Catching up with Author Daisy Tate

Today I welcome the lovely Daisy Tate for an author catch-up, whose latest book is A Bicycle Built for Sue.

We’ll find out more about Sue later. First let’s catch up with Daisy

Tell us what inspired you to write A Bicycle Built for Sue?

In all honesty, I came up with the title first. I’ve been on a couple of cycling tours myself and found them incredibly difficult, not just because of the physical challenges, but because of the thinking time. I’d also been on a charity run recently (I promise you, I’m not a gifted athlete, just too up for a challenge!) and everyone had on shirts saying why or who they were running the race for and I was in floods of tears for most of the race because I was making up stories for absolutely everyone. I don’t want to give anything away, but I narrowed it down to Sue (fictional, of course), and her story is about a woman reeling in the wake of a personal tragedy. She finds help and support from a trio of women she least expects, who crowd round and keep her head above water. It’s something I have found to be true on numerous occasions when you’re blindsided by loss or heartache of some variety. And yes, sometimes the people you expect to help do, but sometimes they don’t and it’s always interesting to see who steps in to lend a hand when you need it most.

When did you start writing seriously?

I started writing seriously about six years ago. I’d had lots of stop/starts along the way, but my husband and I had moved out of London to a farm and I found, particularly in the winter, I needed some intellectual stimulus. So, I thought, ‘Get yourself to a keyboard!’

What do you love most about being an author?

The surprises that blossom along the way. I love writing dialogue and sometimes something will come out of someone’s mouth and I’m all … whaaaaaaat? You’re saying that now? To them? I write almost every day but those moments definitely stand out as extra special ones. I also LOVE hearing from readers. I read a review recently where the reader thought she wasn’t going to like the book because it was ‘too relatable’ (the dark parts) but she persisted and said by the end she’d actually felt more hopeful about her own situation. Those kind of moments are amazing.

What are you working on now?

I have an alter ego – Annie O’Neil – who writes Christmas books, and I’ve just put the finishing touches on this year’s book, A Miracle on Christmas Street. It’ll be out later this month. I also have, and I’m not kidding, about ten pitches I’m polishing up for my agent and editor to see if any of them appeal. I love them all and can’t pick, so I’m definitely going to need an outside eye to help me home in on just the one.

What do you hope readers will take away from A Bicycle Built for Sue?

I hope, most of all, that they know they’re not alone, that no matter how sad or lonely or desperate or isolated someone can feel, there is ALWAYS someone there. They may not come in the package you expected, but they will be there. It’s not a mandate to join a charity cycle ride, but I have taken part in a few charitable events (even wiggling a tin in front of a grocery store) and it’s always rewarding. Most of all, I would like readers to take away a belief that everyone is stronger than they think they are and deeply, deeply lovable.

That is lovely, Daisy, and such a good reminder to us all.

Here’s the blurb for A Bicycle Built for Sue

Sue Young has never asked for much apart from a quiet life. She’s always been happy with her call centre job and dinner on the table at six o clock; that was until a tragedy tore her tranquillity into little shreds.

With her life in tatters, Sue is persuaded to join a charity cycle ride led by Morning TV’s Kath Fuller, who is having a crisis of her own, and Sue’s self-appointed support crew are struggling with their own issues. Pensioner Flo Wilson is refusing to grow old, gracefully or otherwise, and a teen goth Raven Chakrabarti, is determined to dodge the path her family have mapped out for her.

Can the foursome cycle through saddle sores and chaffed thighs to a brighter future, or will pushing themselves to the limit prove harder than they thought?

Get is here: Amazon UK | Amazon AU | Amazon US

Follow Daisy: Instagram | Facebook | Twitter | Website

Thanks for the catch-up, Daisy! Looking forward to your (Annie’s) Christmas book too!

Cover Reveal: The Christmas Swap

So, the cat has been out of the proverbial bag for a while, but today is the official cover reveal for The Christmas Swap my next novel with One More Chapter.

And here it is!

The Christmas Swap

Yes, I love it too. 😉

I had so much fun writing this book. Here’s the blurb:

Chloe, Jules, and Lucy meet at a Maui resort kids’ club, aged 11, forging a lifelong friendship spanning two decades and three continents.

Twenty-two years later, they decide to swap Christmases, none of them expecting the hilarity and romantic escapades that will ensue.

