Wednesday, September 9, 2015

"I Want to Write a Book. How Do I Accomplish That?"

I sometimes get asked what advice I would give to those who want to write a book.  I am often not sure what to say to that question, because to answer it seems presumptuous to act like I have the answers.  Everyone writes differently.  I have one book out and one on the way, and a handful of manuscripts that were my training wheels.  There are so many fabulous authors out there who have tons more experience than I do, who offer up their wisdom freely.  I highly suggest taking advantage of that!

Still, people have asked, so here goes.  Much of this advice is distilled from many books on writing.

Image by FlashBuddy, free from MorgueFile
1.  Read a lot.  Words seep into you like rain in a dry creek bed.  You may not even realize you're learning how to put together a good sentence until you try.  You can thank your favorite authors for teaching you in the best way possible.

2.  Write a lot.  Someone has said you need 10,000 hours of experience in a skill to master it.  That's a lot of time spent doing something, so hopefully it is something you love.  If you want to write stories and if they make you happy, build time into your schedule to write.  Don't be heartbroken if your first completed manuscript doesn't make it into print.  That's normal.

3.  Work with other writers.  Writing can be lonely.  Find a community that will support you and tell you that what you are doing is worthwhile.  People who will say-- hey, get off Facebook and go write!  And listen when they offer criticism.  It may sting, but your story will be better for it.

4.  Keep learning.  Read books on the craft of writing, take seminars and webinars.  Never stop learning.  I think that's pretty self-evident.  I have a list of my favorite books on writing in the sidebar of this blog.  Go check some of them out.


That's really all I've got. It may be simple, but it's not easy.  Making time to write involves sacrifice, but if you love it, it's worth the effort!

Good luck!

Amy

Friday, July 17, 2015

One Year in Germany!

This Tuesday marked the one year anniversary of our move to Germany.  This year has been long and also insanely fast, much like my children's babyhoods.  Here are some things I've discovered.

1.  Roads-- 1. Autobahns:  Before you get super excited about driving as fast as you want, please know that many sections of the autobahn actually do have speed limits that are about what US highways have.  If there's construction, the speed goes way down--and there's lots of construction. But it's true that on the sections without a limit, you'd better stay in the right lane, because there will be a string of German-made cars zoom past you like you are standing still, and that's when you're going 140 kph (about 87 miles per hour.)  Speaking of the roads, if you visit here and use an international driver's licence, please know that passing on the right is a huge No-No on the autobahn. It's just not done, so don't do it.  2.  Village roads-- Are extremely narrow in many places.  I'm thankful we sold our minivan, though I still miss it terribly. And I still fear for my life on a regular basis when I see giant Mercedes garbage trucks barreling down the country roads around here toward me at 100 kph, when the roads barely fit one of us.

A two way street in a village. Looks wider here than it was.

2. Weather--  WINTER-- Not as bad as I feared.  It was dark really early and cold for a long time, but there was far less snow and ice than I feared. SUMMER--> No air conditioning.  This is our first full summer here and it's hit in the 90's...and when you don't have AC, that hurts.  I miss air conditioning, but usually we do get a break in the heat and have a week of cooler temperatures before it gets hot again.  It's hot right now.  It makes winter seem not as terrible, because the heating system works great.
The view outside our house at dusk in winter.

3.  Toilets!  When we travel, I have never paid such close attention to where the bathrooms are, when the next bathroom break is, and if it'll cost money.  Especially on bus tours, you may need to hold it for a while if you drink a large soda before climbing aboard.  Paying for bathrooms has become normal. In Germany, except in a restaurant or store where you are already buying something, usually toilets are 50-70 Euro cents to use.  This includes gas stations, even if you fill up your gas tank there. There is often someone sitting at the entrance to the bathrooms with their basket of coins, and their job is to keep the bathrooms clean and make sure everyone has toilet paper and paper towels and what not.  At some rest stops, you get a ticket that is like a credit for part of the amount if used in their store. I've grown used to this and when there are public toilets on the highway that do not require money, they are so gross that gagging occurs.  I'd pay for clean toilets any day, but it was a hard adjustment for me at first.

4. Salads-- Germany may be famous for its wursts and schnitzels, but their salads are amazing.  They almost always have a pile of marinated carrots, cabbage and often other chunks of vegetables under the green leafy lettuce.  I've only been asked one time in a year what dressing I'd like-- most places use their own house dressing and that's what you get, period.  Around here, it's a yogurt-based dressing often with dill.  The salads often come with spirals of ham and cheese or other meats, and egg, so it's quite filling.  Highly recommend.

