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Polar Bears – Things I Learned During My Churchill Visit #travel #bookresearch

One of the things I love about travel is learning new things. Travel is an excellent educator. Before our visit to Churchill I knew nothing about polar bears, apart from the fact they are white. I even got that wrong because while the cubs can be quite white the adults are a vanilla color.

Things I learned about Polar Bears:

1. Polar bears inhabit the Arctic in areas where they have easy access to sea ice such as Canada, Alaska, Russia, Norway and Greenland.

2. Around 60% of polar bears live in Canada.

3. Polar bears are perfectly adapted for the cold weather of the Arctic from their fur, their black skin to their claws.

4. Polar bears rely on the sea ice since they feed on seals and they are strong swimmers.

5. Polar bears communicate with body language, the way they vocalize and with scent

6. Polar bears keep themselves clean, which helps keep them insulated and warm.

7. The bears sleep for seven to eight hours at a time, much like humans.

8. They sleep in shallow pits or sheltered areas. During the summer, they’ll seek out ice to keep cool.

9. Mating takes place between April and June while the bears are on the sea ice.

10. The eggs do not implant until the following fall. If the mother does not have enough body fat to sustain her cubs and herself, then the eggs do not implant at all.

11. Most cubs are born in December. A mother can have 1 – 4 cubs. Twins are common.

12. Newborns are blind, toothless and covered with short fur. They are completely dependent on their mother and nurse for around 20 months.

13. Cubs stay with their mother for 2 – 3 years and she teaches them to hunt, feed and swim.

14. The ringed seal is their main prey, although they will eat whales, eggs, and other small mammals.

15. Polar bears don’t hibernate, apart from pregnant females who den up to have their cubs and stay in the den until the cubs are strong enough to leave.

16. Polar bears can go up to eight months without eating.

Source: Polar Bear International

Polar Bear

Polar Bear

Polar Bear

Where is the Town of Churchill? #travel #bookresearch

Ask most people living in Canada or the United States and they have problems stating the exact location of the town of Churchill. As a New Zealander, I didn’t know anything about Churchill until I picked up a National Geographic Travel magazine. I flicked through and stopped at the pictures of polar bears.

“We should do this,” I said to my husband when he came home from work.

I half expected him to say, “No, that doesn’t sound very appealing.”

I was wrong. We investigated further and booked. This was my introduction to the remote Churchill, the town billed as the polar bear capital of the world.

Churchill is a small town, situated on the Hudson Bay in Manitoba, Canada. The town can only be reached by plane. (They used to have a railroad but storms damaged the line and the owners have decided not to fix the track)

Each year, the polar bears congregate in the area to wait for the sea ice to form on the bay. The bears sometimes wander into town, searching for food, which makes life in Churchill dangerous for the unwary.

The town started life as an outpost. It grew in the 1920s once the railroad brought people into town and the addition of a shipping port. The military came to town in the 1950s and 1960s, further bolstering the population.
These days the permanent residents number around 1000. This number is boosted by tourists who come to visit the polar bears (Oct – Nov) or the beluga whales that mass in the warmer waters of the Hudson river during the June – September period.

Although remote, the town has cell phone coverage and internet. They even have great coffee!
We enjoyed our visit very much, although I suspect it isn’t as pleasant during the dead of winter. We had snow during our visit but found the temperatures comfortable. The locals are friendly and hospitable, and hubby and I are eager to visit again during the summer to see the beluga whales.

Source: Everything Churchill

Churchill Town from Air

This is a view of the town and the bay from a helicopter.

Churchill

Churchill and my fave cafe

These are both views of the main street of Churchill – Kelsey Boulevard.

View of the Tundra outside the town

A view of the tundra outside the town of Churchill.

Behind the Book: Lone Wolf

Throughout time writers have gained inspiration from places they’ve visited. Agatha Christie wrote Murder on the Orient Express after taking a journey on this iconic train. Daphne du Maurier stayed at Jamaica Inn on Bodmin Moor in 1930 and used this as the setting for her popular Gothic novel Jamaica Inn.

