Friday, 14 December 2012

So You Want To Get Published? Part Two.

Here is the second post in my mini-series on how to submit your work to magazines, agents or publishers. In the first part, we covered polishing your work, deciding where to send it, and organizing your Submission Package. This post takes up right after you have sent that package off.

5: Wait!
This is the hard bit. If your target’s stated wait time elapses, it is acceptable to make polite contact and ask for a status update. Make sure you include the correct references so the agent or publisher knows who you are. If you still receive no reply, and the time goes way over, then forget this one and move on. Magazine submissions are different, many magazine editors will keep stories or articles until they think the time is right to publish them. Usually, they will tell you this, but not always. If you get fed up and want to submit your work elsewhere, you MUST write and let them know.

6: Note on Research:
While you are researching publishers and agents, do remember that THEY might also research YOU. Publishing is a relationship, and both parties need to know they can work happily with each other. Social media makes it easy for publishers and agents to research writers. If you have ever been online or joined any kind of social network, you can be traced. Even if the network was taken down, or you deleted your online profile. Such information NEVER disappears from the web. Be professional at all times. NEVER vent spleen online at anyone in the writing industry, or anyone else for that matter. It is too easy to acquire the wrong reputation. When you are rich and famous you might be able to get away with bad-mouthing people, such things can even result in publicity and increased interest, wrong though that is. But if you are a beginner in the industry, avoid doing anything that could label you a rebel, difficult to work with, or prejudiced. You should try to cultivate a professional online presence. 

7: Rejections.
Develop Rhino Hide!
The time spent waiting for a response to your submissions is a good time to develop a really thick skin. Because unless you are phenomenally lucky, you will receive many rejections. DO NOT TAKE THEM PERSONALLY. We all get them. Unless you’re a celebrity or have done something truly fantastic, you will be rejected. Publishing success is often a case of submitting to the right place at the right time. Editors change all the time and the publishing house that turns you down one year might accept you the next, purely because they have a new editor.
Do not expect personal responses. Most agents/publishers use stock rejection letters. It simply saves them time. They are busy people, yes – but it is good to remember who it is that enables them to be busy. You and me: Writers. So keep trying!

If you are lucky enough to get personalized rejections, take good note of what they say. Agents and publishers do not have to do this, and when they do it is often an indication that you are doing something right. If they make any specific comments on your work, think very carefully before ignoring them. These are industry professionals – they know what they are talking about. During my own submitting experience, I received many personal responses from agents and publishers. All of them praised my work, all encouraged me to keep submitting. This was hugely uplifting, but also highly frustrating! However, it did galvanize me to carry on, and I now know why I didn’t achieve success in those early years. Not only was my novel not quite perfect enough, but the perfect publishers for me didn’t then exist. They do now, and I am so pleased I wasn’t offered a contract by anyone else.
If you are rejected, do not enter into tit-for-tat discussions. I once replied to an agent who had read all three books in my first trilogy yet still rejected me. It was my own fault – I had convinced myself she would take me on simply because she’d invested so much time in reading. I sent the letter with the most innocent of intentions, yet received a quite vitriolic return email branding me “the very worst kind of author”. It  reduced me to tears, because it was so untrue. I simply couldn’t understand why this had happened but when I calmed down and re-read the email I’d sent, I could see how it could be misconstrued. Remember, when sending emails, that the recipient cannot hear the tone of your voice. A little joke could be read as criticism, a question can come across as an arrogant statement.
So – no knee jerk reactions to rejection letters. Take a deep breath, use that rhino hide and start again. Be positive. Success comes to successful people because of their positive attitude. If you are not positive about your work, why should anyone else be?
8: Agent Acceptance.
Here I have no personal experience, as I do not have an agent. But the situation will be similar to acceptance by a publisher. Make sure that you like the agent and can work with him/her. You will have to develop a close working relationship and trust them to know their job. Read the contract carefully and get someone to help you if you’re not experienced with contracts. Make sure there is a mutual ‘get out’ clause if the relationship breaks down, or you don’t like the agent’s work.
9: Publishing Acceptance!
Wow! Be excited, be proud. Do your screaming and celebrating in private, so you can be calm and professional when speaking to your publisher. You will be offered a contract, so go through it carefully or show it to someone who knows about them. In the UK, anyone who has a firm offer from a publisher is eligible to join the Society of Authors and they can help with advice on contracts. Be aware, though, that they might not be definitive if your offer is from a US publisher, or any country other then the UK. If you are not happy with the level of royalty you are offered, or anything else in your contract, don’t be afraid to negotiate (in as professional a manner as possible). Do though, be prepared to have to sign it as is.
Don’t expect an advance for your book. Generally speaking, those days are over. Only celebrities get advances now.
Treat all your publishing dealings as a business. Keep meticulous records of any costs you incur as an author, such as for professional photographs, business cards, or travel costs. Try to speak with your publisher in person, by phone or Skype; emailing is not ideal unless it’s for something simple. Your manuscript will be copy edited and some editors may suggest revisions. They will know what’s best for your book, so accommodate them unless there’s a really good reason not to. Always discuss your thoughts, concerns and ideas. Your publisher now owns your book – work with them to make it a success.
If you are permitted input into your cover image, book layout, etc, then consider yourself fortunate. Do listen to your publisher if they have a firm idea for the cover, even if you don’t like it. They will have a better idea of what kind of covers sell books than you do.
Royalties will vary between publishers, and also between different book formats. On a sliding scale, you can typically expect to be paid between 6% and 15 % of sales. The percentage will depend on whether it’s a print book, an ebook or an audio book. Do not expect to immediately make a living from your sales! It can take quite a while for a new author to build up a fan base.

10: Marketing.
Things have changed in the publishing industry as they have elsewhere, and marketing budgets for new, unknown authors have suffered. These days, we are all expected to help market our own books, even authors published by one of the “Big 6”. If you can accept this right from the start, and begin thinking up ways to market yourself and your book, you will be ahead of the game when that all-important contract comes your way. An author who can bring good marketing ideas to the table will be considered an asset by a publisher.
But where to start? If you can, identify your novel’s USP (Unique Selling Point). If you really can’t find one (and if you can’t, chances are neither will your publisher, so you may not get a contract) try to find a personal one, something related to you as an author.
I will give you an example. My USP is singing. That’s not unique, I know; I’m sure many authors can also sing. But how many do you know who have both written and recorded songs that are associated with their novels? Not many, I bet! My fantasy novels are set in a medieval-style world and in that era singing was a popular and respected form of entertainment. It was natural for me to include references to singing in my books, and my main female character is a singer. King’s Envoy actually includes a song in poem form, and so I made use of my musical brother and his song-writing partner to help me put a melody to the poem and record it as a song. “The Wheel Will Turn” is available on my website and my publishers’ as a free download, and it will soon be joined by “The Ballad of Tallimore”, the song from King’s Champion. We performed “The Wheel” live in a shopping mall at the launch for King’s Envoy, and I have used it to gain interest from various radio stations, who then aired interviews and played the song.
This is just an example. What can you use, either from your book or your personal life, to help promote your work?

