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Nemrut Dagi, Turkey ~ Inspiration for Star-Crossed with Scarlett

Nemrut Dagi, Turkey

Back in the early 1990s, Mr. Munro and I did an overland trip from England to Kathmandu. The trip proper started once we reached Turkey. It was my first visit to Turkey, the country where the west and east meet, and I loved the food, the beaches, the history, and the people we met.

We traveled around the Western coast, hitting the gorgeous beaches and then drove up the east coast of Turkey.

I’d never heard of Nemrut Dagi before, and to be honest, I wasn’t that impressed with our game plan once we arrived. We had to get up early to see the sunrise. I’d been promised a brilliant show before, and each time I’ve regretted the early start to get to the top of a mountain/hill to be in the perfect position to enjoy this magical time. The sunrise has never lived up to my expectations.

Mountains near Nemrut Dagi, Turkey

So, a little about Nemrut Dagi before I get back to the sunrise. You’ll find it in the Eastern Taurus mountains, and it’s a man-made funerary mound. The late Hellenistic King Antiochos I of Commagene (69-34 B.C.) made the mound, which consists of stone chips. The king had the structure constructed for his own use. Huge limestone statues face outward from terraces, and guardian animal statues stand at each end. Some of the giant heads have toppled while others stand in their original positions.

As I mentioned, I had no expectations of our visit, but I loved the weathered heads that stand taller than a person. I enjoyed wandering around the site. We were lucky because there were only a few of us—our group of eight in fact.

Heads at Nemrut Dagi, Turkey

Nemrut Dagi

Photos of some of the enormous heads at Nemrut Dagi. Note – it was still pre-dawn when the bottom photo was taken.

I remember feeling the cold, but for once the sunrise was pretty, the sky a wash of pink and pale blue. This time, the person who informed me a pre-sunrise slog up a mountain was a good thing was entirely right. Nemrut Dagi has remained as a bright memory, and when I started writing Star-Crossed with Scarlett, it was the perfect inspiration to add to the action and adventure of my plot.

Funerary Mound and statues

This is a shot of the burial mound and some of the statues (parts of them).

Sunrise at Nemrut Dagi

Sunrise at Nemrut Dagi

Two pics taken during sunrise. Of all the sunrises I’ve seen, this was my favorite!

Star-Crossed with Scarlett My memories of Nemrut Dagi inspired part of the plot for Star-Crossed with Scarlett, a paranormal, action-adventure romance. I don’t want to say too much. Spoilers, you know!

The Scarlet Macaw #research #travel

One of seventeen species of macaws, the Scarlet Macaw is becoming increasingly rare. In Costa Rica, Central America, we visited the Natuwa Macaw Sanctuary where they rescue, breed, and release the Scarlet Macaw.

I was very excited at the thought of seeing macaws. When our tour around the reserve started, my anticipation turned to disappointment because the Scarlet Macaw and the Blue and Yellow Macaw were in a huge aviary. Not great for photographic opportunities, although their aviary is HUGE.

But it turned out the sanctuary releases some of their macaws. Some of these pairs have returned and nest in boxes placed around the grounds. The Scarlet Macaw come and go as they please and have been successfully breeding, adding to the population. These ones provided excellent photographic opportunities.

The sanctuary houses many other animals such as jaguar, sloth, deer and other birds. Many of the animals are recovered from poachers or rescued when the animal butts up against man encroaching on habitat. Our guide was passionate and knowledgeable, and I enjoyed our visit very much.

Scarlet Macaw

Facts about Scarlet Macaws.

Scarlet Macaw

1. They live in the rainforest.

2. Their beak is perfect for cracking nuts and seeds.

3. The male and female look the same with white faces, scarlet and yellow.

4. They live to around 50 years of age in the wild. In captivity, they are known to live much longer than this.

5. They are intelligent birds and are popular pets but can be quite aggressive.

6. They usually mate for life.

7. Both the male and female look after the young.

8. Their bright colors help them to blend in the rainforest.

Scarlet Macaw Pair and Nesting Box

Star-Crossed with ScarlettI spent ages watching the macaws and found them fascinating. Already, they’ve found their way into my upcoming release Star-crossed with Scarlett. The birds make an appearance in the story and, of course, there is the heroine’s name, which is Scarlett.

A Research Visit to Barista Cats, Auckland, New Zealand

Barista Cats

These days, many families live in rental accommodation or high-rise apartments are unable to keep pets. Enter – a business opportunity. Barista Cats in Queen Street Auckland is one of the new cafes where animal lovers can go to have a coffee and get their pet-fix without having the responsibility of a full-time pet.

Barista Cats has fifteen cats who live at the café and mingle with the café patrons as they chill with a tea or coffee. All the cats are ex-SPCA cats, and all have had tough lives, so they lap up the attention and care they receive at the café. One is deaf while another is blind. One or two of the cats wobble as they walk or climb, but all are healthy and happy.

Barista Cats Cafe

A visit to the café must be booked online beforehand, and only children over the age of fourteen can enter the premises. They must be with a guardian.

Hi Cutie

A Barista Cat

On arrival, all visitors are introduced to each cat, and the rules are explained. The cats have loads of toys and different bedding, but most are happy to plop down and enjoy a stroke or two from their visitors.

Each session is one hour, and the café hosts special sessions with kittens. They also have yoga and movies several times a month. You get to do yoga or watch a movie with a cat on your lap.

Dinner Time at the Cafe

Want to chill out and destress? If you’re a pet-lover without a pet, this is definitely the place for you.

Military MenI enjoyed my visit, and some of my experience will go into my current, as yet unnamed work-in-progress, which is part of my Military Men series. Watch this space!

Background Research: Meet the Alpaca

Background Research Alpaca

Love at first sight. That was me and the alpaca. “If we ever purchase land, we’re getting alpacas,” I told my husband.

Fast forward quite a few years, and I still don’t have any alpacas. Some of my characters, however, do own alpacas.

Facts about farming alpacas:

1. They’re closely related to the llama, although they’re not as large.

Alpaca at Sydney Royal Show

2. They are grazers. While they can survive in harsh conditions, they do better with quality pasture or hay.

3. Fencing suitable for sheep works for alpacas. While they don’t tend to jump, if they’re stressed by for example a dog, they’re very capable of leaping over a fence.

4. They should have trees for shade.

5. They require fresh drinking water.

6. Shearing takes place once a year, usually during the spring.

7. Most alpacas are shorn while lying down. They are shorn on one side and turned over to complete the shearing.

8. Alpaca fleece is soft and durable and highly prized.

9. Alpacas come in many colors—white, fawn, brown, gray and black. Their color does not usually change as they age.

10. They are usually fairly disease free.

11. They make good pets although they don’t generally enjoy being held, especially on the head.

Chocolate Brown Alpaca

12. Alpacas do not usually bite or kick, but it can depend on the individual animal.

13. They do, however, spit. The spit is regurgitated or recently chewed grass, and it’s normally stinky.

14. Alpacas are herd animals and do better with company. They can be run with sheep or goats, but they prefer other alpacas for company.

15. Gestation is 11.5 months. The cria is around 6 – 8 kilograms at birth and stay with their mother for around 5 – 6 months.

16. They seldom have twins.

17. High quality breeding alpaca can be very expensive.

Alpaca

Stranded With EllaDillon Williams from Stranded with Ella farms alpacas. Ella, the heroine of Stranded with Ella is learning to spin. She wants to spin alpaca fleece rather than sheep’s wool.

Stranded with Ella is book 4 in the Military Men series, and can be read as a stand-alone.

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.