Following in the footsteps of these famous writers, I decided to set one of my books in Yellowstone National Park after visiting the area with my husband.

Several things factored into my decision for the setting:

1. It is beautiful with a varied landscape ranging from mountains to prairie grasses and thermal regions. A large portion of the park is a volcano caldera.

2. We stayed in cabins at Tower Roosevelt. In the early hours of the morning we heard wolf song. The howls were both eerie and beautiful.

3. Yellowstone is a wilderness area, but there are lots of tourists too.

I’d wanted to write a werewolf story for ages and was having trouble coming up with a concept that made the writer inside me wriggle with enthusiasm. The second I heard the wolf song, the spark of an idea came to me. I stored it inside my head to pull out again during a quiet moment.

We met up with friends in Albuquerque, and one of our weird conversations was about what would happen to nail polish when a werewolf shifted. We decided it wouldn’t end well, and I filed that snippet away too.

By the time we arrived home, my head was stuffed full with bits and pieces for several stories. It was time to get to work.

Taking all the collected elements, I sat down and started writing, our visit to Yellowstone spawning my m/m story Lone Wolf.

Once upon a time werewolves took drugs to suppress their natural inclinations to shift to wolf. Current werewolf law forbade unregulated shifting.

Wolf

The door stood wide open when he arrived. He clattered up the two wooden steps leading inside and came to a halt in the doorway. His three roommates had already chosen their beds and stowed their bags. He claimed the last remaining spot—the top bunk nearest the door.

Yellowstone Cabins

“Making a kill is a natural thing and part of nature’s controls,” R.J. said. “The game populations swell to unnatural numbers if the regular cycle isn’t adhered to. It’s a fine balance.”

Another one of the girls raised her hand. “You mean we have to kill a Bambi?” Her voice rose to a squeak toward the end of her sentence.

Yellowstone Deer

R.J. slowed and came to a halt behind a line of cars, waiting for a herd of bison to meander across the road. As usual, a couple of dumb-ass tourists parked haphazardly, intent on approaching the animals, stalking them with digital cameras in hand. They wanted a souvenir picture to show the folks back home. Idiots.

“See those people over there,” R.J. called out.

“Yeah,” a few of the kids replied.

“They’re setting an example of what not to do with bison. The herd might appear slow and friendly, but they move fast if the desire strikes them. If they’re in the mood they can also take exception to vehicles.”

Yellowstone Bison

Corey tailed the group, taking in the trees and other surroundings with pleasure. He’d fought coming to Yellowstone, protested bitterly to his father, his mother and anyone who’d listen to him. The camp was okay and nothing like the prison he’d conjured in his imagination. The sights, the smells. The colors of Yellowstone. They spoke to the artist in him. His fingers literally itched to capture what he saw on paper.

Yellowstone Lake

What are your favorite places and settings for armchair traveling?

To learn more about LONE WOLF and to read the blurb and an excerpt, follow this link.

Romance and the World War Two Era #historical #romance

           EveningTryst200x300          Unforgettable-200x300

Evening Tryst is set in 1940 and the action takes place in Biggin Hill, which isn’t far from London. Unforgettable is set in the city of London during 1941.

While many men headed off to war, the women left at home produced food, operated factories and took over jobs previously done by their menfolk. Time were tough…

Twelve Things That Occurred in 1940

1. Britain started to ration butter, sugar, bacon and ham.

2. Britain starts an anti-gossip campaign.

3. Gone With The Wind featuring Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh was big with movie-goers.

4. The Wizard of Oz starring Judy Garland was also very popular.

5. Winston Churchill took over as Prime Minister of Britain.

6. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck, Finnegans Wake by James Joyce and How Green Was My Valley by Richard Llewellyn were big among readers.

7. You Are My Sunshine and A Nightingale Sang in Berkley Square were popular songs.

8. The first nylon stockings go on sale in the USA (May 15)

9. The British Government order the removal of signposts and street names.

10. The London Blitz begins on September 7.

11. People had to queue to purchase restricted goods. They had to hand over their ration books before they could purchase these goods, once they got to the front of the queue–if the goods weren’t already sold out.

