Saturday, June 23, 2018

Home & The Artisans - An Evening With Greta Bradman.

On Friday evening, I fulfilled something of a promise to myself that had been delayed for a couple of years, owing to the recent challenges I've had health wise - of which regular readers of my blog will no doubt be aware. 

Having parted company with my wife and son, who were off to a thrilling AFL match between Port Adelaide and Melbourne at the Adelaide Oval, my daughter Lucy and I went to see our first performance by Australian soprano Greta Bradman at St. Peter's Cathedral. 

Greta is touring around Australia presently, in support of her new album release 'Home' - a lovingly curated selection of music inspired by her love of home, family and love itself.


(image credit: Decca/Universal.) 

Already the album has proven a hit with fans around the world, continuing an upward trajectory for Greta, which has just been so wonderful to observe since she began performing back in 2010.


Accompanied by acclaimed classical pianist Kate Johnson, the capacity audience were taken on a lovely ride through the very essence of Home, which was presented musically as a concept as much as it was a place.


(Acclaimed pianist, Kate Johnson and Lucy.)

The performance itself, in the hallowed environs of Adelaide's glorious Cathedral was at once intimate, soulful, uplifting, and utterly romantic. We we're treated to a repertoire that included movements from Dvořák, Rimksy-Korsakov, Schubert, Chopin, Handel and composers with a much more personal connection to Greta herself. I couldn't go without mentioning one special tune, composed by Greta's grandfather, titled "Everyday Is A Rainbow For Me." Written as a loving tribute to the girl who became his wife, Greta reached across time to pluck this beautiful flower from her grandfather's far away garden and share it with us here in the present. It was an exquisite and personal moment.


(image credit Albert Comper/Lynn Elzinga-Henry.)

What struck me the most about Greta's performance was her relationship with the Cathedral itself. She was cognizant of every nook and cranny of the building, its illustrious curves, its rafters, the volume of the space. How Greta adapted her vocal technique to accommodate her surrounds was fascinating to behold and she projected her voice effortlessly up into the lofty heights above us, delivering through out the building. In chatting with other audience members after the performance, it was clear that no matter where you were in the building, the aural experience was equal. Greta and the Cathedral had a mutual understanding, and were as much a partnership with one another as Greta and her pianist Kate. 
Everyone was drawn into her sphere by the end of the first half. 

And then, a moment happened, that will stay with me and Lucy for the rest of our lives. 

During an interval between songs, Greta related a story about her experience of having had throat surgery a couple of years ago, which would have been quite a risk to her career. 

During that time, she received correspondence from a "bloke" (that made me smile) who was undergoing similar surgery - the first having occurred on the exact same day as hers. 

That correspondence turned into a lovely back and forth over the past couple of years in which Greta and this man encouraged each other and checked in on each others progress. 

She then looked straight at me and said, "That bloke is in the audience tonight. His name is Dean and I'm so thrilled I will finally get to meet him after all this time. I want dedicate this next song - Bach's "Ave Maria" to Dean - to us both - who'd lost our voices and found them again."

To say that I was floored would be an understatement. To say that I was emotional would be accurate. 

Greta fulfilled her promise and we had a lovely moment after her performance, embracing as though we were old friends. We chatted about the performance, with Greta relating her impressions of that special relationship with the Cathedral I mentioned earlier. Greta remarked about how it had evolved from the first time she'd performed there to now and how she understood the building and its eccentricities. I appreciated the meaning of that. Greta engaged in a wonderful chat with Lucy about her dance classes and the upcoming school holidays.

During our chat, I was able to gift her an advance copy of The Artisan Heart. Before I left home, I'd stowed it in my shoulder bag, in the vague hope to leave the copy of the novel with Greta's tour staff.


As a tribute to the connection we'd made, Greta appears in a brief passage in the novel. It was my way of saying thank you to her. Never in my wildest dreams did I ever believe I would have the opportunity to present it to her herself.



(Artisans together - The Soprano, The Writer and Lucy.)

After a photo together, we parted and Lucy and I braved the chilly Adelaide evening to make our way to the Pancake Kitchen for a post performance dessert treat. We were both buzzing over the evening we'd had and the special moments we shared together.

Greta and Kate will go on to tour her album until mid July here in Australia. I'm so thrilled that so many more music lovers will have the opportunity to experience her magic.


'Home' the new album from Greta Bradman is out now

For tour dates, visit Greta Bradman here.



DFA. 

