Samiwich’s Short Story

This will be a little long but I think you’ll totally enjoy it.

***

My name is Samantha, but most people call me Sam. Well, everyone that is except my human dad; he calls me Samiwich.

Yeah, I know, kinda dumb isn’t it? But you know what? Even though I get teased a lot, I love my nickname. Why? Because my dad loves me so much that he created a special name, just for me. It’s even more special though because dad says that before he met my mom, he couldn’t even spell C.A.T. Now, even though I wasn’t his first cat, I’m his special cat. His special Samiwich. And there’ll never be another Samiwich.

But, I’m getting way ahead of myself. Let me start over.

Hi! My name is Sam. That’s short for Samantha.

My name wasn’t always Samantha. For my first year and a half I don’t really think I had a name, until I found my human parents. All I remember being called was “get out of here”, “shoo” and when I was really small, “kitten”. But there were dozens of get out of here’s, shoos, and kittens so, maybe I was really kitten number eleven and a half, or something like that.

You see, I was born in a house that already had 53 cat brothers, sisters, aunts and uncles.

When I was born I was short, chunky and the people in the house said I was funny looking. One of them, the really old lady, said I was the runt of the litter. A few weeks later though, I heard the old nasty guy that lived with her call her an idiot for not seeing that I was inbred.

Inbred … that means my mother and father were related. I think they were actually brother and sister but in the tiny hoarding house I was born in, everybody was called a brother or sister. And, forgive me, but mating with any cat of the opposite sex that happened to be walking by was … well … common.

I remember life from the minute I was born. There were six of us, four sisters and two brothers. We were all different colors and sizes and none of us looked the same. My face was broad and short and my nose kinda flat. My legs were really short, stubby they called them, and my body looked like a beer can … round.

My brothers and sisters … well, I never really got to see much of them. One sister and one brother only lived for a day. For some reason, mom, our cat mom, refused to have anything to do with them. She just pushed them away and ignored them when they tried to feed from her. I got pushed away too, but another mom, who I think only had one kitten and she was born dead, decided to adopt me.

Anyway, she let me feed from her but that was all. Oh, and it was only when she felt like letting me. There were some days when I was lucky if I got a mouthful or two before she went into a rampage. I’m not sure but I think it had something to do with losing her own kitten. Why do I say that? Well, for two reasons. First, a litter of one is rare and then to lose your only kitten must have devastated her. Second, one of the older kittens in the house told me much later that I looked like the daughter she lost at birth because of my mottled brownish sort of coloring.

(My favorite vet would later tell my human parents that I was a “Tri-colored Tortie”. That meant that I looked like a tortoise shell that was three shades of brown, all swirled together. Isn’t that cool?! I’m like a totally unique tri-colored tortie Samiwich! Yup! Definitely one of a kind!)

I must have been born in the winter, or perhaps the fall, because it was very cold. Two of my siblings only lived one day. My other three siblings wanted nothing to do with me. I think that was because I was inbred. Now, I don’t want to act holier than thou but if I was inbred and every cat in the house was related to each other, what the hell were they? Born from royalty?

My first year was spent pretty much alone. Nobody wanted anything to do with a round, short, squat, flat faced kitten. Not to mention one whose coat couldn’t make up its mind what color it was supposed to be.

The house we lived in was very small and it was full of stuff. Aside from collecting cats, the owners collected all kinds of other things. The room I was born and lived in until I was rescued was, I think, what you would call the living room. I guess that makes sense since there was at least 50 to 60 of us living in it, along with one or two humans on most days.

There was barely enough to eat and we often went for days without food or water. Some days, when we were finally fed, we wished we hadn’t been.

When I was one, it turned very cold again. Over the year some of my brothers and sisters kept dying around me. Every month, there would be fewer and fewer. But then, someone would have another litter and we’d be back to fighting for food and a warm place to sleep.

That’s when I started having breathing problems. Also, my teeth really, really hurt.

When summer came it got unbelievably hot. More of my family kept dying all around me and I had to fight to stay alive. I promised myself I would not die! No matter what, I was only 18 months old and I had so much I wanted to do. While fighting for everything in my life, I also realized that I wanted to be loved. I needed to be loved and I had so much love to share.

Finally, one day the rangers from the Humane Society broke down the door. “Ah, air!” I could hardly lift my head but I pulled in as much air as I could, just as a young woman picked me up, snuggled me and told me, “You’re okay. I’ve got you and you’re safe.”

The next time I woke up I was on an operating table. My throat had a slit in it and a tube hanging out, but I could breathe. The vet said I had an upper respiratory infection and it had almost turned into pneumonia. He also told the nurse helping him to schedule an appointment with the dentist because almost all of my teeth needed to be pulled. That’s when I passed out.

Two days later, I woke up in someone’s lap. They were bottle feeding me and I felt a thousand times better. Oh, and I could breathe! When I started to purr with happiness, I scared myself. I sounded like a lawn mower run-a-muck. But the girl whose lap I was in just laughed. “You are adorable, Cassie. Cassie. That’s what we named you by the way.” I smiled at her, laid my head against her chest and when she kissed me on the head I purred even louder. Then I went to sleep.

The next week was kind of fuzzy. I remember the girl coming in two or three times a day to check on me, hug me and make sure I was okay. “You are such a fighter,” she said one day. That’s when she told me that over 50 of my brothers and sisters had died and only four of us had made it out alive.

But now, I had my own super large crate, all the food and water I wanted and someone who loved me and came to check on me every day. How lucky is that!

My crate was on the bottom row in the cattery and I had to stretch my neck to see who came in whenever the door opened. One day, I looked up and saw two people standing with the girl who had named me. “I have someone I’d like you to meet,” she told them. She eased me out of my crate, kissed me on my head and handed me to the woman next to her. I looked into the woman’s beautiful eyes, glanced over at the cute guy with her and I knew I had found my parents!

I need to let them know I’m theirs, I told myself. I did a gator roll in her arms, laid my head against her chest and cranked up my lawn mower purr to full maximum.

The woman looked at the cute guy and said, “She’s picked us, you know.”

“Yup, I figured that out before she ever got into your arms,” he said, scratching my head.

I never went back into my crate because my new mom carried me in her arms while my dad filled out the adoption papers. An hour later I officially had my new parents.

On the way home, I looked over at my dad, who was driving, then up at my mom. I thought back to a year ago and realized how lucky I was. That’s when I made myself a promise that I would never let a day go by without letting them know how much I loved them.

As we pulled into the driveway, dad turned to mom and said, “We already have a Cassie so, what do you think about naming her Samantha? We can call her Sam, for short.”

“I like that,” my mom said.

Dad’s eyes looked into mine. “You okay with that, Samiwich?” My mom chuckled but I was in shock. All I could do was let out a tiny squeak. Oh. My. God! I had my own nickname! Up until the shelter, I didn’t even have a name. Now, I had a name, Samantha. A nickname, Sam. And now, my very own super special nickname, Samiwich! Me! I was Samiwich! The one and only Samiwich!

I meowed at dad, licked my mom’s hand, did another gator roll in her arms and snuggled as close to her as I could get. No matter what was inside the house in front of us, I was home. These were my parents, this was my house and I was in heaven.

As soon as we were inside, mom introduced me to Cassie, a big blond lab and shepherd mix and Yoda, a brown swirled Sokoke cat. Yup, I’d met a Sokoke before, and they were full of themselves. Yoda was no exception and he wanted nothing to do with me. Ha, we’ll see about that!

As I watched them, I realized that Yoda and Cassie were a couple! He was her “Boy Toy”! Yup, she would clean his ears, he would purr and lick her nose then clean her ears.

Wow! How do I deal with this? I’d never met a dog before and had no idea how to make friends with a dog-cat couple.

Every once in a while though, Cassie would get fed up with him, grumble and bark in his ear because he just wouldn’t leave her alone. That was my opening. I’d console each of them separately, always being careful not to favor one over the other.

Sam Note: Cassie was always friendly toward me, but I had to butter up Yoda for 10 years before we finally became friends … sorta.

***

Well, I’m now almost 14 years old. Time has flown by. I love my family more than anything in the world and right now they need more love than ever before.

You see, in August, Cassie had some kind of a stroke. She collapsed and mom and dad scooped her up and rushed her to the emergency vets. But, she never came home. Well, only her ashes came home, a week later.

Then, in late April, Yoda, who was now over 16 and my bestest friend, kept getting weaker and weaker. Finally, when he couldn’t eat or drink any more, mom and dad had the vet come to the house and put him to sleep. Just as he crossed over the rainbow bridge, I gave him a kiss on the nose and told him that someday I would see him and Cassie in heaven.