12. Blackout was a fact of life. Motor vehicle accidents were very common during the blackout.

But amongst the trials and tribulations, the people found time for a little romance…

Read an excerpt for Evening Tryst

Read an excerpt for Unforgettable

Photo Essay: Playing to Win #Kindle #romance

My romantic suspense, Playing to Win is set in New Zealand. During the course of the book my hero and heroine take a journey to Taupo, a childhood haunt of mine. Here are some photos of their journey to go with the text…

Matamata

Kate listened to the ebb and flow of his voice and laughed as he painted colorful word pictures of a group of men and the close bonds between them. This man not only appealed to her senses, she liked him too.

There was little traffic on the road and none of the usual hold-ups due to road works. They passed Matamata and Waharoa with its small cafes and antique shop. Jersey cows grazed in lush green pastures while other herds ambled to the sheds for their afternoon milking.

“How about a stop in Tirau for a cup of coffee?” Kate asked.

“Sounds good.”

 

~*~*~*

Sheep's Head, Tirau
“I like Tirau,” she confided when they sat at one of the outside tables. Relaxed, now with more space between them, she leaned back to enjoy the sun. “I enjoy browsing in the antique shops, and I always make time to look in the shop over there.” Kate pointed at one of Tirau’s landmarks. The entrance to the shop was a large sheep’s head made of corrugated iron. Through the gaping mouth or doors, shelves were crammed full of wool, soft sheepskins and hand-knitted sweaters. While they watched, a bus filled with tourists pulled up in the car park and the passengers descended on the staff.

“Yeah, I noticed it before. It’s impressive. The tourists seem to enjoy their visit.”

 

~*~*~*


Antique shop, TirauIn the last shop, Kate lingered in front of a small pink music box. Not an expensive one but the type a young girl might fill with treasures. With a gentle finger, she pushed open the lid and the sweet strains of Swan Lake rippled through the shop while a ballerina twirled around and around. “I haven’t seen one of these in years.” She slid her teeth over her lower lip, disturbed by the bittersweet memories the tinkling tune evoked of her parents and happier times. “Not since…”

“Since?” Lane’s indulgent tone made her want to weep. He was so different from Steve.

“I used to have one almost exactly the same.” Until Steve broke it after he’d caught her smiling at one of his friends.

 

~*~*~*

Shelter BeltsLane appeared with several packages. “Do you want me to drive?”

Kate shook her head. “Thanks, but I’m happy driving.”

Gradually the scenery changed from farmland to pine plantations. Tree shelterbelts of a different species glowed in autumn colors ranging from green and gold to red and burgundy, protecting newly planted pines from strong winds.

“Nearly there,” Kate said as she drove through the outskirts of Taupo.

Lane peered toward the lake. “If we’re lucky, we’ll catch a glimpse of the mountains. There isn’t much cloud.”

 

~*~*~*

Mountains and Lake Taupo Although early evening, they could make out the trio of mountains, Mount Ruapehu, Mount Tongariro and Mount Ngauruhoe across the large expanse of blue-black lake.

Kate let out a satisfied sigh. “This is one of my favorite views.”

They shared a smile. “I’d forgotten how beautiful the New Zealand scenery is,” Lane said. “I haven’t visited Taupo for years. Where is Adam and Danielle’s holiday home?”

“Tui Road,” Kate answered, negotiating traffic and the holiday pedestrians still thronging the streets. “You can’t see the mountains or the lake from their house, but it’s only a ten-minute walk to the water.”

SHELLEY’S NOTE: Unfortunately on the day I visited there was cloud!

 

~*~*~*

Tree and Lake Taupo

Lane, who had walked over to a set of sliding doors to watch the boys, said suddenly, “John, I think we’re needed. The boys have snagged the kite in a tree.”

“But there’s only one tree in the reserve,” John said.

Kate moved to survey the scene. A bubble of laughter escaped. “The boys have caught the kite in it. It looks as though they’re deciding who retrieves the kite.”

John groaned. “Come on, Lane. Supervision required.”