Chloe from Melbourne spends her Christmas with Lucy’s mum and dad in a sleepy village in Oxfordshire, England, stunned to the core when she discovers who grew up across the road from Lucy.

Lucy, who has jetted off to snowy Colorado for her dream-come-true white Christmas, is taken into the fold of Jules’s loud and brash family, discovering more about herself in a few short days than she has in years.

And Jules leaves the cold climes of Colorado to spend a balmy ‘Orphan’s Christmas’ with Chloe’s friends in Melbourne, finding that time away from her mundane life is just what she needed.

Join these three lovable women as they each get a Christmas to surpass their wildest dreams.

And here’s an excerpt from my acknowledgements:

It’s hard to believe I am writing the acknowledgements for my fourth book, but here I am. I have dedicated this book to my parents―my mum, Lee, my dad, Ray, and my step-mum, Gail. I am extremely fortunate to have parents who not only love me, but champion me and inspire me. They have also instilled in me the importance of family―including the family members we choose―as well as having a sense of adventure and following your dreams.

Family is a prominent theme in this book and as I write these acknowledgements amid the second round of COVID-19 lockdowns here in Melbourne, ‘family’ has become more important to me now than ever. And for me, a person who has lived on three continents, that word encompasses all the people I love, all the people who inspire me, lift me up, confide in me, and ease my path. Thank you, family―wherever you are. Stay safe and we will meet again someday soon.

Preorder now! Out October 16 (ebook) and November 26 (print)

Amazon AU | Amazon UK| Amazon US | Kobo | Dymocks(AU) | Booktopia(AU) | A&R(AU) | Waterstones(UK) | Foyles(UK)

Writing the “unlikeable” character

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Initially unlikable, but utterly loveable―Elle from Legally Blonde

I’m currently writing my fifth book and my sixth main character―the maths doesn’t add up, because one book has three main characters and two books have the same main character. Anyway …

I am hyper aware that my current main character is, based on her role as a supporting character in another book, “unlikeable”―so much so, that when I mentioned to a friend who I was writing about, she cringed.

So, why write this character? Why give her a whole book?

In short, it’s because I love her.

I love the hard, prickly exterior she uses to mask a lifetime of being terrified of vulnerability. I love that, once she does care about someone, she is fiercely loyal and generous. I love that she is feisty and bold, independent and resourceful.

I love that, just like the rest of us, she is complex and a mass of contradictions, and that there are clear reasons why she is like she is.

I am about 80% into the book, and I’m enjoying watching her grow. There are moments she has, where she realises something about herself, or where her heart fills, and I am proud of her―this imaginary person.

And I’m realising as I write, that the through-line of this book is compassion―for oneself, for others. She may not be likeable to every reader right away, but as the layers strip away, she is/becomes a beautiful human being. How many times have we met someone who irked us, and through compassion, we’ve realised that there is more going on than their exterior, that we could love them or let them into our lives?

I’ve said before that I know my books won’t be for every reader. My first three books are about the Parsons sisters, Sarah and Cat. For some readers, these characters read as “immature”―”how can these women be in their thirties?”―and for those readers, Sarah and Cat are unlikeable because of their immaturity. But I stand by them as believable, because in many ways, Sarah is a lot like a thirty-something Sandy―sometimes whiny, often witty, confused about love, and trying to find her way.

But what’s important to me as a writer, is that these realistic, perhaps unlikeable women, transform. I want my books to be about growing, learning, opening the heart, and transformation.

And in real life, imagine how dull it would be if every person we met was instantly likeable, if no one rubbed us up the wrong way, or disagreed with us, or challenged us to see ourselves in a new light. How would we grow? How would we develop compassion and understanding? I posit that we wouldn’t.

So, even if you initially find a character unlikeable, give them a chance to reveal themselves, to become their true, loveable selves―just like Elle.

 

 

Your Beautiful Feathers

In 1973 there were some significant births.

My sister was born, which at the time I was not particularly pleased about, but I’ve since come around. And many of my oldest (pardon the use of that word here) and dearest friends were also born in 1973. You won’t have to remember any of your 9th grade algebra to work out that because it is 2013, they are all turning 40 this year. Congratulations, gorgeous women! 40!! Woo hoo! This post is for you, from your ever-so-slightly-older sis.