Saturday, June 2, 2018

Dangerous Ideas - The Burden of Expectation by Jennifer S. Alderson

I'm continuing my series of guest posts around Dangerous Ideas and this week, I'm pleased to welcome travel writer and author Jennifer S. Alderson to take the reins of my blog. Jennifer is a travel mystery writer whose novels visit exotic locations and conjure wonderful visuals and descriptions whilst entertaining readers with cracking mysteries that really involve you. Today, Jennifer has offered to explore the idea of fulfilling - or not fulfilling - the expectations of readers.

Is it dangerous not to fulfill reader’s expectations?

A social media conversation I had with Dean Mayes about reader’s expectations – in his case a man writing romance –made me think about my latest release and the unrealistic expectations my setting and plot may be creating for prospective readers.


Jennifer S. Alderson (image credit Fototeam.nl)

My latest novel, Rituals of the Dead: An Artifact Mystery, is set in the Asmat region of Papua in the 1962 – when it was a colony of the Netherlands known as Dutch New Guinea. For virtually everyone who knows about the Asmat, headhunting is the first thing that comes to mind. Though it is true, this is only one aspect of their intricate culture.

While conducting research for an exhibition of Asmat art in the Tropenmuseum, I read many first-hand accounts written by missionaries, explorers and anthropologists working in the region when it was still a colony. The area was known as a sort Wild West – untamed wilderness and people whose spiritual beliefs were vastly different than western ones. Though several of these travel diaries describe the ferocity of tribal skirmishes and headhunting raids, what stayed with me most were the constant references to the Asmat’s shyness. These striped, feathered, bone-wearing headhunters were shy? It seemed hard to fathom, based on the usual descriptions I come across of the Asmat and the island of Papua New Guinea in general.


In my novel, you won’t find descriptions of headhunting raids or cannibalism. This wasn’t a conscious decision to be politically correct or anything like that. When I began writing Rituals of the Dead, the idea of these fierce warriors being shy kept flitting to the forefront of my thoughts. Perhaps I over compensated by not including a single passage about these practices, but they are not essential to my story. There was no reason to include such information in my book, except sensationalism. Or perhaps, to stay true to readers expectations and assumptions about the region.

I hope my portrayal of the Asmat in the early 1960s is not off-putting, and that readers come away with a broader view of the Asmat, colonial relations and the work of missionaries in the region.

I am truly curious to see how readers react to the story and my descriptions!

Authors, do you think it is dangerous to not fulfill reader’s expectations? Readers, do you enjoy reading books that challenge your assumptions about other cultures and countries?


About Jennifer:

Jennifer S. Alderson was born in San Francisco, raised in Seattle, and currently lives in Amsterdam (the Netherlands). Her love of travel, art, and culture inspires her ongoing mystery series, the Adventures of Zelda Richardson. Her background in journalism, multimedia development, and art history enriches her novels. When not writing, she can be found in a museum, biking around Amsterdam, or enjoying a coffee along the canal while planning her next research trip.

In Down and Out in Kathmandu, Zelda gets entangled with a gang of smugglers whose Thai leader believes she’s stolen his diamonds. The Lover’s Portrait is a suspenseful “whodunit?” about Nazi-looted artwork that transports readers to wartime and present-day Amsterdam. Art, religion, and anthropology collide in Rituals of the Dead, a thrilling artifact mystery set in Dutch New Guinea (Papua) and the Netherlands.

The Lover’s Portrait was Chill With A Book’s January 2018 Book of the Month and won the Silver Cup in Rosie’s Book Review Team 2017 Awards, Mystery category. It also won a Chill With A Book Readers’ Award, Readers’ Favorite 5 star medal, was one of The Displaced Nation magazine’s Top 36 Expat Fiction Picks of 2016, and came in at 14 in BookLife’s 2016 Prize for Fiction in the Mystery category. The Lover’s Portrait was also one of Women Writers, Women’s Books magazine’s Recommended Reads for April 2017.


Her travelogue, Notes of a Naive Traveler, is a must-read for those interested in learning more about – or wishing to travel to – Nepal and Thailand. It was also awarded a Readers’ Favorite 5 star medal.


Visit Jennifer S. Alderson here

Purchase Jennifer S. Alderson's books here.

Connect with Jennifer S. Alderson here

Tweet with Jennifer S. Alderson here.

DFA.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Dean Mayes Talks With ABC Gippsland's Laura Poole.