A side salad in Bavaria

This salad has a small steak, a coil of baked salmon (under that twist of lemon), and baked feta cheese in addition to the marinated cucumbers, cabbage and carrots, topped by great greens.


I do still miss a lot of things in the states.  First and foremost, is my family and friends, of course.  Secondly, I miss air conditioning today in particular.  I miss stores where I know what to find where and what to expect:  Target, Kohl's, HEB.  I miss listening to NPR on the radio while driving.  And I miss just that feeling of HOME that I have in Texas. But I've learned to appreciate many things in our current abode, too.

It's been quite a year! I graduated with my Masters of Library Science, I turned 40, we moved to Germany, and my first book was released through Curiosity Quills Press.  I wonder what this next year will bring?

One year down-- two more to go!

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Goodreads Giveaway coming up June 9th!

Enter to win one of two free, signed paperback copies of Fairy Keeper!  It's open internationally, though please note that the book is only available in English.



 

    Goodreads Book Giveaway
 
 
        Fairy Keeper by Amy Bearce
   
 
   


          Fairy Keeper
     
               by Amy Bearce
     
     
            Giveaway ends July 07, 2015.
                 
            See the giveaway details
            at Goodreads.
         
     
 
      Enter to Win



Sunday, May 3, 2015

The Only Constant Is Change-- Writer Mama & Papa Blog Hop

Today I'm writing as part of Sharon Bayliss's Writer Mama & Papa Bloghop! I sped through both books in her December people series, really loving her creative spin on magic!  Sharon is also a mom and asked her writer friends to talk about how they combine parenting with writing. It's certainly a topic close to my heart!  I've got two girls, currently ages 9 and 11 and I've been writing since they were born.

WRITING AS A MOM

My writing routine as a parent has changed constantly as my girls have grown.  From writing only at night, to writing during the day, to mostly at night and back to the day.   Being a parent who writes means working with the needs and stages of your family. 

BABY DAYS

I started writing fiction a year before my first child was born.  I was freelancing articles and stories for standardized testing agencies, and I wrote in the evenings after work.  When I had to go on bedrest during the last month of my pregnancy, I had plenty of time to write.  My husband and I had agreed I would quit my job and stay home with the baby, so I assumed this “lots of time to write” thing would continue.  After all, she was just a baby.   Surely she’d sleep a lot?

Day 55/365-Another Day, Another 365, by Tobi Mattingly, CC license

Well, my first baby was actually a pretty good sleeper, but I hadn’t realized how often babies had to be fed.  Or how exhausting it was to wake up repeatedly during the night for changing and feeding.  The merest whimper of a cry would send me straight up out of bed, heart racing.  That first three months was like a war of attrition.  She may have napped, but my brain was mush and no writing was getting done.

After her nights stretched to WHOLE FOUR HOURS IN A ROW of sleep, I began to pick up my freelancing jobs again.  I wrote while she napped.  I wrote in the evening after her early bedtime.  Sometimes when I had a deadline, I wrote while she lay beside me on the floor during tummy time.  And I was exhausted, but I had my little routine.  Being a stay at home mom is hard work.  I’d do it again—I just had to rearrange my expectations.  I have never been so tired in my life—except during the first three months after our second baby was born, when our first was still 22 months old.
Having two children under 3, a baby who never slept and a toddler who was very mobile, made writing during the day much harder.  Synchronizing their naps seemed to be a feat possible only to the Martha Stewarts of the world, so I changed my writing routine.  They both had early bedtimes and there was a two hour window of time, usually, when both stayed asleep.  I wrote then.  It was hard for my husband and I to find time to hang out, but we often spent time together when our second child was still awake until wee hours of the night.  She fussed, bless her heart, and my husband I would take turns soothing her until the colic passed.  I wrote during his soothing shift. That’s tired in a nutshell.  But by this point, I decided I wanted to write a novel.  That meant I needed to be consistent with my writing.  And it was hard.

