I recently caught up with Mike Hudson—an Oakbank Racing authority. Mike is planning a museum at the Oakbank racecourse and wanted to include copies of my Racing series (Racing Dream, Racing Time, and Racing Fate). I was thrilled he had reached out.
For me visiting Oakbank is a trip down memory lane. The racecourse is home to the Oakbank Racing Club (ORC), and since 1876 the historic club has conducted a world-renowned Racing Carnival over the Easter weekend. I have fond memories of attending these meetings with friends as a young racehorse enthusiast. When I started writing Racing Dream, Oakbank became the obvious choice of setting. It was easy for me to draw on my memories, capturing Annabel Martin’s dream to become a jockey starts at this iconic country course. I wonder how many jockeys have ridden past the winning post at Oakbank and left the track with stars in their eyes?
I wanted to tell you of my experiences as a young woman at this racecourse. My Easter racing days started with a hearty breakfast and Mimosa or Bucks Fizz. Next, I would pick up a form guide and head to the stables to check out the horses. I would highlight the ones I considered had a chance of winning, followed by a healthy discussion about my choices with my companions. Before each race, I’d check out the horses in the parade ring. They always look different, saddled and prancing on the end of the rein. That’s when I might change my mind-never a good idea, because the rule of thumb is the horse you initially selected will win—then it’s off to the bookmakers to check the odds, place a bet and head into the stands to urge my choice past the winning post. They’d be a break for lunch when everyone enjoyed a picnic lunch and a glass or two of bubbles. The highlight is queueing to collect my meagre winnings. Yes, it happened occasionally.
If you want to get a feel for riding the course, read Annabel Martin’s first experience and the adrenalin rush she experienced when riding at Oakbank. Annabel’s journey continues to the Melbourne Cup. Every jockey has to start somewhere. Annabel got her big break at Oakbank.
Wishing everyone a happy, healthy, and prosperous 2022.
Until next time
Well, here we are at the end of another year, and I hope it has been a good one for you. At the year’s end, I reflect on what has passed and then look to what lies ahead. This year saw lots of local travel, exploring our own Australian backyard, venturing out of South Australia into Queensland for a week by the coast with friends. The weather was warm and humid in contrast to our South Australian cool spring.
Besides travelling, I released two books--El Alto in January and Return to El Alto in November. I talked a bit about the writing process of these two books in the November 2021 newsletter and how travel inspires. When I wrote them, I had never visited Peru, so to rectify this we took off with friends a couple of years ago. It was one of the best holidays I have had. The people were wonderful, the history fascinating, the scenery stunning, and the Amazon jungle just how I pictured it. We would have liked to have visited the town of El Alto (Piura Region) in the north—yes, there is a place with that name, my husband was born there, his parents worked there as geologists—but alas, it was not easy to get to. When you read the books, I hope you will feel the desert and jungle, get a feel for the people and the emotion I tried to capture when telling this story.
Time to talk about my new West series. For years I have wanted to write a family saga. I love reading series because characters generally cross into all books, and once you have grown to love a character, it is nice to see them again. The West series is no different. We start the journey with Book 1, Destiny, which is due for release early 2022. You will meet the patriarch, Daniel West, and the lovely Eleanor Clifford. They meet at a bear lodge in British Columbia. Now there is a place to visit.
It all started with a writers’ conference in Denver. During the planning stages, my writing friend suggested that Canada was not far away and how about we make a side trip. She did not have to do much convincing. I am easy-going and agreed it sounded like a splendid idea. We ended up doing a little more than a side trip! We travelled through the Rockies and cruised into Alaska, but our visit to a bear lodge was the highlight. Yep, we saw lots of bears along with eagles, mink, otters, and seals. While cruising along the estuaries in a small boat, a glimmer of a story developed, and Destiny was born. There is nothing like a pandemic to keep you home writing, so seven books were born in sixteen months. My characters journey to many places, but the home base for the West’s is Colorado, and the home base for the Clifford’s is Newmarket in the UK. You will get to know them intimately as they cross all books. They will be those you love and those you hate. Either way, they will take you on a fantastic journey.
More about Destiny next year.
I will finish by wishing you all a Merry Christmas and a happy New Year, and will end with this quote by Hunter S Thompson: -
Life should not be a journey to the grave to arrive safely in a well-preserved body, but instead skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming, Wow!
Until next time, take care.
As we head towards the Southern Hemisphere’s summer. It’s a gorgeous time of year, birds are busy building nests, plants are budding, and flowers pushing heads. It won‘t be long before the garden is a kaleidoscope of colour.