This week, I had the opportunity to sit down with Laura Poole of ABC Gippsland's Mornings program and have a chat about my forthcoming novel "The Artisan Heart". During our conversation, Laura asked me what was the impetus for me to set my novel in the former gold mining town of Walhalla, what attracted me (a man) to writing in the romance genre and what challenges did I encounter in my desire to portray a character who is deaf.

The interview clocks in at just under 11 minutes and I'm really pleased with how it went. You can listen to it now via Sound Cloud. 

"The Artisan Heart" will be available internationally from September 1st, 2018.

DFA.




Tuesday, May 8, 2018

The Day I Broke My Brain by Darron Eastwell.

There are some remarkable human stories around that leave me in awe of the human condition and humbled by the grit, determination and endurance people find in their darkest hours. 

Darron Eastwell is one such individual. 

Darron and I were acquainted when we were kids. He and my brother played junior football together and I was the team's trainer at the time. As often happens, lives go in different directions after high school and it's been a good 20 years since we've spoken. Darron and I recently reconnected and I came to learn that he has had quite a life changing experience in the past few years, the details of which are recorded in his powerful memoir "The Day I Broke My Brain".



In May of 2015, successful banking executive Darron Eastwell said goodbye to his wife Bianca, with plans for an exciting day of mountain biking at Tewantin National Park. No one could have known that the day would end with Darron lying in a coma, his very future uncertain. 

Darron emerged from that experience as a brain injury survivor. In The Day I Broke My Brain, he chronicles his struggles to regain his foothold on life. This is not a book to be read only by those looking for information about traumatic brain injury. Rather, this is a true-to-life story of overcoming the most difficult of circumstances with courage, perseverance, and a dash of humor. Readers will gain inspiration as they walk with Darron through hardship, anguish, and pain.



Author & Public Speaker, Darron Eastwell. 

The Day I Broke My Brain is a unique memoir indeed. Given the seriousness of Darron's brain injury - he suffered what is known as Diffuse Axonal Injury, one of the most extreme forms of brain injury - it is quite an achievement for Darron to have written his account. While it isn't a long book, The Day I Broke My Brain is a no holds barred reflection on the circumstances of his accident and his recovery. His wife Bianca contributes her own experience of picking up the pieces in the immediate aftermath of the accident. I thought this was particularly moving because we get an insight of a family dealing with this tragic event, rather than a focus on the individual at the center of it. To have gone from an idyllic life before the accident to having their world thrown upside down was compelling and emotionally absorbing. There was no certainty for them and you feel that the further you read into the book. There are moments of humor throughout as well, particularly during Darron journey through his rehabilitation. It is said that good humor is as much a therapy in and of itself and I'm sure it helped Darron and Bianca many times during their darkest moments. 

The Day I Broke My Brain is an inspirational story of courage and endurance in the face of an almost catastrophic physical injury. I was moved by Darron's story.



A former career banker, Darron Eastwell is now a public speaker and advocate for Traumatic Brain Injury. Despite the injuries he sustained, he retains that same drive to succeed, which has enabled him overcome insurmountable odds. 

Darron and his family reside on the Sunshine Coast in southern Queensland, Australia.

Purchase The Day I Broke My Brain here

Visit Darron Eastwell here

Facebook with Darron here

DFA.


Sunday, May 6, 2018

Dangerous Ideas - About Control. A Guest Post by Tracy S. Lawson.

Today, I'm welcoming an exciting dystopian fiction author to the blog with another in my ongoing series of guest posts around Dangerous Ideas. 

Tracy S. Lawson circled into my orbit recently with her outstanding Resistance series, chronicling a near future America that has come under authoritarian control. A group of freedom fighters emerge from the shadows, railing against the administration's enforcement regime and an epic contest ensues that will decide the fate of the country's freedom. 

So without further ado, here's Tracy;


What if you’d been told you were in danger every minute of every day? What if you were told to take extraordinary precautions to stay safe–until extraordinary started to feel…ordinary? It’s hard to stay afraid all the time. Maybe, after a while, you’d just learn to tune it out. But if you did, whoever it was that needed you to be afraid would have to up their game…



Author Tracy S. Lawson.

In my Resistance Series books, Tommy and Careen, the eighteen-year-old protagonists, live in 2034, in an alternate-reality version of the United States. Most of the freedoms that today’s young adults enjoy have been curtailed, in the name of preventing terrorist attacks. 

The Civilian Restrictions that have been in place nearly all of their lives forbid people to gather in public places. Cash has been eliminated, and any exchange of goods and services between individuals is not permitted. 