TODDLERS AND PRESCHOOLERS


Photo from Flickr, Wilson X, “BSP46603” CC license
But things got better.  Change is the only constant, parents.  Just when you get used to one routine, it’s time to change.  I’m here to tell you moms and dads with infants that there come a day when they sleep through the night!  No, really, there will!  They might still crawl into your bed sometimes, but they’ll do so quietly, hardly disturbing you at all.  And then as they get older, will come the amazing day when no one bothers you at night for a week.  You’ll marvel.  You’ll ooh and aah.  And even more amazing—they can entertain themselves very well without you worrying they will immediately choke on Legos or somehow manage to stick their finger in a socket even though you’ve carefully placed child safety covers on them all. 

They will even reach an age where they will play outside, with each other or with friends for whole chunks of time without you needing to be right there beside them, even though you are still keeping an eye on them.  In fact, it’s better if you hang further back, because kids need space, too.  During this stage, I jotted story notes while I watched from the kitchen window as I cooked dinner, or mulled over plot lines while watching them on the swing, or pondered while folding clothes.  When I did have time to write, I was able to use my time to the max, because I had been thinking about my story all day.  My husband became the bedtime storytime guy in our family, because he reads aloud so wonderfully.  He also wanted a special bonding time with the girls. So every night, I knew there was almost a full hour of time when he’ll be with the girls and I could write then.  That tradition remains to this day.

SCHOOL AGE, Elementary years


Our girls, photo by me, CC with attribution
Then comes school days.  Some of you may homeschool and that is a different issue—one we’ll be facing next year when we homeschool again for the first time since our oldest was in kindergarten. But with both girls in school and me working as a freelance writer, it meant I had entire chunks of time to myself.  I went back to graduate school and earned my Masters of Library Science during the last two years, so I was busy, but tried to devote two hours each day to writing while the girls were at school.  As an introvert, this was my most productive time. If I wasn’t actively writing, I was reading a book on writing or connecting on social media with other writers.  Evenings I used to connect to my family and read. 

Then we moved to Germany and I spent months adapting to our new location and being homesick.  We will be here 2 more years and finding employment outside the home is unlikely, so my plans of becoming a children’s librarian have been put on hold and I’m working much more on my writing these days, because of the strange situation I find myself in now.  Things are always changing.  But for us, parenthood has gotten better every year, and so has my experience writing as parent.


TAKE HEART AND PREPARE FOR CHANGE

“Change” by Send Me Adrift, Flickr, CC license

Our children are now 9 and 11 and I am here to tell you that it is so much easier now than when they were little.  I hear a lot of warnings about how hard they’ll be as teenagers, but right now I feel like I’m living in a golden era.  Upper elementary age kids can handle a great deal of independence and when I tell them I need to work on my book right now, they get it.  They respect that.  And they can entertain themselves for a solid two hours without my supervision at all.   If you stick your behind in a chair and concentrate, you can get a lot of work done on a Sunday afternoon that way. Sometimes they are watching TV (the safest bet for keeping them fully occupied) but I've been amazed at how well they get along now just playing outside together.

Furthermore, I don’t feel guilt about taking the time away from my family to write, even though I have many hours away from them when they are in school. I used to feel bad about it, but now I think the children seeing me go to my office to write is a great example for them, too, especially as girls who may one day be mothers themselves.  They see me doing something I love, carving out time because I am important in this family, too.  I’m a mother, not a servant.  A wife, not a cook (which is a good thing, given my skills in that department!)  We all matter in this family, and our whole family helps each other reach their goals.  Mine happens to be writing.  And to make it work, I’ve had to be flexible.  The only constant has been change.


THE FUTURE


“Question Mark” by Leo Reynolds, Flickr, CC licence
Next year, we’ll be homeschooling.  At least that’s the plan.  (As I know now, plans often change.) Homeschooling  means my big chunks of solitude will be gone and I confess that I’m anxious about how I’ll fit in writing then.  But this is a decision that makes the most sense for all of the family combined, with the needs of everyone best balanced.  My plan is to do schoolwork with them in the morning, but have a two hour block of time after lunch when they can play or have quiet time, but I’ll be writing.  I’ll probably write more in the evenings again, too, when my husband is home, like in preschool days.


Will it work?  I don’t know, but I know if it doesn't, I’ll just find another way.  There’s always a way if you want it bad enough.  As long as you are willing to change things up when necessary.


Read how other parents deal with writing!  Blog Hop linky:

Friday, May 1, 2015

Update! Tulips, Legos, and Book Sales, Oh My!

Life has been pretty busy, but a lot of fun.  We recently traveled to Holland to see the tulips and visited a wooden shoe and cheese farm, which was pretty neat.  We also bought a lot of delicious cheese!

