Thoughts on critique, the writer’s medicine

Charlotte Nash

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERANow that we’re approaching the business end of the uni semester, I’m spending a fair bit of time marking. Now, I love teaching for its own sake, but it’s also a fabulously instructive experience for my own writing. And this week, after marking about 180 critiques of fiction, I’ve been thinking a bit about the art of critique.

I’m hardly the first to write about this, and I won’t be the last (see here for a great vid on crit partners). Like many writers, I remember well my first experience of critique, and the meltdown that followed. Given I consider writing an apprenticeship, that was some sort of initiation ritual. But for those of us who didn’t pack our bags after the experience, it does make you stronger. And by stronger, I really mean: tunes your senses for who’s good to critique you and who isn’t.

Good critique is an…

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Interview with author Whitney K-E

I had the lovely opportunity to meet Whitney K-E at the 2012 Romance Writers Convention. Her book, What Happens In Ireland, was contracted by Secret Cravings Publishing and is out now. I decided to ask her what all the fuss was with these Irish men…

WhitneyWelcome to the blog, Whitney, and congratulations on getting published! I have to ask, what’s up with these Irish guys? Or rather, what  was your inspiration to write What Happens In Ireland?

Haha, what can I say? The Irish charm got me haha. What Happens in Ireland was inspired by my trip to Ireland. Or rather, my anticipation of it. I was so excited to travel there but I had a two year wait. And that two year wait was the perfect amount of time to start my Irish series. Based on my research, I wrote the draft and edited it when I travelled to Ireland itself. But as for why Ireland? Well, who doesn’t love an Irish hero?

Did you know that Michael Fassbender is Irish? And would you agree his hips are too narrow, but he is generally hot anyway?

I didn’t even know who Michael Fassbender was. But! Thank you for introducing us 😛 haha. Generally hot, indeed. He looks good with a ginger stubble haha.

What is your writing process like?

Hmm, a little unorganised and sporadic. But sometimes it can be quite the opposite. I started off as a pantser (I’ve moved over to the plotter side however) and the ending for What Happens in Ireland was the first scene I wrote! So, sometimes it’s a little all over the place.

What’s the hardest part of writing for you?

In What Happens in Ireland, it was the conflict. But as I said earlier, I became a plotter and learned to make sure I avoided these potholes which were marring my road to publication.

What was your journey to publication like?

A journey I have learnt much from. Sometimes it got a little rocky, but now I know I am ready for anything. I’d rather know what to expect in my future career than go in completely blind to the complications that can occur in the publishing world.

If you were writing a book about your life, what would the title be?

Confessions of a Romance Writer, haha.

For the impending zombie apocalypse, what will be your weapon of choice and why?

Oh, god. I don’t know anything about zombies! :/ Umm… does an Iron Man suit count as a weapon? Hehe. I reckon one of those world work haha.

Best advice for beginner writers?

Never give up. Treat every milestone in your career as a lesson and work hard every day. Only you can make your dreams come true.

What are you working on next?

I’m currently editing Deceive Me in Ireland (the second novel in my Irish series) and Fixing Fences, a standalone single title rural romance I wrote last year.

Whitney’s Novel: What Happens in Ireland

Ever wondered what happens in Ireland?

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When Australian, Kate Barrow, meets a handsome Irishman in a Dublin bar, she has no idea that he’s about to turn her world upside-down and inside-out.

In Ireland to take on a position on a thoroughbred stud, Kate is shocked when her manager-in-co reveals himself to be the same man she’d met in Dublin.

Jack is drawn to Kate. The problem is, she won’t have him. But Jack has always loved a challenge and the intriguing woman from Oz is one he cannot resist.

Harbouring the sting of another man’s betrayal, Kate is certain she wants nothing to do with love and nothing to do with Jack O’Reilly. But when naked torsos, Mother Nature and dysfunctional umbrellas start plotting against her resolve, she realizes the charms of an Irishman are going to be hard to resist.

You can check it out here!
Comment below to be in the draw to win one of two What Happens in Ireland blog tour gift packs.

