P&O Pacific Cruise: Noumea for Me-a (Day 3)

Before I get into this post, I want to give a thousand apologies for the delay.  Starting a new job has taken up a great deal of time and I have let my blog fall to the wayside.  I will be doing my best to keep it up in the new year.

Now, where were we?

Ah yes, that’s right.  Somewhere in the Pacific Ocean.  We weren’t due to arrive in Noumea, New Caledonia until 2pm that afternoon, so we were confined to another morning of endless ocean.  While the open sea still held its charm, that morning was dreary and grey, turning the flat expanse of the Pacific into a dull mirror.  The sun did its best to power through here and there, but ultimately the clouds won.  We spent our morning wandering around the ship, getting to know any areas we had not yet seen.  But by lunchtime there was nowhere on the ship that could pass the time fast enough.  I spent most of the early afternoon on our room’s balcony studying marine biology- after all, what better place to study marine biology than the middle of the ocean?  I made sure to keep looking up, eyes fixed on the horizon.  So many times I thought I could see land, but it always turned out to be nothing more than a dark cloud.  Hours passed without incident.  That was until around 1pm.

Land ho!

At first it was so faint that I thought it was another cloud.  But as I flicked on my polarized sunglasses on to cut the glare, I realized that that dark shape on the horizon was New Caledonia.  Now this may sound silly, but I was overcome with emotion.  Twenty one years old and I had never seen a foreign country.  Until that very moment.  To see the peaks of the islands rising up out of the gloomy horizon was like something out of an adventure novel to me- like some lost pirate island waiting in the mist.  But it was far more real and tangible than that- it was the first time in my life seeing another country.

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As fast as it had appeared, the island of New Caledonia solidified with every passing moment.  The shoals and atolls were the next to appear, and began to spot the water as we approached.  Unfortunately the bad weather somewhat dampened their beauty, but even in the cloudy skies the colour of the still pristine reefs endured.  Signs of habitation soon appeared in the form of yachts moored around the tiny atolls.  And in the distance, the main island drew ever closer.  The closer we got, the more the ship seemed to tip to one side as everyone rushed to port side to see our first destination.

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The waters shallowed as our ship came round a small headland.  Two locals stood on its rocky outcropping, either fishing or witnessing our arrival, or both.  And as we rounded that small headland, the port of Noumea lay before us.  I’d seen foreign land only an hour ago, and now for the first time I was seeing a foreign city.  The fact that this was a place with an entirely different set of languages and cultural norms to my home still hadn’t quite sunk in, but it was getting there.

Our ship was slowly herded into the harbour by tug boats, and we spent the entire time on our port side balcony taking in this slice of France in the Pacific.  Then all of a sudden, we heard the sound of drums.  As the ship turned to face its port side, and our balcony, to the city, we saw the source of the sound.  On the cruise ship terminal were four Noumeans in traditional dress, dancing to the sound of the drums.  And following every flourish of their grass streamers in their hands was a shout of

“Welcome to Noumea!”

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And that was the moment it hit home.  Here I was, in a place that truly was no longer home, but certainly not uninviting.  After twenty one years it finally clicked that there was indeed a world beyond the horizon of home.  That’s the best I can do to put that emotion into words.

Unfortunately, at that moment the weather took a turn for the worst as the rain set in.  It seemed we would not be treated the spectacle of blue Pacific waters today, but it did little to dampen our spirits.  Although it did plenty to dampen our clothes!

Our mode of transport for this rainy day was going to be quite unconventional.  We had booked through the cruise line a trip on the “Tchou Tchou” train, which is one of those tiny novelty trains on wheels you often see at fair events.  Except this little engine that could would be driving on the road.  With cars.  Cars so close that if I had my arm out the window, I may have lost it.  But vehicular safety aside, it was certainly a fun and unique way to tour the city of Noumea, and our guide was great at pointing out locations and tidbits we would have missed touring alone.

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Our ticket to ride took us to all the best spots in Noumea, including Lemon Bay, which I’m sure would have been a thousand times more picturesque if it was not raining.  But even in the foul weather, I could imagine the beauty it would have in the sun.  And as we went on, even the smallest things in Noumea delighted me- signs in French, driving on the right hand side, and the odd cohesion between French and traditional island architecture.  So many things were the same as home, but just as many things were not.

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Our brave train then gave a solid effort as it climbed up the slopes of a nearby hill.  As we rose up away from the city below, the ocean stretched out before us, unfortunately clouded but just as commanding and vast as always.  The view from the top afforded us views of the bay and the city below, as well as a sneaky peak of a military installation and a somewhat creepy military radio tower that overpowered our train’s speakers with terrifyingly loud static every time we passed it.  As I stood at the top of that hill, I told my mum, and myself, that I was coming back, because I wanted to stand on this hill again and see New Caledonia in the Pacific sun.  And perhaps I can give an updated review when I do that!

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On our way back into town, we passed the city’s old jail, which was conveniently located across the road from where the old guillotine used to be located.  Of course it couldn’t be French territory without a guillotine!  But the cutting edge device had long since been removed and replaced with an exceedingly buff Jesus on a cross.  Our journey took us somewhat around the back of the city as well, where the glitz and shine of the waterfront was not so apparent.  It was at this point perhaps the disconnect between home and here started to really set in, and perhaps I was experiencing a little culture shock at this point as well.  But at no stage did I ever feel uncomfortable or unwelcome, for even passersby on the street would wave and exclaim “Welcome to Kanaky!”, using the traditional name for New Caledonia used by the native Kanak people.  It was clear this was a place with a lot of history, both good and bad.