Little did I know that day might be closer than I thought. Two days later I was diagnosed with breast cancer.

Three weeks ago, I had a radical mastectomy but I’m getting better every day! Thanks to the love, thousands of hugs and extra special care I get from my mom and dad. Oh, and everyone at the vet’s office too.

You see, no matter what, I will never forget how lucky I am. Nor will I ever stop returning all the love my parents and everyone else gives me. That’s what’s made me who I am. What makes people love me and me love them back. With all my heart.

***

Authors note: Sam has no idea how unique, and very special, she really is. It’s impossible to describe how much joy she’s brought into our lives and the lives of everyone she does her trademark gator roll in the arms of. She truly is one of a kind!

Is she spoiled? You bet! But so deservingly so; as she tells us daily with her lawn mower purrs. And yes, she’s recovering well.

Our Trip to Ireland and England – Part IV

Friday, Day 10

Friday night, 5 pm and we’re back from Belfast. Our last dinner at McGettigans, where we said goodbye to everyone. Sarah wasn’t working so we’d said goodbye and swapped hugs with her on Wednesday.

Saturday, Day 11

Off to the docks where we walk aboard the ferry for our three and a half hour trip back across the Irish Sea. At 11:30 we arrive at the Holyhead ferry dock and train station and catch the 2 pm train to Chester for the first of our three train changes.

If you’re traveling in England, the trains are a wonderful way to get to where you’re going. They run frequently, they’re fast, clean and the service is great. Our 4 day BritRail pass had us traveling in first class for much less than normal coach tickets would have cost. Just before we arrived at each station for our train changes, the conductors would call ahead to let them know which train we were changing to and each time people met us with a cart to transport us to the next train. Unbelievable service and yeah, we pretty much made friends with the conductors on each train.

One word of advice. The main trains lines in England mostly run north and south. So, if you’re crossing England from west to east (or east to west) plan on a few train changes. Another way that having a BritRail pass really helps. One pass covers all the trainlines. (Thank you BritRail. You can mail my check to…..) Seriously, the rail passes, and Oyster Card for the tube system in London, are a real bargains.

Two more changes at Leads and York, and at 8 pm we arrived in Alnmouth. Thanks to Alicia, our fantastic friend in Alnwick, our taxi was waiting for us and by 8:30 we were putting our luggage in our rooms at the Bondgate Boutique B&B in Alnwick.

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The wall and entrance into Alnwick

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Alnwick Square the center of the village

It’s here I’ve another bit of travel advice. Alnwick is a captivating, charming village that we love. However, it’s a small village where they pretty much roll up the sidewalks at 8 pm. So, our arrival at 8:30 and attempts to find a place to eat around 9 pm resulted in us going to bed hungry. My message? Plan accordingly you folks from the big cities where everything is always open.

Sunday, Day 12

Two very hungry yanks and one kiwi walked the short block to Barter Books where we devoured breakfast. Yes, Barter Books serves breakfast and food pretty much all day. (Well, not after 8 pm.) It is also gigantic and the oldest secondhand bookstore in England. One more tidbit, they created the saying “Keep Calm and Carry On”. For us, it was like we had died and gone to heaven as we spend several hours after breakfast just roaming through row after row of books. Oh, and watching the miniature train that runs through the place and chatting with the people who came in with their dogs and the staff and the people sitting next to us at breakfast and …. Well, I think you get the idea.

Some four hours later we left Barter Books and hoofed it through the fantastic village to Alnwick Castle. After a small stop at The Cookie Jar B&B, where Alicia is manager, to say hi and thank her for her help, it was off to the castle.

Built some 950 years ago, the castle is still occupied by the Duke of Northumberland and his family. It is also where the first three episodes of Harry Potter and several episodes of Downton Abby were filmed.

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Entrance to the main state rooms

 

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The main court yard

The castle is fascinating and, with the exception of a moat, it has everything a castle should have to be a truly proper castle. Sorry, but Leeds Castle has spoiled me, and yes it has a moat. A very big moat! But then, Leeds castle is smaller than Alnwick so, I guess they’re even.

Oops, wait a minute, I forgot, Alnwick Castle has a resident vampire! That does it, Alnwick wins by a mile!

While we were there they were doing broomstick training in the center yard, lessons on how to defend yourself against a dragon in the inside court yard and archery lesson way off by the wall where no one would accidently get an arrow stuck in them.

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Training brooms

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Training schedule

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Bob fights off dragon – Dragon wins

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Girls watch dragon eat Bob

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Broom stick and archery training

After our tour of the castle it was off to the Plough Pub for dinner and an early night turn in since our colds by now were raging.

Monday, Day 13

Up and off for breakfast at the White Swan Inn. Then Sheryl opted to go back to the room and sleep while Casey and I headed for Alnwick Gardens and The Treehouse Restaurant.

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Tour of the poison garden

After a guided tour of the Poison Garden, we wandered through the rest of the gardens on our own, finally ending up at The Treehouse, before our colds had us calling it a day.

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Three bears

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The Owl and the Pussy Cat

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The Treehouse Restaurant

Dinner was again at the Plough Pub. In the morning it would be off early for Alnmouth and our train to London. But, not before another story caused by the little village we love.

Tuesday, Day 14

Ever since we arrived in Alnwick, I and Alicia had been trying to arrange for a taxi to pick us up on Tuesday morning and take us to the train station, all to no avail. Seems every taxi for miles was pre-booked to take kids to school until 9 am. Which of course is when our train left. At 8 am Alicia called and said, don’t worry, my Granny will come pick you up. She’ll be in a little silver car. Just be outside at 8:30.

Yay! Saved by Alicia and Granny.

At 8:30, Granny pulls up in yes, a very little silver car. We all look at each other, look at the car, look at the pile of luggage and Sheryl’s foldable wheelchair and shake our heads. No way is all this going to fit.

Granny jumps out, we all swap hugs with her and tell her there is no way all our stuff is going to fit. She opens the hatchback, points at the stuff that needs to go in back there, then tells Casey to squeeze in the back first. After passing her a suitcase for her lap, Sheryl is next with another suitcase, then me up front with the last suitcase. Off we go for the 4.5 mile drive to Alnmouth.

As we pulled into the train station, everyone waiting for the train turns and starts laughing. We had to look like a clown car from the circus. Hatchback open, arms, legs and suitcase hanging out everywhere. But we made it with 5 minutes to spare.

Thank you Granny and thank you Alicia!

By now Sheryl’s and my colds have gotten much worse. So, on the way back to London I called British Airways and changed our flight from Thursday to today, Tuesday. Once we reached London, we caught a taxi to Heathrow and just made check in time for our flight.

This left poor Casey to tour London on her own the next day. However, being the travel trooper she is and with a bit of advice from me and help from the concierge, here’s what she managed to do.

Keep in mind, Casey had never been to London before! I’ve included her description (slightly edited) because I can’t believe how much she got to see and how fantastic she is at describing things.

The comments in italics are mine. I’ve also taken the liberty of adding a few pictures from our numerous trips to London so you can see just a bit of what Casey saw.

Wednesday, Day 15

On Wednesday morning despite feeling crappy, when I opened the curtains, my mood lifted ten-fold. Brilliant blue sky and radiant sunshine!

After having breakfast in the restaurant and armed with brochures, tube and bus information I walked down the road to catch the 253 red double-decker bus to Hatton Cross station. The bus circled the perimeter of the airport so I got to see lots of big planes. At the station I brought a roundtrip ticket and had to wait less than 5 minutes before the tube turned up and before long I was on the Piccadilly line.

Three-quarters of an hour later and thinking I was never going to get there I arrived at Green Park. I got off the tube, took the first exit and ended up in what I presume was Green Park. I got my bearings and despite the Big Bus hop on and hop off being there, I discovered I was less than 7 minutes from Buckingham Palace so I decided to walk there.

The sun was brilliantly hot and Green Park was just gorgeous and green. The trees were heavy with blossom, there were daffodils everywhere and lots of pretty flowers. I finally arrived at Buckingham Palace. Staring through the gates I could see a guard standing ramrod straight. The mail was being delivered in the Royal Mail van. A sign on the grounds indicated that there would be no changing of the guard today. The Palace was big but looked friendlier than what I had imagined.

I was confused about what was going on outside the Palace. I assumed that one could actually drive on the road around the Palace but today it was all blocked off and there were barricades everywhere. There was a huge police presence – in cars, vans, on foot, motorcycles, bicycles and horses.

I walked around the statue in the middle and dipped my hand in the water. I walked down the mall and was impressed with all the huge country flags lining the streets. It was then that I saw the sign – Commonwealth meeting. A ha! That explained the heavy police presence. Every now and again an official car would come down the road flanked by numerous police vehicles. Maybe it was Jacinda (New Zealand’s Prime Minister) off to meet the queen. The barricades I quickly worked out were for Sunday’s London Marathon.