What I love about being in my 40s:

In your forties you realise that it is okay that you don’t know it all. In fact, it’s great that you don’t, because who wants the pressure of being the world’s authority on everything all the time? It must be exhausting trying to convince everyone else how wrong they are about everything – just ask the 20-somethings (hee hee).

You learn what you are great at and passionate about and you dig deeper into those things and they bring you great joy. You accept what you’re not great at with less angst than you have ever before. I will never be a professional singer, and I am okay with that (now).

You slough off other people’s expectations of what you should be or do or want. You become a better friend to yourself. You see when you are failing, and you are brave enough to ask for help. And, you learn what a brilliant and powerful word ‘no’ is.

You also earn your feathers. Let me explain: You know the laurels that cup the prestigious awards earned by films at film festivals? They look like this:

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Ben and I share a running joke about the laurels. I don’t know which one of us started it, but we call them ‘feathers’. “Look at how many feathers this film has! It must be amazing!!” Well, not too long ago I was playing with my nephew and smiling joyously and I caught a glimpse of myself in a mirror.

The laugh lines around my eyes reminded me of the ‘feathers’ – and in a way they are much like the laurels. I earned those feathers with all the laughter, and hilarity and joy that I have felt and shared throughout my 4+ decades.  Cate Blanchett calls hers the songlines of her face, which I also love.

Your forties is when your feathers really come in – and how wonderful that we earn them through the joys of life.

Happy birthday, beautiful women. I toast you and your feathers.

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Earning my feathers

Standing By You

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A few weeks ago Ben and I went to the local cinema with some friends to see Stand By Me. It was the first time in more than 25 years I had seen it on the big screen, although I do not exaggerate to say that I have seen it at least 40 times since it came out in 1986.

The film still holds up. The performances of the four young leads are terrific – both laugh-out-loud funny and teary-eyed poignant. And the story is simple and elegant.

It is no wonder that this was a film that resonated deeply with me and my fellow generation X-ers. Even though it was set in the 1950s, it was a nostalgic homage to an era that was coming to a close.

I grew up with parents who encouraged me – no, required me – to ‘go outside and play’. And I did. My best friends when I was in single digits were usually boys. When I was in first grade my besties were Greg and Rodney. After hours of playing on abandoned farm equipment, or making mud pies, or building cubbies in the bushland behind our houses, their respective mothers would clean me up and send me home in their son’s clothes with a note pinned to my chest, “Sandra got too dirty to send home. I will wash her clothes and bring them over tomorrow.”

When I moved into double digits, I could be found making miniature houses out of moss, gravel and sticks. The tiny families never moved in, because the fun for me was in the building, but I was always filthy by the end of a long day ‘playing outside’. I would sometimes come inside with sand in my pockets. There was a time when I loved my namesake.

At 11, my family lived next to an abandoned rodeo. Talk about the coolest clubhouse ever! My friends and I commandeered the announcers tower, which could only be accessed by a very dodgy ladder. When we got bored with the rodeo, we would play exhausting, involved game of cops and robbers. There were a dozen of us, and we would play – gun-sticks in hand – for hours, ducking between trailers and forming alliances. We were the cliched neighborhood kids; we only came in for dinner when our mothers shouted that it was dark and to get inside. Now!

As recently as three years ago I taught 11 year-olds. Most of them had cell phones and some sort of fashion sense. I can’t imagine that many of them played cops and robbers with their friends until after dark.

Back to 1986.

1986 was a big year for me. I turned 17 and was given a car for my birthday, and I graduated from high school. I saw Top Gun for the first time in a cinema filled with crew from the U.S.S. Enterprise, which was docked in Fremantle harbor. My girlfriends and I swooned over Tom Cruise while the sailors around us roared with laughter at the wanky way Tom and Val strutted about the deck of the Enterprise. It was an interesting lesson in truth versus reality.

And I saw Stand By Me.

I immediately fell in love with River Phoenix. Okay, I know I was 17 and he was a boy of 14 when he made the film, but I could already see the young man he would become in his subtle, skilled performance. And, as a side note, he did grow into that sexy teenaged smile. What a beautiful young man – and, so talented!

In October of ’93, my dad came into my study and announced his death, “That Phoenix River guy you like died.” I actually cried out, and pushed past my dad to the living room, where the television showed grainy images of the street outside Hollywood’s Viper Room. He had died before I had a chance to meet him. It sucked.

I watched Stand By Me again just after his death, and in the scene where Chris says, “Not if I see you first,” and walks into the sunset, fading away to nothing, I choked out a sob. Chris Chambers had died, and so had the boy who had brought him to life.