As an author, I’m often asked about Facebook and Twitter, and whether writers need a website. My answer is: Can you afford to ignore these great marketing platforms? I don’t think so. However, your involvement with them can be as little or as much as you want. Don’t let them rule you. I do use Facebook (although I can’t get to grips with Twitter!) and I do have a website. I think they are essential for allowing readers to connect with you. If they are interested in you as a person, they are more likely to buy your books. I also contribute to writers’ forums and swap interviews on blogs. I have a blog of my own (clearly, since you are reading this!). The internet is so much a part of our lives these days that I do believe even the older writer should learn how to use it to their advantage. For those who really can’t face it, do you have a younger family member who could be persuaded, coerced, or bribed into doing it for you? It’s something to think about.
Book signings are another good way for authors to connect with readers. If you approach them professionally, many bookstores will be happy to host you. Libraries are also good places to hold signings. Give talks to writers’ groups and even schools, if your books are appropriate. Don’t forget local papers and radio stations – you don’t need to have a song to get a radio interview!
Marketing need not be an albatross about your neck. Connecting with other writers and potential readers can be fun, and very rewarding.

11: Write More Books/Stories/Letters!
The best way to get your name “out there” and create a reader fan base is to Write More Books. Don’t rest on your laurels if you achieve publication – keep those creative juices running by continuing to write. The more readers hear your name and the titles of your books, the more likely they are to buy.
Good luck!

12: Self-Publishing.
If the goal of “traditional” publishing fails you, then there is always the self-publishing route. This is not necessarily second best, and it is losing some of the stigma it first had. However, there are undoubtedly some very bad self-published books out there. I do not propose to go into great detail about the various self-publishing methods or sites here – it is too wide a subject – but I would certainly not discount self-publishing. I would have gone that route myself had I not found my own, fantastic publisher!
What I will say is this: If you do decide to self-publish, please remember that making your writing the absolute best it can be is more important than ever. You will not have the advantage of an editor, so PLEASE hire one (a good one!) to proof your novel. So many times I’ve seen an otherwise great book receive a mediocre review because the writer either failed to realize he wasn’t good at spelling, grammar, sentence structure or plotting, or because he simply thought readers wouldn’t care. If you want people to pay good money for your work, you HAVE to give them value for it. Writing is a business – be professional and don’t let yourself or your work down!

As well as being an author, I’m also a freelance editor and proof reader. Please check out my Writers’ Services, and don’t let the thought of high fees put you off. I believe good editing should be available to all, and because I like to help other writers, I do not have a fixed tariff. I prefer to agree individual fees with each client, tailored to what they can afford. So don’t be afraid to email me and ask for a quote. Here’s the link to my website, where you can also find testimonials from authors and writers I have already helped.
I wish you the very best of luck, and I look forward to working with some of you.
Cas Peace.

Thursday, 13 December 2012

So You Want To Get Published?

On Monday 10th December, I was invited to speak to a Creative Writing group in my local Library on the subject of Revision and Publishing. It was well received, so I thought I would reproduce it here on my Blog. It is a lengthy subject so I have split it into two parts. Here’s the first:
Congratulations …
… if you are at the stage when you are thinking seriously about trying to get your work published. You Are A Writer – you have produced something unique and enduring. You are already a winner: Be proud of yourself!
So now – what do you do with it? Before I go into detail, you might like to consider this statement: Becoming a published author is not for everyone. It is not as simple as it might seem, there are hidden aspects that you don’t always find out about until it’s too late. I will talk about some of these in this post. Just remember; you don’t have to be published to be vindicated as a writer, or for your work to have meaning. If you still want to go ahead and explore the submission process, here are a few tips.

1: Make Your Writing as Perfect as it Can Be.

This might sound like an obvious thing to say, but you’d be surprised how many people don’t bother too much with this. I have often heard writers say, “I only need to have a good story/poem/novel, don’t I? Surely the publisher’s editor will correct any mistakes? After all, that’s their job.” WRONG!
Yes, if you are lucky enough to land a publishing contract, your editor will copy edit your work and help you do a final polish. But it is NOT their job to catch typos, silly continuity errors, bad grammar or spelling. That’s YOUR job as a writer. Think about it: If you were a painter, would you expect the gallery where you want to exhibit your picture to correct that wonky nose on your portrait? Of course not. 
To help you perfect your writing, you can use beta readers. Beta readers are people that you can persuade, coerce (or sometimes pay) to read your work with a critical eye. You can, of course, ask friends and family to do this for you, provided you think they will be able to give you an unbiased and honest response. They should also be competent in their use of the English language (or whatever language you write in). If you cannot find suitable friends, join a writing circle or find a writing tutor. You can even use a professional or freelance editor. You would have to pay one of these of course, and their fees vary widely. Research them well! You could even join ‘peer critique’ websites such as, which is run by HarperCollins, or which was developed with Arts Council funding. These sites allow you to upload some or all of your writing and invite other users to read and critique your work. Editors of publishing houses might also trawl these sites, looking for good books to publish. Such sites can be hard work, but I think they’re worth it. My own first fantasy novel King’s Envoy achieved the top slot by being voted on to Authonomy’s “Editor’s Desk” back in 2008, and on the way I received many helpful suggestions as to how it could be improved. Sites like this also get you used to having people comment critically on your work, something you need to face if you’re going to try for publication.

My final tip for this section is: DO NOT rely on your computer program’s spell checker to proof your writing!

2: Decide.
Once you have set your sights on publication, you have to decide whether to try for an agent, or submit direct to publishers. You can, of course, do both, although some of the bigger publishing houses do not accept submissions from unagented writers. There is also self-publishing to consider – more on that subject later.