Tulips in Holland, photo by me.

I also had the great honor to present to 5th grade classes at Ramstein Intermediate.  The librarian there was so welcoming to me and the students were wonderful.  I lost my voice halfway through the week, though, so I missed speaking to four classes, but hopefully will get to visit them another time soon!

My banner up at the library!


In other news, my book went on sale this week for two days and I was shocked by how great the response was!  There was a period of time where Fairy Keeper was #1 on Children's E-Books and #1 in all children's Fantasy and Science fiction and it hit #79 overall in the Kindle store.  CRAZY!  And a lot of fun while the sale lasted!


I hope the people who bought it enjoy it!


And I took my youngest to Legoland with her Girl Scout troop.  We spent the night in tents there and let me tell you, it still gets cold in Germany at the end of April!  But the girls had a great time, so that was worth it.

WildStar/Lucy at Legoland, Germany. Photo by me.

So that's my update and I'll be posting again soon in Sharon Bayliss's Mama (and Papa) Writer Blog Hop!  So I hope to see you back here to read about how fitting writing in when you have kids!


Thanks for reading, awesome people!

--Amy

Saturday, April 11, 2015

First Time in London! Lots of practical details if you are planning your own trip...

Our trip to London!

 Sunday-Friday, Spring Break 2015


I’m sharing details I don’t normally, in case it helps anyone else plan their trip.  We were pretty pleased with how our trip turned out and we planned it ourselves.  We didn't go for the cheapest trip possible, so if you are on a tight budget, you may need to substitute some things, because we really wanted to do two things that weren't inexpensive, but were on our big to-do list, so we saved and splurged on those.

HOTEL

Premier Inn, Blackfriars (Fleet Street).  Great access to the tube, easy walking distance to St. Paul’s, good food around there within easy walking.  Not so crowded as some tube locations.  And the price was good. It was a bit tricky to find—very close to the Blackfriars tube stop, not really ON Fleet street, at least it doesn't look like it.  I think the address is 1-2 Dorset Rise.  But once you find it, you’ll be fine. We just asked someone in a little coffee shop after wandering for a bit.  We got the family room that had a full or queen, and two twin beds, one on either side.  The water can become VERY hot, so be watchful with young children.  It'll melt your face off.   Our room was in the basement, half below level, so it had central air because the windows wouldn't open, which means nice air conditioning in the summer months and good heating in the winter.  We were very comfortable there and would definitely stay there again.  The one downside is that our room didn't have a mini-fridge, so if you like to stock up on foods and eat in your room to cut costs, that will be harder for you here.  There is, though, a little mini-mart just around the corner that could be used if you were so inclined, I think.  One of my favorite parts about traveling is the food, so we just plan accordingly in our budget.

We paid for the full breakfast (kids eat free) and I’d do it again.  FULL buffet and you can order special items from the kitchen directly, such as omelets or porridge.  The buffet includes  sausage, “bacon” (breakfast ham to Americans), sunny side up eggs (you could order them from the kitchen poached or hard or soft boiled or whatever), scrambled eggs, hash browns, grilled mushrooms and grilled tomatoes (my favorites.)  Yogurts, cereal, muffins, croissants, toast, fruit salad…coffee, juices, and tea.  SO filling.  The line gets insanely long by about 8:15, or at least during our stay, which admittedly, was during Spring Break, so it might not be as busy at other times.  We got there by 7:45 each morning and had no problems getting a seat.  You can also buy breakfast as part of your dinner deal or just the continental breakfast, but you’ll be sad as you walk past the little grilled mushrooms and the truly delicious sausage.  I don’t even like sausage, but theirs was fabulous.

Porridge, requested from the kitchen.  I added the honey. :)


TRAVEL:
Upon arrival, we had been given two Oyster cards with a bit of money left on them from a friend, so we asked at the tube station about what to do and they refunded the money left on them, and sold us their week Central London pass, which doesn't charge per use, but is for the whole week, anywhere in central London: bus or train or tube.  Children 11 and under are free, so score for us, because we have two kids that fit the bill.  You just walk through the bigger entrance/exit that is at every station, with your child with you.  They are located at either end of the line of entrance stalls to the station.  