 

More About Whitney

Whitney K-E is an Australian author writing for Secret Cravings Publishing. Always a lover of the Romance genre, it was no surprise that she one day began to type her first story of love. Now, three years on, she’s contracted her first novel What Happens in Ireland and bringing reader’s tales from the Emerald Ireland to the Sunburnt Country. What Happens in Ireland releases on the 26th of April, so prepare yourself to be charmed by her story and by her characters.

If you’d like to find out more about Whitney or her novel, you can connect with her on:

Facebook

Twitter

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The Romantic Muse

Ahhhh, serenity…where did I put it?

Rebekah Turner

I’ve just returned from a trip to Bundaberg, where my grandparents own and run Jo’s Roadhouse. The holiday came after Redbeard’s work sent him to do some damage assessment to houses effected in the January floods. So I thought it a good opportunity to tag along and visit family.

My grandad, grandma, aunts, and uncle, are all hard working souls who get up a few times a week at unholy hours to bake bread, pies, sausage rolls, cream donuts and so on. The roadhouse is located on a long stretch of road between Bundaberg and Seventeen Seventy (a small coastal village with beautiful beaches), and sell petrol, groceries and fresh caught seafood.

My grandma and grandad’s house is not far from the roadhouse. I stayed there for a couple of years when I was a little girl and have many fond memories of running wild around the dams and pretending to drive rusted out tractors that…

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Reminiscing about bikes: the first travel writing attempt

The new ride. Photo: Helen Byers

The new ride. Photo: Helen Byers

Change is afoot here. Very soon, I’m going to launch a new blog/website, just before my first novel heads into the world. The new semester has started in earnest, I’m ensconced in a new home. And amidst all this … I have a new bike.

I won’t attempt to convince you how important this is. If you’re a biker, you get it already. And if you’re not … well, that’s ok. I claim a genetic disposition for biking that showed itself despite my mum having stopped my dad riding before I was born. Sorry, Mum.

My new ride is a spanking purple Street Triple, a thing of two-wheeled joy that also eliminates parking hassles everywhere. I wouldn’t trade it for anything, but I still think fondly of my first bike, a 250cc cruiser, and the first piece of travel writing I attempted from its back. I orginally submitted this to an online biking mag, which accepted it, but I’ve gotten permission to put it up here, in this reminiscy post.


The first long trip … or 2000 km on a 250cc cruiser (October 2011)

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My original cruiser, somewhere south of Kempsey, NSW

When I separately told three experienced biking friends about my proposed road trip, I got the same reply: “That’s a long way on a 250cc!”

My first reaction was naturally, “What does that mean?” But I didn’t ask. As I said to one, sometimes it’s better not to know what you’re in for. He was kind enough to say it would be an adventure.

And that’s what I was after. I was pretty fresh on my LAMS in October when I got the road trip itch. I love the open road, the act of getting from place to place. It’s a little bit about where you’re going too … but nothing beats the act of travel itself. Especially adventuring. I had a bright, shiny new LAMS bike (Suzuki Intruder VL250). That would do, wouldn’t it? All I needed was an excuse.

I spotted TeamMoto Blacktown’s Demo Day by the Hawksbury River, a Sunday event roughly 1000 km from home in Brisbane. I also had a client in northern Sydney. A few clicks on Google maps and I had a plan. Two days to ride down, Demo Day, work in Sydney for a day, two days to ride back. Down on the inland route, back on the coast. No problem.

The only additional gear I got for the trip, on advice, was a pair of waterproof pants (Dririder). Those really came in handy when I met a thunderstorm coming down the range into the Hunter Valley early Saturday morning. Otherwise, I got myself decent roadside assistance cover, and improvised a waterproof cover for my bag, which I bungee corded down in the pillion space. I had some soft panniers already with waterproof covers, although the first time I used them, I melted one to the muffler. Still picking the damn stuff off. Lesson learnt.

So, duly equipped, I left Brisbane 5:30am one cold, foggy, smoky Friday morning. I discovered pretty immediately I needed different gloves. My well-vented summer gloves couldn’t cut it in the early morning chill at 100 km/hr. But there’s not that many gear shops on the highway. I toughed it. Got to Tamworth around 3:30pm. Hot shower had never felt so good.