But again, I digress.

The film resonated with the seventeen-year-old me on a very deep level. I loved my ‘go outside and play’ adventures from my childhood. In fact, even though my friends and I were getting our driver’s licenses and our first – horridly cheap and run down – cars, once in a while we still got on our bikes and rode for miles, spending whole Saturdays having adventures in neighboring suburbs. And there was the ubiquitous bushland near home, where we would still wander on occasion, jumping the creek and walking along fallen trees, talking about all the things that were important to us at the time.

Is it a little weird that even in our late teens we did this stuff? Maybe…we were older than the boys depicted in the film, but the film’s themes rang true for us.

Stand By Me is about friendship, and adventure, and fear and laughter, and growing up. I cannot see it without remembering the friends who experienced the end of that era with me – Stace, Tara, Kerry, Jode, Tonia, Danielle…

Thanks, girls. It was fun.

A big bite

I live with an amazing person. Yesterday morning, despite a niggling cold, he jumps out of bed and says, “Let’s have tea on the roof.” So, we made mugs of tea, grabbed our books, and headed to the roof of our building to enjoy the morning sun, and our incredible view.

Looking back to the city
Looking back to the city

The Port
The Port

Yes, it is a little gray today (it was sunny yesterday), but we are so close to the city and the water that I love the view no matter the weather. That said, the next time the sun shines – more and more as we head towards Summer – I will take more pics.

Back to the person I live with: yesterday afternoon, suffering a little from cabin fever and too many video games, he says, “Let’s head up to that park we haven’t been to yet.” It is about three blocks from home, and is less like a park and more like a series of paths and trails that traverse the giant Queen Anne hill. The canopy of trees is thick, and the air smells earthy and clean. Walking the trails I could just imagine fairies and princesses doing the same. We climbed the paths to see where they went, and headed back home. The Spring blossoms have spread a carpet of pink over the neighborhood. I stood under a huge tree and jumped up to touch the branches. A rain of petals showered down, “It’s snowing pink stuff!”

Just a little excursion shook off the cabin fever, and the post-flu blues.

This is such a beautiful city, with many wonders – big and small – that we get to encounter every day.

This is on the drive home from Ben’s aunt and uncle’s house.

Woodinville, Washington
Woodinville, Washington

Woodinville is about 30 minutes from the city, and is a semi-rural neighborhood, with white fences, rolling green hills and dozens of types of trees.

Woodinville Christmas Tree Farm
Woodinville Christmas Tree Farm

On the way back from Woodinville, we make this crossing of Lake Washington on the 520 bridge. This was a day when the wind was whipping along the lake, and because the bridge is floating, the water can be rough on one side and calm on the other.

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And sometimes we get to share this city with visitors. My mom was here recently, and we took her to Bainbridge Island. We crossed Puget Sound on the ferry on a beautiful Spring day.

Seattle from the ferry to Bainbridge
Seattle from the ferry to Bainbridge

The main streets of Bainbridge Island are filled with cafes, stores and this church:

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And the shores are lined with trees and houses.

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For $6 dollar ferry ride, which is spectacular in itself, Bainbridge is a little treasure close to home.

More and more we are enjoying the company of new friends. Last weekend, our lovely friends Matt and Crystal invited us out on their boat, along with Monica and Brian.

Lake Washington
Lake Washington

It was still and peaceful out on the lake, and for some reason we were the only people who thought to get out there. We had the whole lake to ourselves. This blew us away:

Sunset over Lake Washington
Sunset over Lake Washington

Ben and I had our king and queen of the world moment as we headed back to the marina.

On Lake Union
On Lake Union

These are some snippets from our life here in a beautiful city. We are not sure how long we will be here – another year, or maybe more. We just want to be able to say we took a big bite out of this city. Oh, and to our friends here: keep the invitations to those parties coming!

At Gerry's 30th Birthday Party
At Gerry's 30th Birthday Party

Couple Meme

I stole this from Charlotte. Borrowed? Appropriated? Anyway…

What are your middle names?

Mine is Michelle, his is James. I have always preferred my middle name to my actual name, but because he calls me ‘Babe’ more than anything else, I don’t have to hear my actual name very often. James and Ben happen to be two of my favorite male names. His parents did good.

How long have you been together?