 

~*~*~*

 

Here is the blurb for Playing to Win:

Playing to WinThe truth has many layers…

Professional rugby player, Lane Gerrard is used to women throwing themselves at him, but a scurrilous tabloid article naming him as father of a child sends his temper soaring. The woman he confronts doesn’t fit the blackmailer profile. Kate Alexander is attractive with an enchanting innocence, enticing. A total stranger. Her feistiness draws his unwilling admiration, but the child…he is the image of Lane.

Kate can’t deny her son’s similarity to the sexy man at her door but no way will she hand him over without a fight. Kate doesn’t possess money but she can shower her son with love. With public speculation rife, Kate reluctantly works with Lane to discover the truth. They grow closer as distrust slowly turns to mutual fascination, but the tabloid articles bring out a stalker. Mild pranks escalate into danger, and suddenly Lane realizes Kate is a woman he could love. With Kate and her son, he could have a family. Now, with his heart on the line, this is one game he’s playing to win…

Purchase or Borrow from Amazon

Behind the Scenes: Summer Encounter #Kindle #Romance

Summer EncounterA few years ago my husband organized a golf trip to the Gold Coast of Australia for members of the local New Zealand RSA (Returned Services’ Association). I’m not a golfer, but the lure of sunshine, half naked lifeguards on the surf beach, great shopping, and the chance to relax and do a little writing was all the incentive I needed. I packed my bags, ready to tag along.

Most of the group was a lot older than us, although I hasten to add, very fit and lively and definitely switched on. Our group consisted of couples plus three elderly bachelors. We called them “the boys”.

On the first day we arrived late morning and checked into our holiday apartments. We lazed around, deciding to meet up in the bar later that evening before going out to dinner in a group. The three boys were in the bar when we arrived for drinks. We purchased beer and wine and sat down outside to enjoy them while waiting for everyone else. The boys had already been out exploring.

“We’re going to the Burleigh Bowls Club for dinner,” one of the boys said.

“Yes,” another agreed. “Cheap meals. The beer is a good price as well.”

We nodded.

“And,” said the third boy, “There’s a dance at the Bowls Club tonight.” He paused to waggle his eyebrows. “We’re gonna grab us a granny!”

We roared with laughter. Not terribly P.C., I know, but I still grin each time I think of the three elderly men going off to the dance.

The next day, while the others were out playing golf, I pulled out my laptop and started pondering about what to write. The phrase “grab a granny” popped into my head and refused to leave. I decided to blend fact with fiction and write about a woman on a golf trip meeting with a younger man. Of course, the phrase “grab a granny” was in the story, although it wasn’t in relation to my heroine. I called my story, Grab a Granny.

Of course, the title Grab a Granny isn’t terribly romantic, so after consideration, my story became Summer Encounter.

Believe me, ideas are everywhere!

Shelley

Here’s the blurb for Summer Encounter:

Sophie Walker is on holiday in Australia when a hot and handsome cutey kisses her right in the middle of the Burleigh Bowls Club. The man fires slumbering sensual fantasies and sends her hormones swooping. Sophie wants to take a bite before she realizes it’s Isaac Shepherd—one of her daughter’s ex-boyfriends. Chastened, Sophie tells herself to forget the younger man, but it seems the attraction is mutual.

Sunshine. A hot, young stud. Steamy sex. The perfect recipe for total relaxation until the end of the vacation looms and Sophie doesn’t want to let Isaac go.

Purchase or Borrow at Amazon

Gold Coast Beach

Gold Coast Beach

Taking in some sun on the Golf Course

Taking in some sun on the Golf Course

Mackenzie: Sheep Stealer and Explorer #travel #NewZealand

James Mackenzie and Friday

This statue of Mackenzie and his dog Friday stands in the main street of Fairlie, New Zealand.

The real story of James Mackenzie, the sheep thief and man from whom the Mackenzie country in the south of the South Island takes it name, is still shrouded in mystery.

He departed from his home country of Scotland under a cloud after doing some double-dealing with some cattle that didn’t belong to him. At first, he went to Australia and then on to New Zealand. No one is sure of his exact arrival in New Zealand.