I’ve talked previously about how vital surroundings and travel is for a writer. It’s what inspires and helps keep the creative juices flowing. If I can’t get away, a walk with my dogs through the garden checking out our resident blue tongue lizard, koalas, kangaroos, and plants in bloom refresh the brain. Writers, as a rule, are solitary creatures. We spend hours at our desks, conjuring up the fate of our characters. So, getting out into the world is crucial.
I’ve given you a glimpse of some of the far-flung places in South Australia I’ve explored this year. This month, I’m off on my first trip out of South Australia in a while, heading north to tropical Queensland.
The sequel to El Alto - Return to El Alto is being released on November 19th, 2021. It is the dramatic conclusion to Claudia and William’s extraordinary adventures through, Peru, Australia and California. Starting when they’re eighteen-year-olds. The two books span nearly twenty years, and we travel with them through their early relationship, when they’re torn apart and come back together. As we all know, life has its up and downs, and William and Claudia have their fair share. Their journey is heart-wrenching, yet they lift themselves above it all and find the courage to continue. If you love reading about true love and adversity, this is for you. All my books are available through your local Amazon site.
Take care and until next time.
Our travels this month took us one thousand kilometres (600+ miles) west of Adelaide, South Australia, to a place called Fowlers Bay. Let me start by saying there is nothing much there. A caravan park, a kiosk, white sand dunes, and a few houses. We were there to see the whales. During May to October, the Southern Right Whales arrive from Antarctica to give birth.
It took us a couple of days to get there. The roads are good, but we opted to break the drive and stay overnight at a small town called Wudinna—pronounced Woodna. Go figure!
Sitting idle has never been our thing, so we soon had our four days planned. Our first outing was to the Head of Bight, where the week before, sixteen females and calves were spotted, but we only saw two pairs on our visit. But it was enough to spark excitement for the pending whale watching boat trip we had organised in a few days as there was talk of lots of whales in Fowlers Bay.
When not searching out whales, we walked the white dunes to the open sea. It was a seven-kilometre (4 mile) walk, so we enjoyed burning energy. Nothing but Antarctica lies south of the beach, and as I watched the waves smashing onto the shore, a Bronze Whaler Shark chased a school of ocean salmon through the waves. Two anglers were pulling in some of those salmon with the help of two German wire-haired pointers. I am a sucker where dogs are concerned, and as I said hello to them, I thought about how my fur kids, Elsa and Kuura, would have loved swimming through the waves. We chatted to the dog’s owners, and they sent us away with a couple of just caught salmon, which we had for dinner that night.
However, the best was yet to come—the boat trip—and it did not disappoint. We got up close personal to nine mums and calves. Mums tend to stick close to the shore until their calves are strong enough to make the journey south. Calves weigh in at about one tonne when born and when adults can weigh eighty tonnes. We had a calf following the boat, and it is hard to think of them as babies. It was a fabulous experience watching the interaction between mums and calves.
Our Fowlers Bay stay ended, and we headed down the coast to Streaky Bay. While in Streaky, we visited a Smoky Bay oyster farm. By the time we headed home, my love of oysters was well satisfied, plus I had a wealth of material for future books.
In previous newsletters, I have talked about how travel gets the creative juices flowing. And this trip was no exception. We met some fascinating people: The whale charter guys, a group of youngsters fishing for squid from the Fowlers Bay jetty. A couple travelling Australia and a grumpy guy whose face would crack if he smiled. The Oyster farm owners, father, and son in Smoky Bay, were relaxed and fun. The father hitched up their boat to a tractor, sat us in the back and drove to the water where he launched it with us sitting, wondering who was going to steer. And the pleasant receptionist who looked after us at the Streaky Bay foreshore. These people are real and give a wealth of inspirations to bring a story to life.
So, while I have not been able to travel overseas, we have found plenty on offer in our backyard, which is a good thing. I hope that wherever you live, you have also been able to enjoy what is on offer.
Until next time.
During these strange times, with no overseas travel, we have been taking advantage by exploring our state of South Australia. We recently took a road trip to Port Lincoln on the southern tip of the Eyre Peninsula, 650 km (400 miles) due west of Adelaide. Located on Boston Bay (a bay three and a half times the size of Sydney Harbour!), it has Australia’s largest commercial fishing fleet and many exceptional restaurants of which we can vouch.
While in the area, we booked into the Coffin Bay oyster farm for the oyster experience. Yes, I’m particularly fond of oysters. Imagine our surprise, after donning waders, to be led into the water toward a saltwater pavilion where we sat up to our waist in the 15 C (60 F) degree water. Our two guides explained about oyster farming while showing us how to shuck oysters. We sampled half a dozen washing them down with a crisp white wine.
