get a tonne of enormous  pomegranates from a tree that never gets watered. That's not just drought tolerant - it's downright drought friendly!
Pomegranate and Butternut Squash harvest
So what can be done with all these beautiful fruits? Well a lot of them I give away to my friends. Pomegranates take a horrendously long time to process! The biggest ones can take me 20 minutes each to just peel and extract all the arils - the fleshy eats that you eat.

So at the weekend I set aside an hour and tried to get through as many pomegranates as I could. My Husband was convinced that there must be a more efficient way, so he spend a bit of time on YouTube researching de-seeding pomegranates. To begin with, I believed this time would have been better spent just helping me seed the damn things but, low and behold, when he tried to test out a few methods he came across, we discovered that he is super fast at seeding pomegranates. Not all of the methods proved useful, and even those that did, only for some of the time. If the fruit had grown in a perfectly symmetrical way, great - but most don't, so he was soon down in the trenches with me picking out arils one at a time with his fingers. He was still faster - processing 5 fruits for every 3 that I did - I rejoiced! No excuse for not asking him for help in this chore ever again.
So working together, we got a big bowl of seeds and put them through the juicer, careful not to spill any. Every seed is precious! (Is that from the Catechism or Monty Python?)

It took us over an hour to make enough for two glasses of pomegranate juice, from picking the fruit to drinking it.
It tastes so good even if it does looks like blood. Quite apt, since it was Halloween. In fact, the whole kitchen looked like a crime scene, juice on the floor, countertops and even splattered up the walls. CSI eat your heart out!

We were a mess too. Our fingers were stained purpley-grey and we laughed at the splotches of juice smeared across each others faces. No point is cleaning up until we'd finished the whole basket. A couple of hours later we had enough juice to freeze and even a little to experiment with.

I decided to try Pomegranate Scones.

This recipe is adapted from one I use from Delia Smith. (The same basic recipe is on the back of the packet of self raising flour too.) And yes, I can use grams or cups - I'm bilingual that way!


40g butter (I use Kerry Gold - Irish butter is the best)
225g self-raising flour
1½ level tablespoons caster sugar
110ml pomegranate juice, plus a little more (if needed)
Juice of one lemon (My addition - I think it helps with raising the dough)
One beaten egg
1/2 cup of dried cranberries (you can substitute with walnuts, raisin, chopped figs, choc-chips etc)
A little extra flour for rolling out
Pre-heat the oven to 220°C, gas mark 7

Equipment: A baking sheet with a non-stick liner, and a 5cm plain (or fluted) cutter


  • Rub the butter into the sieved flour using your fingertips
  • Stir in the sugar and dried cranberries followed by a pinch of salt. 
  • Pour the lemon juice into the pomegranate juice to mix it
  • Use a knife to mix in the pomegranate/lemon juice 
  • Knead the mixture with your hands to a soft dough (add more juice if it feels dry)
  • Roll out dough to a thickness of 3cm 
  • Without twisting the cutter, cut out the scones and put them on baking sheet
  • brush some beaten egg over the top 
  • Bake near top of oven for 12-15 minutes
I loved that the dough was pink!
When they’re done they will have risen and turned a golden brown, but there will still be pinkish purplish hues coming through - perfect for Halloween or even Valentines day - especially if you were to use a heart shaped cookie cutter.

Full disclosure - I'm not great at baking, but I am a top notch experimenter! And sometimes it works out - I should have a separate blog for all the ones that don't...

These scones were so delicious that I didn't even have to put butter and jam on them, but peach and lavender jam would have been wow with them - If I'd had any left from last year.

Leave a comment and let me know if you do try any of the recipes or have any other interesting  tweaks for them.

Byddi Lee