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Karen Bayly

Copywriter, Author of Fantasy, Sci-fi, Horror 

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The Art of Armchair Travel

With the world in the grip of Covid-19, travel is fast becoming a distant memory for many people. It doesnt affect me at the moment as I’d planned to travel when I retired. By that stage, I hoped to have saved enough to journey to distant lands. Unlike my peers, I’ve rarely had spare cash available for hopping on planes to go overseas. I’ve done some travel within Australia and over to New Zealand, and there was a semi-business trip to Los Angeles, but that’s about it.

There are places I’ve dreamed of visiting for many years. Unfortunately, life has not worked out as I expected in so many ways, and the likelihood of overseas travel, if not dead, is definitely in palliative care.

However, I’m learning the art of armchair travel. Nowadays, there are a multitude of ways one can “travel” from the comfort of one's own home. There have always been books - stories set in far-off places, travel books, autobiographies, and lusciously photographed coffee table books. You can add to this the joy of YouTube - thousands of videos extolling the landscape and culture of just about any country you can visit (and a few you can’t!).

It helps that I’ve always been able to insert myself into books and especially into movies. I’ve “taken part” in more movies than most actors!

Is arm chair the same as real travel? Of course not, but it’s better than nothing. Here are my top three favourites.

Iceland

Iceland has fascinated me since high school, where I learned about its geology. It lies on the divergent boundary between the Eurasian plate and the North American plate and sits right above a hotspot, the Iceland plume. Magma, and therefore heat, is close to the surface, and this gives Iceland its geothermal phenomena, such as geysers and hot springs.

People used to think I was odd for wanting to go there. Now it’s a popular tourist destination and I know many people who have visited (cries into pillow).

However, its popularity means that it is far easier to find information on Iceland. There are novels now translated into English (I’m fond of Icelandic noir and Ragnar Jónasson is a current favourite), images abound on the internet, and you can watch numerous videos on YouTube e.g. Discover Iceland - A Winter Road Trip , or Iceland - Land of Fire and Ice.

Then there are Icelandic horses. These amazing creatures have five gaits - walk, trot, gallop, tolt (which is like a trot but where the legs move parallel not opposite) and a flying pace (a super fast tolt). This video shows the paces slowed down as well as normal speed. And even standing still, they are shaggy beauties.

Image: Drew Doggett

Simien Mountains in Ethiopia

I first heard about this spectacular place on a travel documentary hosted by Joanna Lumley. The Simien Mountains offers uninterrupted views of endless high peaks including Ethiopia’s highest mountain, Ras Dashen, interspersed with vast, green valleys. You can see fascinating wildlife, including the endemic Gelada Baboons and rare Walia Ibex, and a vast array of unique flowers, trees and plants. Sounds amazing.

It’s not a hugely popular destination but you can still find videos on YouTube, like Hiking in the Simien Mountains, or Ras Dashen - Simien Mountains National Park.

Image: African Budget Safaris

Białowieża Forest, Poland

Białowieża Forest (pronunciation here) is one of the last and largest remaining parts of the immense primeval forest that once stretched across the European Plain. The forest is home to 800 European bison, Europe's heaviest land animal. Primeval forest! How awesome is that!  There are some wonderful documentaries on YouTube - check out Bialowieza primeval forest part 1 and Wild Things - Wildlife in Bialowieza, Poland (English).

Sadly, Poland keeps threatening to log it and so few of the rest of the world even know it exists. Not a great recipe for preservation.

Image: © WWF/LawnikAdam

Other things that were on my list include:

  • Gypsy Caravan Adventure in Ireland
  • What I refer to as my “Ancestral Tour” i.e. visiting the places my forebears lived. This includes London, Wales, Ireland, Cornwall, Normandy, and Frankfurt-am-Main in Germany
  • The Carpathian Mountaines - maybe horse riding in the Calimani National Park, or a four-day trekking tour in Gorgany, the wildest region in the Carpathian Mountains 
  • Timisoara, Romania
  • Horse riding the Camino de Santiago from the Pyrenees (Camino Frances). My knees a shot so walking such a long distance is not really an option.
  • Finistere in Brittany
  • A week in Paris
  • Comic-Con 
  • A white Christmas with real snow

All are possible as an armchair traveller. Well, maybe not a week in Paris, or a white Christmas with real snow, but I can still watch videos about Paris, and opt for Christmas in July in the Snowy Mountains in my home state. Where there’s a will, there’s a way.