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The sun was getting low by the time we arrived back at the ship.  This microtour of Noumea was all we had time for as we only had a half day stop, and there was little more we could do after dusk.  But thankfully the weather had let up a little, allowing us to enjoy a final coffee on our balcony facing the city before the ship pulled out of the city that night.  I was already in bed when the ship’s horn heralded our departure at around 9pm, but in my mind I bade a fond au revoir to Noumea, fitting for it’s literal translation:

Until we meet again.

(and hopefully in better weather!)

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A Brief Voyage to the Land of the Long White Cloud (New Zealand Part 1)

I haven’t even finished my posts on my cruise and yet I found myself in a plane once again off on another adventure, though this one was born of very different reasons.   For some background information, my mum and I had booked our Pacific Cruise months in advance.  And not long after it was all booked at confirmed, we received an invitation to my cousin’s wedding.  In New Zealand.  Of course, we couldn’t say no, so another trip was booked for mere weeks after returning from our Pacific cruise.

We only had five days to cram as much as possible in, with a portion of that time dedicated to the wedding.  With such time restraints, I’ve managed to fit my microtrip into two blog posts.  I know five days is nowhere near enough time to cover New Zealand, but we did our best to see what we could, and I will do my best to relay it.

Despite putting internation travel under my belt only three weeks earlier, New Zealand was my first international flight.  I have a somewhat love-hate relationship with airports- I love flying and air travel, but I am always somewhat intimidated by customs.  This is due in part to my enjoyment of the TV show Border Patrol, which has given me the impression that I am going to be pulled away for questioning for a leaf stuck to my shoe.

Of course, customs was nowhere near as intense as the dramatic TV show made it out to be, and I was on my way in the air in no time.  This time I was travelling with both parents since we were on our way to a family event.  This was also the longest flight I had done, but the three hours were easily wiled away with a choice New Zealand made film “What We Do in the Shadows” (I’d highly recommend).

So it wasn’t long until the green hills of Middle Earth *ahem* New Zealand rose up out of the ocean before us, covered by, quite fittingly, a long white cloud.  This is fitting because the Maori name for New Zealand, Aotearoa, translates to this.

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We were greated at Auckland airport with good weather and cooler-than-Australians-are-used-to temperatures.  We were staying at the Quality Hotel in Parnell, which is a charming and historic suburb of Auckland.  Our hotel was host to all the Australian family travelling for the wedding, and I’m sure the New Zealand staff were shaking in their shoes at the distant rumble of “g’days” that approached.

The hotel itself was built around a historic building, a remnant from Parnell colonial days.  On the ground floor we had no view to speak off, but it was nice having such a well restored historic house only meters away that also doubled as a supurb bar and resturant.  The interior of this house was done up and furnished in traditional style, and the framed black and white pictures of colonial days and riverboats that lined the walls invoked the feelings of a bygone era that seemed to so perfectly captured in time in Parnell.

Our first afternoon offered us enough time to venture to the Parnell Rose Gardens where we were lucky to catch the first blooms of the season.  These gardens were my first introduction to Auckland, and New Zealand, and they made a fantastic first impression.  Vibrant green grass, lush foliage and clean air made a winning combination to win my heart over from the ever-dry nature of Queensland, Australia.

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We awoke on day two to perfect, clear blues skies and a temperature that even us Australians could enjoy.  It was fitting as we had booked a sightseeing trip around Auckland for the morning.  Our friendly bus driver Michael was armed with knowledge, annecdotes and humour that introduced us to Auckland properly.  From the bustling Queen Street in Auckland’s central, to the hip maritime waterfront, I was starting to realise that Auckland was far more charming than any other city I had been to before.  Michael’s keen knowledge of the best photo spots around the city afforded us some great shots of the city’s skyline.  Our tour even ventured to some of the attractive and affluent suburbs around Auckland, where his tales of rising house prices taught us that paradise does not come cheap.

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After a meandering and colourful route back through the city, our next main stop was Mount Eden, or Maungawhau, which is the highest natural point in the city and also a dormant volcano.  A steady uphill walk brought us to the very rim of the volcano, where one could peer down a steep 50-meter slope into the mountain’s impressive crater.  While far from the fury of Mount Doom, the crater did have a surreal feeling to it.  Nothing but grass clung to its slope, and it looked as if some great god had punched his fist into the hill, creating a massive dent.  It was also surreal to think that below was pools of magma, precariously bubbling away.  It called to mind Auckland’s favourite saying regarding the fact it was built on a volcanic hotspot – “not if, but when”, refering to the fact that it could blow at any time.  Thankfully the volcano decided to sleep a little while longer that afternoon, giving us time to enjoy the spectacular views of the city and its surrounds the summit offered.

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The last leg of our tour cruised along the waterfront to Mission Bay, and the perfect weather really brought out New Zealand’s clear, blue waters.  The volcanic island of Rangitoto rose out of the water in the distance, its shores only newly made with the island only rising out of the ocean a mere 600 years ago- a blink of an eye in geological terms.