GETTING THERE
Sunday:  2:30 wake up and drive to airport.  Flying out of Frankfort Hahn on Ryan Air may not cost as much in dollars ,but there is a cost associated in exhaustion and inconvenience.  It wasn't just the time to drive there—it was that the drive is all in the dark, through windy two-lane roads.  We chose the special parking option when reserving our tickets, which meant actually driving to a hotel about 10 minutes away from the airport and parking there and taking their shuttle, which dropped us off at the front door.  That was 40 euro for the week, which is like 8 euro per day.  The least expensive lots at the airport were totally full, so the next option would have been double that price, so this was a good investment for us, though I’m glad my husband drove up there to see where we had to go, because that hotel is out in the middle of a field and you’ll think your GPS is fooling with you.

Ryan Air is also notorious about the bag size they allow.  As in: small.  We bought one suitcase to check, size small, and then we each brought one backpack.  Ladies can also carry a purse in addition to your backpack.  I used my smallest purse because I was so paranoid about being told it was too big, but I didn't need to worry.  Plenty of other ladies had much bigger purses.  Here are the backpacks for me and my daughters.  My husband had one backpack and then we had one rolling small suitcase that held overflow items and our tourist purchases for the way back.  I think in the future, we'll be able to do just backpacks for a five day trip.  Feeling pretty cool about that.
Three ladies going to London from Sunday to Friday...

The one good thing about flying in on that early morning flight (the only morning option from our location) is that we essentially got two more days out of our trip, since we weren’t going to be driving all day for two days.  Also, we are SO THANKFUL we didn't drive.  A lot of friends have driven and survived (more power to them!  I applaud them!), but having seen the London traffic, I wouldn't want to drive in that if they drove on the normal side of the road for me.  Driving on the opposite side of the road and turning into the “wrong” lanes (for me, how it felt) would have freaked me out.  Not to mention it costs a fortune to park in London and it was cheaper for us to fly in and take the Stansted Express in.  



It was also far easier to buy our train tickets when we got there.  I tried to buy ahead of time and it was so confusing. But when you are there, go in to the airport terminal, you’ll see the place for the Stansted Express (not the little kiosk—go to the actual little storefront at the end of the airport terminal area) and they got us a good deal on round-trip tickets for a family of four.  I don’t remember the amount, but it was better than the prices available elsewhere.   (Note—the way back to the aiport was far more crowded and we ended up sitting on the floor of the train at the end of one of the cars, so arrive early if you can.)

We did also buy train tickets to go to the Harry Potter tour, because it was outside the range of our Oyster Cards, like going to Versailles in Paris.  We bought them the day of our trip out there.

ITINERARY and MEALS

SUNDAY, arrival day
This was Easter Sunday, as it happened, and I was pleased that the National Gallery was open at 10 am.  AND FREE.  So we saw one of my favorite paintings I’ve ever studied, which was The Marriage of Arnolfini, by Van Eyck.  Here’s me being excited about it!  
Thanks Mr. Minette and Mr. Brunner for teaching me about this painting years ago in your Humanities class!

We ate a delicious lunch at the museum and continued to the other half of the museum.  It took us at least 4 hours and we were practically running through the place.

Dinner we just ate at the hotel, and I've got to say, it was the best meal I had the entire week.  Because it was AWESOME.  Just about everything we ate all week was fabulous, but I've missed salmon cooked this way.   The chefs at the Premier Inn at Blackfriars can COOK.  Blackened Cajun salmon.  Done perfectly.  They have a meal deal thingy where you can get two adult entrees, and each get either an appetizer or dessert, with a drink, for a reasonable price, so we did that.  They have kids’ meal prices, too (5 pounds for a meal and either an appetizer and dessert, with a drink.)  Super nice service.  And we were exhausted, so we ate early and crashed.  If you eat like normal grown ups do in Europe (7pm or later) then you’ll need a reservation. Since we eat at 5-6, we never needed one.  Also, their grilled salmon with BĂ©arnaise sauce was delicious. 

MONDAY:
Was our huge tourist day.  We had purchased a hop-on, hop-off bus tour from Golden Tours.  The blue line is the best tour line of their buses.  Make sure you print and bring your passes, although if you forget, you can go to their center near Victoria Station (and they have a couple of other places)  and they will reprint for you.  But save yourself time and bring them.  The passes work easily and have frequent buses. We bought Tower of London tickets as part of our deal, and skipped the line that didn't exist yet, ha.  
Our tour guide was awesome.  He also could not accept the tip we tried to give.