If you decide to try for an agent – good luck! Personally, I think they are harder to get than publishers. As a general guide, agents will charge you commission of typically 15-20%, either direct or from your royalties. They may also charge you for phone calls, printing costs, mailing, etc. Do ask to have all costs explained and itemized before you sign any agreement. Read such agreements carefully, and if you are not confident of your skill in this department, find someone to help you. It would definitely be worth paying an industry professional to vet any contract before you sign. It could save you money in the long run.
Publishers shouldn’t charge you anything at all. I firmly believe that any publisher who asks you to contribute toward costs is not worth their salt. I am a champion of independent publishers (aka indie publishers, or indies) because they are likely to work harder for you and your book than a “Big 6” publisher that has more of a budget behind it. The indie will have more to lose than you if your book is not successful!
You can expect to be paid royalties ranging from around 6% up to maybe 12%, but do remember that these will fluctuate depending on the publisher, and also whether they are selling a hardback print edition, a paperback, an audiobook or an ebook. You might get a chance to negotiate royalties, but don’t hold your breath. DO NOT expect an advance on your book – such things are largely in the past. If you are a celebrity of any sort then an advance is still possible. If you are simply a new writer, then generally it is not.

3: Do Your Research – and Beware!
Once you have decided which route to take, it is time to do some serious research. It doesn’t matter whether your writing is a letter to the editor, a short story, a poem, or a novel – you must find what you believe is the best home for it and make a list of the possible choices. At this stage, you should be regarding your efforts as part of a business – Yes, really! Be organized and keep strict records of where and whom you submit to. Some editors take months to reply to submissions and there’s nothing more embarrassing than sending the same submission to an editor you’ve already approached. They will not be impressed!
You can do plenty of research online, or through books and magazines. Obtain or borrow a current edition of the Artists & Writers’ Yearbook – your local Library should have a copy. Make sure it is CURRENT because agents’ and publishers’ details change frequently. Ask other writers where they have submitted. There are websites which offer information on agents and publishers and who is accepting what – most of these will charge you a joining fee, although it is often small. I used which I found to be extremely useful. Their current monthly subscription is £2.99 or $4.49 (as of December 2012), but there are other options available. Their site information says they update their database daily and they provide worldwide information. You can also use writers’ magazines; either buy a subscription or ask your Library if they keep copies. My personal favourite is Writers’ News, which also has an online version at, but there are plenty of other good ones out there.

If you are submitting short stories, or poems, or letters to magazines, either digital or print, do be aware that they often do not pay for your work. My thinking on this is that I would far rather get my work into print and start to get my name known than worry about being paid a few pounds. Once you have achieved that initial publication, you can then add this to your Query Letter (see below). Even having a Letter to the Editor published counts toward your publishing experience. So don’t worry if you are not offered payment for your smaller works. 

It’s a sad fact that there are plenty of charlatans and unscrupulous people in the publishing world – just as there are in every aspect of life. The term “Buyer Beware” can be applied here too. This is why research is so important. Joining a writer’s forum can be a great way of learning where the baddies are hiding - is a good one to use. The website Preditors and Editors is another good place to find out of your chosen agent or publisher has any black marks against them. Be a little circumspect here though – this website has a policy of not changing its opinion even if the agency or publisher concerned improves their game.
Also be wary of publishing houses that use Google ads or adverts on other websites to tout for business. Generally, the good ones do not have to advertise!
I will append my own sorry tale of woe here. There are still agents who charge a Reading Fee before they will read your work. While I am not saying that all of these are scammers (because I do not have experience of them all) I will advise you to tread warily. When I first began submitting my work, I was taken in by an agency that said they would love to read my novel provided I paid their reading fee. They gave what sounded like good reasons for charging for this service, and also told me I would receive a critique of my book. In my naivety I thought this was a good idea, so I duly paid. Time went by, and although I had several email conversations with the agency, I was always told that a decision was just around the corner. However, it was the agent who disappeared "around the corner" by absconding with several writers’ fees. She never reappeared. I was devastated, furious and felt like a fool - which of course, I was. I could only put the episode down to experience.
You have been warned!

4. Submission Package.

So, having done your research and made your list of suitable agents/publishers, what should you do next? You can buy books on the submission process, and also books on what agents and publishers are looking for. You can also find a wealth of information online. Most agents and publishers also have websites, and these will tell you exactly what they are looking for and how you should present it to them. If you don’t have access to the Internet, you can always phone them and ask. If you do this, also ask for the name of the person to whom you should submit. The personal touch goes a long way. Just make sure you spell their name correctly!

4a) Query Letter.
A good query letter is a must. If you are not good at letters, you can find many examples online. Some sites will show a successful letter alongside an unsuccessful one, so you can compare and see where the writer went wrong. Do not make the mistake of copying letters, though, it will be obvious if you have. The general rule is to keep your letter polite, short and to the point. Introduce yourself and tell the recipient a bit about what you’re submitting. Give the title, genre and total word count. (As a guide, most agents/publishers regard between 80,000 and 120,000 words as a good length for a writer’s first novel.) Then give a brief outline of the plot. This is not a synopsis, so just pick out the salient points. List any writing credentials you may have such as qualifications, and mention any previous successes with publication. This should include competitions you may have gained a first, second or third place in or been commended for; a letter you have had published; exercises such as NaNoWriMo; a blog that you maintain; even essays or pieces in school newsletters, etc. Also mention if you have published any technical papers or similar texts. Then politely thank the recipient for their time. Include ALL your contact details, and do remember to say if you are intending to use a pen name.

4b) Synopsis (if appropriate)
If you are submitting a non-fiction project you do not need a synopsis, merely an outline. It is also not necessary to have completed a non-fiction project before seeking representation or publication. For fiction, however, the rule is that the work should already be complete, and you will need to provide a synopsis.

Some writers dread synopses. If you’re having trouble deciding what to include try this: Write a short précis of each chapter, being as brief as you can. Ignore sub-plots for now. Using this précis, write down the main bullet points of your plot. Don’t forget the ending! Once you have your bullet points, flesh them out slightly so they are in prose form rather than list form. Keep to the present tense. Most agents/publishers will advise on keeping the synopsis to no more than 4 or 5 pages, but unless they specify a word count, this is flexible. Whatever your total page count, your synopsis must be brief and to the point. You can also use single-spaced lines and both sides of a printed page, rather than double-spaced and single-sides, as for your sample pages. Unless the guidelines state otherwise, of course!

4c) Sample
Again, check your chosen recipient to see what portion of your work they want to see as a sample. It will typically be the first three chapters of a novel, so many pages, or perhaps 20% of a novel. DO NOT exceed what they ask for. The argument that 20% of your novel leaves the reader dangling in the middle of an action scene will not hold water. If that’s the case, send less, not more. If you are asked for 20%, you have some leeway with the page count – one or two more will not make much difference. Remember though, that you have to give the TOTAL word count as well. Your recipient will be able to work out if you have sent them 30% of the total rather than 20%! If you are asked for the first three chapters, send ONLY the first three chapters, not the first two and one really good chapter from later in the book. Your first three chapters must hook the reader or your novel is unlikely to succeed.
Tailor the format of your submission to the individual’s guidelines. DO NOT IGNORE THESE! Do not use fancy fonts, weird colours, bold type, fancy scene-breakers, etc. Remember the old adage KISS: Keep It Simple Stupid. Not all computers open word processing programs the same way, so you risk annoying your chosen target if you ignore their preferences.
The same applies if you are submitting in print, via snail mail. Anything fancy puts editors off. Unless you are submitting say, a children’s picture book or photo book, do not include photographs. DO NOT include gifts! Include an SAE if they ask for one, and if you are submitting by email, remember to include your return email address and other contact details. At all times, be wholly professional.