I diverted into St James Park, marveled again at the pretty flowers and the deck chairs which you could hire then made my way around the side of Buckingham Palace. I diligently followed my map to where I thought I could catch the bus but nothing was making sense. I stopped to ask a rickshaw guy who turned my map around the right way. We both had a giggle and I was off on my way again.

I found where I needed to get the Big Bus. Outside the Royal Mews. While I waited for the bus I was finally able to stand back and soak up the hustle and bustle of London. It seemed every few minutes one of those cute black cabs would roll pass. I love them! And I chuckled as across the road was the Palace Fish and Chips. I can’t imagine the Queen stepping out for fish and chips.

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Westminster Abby, Big Ben and Parliament

The bus finally arrived and I went up the top snagging the last seat. We made our way slowly through the traffic around the Palace to Westminster Abbey. Wow! Amazing and so many famous people buried there. Going inside the Abbey was definitely on my list of things to do so made a note to get off on the next trip around on the bus. Oh, and you’ll be pleased to know there was a protest. I took photos of Indians waving flags and banners and yelling about something but I’m not sure what they were protesting about. (Remember the protests in Dublin?)

Over the Westminster Bridge and my first look at the Thames. Wow! She’s big and very busy. And dirty. But I’ve since found out it’s the mud being churned up from the bottom that makes it dirty. The Thames is one of the cleanest rivers in the world home to 120 different species of fish. It seemed like this would be a good place to get off and do the river cruise.

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The Thames and London Eye from the Westminster Bridge

I walked back over the bridge crowded with people, rickshaw drivers and a man dressed in zany union jack attire handing out English pub food flyers. (Ha ha, he’s always there!)

When I got on the ferry I was able to get a seat outside on top which was great. It was such a brilliant day weather wise. In fact, it was starting to get down-right hot! Apparently the weather in London had not been great in the previous week and today was the first day they had people out on the top deck.

There was live commentary all the way and I learnt lots about London.

Once the ferry got underway we made our way over to have a look at the Eye. I’m embarrased to say it was nothing like what I had envisaged which was like a ferris wheel that goes around quickly and you would be sitting outside. Now I know why you and Sheryl laughed when I was worried about motion sickness. The little cabs were moving so slowly it was hard to even work out if they were moving at all. It would’ve been a great day to do the Eye because the skies were so clear.

We then continued on down the Thames. I loved the architecture – the old and the new, the Shard and some other buildings I’ve forgotten the names of. There is a tonne of construction going on and some very large buildings being built. We went under London Bridge and had a good look at London Tower. The ferry stopped at Tower Quay and the commentator mentioned that you could get off here or go on to Greenwich. I remember you mentioned that that was one of the places you wanted to take us so I decided to stay on the ferry. The landscape changed as we continued up the Thames and I started to get a sense of why you liked the Thames so much and the views that you get along the way.

I got off at Greenwich and was immediately charmed by the quaint seaside town. I saw the Cutty Sark and decided to go on it on the way back. As I ventured up the first street I could feel a happiness about the town – the tourists, the locals and how laid back it was. The third shop I came to was a book shop! Yay! It was called Cafe W so I went upstairs to have lunch and a nice cold lemonade. I couldn’t browse too long but I wished you could’ve been with me. One of the things I loved about Ireland and England was the great array of independent bookshops they had which is really lacking in the US, NZ and Australia. From the bookshop I stumbled across the Greenwich market which was a really cool place to hang out and look at the arts and crafts and one Chinese food stall where the guy was making something from long noodles I think it was that he kept whirling and twirling in the air.

From there I had a quick look around the old naval buildings. Wow! These buildings were amazing – so much history and once again the architecture blew me away. I really wanted to do some of the tours around the buildings. However, it was getting close to 3 pm by this time which was when the next ferry left. I left Greenwich feeling as though I’d just touched the surface. I didn’t have time to really look around or do the Cutty Sark.

Back on the ferry and back down the Thames and an hour later I was back in London. My intention was to get back on the Big Bus but I was getting pretty knackered by then and knew I would need to get back to Green Park to get the tube back to Hatton Cross. So with a heavy heart I got off the ferry and made my way somehow to St James Park and walked along the Birdcage. St James Park was also so pretty in all its spring glory. There was an ice cream stand in the park and I would dearly have loved to have an ice cream but I needed to keep moving. I walked across the Blue Bridge, alongside Buckingham Palace, back through Green Park onto the tube.

What a contrast to the quiet ride in that morning! Standing room only, hot, stifling, smelly and this is where you no longer worried about invading someone else’s space. By 5.30 pm I was back at Hatton Cross and by 6.00 pm back at the hotel.

I thoroughly enjoyed my day in London despite only doing three stops of the Big Bus and virtually running all day to see everything.

When you told me that I would love London I was skeptical. It has never been a place that I’ve really wanted to visit but, of course, you know me too well, I loved it! It was vibrant, alive, quirky, bustling, with a character all of its own (and I just love those dinky little black cabs). The history is rich and I loved the buildings. I can see now why you love London so much and why it appeals to you. (I lived in London for two years.)

Thank you so much for opening my eyes up to another place. I did keep an open mind and I’m glad I did. I would love to go back and spend some more time there and do all the things that I only touched the surface on. The wild dreamer in me would truly love to be able to visit London again and visit it with you. I could feel you while I was in London and you peering over my shoulder pointing things out to me.

Thursday, Day 16

Sheryl and I have been home for a full day but Casey will take off today at 3pm and, after a stop in Shanghai, arrive home on Saturday.

***

We so hope you’ve enjoyed our trip as much as we have reliving it. We’ve tons more pictures we’d love to add but this is already way long.

Please, if you have any questions, just let us know.

Our Trip to Ireland and England – Part III

The first two days in Ireland had been spent running around Dublin, Ireland’s largest city. But it was Waterford that gave us a totally different perspective of Ireland. A perspective that went way back to when the Vikings and Regnall, a grandson of Ivar the Boneless, established a base in Ireland. (I promise, I did not make up Ivar the Boneless!)

Who knew that the Vikings had a base in Ireland? Or that Waterford would turn out to be much more of a village then a city.

Tuesday, Day 6

Certainly though, that would not be our last surprise. Actually, our next surprises would come on Tuesday when we would catch yet another early morning train all the way across Ireland to Galway Bay and Connemara on Irelands west coast. Connemara, where Casey’s great grandparents were from.

Like England and Wales, our train would take us through village after village, each with its own stunning cathedral, castle ruins and more sheep than we thought existed. One of those villages would be Curragh, home to numerous stud farms and the Irish Derby.

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From there we would follow the Shannon River for a bit then enter the midlands, with its miles and miles of peat bogs, as our guide explained how the bogs were harvested.

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(Wow. Real Peat Bogs? They’re not just something they made up for Sherlock Holmes and monster movies? Hey Casey, we need to work these into one of our books! Yip, a vampire story is definitely up next! I even have the title: “Fangs in the bogs!” Why is everyone laughing?)

(Sorry, In keeping with tradition, my bog pictures look like a big bog blur.)

We arrived at the Galway train station and transferred to a small tour bus, all eight of us. From there it was off through the peat bogs to the village of Oughterard then, into miles and miles of stunning rolling hills with their mix of vivid greens, breathtaking blues and a host of other rich colors. In many ways, as breathtaking as the lochs region in northern Scotland but much more colorful. Once again seemingly with castles everywhere.

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Vivid colors everywhere

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Note the castle in the lower left

Our first rest stop was at Mann Cross, where “The Quiet Man” with John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara, was filmed. A short distance from there off in the distance was “The Wall” from Game of Thrones.

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The house where The Quiet Man was filmed

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Casey taking a picture of The Quiet Man bridge.

Next up was the rugged coastline of Connemara, looking off across the dark green Atlantic Ocean where one could easily envision the Titanic sailing off toward New York, on the other side of the ocean.

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Lunch found us at Kylemore Abbey, a sprawling 18th century castle with wonderful gardens, a restaurant and gift shop.

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The Abbey

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Garden map and pathway into the gardens

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After lunch our van wound its way back through the wonderful rolling hills, bogs, along a different part of the coast and into Galway.

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The outskirts of Galway

For me, Galway was a total surprise. I don’t know why but I’d expected a small inland village. What I got was Galway Bay, a seaport and Ireland’s sixth largest city. But, having said that, Like San Diego, it didn’t feel like a city. Also like San Diego, it felt welcoming with an air of warmth and comfort. So much so that we passed on a walking tour of the shopping area and quickly found a pub to kill the hour and a half before our train left. Of course, by the time we walked back to the train station we’d made friends with just about everyone in the pub.