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It was then saddly back to the hotel for a relaxing afternoon of reviewing photos.  Another dinner at the hotel’s fine resturant and some New Zealand TV brought the evening to a close.

(Also, I don’t want to say the stereotypes are true, but not once, not twice but THREE times, sheep were mentioned on a New Zealand news show)

If you’re looking for an all-encompassing and light-hearted tour around Auckland, I’d highly recommend Michael’s tour.  Great trip and tour guide- just check out the link below:

http://aucklandcitytours.co.nz/contact.html

 

 

P&O Pacific Cruise: Sea for Days (Day 2)

There are few things stranger than waking up one morning and pulling back your curtains to reveal nothing but an endless expanse of blue in front of you.  But that was the very sight that greater me on the morning of day 2 of my Pacific cruise.  During the darkness of night we had left Australia far, far behind and now found ourselves in the middle of the ocean.  It’s hard to explain, but the middle of the ocean is a very surreal place.  Especially on this day, for there was not a breath of wind nor any swell, turning the water into a completely still and flat expanse. My imagination painted the open sea as an endless stretch of heaving waves.  An there are no doubt parts of the ocean like that, but that day the water looked so flat and so still that it felt as if you could jump down and walk across it, or that it was no more than a few feet deep.  Which of course was far from the case, as our TV’s information channel informed us that there was a staggering 4000 meters of water below us.  As someone who is avidly fascinated with the deep sea, I was stoked to realise all that crazy deep sea stuff was deep below me at that moment.  The last thing that made the open ocean so alien was the complete silence.  With no wind or waves, the only sound we could hear in the early morning was the ship’s engines and the displacement of water below us.  I realised if the ship were to cut its engines, we would be in total silence.  No birds, no waves, no nothing.  It may sound disconcerting to you, but as someone who lives a hectic, noisy life, the prospect of that was glorious.

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The surreal and alien like surface of the open ocean

With the stresses of the departure now far behind us, we were afforded some time to really explore.  But first thing first was breakfast, served in the ship’s free dining area, the Pantry which was beyond expectations and enjoyed by the windows as that vast expanse of nothingness stretched before us.

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Bring me that horizon

I can’t actually recall a great deal of what happened on that day, but that’s mostly because nothing of note really occured.  The highlight was probably trying our hand at Bingo. Perhaps it was once a game for retirees, but now it’s all high octane action for all ages.  Few things are more exhilerating than getting down to the last couple of numbers on your Bingo ticket, waiting with bated breath to hear those last few numbers.  But it was not meant to be, and we walked away empty handed.

The rest of the day, as I mentioned before, was idled away exploring the ship and gazing over the still very calm sea, the only mark on it’s surface being the ship’s wake and the odd patches of different shades of blue caused by water currents.  And of course a cruise cannot be truly experienced without at least a little alcohol, and even as someone who is quite abstinent from alcohol, I felt like the experience needed at least one cocktail.  And it was indeed very pleasent in the ship’s highest perched bar, the Dome, with my cushy chair and bright cocktail.

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Obligatory cruise cocktail

By sunset, we were scanning the horizon eagerly for a sign of land, for on our TV map we seemed like we were only a hop skip and a jump away from Noumea, but in reality there were still many more miles of ocean to go.  But once the sun was down, I forgot all about land.   For at night, the sea became nothing in comparison to the sea of stars above.  With no light or pollution to obscure the cosmos, you can see the heaves in all their glory.  I experienced a very strange feeling star gazing that night.  Because there was nothing blocking my view of outer space, I felt as if I could actually comprehend that were were a ball floating in a starry abyss.  Perhaps it was because of the black sea beneath us, but as I stared into the sky, I did really feel like I was not staring at Earth’s sky, but into space itself.  For the first time in my life, space felt real, and not just a black, starless sheet that enshrouds us at night.  It’s very hard to convey into words, but I’m sure anyone who has looked into the night sky in the wildnerness will understand.

It may sound crazy, but in the short space of a day, I’d experienced detachment from humanity, and even from the Earth itself.

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P&O Pacific Cruise- A Sailor Went to Sea Sea Sea (Day 1)

I may not be a sailor, but I did indeed go to sea sea sea to see what I could see see see. But unlike that rhyme, I saw a lot more than just the bottom of the deep blue sea sea sea.  Our voyage in question would be taking us to Noumea and Lifou in New Caledonia, and Port Vila in Vanuatu. Now this trip is a very special one for me, because it is my first venture overseas- losing my international virginity if you will. That sounded a lot better in my head, but I’m going to leave it in anyway.

You’ve probably heard a great deal about cruising, both positive and negative. Some people love it, some hate it. But for a international first timer like myself (and my travelling companion, my mum) it was a good way to dip my toes into the proverbial (and literal) international waters.

