Tiny little flying things

I confess I haven’t had the camera out recently – too busy sweating over a hot keyboard. But I have gone back to look at some of my old files and while some of the photos aren’t sharp enough or large enough for commercial use, they’re not half bad for all that. We all miss seeing the smaller things in our world. I’ve shared a few of those photos with you further down.

TDADD-ebook-webOn the writing front the new story is being beta-read so I hope to have it out there next week. I also received a wonderful email from someone who had just finished reading my historical novel, To Die a Dry Death. Here’s a little of what she had to say.

“Thank you for writing a brilliant book that I have enjoyed very much and just this very second finished. In the past year I have become very very ( obsessed my friends and family might say šŸ™‚ about the Batavia . I work at sea, and whilst on a flight, saw a small piece about it in a history magazine I buy to expand my mind on boring flights… and it has totally gripped me

I have read several books on Batavia so far and enjoyed yours immensely and would just like to thank you very much for all the work you put into it and made the characters ‘come to life’ more so for me than the other books, which all differ in style as I know you appreciate.”

This sort of thing means so much to me. Not everyone is going to like what I write – that’s okay. But it feels wonderful to know I’ve reached someone, that I’ve told the story in a way that worked for them. So, dear reader, thank you so much.

Now on to the micro monsters.

A tiny praying mantiss. That story about cannabalising the males after sex isn't completely true

A tiny praying mantis. That story about cannabalising the males after sex isn’t completely true.

You know the story about their mating habits? Turns out it’s only true 30% of the time. http://insects.about.com/…/praying-mantis-cannibalism.htm

This butterfly was laying eggs - but this shot shows all four wings

This butterfly was laying eggs – but this shot shows all four wings

A European honey bee on rosemary

A European honey bee on rosemary

An Australian native blue-banded bee on a salvia. These bees are tiny, solitary little creatures, and very fast. I went through a lot of digital 'film' to get this

An Australian native blue-banded bee on a salvia. These bees are tiny, solitary little creatures, and very fast. I went through a lot of digital ‘film’ to get this

This dragonfly is a rescue. It was drowning when I took it out of the swimming pool. It's drying itself off.

This dragonfly is a rescue. It was drowning when I took it out of the swimming pool. It’s drying itself off.

A sneak peek at Ella and the Admiral – coming soon

235Here’s a few paragraphs from the current WIP, Ella and the Admiral.

Ella returned to the restaurant’sĀ  reception desk in time to meet the last large group, five men and three women. While his companions chatted, one man approached her. He wore a high-collared jacket, the current fashion for male formal attire, not a uniform, but Ella would have bet a month’s pay this man was military. The way he stood, the air of authority, she supposed.

“Ibbotson,” he said. “Table for eight.”

“Of course, sir. Welcome to the Imperial.” She glanced over her shoulder to where the two attendants waited. “If you’ll come this way.” She hovered while he gathered his party, then led the way to the table. As usual, there was some discussion about where everyone would sit.

“The top end, Admiral,” Ibbotson said, gesturing at a chair.

The man he addressed laughed and shook his head. “It’s your birthday. You can do the honors for a change.”

Ella’s heart thudded. She knew that voice. She knew that man. Maybe not as well as she would have liked. Goran Chandler. She fought the heat coursing up her body. It was all in the past, ancient history. He didn’t even recognize her as the attendant helped him to his seat. Two of the women sat on either side of him, another opposite him. Ibbotson took the end seat, as directed, while the other men claimed the remaining chairs.

Mechanically, Ella introduced their two attendants, the new girl, Sara, and Timon, an older man with years of experience. One last smile. “Enjoy your evening. If there’s anything you need, please don’t hesitate to ask your attendants, or me.”

She walked away, her mind racing. Goran Chandler. Ten years ago he’d been a senior commander, and captain of the frigate Antelope. She had been Lieutenant Bulich then, and he’d kicked her off his ship.

When politics is broken – bring in a woman

Copyright: StockUnlimited

Copyright: StockUnlimited

Another week has flown by. The time really does fly when I’m writing, and that’s what I’ve done. Another Dryden story is under construction, entitled “Ella and the Admiral”. It’ll be a bit more romantic than some of my other work and consequently it won’t be very long.