Did you know that oysters grow large? Fist size and larger and can live a long life. The guides introduced us to one of their large crustaceans called Steve. Lucky for Steve being part of the Coffin Bay experience and not the meal.
One of the things I love about travel, whether local or overseas, is how a different location can get the creative writing juices flowing. So don’t be surprised if a story set at an oyster farm hits the shelves at some stage.
Here in Adelaide, South Australia, we’ve experienced our wettest July since 2016. With thunderstorms, rain and strong winds confirming winters arrival. Elsa and Kuura, our two Bearded Collies, spent a couple of anxious nights curled up at the foot of the bed as thunderstorms raged overhead. Again today, it is blowing a gale, they are lying either side of my desk as I write, staying warm and safe.
El Alto, my latest book, is a story close to my heart. It came about through stories my parents-in-law told me of their adventures living and working on a remote oil field in Northern Peru, run at the time by La Compania Petrolera Lobitos (CPL). The desert camp, El Alto - in the Piura region is situated on cliffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean. My mother-in-law Patricia won a scholarship during the war years and went to Leeds University (UK), where she met her future husband, Tim. It was bold enough at the time for a woman to study Geology, but to then in 1947, follow Tim to Peru, marry, bring up two kids and work in the male-dominated oil industry was even bolder. Patricia’s stories of their camping expeditions into the Andes with nothing more than a tent and basic food supplies, their life and death situations and El Alto as a story was born.
When setting scenes, I had access to hundreds of images Tim and Patricia had captured during their time in Peru, some of which appear here. Tim was also an avid cameraman (must be where my husband gets his passion). He shot hours of 8mm film of the family.
In the book, set in Peru the Amazon and South Australia, my heroine and hero find themselves at the mercy of the Sendero Luminoso (The Shining Path). I wondered how strong a woman needed to be, to survive kidnapping, indoctrination, and never-ending rain in the Amazon jungle. Our heroes and heroines need goals. They need motivation and conflict which keeps us turning the pages.
A few years ago, we travelled through Peru and into the Amazon at Puerto Maldonado. There is no doubt in my mind that seeing a place first-hand helps to bring the words to life on the page.
July in Australia is our mid-Winter, a time where I hunker down into the warmth of my office, accompanied by our Bearded Collies, Elsa and Kuura.
Our first Bearded Collie came into our lives in the late 80s, and he was called Blue, a good Aussie name. In 1990 we moved to Hong Kong for work and were unable to take Blue with us, so we arranged for him to be flown to England to be with my family there, where he enjoyed an active life as a mascot for an American Civil War enactment group, strange to have one in England. Blue crossed the rainbow bridge before we returned to Australia.
Missing the breed so much, we were soon looking for another one, when we found Gromit, named after the dog in the 1990s TV series, Wallace and Gromit, much to the amusement of his breeders. Gromit started off with us as a suburban dog and then we moved to a rural setting in the Adelaide Hills. Gromit needed a friend, so we found him, Lola, a two-year-old girl, who had spent her time as a show dog. It was quite a change for her, from the showring to a relaxed rural lifestyle with Gromit.
When Gromit passed, Paddington, as in Paddington Bear from darkest Peru (where my husband was born), joined Lola, arriving in style, flying in from northern New South Wales.
With the passing of Lola and Paddington, we now have two females, Elsa and Kuura. Who have the same Finnish father. Elsa is a popular girls name in Scandinavia and Kuura means frost in Finnish.
Out of all the Bearded Collies that have come into our lives, Paddington was by far the most obstinate. As a puppy, we took him on an Outback adventure with us. He is probably the only Bearded Collie to have travelled through the remote South Australian outback sleeping with me in my swag. He had a huge personality, so much so that I wrote a series of stories about his life’s adventures.
Blue was an escape artist who always wanted to visit the neighbours. Gromit was a gentleman, and he would do anything you asked him. Lola was a spirited girl. Elsa, we call her Princes Elsa because she is, and Kuura is the youngest and is still a big kid.
Returning to the present. The dogs bring much joy into our lives. So, as I sit in my office, creating worlds and characters for my stories, you will often meet the odd dog. These worlds would not be complete otherwise.
June is the official start of winter here in Australia. In the Adelaide Hills, we have clear blue skies most days, with temperatures ranging between 5C (41F) and 15C (60F), with the potential of frost some mornings.
In my final book in the racing series, Racing Fate, we continue our adventure into the Australian Outback experiencing outback races and an encounter with Australia’s wild dog, the dingo. Dingoes in general avoid conflict with humans, however they are large enough to be dangerous.