Next day was an easy ride down to Windsor, initially over the worst road all trip (through the Hunter Valley) then the last part along the famous Putty Road. Then Demo Day Sunday. Being still on LAMS my choices were limited, but I lined up two Yamahas – XJ6SL (600cc) and XVS650 Custom cruiser. About five seconds into my first ride, I suddenly understood the, “That’s a long way on a 250cc”. Oh. The power! I nearly fell over when someone described it as “severely limited”. Yeah, clearly, I’m still learning. Then I worried I couldn’t get back on the 250. I was 1000 k’s from home – was I really going to ride it back? Then I got on it. And bless it’s 140ish kg heart, I still loved it. It doesn’t have the power to overtake a road train, but it got me reliably from place to place, and no numb arse to boot.

I headed back up the coast on Tuesday morning, reaching Coffs Harbour by 4:00pm. Liked the vibe of the place, and had some work come in, so I stayed a day. Met more interesting locals, watched whales from Muttonbird hill while the storm clouds rolled in. Talked bikes with Virago owner where I was staying, and stayed up way too late enjoying the end of the trip while drinking bad tea. The next day, perfectly sunny, I rode home, picking up an hour over the border. Bone tired, I was also high on the thrill. It was a fantastic ride.

Route Map (2)

The route …

Quite a few people seemed surprised I did this as a solo trip. But the best thing about not being in the companion bubble is you meet new people. I met two BMW owners who enlightened me that some bikes have grip warmers! Yeah, I pooh-poohed that for about thirty minutes, then as my hands re-frosted, I wanted them. Another Triumph owner heading south to Philip Island told me about good places to stay. About a dozen really pleasant folks at the Demo Day completed the experience. And one guy at a truck stop took the time to point out all the ‘legendary’ routes on my map. Duly noted. Bike culture out on the highway was like car culture way out in the middle of nowhere. It was a lovely surprise.

I also came away with a heap of new knowledge and skills. To be honest, I left with a few aspects of riding still shaky. I came back with far more intimate knowledge of my bike, its handling, what I could do and where the limits were. I had two scary moments. One involved a loose shoulder on Putty Road. The other involved a lot of fog and a road train. More healthy respect from me. I also had one moment of stripped dignity, where I dropped the bike in front of a large number of people. It involved sand covered concrete and my foot slipping … we’ll say no more save I’ve learnt to be cautious in unfamiliar parking spots. And thanks to the gentleman who helped me get the bike up again. Sorry I was too embarrassed to buy you a drink.

So, long way on a 250cc? Yeah, it was a long way. But this is Australia. Everywhere is a long-bloody-way. I suspect my enjoyment of travel isn’t dependent on pure power. I had reliability and comfort (except for the hands, and I can fix that). Not saying a more powerful sports tourer wouldn’t be fabulous fun, but I would do it again on the 250. I probably will.

********************

The first novel, in the flesh :)

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This is going to be a very short post, mostly because I’m in the grips of moving back to my home city, which necessitates driving all over the place, from real estate offices to banks, and outlaying more cash than any sane person would be comfortable with.

BUT! Amidst all this, I got an exciting package: the first copy of my debut novel, Ryders Ridge, in the papery flesh. It looks good. It smells good. It’s difficult to describe how I feel looking at it. Of the story, I am very proud. But seeing it in its final physical form is still amazing. I can remember very distinctly, in 2007 when I’d just decided to take writing seriously, wandering (as I often did) into my local Dymocks in Indooropilly and looking round at all the books on the shelves. Wow, wouldn’t that be cool, I thought. Amazing to think that in just a few weeks, my first book will be on the shelves. 🙂

In other exciting news, Kim Wilkins will launch Ryders Ridge on 9 April at Avid Reader in West End. Tickets are free, but booking required for numbers. Click here if you’d like to come!

On Michael Crichton

I’ve been a Michael Crichton fan for more than twenty years, ever since I got my hands on Jurassic Park in high school. And no matter what I’ve been doing since that time, he keeps cropping up in my attention. I’ve read, with one or two exceptions, every book he wrote. I loved almost every one. I remember where I was when I heard he’d died in 2008. I’ve heard many disparaging things said about him – that his work isn’t serious, that it’s ‘airport fiction’ – I’d dispute them all, but I really don’t care about that now. I loved his stuff, and I want to talk about is two particular places that he influenced my life, and what they meant.

jurassic-parkWhen I was a first-year med student, one of my (probably well-meaning) consultants had a go at Michael Crichton out of the blue one day. I don’t remember what prompted it … something about usefulness of professions. The consultant was indignant that someone who graduated medicine and hadn’t stuck with it. More or less, consultant said, “I mean, he’s not helping anyone.”