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Tensions were oddly high on our day of departure despite taking off on a relaxing holiday. For both of us, all of our experience with international departures came from Border Patrol, which of course meant we were quite frazzled as we bustled along with the crowds in the Brisbane cruise terminals, hats askew and passports in hand. But the process was actually all quite smooth, and proved all our worry for nothing. Once we were on that gangway to the ship, the Pacific Dawn, sitting there on the Brisbane River in all her glory (the ship that is, not the brown river) the reality of our adventure set in.
But the relaxation was not destined to start then. We had a few brief moments to ooh and ah at the ship’s interior before making our way to our room. Our room was a balcony room on deck 10, on the port side (the left side for all you landlubbers). While small in size, it was comfy and clean, and most importantly would offer us spectacular views of our journey. We also became acquainted with one of our two room stewards who would be taking care of our needs on the trip, who was very welcoming and helpful. But just when we thought we had a moment to ourselves to let out that breath we’d been holding since 10:00am (check in was at 11am), an announcement came over the ship’s intercom to tell us to prepare for a mandatory safety check. So off we rushed again to learn how to put on a life jacket in the unlikely case of our ship doing a “Titanic”. Thankfully there was little chance of icebergs in the South Pacific.

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The main area of the ship’s interior, called the “Atrium”

After what had seemed like hours of rushing, panicking and scanning tickets and passports, we were finally free, with only moments to departure. Knowing how much everyone needed a drink after the check in process, the ship had a “Sail Away Party” on the top deck where cocktails and music abound. And once everyone was packed and ready to go, the Pacific Dawn finally honked its horn and was on its away. And it was then that all my excitement finally welled up. Bon voyage!

The highlight of the sail away party was passing under Brisbane’s iconic Gateway bridges, an event for which we all counted down for and were rewarded with a long, earth shattering horn honk that everyone, adults and children alike, went nuts for.  From there on, it was on to the open sea! Our perch atop the highest deck of the ship allowed us unique views of familiar landmarks we’d grown up around like the Port of Brisbane and St Helena Island. We even enjoyed a scenic float past Moreton Island, allowing views of its iconic sand dunes. Although we were more focused on the free food at that point than what was going on outside. By this point, the sun was starting to descend on our departure day. We had a few hours to orientate ourselves with the ship, mentally noting the locations of all the bars and viewing decks- the two most important things to us. But we enjoyed the final hour of sunlight on our balcony which was facing towards the country we would soon be leaving far behind. Sailing parallel to the Sunshine Coast afforded us views of a spectacular sunset over the Glasshouse Mountains. Everything was calm and peaceful at sea.

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And then we hit open water.

Get out those sick bags and hold onto your railings. It’s night one and already the ship is a-rocking. Big swells and heavy winds had whipped up once the ship hit open ocean. As much as I talk in nautical terms, I’m a fair landlubber myself so I spent a good portion of our first night lying on the bed staring at the ceiling as the ship peaked and dipped. I managed to muster up enough sea legs to watch the first show of the cruise, the “Welcome Aboard” show that was a pleasant mix of music and comedy to give us a taste of the shows to come during the rest of the week. After venturing to walk around during the heavy seas, I finally started to get used to the constant rollicking, and found it was actually quite pleasant to sleep to. So we pulled out curtains closed against the whistling wind and dark seas and called it day, and went to sleep with the tantalising knowledge that Australia was disappearing fast behind our stern.

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Our last sight of Australia before turning east to sea

One step down, a lot more to go

As of a few days ago, the first draft of my book is complete. I thought it would be more exciting, but as I finished the last few sentences of my novel, I did not feel the relief and excitement I had anticipated. Instead, I looked at the 90,000+ words I had written and said “whoo boy, I have a lot of work to do.” Because looking back over that draft made me realise that the first draft is pretty garbage. Workable garbage though. Garbage with potential. The fact that I’ve been writing this book for a few years shows when I read back over it. The first act is nearly two years older than the last act, and you can see the disconnect in the writing. In two years my writing evolved, so now I have to go back and edit those first chapters a lot. But then what if THAT takes two years? Then the edited first act will be two years older than the edited third act? Rinse and repeat forever.

I’m taking a bit of a break between finishing writing and editing.  I feel like my work needs to sit for a bit, kind of like a fine wine.  Or more so fester like the garbage fire it is.  I’ve started a new job which is a bit more intense than the last, making finding time for writing even harder now.  But it’s a good time to let the work sit while I settle into being a super cool central business district accountant.

So far the break has given a good chance to just sit and think about my work.  It’s strange how many aspects of your writing you consider when you’re not actively working on it.  Little thoughts and ideas pop into my head that I never considered before, and I go “huh, that’s neat.  Why didn’t I think of that before?”.  I’m writing these all down but it’s going to take me some time to wrangle them into something workable.

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Actual footage of me trying to edit my work

I haven’t let my writing skills turn to mush though.  For the first time in many years, I wrote a short little Dragon Age oneshot to satisfy the ever hungry yaoi beast within me.  All you Hawke / Anders fans can check it out below:

https://www.fanfiction.net/s/12967432/1/First-Impressions

I’m also working on a Dragon Age: Inquisition fanfiction at the moment too, which is not hot gay fanfiction but instead a little bit of an in depth retelling of the “Champions of the Just” quest.  Both of these are actually practises for writing in first person- something I haven’t really tackled before.

As for other bits and bobs, I’m hoping to review a few more games, books and other whatnot on my blog to fill in my annoying hiatuses.  As for everything else I mentioned I was working on…*glances at “Unfinished work” folder*…it’s, uh…

*Team TooBusyBeingaNerd is blasting off again*

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Egyptian Mummies: Exploring Ancient Lives

Today I would like to tell you all about something very close to my heart- mummies.