My first experience of outback racing was at Marree, which lies some 600 kilometres (375 miles) north of Adelaide at the junction of the Oodnadatta and Birdsville Tracks. The racing, however, was unusual. Instead of horses, camels took to the track. I would have to say camel racing is quite crazy. From my observation, jockeys have little or no control over their mounts, and camels will or will not run, depending on how they feel at the time. Give me horses any day!
Along with Marree hosting camel racing, there are many outback racetracks, the most famous being the annual Birdsville races, followed by the Innamincka bush horse races.
Whether racing horses or camels, these events bring the Outback population together for a couple of days of fun and frivolity. You can only imagine some of the colourful characters you meet at these events.
I am familiar with the Innamincka area as we have spent many happy trips camping along the remote Cooper Creek. The township of Innimincka, if you can call it that, boasts a hotel, store, accommodation and 44 residents. It sits 820 kilometres (510 miles) northeast of Adelaide.
As always, I am happy to respond to questions about my books and my writing.
The months are slipping by. One minute we are celebrating Christmas and now Easter, and if, like many South Australians, you like attending a picnic race meeting, then the Oakbank Racecourse in the Adelaide Hills, is the place to be.
Oakbank holds many memories for me and was the perfect place to start Racing Dream, the first book in my racing series. We meet Annabel Martin at sixteen. What sixteen-year-old does not have dreams? Annabel’s is to win the Melbourne Cup, Australia’s famous annual thoroughbred horse race, the dream of every Australian jockey.
Annabel rides well but has done her apprenticeship around the show ring. To realize her dream, she needs to adapt her riding style and learn race strategy. She also needs to prove to Andy Jones, a renowned jockey, that she has grit.
Andy’s first impression of Annabel is that she is a spoilt rich girl. He soon learns there is more to her than her father’s money. He puts Annabel through her paces at Oakbank on a cold misty winter morning. Oakbank in winter can be cold, with temperatures sometimes dropping to zero degrees Celsius. So, riding trackwork at Oakbank is not for the faint-hearted. Andy’s excitement mounts as he realizes Annabel has what it takes to become a top-notch jockey. We also get a glimpse of James McKenzie at this time. He, too, has dreams and is quite taken when he meets the young Annabel. It’s a few more years before the two become further acquainted, and by then, they’re both chasing that Melbourne Cup dream. And so the scene is set for an adventure suspense story that will keep you reading.
It would be remiss of me not to give you a little history on Oakbank. Racing started in 1876 and hosts one of the world’s largest picnic race meets, the Easter Racing Carnival, which has historically been held on Easter Saturday and Monday. Oakbank is the home of steeplechasing and jumping in South Australia, which combines with flat racing over the festival. The famous Great Eastern Steeplechase is the highlight of the weekends racing and, in its heyday, has attracted crowds as large as 70,000.
Once you have journeyed with Annabel and James, book two, Racing Time, travels to the Australian Outback.
The month of May means we are moving towards the end of the Southern Hemisphere Autumn, which turns out to be a good time for travelling through the Australian Outback, avoiding the extreme heat and dust of Summer.
The outback is another world which brings me to the setting of book two of my racing series - Racing Time.
Once you leave the southern towns behind, the journey north is on unsealed roads. At the outback town of Marree, the road divides. Turn right and you join the Birdsville track taking you northeast to Birdsville or turn left onto the Oodnadatta track northwest to Oodnadatta.
Oodnadatta is a small remote outback town, with a population of around 200, some 870 kilometres (540 miles) north of Adelaide. The town is also home of famed The Pink Roadhouse. The word Oodnadatta is derived from the Aboriginal word utnadata, meaning mulga tree blossom.
So why did I choose Oodnadatta? Firstly, it's remote. Things go wrong for the unprepared in the outback. I like testing my hero and heroines. There is a lot to learn about survival, it can bring people together or tear them apart. There is no mobile reception. No nearby towns. Few passing vehicles. Cattle stations covering many hundreds of square miles, and you could wander through them for days without seeing a soul. People do not last long on foot with no water in the hot and dry conditions.
Secondly, it is a great place to bury a body. Who is going to find it apart from Dingoes? If you fall foul of someone, there is no local police to rescue you. No local hospital to aim for.
Thirdly, after placing my characters in this environment, testing their strength and endurance they naturally learn to grow, learn to trust and in turn learn to love. Without these basic elements, life has no meaning. So, if you enjoyed Racing Dream, be sure to read Racing Time and journey into the South Australian outback.
Contemporary adventure with