First date was 2 and a 1/2 years ago, but before we started living together two months ago, we had only spent about 3 months together in the whole 2 and a half years – the long distance thing. Still, it is a hell of away to forge a strong friendship – email and phone calls.

How long did you know each other before you started dating?

A week. On a boat. 24/7. So, in ‘social time’ (the hours you spend getting to know someone you meet socially, usually spread out over months), about 3 or 4 months.

Who asked who out?

We didn’t realize we were on a date until we were half way through it. It was our first outing together without the other 5 people on the boat, and we wandered through the town, up to the church, bought some Greek Delight and ended up at a bar. It then became a date. I even said, “We’re on a date,” because it wasn’t by design, and happily surprised us both.

How old are you?

I am 39 and he is 29. Both have Big-0 birthdays this year.

Which situation was hardest on you as a couple?

Being apart for the majority of the time we’ve known each other was hardest – especially the times just after parting.

Are you from the same home town?

Ben and I were raised a decade apart on opposites sides of the world. It is completely random that we met when and how we did, and that two people with such different upbringings would have a meeting of the minds.

Who is smarter?

Ben has a highly analytical mind, and watching him navigate complex computer processes blows my mind. On the flipside, I hold my own. I know some stuff about some stuff. I can form an intelligent opinion – oh, and would totally kick his butt in Trivial Pursuit if he would ever play – but that is less about intelligence and more about how my memory works.

Who is the most sensitive?

I am when it comes to letting things get me down – like my fruitless job hunt. I tend to take the knock- backs personally. He is when it comes to being right about stuff.

Where do you eat out most as a couple?
I was treated to a special meal at a favorite restaurant just last week: Flying Fish, which I have blogged about I love it so much. We had the grappa brownie again.

Where is the furthest you have traveled together as a couple?

We met in Greece, which is the furthest point from our home towns of St Paul and Sydney that we have traveled (together), but have each traveled to the other’s home town in the past couple of years. Our planned trip to Italy later this year will likely be the furthest together (thus far).

Who has the craziest exes?

When we met we had both been single so long, this has never really some up or been an issue.

Who has the worst temper?

Um, him.

Who does the most cooking?

Me – happily. Living alone in Sydney I thought of dinner as a tin of tuna and some steamed vegies. Having someone to cook for – who is truly appreciative – has meant that I have enjoyed being in the kitchen of late.

Who is the most stubborn?

Him. Me. We lock horns sometimes.

Who hogs the bed most?

Me. I steal the covers. Which is weird because I never ended up with the doona on my side of the bed and on the floor when I slept alone. Hmmm.

Who does the laundry?

Me. I don’t mind. It smells a lot better than the garbage, which is Ben’s job.

Who’s better with the computer?

Um, him, I guess. Seriously, what I know about computers wouldn’t even fill his little finger. But I can cook! Did I mention that?

Who drives when you are together?

Mostly him. But I pick him up from work sometimes, so then it is me.

Compelled

I never do this – post twice in one day – but the first of today’s posts I started last night, and I have just read something that compels me to write again.

Charlotte Otter is a South African woman living in Germany, and she write Charlotte’s Web, which is on my blogroll (check it out – she is lovely and clever). Charlotte, too, is a writer, and in a recent entry she posted a few paragraphs from her novel. Her heroine, Sanet, is a South African woman living in London. She feels displaced, as is understandable when not living in your home country, but there is more to her feeling than that.

Charlotte writes this about her heroine:

What is becoming clear to me is that if you are alienated from yourself, you are alienated from everything, and that will become the core of Sanet’s crisis: she will be offered the opportunity to be true to herself. The question is, will she take it up?

That is the statement that resonated so deeply with me.

Two years ago I was so completely unhappy in my own life. I had moments I enjoyed, I laughed enough that many people would not have really known this about me, but I felt like I was living someone else’s life. When you live that inauthentically, you cannot access any kind of inner peace. As a result, I discovered that I didn’t really like this person that I was. I isolated myself frequently, and not out of the need for ‘alone time’ that I have now, but to prevent others from having to put up with me. I became increasingly disagreeable, sullen, and felt a deep sense of loneliness – even when amongst friends.

I got to a point where I knew things had to change.

Then I went on a trip. A long trip. Across the world to two other continents. Greece-London-Peru and back home. The trip provided so many catalysts for change that my head was spinning by the time I got back home.

It literally changed my life.

