Saturday, 21 June 2014

Donkeys, squids and lava stones

Today is the last full day of my Greek Island Hopping tour; after breakfast tomorrow, I’m done with all my tours and will be making my own way for the next few months.

I’ve been to Greece before – it captured my imagination and for seven years I wasn’t able to still the rattle in my heart – the piece of Greece I’d brought home with me last time. So I returned to Athens – gave the city way too much of my time – then escaped to the islands.

Mykonos was brilliant, and I loved it all over again. I got lost in the back streets of town, watched a bride walk down the aisle to the man of her dreams, and unwound. Being an early bird, I got one of the famous beaches to myself one morning, which was a highlight. I also stimulated the local economy with some enthusiastic shopping.

Paros, an island I knew nothing about prior to arriving, surprised me with its creativity and intimacy. The jewellery makers on Paros are so gifted, I defy anyone to leave the island without a new trinket. Paros had the same narrow, white-walled cobblestone streets of Mykonos, and yet it had a fraction of the tourists and an abundance of charm. I went to a fishing village where squid were drying in the sun, trawlers were lurching against the sea walls, and nets were unrolled on footpaths, and I loved it.

Highly recommended.

The third and final island on my hopping tour was Santorini.

Oh, Santorini.

It’s as good as people say. It’s better than they describe. It’s something else entirely.

White buildings cling to kilometres of cliffs. The roof of one building is the floor of another. Streets of glamorous clothes, glittering jewellery and all manner of souvenirs make for a dazzling walk about town. Thousands gather for the sunset each night, as we did, and a short boat ride away, a volcano waits.

This, we climbed. I dragged my bung foot up to the crater, toes be damned, and later swam through thermal spring water to a mud bath. The group isn’t entirely sure we weren’t duped, and that the mud had no beneficial properties at all, but either way, excellent photos were born. Following this, we conquered the cliffs on donkeys, and had a brilliant night out in town.

In all, the tour has been fantastic. Brilliant people, awesome locations, and more rattles in my heart. 

Now I’m bound for Athens, looking back on photos and making big decisions about what comes next. 

In the immediate future, London. 

Beyond that, stay tuned.

Monday, 9 June 2014

Small Town Storm, CLUE Award Winner!

I am beside myself excited to share that Small Town Storm came first in the Chanticleer Book Reviews & Media CLUE Awards for Thriller, Mystery, & Suspense Fiction! 

It went through *seven* rounds of judging, isn't that extraordinary?

I'm so, so thrilled and flattered. Thank you, Chanticleer, the contest coordinators, and the judges - you've put the hugest smile on my face.

The CLUE Awards First in Category Winners

Saturday, 7 June 2014

Broken bones, nights under the stars, and fear eyes

I’ve spent the last week cruising the Mediterranean on a gorgeous gulet boat with a group of people I will never forget. I had been nervous for months about who I would be contained to a boat with, but I got to travel with some truly brilliant people. One in particular became a fast friend, and another really made the trip shine.

The days were as lazy as you might imagine – sun, swimming and sleep, with the occasional shift in order. Me, I was the oddity cheerfully writing on my laptop when others were dozing or reading. Apparently it takes more than eight days for me to wilfully do little to nothing. Still bent on ‘how can I make the most of this time’, it seems.

That being said, I’ve got the skeleton of what I hope will be a cracker of a book. Boat politics, drama, and of course, romance.

I went scuba diving. And sucked at it. Throw me into the sky from 2,000 metres, sure, let’s do this – but put me in a suit that covers everything but my face (then cover my face with something else), weigh me down under water and insist I breath through a Darth Vader mouthpiece? Get stuffed.

I went through with it. All my photos have fear-eyes, but I ticked the experience box. I insisted on two emergency surfaces and spent half the dive too freaked to turn my head, but I eventually enjoyed myself. After my instructor put a frikkin’ sea anemone on my hand – enjoyment was a while after that.

Those little buggers have squishy sucker feet, and it walked on me. Having had one of its friends bury a 6cm long barb in my toe which I couldn’t get out for three weeks, I was understandably uncomfortable with its proximity.

I’ve seen a sunken city. Lycian tombs. An old castle. I’ve snorkelled, leapt off the boat and accumulated more bruises than looks kosher. We’ve had a party nearly every night, and I’m managing about four hours of sleep a night. And on one of those nights, when I hadn’t even had a drink, I fell.

I broke three toes. My foot hit the side of the boat so hard it shattered one of my toenails, and the bruise on my back makes people lurch away from me, horrified. I ruptured some blood vessels. Ask me if you want photos - I don't want to force that picture on anyone. 

Now, think of what you’ve read so far. The exploring. The parties. The getting in and out of small boats to be shuttled to islands… add broken toes, and a constant rolling, lurching boat.

The glorious, constant pain. But what can you do?

Apparently you can use a naked lady stirring stick as a makeshift splint. No kidding. When I get back to port I’m going to get a raised eyebrow from a doctor, I’m sure – ha!

My parents were sympathetic and alarmed when I told them, but I have a tiny suspicion they weren’t too surprised. This kind of thing – a ridiculous injury or incident – happens too often to shock anymore, I think. Before I left for my trip I had a fight with a table and ended up with bruised ribs. I'm that kind of girl. I'm pretty sure the captain was keen to get me off the boat - every time I walked past him he shot out a hand and said, 'Be careful!'. Haha. 

It has been wonderful relaxing (in my own way), meeting amazing people, and getting a greater understanding of life on the ocean. The crew live and breathe it, and that kind of connection with something – that complex, deep magnetism – has resonated with me.

It’s been an entirely different pace from any other trip I’ve been on. And if I were to write a book about this last week that was more fact than fiction, it would have all the romance of the great love stories, all the upheavals of different personalities forced together, and a protagonist who just couldn’t stop smiling.

On to Athens next for four days of leisure and history. Then ten days in the Greek islands with sand, sun, and hopefully a legitimate splint.