I would say that multiple submissions are fine for a first contact. Many writers send out six at a time. If, however, you are lucky enough to be asked for the full manuscript (often abbreviated to ms, or mss), then give exclusivity.

I hope the above has given you something to work on. I will be posting the second half of this blog very soon so keep your eyes open!

Friday, 23 November 2012

The Final Instalment

My apologies to anyone who has been waiting to read the final instalment of our wonderful trip to the US and the Yellowstone National Park. I have been frantically busy lately editing for clients, and had to push my blog to the background for a while. But I sent off my latest edited manuscript, so now I’m free to finish what I started!

There were only two days of our holiday left, and we had decided to spend them at the Lake Yellowstone hotel. This is situated right on the shore of Lake Yellowstone and was originally built in 1891. It underwent a full restoration in 1990. Because we had booked our trip a little late, we could not get a room in the hotel itself and would be staying in the annex adjacent to the main building. However, we had a full day to enjoy before arriving there, so we packed our things, had a nice breakfast, and said a fond farewell to Mammoth Hot Springs.

We drove toward Tower Fall and were fortunate enough to have a closer encounter with an animal we had only glimpsed a few days before. There was a large cliff right next to the roadside and two days before we had seen a couple of bighorn sheep right at the top of this cliff, just peeking over the edge. Today, however, two bighorns plus two cute kids were giving a wonderful display of agility right close to the road as they skipped over the sheer loose scree of the cliff. We just had to stop and watch them for a while, even if it was a bit disappointing that there were no male sheep showing off those beautiful, huge horns!
Bighorn sheep with kids.

We went on to see Tower Fall, and ate some juicy apples overlooking the water. The Falls were spectacular as ever. Then we moved on toward our chosen picnic site and received another unexpected treat. Our route took us close to where we had seen the mama black bear with her two cubs right next to the petrified tree. I would never have imagined we’d get lucky enough to see that family again, but when we saw the ‘bear jam’ and got out of our car, there they were! The two cubs had climbed a tree and were sleeping soundly, draped across a branch. Mama was keeping watch on the ground but was also grazing, clearly not bothered by the fascinated tourists clicking their cameras and whirring their camcorders. We used our video camera too but as the cubs were some way off, Dave had to rest the camera on my head to stop his hands shaking. I couldn’t stand that still though, and the resulting film makes me feel queasy when I watch it!
After our picnic, we carried on to Canyon Falls. It must have been our lucky day for we were going to see a scarce creature, one I hadn’t dared dream we’d spot. By now we had mastered the art of the sudden car stop, so when we chanced to look across at a small group of people who were off the road and training cameras on what I was convinced was a wolf – a WOLF! – we were safely parked and out of the Jeep in seconds. This was a wooded section of the Park and there was a narrow clearing perpendicular to the road. The wolf – it was a wolf and it was white! – was making its way away from the road down this narrow clearing. It was obviously nervous as it kept looking over its shoulder to check no one was following it. Once it reached the end of the clearing, which took only a matter of seconds, it looked to its left and bounded off that way, as if running to join some other wolves. Dave and I hadn’t had time to grab our camera, we knew we’d never get the chance to photograph it before it disappeared, but nevertheless we were elated. Had anyone asked me at the start of this trip which animal I’d most like to see, the wolf would have been top of my list. But it was also top of the list of creatures I least expected to see, and now we had seen one! I simply couldn’t believe it.
On arriving at our hotel we booked in and dumped our cases in our annex room. The main hotel was very 1920s and looked pretty comfortable, but the annex was rather basic. It was the smallest room we’d had so far and could have done with a lick of paint. Still, we were only there for two nights. We walked over to the main hotel and had a drink in the lovely lounge overlooking the lake. There was a lady pianist playing some period songs, and we sang along for a while. Then we took a walk by the lake and admired the restored yellow tour buses.
Lake Yellowstone Hotel tour bus.

After that we decided to have a drive before supper. We only saw the West Thumb end of the lake when we were here the week before, so now we explored more to the north. We parked and walked over the attractive Fishing Bridge, having a good giggle at the sign that said ‘No Fishing’. We returned early to the hotel because our all too short sighting of the white wolf had made us eager for more. We knew the Lamar Valley was the place to spot them, so after a very nice supper we drove out that way and waited until evening, with our binoculars trained. It was a cool clear night and beautiful, but unfortunately the mosquitoes chewed us to bits. Defeated, we returned to the hotel.
The next day – our last in the Park – we made the most of the glorious hot weather. We drove to Old Faithful and shot the video I wanted. We played the tourist and bought T shirts and posters. At Midway Geyser Basin we marvelled at the fabulous colors of the Grand Prismatic Spring. Back at the hotel, our final supper was delicious salmon and because we asked so nicely, our waitress made us a special plate of different cheeses for dessert. Then we drove out for our last evening wildlife watch, not expecting to see anything to add to our list. The wolves kept themselves hidden, but we did see two muskrats. I even educated some Chinese visitors who were convinced the muskrat was a beaver. They were disappointed, so maybe I shouldn’t have told them!
Incredible Colors of the Grand Prismatic Spring.
The mosquitoes hadn’t gone away and we had a long drive back to Salt Lake City the next day, so we returned to the hotel by 9.30 pm. It had been such a wonderful holiday, one I will never forget. One day we will return to the US, and explore more of this fascinating country and its wildlife.

Normally I am quite content to return home after a trip away, and I was certainly missing Milly and Milo, my two rescue dogs, but I did feel quite sad when we got into the Jeep the next morning for our final drive back to Salt Lake. It was a long but fabulous drive, and I even saw a couple of hummingbirds when we stopped at a roadside pull-out. We arrived back at the Garden Hilton Hotel and it almost felt like coming home after the experience of Rhemalda Publishing’s Got Stories conference and all the lovely people we met there. I’m hoping we can attend next year’s conference, wherever it may be, and meet even more of my fellow Rhemalda authors.