The Resistance Series by Tracy S. Lawson.

Only a select few, mostly high-ranking government workers, are granted driving privileges, and the food supply has been brought under government control to protect it from being tainted. 

When I started writing this series back in 2010, the premise seemed a bit far-fetched. I’d never want any of the young people I know to suffer what my characters endure. But now when I turn on the news, it seems like they’re stealing my stuff.  

In Counteract, Tommy and Careen meet during a terrorist attack, and when they discover their government is pulling strings behind the scenes, using the attacks to keep people frightened and begging for protection, they join an underground rebel group that will stop at nothing to expose the truth.



Careen & Tommy (art by Will No Name).

There are plenty of books about dystopian societies in which people are treated as children or slaves, ostensibly to protect them. Eventually, the protagonists’ dissatisfaction and/or curiosity come to the fore, and the circumstances of their society’s structure are revealed as an attempt to destroy humanistic attitudes and desires, such as curiosity, creativity, innovation, and hope for the future.

There is an optimal level of safety and security. We just don’t know what it is. When we seek security, we must expect to give up some freedom. 

In today’s society, many kids look forward to the typical teenager’s rites of passage—going places without their parents, dating, and obtaining a driver’s license. 

Tommy and Careen inhabit a society in which the few remaining restaurants are patronized only by the wealthy. Most people can barely afford the cost of their weekly food allotment, which is assembled and distributed by the government’s Essential Services department.  A simple “let me buy you breakfast” is an extravagant gesture, and a pizza date would be completely out of the question. 

Shopping malls and cinemas have been closed in the name of safety, because large, open places where groups of people gather are easy marks for terrorist attacks. Professional sporting events and concerts are televised, but safety dictates the athletes and artists perform to empty arenas. No one but government officials are allowed to drive cars, because it’s irresponsible to allow just anyone access to something that can be used as a weapon.

Growing up is more than just enjoying the privileges of a certain age. In a society where freedoms are curtailed, how would the young people learn to take care of themselves?

The teens I asked said that growing up means, in part:

-taking responsibility for one’s actions

-solving one’s problems, not expecting someone else to drop everything and come to the rescue

-not going along with the crowd

-being yourself

-standing up for what is right



Tommy and Careen, who are among the first generation to grow up with the Restrictions, are lucky to have parents who’ve taught them some of the skills they’ll need to survive. But what of the younger children? And those yet to be born? How long before the individual’s survival skills are completely lost, and the only way to live is at the mercy of the guiding hand that promises safety?

The government’s mantra in the Resistance Series books is: “It’s a small price to pay for your safety.” Not just the individual, but society as a whole, will pay the price.

Learn more about Tracy and her books at the Resistance Series Fan Site here

Find Tracy on Instagram here

Facebook with Tracy Lawson here

Tweet with Tracy Lawson here

DFA.

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Dangerous Ideas - The Responsibility of Creation. A Conversation With Ashleigh Oldfield.

Continuing my series of guest posts around "Dangerous Ideas", this week I'd like to turn the blog over to my friend, Melbourne author Ashleigh Oldfield. Fresh off the back of her brand new release "The Lost City", I asked Ashleigh if she would like to explore a particular idea she had been wrestling with recently. Ash came through with the goods - so without further ado, welcome Ashleigh to the stage...

When Dean asked me if I had any thoughts on ’Dangerous Ideas’, I knew exactly what I wanted to write about because there has been a troublesome idea floating around in my head for some time.

Once I have finished writing my young adult dragon novels, The Rachaya Series, I really want to sink my teeth into something completely different. I snuck into a university library and hunted down books on topics that I thought might interest me. I came across a section on Mythology from across the continent of Asia, and what I read absolutely fascinated me. I spent hours in the library, reading feverishly. I began to loosely plot a story around the mythos and history of a couple of the places I was reading about.



Cue the ‘Dangerous Idea’ – the world I was researching was brutal. I don’t write about brutal things. I write about magic and wonder and dragons, but this story would not let me go. 
There are so many themes in my research that I never thought I would tackle in a story – poisons, suicide, torture, dirty tactics in war. It’s not that I want to shy away from such topics – this is straight out of history and is therefore a part of humanity. But am I good enough at my craft to handle these themes? Have my skills as a writer matured to a level where I can write something that resonates with my readers without glorifying or romanticizing atrocities? To leave these events out would be dishonest. And yet there’s definitely a temptation to put this story off, to push it back until I feel my writing skills are an even match for the task. 