Author Question: What’s the best thing about being a writer?

The best thing about being a writer is creating new worlds and characters to populate that world. You can explore so many different scenarios and travel to places no-one else has ever been. You can share a vision of how the world could be - for better or worse. If you're lucky and someone actually reads your work, then moving that person emotionally or helping them think differently is an added bonus.

News Booth - Getting older and getting up

There is still lots of good stuff happening out there amidst the bad but this offering is a more personal News Booth.

The Bad News: Getting older has a lot to answer for

I always thought life would get easier as I got older but I was wrong. Not that it gets any more difficult - at least not yet! However, it seems for everything you learn to accept or overcome, life continues to throw new things to accept or overcome. Ah, well. C’est la vie!

There are some days when I really do not want to get out of bed but I do and here is why...

The Good News: 6 things that make getting up worthwhile no matter your age...

1. Coffee

I love my morning coffee. I am NOT a morning person, although my cats and day job insist I must be. Coffee is heaven in a mug. The flavour, the aroma… mmm. A mug of Oxfam Fair South American blend sets me up for the day.

2. Animals

All kinds, vertebrate and invertebrate. They are what make this world beautiful, magical, terrifying, and wondrous. Puny humans, pfft! (Yes, I know we’re destroying the world but this is supposed to be the good news.)

3. Trees

Well, all vegetation really, but there is nothing like a canopy of trees holding you in its leafy embrace to make you feel you belong to the earth. And hugging trees... that’s good as well.

4. Petrichor

Petrichor is the pleasant, earthy scent produced when rain falls on dry ground. Australian scientists Isabel Bear and Richard Thomas identified and named a yellowish oil trapped in rocks and soil which moisture releases. This oil is responsible for the wonderful smell. The word itself comes from the Greek petra, meaning “stone”, and īchōr, the ethereal fluid that takes the place of blood in gods and immortals.

5. People who love me

I don’t have many of these but I value the ones I have - too much to add their photos. So here’s a picture of some kids on an adventure instead.

6. Hope

Without it, life is not worth living. When I cannot find it in myself, I can often find it in a glorious sunrise, a starry night, a cat’s purr, or a Photoshopped image combining the three (you have to imagine the cat's purr).

What gets you up and into the day?

 


BREAKING NEWS...

I recently did short interview about writing for the Studio 2166 Creatives Meetup at our local library. The video also is to help promote Fairfield City Creative Writers group which meets for the first time on 14 March.

Interview for Studio 2166

Author Question: What are you currently working on?

I'm currently working on a YA fantasy novel, tentatively titled "The Witch Who Wasn't".  It's about a young witch whose parents disappeared when she was a toddler, and who a famous wizard once called "The Witch Who Wasn't". Needless to say, she has a long journey to discover herself and her place in the world.

I've just completed the first draft, so it will be another few months before I have a version I can shop around to agents and publishers, then probably another 2-4 of years before it is published. Such is the life of a writer.


Image Source: Dramas / Shutterstock.com
Artwork: Karen Bayly

And now for something completely different...

I had planned to do a Good News, Bad News post, and there was plenty I could have written about. People are still finding extraordinary solutions to dreadful issues. However, the ongoing bushfires and extreme heat conditions in Australia have taken their toll. The emotional response, both positive and negative, has been draining, and I can’t deal with any more “news” at the moment. The sheer amount of disinformation and toxicity, some of it personal, makes my head spin.