Monday, 22 October 2012

How to Spot an Elk

For our second day in Mammoth Hot Springs we decided to drive south toward Norris, with the aim of seeing the Norris Geyser Basin. I was driving this morning, which meant that Dave was chief wildlife spotter. We had quickly learned that one of us had to keep our eyes on the passing scenery every second, as although some animals were easy to see – such as bison, which were everywhere – others were shy and secretive and you could so easily miss something spectacular.

I was still finding the memory of my first bison encounter quite funny. I’d been so excited to see those animals behind their wire fences, insisting we stop so that I could take pictures of the iconic beasts in case we didn’t see any others during our stay. And now here we were becoming quite blasé about seeing truly wild bison, which were clearly extremely common in the park. We’d seen them laying down, rolling in the dust, quietly grazing, standing still in the sunshine, and strolling casually down the sides of the road. I was even beginning to feel a little guilty when an interesting dark speck in the distance turned out to be “just another bison.”  
Just another (magnificent!) bison
Our wildlife vigilance was to pay off this morning, though. As we drove out of Mammoth and on toward Indian Creek, Dave suddenly said, “Stop, I’ve just seen a coyote!” Fortunately there was nothing following us, so I was able to bring the Jeep to a stop and slowly reverse back up the road. Dave used his “man overboard” sailing training (you never take your eyes off a person who has fallen into the sea – they are astonishingly hard to find again if there is even the smallest swell) to keep the spot where he had seen the coyote in his line of sight. I have to say that I didn’t expect it to still be there when we reached the right bit of road, I knew coyotes were shy. Luck was smiling on us however, because just as we drew abreast of where Dave had seen it, there it still was, its head just visible behind some sage brush. We didn’t have time to get the camera on it because as soon as it realized we had seen it, it slunk off. We caught sight of it a couple more times as it moved further away, and then it was gone. Yet another animal to tick off our list! It wasn’t quite a wolf – the one animal I longed to see and was quite sure I wouldn’t – but it was pretty close. I was proud of Dave for seeing it because it had been quite well camouflaged.

We drove on to the Norris Geyser Basin and spent the morning looking at the geysers and hot springs. It was another hot day but there was some light cloud which muted the sun’s glare. The calcified deposits around the springs could be startlingly white and even with sunglasses the brightness hurt our eyes. Once we’d finished at Norris we went on to Canyon Village, where we treated ourselves to ice creams. Dave wanted to video the lower falls and left me sitting in the shade – my foot was sore after the mile and a half walk around Norris and I was happy just to sit and wait.
Canyon Falls

After such a busy day, we headed early back to the hotel. For supper we had decided to go into Gardner, which was just outside the National Park and also just over the border into Montana. There was a nice restaurant where you could sit overlooking the Yellowstone River. As we arrived back in Mammoth though, we found something to delay us. Yet again my preconceptions about how hard it would be to spot Yellowstone’s wildlife were completely swept away by the large herd of female elk that were milling about in front of our hotel. There were around 30 animals altogether, and some of them were youngsters. These were so sweet with their dappled coats and large, soft eyes. The adults seemed totally unfazed by the cars and people surrounding them as everyone tried to get good photographs. The elk grazed the lawns around the hotel, or lazed in the shade of the trees growing on the roundabout, or strolled casually down the middle of the road, making the cars creep slowly behind them. I was entranced and we took many photos and even some video clips, getting pretty close to one mother and her fawn. Not too close, though – those mother elk were pretty large!
Elk babies at our hotel

Friday, 12 October 2012

A Song in My Heart

For this week’s post I’m taking a break from the tale of our Yellowstone holiday in June. I feel like telling you all about something completely different.

This week I have been in the recording studio, laying down the vocal track for The Ballad of Tallimore, the song that appears in my second fantasy novel, King’s Champion. It will be offered as a free download to accompany the book, just as The Wheel Will Turn was for King’s Envoy. The Wheel has proved so popular that I simply had to record a second song, and Tallimore did already feature in King’s Champion.
Why are there songs attached to my books? Well, some of you may already know that before I was a writer, I was a folk singer. I wasn’t anyone you would ever have heard of – my singing was either for myself, or on a very local level such as nearby folk clubs, our village drama group, with a group of friends, or in church. (Yes, I have sung folk-type songs in church – they went down very well!)

Music has been a constant in my life from a very early age, and I taught myself to sing by listening to and singing along with my favourite artists. When I began writing my fantasy series Artesans of Albia, I found that the right music could help with setting the mood I wanted to create, especially as my world of five realms is contained within a medieval setting. Music would have been extremely important to people in medieval times, as it was one of the easiest and cheapest forms of entertainment. It helped workers get through tough days of labor, and tingled the jaded nerves of the wealthy. You didn’t even need an instrument except the one you were born with!

On searching my music collection, I found many pieces that perfectly matched the scenes I was writing. Artists like Enya whose melodic and haunting airs wove themselves through my words. And those included in the Global Journey label, for example Boann’s Clan, Dance of the Water Gods. That album definitely influenced the cadence of my writing. If I wanted to get more contemplative still, I turned to Gregorian and other meditative chants, such as those on the Gift of Music label. Here you can find music to fit many moods and scenes, and I used them frequently to aid my immersion in my world.

On a prior holiday in the States I was fortunate enough to visit the Grand Canyon. A truly spectacular place on an epic scale – too epic, I’m afraid, for my nerves! I don’t care for great heights and I found the vast vistas just a bit too vast for eyes more used to the limited horizons of England. That’s not to say I didn’t appreciate the beauty of the place, but I would have liked to feel more of an intimate connection to it. Maybe one day I can take a trip down into the canyon and raft along the river. That would be awesome!
The Grand Canyon - I wasn't going any closer to that edge!