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Lunch at the pub in Galway

As soon as we boarded the train, our guides broke out the bottles of Irish Whiskey. One of the first things you’ll learn in Ireland is that Ireland and whiskey go together like peanut butter and jelly. You’ll also find that making friends, anywhere in Ireland, requires next to no effort. Thus, within minutes our little group of eight had expanded to over fifteen as other nearby passengers joined in and we all did whiskey shooters. Yip. We’ll all be sleeping well tonight!

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Ah yes, shooters on the train

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A second later they had joined us

Well, we’d all sleep well except for Casey. Why you ask? And it’s here that I need to tell a little story. You see, Casey’s room was haunted! All of the rooms at our hotel had been wired so that things like the TV, lights, air conditioning, and even the curtains were controlled by the TV remote. However, in Casey’s room everything had a mind of its own. In the middle of the night, she would be woken to a bone chilling room, the curtains sliding open, then the lights coming on. Minutes later, the curtains would close, and the TV would come on. Finally, everything would turn itself off, just in time for her to fall back to sleep, only to have things cycle back on.

Wednesday, Day 7.

We met a very bleary eyed Casey in the lobby of the hotel then headed for the “Parlor” for breakfast smoothies, and a good laugh about her night with the ghosts. (No more Irish Whiskey shooters for Casey!)

Luckily, no long train rides today. This would be another day to explore Dublin and we had reservations for an 11 am tour of the Kilmainham Gaol Museum, Dublin’s prison dating back to 1797 that replaced the old dungeons and set the modern standard for most of western prisons.

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inside the main cell block

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The execution yard

After almost freezing to death during the gaol tour of the exercise and execution yards (It had turned bitter cold and the wind just cut right through whatever you had on.) it was time for lunch. We decided to catch a taxi to the Gibson Hotel and have lunch overlooking the dockyards and 3 Arena, where U2, Ed Sherran and other performers hold their concerts.

By the end of our two hour lunch, we were all overly tired and had slipped into a giddy mood. So, we caught the tram back to Aimiens Street, walked the short two blocks to our hotel and yip, right into McGettigans for Irish Coffees and hot chocolate with Sara and then an early to bed night.

Thursday, Day 8

Another early wake up, check out of the hotel and walk across the street to Connolly Station so we could catch the train to Belfast, Northern Ireland. At 9:45 we arrived at Belfast’s Central Station and transferred to a coach for our ride up the coast road to the Giants Causeway.

Ah, more surprises. Looking across the northern Irish Sea we could see Scotland off in the distance. In many ways, this part of Ireland mimicked the topography of the Scottish coast. Rugged, rocky with an extremely cold wind blowing off the Irish Sea. Very different than southern Ireland and, only one of the differences, we would soon learn.

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Looking off toward Scotland

The Giants Causeway is a series of surreal volcanic rock formations that look like they were carved elsewhere and placed there. The near perfect hexagon tubes vary in size and height and are stacked next to one another like the pieces of a giant puzzle.

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Who are these people? Oh, and we are not responsible for Casey’s hat. At least we think it’s a hat.

If anyone has ever been to the Devils Post Pile in central California, the Giants Causeway is very similar and results from the same type of volcanic activity.

The name, Giants Causeway. comes from the story of an Irish giant named Finn McCool who is having trouble with someone across the water in Scotland. Namely a Scottish giant named Benandonner, who is threatening Ireland. Finn grabs chunks of rocks and throws them into the water to form a path so he can go teach Benandonner a lesson.

Bad idea – Benandonner is terrifyingly massive so, Finn beats a hasty retreat back to Ireland, followed by the Scottish giant. Finns’ quick thinking wife disguises him as a baby. The angry Scot sees the baby and decides if the baby is that big, the daddy must truly be huge and heads back to Scotland, leaving the pathway Finn created.

After roaming over the fascinating rock formations, we did a quick trip through the gift shop and museum, we ignored the recommendation for the Crowne Mourne for seafood, and headed instead to Kelly’s Bar for some good old Irish Pub food. (Yip, we be just plain old pub food people.)

From there, our coach took the inland road back toward Belfast with photo stops at Dunluce Castle and the Bushmills Distillery. Once we were checked into The Europa Hotel, we wandered down to the second floor lounge and feasted on a variety of small dish plates for dinner.

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Bushmills

While we munched and stared out at Belfast, we couldn’t help but discuss the differences between northern and southern Ireland. A much different topography in general. More harsh, rugged and certainly less colorful or inviting.

The accents in Belfast were also much heavier and closer to a Scottish or Welsh brogue. This made it easy to spot someone from southern Ireland who had migrated north to work.

Without implying that we liked southern Ireland over Northern Ireland, we also found Belfast’s architecture to be more English like and less welcoming. Finally, the friendliness we’d found in southern Ireland seemed to be toned down in Northern Ireland. It wasn’t that the people weren’t friendly, just that they weren’t as openly friendly; in Belfast it was up to us to draw them into a conversation, where in Dublin only a smile and friendly hello was needed.

By our second day in Belfast, Sheryl’s and my colds were roaring and we decided to simply curl up in the lounge and rest while Casey found the hop-on hop-off bus and explored. She took in the city and Titanic Visitors Center (The Titanic was built here.) before returning to join us in the Lounge. From there, a quick taxi ride took us back to Central Station for our trip back to Dublin.

Exhausted from all our travels and our roaring colds, which we so graciously had now passed on to Casey, we checked back into the North Star, (Requesting non-haunted rooms this time.) had a quick dinner in McGettigans and turned in early.

Tomorrow, we would wave goodbye to Ireland then be off on the ferry to England and a day of changing trains to get to Alnwick in northern England.

Good Night Everyone!

***

If I might add a note or two.

First you may have noticed that all the signs in Ireland are in English and Irish (Gaelic).  Also, you’ll find the  history of the Titanic followed us throughout Ireland and England, which I’ll explain in part IV.

Thanks for following my blog and our fantastic trip so far.

Our Trip to Ireland and England – Part II

A couple of notes before I get started.

First, my three part blog has now turned into four parts. That’s because I’m so gabby and decided to add in more pictures. Gee, why are Sheryl and Casey not surprised?

Second, European Trains go fast. Much faster than ours in the US. So, taking good pictures out of the train window is next to impossible.

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Third, if you try taking a picture out of the window of something far off, I guarantee a bush, tree, telephone pole or something will pop up just as you take the picture.

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Fourth, I am notorious for accidentally taking pictures of feet, my cane, a suitcase handle or something absolutely no one cares about.

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So, if any of these show up, just ignore them.

Well, not the feet picture above. That’s of Sheryl’s (right) and Casey’s (left) feet. Way back before the trip they both decided to have their toe nails of one foot painted in Ireland colors (Orange, Green and White) and the other in British colors (Red, white and blue). Yes, we were in our friend’s wine bar when they decided this. Any further comment will likely get me in trouble, so I’ll just shut up now. Actually, I’ll be in trouble as soon as they see I’ve posted this picture for the world to see.

A few more general comments:

Every time we travel, things we didn’t expect happen. Cities that are nothing like we expected. History that captivates us. People who treat us as if they’ve know us forever. Food that is amazing.

In Ireland, and England, it was all of these. Before our first trip two years ago, when I thought of Irish food, I thought of boiled potatoes and cabbage. Boring, tasteless. Oh, was I ever wrong! Everywhere we went the food was fantastic, and unique! (Having lived in England I should have known better!)

The people? Unbelievably helpful, friendly and happy. Never once did we run into a grumpy person or fail to have them jump up and help us onto a bus, the train, navigate stairs or offer directions and, almost always, guide us there while bragging about how we will love their city and country. Oh, and ask all about our countries and how they compare. Then, be fascinated that we and Casey, from opposite sides of the world, were good friends and traveling together.

So, what truly makes Ireland and England so special? First and foremost, the people. Second the food and friendly, outstanding service, everywhere. And, finally, the fascinating history and true pride of the people in their country and struggles that have made them who they are: Some of the most wonderful people we have ever met.

Finally, I need to add a special thanks to Casey for all of her help during our trip; especially after we came down with colds that immediately affected our stamina. Without her we would have had to cut our trip even shorter. As I’ve said in previous posts, not only is she a fantastic writing partner, and best friend, she’s also a delightful travel partner and a wonderful part of our lives.

Yeah, yeah. I know. Shut up and get on with the trip.