Ashleigh Oldfield, author.

There’s also the sense of responsibility with my writing about how stronger themes will affect my younger audience. I am a teacher in my other life, and adults have bought my books for their kids several times over simply because they trust me and my professionalism as a teacher. In fact, I was at the opening of a bookstore last night and an elderly lady bought Fyrebyrne Island for her granddaughter for that very reason.  

If I publish a book with sex and violence, it may well end up in the hands of those I feel a moral obligation to protect – my students and others of their age bracket. I don’t think I could live with myself because I have had a duty of care towards children for a decade and it’s a difficult habit to shake. 

I also worry that a more adult novel from me would not be very well received. I think of J.K. Rowling, whose follow up to her Harry Potter series, A Casual Vacancy, was largely disliked because it was more adult. People expected something different from her; they expected a certain level of safety from her. With the fiction that I currently write, and the profession that I have, I would be in a similar position, so I guess in a way I also have that fear of failure, that no one will like something I have worked so hard to get right, simply because they expect another Rachaya Series out of me. 

The fear of failure is, I think, something all creatives have in one form or another and is just something I will have to learn to live with. Having a story embed itself in my brain has made me even more determined to be the best writer that I can be so that when the time comes, I can do this story justice. I still have research to conduct and other books to finish writing first, but I am working harder than ever before so I can craft this story into a work of art.



Ashleigh Oldfield is a fantasy fiction and children’s writer from Melbourne, Australia. Always having a love for the written word, Ash wrote her first stories by moonlight at the tender age of five, long after her parents thought she had gone to bed. To this very day Ash still prefers to write by the light of the moon long after any sensible person has succumbed to sleep.

When she is not working on her latest piece of fiction, Ash enjoys drinking good coffee, taking her dog for walks on the beach and hanging out with her two cats. This year, Ashleigh kicked off a weekly podcast with her husband Steve De Niese. Called "The Book Stash", the podcast is a great little show about reading and writing in which Ashleigh and Steve talk about the craft and what inspires them in the journey. For new writers with an eye to improving their own method, The Book Stash is a must listen.


Visit Ashleigh Oldfield here.

Connect with Ashleigh Oldfield here

Tweet with Ashleigh here

Tweet with The Book Stash here.

The Book Stash is on iTunes here.

DFA.


Sunday, April 29, 2018

The Dragons Cometh - A Look At The Lost City by Ashleigh Oldfield.

I always get a thrill when Melbourne author Ashleigh Oldfield announces a new book in her steadily growing repertoire and I'm especially pleased to see the long awaited sequel to her 2017 dragon fantasy "Fyrebyrne Island" has finally landed in the laps of her fans. Titled "The Lost City", this second entry in Oldfield's Rachaya series, builds upon the rich mythos from her debut and goes in some really interesting directions that are pleasantly unpredictable. Of course, before I say more, let me give you the guff on Book 2; 


"You play a dangerous game, dragon, you and all your friends. I will not forget that you have spurned my advice and refused to meet with me in parley. You will come to rue this day, of that I can be certain."

Rachaya is well on her way to becoming a fully-fledged dragon and she is determined that when the time comes, she will also be a queen that her people can be proud of. But when dangerous secrets surface from the past, Rachaya realises she is running out of time to help her people return to the fierce, powerful and proud dragons that they once were.

So, as with any second act of a three act play, the objective is to deepen the characters, situations and mythology that have been established. Oldfield has achieved this in spades and has added some really innovative dramatic elements that provide tension and gravitas. Aiming her stories at young adult readers, Oldfield doesn't talk down to them and her writing is really intelligent and thought provoking. It is also tightly woven, with no wasted narrative or unnecessary exposition. Oldfield gets to the point from the get go. There's a great cinematic quality to the story and her visualizations and world building just cry out for a big screen adaptation. There is much here that would translate effortlessly to the screen. 

I guess the only bad point to make about this book is that I now have to wait for Book 3 to see how Ashleigh Oldfield wraps it all up. 


Ash Oldfield & friend at Supanova, Melbourne, 2018.

Ashleigh Oldfield is a fantasy fiction and children’s writer from Melbourne, Australia. Always having a love for the written word, Ash wrote her first stories by moonlight at the tender age of five, long after her parents thought she had gone to bed. To this very day Ash still prefers to write by the light of the moon long after any sensible person has succumbed to sleep. 


with Steve De Niese of The Book Stash podcast.