At the time, I mumbled the usual non-committal assent of the lowly student. But afterwards, the more I thought about it, the more I couldn’t believe it. The consultant didn’t know how many times I’d read MC’s stories, and other favourite authors’. The enjoyment I’ve had from them, the comfort, and the insight. The consultant may have felt medicine’s way of ‘helping’ is the only, or perhaps the most noble, one, but it isn’t true. Good stories help. They enrich, inspire and prompt discussion. Writing matters. And what this one person wrote is still with me long after his death, and will continue to be so. I wish I could go back to that moment, be braver, and say so. Fortunately, I don’t have to.

Years later, when I too decided not to pursue clinical medicine, I would often hear in my head people like that consultant who looked down on me for my choice. And I was comforted because I knew others, like Crichton, had done the exact same thing before me. When I finally got around to reading his early-career memoir, Travels, I found the med school experience he described eerily similar to my own, even though our medical education was 30 years apart. And it was interesting to me that all his bios imply he’d completed his internship before leaving the profession. Travels made it clear this wasn’t the case, just like me. Another comfort.

Fast forward many years to this week, and I’m in the post-completion of a manuscript turmoil. I know it needs lots of work. Lots of work. And out of the blue, my friend Bek sent me this:

Books aren’t written, they’re rewritten. Including your own. It is one of the hardest things to accept, especially after the seventh rewrite hasn’t quite done it.”crichtonbooks

And who said it? Michael Crichton. And from a writer I’ve admired so much, this was like a removalist that packed away my apprehensions. Yes, it needs work. A lot of work. And it can be done.

Next week, fingers crossed, I’ll be unpacking my long-boxed books in a new apartment. And I’ll be running my fingers over the stained, dog-eared and much-loved pages of Crichton’s books, and thinking about what a profound influence someone I never met had on me, and how special that is. The magic of stories. My friend KimWilkins describes it as an ordinary magic (which is lovely). Just the kind we often need.

Publishing short stories – truths from a serial submitter

Anyone who knows me well will tell you I’m a nerd to the core of my soul, and one of the particular manifestations of that is my love of spreadsheets, graphs and numbers generally.

One of the upsides to this bent is that BAS time is actually fun (I see that look you’re giving me). The other is that I tend to record data on my writing for later analysis and tracking. I’m planning a blog soon using the data I have from the five novel manuscripts I’ve written, but today I wanted to present a few insights about short stories, and more particularly, submitting them to markets.

I’ve been fortunate to have some successes in the short story arena. I consider myself an emerging writer, but I’ve been tracking my short stories since I started trying to have them published. I find it essential – I can’t remember otherwise where they’ve gone, how long ago, and when to re-query. So today I’ve made a preliminary troll through the data and I present three insights that showed themselves.

The spreadsheet gives up her secrets ...

The spreadsheet gives up her secrets …

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[Note: The data below is based on 70 submissions (13 different stories to 39 different markets) over about a 3 year period and only represents my experience.]

1. How long does it take to get a response?

Average time for my submissions is just over 6 weeks, but I tend to favour fast-responding markets and I try to match my submissions so I’m not wasting time sending things that market would never go for anyway. Anthologies and competitions take longer, because their reading periods are often months and I tend to submit early. If I remove the anthology and comp submissions, the average response time has been 4.5 weeks. The fastest responding markets (with average times) for me have been: (the aptly named) Lightspeed (3 days), Clarkesworld (5 days), Shimmer (6 days). A few markets have never responded. I have ignored these in my analysis as two have folded since.

2. What’s the success rate?

After 70 submissions, I have 7 stories actually published (or in press). That’s 10% success rate. I have no idea if that’s good or not – I think perhaps it’s not too bad … it’s better than the acceptance rate for some academic journals. The fewest submissions before acceptance was 1 (one story was picked up by the first market I submitted it to). The most is currently on its 14th submission – it may yet have many more. The average is 5 subs per story; 4 if only counting those published.