Day 1 – London

After clearing customs and emigration at Heathrow airport, we rode the Hopper bus to the Sheraton Skyline Hotel where we caught up with Casey. After dumping our luggage in our room we all headed for the pub inside the hotel where we found Tessa, the pub manager and a good friend from our numerous previous stays at the hotel.

Tessa joined us for dinner and while we caught up on two years of events in our lives since we’d last been together, the pub filled up and I couldn’t help but notice a wonderfully friendly feeling spreading through the room. Everyone was laughing, chatting with the table next to them, us included, and just having a good time. I even commented to Tessa that it felt like we were at a party. To which she said, “It’s always like this.”

What a way to start our trip!

Day 2 – The train to Holyhead

Friday and it was up early. While we waited for our ride to arrive we grabbed coffee, tea and croissants from Starbucks in the hotel lobby, then sat back as our van driver fought his way through London’s morning traffic to Euston Train Station on the northwest side of London.

At the station our IrishRail Tour guide met us, settled us into our reserved seats and wished us a wonderful trip.

It’s here that I will tell you that in every village you pass through in England you will find a quaint cathedral, an old cemetery, a castle or two and tons of sheep.

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As for the sheep, you will also notice that in each pasture, their arses have been spray painted with a different color; pink, green, blue, red, …. This is so each farmer can tell his sheep from the others should they wander down the road looking for greener pastures.

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Since it was early April, it was also birthing season for the sheep. So, each pasture had tons of adorable baby lambs running and hopping all over the place as they tested their new legs and their parent’s patience.

Late Friday afternoon we arrived at our hotel in Dublin, The North Star. Just renovated and modernized and only a short four block walk to O’Connell Street, the main street in Dublin, or the Leffy River, which runs through the middle of Dublin.

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Day 3 – Free day in Dublin

Saturday morning, after a fantastic dinner with Sarah the evening before and breakfast at the hotel, we headed to O’Connell Street to board the Hop-on, Hop-off tour bus. On the way was a stop at the IrishRail Tours office to thank Fiona and Peter for putting together our fantastic trip.

Since we had two days to roam Dublin, we stayed on the bus for its almost three hour route. This way we could get to know Dublin, the various areas and where things that we wanted to go back to were.

Arriving back at O’Connell street, we caught another bus and took it to the Dublin Writers Museum where we spent the next three hours roaming through the various displays for what seemed like every famous writer, all of whom came from Ireland or had ties back to Ireland. Mixed in among those displays was the original handwritten manuscript of Bram Stokers Dracula.

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The reading room

 

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The patio and reading room at the writers museum where Casey and I could curl up and write forever.

Well, it’s now the end of our first day in Dublin and time to eat.

Outside we go, only to find hundreds of our best Irish friends outside the museum and ourselves in the middle of a demonstration for the homeless. We really have no idea if this was pro-homeless or anti-homeless, nor could anyone tell us. They were however, all having a very good time, as they sang and danced their way into the park down the street. (A Side note: The last time we were in Dublin we found ourselves in the middle of a water tax demonstration with 30,000 of our best Irish friends, And, as Sarah put it, Dubliners are always demonstrating against something and it’s usually just a good excuse for a block party.)

In any case, both times they had to be the happiest demonstrators we’ve ever seen and yeah, both times it looked more like a giant block party.

After wading (actually kind of two stepping) our way through the demonstration, we caught a taxi to the Arlington Hotel for dinner in their street side pub. There, we found ourselves in the middle of the happiest birthday party we’ve ever seen. Ah yes, more signing, dancing, shouting and listing to a woman somewhere off in the back with one of those laughs that makes everyone else break out laughing.

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Two hours later, our faces and sides hurting from laughing so much and our stomachs wonderfully full, we flagged down a taxi to take us back to our hotel. Two steps inside, we all glanced left, smiled, made a sharp left turn and detoured to the bar where we found a smiling Sarah waiting for us.

“What took you so long?” she asked as she slid four packages of Walkers Scottish Shortbread Cookies in front of Sheryl. “These are to go with your Cappuccino,” she said. She looked at Casey and I, then back at Sheryl and added, “You can share them if you want. That way Casey can have them with her hot chocolate and Bob with his Irish Coffee.”

(The night before, Sheryl had told her about the wonderful shortbread cookies we had had in Scotland and how nice they would go with her cappuccino. And yes, we’re taking Sarah home with us!)

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Day 4 – Another free day running around Dublin.

A quick breakfast and we’re off in a taxi to the Book Market in Temple Bar Square; only to find out the market is only on Saturdays and not Sundays. UGH! Okay, back to the Arlington Pub for lunch and to decide where to next. Ah Ha! The Winding Stair Bookshop is just a few doors down! Guess where we’re going?

A short walk down the Quay along the Leffy River and we we’re at the Winding Stair Bookshop where we would spend the next hour and a half and more than a few Euro’s. Can’t ever have too many books on Irish stories and legends.

Finally, Sheryl says “I need to go to the bathroom.” The lady behind the desk says, “There’s a café/coffee shop right next door.” So, off we go, me pushing Sheryl in her wheelchair and Casey saying, “I’ll catch up in a minute.”

In front of the café we’re confronted with several steps to get in. As Sheryl starts to get out of the wheelchair to walk in, two young guys who were sitting inside, jump up, run out and each takes one side of her chair. “I can walk,” Sheryl says. “We got this,” they both say as they pick her and the chair up, carry her in and wheel her to the restroom.

Not only that, they wait for her to finish, wheel her back, carry her down the steps and pass her back to me. “Have a wonderful day,” they tell us. “We take it you’re from the US by your accents,” one says and the other adds “We hope you enjoy our city.” (Yup, where taking them home too!)

Our next stop is staring at us from across the little plaza in front of the cafe. Turning around turns out to be a big mistake because there, in front of us, is a giant gift shop, full of everything Irish. Several large shopping bags later and much lighter wallets from fewer Euro’s and it’s time to head back to the hotel. Once again, Sarah and McGettigans Pub call our names on the way into the lobby, as we order drinks and dinner and tell Sarah all about our day.

Day 5 – Off to Waterford

Well, Sheryl and I are off to Waterford, leaving Casey to roam around Dublin for another day seeing some of the things we saw on our last trip.

First thing out the door and across the river and what does Casey spot? A giant squirrel. Not a real squirrel, but one made of trash glued to the side of a building by some artist. So? You ask. What’s so unusual about that? Well, Casey is fascinated by squirrels, which they don’t have in New Zealand. So, this is obviously some kind of a good luck sign for Casey and she does, in fact, have a fantastic walk around Dublin.

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From the squirrel, she walked up Grafton Street, walked around Trinity College, took in the Little Museum of Dublin, walked around St Stephen’s Green, visited Dublin Castle with it’s incredibly moving “Famine exhibition”, then on to Christ Church Cathedral and finally a diversion into Eason Bookshop on the way back to the hotel.

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Christ Church Cathedral

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“Celebration of Woman” event at the Little Museum of Dublin.

While Casey was walking all over Dublin, we took the train down to Waterford, an ancient Viking City dating back to 914 and Ireland’s oldest city. Sitting just north of Ireland’s southeast coast, it is also the home to the Waterford Crystal Factory.

Our day trip to Waterford consisted of a tour of the Waterford Crystal factory and then a walking tour of the city.

The factory tour turned out to be fascinating, as did out tour of the city with its rich Viking history. I think the pictures will pretty much tell the story of both.

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Replica of a viking ship

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Viking sword carved from an entire tree

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The Abby.

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Viking mermaid

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Our Guide at the Waterford Factory

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Just some of the fantastic pieces

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911 memorial piece

Upon returning to the hotel we all ended up back in the pub for another wonderful dinner with Sarah.

Well, that’s it for part II. Part III will take us on the rest of our Ireland excursions and part IV will cover Alnwick, England and Casey’s quick tour of London.

We’ve also a ton more pictures that I’ll try and post on Facebook as an album.

Enjoy everyone.

Our Trip to Ireland and England – Part I

Part I – An overview of where we went and why. Details of our excursions will be in separate posts of Parts II and III.

Our trip planning started almost a year ago. That would be back in June during Casey’s first visit to San Diego. While I was showing her around, one of the major attractions I took her to was the Star of India, part of San Diego’s Maritime Museum.

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As Casey explored below decks and read through the ships history, she discovered that the Star of India had been used to transport emigrants from Ireland to New Zealand. Hitting closer to home was the time frame the ship had been commissioned for these trips, which coincided with when Casey’s great grand parents had emigrated from Ireland.

Then, after a few more history panels, she discovered one showing the Star of India in dry dock in Lyttelton Harbour, the harbor town of Christchurch, where she grew up. In the background was the hill her great aunt (Casey’s grandmother’s sister) lived on.