Three things I've noted from the experience of the past few months:

  • People can be extraordinarily kind and generous in times of need. Folks from around the world rose to donate money, time, and effort to help Australia. Many lives were saved but many lives were lost.
  • People will believe what suits them, no matter how much evidence to the contrary you present. In many cases, they won’t even listen to the evidence. I trained as a scientist and am by nature skeptical, but if you present me with evidence I will consider it. Even if it doesn’t change my mind completely, it will give me a new way of looking at the issue - or at least send me looking for more information.
  • People don’t want a reasonable solution, they want the solution that supports their beliefs. They want black and white answers in a world where grey answers offer the safest solutions. And the precautionary principle has no chance.

All these just make me want to crawl under the bed covers and cry.


Source: Huffington Post

So moving right along…

I titled this blog “And now for something completely different…” in honour of Monty Python member, Terry Jones, who died this week. (Sorry, I AM a bit of a misery guts at the moment!).


Source: British Comedy Guide

Although not my favourite Python (Eric Idle wins that award), I loved his acting and his portrayal of older women. Yes, I know that these might be stamped as 'not politically correct' but there was a lot of love in those portrayals, especially Brian’s mum in “The Life of Brian”. There’s a lovely tribute to his work here.

My PhD supervisor, Chris Evans, was a Cambridge University man, and he said that the older female characters in Monty Python were based on the formidable Cambridge “bedders”. These were the women who cleaned the dormitories, changed the bed linen - even if you were still in the bed according to him - and who ruled the roost. What he says seems true if you believe this story or this one.

So in the spirit of oddball humour and a need for light heartedness, here’s a very silly story. WARNING: this ends with a really bad pun.

A Modern Fairy Tale

There once was a somewhat mean man named Big Nude-Stockinghood, who was noted for his inventive tattoos, designer sawn-off shotgun, cockroach farm, and the nude-coloured stocking he wore over his head. He robbed banks for a living and no-one said a word to him about it, not even the police. He lived in a run-down house at the end of a street of run-down houses in a town called “Paradise”. If any one living there had understood what irony was, they would have laughed at the name... or at least smirked pronouncedly.

Big Nude-Stockinghood didn’t understand irony. He also didn’t laugh or smirk pronouncedly. In fact, his expressions were somewhat limited by the stocking over his face To the casual passerby, Big Nude-Stockinghood had only one expression which could best be described as “squashed”. Sometimes the squashiness gravitated upward, sometimes downwards, but whichever way it went, the squashiness remained.

One day Big Nude-Stockinghood met a woman. A beautiful woman who was a genuine femme fatale. Big Nude-Stockinghood was fascinated. He’d seen women before but not like this one. The women he knew were hard, rough, and mean, like the neighbourhood in which they lived. This one was soft, smooth, and sweet, and she smelled of perfume and cookies and secret womanly things. Most of all Big Nude-Stockinghood loved the way she dressed, so feminine, so sexy. All slinky dresses and silken stockings.

Stockings! On her legs!

She spoke to him of her dreams. She shared her heart with him. It wasn't long before Big Nude-Stockinghood was smitten.

Being around this delightfully delicious woman had a strange effect on Big Nude-Stockinghood. He began to experience the world in a new way. He saw colours more strongly, felt textures more more keenly, and the air seemed more fragrant then he remembered.

More importantly, he began to see himself quite differently. He now knew there was much more to him than the big, tough son-of-a-bitch he presented to the world. To express this new persona, he played with puppies, cuddled kittens, and smiled at small children. But the puppies howled, the kittens hissed and the children ran away. All of them were scared of Big Nude-Stockinghood. They didn’t trust his squashed expression and were terrified he would hurt them.

This upset Big Nude-Stockinghood, and introduced him to two new emotions - fear and doubt. He was seeing his life with fresh eyes and so wanted everything to be perfect. Now he was afraid that his life would stay just as it had been before the liberation of his senses, before the woman of his dreams showed him a glimpse of how wonderful the world could be.

He realised that he could no longer be Big Nude-Stockinghood. He must change completely. He gave up robbing banks, sold his sawn-off shotgun to a travelling preacher, gave his cockroach farm to the Orphans Relief Fund, and undertook extremely expensive laser surgery to remove his tattoos. It all hurt... even for someone as big and strong as he.