He first came to notice when he was discovered in the possession of one thousand head of sheep belonging to Robert and George Rhodes. Captured, he managed to escape, fleeing barefoot into the surrounding countryside. This was on the 4th March 1855.

It wasn’t until ten days later that he was arrested in Lyttelton on the charges “feloniously taking, stealing and driving away sheep.”

On 17th April 1855 he was found guilty by a jury in the Supreme Court at Lyttelton and sentenced to five years of hard labor on the roads.

Nine months later on 11th January 1856, he was granted an unconditional pardon. The hard labor had caused his health to deteriorate and he also staged many escapes, which were expensive for the Government because they had to recapture him each time.  James Mackenzie spoke Gaelic and his English was poor, which meant he didn’t understand a lot of what occurred during his trial. These circumstances were communicated to the Governor by Mr Henry John Tancred, the Resident Magistrate at Lyttelton and Mackenzie’s pardon went through.

James Mackenzie left New Zealand shortly after his release and went to Australia. It is thought he died in Australia but no one knows for certain.

Mackenzie’s collie dog was called Friday. it is thought Mackenzie gave Friday commands in Gaelic since the dog refused to work for anyone else. She was a silent collie and worked the sheep in silence. I’ve heard it said that Mackenzie’s dog Friday was so well trained she could move a herd of sheep by herself while Mackenzie drank in the local pub. I don’t know how true this is, but it certainly adds romance to the tale.

I’m not sure what happened to Friday while Mackenzie was serving his sentence, but the dog was produced during the trial. It’s said the dog whimpered, Mackenzie spoke to her in Gaelic and then broke down and cried.

Visitors to Mackenzie country might find it strange that we’ve named an area after a sheep thief, but as well as being a shepherd, Mackenzie was an explorer and he found a region that is perfect for sheep. These days several large high country stations farm the Mackenzie region.

Source: The Story of James Mackenzie of the Mackenzie country, New Zealand, presented by Catriona Baker.

Reivers in Hunted & Seduced #paranormal

Highland cow standing in a field with a loch in background

When I was working through my edits for Hunted & Seduced, my editor asked me about my use of the word reivers. Did I mean Reavers, the ferocious race, that featured in the television series Firefly? And wasn’t I spelling it incorrectly?

No, I answered. I mean reivers.

When I started writing the House of the Cat series, I dipped into my past travel adventures in Scotland and decided to invent a race called the Scothage. In Claimed & Seduced one of Keira’s employees comes from the planet Scothage. He looks after her livestock and wears a leather kilt.

In Hunted & Seduced, I again dipped into my Scottish memories and introduced a group of reivers who came from the planet Scothage.

Reivers were cattle thieves. They roamed the border region of Scotland from the 13th to the 17th century, raiding and plundering cattle. The reivers stole from their Scottish neighbors and also traveled across the border to plunder the English. Their main motive was to make money.

One of the most well-known reivers was Rob Roy Macgregor, made famous in the books written by Sir Walter Scott. The truth was romanticized in Scott’s novels and Rob Roy was portrayed as the Robin Hood of the far North. He was captured in 1727 and sentenced to transport to Barbados. Eventually he was pardoned, and he gave up the cattle rustling business to live the rest of his life as a law-abiding citizen.

My reivers are baddies who earn their living by stealing or capturing other spaceships for profit. In this case, they bite off a little more than they can handle.

So, there you have it – the story behind my reivers.

Read an excerpt for Hunted & Seduced

A Taste of Poison

Crime Scene: Poisons

One of the cool things about writing books with mystery and suspense elements is that you get to kill people off. The murder can be behind the scenes where the reader doesn’t see the grisly stuff, or the murder can be graphic and gritty and give readers nightmares. And then there are all the interesting methods of killing characters off. Choices galore and so much fun—for the writer that is!

Today I’m going to discuss poison. I’ve heard it said poison is a woman’s weapon. Since food is the ideal vehicle for poison and food preparation is often the domain of women, it’s simple to slip a little extra into the dinner. With poison, all the murderer requires is a way to introduce it to the victim’s system and their job is done. They don’t have to get up close and personal or get blood on their hands.