Meanwhile in the real world Britain has a new prime minister.I’ll have to say, I would have voted to exit the EU. I think it was a good start that has deteriorated into a messy, undemocratic, expensive, self-serving, Brussels bureaucracy. Although I’ll admit I don’t know all the facts. I was absolutely gobsmacked to discover, the day after the vote, that not one British politician had given any thought at all to what would have to happen should the British people vote to (er) LEAVE, I mean, really??? It was so unlikely (despite the polls) that nobody gave it any consideration? I suppose the subsequent fall-out was inevitable. Cameron resigned, Boris Johnson shied away, everybody looked stupid – and it has been left to a WOMAN to pick up the reins.

And it occurred to me that happens rather a lot in western style politics.

Back at the end of the 80’s when the lid finally came off Brian Burke’s WA Inc in Western Australia the male politicians in the Labor party ran a mile. It was obvious that the Labor Party would be decimated at the next election, and nobody had the balls to pick up the poison chalice. Carmen Lawrence stepped up and took over, providing (I believe) strong leadership until the inevitable electoral defeat. Then there was Joan Kirner in Victoria. John Cain resigned after a political and financial scandal, leaving Joan Kirner to pick up the pieces. Again, the subsequent electoral defeat was inevitable. When Anna Bligh took over from Peter Beattie in Queensland the state wasn’t in crisis – yet. But I can’t help but think that Beattie disembarked before the ship of state hit a predictable storm. Maybe I’m wrong. Anna Bligh at least managed to win the first election – but not the next, when Queensland decimated Labor, leaving the party with only six representatives. Who stood up from that debacle? Annastacia Palaszczuk. This remarkable woman actually led Labor back to power at the very next election.

So far, Mrs May is making the right noises in Britain. I wish her well. But it’s clear to me that the western ‘democratic’ system is increasingly falling apart. The Trump phenomenon is an indicator of how much the American people trust their politicians. The votes for more and more minor parties (resulting in the Lib Nats having a precarious hold on power) after the double dissolution election in Australia shows the mood of the Australian people. Everywhere, democracy has been replaced with plutocracy. In Australia we get to choose between the lawyers and bankers, or the Labor union apparatchiks who have never had any other job. Pardon my cynicism. I’ll watch with interest to see what the next generation does.

As I write the press is dissecting the latest atrocity in France. The death toll from a rampaging truck driver after the Bastille Day fireworks in Nice is eighty-four. Eighty-four people enjoying a fireworks display on a holiday. The world is becoming a very dangerous place. And all too often these murders are committed in the name of somebody’s god. I’ll leave it at that.

Let’s end with a pretty picture.

A gathering storm at sunset

A gathering storm at sunset

Other worlds blog hop

Bloghop

The wonderful thing about space opera is you get to create other worlds on far flung planets – any type you like. In my stories they tend to be Earth-like, because if they’re not, we wouldn’t be able to live on them. But while they might be Earth-like in terms of gravity and atmosphere, that doesn’t mean they’re all the same. I created several different worlds in my Dryden Universe stories. Here’s a description of Semla from my latest book, Eye of the Mother.

earth-space-photoTian brought up the hologram of the planet. The bluish sphere hung above the table, rotating slowly. Ice sheets covered both poles. There was one continent and a smattering of islands.

A smooth, female voice delivered the commentary. ” Semla is the second satellite of the M class star, Tripitan. The planet’s day is about one third longer than standard and the year is about two months shorter. Gravity is point nine standard and the atmosphere is breathable. It has no moon and no axial tilt, so it is habitable to sentient life forms only at the equator. The population of about three hundred thousand is two thirds Yrmak and a third human. The economy relies on farming rare herbs, and mining crystal deposits. Do you require further detail?”

This excerpt from A Matter of Trust hints at the vast variety of worlds and cultures in the Dryden Universe. Princess Amira reminisces about her last encounter with Admiral Ul-Mellor, who is not human.