I met people who loved life. I met Sheila and Deb and Geraldine.

Sheila is sixty-something, and gorgeous. I met her and her equally lovely twin Sharon, in Peru. Sheila has an insatiable thirst for knowledge, a love of adventure and am unwillingness to succumb to nay-saying. Sheila broke open my heart. She saw through the cracks and just stuck her hands in and pulled apart that hard casing. Then she encouraged me to pursue the impossible.

Deb, who I met with her husband Marty onboard the yacht in Greece, is smart, and career-minded. She knows what she wants and because of this, she has the life that she wants to live. She does all this with a broad smile and a hearty sense of fun. She and Marty have a sexy, joyful marriage. When I met them, I knew that it was entirely possible to have what I truly wanted.

Geraldine, our guide in Peru, is the most pure-hearted and kind person I have ever met. Her gentleness and kindness humbled me. When I was sicker than I have ever been before, she looked after me rather than visiting her own family, whom she hadn’t seen in months. Her selflessness made me want to stop being such a selfish, moody cow.

And then there was the cute American guy who stood on the dock of Tinos and said, “I want my life to be bigger.” I thought, ‘Me too’, and I wondered at that early moment in my big trip if I would have the courage to do anything about it.

I had no idea then that we would embark on parallel – and more frequently, converging – journeys that would bring those wants to fruition. And at that early moment in my big, life-changing trip, I had certainly had no idea that I could actually meet someone, a man, whose wants and dreams and goals would compliment mine, and challenge me to live that ‘bigger life’. I was, however, starting to see glimpses of my authentic self.

I met many others on my trips and visits and they all added something unique to my shift in perspective. Jaime and Paul, from Halifax, never want to miss an opportunity. Lara from Vancouver lives with such beautiful hope in her heart. Patrick from New Zealand and Liliane the Brazilian, crossed oceans and cultures to create a life together. And on that trip, I got to see my Little Sis in her natural habitat, London. (It is ‘home’ for her, even more so now that she is loved up.)

I had left home in want of something. Then I had gone around the world (literally), succumbed to illness twice, laughed until I couldn’t breathe, and cried as I said goodbye to new friends and my oldest friend, Vic. I saw lots, I did stuff, and I collected souvenirs from my travels, but the most important thing I brought home from that trip was my authentic self.

I made big changes after that, and some of those changes were painful because they involved breakups with people close to me. Mostly the changes were about shedding heavy burdens, such as obligation, fastidiousness, isolation, and a couple of unwanted kilos. I reconnected with those I had neglected, I moved house, I booked more trips and I took on more responsibility at work, all in the space of months. I took care with the new friendships I had forged, and apologised to those people who had endured my ‘funk’. I learned (again) to appreciate all that I had, especially the incredible people I call family and friends.

The tattoo of a butterfly adorning my lower stomach took on more meaning, as I emerged from my chrysalis and felt truly happy.

I still try to honour my authentic self. Big decisions, and even some small ones, are about the inner peace that comes along with serving that goal. Sure, I have had moments of doubt and sadness, and even fear. But never again will I let myself shelve what I truly want. I want to live a big life, and that’s what I am doing.

Long Distance Relationships

I have said before that no matter where I am in the world, I miss someone I love.  Because I have lived in three countries and have spent my adult life being a traveller, I am fortunate to have forged lasting relationships world over.   Of course, many of those I love are travellers themselves, and are scattered to the winds.  It is somewhat corny, but highly appropriate that the ‘world wide web’ is my primary tool for keeping the threads of these relationships intact.  I may not be able to make last minute dinner plans with these loved ones, but these threads are as important to my life as the relationships with those close by.

First thing every morning, after the wake-up-make-the-bed-visit-the-bathroom thing, I greet my cat, Jessie, and switch on my computer.  Throughout my getting ready routine, I check my inboxes (yes, there are several) to see who on the other side of the world is doing what.  Jessie does her yoga at my feet while I fill her in on the lives of my loved ones.  Sometimes I laugh too loudly for her sensitive ears, and she glares at me and skulks off.

While world news bleat from the television, I flick between several web pages and catch up on the news that matters to me more.

Facebook brings the latest escapades of my American, Canadian and European comrades (plus Geraldine in Peru and Christine in South Africa), pics from my interstate friends, the latest ass-whipping from my Scrabulous opponents, and a poke from Darion.  (I once asked Darion to ‘Quit poking me!’ but soon took it back, because I suspect it is a sign of affection.)