But I digress. While at Canyon Village, I bought a CD that caught my fancy. It was an album of Native American music arranged to incorporate the natural sounds of the canyon. Entitled Spirit of the Canyon, it was by a group of people called Ah*Nee*Mah. As soon as the gentle sounds of the very first track – Light From the East – began to play, I was hooked. Here was a track that epitomized and created in sound all the essential qualities of my female lead, Major Sullyan. It could not have fit better had I written it myself. The opening strains reflected her gentler, tenderer qualities and her fascination with the world around her. I could hear the galloping hoofbeats of her warhorse, Drum, and feel the exaltation of her soul every time she used the powers Life had given her. Here too, were the sounds of battle, reflecting her stronger, dutiful side, and also the softer strains of her love for her friends, and for Robin. I doubt if any piece of music has ever fit a character so well.
This, coupled with my continuing connection to and love of music and singing, meant that it was inevitable that songs should appear in my books. The opportunity to actually record and release a song – The Wheel – came about through my brother, who also sings, plays and writes his own music. He and his song-writing partner came up with the melody for The Wheel, using the poem contained in King’s Envoy. We recorded it and even played it live in our local shopping mall on the day of King’s Envoy’s book launch in August 2011. (See video link below.) Since then, it has proved a very popular download on Rhemlda Publishing’s website. It has also been played on various internet radio stations and was played as Single of the Week for three or four weeks running on my local station, Radio Basingstoke.
So now I have recorded song two, The Ballad of Tallimore, and once this is mixed and finalized – probably around mid-November – it will join The Wheel as a free download. And I have decided to write and record seven more songs – one for each of the books in my Artesans of Albia series – plus an overall instrumental theme. These will form an album which will hopefully add to the pleasure of reading my books. Judging by the popularity of The Wheel, and the wonderful reader reviews my first two books are receiving, people are already enjoying them!
I will return to the subject of my Yellowstone holiday in my next post. Until then, happy listening and reading!

Thursday, 4 October 2012

Who Wants to See a Dead Tree?

After our fabulous encounter with the black, brown and cinnamon bears, we continued along the Tower-Roosevelt road, enjoying some truly spectacular scenery. We were travelling along the edge of the Blacktail Deer Plateau and actually caught sight of a deer among the young firs and dead wood. We managed to get a picture of it but whether it was, in fact, a Blacktail deer, I couldn’t tell.
Possible Blacktail deer

According to the map we had there was a petrified tree somewhere close by and we thought it would be well worth a look. We found the turn out and parking space for the tree and drew up close to the other cars already there. The tree, it seemed, was not right by the road we had turned off but was a short walk along another road leading into the hills. It was stiflingly hot by now but we really wanted to see this tree, so we decided we could cope with the heat and began walking along the new road.
Soon we saw people coming toward us, returning from having seen the tree. Some smiled at us and some ignored us, but they all seemed pretty happy. I thought, this tree must be a really incredible sight to make all these people so smiley. And that was good because I was beginning to regret deciding to walk in such oppressive heat. The next people we met, however, soon told us what it was that had made the first ones look so excited. It wasn’t the tree at all, it was more bears! Apparently there was a mother black bear and two cubs somewhere up ahead, and this made me forget all about the heat, and even the tree. Bear cubs were far more exciting!

After another few minutes we came across groups of people standing by the road looking off into the brush. The terrain was sloping and grassy, and the grass was dotted with both standing and fallen trees. Following the direction of people’s cameras we soon spotted the bears. The mother was black, but her two little cubs were quite light brown, I thought maybe they would end up cinnamon like the older female bear we’d seen earlier. Again, all three bears were oblivious to the crowds of people gawping at them and taking photographs, and were simply going about their daily business. The mother seemed to be grazing, and she was moving slowly about the area. Her two cubs were playing, scrambling over the fallen tree trunks or walking along them, doing whatever bear cubs do. I had been surprised by the unconcern of the first bears we’d seen but I was even more surprised by this mother’s relaxed attitude to the crowds, seeing as she had two quite young cubs with her. But maybe bears in the Park get used to seeing humans, and as long as they are left alone, are happy to tolerate such intrusions.
Mother bear and her cubs

Soon the mother bear began moving out, and her two pudgy cubs scurried to keep up with her. The show was over and we suddenly remembered why we’d walked all this way in the heat. It was then that I turned round and discovered that the petrified tree had been right behind us all the time. No one was paying it any attention now, so we trudged up the sloping pathway that led to the railings surrounding it and stood to admire it. It was an ancient redwood and there was really only a stump of it left. The plaque beside it told us that before the area became a National Park, people would chip bits off it, and off the two other petrified trees that had once stood beside it, and taken them as souvenirs until there was hardly anything left. Such a shame! Now this lone specimen was protected behind iron railings and we had to imagine what it would have looked like before. It must have been very impressive.
Petrified redwood tree
We were glad to get back in the air-conditioned Jeep and leave the stifling heat outside as we continued our journey to the very beautiful Tower Falls. The spray from the Falls also made a welcome change to the dry heat of the air.
Tower Falls

The heat was getting to us so we made our way back to the hotel. But the local wildlife hadn’t finished with us because as we came around a bend in the road we saw the most magnificent bull elk grazing quietly beside the road, just on the other side of a small stream. Some people were already out of their cars with their cameras, of course, but there were only a few of them. We couldn’t resist this really close view of such a superb animal and braved the heat one last time. Then it was back to the hotel to shower and rest until we got up enough strength to search for a supper location!
Superb bull elk

Thursday, 27 September 2012

A Mammoth Bear Encounter

I couldn’t work out what had woken me on our first full day in Mammoth Hot Springs. It sounded like a whole flock of small birds were calling noisily outside our window while taking a bath in the rain. When I got up to investigate, I found that the ‘rain’ was actually the hotel sprinklers, and the ‘birds’ were actually Uinta ground squirrels. I’m sure the hotel viewed them as pests, because their burrows were everywhere in the lawns, but I found them quite cute.
Ground squirrel

As the hotel didn’t have a restaurant, we walked across the road to the Mammoth Hot Springs Dining Room for breakfast. It was already pretty hot outside and the glare from the sun was strong. It’s the first time I’ve had to wear sunglasses simply to get to my breakfast!

The food was nice, although the service was a bit slow, and we ate looking out at the Hot Spring Terraces which were just across the road. They would form the focus of our morning, although I did wonder how I would fare under the increasing heat of the sun. I was also nursing a painful foot, having discovered before leaving the UK that I was suffering from plantar fasciitis, also known in the UK as ‘policeman’s heel’. Basically it is inflammation of the ligaments which support the arch of your foot and it can be extremely painful, especially first thing in the morning. Mine had been caused by a circuits exercise class called ‘Nemesis’ (yes I know – the name should have warned me!) back in March. I still find it ironic that something which was supposed to help me stay healthy had caused so much discomfort. Beware of exercise – it can seriously damage your health!
Anyway, all throughout this trip I was having to be careful of walking too far, or even of standing for too long, which was a serious handicap considering the nature of the holiday. But I was determined not to let it stop me from seeing all these fantastic sights and, once we finished our breakfast, we made our way to the Hot Spring Terraces.

I have to say that they were magnificent. First there was the Liberty Cap, the solid inner remains of an extinct spring. This must have been quite spectacular when it was active, as it was 45 feet high. Then we moved onto the boardwalks and followed them around the site until we reached the Minerva spring and terrace. The colours here were unbelievable, as were the flowing ‘pillow’ shapes made by the ever-trickling water. The sound of the water would have been cooling if not for the clouds of hot steam wafting around our faces.