When she is not working on her latest piece of fiction, Ash enjoys drinking good coffee, taking her dog for walks on the beach and hanging out with her two cats. This year, Ashleigh kicked off a weekly podcast with her husband Steve De Niese. Called "The Book Stash", the podcast is a great little show about reading and writing in which Ashleigh and Steve talk about the craft and what inspires them in the journey. For new writers with an eye to improving their own method, The Book Stash is a must listen. 

The Lost City: Book 2 of the Rachaya Series is out now where good books are sold. 

Buy The Lost City here.

Visit Ashleigh Oldfield here.

Connect with Ashleigh Oldfield here

Tweet with Ashleigh here

Tweet with The Book Stash here.

The Book Stash is on iTunes here.

DFA.


Saturday, April 28, 2018

I'm Head Over Heels With Evie Snow!

Okay. Now for some lighter fare from me - (that last post was a little heavy wasn't it).

So, I've discovered another grand romance author that I just have to tell you about. I've spent the last couple of weeks completely in thrall with Evie Snow and the first entries in her "Sanctuary" series. I have to confess that I'm more than just a little familiar with Evie because she is actually the brain child of one of my favourite authors and all round good people, Georgina Penney - oh she of the equally grand Blaine sisters trilogy.

Best-selling author Georgina (George) Penney does the actual writing and reads far too many books. Her husband, Tony Johnson (AKA The Kraken) helps out with plot wrangling and is in charge of caffeine distribution. Franky, their surly cat also helps by running the complaints department from his hiding place under the coffee table.


With Evie Snow, Georgina and Tony have gone in a fun direction, crafting novels that are quick fire, sexy and sumptuous. Yet they retain signature aspects of Georgina's approach to romantic fiction - chiefly among them, her knack of dropping in an emotionally weighty undercurrent that serves to lift her characters and stories to a level above the standard romantic fare. 

So I want to focus on two titles today, the first two in the Sanctuary series "Head Over Heels" & "California Dreaming". I actually read these 'arse about'. The relatively short novella Head Over Heels was the introduction to the picturesque California coastal town of Sanctuary (think Monterey smooshed together with Gilmore Girls), followed by California Dreaming, which is a longer form novel that deepens the feel and the place of Sanctuary. It probably matters little, which order you read them in but I'd recommend you play by Evie's rules.


Head Over Heels follows the misadventures (??) of plucky pin-up clothing store owner Madeline Evans. Madeline always spends her July 4th on the beach writing down her goals while she keeps an eye out for her fantasy man. Every year, she watches her almost-prom-date-turned-famous-actor jog along the same beach where she writes her resolutions. But she never expected to actually have to talk to him…

Cal Greyson’s acting career just took a sharp turn for the worse. After losing his bid to star in a blockbuster flick, his steady job at a soap opera is cut short in the most embarrassing way possible. It’s the cherry on the sundae when he falls down during his annual jog through his hometown beach. As the onlookers start recording with their smart-phones, he’s rescued by the most surprising person imaginable…

The former high school classmates hide out in Madeline’s house until the coast is clear. As they revisit the past, a little white lie Madeline spread about Cal in her youth may keep them from fantasizing about their future…

As I mentioned, Head Over Heels is a quick fire read that plays out as a cheeky character study. It's comical, its dialogue is snappy and smart and it dances deftly between the two central characters of Madeline and Cal who have an awkward past that is a touch bittersweet. How they appraise that past and parlay that into a reflection of where they're both at now is engaging, sweet and - did I say sexy? Yeah - it's damn sexy!


California Dreaming  follows the travails of two people who are wrestling with somewhat fractious pasts - always great fodder for good romance. Jared Nairn needs a new start and a good night’s rest. After enduring a combat zone, a rocky divorce, and chronic insomnia, the quaint California town of Sanctuary seems like just the place to rebuild. He hopes that an appointment with the local meditation expert will cure his lack of sleep. After duty on the frontline, hypnosis should be a breeze…

Mai Tran has treated her fair share of men without much interest of dropping their defenses. So when a nervous veteran strides into her office, it’s nothing out of the ordinary… except for the instant attraction that seems to be completely mutual. But with someone spreading false rumors about nefarious activity during Mai’s sessions, she’s hesitant to start a relationship with a client. Any potential scandal could break her and bankrupt her practice… 