There also was the not-so-small matter of his name and the stocking over his head. If he took the stocking off, then he really would have to change his name. He asked the woman if she thought a new name was a good idea. She regarded from underneath her long dark lashes, pouted a little and said: “Honey, in these shoes? I don't think so.” He pondered on her words for a long time, not understanding, afraid he would never understand. He wished with all his heart that an answer would come soon.

One day shortly after he made his wish, he woke up with a song in his heart and a new lightness of being. At last he was certain what it was he wanted to do, and who he wanted to be. He leaped out of bed, ran down to the local department store and bought a pair of silken stockings. He rushed back home, shaved his legs until they were smoother than a beer bottle, then carefully put on the stockings, one leg at a time, revelling in the exquisite new sensations he was experiencing.

Ever since then Big Bertha Sexy Legs has graced the stages of drag shows everywhere. She is hometown queen of “Paradise” and loved by puppies, kittens, and small children alike.  An avid supporter of all charities and especially of the “not quite sure where we fit in society” ones, she ran an auction last November where three stockings from her famous solo drag queen show “Run Lola’s Stockings, Run” were sold for a record amount.

Proceeds were divided amongst “Running For Premature Babies” (after all, the poor little things can hardly run for themselves), Movember (Big Bertha had a soft spot for any man with a moustache), plus little Freddy Singh and his experimental cat, Shiva, to help both attend the inaugural Genetically Enhanced Feline Cat Show in Goa (in the interest of improving intercultural relationships and promoting happy call centres).

Big Bertha’s charity auction proved the power of silk stockings. It was one for the running, two for the mo, three to get Freddy to the Goa Cat Show.

Author Question: How do you deal with writer’s block?

 
I rarely get writer's block nowadays but it has taken me a long time to get to this point. How do I avoid it? I sit down and start writing. I stop editing an idea while it is still in my head and just go with it. If I write drivel, fine. At least I know and can start again. Sometimes I use a writing prompt from a website. It may have nothing to do with my current piece of work, but it gets me writing and provides the opportunity for magic to happen. A seemingly left of centre prompt can lead me to where I need to be.
 
Of course, I'm by no means perfect. Rather than writer's block, I get writer's resistance. Sometimes I just don't want to write. When sales of my novel are down or when I've received one too many rejections, I can get overwhelmed by feelings of "What's the point?" I find writer's resistance is more difficult to overcome but the solution is exactly the same as for writer's block.
 
 
 

New Londinium

Another new year is almost upon us. I’m not sure how I feel. I’m trying to be hopeful but the out of control bushfires, poor air quality from the smoke, and the all too common heatwaves here in Australia do not encourage hope or optimism. I wonder if “2020” is predictive? Will it be the year we see our world and the way forward with acuity? That would be lovely.

Sometimes I think I’d like to move somewhere else, but the problems we face are worldwide. This is partly why I like to create new worlds.

The World of “Fortitude”

When I wrote “Fortitude”, I was keen to explore an alternative steampunk world, one that was not depressingly grimy and harsh like our Victorian London. I wanted a world where the future seemed bright, clean, and egalitarian, one that suggested a few small (and not so small) changes in our past could have made a big difference to our future. I wanted to rewrite history.

So I did, starting with a premise that the Romans left Britain a little later than in our history. This served to develop a different political system in Britannia, one in which the role of kings and queens atrophied and eventually died, but that of lords and ladies lingered, as did the concept of democratic government. (Not that I have anything against monarchies - a good monarch is better than a tyrannical government.)

I stuck with the old Roman names for places where these existed in Roman times - “Brittania” (Britain), “Tamesis” (the Thames and derived from the Celtic “Tamesas”), “Floet Street” (Fleet Street), “Siluria” (South Wales and also of Celtic origin), “Caledonia” (Scotland) and “Londinium” (London). Like the our world’s Londinium which Boudica and the Icenians burnt to the ground, the “Fortitude” version was destroyed by fire (at a later date and not by Boudica) and rebuilt - hence “New Londinium”.  I did not stick with Roman names outside of Britain - for example, the Roman name for Germany was “Germania”. I used “Franconia” named after the Franks who once conquered and occupied that region.