Is it weird for someone to be so interested in 3000 year old corpses?  In any other situation, maybe, but Egypt is an exemption.  Ever since I was a little girl, I have been fascinated by Ancient Egypt.  So much so that over my primary school years I read every single book that my school library on ancient Egypt, and a good chunk of the books in my local public library.  By age 10 I could name almost every major Egyptian god, transcribe very basic hieroglyphics, and recall the words to every song in the Prince of Egypt.  So it’s pretty clear that Egypt has always held a special place in my heart, despite never have been to the country.  I wish I could explain what drew me into ancient Egypt so much, but it’s hard to put into words.  But if the hundreds of Egyptologists over the centuries have proven anything, it’s that Egypt is an enrapturing subject.  From Herodotus to Howard Carter, many have felt the same way as I do, and have felt the same fascination with arguably the world’s greatest civilisation.

You can imagine my excitement when I heard that the British Museum was bringing an Egyptian Mummies Exhibit to my local, and somewhat quaint Queensland Museum.  It wasn’t my first Egyptian exhibit, but the first one in many years.  I had attended the Tutankhamun exhibit in Melbourne in 2011, and a few other Egyptian exhibits before that.  So it had been a while since I’d been able to revel in the presence of some of Egypt’s greatest artefacts.

The exhibit in question featured six mummies, ranging in age from 900BC to 200AD.  These mummies are the bodies of Nestawedjat, a lady of the house; Tamut, a chantress of Amun; Irthorru, a priest from Ahkmim, an unnamed priestess, a singer of the Interior of Amun, an unnamed child, a child from the Roman period; and an unnamed young man, also from the Roman period.

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Nestawedjat’s sarcophagi

I do not have any photos of the mummies themselves as we were asked not to photograph them out of respect.  However, there were dozens of other historical artifacts from ancient Egypt that we were allowed to photograph, including the intricate sarcophagi of the mummies.

Unlike many Egyptian exhibits which focus on the grandeur of the pharaohs, this exhibit focused on the everyday lives of everyday Egyptians.  Rather than being glamoured by the startling riches of royalty, I was instead awed by the belongings of the average Egyptian.  In some ways, this was even more fascinating than the treasures of the pharaohs.  These artifacts were thousands of years old, yet it was easy to spot things that we relate to everyday- including make-up trays, jewelry, toys, and even possibly the world’s oldest bowl of porridge (which looked more like a bowl of ash now).  It reminded me that while so many things have changed, so many things have not.  What really enforced that was an toy horse on display that was remarkable similar to something I had played with when I was little.  It was an encouraging, and remarkable thought that I and some Egyptian child who had lived thousands of years ago, had shared the same joy from a toy horse with wheels.

 

Egyptian harp, jewelry and makeup, showing that they to liked to dress up and enjoy themselves.

There were also many examples of the Egyptians’ strong spirituality, including many charms, carvings and papyri from the Book of Dead that show us how important both life and death were to the Egyptians.  It makes you wonder if their spells and charms of protection were onto something, for Egypt prospered without fail for thousands of years.  Perhaps Egypt was indeed blessed by their gods.

 

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A page of spells from the Book of Dead written in hieratic, describing how to activate different amulets of protection

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Some figures of gods (likely Osiris and Isis), and some protective amulets

While only a tiny glimpse into the world of ancient Egypt, seeing these carvings, figures and relics makes that distant kingdom a little more real.  Looking at a painting or carving from a temple wall, you realize that someone eons ago took great time and care to create that, probably without ever considering the fact that someone on the other side of the world millenniums later would appreciate their art.  I felt this especially when looking at the mummies themselves.  It was strange to think I was looking at the body of someone who lived in a world completely different to mine.  Yet as I looked upon the depictions of their faces on the sarcophagi, I wondered what they would be like to know.  In fact, I commented to my boyfriend how nice a person the unnamed temple singer looked.  It made me wonder if she, when she was alive, could have ever anticipated receiving a compliment approximately 2200 years after her death, from a girl living on the other side of the planet.  I somewhat hope that she could hear me from the Underworld.  In fact, I hope they all somehow knew how honoured I was to see them.  And maybe in that dark exhibition room, surrounded by their earthly bodies and tokens of Egyptian magic, they did hear me.  And I hope they were as happy to share their culture with me as I was to observe it.

For more information, see the link below.  The exhibition is on until the 26 August 2018, so people in Brisbane you still have time to check it out!

http://www.mummies.qm.qld.gov.au/

 

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The Write Choice of Software: Quoll Writer

Today I thought I’d give a bit of a review of my weapon of choice for writing, since I’ve been chuffed as chips with it since picking it up in 2014.  The program in question is Quoll Writer, the brainchild of Gary Bentley (who I discovered from his GoFundMe while researching this post is a fellow Queenslander!).  I first read about Quoll Writer on Tumblr in 2014 on a writing blog, and decided to give it a go since it looked like it was going to tick all the boxes I had for a writing program.  My first option had been Scrivener, a much more well known writing program, but it came with a hefty price tag that high school student me could not afford at the time.

But after playing around with Quoll Writer for a few days, I found it offered all the things I had wanted from Scrivener, and in a much more easy to understand format.  While all of Quoll Writer’s features can be found on its website (which I will link to at the end), I will give a brief overview of the program’s features and why I like them, as well as their helpfulness for new writers like myself.   Also as a little treat, I have not blanked out any info in my screen caps except for the title, giving you all a sneak peak at the novel I’m working on.