Alien cityShe had met Admiral Ul-Mellor a few times at Fleet functions. He had been polite, but distant, and they spoke only a few words to each other. But on that visit to the catacombs, he was a different man. She’d had a wonderful day with him. He talked about places he had seen but she had only read about; the crystal city in the Unger Hills on Nemo, the temples of Wendora, the vast underground civilization of Ghaltisk. He’d been unfailingly courteous, knowledgeable and prepared to take the time to examine things properly. Together, they’d peered at the detail of the frescoes on the catacomb walls, and tried to find a pattern in the hieroglyphs. After lunch in the city, they’d come back for another round, exploring areas forbidden to the public, but to which he was given access because of his rank. They’d found an altar described as having been used for demon worship. The carvings on its sides depicted writhing shapes so intertwined it was difficult to make out what was intended beyond the fact they were ugly and disturbing. Admiral Ul-Mellor had laughed at the description. He’d said it looked like a fertility rite to him.

Books banner DrydenI have lots of fun creating worlds and writing about them, and I’d like to offer visitors to my blog the chance to win all three of my Dryden Universe series. Just tell me what format you would prefer in a comment on this post (epub, mobi, or pdf) and make sure the email address on the comment is the one I should send the books to. Entries close on 31 July. I’ll choose a winner at random, and send the prize to their nominated email address.

If you’d like to be in the draw for the main prize, click on the link and add your details. a Rafflecopter giveaway

And don’t forget to visit the other sites for more chances to win.

Pelicans

Shaping to land

Shaping to land

It’s actually pretty easy to get a half decent photo of a pelican. They’re such majestic birds, floating through the air on those massive wings, hardly bothering to flap. Or soaring on an up draft. They’re so big they don’t worry much about humans, either. In fact, returning fishermen are sought out, particularly while they’re cleaning a catch.

Pelicans are everywhere. They frequent lakes, beaches and rivers – and they’ll fly thousands of miles into Australia’s dead heart when the inland rivers run and the salt lakes fill with water. I shared a couple of photos of the thousands of birds on Lake Eyre last March. Nobody knows how they know the lake is full.

But while it’s exceptionally simple to catch a nice photo of a pelican bobbing on water, reflected in a calm surface, I like to capture birds doing what they do. Burrum Heads, the mouth of the Burrum River, which is a short drive north of Hervey Bay, is a great place to see pelicans, and a great place to catch them landing on the water, or taking off. But we do get them down our beach at Torquay, or hanging around the Urangan pier watching the fishermen.

Here’s a few of my favourite pelican pictures.

A light pole on the Urangan pier is a favourite spot

A light pole on the Urangan pier is a favourite spot

Waddling out to the water at the beach Hervey Bay

Waddling out to the water at the beach Hervey Bay

Take off in formation

Take off in formation

Landing in formation

Landing in formation

Bundaberg botanic garden

Bundaberg botanic garden

 

 

A week on the wild side

It’s pretty well known I’m keen on birds. We don’t have any domestic pets, so our yard is a safe haven for many bird species. They’re part of daily life, adding colour and movement to the environment. But sometimes accidents happen, and sometimes very special things happen. This week was packed full of unusual events.

IMG_4452

Blue-faced honey eater about to land

One of the blue faced honey eaters decided to fly into the garage through the people door, and found itself stuck, with nowhere to go. So it flew toward the garden. But there’s a window in the way. It panicked, fluttering around on the glass. Fortunately, I noticed. The bird wasn’t interested in being shooed toward the door (which it couldn’t see), so I caught it in my hands. It squawked a bit, but latched onto my finger as it would a perch and sat quite calmly as I carried it out to the garden. It didn’t say thank you or anything, but it was quite remarkable that the bird allowed me to catch it. I felt privileged.

Young magpie begging

Young magpie begging

A day or two later, on my evening prowl around the yard, I noticed commotion from the rather decrepit shade house. The shade cloth has split at the top, so birds can get in. They can also get out, of course, but accidents happen. The culprit turned out to be a junior magpie. Once again, the bird thought it should be able to get out at the end of the shade house. The shade cloth is only thirty percent, so while not transparent, you can see through it. I went into the shade house, leaving the door open. But the magpie was in no mood to be rescued. I tried to coax it – the birds are territorial, so junior knew me – but I had to settle for herding it until it could see the open door at the other end of the shade house. It was off, and outta there. Job done. Yay me.