Later that day, while sitting in our backyard, our discussion turned to Ireland as Casey excitedly told Sheryl about her discovery and that her great grand parents had likely emigrated on the Star of India. She also mentioned how Ireland had always been on her bucket list.

Sheryl and I had been to Ireland two years before and had often talked about wanting to go back.

Within minutes, and a lot of smiles, our trip to Ireland was planned for April of 2018. By August we and Casey had monitored airfares, booked our flights and, in September, we started planning the rest of our trip. By the time she visited again in December, everything was planned and booked and we started making never ending lists of what we wanted to see and do.

Our trip had us meeting in London on April 5th, then going on to Ireland the following day.

Sheryl and I would catch the daily British Airways non-stop flight from San Diego to Heathrow in London on the 4th, arriving at 3:30 pm London time the following afternoon. Casey’s journey would be a lot longer. She would fly from Blenheim to Auckland, then catch a flight to Singapore on the 4th. After a four and a half hour layover she would board another flight to London, arriving on the 5th  around 6 am, London time.

Ireland trip map airAll told, Casey would cover 24,500 air miles (returning to New Zealand via Shanghai) and we would log just under 11,000 air miles.

Late on the afternoon of the 5th we met up in the hotel, had dinner with the Hotel’s Pub Manager (a good friend) then, got a good night’s sleep. The following morning we hired a van to take us to London’s Euston Station where we boarded a train to Holyhead, England.

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Our five hour train ride took us some 300 miles across England, up into Holyhead in Wales on England’s upper east coast. At Holyhead we boarded an Irish Line Ferry for the three and a half hour journey across the Irish Sea to Dublin.

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It is here we must tell you that the term ferry is totally deceiving. The ferry is very little like a ferry and much more like a cruise ship. A cruse ship with two lounges (we splurged and sat in the first class lounge on the very top deck), two restaurants, a cafeteria, a theater, a giant kids play room, and one of the best gift shops we’ve ever seen. (And yes, we spent more than we should have on T-shirts, a new watch for Sheryl and trinkets.)

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Our lounge and the private bar

Upon arriving in Dublin we checked into our hotel, The North Star, a short walk from the center of Dublin and directly across the street from the Connolly Street Train Station. Intending to go to one of our favorite pubs, instead we wandered into McGettigans Cookhouse and Bar next to the hotel. In seconds, Sarah our bubbly waitperson, adopted us (and we her), and suggested what we should order. All of which turned out to be fantastic. Yip, another outstanding pub and another adopted waitperson. What can we say?

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The next two days, the weekend, would be spent running around Dublin on the Hop-on-Hop-off buses to places on our must see list or just roaming the streets until we saw something that peeked our interest. On our list was a raft of book stores, interesting venues, and (of course) pubs from our last trip. (All to be covered in detail in the next posts. And yes, with pictures too!)

On Monday, Sheryl and I left Casey in Dublin to continue exploring while we took the train out of Heuston Station (Guess the Brits and Irish can’t agree on how to spell Heuston, or Euston?) to Waterford: An all day trip to the southern part of Ireland that included a tour of the Waterford Crystal Factory and a walking tour of the old Viking City of Waterford.

Ireland trip map IrelandOn Tuesday morning it was back to Heuston Station for all three of us, this time for an all day excursion to Connemara and Galway on Irelands west coast. This trip included a bus tour out of Galway to Connemara (where Casey’s great grandparents were from) then a walking tour of Galway, before heading back to Dublin.

Wednesday was taken up with a reserved personal tour of Dublin’s Kilmainham Goal, then a visit to the Dublin Writers Museum, where we found ourselves in the middle of a march for the homeless. That resulted in us having to recover in a favorite pub down on the Leffey River where, we ended up in the middle of a rowdy birthday party. (Yip, to be explained later.)

Thursday and we’re off on another train ride. This time out of Connolly Station (long walk across the street) to Belfast where we would spend the next two days. One day visiting the Giant’s Causeway and the second touring Belfast. Late Friday afternoon and it was back on the train for Dublin and our last night in Ireland.

Saturday morning we were off on the ferry for our Irish Sea crossing back to Holyhead. Here we would catch a train to Cowyn Bay then, four train changes and six hours later, we would arrive in Alnmouth where our friend Alicia had a taxi waiting to take us the 4.5 miles to Alnwick.

By the time we’d arrived in Alnwick (after 8 pm) everything was pretty much closed so we settled into our rooms at the B&B and pretty much died for the night. The following morning it was up and off to Barters Books down the road for a hearty English breakfast. Following breakfast we dropped in on Alicia at the Cookie Jar (a B&B where she is manager) and then walked over to Alnwick Castle, where we spent the rest of the day.

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I should add here that by this time we had all come down with really bad colds. Sheryl and I were a few days ahead of Casey and we started talking about Sheryl and I eliminating touring London on our last two days. (It’s not like we’ve never been there before, although we can never get enough of our home away from home.)

In any case, our last day in Alnwick, Casey and I left Sheryl at the B&B and toured Alnwick Gardens and the Treehouse Restaurant.

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The Gardens

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The Treehouse

On the way back we picked Sheryl up and wandered over to the pub next door to the B&B for our last night in Alnwick.

 

The following morning (Tuesday if you’ve lost track) we caught a ride from Alicia’s granny (There is a very funny story here that you will not want to miss in Part III) back to the train at Alnmouth.

From there it was another four hour train ride back to London’s Kings Cross Station. On the way, I called British Airways, changed our flight and as soon as we arrived we caught a taxi to Heathrow. Before Sheryl and I walked into security we each gave Casey a big hug and then left her on her own to tour London over the next two days.

In total we covered over 1,760 miles in England and Ireland, by bus, boat and mostly train, and Casey would add another 40 or so miles by bus and riverboat while in London.

As you’ll see in parts II and III, aside from all of us catching miserable colds at the very end, our trip was full of visits to wonderful places and we met some of the nicest people you could ever imagine. We also learned that the three of us, Sheryl, Casey and I, are not only compatible in almost every way possible, we also make wonderful travel partners.

Well, so much for my short overview. If you enjoyed this part, you’ll love parts II and III and our wonderful excursions around Ireland and England. And yes, there’ll be plenty of pub and food descriptions! Oh, and more pictures too.

 

Book Signing

La Jolla Library Showcase featuring the SDWEG–Interview with Bob Boze

Local author and SDWEG member, Bob Boze, will be a participant at the La Jolla Library Showcase featuring the San Diego Writers  Guild’s Meet Your Local Author event, on May 12th from 10 AM to 2 PM

To get to know a little about Bob, he’s provided an excerpt from his recent interview with Rebecca Howie, author, writer, and blogger from Scotland.

Hi, Bob.

Hi Rebecca. Thank you for the opportunity to interview with you.

Q: Had you always planned on becoming a published author?

A: No. I’ve always been an avid reader, and I loved my English and writing classes throughout college but never thought much about writing or publishing anything. Much of my life has been spent traveling, and in the late ’80s I started writing a yearly Christmas letter to let our friends know what part of the world we were in and what we had done over the year. My letters were full of stories and humorous events, and, after being pressured by friends to write a book, I finally started one in 2013.

That book became my humorous autobiography, Love is a Pretty Girl with a Cape to Share Your Dreams With, and was the second book I published. The first was book one of my romance trilogy, Horses of Tir Na Nog.

Q: What inspired you to write the Horses of Tir Na Nog trilogy?

A: A visit to a friend’s horse rescue ranch. The Horses of Tir Na Nog is a real ranch, in the east county of San Diego. When our friend finally moved all of her rescued horses onto one ranch, we went out to visit the new location. Walking around the ranch, my heart broke as I looked at the most abused and malnourished horses I had ever seen. When one of the horses (Deveny), hesitantly let my wife and me approach her, I knew I had to tell her story; actually, all of their stories.

The problem was, it was going to be heart wrenching and I needed a way to temper that. Oh, and did I mention I knew nothing about horses?

Five years later, I published book one of Horses of Tir Na Nog, A New Door Opens.

Q: What made you choose romance as a genre?

A: I’ve always been a sucker for a good romance story, especially the ones that have a happy ever after ending. Given the subject (abused and abandoned horses and young women rescued from the sex trade), along with my need to temper their heart wrenching stories, the YA/Adult Romance genres seemed like a perfect fit.

Q: What is the series about?

A: The series centers around CJ, a 25-year-old girl, who was rescued from the sex trade at 20 and became the manager of a horse rescue ranch. With the support and trust of the owner and two girls at the ranch, she rebuilds her life, then meets and falls in love with a fireman.