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When I open Quoll, it takes me to my last worked on project, so this is the screen that greets me when I open the program.  This is where all the good stuff happens- under the first tab on the menu on the side, labelled chapters.  This is your writing space, and its a crisp, clean area for writing that doesn’t bother with odious amounts of formatting options.  After all, you don’t really need 20000 different ways to format your text when you’re drafting, and Quoll Writer knows that.  The ever needed spell check is still here though, which is a relief when your coffee fuelled stupor stops you from doing good English.

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The next few tab is for characters, and this is one of my favourite tabs.  Personally, I believe any good story is only as good as its characters, and its important to develop and flesh out your characters as much as possible.  The character in the picture above admittedly has little development here, but that’s because I still need to migrate all my character planning from my hand written notes.  The character tab offers a space to write whatever you want about your character- and here’s my favourite little nifty feature- when you put their name in the Aliases section, the “Appears in Chapters” section below shows you how many times that character’s name is mentioned. Pretty neat, huh?  The program also allows you to link the character to other characters and sections, as well as linking to documents.  As you can see, I am an avid fan of using online dress up doll sites to get a visual representation of my characters.  It works better than you’d think.

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I’m going to lump the next few tabs together, since they are all used in a similar way, but for different things.  They all pretty much the same as “Characters”, and allow you to make individual entries for important aspects of your story.  You can also add as many new tabs as you’d like, and in my case I added “World Building Items”, “Planning” and “Character Plans” to hold information specific to my project.

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The “Notes” tab is a little different in that this houses specific “notes” made in chapters.  While writing, you can add a note at a particular point in the chapter.  I tend to use them as “To dos” where I need to elaborate or add something in later, but the possibilities are endless.  They’re great for keeping track of all those little bits and bobs that pop into your mind as you write, but you don’t have time to elaborate on at that point.

There’s also the “Research Items” tab, which I haven’t used, but I can imagine would be great for people who are writing non-fiction or historical fiction and need to rely on research in their books.

While that’s the meat of the program sorted, there are a ton of nifty bells and whistles included that really solidify Quoll Writer as my program of choice.  These include:

– a distraction free writing mode with a customisable background (pictured)

– an idea board that’s great for brainstorming (unfortunately my brain hasn’t stormed much yet, except on paper)

– Statistics and settable targets to make you feel like you’re watching the stock market (ooh pretty graphs)

– Warm up exercises to banish that persistent writers block

– Backups and easy exportation to Word, Epub and HTML

– Fun achievements with fantastic names like “Pact with the Devil” (write 5000 words or more in one session) or “I’m not Crazy!” (use ! 5 times or more in a chapter

– Probably bunch of other things I haven’t even found yet

One thing I am particularly excited about using in the future is the in built Editor Service.  I’m not sure how it works, since I’m not up to editing stage yet, but the fact that this is an integrated feature is simply amazing.  The Quoll Writer website has much more detail on this.

The program may not be as visually swish as others, but there is room for customisation, and to be honest, you don’t need swish while writing.  Stability wise, I’ve only ever had it crash once and I didn’t lose any saved projects, and at all other times it has run very smoothly without bugs or crashes.  Sometimes the text in menus will bug a little, but everything is still very functional.  There is a bit of a learning curve when you start and some features take some getting used to.  For example, I’m still getting used to making custom objects for the side bar and getting tags and drop down lists working properly, and I’m still not sure how the idea board works, but I’m sure it will be helpful once I bang enough rocks together.

All in all, Quoll Writer is the perfect combination of distraction free writing and powerful plotting and planning tools.  It’s clear a lot of hard work has gone into the program from someone who knows how the writing process works.  And best of all, it’s free!

So let’s sum up:

Pros Cons
Distraction free writing features Some display bugs
Tools for keeping track of characters and story planning Takes a while to learn all the features
Editing tools like the Editors’ Service and Problem Finder Only for Windows (currently)
Statistics and achievements to keep track of progress  
Free  

If this sounds like it would be up your alley, click the link below for the Quoll Writer website to download and read in more detail on the current and future features, as well supporting the program’s development.

https://quollwriter.com/

 

 

 

 

Book Reviews by Someone not Qualified to Review Books: The Calling (Dragon Age #2)

The Calling (Dragon Age)The Calling by David Gaider

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’ll come out and say this right away: I am a massive Dragon Age fan. So much so that it’s the only video game series that I’ve bothered to read the companion book series for. I’d read the first book in the series, the Stolen Throne, quite a few years ago but I remember being pleasantly surprised at the quality. I would say that the Calling is a actually small step up from the first book in terms of characters and storytelling and is a surprisingly solid video game book.

The Calling is set quite some time before the first game, Dragon Age Origins, and features a few familiar characters from the game, as well as the parents of one particular character who I won’t name for spoiler reasons. Just like the first book, it does quite a good job at setting out the universe, so much so that I think someone who hasn’t played the games definitely could pick it up, but of course the book is most rewarding to those who are familiar with the source material. Unlike the first book, the Calling feels very fantasy-RPG in its style, down to its merry band of heroes fighting together to stop a greater evil. You have your warriors, your mages and your rouges just as you did in the game. And similarly to the games, the book does its best to make each character feel unique, with different personalities and backstories. While a lot of the characters could be called cliche, I very much appreciated that the book does take the time to explain these characters and their motivations. In fact, the story is very character-driven, and the overall plot is often moved along by the actions and subsequent reactions of the characters. Of course, some characters stood out more than others- such as Maric, Fiona, Duncan and Genevieve, but this is not a bad thing since it means you are not flooded with too many protagonists.