Liberty Cap and Minerva Terrace
The other thing that fascinated me was the amount of birdlife I could hear all around. Although I’m not fanatical about it I do love birdwatching, and I couldn’t resist trying to identify the birds I could hear. We’d acquired a leaflet showing some of the birds we could expect to encounter and while Dave searched the surrounding trees and sky with our binoculars, I dug out the leaflet. I was very pleased when we managed to see and identify a Northern Flicker (a type of woodpecker) and the exceedingly pretty Mountain Bluebird. We took photos but were fast coming to realize that our camera, while plenty good enough for ‘ordinary’ photography, didn’t have a powerful enough zoom to really capture things like small birds. This lack would become more apparent – and more frustrating! – as the trip went on. So although I do have pictures of those two birds, I will not be including them in this post. You can look them up on the internet if you want to see them!

We were both pretty hot by the time we finished our tour of the Hot Spring Terrace, and my foot needed a rest. So we headed back to town for an ice cream. On the way we passed the conveniences and were so tickled by the thought of a mammoth using a restroom (childish, but who cares?) that I had to take a photo.
Wow – how big would the seat have to be?
After lunch, we decided to take a drive east on the road to Tower-Roosevelt because we’d learned there were some spectacular waterfalls on the way. This was to prove a momentous decision because it gave us a truly fabulous view of some black bears. Quite by chance we came upon a ‘bear jam’ around a bend in the road. We stopped and got out, and there, maybe twenty yards away down a slope by the side of the road, were two black bears. Only one of them was actually black – this, the Ranger told us, was a male. The other bear was brown, and this was a female. Both bears were peacefully grazing, neither taking any notice of the vast hordes of people lining the road above, all clicking furiously with their cameras. I was entranced, still unable to believe I was standing so close to such an incredible, yet potentially dangerous wild animal. Suddenly, another bear appeared from the right-hand side, a light cinnamon-coloured bear which ran toward the male black bear. The Ranger got quite excited. “That’s another male,” he said, “he’ll try and lure the female away. This could get interesting.”

Interesting? He wasn’t kidding! I was so ‘interested’ I was glued to the spot! We all held our collective breath as the cinnamon bear slowed before approaching the male black bear. He turned towards it and moved closer. But instead of chasing it away, as the Ranger clearly expected, he began to sniff it with obvious interest. It wasn’t another male, it was a second female! I suppose we were all hoping to see some kind of territorial behaviour, either from the male bear or his original female, but in fact they didn’t react aggressively at all. The cinnamon bear made a pretty feeble attempt to lure the black male away, which he ignored, and his original brown partner cast hardly a glance at the prettier (to my mind!) newcomer. Eventually the cinnamon female wandered off, probably muttering under her breath.
A really close bear encounter
After that excitement, we carried on toward the waterfalls. Little did we know that our bear encounter wasn’t quite over!  

Friday, 21 September 2012

On To Mammoth Hot Springs

Waking to another bright and sunny day, I was amazed to find that I didn’t ache at all from yesterday’s trail ride. Maybe I was fitter than I thought! We went down to another sumptuous breakfast and then packed our stuff. Before we took our leave of Sherrie and the Wildflower Inn, we wandered round the beautiful gardens once more, taking photos. I also signed a copy of King’s Envoy for the girlfriend of the Inn’s chef, Michael.

Wildflower Inn gardens

After loading up the Jeep we began our drive to Yellowstone National Park and Mammoth Hot Springs, where our next hotel was located. Mammoth is in the north of the Park, so we would get to see much of its scenery as we made our way through. I confess that although I was eager to see Yellowstone, I was sad to leave Jackson and the Tetons. The valley was so beautiful and the surrounding mountains so majestic, and I had begun to feel quite at home there despite only having been there two and a half days. I could easily see myself living there, should the opportunity ever arise.

Our first stop after entering Yellowstone was at West Thumb, on the western edge (well, where else?) of Yellowstone Lake. Here there is a geyser basin, and I couldn’t wait for my first view of an actual geyser. It was seeing a picture of Old Faithful in a book probably owned by my older brother (we’re going back 45-some years here, so forgive me if I can’t exactly remember!) that ignited my lifelong desire to visit Yellowstone. I knew Old Faithful wasn’t at West Thumb, but the basin sounded well worth a visit. We would arrive there around lunchtime, so it would be a good place to stop. The speed limit in the Park is 45 mph, and some of the trailers and campers were going far slower than that, so even the driver had ample time to look around and drink in the spectacular scenery.

Yellowstone scenery

West Thumb lived up to its write-up. There were boardwalks across the thermal areas and the smell of sulfur wafted on the scant breeze as we walked along them toward the lake. Many of the springs had name boards, and it was easy to see how they had been given names like ‘paint pot’. I particularly liked the one named ‘Black Pool’ – despite the fact that it was clearly blue! It was nothing like our own Blackpool in the UK.
Black Pool

A couple of the springs were actually in the lake itself, only exposed at times of low water, and we were fascinated to see that the colourful yet toxic-looking stuff coming out of the springs didn’t seem to affect the fresh water of the lake. The other thing that amazed and delighted us was the profusion of wild plants that seemed perfectly capable of thriving with their roots buried in what looked like solid calcium deposits. Blue, yellow and orange flowers blossomed across this seemingly inhospitable and alien-looking landscape, which had clearly killed many of the surrounding pine trees.

Hardy yellow flowers

After our walk and lunch at West Thumb, we continued on to Old Faithful. It was on the way to Mammoth anyway but I think I would have wanted to detour had it not been. I had simply been waiting for this opportunity for too long, and I had to find out what times the geyser spouted and whether we needed to make special arrangements to see it go off. West Thumb had been surprisingly quiet and peaceful, with none of the overdevelopment, amusement opportunities or retail outlets that I had been imagining. The area around Old Faithful, arguably the most famous and popular site in Yellowstone, did have a more touristy feel to it, but even here there was none of the “Disneyesque” hype we expected (and dreaded!) to find. Yes there was a newly-completed Visitor Center, which looked a touch too modern to me, but it was actually quite attractive and it held some fascinating information and exhibits. There was also a large hotel, which was clearly quite old. And there was a very large building, Hamilton’s Stores, inside which were all the souvenirs, postcards, posters, maps, books, etc you could possibly want, as well as clothing and groceries. But it was the construction of this building that was most striking. During our drive that morning I had remarked upon some pretty unusual trees which had strange, gnarled and knobbly protuberances on their branches. I never did find out whether this was due to some form of virus or disease, or whether it was natural to this type of tree. Whatever the cause was, it was clearly a feature of the area and this large wooden building had many of these deformed and gnarly branches, called “burled logs” in its construction. The whole thing had been stained a very deep brown and the effect was striking.