The first book, A New Door Opens, centers around the love, support, and encouragement she receives from the sisterhood, formed by the three women, and Shawn, the fireman, who adores her. It also builds a bond between the fire station crew, ranch staff, and those they meet, that eventually becomes a support family for all of them.

The second book, The Sisterhood, finds the sisterhood expanding as CJ (with Shawn) and Shannon (with Bert, another fireman), two of the original sisters, run all over Europe on their joint honeymoon collecting new friends along the way. (Spoiler alert!) While the third sister (Christine) keeps up her end by rescuing more women from the sex trade and falling in love with a Secret Service Agent.

The third and final book, Dreams, brings story closure and everyone together for a reunion in San Diego where new generations carry the sisterhood, and their support family, into the future.

Q: Do you find it easier to write with a schedule or with no time restrictions?

A: In general, I don’t set a schedule for my writing. I will set a target completion date for finishing, but even that I keep loose. In the case of book one of HTNN, as the ideas kept flowing I kept adjusting the finish date, then gave up and brought it to a close as I realized I had at least another book’s worth of ideas. That, of course, turned into book two and my trilogy was born.

Q: Can you choose a favorite character from your books?

A: I have to admit, I love all of my characters. As a sisterhood and support family, they fit perfectly together. But, I do have two favorites. CJ, who the book centers around, because, like Shawn, the more I got to know her the more I fell in love with her. The second character would be Jessie. She’s smart, spunky and just a bundle of love and energy.

Q: Was there ever a point while you were writing the series when you wanted to give up?

A: No. Quite the opposite. I originally envisioned one book, but the more I wrote the more I needed to say. My trilogy started with one message: to make people aware of the abandoned and abused young women in the sex trade and the horses abandoned as a result of the economy crashing. However, the more I learned, the more messages I felt I needed to get out there.

Q: What is the worst part of the writing process for you?

A: Finding time to write. My volunteering at the San Diego Zoo often takes on a life of its own, and there are times when I feel like I live there. So I’m fortunate in that interruptions don’t hinder my train of thought, and I can fall back into write mode after an hour, day, or even a week of no writing.

Q: How much of your stories do you plan, or do you make them up as you go along?

A: I start with a very rough outline and lots of notes. But, it really only covers the beginning and, if I’m lucky, the end. The rest kind of fills itself in as I write.

Q: Do you have a favorite piece of writing advice?

A: Have others read your work as you write! As many and as often as they are willing and don’t get hurt feelings from their comments. Incorporate the obvious and sit on the rest, if you have to, until you understand what they are saying. They are your eyes and ears to what the reader sees. Use them well and appreciate them.

Q: Where can people learn more about your books?

A: The best place would be my website: https://bobboze.com which lists all of my books and has expanded descriptions and readers’ review comments. There are also links to my books on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Goodreads, as well as my social media sites.

Q: What have you learned since you started writing?

A: Wow. Where do I start? How about with subjects I knew nothing about, like horses, firemen, fire trucks, the sex trade, and a ton of other things mentioned in my books? But, most of all, I would have to say, I’ve learned how to write. No, make that, I’m still learning how to write. My writing style and descriptions (for everything) look nothing like they did when I started.

Q: What’s next for you?

A: What started as a beta read swap over a year ago, resulted in my now having a wonderful writing partner, Casey Fae Hewson, who lives on the other side of the world from me in New Zealand. With her help, I’m now about halfway through my next romance novel, The Beach Pool, and, hopefully, I’ve equally helped her with her next two romance novels, Misty Springs and Pacific Vines

In addition, we’re co-authoring another romance novel, Light My Way, which is all about apples and apple orchards in the US and New Zealand: Gee, something else to learn about! Finally, she’s agreed to add her expertise and encouragement and co-author a business book I started, then shelved many years ago, How Not to Fail in Business Without Really Trying.

Want to know more about Bob and his books? Come to the La Jolla Library on May 12 for its Showcase Featuring San Diego Writers Guild’slocal authors.

I’m Recovered

Yip! I’m Recovered!

Final three covers are finished! I so hope they have retained their appeal and “draw” yet look a bit more professional.

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This has been a very long journey and required a lot of help from several of you: Casey, of course, Alicia and Hailey. Nor can I forget Sheryl and Jini who are always ready to offer encouragement in any way they can.

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While doing my own covers was not my first choice, and a major struggle at times, I wouldn’t trade a minute of that struggle. As with other areas of writing, I have learned so much. And, though the journey was painful at times, that is the reason I’ll always remember it.

How to front cover

Do I now have artistic talent? Hell no. I’m still limited to ugly stickish figures no one can really recognize. Including my horses with trunks and big ears shaped like Africa. My elephorses! Which, most of you are probably thankful will always only be mine. (Hum? Subject for a new book? A vampire elephorse? Oww, I like it!)

I’d love any and all comments on my new covers. (As long as you understand that, I’m not changing them again! Hee hee.)

Well, I’ve a plane to London to catch so, enjoy.

I’m Recovering

I’m recovering

Oops, sorry if I made you worry. I haven’t been sick or committed to a rehab program. Even if I were, most of my close friends will tell you not to get concerned, that I’m beyond help anyway.

I guess I should have said, re-covering. As in I’m redoing my covers.

Why you ask?

Here again, you obviously didn’t see or hear my close friends shaking their heads violently and yelling, “No. No, Do. Not. Ask. Why.”

Ha. Ha. Too Late.

Back in 2014, when I was getting ready push Horses of Tir Na Nog: Book One out in front of the world, I started thinking about my cover. Even before I started writing I’d had a picture from a postcard in mind. The postcard had a girl and horse on it and conveyed the message I wanted people to see but it wasn’t quite what I wanted. Mainly, the girl had blond hair, while my main character, CJ, had dark hair. Which made the background and horse color all wrong too. Other than that, it was kinda perfect.

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The postcard

Simple solution, hunt down the artist and ask him to redo his post card. (Stop laughing. A giggle here would be better because it’s going to get funnier.)

Turns out, the post card was from the Netherlands and the artist lived in Amsterdam. No problem, our next trip will definitely be to Amsterdam! Two trips by me and one by my sister-in-law and no luck finding the artist. We even checked Belgium, France and England, twice just in case. (Hey, we were already there so, why not?)

Plan B

Time for plan B! Show the postcard to my many artistic friends (actually two friends and a girl I met at our friend’s wine bar) and ask them to slightly modify it. You know, different girl with dark hair, different horse, new background, maybe insert a bit of sky and a cloud or two, have the horse smiling … Just a few changes.

Implementing plan B taught me that artists a) don’t like to be told what to do and b) all had preplanned vacations at the same time as I needed my cover done. (I’m sure they’re all friends with the our friends who always had plans whenever we moved.)

Plan C

Onward to plan C! Do my own cover. I sketched out my stick figure horse and girl and showed it to my sister-in-law who works for the LA County Museum of Art, restoring art from when cave people roamed around and centuries thereafter that I’ve never heard of.

Her first question, when she finished snorting was, “Why does your horse have a trunk and big ears shaped like Africa?” Before I could answer, she downloaded MS Publisher, pulled up Shutterstock and said, “There you go! Have at it!”

Several weeks later I’d figured out how to get into Publisher and create an account with Shutterstock. Ah, now to find the perfect picture! Do you know what happens when you put “Girl with Horse” in Shutterstock’s search window?

Weeks and weeks of sleepless nights later, somehow, the perfect picture popped up in front of me. (Yup, that would be the one on my cover. Which I love and have no friggin idea where it came from at 2 am one dark night.)

YAY! All I need now is a title and some words and Yip, Yip, (as Casey would say) my cover is done!

Horses Of Tir Na Nog Book Cover

My First Cover

Seven painful (make that very painful) weeks with little food, washing potato chips and grease out of my keyboard and lots of beer, my 15th attempt looked pretty good. Well, sorta. Two more attempts and I sent it off to a friend in England and another writer, with artistic talent, in Virginia, pleading for help.

Lots of emails, lots of tweaking, numerous unintentional deletions and I finally had a pretty good looking cover. Which I then uploaded to Amazon to replace my uh, not so good looking first cover.

Horses Of Tir Na Nog final cover ebook

My improved cover

YES! I did look into having my cover professionally done. Around week 1 and ¼, week 3, week 3 and ½ and pretty much every week after that when I ran out of beer and Office Depot ran out of color cartridges for my printer. Problem was, they wanted 6 months advanced notice and a ton of money. The latter of which I had now invested in Office Depot.

Slow forward to 2018. I’ve gotten better with both Publisher and Shutterstock. Perhaps braver would be a better term. People, well most of them, no longer break out laughing when I show them my idea for a new cover and some have even oww’d and ahh’d. I’m pretty sure those were the noises I heard.