Rainbow Lorikeet

Rainbow Lorikeet

And then a day or two later I was standing outside the back door watching the lorikeets flutter around the bird table. They’re used to me being there with the camera against my face. It’s a great place to try and catch a good photo of them in flight. (Thank goodness for digital cameras – if we were still using film I would have given up. I might get a two percent return rate. If I’m lucky.) Anyway, here I am with the 70-300mm zoom lens pointed at the birds. Fully zoomed, it’s quite long. A bird flew towards me. I expected it to disappear and fly up to the roof. To my amazement. the lorikeet landed ON the lens, and just sat, looking at me. A moment later its mate joined it. I was gobsmacked. On reflection, I think they were just curious. Twice a lorikeet has come inside when the back door was open. It landed on the back of a chair, had a look around, then flew out again.

I love my avian mates. Except the crows. I would probably like them, too, if they didn’t make such a row at the crack of dawn.

Today is election day here in Australia. I’m not sure I’m thrilled about the two major parties, but with our preferential voting system, voting for a minor party often means you end up voting for a major, anyway. Really, I think our Western society model is breaking down and needs to be replaced. We seem to have a choice between supporting business, or letting the trade unions rule the roost. Anyway, I’ve done my hard-won democratic duty. We’ll see tomorrow.

On being an independent author

As promised, the new novella, Eye of the Mother, #3 in the Dryden Universe series, is finally out there, a little paper boat struggling for room in the Amazon Sea. It’s available through Barnes and Noble, iTunes, and (eventually) Kobo as well. I’m not comfortable with an all the eggs in one basket scenario and I don’t much care for monopolies. So here are the links, if you’d care to take a look. And if you want to find out what this Dryden Universe thing is all about (and the other two titles in the series) please click here.

Eye of the Mother at AmazonĀ Nook Kobo iTunes

This book has been a loooong time coming. Part of the reason is life. You know the one. Travel, health, that sort of thing. And the other is simple lack of confidence. There are so many books out there, so many writers jumping up and down yelling ‘pick me, pick me’. So much noise. So many people telling little old independent author me why I won’t succeed unless I do this, that and (payment please) the other. The way the system works reviews are an important part of how well a book does, but not many people are prepared to take the time. Then there are the internet trolls, brave humans (at least I think they’re humans) who hide behind the cloak of anonymity to heap scorn and destroy. And there’s piracy. People who steal your work and give it away – or even worse, sell it without paying any sort of royalty. Or other bottom-dwelling scum who steal a story, change a few words here and there, then publish it as their own work.

Even if it hasn’t happened to me (and most have), I know authors who have experienced all those circumstances. It all piles up, feather by feather, until the weight is suffocating and you wonder why you do this thing? Why bother to spend months writing and editing? Why bother to pay for a cover, and professional editing? Nobody cares, nobody reads the books, and if nobody reads them, there is no point. Which leads to ‘maybe I’m not very good at this; maybe I should stop.’

And yet the sales never dry up completely. For me, it’s a hobby; something to keep my mind ticking over and my fingers flexed. Sure, maybe a miracle will occur and one of my titles will ignite the internet world. But I’m not holding my breath. I’ve come to accept that I write space opera with a dollop of romance. Which, as I’ve mulled on before, tends to mean either not enough sex/romance or not enough science. Well, dudes, it is what it is. These days I do it for me. Rather like my traveller’s tales. I’m delighted that some people enjoyed the read, and like the photos, but for me it’s a personal history – places I’ve been, things that happened.

So I’ll keep writing. Admiral Jackson Prentiss’s story has passed twenty thousand words. It will be a full novel, and I’m having fun crafting my stories set in space, imagining new worlds. As usual, I’ve borrowed from history. I have a pretty good idea of what happens next, but one can never be certain. That’s part of the attraction of doing it.

If you’ve bought one of my books, thank you, most sincerely. I hope you enjoyed the read, which is the ultimate aim of any story teller.