The story is very prequel-esque in its nature and at times does seem to serve nothing but setting up events that will later become important in the games. The majority of the book is set in the Deep Roads- a vast network of underground passages, which can become a somewhat stale setting at times. As I mentioned before though, I think this book in more interested in telling the characters’ stories rather than become overburdened with an intricate plot and setting. And for the most part, I enjoyed all of the character arcs, even if some where a bit simple.

Also just like the Dragon Age games, the Calling features a romantic subplot. While I knew it was coming (since the relationship was alluded to in the games), it still felt rather jarring and forced in. While not the worst romance I’ve ever read, the characters involved go from “I hate you and everything you stand for” to “literally having sex on a cave floor” in a matter of days. It does seem to spring up from nowhere, and a veteran of the games will be able to tell that it seems like it was shoehorned in to quite literally conceive a character that would later appear in Dragon Age Origins.

In summary, the Calling is definitely quite a well written book that expands on characters and events from the games, and is perfect for any Dragon Age fans looking to know more about events leading up to the games. For non Dragon Age players making their way through the series, it still holds its own as a solid fantasy novel that fits very nicely into the traditional fantasy-RPG feel. I would say its a 4 star read for Dragon Age fans, but 3 stars for general readers.

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Book Reviews by Someone not Qualified to Review Books: The Midnight Sea

The Midnight Sea (The Fourth Element, #1)The Midnight Sea by Kat Ross

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The reason that I bought this book is because it’s setting and world have a lot of similarities to a novel I’m working on myself. and I wanted to get some ideas and inspiration from the Midnight Sea.

The first thing I will say is that I am in love with the book’s premise- a world incredibly similar to our own historical one but altered ever so slightly with magic and mythology. It’s distinctly familiar, but different enough to avoid being a historical fiction. Ties to Persian and Zoroastrian mythology are prevalent throughout the book, which is something that I have not seen touched on a great deal in fantasy novels. This unique world is what drew me into the book in the first place, and then kept me enraptured for the rest of the novel.

A lot of young adult novels have touched on the relationship between a female character and some sort of bonded demon (daevas in this book), so I was expecting this book to more of the same. But this premise was done a lot better than I expected and unexpectedly touched on the morality of the situation and questioned beliefs. What the reader adamantly supported at the beginning of the novel was challenged by the end. This interesting take on the traditional “girl and her demon” story saved the book from feeling like another generic fantasy romance.

For the most part, I enjoyed all of the characters. Nazafareen and Darius were likable main characters, though some extra characterization and building of their relationship would’ve been welcomed. I was even invested in the supporting characters, who were all very distinct with different personalities and motivations.

I found the plot somewhat slow and hard to get into at first, and at around the 25% mark the book sat unread on my Kindle for a while. But after I persisted for a bit longer, the plot suddenly kicked into gear and I found myself unable to put the book down. Unexpected twists and turns suddenly shake up the entire plot, and new revelations and information throughout the book kept me glued to my Kindle.

The writing style was plain and simple, but it worked well and conveyed scenes, dialogue and emotion well. In fact, I was so glad to have found a book that kept its focus on characters and story rather than fancy, flowery writing. At first I thought the writing was average, but as I kept reading I found it was simply just easy to read and follow, but made itself poetic when it needed to be.

Long story short, this book really surprised me. I admit I went in with low expectations, since I am very skeptical of young adult fantasy novels. A slow start bogged me down at first, but as I kept going I began to fall in love with the world, the characters and the story. It’s unique look on real life locations and events sets it aside from both fantasy and historical fiction, and instead makes it a engaging combination of the two. The characters and story are investing, and I love the way it tackles the idea of bonding humans and demons together, while heavily relying on Zoroastrian mythology. This is the most pleasantly surprised I’ve even been with a book, and I can’t wait to start the next in the series.

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Star Wars: The Last Jedi Made me a Reylo Shipper (Basically a review WITH SPOILERS)

I know this review-ish thing is coming somewhat late after the movie’s premiere, but I wanted to see it twice before making a conclusion on what I think of the movie. Now you’ve probably already read a thousand reviews by people much better at reviewing movies than me, so this is less of a review and more of my general thoughts and impressions of the Last Jedi.

I’ll start with saying that I don’t think my hype was up to the same standard as the Force Awakens was (which was high, very high).  The Force Awakens was the first real Star Wars movie in a long time, and I think most of my enjoyment of that film came from the simple fact it was the first Star Wars film in ten years.  But with the Last Jedi, I had been spoiled with the Force Awakens and Rogue One, so I had plenty of fill of Star Wars already.  But perhaps this is a good thing, since my opinion was not going to be affected by sheer excitement.

Now I’m going to come out and say it loud and clear- the Last Jedi is not a bad film.  It is in fact a very good one.  But is it a good Star Wars film?  Well, yes, but that is not a resounding yes.