“Reflections on the Thames” John Atkinson Grimshaw (1880)

I studied TV shows set in Victorian London, especially "dark" fiction series such as "Ripper Street" and "Penny Dreadful". I also watched the BBC 2 experiment "The Victorian Slum" where 21st century folk spent a few weeks living in an East End slum, Victorian style. I also collected images of Victorian England for reference. The London these shows and images depict is not as sparkly and clean as New Londinium, but both gave me context. In particular, I loved the paintings of John Atkinson Grimshaw, an artist noted for his nocturnal scenes of urban Victorian life. The light and moodiness of his works suited the feel of the story.


“Moonlight and Shadow”, John Atkinson Grimshaw (1886)

I've always had a bit of thing for the River Thames. No idea why. I’ve never seen it but its serpentine grace and its role as backdrop to so much history captured my imagination years ago. I would love to go mud larking on the Thames - as touted by Lara Maiklem in her book of the same name. What a joy it would be to uncover relics of the past and wonder about the countless folk who lived, worked, and played by this ancient river. How fascinating to ponder the ebb and flow of tides and communities alike.


“Nightfall on the Thames”, John Atkinson Grimshaw (1880)

However, I'm not a fan of big cities and modern day London is not my cup of tea. But I would like to live in New Londinium. It isn't perfect by any means. No place ever is. But is has the potential to be a beacon of hope and forward thinking in a world of constant change.


Dawn over the Thames (source unknown)

Author Question: Where did you get the idea for your most recent book?

As someone who trained in the sciences I've long been fascinated by the idea that just because science can, it doesn't mean science should. Even before Ian Malcolm's quotable quote in "Jurassic Park", I'd thought about it long and hard while doing my degrees. Ethics - what you do and how you do it - should be an integral part of experiment design and scientists must be aware of the possible misuse of their work. I also love the steampunk aesthetic, something that first began with the novels of Jules Verne and the TV show "The Wild, Wild West". Most of all though, I wanted to write a tale with positive female characters participating in a rollicking adventure with elements of science, fantasy and gothic horror.

 

Yule Lads and Christmas Cats

It will soon be Christmas. I find it difficult to feel Christmassy these days. It’s so hot in Australia in summer with temperatures up 40 °C (104 °F) and beyond. Most houses and apartments do not have air conditioning, and celebrating in sweltering heat is not my idea of fun. Indeed, it’s not most people’s idea of fun.

I’ve always envied those who live in snowy climes. A white Christmas seems so romantic to me and experiencing one is on my bucket list. The place I’d most like to spend Christmas in Iceland. You’re almost guaranteed a white Christmas. December is the darkest time of the year in Iceland so there’s also the strong possibility you’ll be able to see the glorious Northern Lights.


Photo from Regent Holidays UK

Not only is it a fascinating place, but they have incredible Christmas traditions. The ‘official’ Christmas celebration takes place at 6:00 pm on Christmas Eve when Icelanders eat a huge home-cooked dinner then open their gifts.

Every Icelander typically receives at least one book as a gift each year.  In fact, we could rename Iceland “Bookland” as it publishes more books per capita than any other country in the world. The bulk of book sales happen in the two months leading up to Christmas.

And then there are these guys...

The thirteen Yule Lads

Christmas in Iceland lasts for 26 days, and during this time a troupe of trolls visit Icelanders. These are the thirteen Yule Lads, each with their own definitive mischief-making character. They live in a cave in a secret location in the mountains with their mother, the terrifying Grýla, her do-nothing husband, Leppalúði, and the Christmas Cat, Jólakötturinn.


Photo by ????. I couldn’t find a credit for this image but I love how the lads
are having fun, plus the ptarmigan in the bottom right corner is a bonus.