After a meditation track mixup, Jared and Mai can’t help but indulge their more passionate natures. When both of their pasts come back to haunt them, the veteran and the hypnotist must decide just how much they’re willing to risk for love…

I feel as though I know this wonderful coastal region of California a lot more than I did before reading California Dreaming. Here, Evie has crafted a delightful and heartwarming romance, filled with small town charm - a'la Gilmore Girls - and an eclectic cast led by the soulful therapist Mai Tran and former soldier Jared Nairn. They are attractive people right off the page and they are well drawn, informed by intriguing back stories that add real depth and complexity and contribute great story moments to the narrative herein. I was invested in them from the outset and quickly came to care for Mai and Jared as their budding romance took some sweet, sexy and quite unpredictable turns.

That beautiful knack, Penney/Snow has of weaving a serious narrative undercurrent to her work makes California Dreaming a thought provoking read. It is always a pleasant surprise to see how the author tackles these and you inevitably leave her stories feeling as though you've encountered something important in them.


Both Head Over Heels and California Dreaming are everything that is lovely about good romantic storytelling. I adored them both.

With more titles coming from Evie Snow in the Sanctuary series and additional series to boot, romance readers will be spoiled for choice. Her website alone is a fantastic portal to explore to get a feel of where her journey is headed. You've simply got to check it out!

Visit Evie Snow here

Connect with Evie Snow here

Tweet with Evie Snow here

DFA.




Monday, April 23, 2018

Anxiety At The Edge.

I'm back here. 

Again. 

Again???

There has been a disturbing turn in a direction with my health - one that seems inconceivable to me after the past two years of multiple surgeries on my throat

I was in a place towards the end of last year, where it seemed as though we had found a solution to the choking problems I was experiencing. I had begun receiving a series of injections of botulinum toxin - (yeah that botulinum toxin) - in an effort to paralyze a dysfunctional region of my throat that was randomly going into spasm during the act of speech and swallowing.  

After what was a hopeful response, I've had a major setback. My dysfunctional throat, which seems determined to kill me, is not responding to the treatment. To be specific, the injections were designed to paralyze a ring of muscle at the top of my throat - just under the vocal cords - called the cricopharyngeal ring.



In its normal state, that ring of muscle is supposed to relax and contract rhythmically with the act of swallowing, allowing food to pass safely into the oesophagus. During speech, it is supposed to contract and stay contracted in order to facilitate airflow over the vocal cords. 

In me, the cricopharyngeal ring spasms uncontrollably during swallowing and speaking, leaving me at risk of food and liquid regurgitating into my airway and lungs. Food and fluid on the lungs is not a good thing.

Basically - you can drown. And I have come close a few times. 

This all relates back to the dysfunctional nerve supply in my neck that precipitated the surgery I had on my vocal cords in 2016 and 2017. Initially, we believed that only my vocal cords were affected. It turns out the pharynx is involved as well. 

So where to? 

I can't believe I'm saying this - much less typing it - but I'm going back into hospital for more surgery. 

The only credible path for me to take now is to undergo a procedure in which the cricopharyngeal ring, along with part of the pharynx, will be cut in order to neutralize the muscle completely and permanently. By severing the muscle it will be rendered useless and will prevent the pharynx from going into spasm during the act of swallowing and speech. It will also widen the pharynx at the top of my oesophagus, technically making the passage of food easier once the tongue propels food and fluid into it. On paper, it appears straight forward. 

Right? 

The following diagram sets out the procedure in a fairly sterile manner. It was provided to me by my surgeon yesterday.  



Cricopharyngeal Myotomy (image credit OSEO.org)

To access the structures of the neck, they'll create an incision down the left side of my neck, then retract the muscles, veins, arteries and nerves around my pharynx in order to reveal the cricopharyngeal muscle. During the procedure, they'll need to sacrifice an artery and vein that supply my thyroid gland, but these are considered redundant vessels as the thyroid gland is generously supplied by multiple vessels and is quite a vascular gland. The sacrificed vein and artery will be clipped with special titanium clips (so that'll be fancy). Once the cricopharyngeal ring and pharynx are identified, the surgeon will divide (or cut) the ring down to the pharyngeal wall and extend that incision down the pharynx about 5cm. The pharynx itself will then herniate through the incision (see Diagram C) which is the objective - to create a widening of pharynx that will allow food and fluid to pass freely into the oesophagus without the risk of the muscle going into spasm. The surgeon will close up and I'll have a stay in hospital to recover. Aside from a few technical additions to the procedure, that's basically it. 