I thought the first act or so of the Last Jedi was very good- it felt a lot like both the Force Awakens and the original movies.  Mark Hamill, as always, does a great job and I have to admit (and hence disagree with a lot of the fanboys) that I quite enjoyed this more cynical, wiser Luke.  Its clear that he’s learnt a lot from his original trilogy days and is starting to understand how the galaxy and the Force work.  And the revelation that even Luke had flashes of instinctual violence was a good way to remind us that he is a Skywalker- a family prone to child murdering.   Though his reluctance to help his friends was a little startling- I understand Luke has changed, but a key part of his character was his devotion to his friends.  That was perhaps too much of a change in personality.  But asides from that, I kinda dig old grumpy Luke.

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I thought Rey was pretty decent in this movie as well, but she felt very similar to how she did in the Force Awakens.  But I’d probably blame the Force Awakens for that for starting her off too competent and leaving her no where else to go.  She does learn a lot about the Force in this, and a lot about Kylo.  Speaking of Kylo.

The shining star of the movie.  The light of my life.  The one and only Kylo Ren/Ben Solo.  Easily my favourite character in the movie, Kylo feels like he has the most development of everyone.  Swinging from dark to light and back to dark, but with a slither of light, was a move I was not expecting.  I expected a straight forward redemption arc but got something better.  And his newfound relationship with Rey has opened up some interesting new possibilities.  And on the topic of Kylo and Rey…

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The best parts of the film for me were no doubt the interactions between Rey and Kylo.  Their Force connection was done in an interesting and impactful way that has moved their relationship to new grounds.  So much so that it made me, a once staunch opponent of Reylo into an avid supporter.

But now to go onto what I didn’t like, and unfortunately there was a fair bit.  Just as I enjoyed every scene with Rey, Luke or Kylo, I disliked nearly every scene with Finn and Rose.  Now Rose has stirred up a lot of debate in the Star Wars fanbase, and I’ll come out and say that I don’t think she’s a bad character in herself, but what she does in the film just seems kind of pointless and forced in.  My biggest gripe with her is her barging in and ruining a perfectly good and emotion death scene near the end.  What would’ve been a touching and impactful death scene was ruined for an unnecessary romance and some god awful line about pacifism that has no place in a movie series that literally has “Wars” in the title.

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And the whole Canto Bight sequence, including the code-breaker was absolutely unnecessary and bloated the film’s run time.  If done differently, it might have served well for some world building  and characterization but instead it ended up being pretty pointless filler.  The codebreaker was just kinda there and really didn’t end up doing much, and after that whole sequence with Canto Bight and infiltrating the ship, the plot was really no further along than it had been before.

Also, this is kind of a minor gripe, but it infuriates me that I did not see a single identifiable Star Wars alien in that casino.  Would it kill them to have a few Twileks or Rodians knocking about rather than a bunch of aliens that look like partially melted play dough?

Star-Wars-The-Last-Jedi-Behind-The-Scenes-2525-2.jpgJust try and tell me you’d rather see that than a Twilek in a sweet cocktail dress

Also time to address the gold robed elephant in the room- Snoke.  I don’t quite know how to feel about his death.  On one hand, I’m incredibly annoyed we learnt next to nothing about him before his untimely demise.  But on the other hand, we knew nothing about the Emperor at his death in the original trilogy.  But to kill your main villain in the second film?  Those writers better be going somewhere with that.  But god those Praetorian Guards were awesome, and the fight scene between them and the Reylo dream team was the best.  But also while we’re on the topic of deaths that shouldn’t have happened- WHY YOU GOTTA KILL MY GIRL PHASMA?!

Goldmember.jpgAlso, why did Snoke look like Goldmember from Austin Powers?

Just like I’m not sure how to feel about Snoke, I also don’t know how to feel about Holdo.  My instinctual reaction to her was sheer annoyance- everything about her irritated me.  I was waiting for her to turn out to be a double agent or something, but instead she was just incompetent at communication.  Literally every problem that occurred to the Resistance could have been avoided if she had simply communicated her plan. While I agree that Poe was a tad rash in his actions, I understand why he did what he did.  I’d be pretty pissed too if my commanding officer was holding back vital information.  And Holdo, a character we’d know for like half a film got an amazing sacrificial death that probably would’ve been more deserved by an established character like Leia, or even Admiral Akbar.

The final act was probably the most enjoyable (asides from everything Rose does).  Crait was a visually amazing final battle, and it was great to see Kylo really falling off that deep end back into the dark side.  And while personally I would’ve liked to see a real Luke vs Kylo showdown, I understand that Mark Hamill is old and can’t be doing crazy stuff anymore.  In fact, I thought Luke’s final scene was incredibly touching and a fitting end to perhaps the most influential character in the saga.

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All in all, I am somewhat conflicted about the Last Jedi.  I think part of me loves it simply because its Star Wars.  It’s definitely a visually pleasing and well acted film.  Unfortunately, its potentially great plot is hampered by some bad scenes and poor pacing. It’s absolutely no where near as bad as some people are making out, and is still a solid edition to the saga that I will commend for taking risks.

I will give Star Wars Episode VIII 7.5 Reylo Fanfics out of 10.

Or, alternatively, 7.5 abdominal muscles out of 10 cause Kylo is BUFF

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Also Porgs are amazing and I want to hug them all.  10 Porgs out of Porg.