We ate lunch at a place right around the Tower of London with a whole plate of roasted chicken that was okay, but not something I’d repeat or recommend.  Sorry I can’t remember the name.   We enjoyed the Beefeater tour, but I will warn you that the tour is GRUESOME.  Lots of stories of heads getting chopped off and at one point, near the end, the very good storyteller who is your guide tells you how they eviscerated traitors in fine, dramatic detail.  I saw one mom covering the ears of her 6 year old.  I mean, really gross.  SO…not super child friendly, as far as tours go.  Ours are 9 and 11, so I was okay with it, but had they been 4 or 6, I’d be concerned.  But as it was, he was hilarious and entertaining and we saw the crown jewels, which is not part of the Beefeater tour, so you have to queue up again for that, and if you love jewels, you’ll love this, but for me, it was a bunch of insanely overwrought items kept in a vault.  I don’t really get it, but that’s okay.  You get to see all the crowns and that was my favorite part of the crown jewels tour itself.  They very smartly put you on a conveyor belt that makes you move past them—it made me laugh.  Someone was very clever at making sure there wasn’t a huge hoard just standing in front of the crowns. The gift shop had some really lovely things instead of the usual tourist junk and was one of my favorite little shops in all of London that we saw.  Lots of very expensive items in there, but some surprisingly good deals on some items.

"Look kids!  It's Big Ben!"

We also hopped at Westminster Abby and paid (at the gate, no line) to do a tour and got the audio tour you walk around with, wearing headphones.  I like these for me, but it makes it hard to share stuff with your family because you might all hit start at different times, or one kid has taken off the headphones or one is listening to the next one because they are bored, etc.  But it was an impressive sight and lots of dead people are buried there and even more are honored/commemorated there.  I wish my kids could appreciate all the names, but maybe one day they will.  I thought it was kind of mean that they buried Elizabeth I and her half-sister Mary together, given that Mary had imprisoned Elizabeth…I guess they figured that it was balanced out by having Mary facing down on the bottom and Elizabeth facing up on the top, as a symbol that the Church of England would always prevail.  Nothing like playing politics even in burial choices.


Westminster Abbey

We also thought, “Hey, let’s go see London through sitting on top of the Hop-On, Hop-Off Tour” so we got on at Westminster Abby and rode the thing all the way back around until we reached St. Paul’s again.  DO NOT DO THIS. It takes FOREVER and EVER and London isn't as pretty to look at as Paris is on these buses.  Mostly, you just see old buildings that all look alike, with lots of traffic and many  stops and plenty of exhaust fumes. This is, of course, just my opinion.  But still. Time is money on a trip like this.  Every minute is precious in a city as full of stuff as London.  Save yourself two hours.  Use the bus to get to where you want to go and then get off and go see it.  Don’t try to sit on the bus for the whole round trip.  Deadly boring to children.  Yes, you have ear phones to listen to comments, but mostly it’s just classical music playing because there are whole stretches of London that apparently they have nothing to say about.

So we finally stumbled off the longest bus ride ever and just ate at the hotel again because we were starving and exhausted.  And I had another salmon dish and again, it was DELICIOUS.  With the bĂ©arnaise sauce.  Oh yes.  I’d eat that every week if I could.

We also had “a free river boat cruise” with our Golden Tour.  Let me tell you now—use this like a river taxi service, not a cruise like experience.  If you need to be ferried from the London Bridge to the Eye, it’ll work great.  If you think you’ll be getting the same experience as a river cruise in Paris where everything is beautiful (it was our favorite thing) you will be quite disappointed.  It wasn’t worth the trip or the time and with Golden Tours, the only outside part of the boat is by the motors in the back.  Skip this unless you are truly using it as transportation.
The one cool river scene at night...and you could see this without the rest of the ride.


TUESDAY

The Harry Potter Warner Brother Studios tour.  This was something we all were looking forward to, and it was great!

Smallest set in Harry Potter-- The Cupboard Under the Stairs

See ya!
  It is, though, an ALL DAY TRIP.  They say it’s 3 hours for the tour, but that doesn’t include travel time and eating time and shopping time.  We had tickets at 1:30 for the tour.  We left the hotel around 10 so we could travel up there and eat when we got there.  I’m paranoid about ever missing a train or a tour time.  We had to buy train tickets to get us out past central London, and then the studio has a shuttle bus that meets you at the train station (Watford Junction) and it costs 8 pounds sterling for a family of four round trip.  Not bad.  And there is an EXPRESS train to Watford Junction that you want instead of the regular one.  Much faster.  In fact, we got there so early (20 Minute trip) that it wasn’t even time to eat yet and we asked and they let us go ahead of schedule because they weren’t too busy. I’m SO GLAD WE DID.
Diagon Alley, one of my favorite parts.