Almost all of the comments I’ve had on my covers have been extremely positive on their overall attractiveness and how the pictures accurately reflect the story within each book. Thus, I’ve kept the pictures and tried to make the overall cover more attractive and professional looking.

And, so here I am. Making you the very first people ever (not counting my coauthor Casey, my wife Sheryl, my friends in England and Virginia, oh, and my neighbor across the street) to see my new amazing, dazzling, suck your eyes in covers!

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Front cover HTNN Book 3 Final ebook

 

I’m only going to show you the three trilogy covers for now. Why? Because they’re finished and the others aren’t quite. I promise I’ll have the others done and put them in another post, soon.

Comments?

All comments are greatly appreciated and accepted. As long as they start with “I love your’ new covers”. If you don’t like them, it’s okay to let me know but, I’ll just ignore them for these covers since I am not doing them over again! As I always do with comments though, I will consider them for whatever I do next; whether I do my own cover or shop it out,

Reviews

I’ve run into a problem. This isn’t the first time nor, I’m sure, will it be the last. So, I’m asking for your help. Actually, I guess, your opinion.

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My problem?

I just finished reading a book which had a good story but the author drove me crazy with several things they did. So, before, or if, I write a review, I thought I’d see what you think.

Like most writers, I’m also an avid reader, reading things far outside the genre that I write in. Why? Mainly because reading, pretty much anything, has always been a part of my life. I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t reading something so, truthfully, I was a non-discriminatory reader long before I focused on a genre as a writer.

As a reader

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As a reader, I’m not only entertained but I get to expand my horizons. Go places I might never get to go to. Experience things I might not otherwise ever experience. I also get to dream. Dream about other worlds, fantasize about life in the Fae world, what being a vampire would be like or spend part of my day swimming with mermaids.

As a reader, I’m also educating myself. Learning about new things. Things others see and write to tell me about. Or, stories they conjure up in their mind and pass on to me. Stories that were a major factor in my becoming a writer.

And now, not only am I a reader, I’m a writer too. Now, I wear two different hats. Sometimes not so different and sometimes very different. That difference I’ve come to learn, depends on what I’m reading. More importantly, it depends on the quality of what I’m reading.

As a reader, I’m actually less tolerant of mistakes than I am as a writer. Yeah, that kinda surprised me too. Why? Because they interfere with my enjoyment of the story. They distract me and cause me to reread something, sometimes still not understanding what the author was trying to say. Misspellings pull my eyes to them and I almost have to force myself to turn the page and get away from them.

When an author rambles on and on about something that adds nothing to the story, like they’re just filling in pages to make the story look fuller, when, suddenly I realize I just skipped four pages and didn’t miss a thing. Or, my favorite, when the characters never finish a sentence and the author leaves you to fill them in.

Worse yet, when an author names the wrong character, forgets where the scene is or gets the dates or times all screwed up. That’s when I want to rip the page out, retype it and glue it back in, before I go on.

After most of these, I’m now totally distracted. I’m now looking for mistakes. Anything, no matter how small.

As an author

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As an author, I see the same things. But, as an author I know how easy it is to read over things. How easy it is to trust your editor to catch things then have them miss them. To have beta readers not want to hurt your feelings and avoid pointing out what they assume will be obvious to you. To have spell check keep underlining something that’s right because you intentionally misspelled it (like kinda, above) to the point where you totally ignore anything spell check flags.

My dilemma

 

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So, here’s my dilemma. When I review a book, should I do it as a reader or, as a writer?

Should I come down on the author for ruining their story for me? Should I point out errors that likely the editor or beta readers should have caught? Should I break the authors heart and give them one star and tell them to go back to their day job?

I have my own theory on this but I’d really like to get your opinion, before I give you mine. (Which will be in my next post.)

Opinions, Please!

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So, please let me know what you think. How do you rate a book, as a reader or as a writer, if you are both? If you’re only a reader, what do you look for, what sends you over the edge and do you draw the line at a certain rating point? If you’re a writer, same questions, along with do you rate books differently because you’re a writer?

Writing Romance Out of the Mold

I would hope by now that you’ve figured out that I, and my writing partner Casey, are primarily romance writers. If this comes as a shock to you, you’re truly beyond help and probably should just stop reading here.

While I can’t speak for Casey, I can tell you that I didn’t start out to write romance. Actually, I didn’t start out to write anything in particular. I just started writing.

That may sound stupid but it’s the way my mind works. Casey will tell you that I’m a story teller. We both are actually. Our stories start the same way and we write the same way. So, I guess I’m really speaking for both of us.

 

Seeing What’s Not There (Or, is it really?)

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We see something; a person in the waiting area at the airport, an apple hanging on a tree, a mangey underfed horse, a cute girl at the pool, a dolphin porpoising off in the distance and it sparks a story idea.

The idea becomes a note in our notebook.

The note becomes several notes.

Several notes become a topic for one or more of our discussions.

Our discussions become a story line.

The story line begins to form as a plot.

The plot thickens! (Sorry, I couldn’t resist.)

But then, something happens. We sway the story line or plot into a romance based theme. 

We’re Romantics

Why? Well, first and foremost because we’re both romantics at heart; in our beliefs and our attitudes.

We’re dreamers. We’re emotional. We love people, new and different things. We see the beauty in things that other people often don’t see. And, quite often we notice things others just walk past, not seeing or paying any attention to them.

Two other things we have in common is: We detest violence but we cherish friendship and all the things it encompasses; belief, understanding, love, compassion and support.

All that perhaps makes us true romantics and unique as writers. Or, at least we think so.

Molds and Formulas

Why? Because our stories don’t fit into the formulas that writers, especially romance writers, are told to use.

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According to the formulas:

Our stories are too Happy. Our characters smile too much. They hug too much. They laugh too much. Not enough drama and the dramas we add in are not sensational enough, with too little commotion, turmoil and crisis. Oh, and our dramas don’t last long enough.

In short, we don’t fit the mold.

In all honesty, neither of us ever have. We’re unique. We were born this way.

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And, all those things we put into our stories? That’s us. We laugh too much. We smile too much. We hug too much. And we cry too. We’re there for each other and encourage each other. We turn our dramas into lessons to learn from, commotion and turmoil into things that disappear when faced with your best friend standing next to you.

Most of all, we trust and support one another. No matter what.

So, why shouldn’t our characters do that?

 

But, What about your Readers?

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Ah yes. Writing for your readers. We don’t do that either.

I think we both started out doing that. Why? Because that’s what we were told.

But we quickly learned it didn’t work. At least, not for us. We tried to make our characters appeal to everyone, but they weren’t real. They came across as phony. Their interactions unnatural.

Worse yet, we tried not to offend anyone. Soon realizing the only way to do that is to not write.

So, we made our characters like us. They speak like us, or people we know. They ask dumb questions and spit out dumb answers. They tease each other and poke fun at one another. They curse but are aware of the feelings of others around them, sometimes. They screw up and hurt each other’s feelings but then apologize.

For the most part, we let our characters have fun. To love life. To learn. To grow. To build relationships and friendships and cherish them.

 

Hey, we need some drama here! And Sex!

 

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(Ha, bet you thought there was going to be a sexy picture here. Actually there was but I can’t find it.)

Yes, life in our stories is not boring. We do throw in drama and surprises, a bit of violence, if called for, and even (sex) too.

Ah yes, Sex. When it comes to sex in our stories, we both believe that less is better and that provoking the readers mind to fill in the unsaid (unwritten) is better than anything you’re ever going to be able to write.

We’ve never discussed this next part so, I’ll keep it strictly as my opinion. What I’ve noticed is that books that have steamy, no holds barred sex scenes, pretty much have no story. Or at least, one that’s going to hold your attention.

Nor, do I know of many people, single or married, who can afford to spend day after day and night after night in bed making mad passionate love or plain old raw sex. Either of which moves books like that from stories to simply porn.

As for violence, yes, there’s some in our stories, just as there’s some in real life. But we try to leave the heavy violence and dark stuff to the thriller and mystery writers.

 

What our characters don’t do (most of the time)

Okay, so there has to be some drama.

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But we try not to have our characters hit one another unless we’ve made them really evil or it’s in self-defense or in defense of someone they love and are protecting.

They seldom intentionally demean one another. Yes, there are hurt feelings but hey, this is romance, where jealousy abounds but we try to tone down the malicious stuff.

Actually, the more I think about it, these are not hard and fast rules.

But seriously, no heavy hitting or dark stuff. Unless it’s magic related or vampires are involved. Then all bets are off.

And so, there you have it. Our formulaless guide for writing Romance

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Do you use formulas? Or, do you shun them like us? Perhaps something in between?

We’d love your opinion so, let us know.