So, how am I feeling about this?

To be honest, I'm too numb to be frightened at the moment. After multiple procedures and attempts at solving this problem, it's like Groundhog Day to be back here again. I'm exhausted. I have been living day to day (and night) in a state of silent, anticipatory terror. Every time I sit down to a meal, I wonder whether this will be the meal that will cause my throat to seize completely and choke me to death. Every time I hold what little conversation I can hold, I wonder whether the mere act of speech will cause my throat to go into spasm and choke me to death. I said earlier I have come close a number of times. The most frightening occasions have occurred when I have been asleep.


I am frightened at the prospect of this surgery and I know that fear will become more acute as I approach the day - May 4th by the way. There's an old maxim among Nurses that goes "A little bit of knowledge is dangerous." Having entered my 23rd year as a Nurse, the irony of that maxim is not lost on me. I know what's involved. I know the risks. This surgery is delicate. It's a blessing and curse.

I also know under the care of a brilliant surgeon and his team are among the best I have encountered - both as a Nurse and as a patient. I'll be in a facility of which I am familiar. There won't be a lot of strangers there. I trust them implicitly. So, there's a flip side that gives me a little to feel good about.

After two years, I feel like I'm in a no-win situation. I really need to have a win. 

DFA.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Shapes - Remembering Jean McEwan

This past week, my family said a tearful farewell to a woman who had a profound influence on our lives. Jean McEwan, my grandmother, passed away after a short illness, aged 95 years. Her funeral was less a solemn service and more a celebration of her life - a life that was full and lived well. The following is a piece my cousin and I put together over a couple of phone calls, plenty of tears and a little bit of laughter. We read this together at Nana's service.

Shapes.


by Dean Mayes and Keryn McEwan.

Square.

The squat little heater that sits on the hearth in the North Road living room. Its kerosene globe glows red, warming our bodies as the rain patters the tin roof. We watch the black and white TV; munching her homemade pasties as big as house bricks, or perhaps it was a bowl of her famous pea and ham soup. We play along with the quiz show and we marvel at her sharp mind, her worldly knowledge, as she deftly answers question after question in between the click-clack of her knitting needles - with a wink and a smile.


Cylinder.

The tall glass bottles she collects; Alpine soft drink all the colours of the rainbow. She serves them with ice blocks on warm summer days with her legendary Anzac biscuits and we sit under the liquid amber, playing with Matchbox cars at the base of the trunk, contemplating – but never conquering – a climb of that mighty tree. Her eyes were everywhere, our safety never in question when she was nearby. The empty soft drink bottles we carry to the corner shop, exchanging them for coins to then buy bags of lollies. We return to her in our sugar rush and she greets us by her rose bushes with her wink and her smile.

Triangle.

The chintzy silver Christmas tree, the only one I ever knew existed. Adorned with bright, colourful baubles that reflect the love of family gathered in the living room to exchange gifts, warm hugs and festive laughter. She sweeps into the room with platters of treats, inviting us to eat; her bell voice urging, “Come on, come on, there’s more to come.” The tiny kitchen has been prepared, a banquet of her finest cooking. Christmas ham, vegetables, her handmade Christmas puddings and cakes. She stands at the head of the table, ready to receive her diners, always with her wink and her smile.


Teardrop.

Her beloved fuschias; her pride and joy. Little fingers always found their way to those fat, pink teardrops to squeeze and delight in the pop of the buds – not appreciating it was too early for them to bloom. There’s not much that makes her wild, but a popped fuschia always does. The fallen leaves of the liquid amber to, so easy to kick through, spread far and wide across the hillside lawn. She chases us with the handle of the rake as she scurries to banish the leaves into neat piles. Or our feats of daring involving that clothesline. The run-up was perfect. Our leaps superhuman. Our giggles merciless. No wink or smile from her then.

Circle.

She was at the centre of all of us. Mum, Nana, Little Aunty Jean. As we branched out, embraced our callings and created circles of our own, she gave a little bit of herself to ours, ensuring that she would live on in many lifetimes. We are the chef, the hairdresser, the nurse, the businesswoman, the professionals, the servicemen and women. She has seen us achieve and has reveled in our success – always with that wink and that smile.



A friend of mine recently wrote, “I don’t believe in life after death or even in a moment that stays on beyond itself...What I do believe in is momentum – that one thought leads to another; that people leave shapes in other people, and those shapes carry forward.”

Nana has left shapes in all of us.

DFA.