Poison was used by ancient tribes, within the Roman Empire and in Medieval Europe. Many noble families employed people to taste their food before they dined, so if the meal did contain poison, the taster keeled over first. These days most poisonings occur accidently, and the victims are often children.

Arsenic

This is a common poison in fiction, and it was very popular with the Borgias and de Medicis.

Arsenic is usually swallowed, but it can also be inhaled in industrial circumstances. Symptoms of arsenic poisoning include gastric problems, jaundiced skin, a skin rash, pain and vomiting. The skin becomes cold and victims become dizzy and weak from in drop in blood pressure. These symptoms are followed by convulsions and a coma. Death finally occurs due to circulatory failure. Not a nice way to go!

In the eighteenth century a Frenchman killed off his wives with arsenic. During sex he used a goatskin sheath to protect himself, but he placed a lethal dose of arsenic on the outside of the sheath. The women absorbed the arsenic during intercourse and died. Authorities became suspicious when so many of his wives died. He was found guilty and hanged.

Cyanide

Cyanide comes in three common forms: potassium cyanide, sodium cyanide and hydrogen cyanide. The potassium and sodium forms are solid and have the distinctive bitter almond scent while hydrogen cyanide is a gas. Cyanide can be swallowed, inhaled and absorbed through the skin. The cyanide interferes with the enzymes responsible for getting oxygen into the body. Death is fairly quick—short of breath, dizziness, nausea and a drop in blood pressure are some of the symptoms. Although the bitter almond scent is an indicator of the presence of cyanide, not everyone is able to smell this aroma.

Agatha Christie used cyanide in several of her mysteries. I distinctly recall Hercule Poirot detecting the scent of bitter almonds in a recent TV episode.

These are only two poisons to consider—there are countless others for your characters to use to rid themselves of troublesome foes.

When deciding to use poison as a murder weapon consider the following:

1. Is your book a historical or a more contemporary title?

Poisons were readily available from apothecaries in years past, and the possession of poisons didn’t prove guilt. It is more unusual to have poison readily available these days (apart from general household cleaners) and it isn’t always easy to purchase poison. Some require a special license before they can be purchased.

2. Think about the symptoms and the dosage required to kill off a character. i.e. their size, age and sex.

3. Do you want a quick death or do you want them to suffer for weeks?

4. Is there an antidote available?

5. How are you intending to introduce the poison? Will the character swallow, inhale or absorb the poison through their skin?

6. Do you want the crime discovered quickly or not? Maybe the murderer needs time to set up an alibi.

Poison is an interesting addition to the writer’s arsenal, and it might be just the weapon for you!

Authors: Have you used poison as a murder weapon before? What is the most interesting way you’ve killed off a character?

Readers: What are your favorite murder weapons in books? Do you like the sly murderer who uses poison or would you prefer a gun? Do you like your murders to take place off the page or do you like to experience them along with the characters?

Sources: Deadly Doses, a writer’s guide to poisons by Serita Deborah Stevens with Anne Klarner

Dragon Scales

During the last few months, I’ve done a lot of reading about dragons and their different characteristics. I’ve read fiction and non-fiction.  One thing everyone is clear about is that dragons come in lots of pretty colors.

attractive blonde and big dragon

Here are a few interesting facts about dragon scales:

1. The scales cover the entire body of a dragon.

2. The dragon can make its scales stand on end, especially during the preening process.

3. Dragons like to keep their skin and scales impeccably clean.

4. Each scale overlaps and fits perfectly into the next to allow the dragon to move freely.

5. The inner part of the scale consists of hairs. Small glands around the hair follicles secrete a mineral rich substance, which coats the scales. It is this substance that colors the scales and makes them hard.

6. The scales grow and automatically renew like human fingernails and hair. Only a sick dragon will shed its scales.

7. The scales are never even in color, but will be different hues of a dominant color.

Source: The Book of the Dragon by Ciruelo

I’m about to write a new dragon story for my Dragon Investigator series. What color do you think I should make my dragon and why?