3. How much is it worth?

There’s two ways of looking at this. The first is: depressingly little. Only 3 of my 7 published stories earned me actual money, and the total is just a shade over $200. When you look at the number of hours invested, that’s really a negligible return. I’m early career though … it’s possible there may be more money in it in the future, but I suspect not that much more. I can remember a well-known sci-fi author at the last AussieCon saying that, during the sci-fi zine hey-day in the 60s and 70s, he could write two stories in a day and sell them both, which earned a fairly tidy income. I suspect those days are long over, even if I could write two stories a day.

The other way of looking at it is investment. Time in craft, time in exposure, not to mention returning an awful lot of pride. I’ve had a few lovely comments come from readers, which was worth every revision-riddled minute. And one submission eventually published was solicited, which was immensely satisfying. Plus … there seems to be some kind of snowball effect happening – 5 of the 7 pubs have been in the last year.

———

No-one would do this for the money, but then I suspect no one does. I’ve heard so many times from more experienced writers that “talent is cheap; persistence is rare”. Good advice. If you have any questions about short story markets, feel free to comment them up – I’m not the most experienced in the game, but willing to wield the spreadsheet’s power to shed some light 🙂

Do you spoon your cuppa?

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Warning: this image contains disturbing words

This blog is a confession of sorts. I happened to read a post recently about beautiful sounding words in the English language. Opinions are naturally divided, but there was a throwaway line at the end about ‘moist’ being nominated as the grossest sounding word. That made me titter – as a panel at last year’s RWA conference certainly agreed (the panel was on language use in sex scenes – among the other offenders were ‘orbs’ to describe breasts, and anything ‘swelling’ – you know what I mean).

But this put me to thinking – not of beautiful words – but the ones I loathe. For whatever reason, two words in English – ‘cuppa’ and ‘spooning’ – have a special ability to set my teeth on edge. The title of this blog actually curls my lip. I have a bodily aversion to either word when I hear them spoken. They are insufferable; like Kevin Bacon and Uma Thurman on screen.

Why? I’ve spent time wondering. For ‘cuppa’ (gah …) I think it’s the mawkish sentimentality it invokes … of doilies and covered teapots and shortbread on plates. I don’t really have anything against those things in practice, but when lassoed and thrust forth by those two syllables, somehow it’s intolerable. And ‘cuppa’ (gah!) is an Australian institution. For ‘spooning’, no idea. The sound displeases me. I have no problem with ‘spoon’. Maybe it’s the connotation. Or it’s too cute. I have problems with cuteness.

This may be a sign of some kind of mental deficiency, who knows. But the aversion is real and produces practical consequences as I attempt to avoid using either word. ManBeast laughs when I insist on using ‘forking’ as a substitute for ‘spooning’. I quite like it, especially the cheeky euphemism, and let’s face it – both cutlery items nest in the same way. But for ‘cuppa’ … I’m coming up short. I complained to ManBeast about this the other day. Here’s a brief re-cap.

Me: There’s no suitable one-word equivalent. It’s driving me nuts. English has so many words you think there’d be one.

MB (in Sheldon voice): Hot beverage?

Me: Too formal. Besides, that’s two words.

MB: Cup of tea?

Me: Okay, but that makes it specific to tea. And it’s three words.

MB: Hmmmm. Yeah, what if you mean coffee or chai? Misleading.

Me: I do like ‘beverage’ though. Maybe I could shorten it.

MB: Shorten it?

Me: Bevvo.

MB: [laughs uncontrollably] That sounds like a bogan saying bevan. Too funny.

Me: [pouts] I don’t care.

So … I’m appealing to readers for suitable alternatives for ‘cuppa’, otherwise I swear I’m using bevvo. Either I need a better word or someone needs to point me towards a literary desensitisation program. I’d also be interested if anyone else has words they can’t stand to hear. Confess all! 🙂

Rebekah Turner

Or…Redbeard tries to convince Rebekah How Cool Sci-Fi is…

Redbeard: Hello, Redbeard here, hijacking Bek’s blog. I’ve had quite a bit of success in life. Wonderful healthy kids… beautiful talented wife… a determined nature to change things around me for the better…where I have continually failed though is to get Bek drawn into the science fiction genre, as opposed to trashy 80s/90s action/horror movies. So here I am today, listing out the best sci-fi has had to offer on TV is recent years and why I think it Bek should watch them.