Inboxes bearing emails from far-off loved ones, bring as much happiness as a fruitful mailbox did 20 years ago.  And when I see my mum or sis on IM, I know we can have a quick chat just to touch base.

I love getting an international sms – even those that come at 3 in the morning, as every text I ever get from Sharon, my Irish friend, does.

I indulge in interstate text messages daily.  I will zap a ‘must see’ message to Dad and Gail about a program we all like.  Dad sends me footie scores, or an update on where he and Gail are having a fabulous lunch.   I will tell Mum I hope her day goes well.  And she always replies with an ‘I love you’.

As well as the web and the mobile phone, there is a device that sits in my living room on its very own table, and is connected to the wall by a cord.  It rings from time to time, and the cat and I look at each other and wonder what that sound is.  We then realise it is the telephone, and I rush to answer it, knowing it will be my mum, my dad, my friend Mich (who now lives in OUTER Sydney, and has become one of my long distance loved ones), or Suzi in London.

Actually Suzi called the other night, and although I haven’t seen her since this time last year, and she now lives in London, she still feels close.  She is my doppelganger in life, with parallels and likenesses in numbers too great to name.  Even though she is literally on the other side of the world, when she calls our conversations are like those I have with friends I see all the time.

Threads.

And most importantly, there is the actual ‘long distance relationship’ I have forged with Ben since October ’06.  Because we met overseas and live in different countries, all of these forms of communication have become the lifeblood of our relationship.  We see each other as often and for as long as we can, but when we can’t physically be together, we still feature heavily in each other’s daily life.  Phone calls, emails, sms, IM sustain us as a couple while we’re apart.  We can can fill hours of air time talking about, well, anything and everything.  And nothing.  Sometimes, it is nonsense, which is hellishly fun.

None of this, of course, means that I do not want to defy the laws of the natural world, and move the homes of all these distant loved ones – everyone – into one land mass where we can all live close to each other.  Nothing, nothing (!) beats being able to hug someone you love, or looking into their eyes while they talk to you.  But, we have all these wonderful tools to keep us together when we’re apart.

P.S.  I head west next week for some brilliant face to face time.

P.S.P.S.  Ben and I are working on being on the same land mass.

Five Minute Friends

Last weekend, I went away with strangers. Well, not just strangers. I went away with my ‘foodie’ friend, Simon, who organised a group of us to go to the Hunter Valley wine region for the Lovedale Long Lunch.
Lovedale Long Lunch
Lovedale is a region within the Hunter Valley, and each year a handful of wineries throw a huge lunch. People come, they eat, they drink, they indulge in general merriment, then they pile into cars and buses and drive to the next winery where they do it all again. As well as Simon, there would be Shona and her husband, Dan, and best friends Pelagia and Pat. And they would not be strangers for long.

It being my birthday weekend, I thought that the LLL would be a terrific way to celebrate. So, I packed my overnight bag, ate a light breakfast, picked up Simon and we drove the 160kms to the town of Cessnock in the Hunter Valley. We took the scenic route, which was definitely scenic, but had Simon begging me to return to Sydney via the motorway the next day. Windy roads = nauseous passenger stomach. I slowed down a bit, which did not detract from the stunning drive. The sun was breaking through the trees and burning the dew from the grass. Cows and sheep looked up from their breakfast as we drove past. The road was nearly empty, except from a few motorcyclists who must have been loving the curvy roads.

The scenic route
We drove through the tiny town of Wollombi, where the ‘outback’ has crept towards the city. I wanted to stop and explore this testament to times gone by, but we were on a deadline – there was eating to do – so I will have to go back soon.

Minutes later we were in Cessnock. Ahhh, Cessnock. Yup, that’s all I have to say about that. Nothing much going for this town except its location – right in the heart of the Hunter Valley wine region. There are some shops, some houses, and no character whatsoever. We were staying a motel, which was clean and nice enough, and filled to the rafters with other Lovedale Long Lunchers. We dropped our bags and drove out to the first winery of the day: Emma’s Cottage Vineyard.