The lads are:

  1. Stekkjarstaur, or Sheep-Cote Clod, breaks into the sheep pens and tries to steal milk from the ewes. However, his two peg legs make it difficult for him to get into the pens.
  2. Giljagaur, also known as Gully Gawk, hides and waits for the chance to steal milk from cowsheds.
  3. Stúfur is short and stubby. He loves to eat burnt bits of food that get stuck to pans.
  4. Þvörusleikir is tall and skinny. His name means “Spoon licker”, and that is what he does when no-one is looking.
  5. Pottaskefill (Pot-Scraper) steals leftovers by knocking at the door, then stealing food from the pots when the inhabitants rush to see who it is.
  6. Askasleikir (Bowl Licker) licks bowls.
  7. Hurðaskellir (Door Slammer) likes to slam doors. He thinks this is amusing.
  8. Skyrgámur loves eating skyr, a yummy Icelandic yoghurt. We get skyr in Australia but I’m not sure how authentic it is.
  9. Bjúgnakrækir, or Sausage Swiper, crawls through soot and smoke to steal salty, smoked Icelandic sausages.
  10. Gluggagægir, the Window-Peeper, peers through windows looking for food to steal.
  11. Gáttaþefur has a large nose and a good sense of smell. He stands at doorways and sniffs out bread, especially laufabrauð (see image below).
  12. Ketkrókur, or Meat-Hook, uses with a long stick with a hook at the end, which he sticks down chimneys to steal meat.
  13. Kertasníkir name means Candle-Stealer. He likes stealing candles from children.


Laufabrauð

Jólakötturinn — the Christmas Cat

According to Icelandic tradition, anyone who finished their chores before Christmas would get an item of clothing as a reward. Meanwhile, lazy children (and adults) who didn’t get their work done would have to face Jólakötturinn. It’s an enormous black cat that prowls Iceland on Christmas Eve.


Original image by Peter Francis Fahy

It peers into windows to see if there are clothes among the presents for each child (or adult). If so, it moves on. If not, it eats the child (or adult). So be grateful for socks, underpants, ugly Christmas jumpers or kitschy t-shirts.

via GIPHY

News Booth: Saving Children

I introduced the idea of a steampunk style News Booth in my novel, “Fortitude”. This is the blog version.  So what’s on today?

The Good News: Children are being saved!

More than a quarter of a billion children have a better chance to grow up healthy, educated and safe than in the past two decades. Save the Children’s 2019 Global Childhood Report shows that the world has made remarkable progress in protecting the lives of children, thanks to strong political leadership and social investment.

Photo by Branden Harvey on Unsplash

Circumstances for children have improved in 173 out of 176 countries since 2000. They based the evaluation on children’s access to health care, education, nutrition and protection from harmful practices like child labour and child marriage. This means today there are:

  • 4.4 million fewer child deaths per year
  • 49 million fewer stunted children
  • 130 million more children in school
  • 94 million fewer child labourers
  • 11 million fewer girls forced into marriage or married early
  • 3 million fewer teen births per year
  • 12,000 fewer child homicides per year

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

The Bad News: Media reporting? What media reporting?

Admittedly, everything is not 100%  as one in four children still don’t have the right to a safe and healthy childhood. Children living in or fleeing conflict zones are among the most disadvantaged.

However, the overall result is amazing. Recall seeing it reported on any media outlets? No? Me neither. Even a Google search came up with nothing from any news website.

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Media has always focused on sensationalist stories to some extent - that’s what sells. Even the Romans were prone to news reports that encouraged biased impressions of events rather than neutrality. However, this editorial tactic has become increasingly prevalent over the years, and now we no longer trust what they report.

An unfortunate side effect is that genuinely good news, stories that make us feel good about ourselves as humans, go unreported. No sensational enough, not ‘sexy’ enough, not divisive enough. I think that's sad.

If you want to keep up with the good news (and there is plenty of it out there), I suggest subscribing to sites like Future Crunch or OZY.

via GIPHY

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