And I couldn’t let the week go by without mentioning Brexit. If were a Brit I would have voted to leave. In fact, if I were given the opportunity to do so, I would vote to leave the UN. I believe both of these organisations were a great idea at the time. The original European Economic Community worked pretty well. The UN was always a toothless tiger with its veto component. The best recent illustration is the Syrian situation. The EU is a haven for overpaid bureaucrats in Brussels where people sitting in shiny office chairs make up regulations for situations they never experience. The cost to the member organisations (at least, those with any money, such as UK and Germany) is enormous.

A united Europe is a lovely idea. But I think everybody needs to take a backward step and work out how it could really work for everyone, instead of the top-heavy, non-democratic monolith the EU has become.

Oh – and all the economic fuss? That’s a nonsense. Right now NOTHING has happened, and isn’t likely to for quite some time. Go buy up the blue chip shares while they’re cheap. It’ll be a great investment.

 

 

New Release coming soon…

supernovae and extrasolar planetMy latest Dryden Universe story is nearly there, folks.

When fate throws Brent Walker and Tian Axmar together, it’s strictly a business arrangement. She’s an Imperial agent with a problem to solve, he’s a space jockey with an empty bank balance and a tramp freighter for hire.

Eye-of-the-Mother-ebookSomebody’s murdering Yrmaks and Humans, and leaving a mysterious calling card. Somebody wants interspecies war. Tian hires Brent to help her investigate, delving into Yrmak customs and beliefs to understand what’s going on. It’s an increasingly dangerous game, with more than just lives at stake. Before it’s over Brent and Tian will be faced with choices which will change both of them forever.

 

 

 

 

Stop off in Singapore – exploring

Singapore harbour still attracts a lot of shipping

Singapore harbour still attracts a lot of shipping

Today after breakfast on the 38th floor of the Mandarin Orchard hotel we went for a walk, seeking out the old parts of Singapore, and the garden by the bay. We had a long day to kill. Our flight to Australia was due to take off at 12:45am, so we planned on eating enough to tide us over in the lounge at the airport, then sleep our way home.

Singapore national museum on Stamford Rd.

Singapore national museum on Stamford Rd.

Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce building

Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce building

A brochure we found offered a river cruise on a bum boat ā€“ it seemed a good deal to me. The feet were starting to get rebellious, and the damp heat doesn’t encourage activity. Map in hand, we strolled up Orchard Road, (ducking into buildings now and then for a cool-down) then around to the river. Old buildings are still there if you look for them. So are the new towers of the financial district, around Raffles and Stamford, and some very interesting modern architecture.

Quay St

Clarke Quay

Lunch - mostly eaten

Lunch – mostly eaten

Anyway, almost by accident we found Clarke Quay, an old part of Singapore hanging on. Eateries lined the street, awning-covered platforms with tables and chairs on the river bank, the kitchens in the ramshackle buildings over the road. Spruikers stopped us at every establishment, showing us their fresh seafood in fish

Hi-tech sound and air con - with peacock feather

Hi-tech sound and air con – with peacock feather

tanks, ready to be picked and killed. But the prices were too high for us for a lunchtime nibble. Besides, I’m a bit squeamish about that sort of thing. Yes, I know it’s daft.

We ended up at an Indian place offering a curry, rice, Naan, and a couple of condiments and a drink for $10. Sounded good to us. We ordered water to drink, buttered chicken and lamb tikka masala. The meal was delicious ā€“ not too spicy and very filling. We never did go on the boat trip. We needed cash and we didn’t have any, so we strolled on to find an ATM. We ended up near a new development by the bay, and decided to find a train to get us to the garden, and certainly back to the hotel.Ā  Unlike the London tube, the Singapore train network is not intuitive. We were looking for Stamford station and must have gone up and down escalators a dozen times, passing hundreds of shops. Eventually we ended up at Raffles station. It seemed we were just a couple of stops from the garden. One station on this line, then change to another line for one more stop.

Part of the garden by the bay

Part of the garden by the bay

Giant dragonfly

Giant dragonfly

These giant pseudo trees are used for the light show

These giant pseudo trees are used for the light show

The gardens are beautiful and they have their own website here, and there’s a Youtube video of the light show here. I wish my feet were up to the task of doing them justice but they weren’t. So we took the train back to the nearest station to the hotel and made our weary way back to the foyer to await our airport shuttle.