As we pulled in the driveway, we were greeted by people dressed as pirates, a theme that was never repeated throughout the day, and baffled us a little. We parked, walked past a small family cemetery, and joined up with the excited crowd of people milling around the entrance. $25 got us a meal, a glass of wine, and our wine tasting glass for the day. And then I met my new friends.
Lovedale Long Lunch
(Thank you to Shona for this pic)
It was that sort of meeting where I knew right away that we would all have a brilliant time, as we were laughing together within minutes. I had made 4 ‘five minute friends’, new friends that seemed like old friends within minutes. Pelagia and I even discovered that my next door neighbour is one of her best friends, which was really trippy, because Sydney has 4 million people in it – what are those odds?

We spent the rest of the day at three other wineries, where we shared bites of delicious meals, and drank tasty Aussie reds and whites. Each winery showcased its wine and its setting, as well as teaming up with a local restaurant and local producers.
Sandalyn Estate
Tasting room at Sandalyn

We planned ahead from our menus, but after two lunches and a dessert, all I could do at the last winery of the day (Gartelmann Estate) was taste wine, gawk at the increasingly ‘sloppy’ crowd, and talk the penned alpaca (cute!).
Gartelmann Estate
Alpaca

At five we wrapped up our long lunch (6 hours) and headed back to our respective accomodation. Shona and Dan were at the Crowne Plaza (NICE!), and Pat and Pelagia were at Pepper’s Resort (nice in a ‘nana’ sort of way). Simon and I drove to the Comfort Inn in beautiful Cessnock, where we stayed for approximately 27 minutes before going to visit Shona and Dan at the Crowne. We took cocktail stuff and settled in for the evening.

I know it may be hard to believe that we wanted to drink anything else that day, but we did and it was my birthday, so we had a room party with gin and tonics and chips from the mini bar. We laughed about stupid stuff, and shared details from our lives, consolidating our ‘5 minute friendship’. And then we went to spa!

I had forgotten my swimmers and so had Shona, so we donned knickers and tank tops, and wrapped ourselves in fluffy white robes. With Simon and Dan in board shorts, we four strolled through the hotel lobby like we owned the place and went ourside to the pool area. A young couple was in the spa, so we would have to share. I was more concerned about the rain. For me, it was too cold and too windy to show my knickers in public. I dangled my feet while the others shivered in a semi-warm spa and avoided the (we soon discovered) naked couple on the other side. It was a quick spa session, but our little gin-steeped adventure, and fun.
Scene of the crime
The tropics?
(Spa and pool at Crowne taken the next morning)

After quick showers and freshening up we went to meet Pat and Pel at the local pub, an Irish pub, which was huge and stuffed with people. We commandeered a table, and ordered light meals. Well, no that is a total lie. We ate pizza and sausages with mash, and a Caesar salad. You would never have known that we had eaten all day.

Then, I was crashing. I don’t know whether it was the long day of driving, drinking and eating that made me want to curl up and sleep on the pub floor, or the fact that I was another year older. I am a partier, but I was pooped. The night continued a bit longer; I know there was some dancing (not by me), a visit to Pat and Pel’s room (at Pepper’s Retirement Village – I mean, Resort) and a dingo sighting on the drive back. Then, at about 11 and with much relief I climbed into the starchy white sheets of the Comfort Inn.

I’d had a full and fun birthday, and met four lovely new friends, and broken bread with my favourite foodie, Simon. I had also spoken to my parents, and my sis, and the next day I would get to talk to Ben. Yes, it was a lovely way to celebrate my 39th!

The next day we were going to do it all again – this time three wineries and a stop at Tempus Two were on the cards. I was completely for all of that, except for one thing. I hadn’t gotten to talk to my favourite boy. Long distance love means Ben is 15 hours behind Sydney time. I wanted to talk to him so much, I said my goodbyes after the first winery of the day, and made the drive back to Sydney along the motorway.
Blue Skies

I know from photos sent on by Shona and Simon that they all had another brilliant day, including a stop at the cheese factory. I am happy that they did, especially as Shona, Dan, Pat and Pel are all parents and do not have the chance to getaway as often as I do. And I am sorry I didn’t get to say a proper goodbye to Pel and Pat, but I will hopefully see them soon.

And me? I cannot wait to get back to the Hunter. I hadn’t been there since 2003, and quite frankly, that is just too long between drinks. Next time, I will take Ben so he can see the wide blue skies, the beautiful bush wineries, and taste some of the most delicious wine in Australia. We might even see a wombat in the wild.
Wombats Next 10kms

Oh, and we are sooo staying at the Crowne!