Rebekah: I’m only sticking around for this lesson because I got a compliment in the first paragraph.

Redbeard: On to our first example. Stargate SG-1. A show of contradictions, I intensely disliked the original movie, these days I find it ‘passable’ for Daniel Jackson if nothing else.

Rebekah: I can’t believe you are dissing Snake Plissken. Kurt Russell is awesome-pants.

Redbeard: SG1 brought…

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Farewell to Auckland

I’ve been living in Auckland (or Orc-land) off-and-on for the last seven months as the ManBeast has been working on a job here. In two weeks, though, my Auckland habitation will be at an end as I head Brisbane-side for the start of the academic semester, and we’ll return to the FIFO arrangement until mid-year.

Suitcase living had become a mainstay over the last four years (firstly because of my job, and then because of the trans-Tasman working separation which began in 2011) and generally I enjoy the wanderyness of it. New places to explore, and air travel is still as exciting to me as it was that first time way back in 1992 en route to Great Keppel Island. This is chiefly because aircraft are powered by turbofan engines (exciting!) and I get heaps of time to write, do marking … or catch up on Downton Abbey. But I digress.

The downside to wandering this way is missing your friends (Skype is not a substitute), and all the great stuff back home, like Brisbane’s riverside running track, and Kraft macaroni cheese. But of course, having been here long enough, there’s now stuff about Auckland and the wider New Zealand that I’m going to leave behind. I won’t miss living next to a pub – that wasn’t a particularly great idea. But in this last few days, I’m trying to forget the endless U2 track tape and reflecting on the best of this chapter instead.

location

Auckland Harbour … boats, trendy bars, and loud Irish pubs.

Firstly, rum racing. Auckland is a harbour city, and we live right on it. Every week, I’ve walked past massive cruise ships docked right near our apartment, and seen the sails fly past. I joined a yacht club (after a conversation in the gym steam room … that’s another story) and on many a Thursday or Friday afternoon, we belted across the bay on the Higher Ground. We won (rum) a couple of times, had one race ended by the NZ Navy. It was all good. I’ll miss being able to get to the harbour in five minutes. It’s a forty minute drive in Brisbane.

Racing ...

Racing …

... and rum!

… and rum!

Secondly, the ZXR. I bought this beasty little 250 without much care (still mourning the loss of my recently sold cruiser), seeing it as a temporary ride. But it had spirit and gusto and with the ManBeast’s ZZR stablemate, it went wherever I asked it, which included some places that knobbly tyres probably would have been a better idea. The wheels allowed me to see so much awesome in the nearby region. I sold it a week ago to a new owner, who I hope will have as much fun with it as I did.

Photobombed by the ZZR by the Firth of Thames

Photobombed by the ZZR by the Firth of Thames – ZXR at left

ManBeast rests with the road beasts after a long dirt track (the wrong one)

ManBeast rests with the road beasts after a long dirt track (the wrong one)

Finally, Piha, and the Bay of Islands, which kind of combine the previous two entries with NZ’s spectacular scenery. Piha is a black sand beach about an hour west. The aptly named Bay of Islands is about four hours north. We saw Piha by bike and the Bay by boat. Spectacular. And despite the fact that I flattened my bike battery at Piha (and was given a jump by one of the Piha Rescue guys) and that I spent a day in the Bay trip shit-scared I’d run our charter into something, both were unforgettable trips. Might be worth a blog of their own. I know Queensland has the Whitsundays, which I love too, but the Bay of Island has penguins, which is just a delicious juxtaposition in a place that looks so tropical.

Piha from the high road ...

Piha from the high road …

... and from the ground

… and from the ground

Oke Bay all to ourselves

Oke Bay all to ourselves

Skipper Char

Skipper Char

That’s it for now. I could keep going… I haven’t mentioned Phillipe’s amazing chocolate and pastry heaven, Mr Vintage, fossilised trees, the Auckland half-marathon, the hilarious coverage of the Hobbit premiere, or a dozen other places visited, but this has been the best. Farewell, Orcland. It’s been great.