Hamilton’s Stores.

From the Visitor Center we learned that Old Faithful erupts around every ninety minutes, and that there was twenty minutes to go until the next one. I hadn’t realized the eruptions were that frequent, and so we wandered around for a bit before taking our seats on the semi-circular benches placed around the geyser. The benches soon filled with other eager geyser-watchers and we got our camera ready, still not quite sure what to expect.

The geyser had been spouting steam the whole time, but soon we began to notice spits of boiling water being thrown up. The crowd made predictable “oohs” and “ahhs” each time one of these spits went a bit higher, but then the geyser would die down again, as if playing with us. But it was only a few more minutes before the pressure built enough to send the water rocketing skyward, and Old Faithful once again put on its ages-old display. I have to admit that I was enthralled, and found the geyser every bit as spectacular and beautiful as I’d hoped. I’m sure it would look utterly ethereal by moonlight, and even more beautiful during a gorgeous sunset, but I was captivated by its puissance and majesty on this simple, hot and sunny day. One of my lifelong dreams had been realized, and I was so grateful to have the chance to witness this natural and unique phenomenon. We took photos, of course, but I wanted to come back later with the camcorder. I needed to get this baby on film!

  Old Faithful

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Trail Ride Day!

We didn’t think our second day in the Grand Tetons could possibly be as thrilling as our first – not after seeing all those wonderful animals the evening before. But today was the day we would get our trail ride at the Mill Iron Ranch, and I was really looking forward to that. I have been a horse rider for most of my life, and trained as an instructor on leaving school. It was originally my ambition to become a show jumper, but sadly my woeful lack of balance proved too difficult to overcome. My riding skills never progressed beyond average, which was a disappointment, but I made up for it by enjoying the instructing side. I also got to buy my own horse – once I got a job that paid enough money – and that fulfilled another early ambition. I don’t have a horse now, so I ride when I can, and this trail ride was going to be a whole new experience.

We still had most of the day to enjoy though before heading off to the ranch, so after another wonderful breakfast, this one consisting of raspberry waffles, we decided to explore the town of Jackson. We had heard about the awesome arches made of elk antlers, and simply had to see them.


Jackson was only a short drive from the Wildflower Inn, and it was easy to find a place to park. We didn’t even have to pay! You have no idea how refreshing that was. We spotted the antler arches even before we got out of the car, and they were indeed awesome. There were four of them, one for each entryway into a pretty, small town park or square, and we went for a closer look. Each arch had an internal steel framework and the hundreds – or maybe thousands – of antlers that made up each one were skilfully woven together to make a stunning spectacle. It was also nice to know that these antlers had been naturally shed – no elk had died to make them. We both loved them, and took plenty of pictures.
Elk Antler Arches

The town of Jackson was friendly, and clearly prosperous, with a vast variety of galleries selling all types of artwork. There were huge bronze figures, both animal and human; pottery sculptures, ceramics, paintings, and more antler artefacts than you could shake a stick at! I particularly loved the antler chandeliers. All of these things, though, were so far out of our price range that all we could afford was a delicious hot chocolate and a cake! Well, that’s not quite true. Dave bought me a beautiful opal heart pendant and a shimmering blue opal and silver bangle. Anyone who has read King’s Envoy and King’s Champion will know that I have a ‘thing’ for opals – Sullyan herself wears fire opals!
After our visit to Jackson we drove to Teton Village, because we both fancied a trip in the cable car up to the top of the mountain. It was a great ride up, the sun was still out, but boy – was it cold at the top! Now I know we should have expected this, there was still snow underfoot after all, but we had forgotten how quickly altitude affects warm air. Neither of us had warm clothing with us, so after a brief time spent staring at the stunning panorama of the mountains and the valley laid out below us, we hastened into the café for a hot chocolate and a cookie. Then we rode the car back down and made our way to the Wildflower Inn to change for our ride.

Cable car view

The ranch had sent us directions and Sherrie at the Inn told us that it was easy to find. She was right, and we pitched up at the ranch right on time. We could see all the horses in a corral, some saddled, some not, and spent a few minutes trying to guess which horse we would be allocated. Then we went into the ranch office to let them know we had arrived.
Arriving at the ranch.

Soon, more guests arrived and then the ranch hands began bringing horses forward. Being somewhat stiff these days (oh – the pleasures of aging!) I was pleased to see that we didn’t have to climb into the saddle from the ground. Instead, each horse was led between two mounds of earth, making it easy for us to mount. I suspect the idea was to protect the horses, more than to help the riders, but it was nice anyway! My horse turned out to be a pinto (in the UK we’d call this piebald) named Cisco, and he was very comfortable. Dave was allocated a kind-eyed bay named Roy, and he seemed quite happy with his mount. In the past I have given Dave riding lessons, and he has good balance, but he wouldn’t call himself a rider. He also sometimes suffers a stuffy nose around horses, and I really hoped this wouldn’t spoil the ride for him.
Me and Cisco

Our guide then mounted his own horse and led us up into the hills. We climbed pretty steeply up through wooded tracks, keeping our eyes open for wildlife. Dave had managed to secure himself a place near the front of the line – there were about eight or nine of us – and so he could hear our guide’s commentary. But I was second from last, and couldn’t really hear him. So I just enjoyed the ride.
Eventually, we climbed high enough to leave the trees behind. We had a glorious view of the surrounding hills, and stopped right on the crest of the highest one to take in the panorama. Two large birds were circling overhead and one suddenly folded its wings and dived, showing its beautiful bronzed feathers. It was a Golden Eagle! After that, our guide dismounted and took photos of all the riders with their own cameras, just to prove we’d been there.

Dave and me on Cisco and Roy

Then we began the descent, and this time both Dave and I were right at the back. This wouldn’t have been a problem had it not been so dry and dusty, but the trail was bone dry and the horses in front were kicking up vast clouds of brown dust. Dave and I had to breathe this in all the way back down to the ranch, which took about an hour. We were both sneezing fit to bust by the time we got back! I was also beginning to feel the effects of riding for two and a half hours and was quite glad to slide off Cisco’s back. My legs were pretty wobbly for a few minutes, but the feeling soon wore off.
Our final treat that day was a steak supper at the ranch house. I have never seen steaks so huge! They were delicious, but far too big for me to finish. Baked potatoes, salad, chips and beer completed the meal, and another thoroughly fantastic day. My only worry was that I would ache so much after all that riding, I wouldn’t be able to get out of bed the next morning!