It was a long night before we finally settled on the plane. This was a smaller, older aircraft so the seats didn’t lie completely flat. It took me a while to get to sleep, despite being dog-tired. But eventually a nice little flight attendant woke me to offer me breakfast. The plane wasn’t full, and we sped through customs and immigration. Our best guess at where we’d left our car in the long term carpark turned out to be right, and we headed for home.

Stop-off in Singapore – meeting the locals

Singapore, looking along Orchard Road

Singapore, looking along Orchard Road

We had decided to spend a night in Singapore instead of going straight home. We didn’t fancy landing at 7:30 in the evening, getting through customs etc and then be faced with a four hour drive home. So we took an airport shuttle to the Mandarin Orchard. Here’s a tip. The airport shuttle services most of the large hotels, at the cost of S$9 each (ie S$18 – the Singapore dollar is the same as the AU$). A taxi would have cost us around S$60. They’ll pick you up, too. You just have to ring and book a time.

We’d upgraded our stay for a few worthwhile perks, like getting up to the 38th floor for free drinks and nibbles and breakfast, and the clerk found an empty room so we didn’t have to mooch around until the usual check-in time of 2pm. We showered, changed into Singapore clothes, and went out for a look around hoping to keep the jet lag at bay. We were in Orchard Road, which is just shopping, so we ducked in and out of air-conditioned edifices, generally pootling around. Inevitably, we ended up in a camera shop. The proprietor had the gift of the gab and persuaded me I had enough lenses – but this converter can double the magnification, and it’s much cheaper than a new lens, too. It sounded like a good idea at the time, and Pete drove him down to a reasonable price.

It being lunchtime we looked around for somewhere to eat and ended up in a basement offering hawker type food. We settled on ‘chicken rice’, which seemed to be a favourite staple. It turned out to be (um) chicken and a bowl of rice. We sat at long bench tables open for anybody. A lady came to sit opposite us, intent on her bowl of food. Pete nudged me and pointed out a poster. “That doesn’t look anything like the carrot cake you make.” It didn’t. It looked like fried up mince. What could I say? “No, it doesn’t.”

The lady sharing our space said, “It’s not cake.” She then described how it’s made. I won’t even try to remember. Read about it here.Ā  That instigated a conversation. She told us we should be having soy sauce and/or chile sauce with our chicken rice, and went herself to fetch a couple of little bowls from the vendor for us. We chatted with this lady for several hours, talking about food and cooking. She was a real estate agent, taking a lunch break. We learned nobody buys land in Singapore (unless they’re very rich). But they buy their apartments. When she went off to work we emerged into the humid heat.

What now? We dithered and a local approached us. What did we want to do? We asked about the satay markets Pete remembered from his visits here thirty or forty years ago. Our new best friend explained they were now in the gardens by the bay. Very nice place, they have a light show after seven, then you can eat. Was there anything else? We asked if there were any computer shops around. “Oh not here, shopping space is too expensive. I can show you a place. I’m not due for work a while yet.” So he escorted us down to a building a few blocks away, took me firmly by the arm, and led us into a shop where he introduced Patrick, who would look after us. Patrick tried to sell me a lens ā€“ a converter that would double my telephotos, and would also enable wide-angle shots. I’ve got a prime wide angle lens, and we’d just bought the converter, but we listened. We were told the lens was worth $3,000 ā€“ but you can have it for $2,500, plus you get your GST back. Every time we tried to leave, the price dropped. We said we’d think about it and come back tomorrow and we finally backed away at $500. The smell of rat was becoming increasingly pungent.

Interestingly, our new best friend was hanging around outside the building, apparently almost off to catch his train to work. Maybe he hoped for a commission from his work for Patrick.

Having sore feet, we went back to the room and I looked up the lens on the internet. Nobody else seemed to have such a device. And the moral of the story is yes, you can great some great gear in Singapore at a great price. But do your homework before you go shopping. Know what you want and what it should cost. These dudes are masters at the selling game.

We had intended to go to the garden by the bay for light show and satay, but jet lag got the better of us. After an unintended nap of a couple of hours we went up the hotel’s 38th floor for drinks and to admire the sunset. A storm was rolling in. We decided to order room service and have an early night.

Sunset between the apartment blocks

Sunset between the apartment blocks