If you are going, I’d recommend you go in the morning or late morning.  We did the 11:30 tour, ate in the middle of it where they have a little food court (butterbeer is served along with typical kid food and burgers—nothing super exciting, but not awful) and then we did the other half of the tour.  My husband is the kind who likes to read every single thing on the wall and I’m more of a walk by and get a good view person, so we sort of compromised.  The ending is a surprise I won’t ruin for you, but was my favorite part.  This was an expensive treat for us, but we all love Harry Potter and it was one of the highlights of our trip for our children, so we are glad we did it.  If your kid will be disappointed to see that magic has an explanation, maybe skip it.  But honestly, the process of making these movies is magical in its own right.

For dinner, we ate at a nearby   Indian restaurant named Indian City, which was fancier than we expected, but tasty.  The food was unusually sweet for Indian food, so my husband was a bit taken aback, but I like sweet foods, so I didn't mind the hint of sweetness in my dish.  Not inexpensive, either, but the hotel recommended it, so we tried it.  We would probably try another place before returning there, but it isn't something I’d steer someone away from.

WEDNESDAY
We went to the British Museum in the morning, with a focus on Greece and Roman Britannica.  This museum is also free and they have kid trails and backpacks you can check out that have hands-on activities related to the exhibits.  This is the home of the Rosetta Stone, so stop by to see it while you are there. 
My kids both love Greek and Roman history now thanks to the Percy Jackson and Heroes of Olympus books by Rick Riordan

We had lunch at Coventry Garden, at Jubilee Market at http://www.lepainquotidien.co.uk/ that was good and hippie-feeling.  Lots of organic stuff, veggie options.  If you want green juice, here you go.  In fact, all over London, I was surprised by the focus on healthy eating.  LOTS of organic and healthy eating places.  Very cool.

Avocado toast with "super seeds"

A tartine is a Belgium open-faced sandwich...this had chicken, feta and avocado and more.  GOOD.

That afternoon, we did our other big expense, which was to see The Lion King at the Lyceum.  We were in row Q in the stalls, on the first four seats in the middle section (you get to choose the seats when you preorder, which we did) and this was a great location.  When you check in, you can rent a little booster seat for small children at the cloak room for only 1 pound.  They also sell drinks and snacks that they will bring to your seat.  I cried my way through the whole production because excellent music and moving scenes always make me cry.  No one else in my family cried, but everyone loved it.  I was worried about how my 9 year old would handle the death of a character (I suspect you all know the one I mean, but I’ll be coy just in case) and I shouldn't have feared.  It was handled very tastefully and artistically and my kid was totally unfazed.  Neither of my children have ever watched the cartoon in full because they've always refused.  They have a thing about movies with tension.  They don’t like them.  But they loved Lion King and I was glad this was their first exposure to theatre.  The actors were amazing and their voices—and the amazing way they brought the cartoon to life on stage….just brilliant. 


Dinner, we ate at this little fast food place that had healthy, organic Asian kind of food, to include sushi.  It’s called Itsu, and is everywhere.  Much less expensive than a restaurant and fast.  Their classic chicken soup is yummy.  And both girls enjoyed their sushi.

THURSDAY:

Now my 11 year old wants to watch Jurassic Park. 
A more leisurely day spent at the Museum of National Science.  Okay, big tip:  this is also free, but people start to queue (British for LINE UP) before it opens.  We waited maybe 15 minutes in line to get in, and then went straight to the dinosaur exhibit because they warned us that you have to queue there, too.  And you did!  But we were inside there by 10:30 and finished with the dinosaurs by 11:30 and when we left, the line was incredibly long.  If you do get there late, don’t wait in line for the dino exhibit.  If you've ever gone to a museum that has a big dino skeleton in it, you've pretty much seen this one and there is one animatronic T-Rex as the end that is cool, but we have seen an entire grouping of animatronic  dinos in San Antonio at our local museum (The Witte—shout out to the Witte!).

The queue actually goes along the top of the dino exhibit, so you can view some cool things as you wait.
So I’m thrilled we didn't wait in line for an extra hour.  It was pretty quick to get through that early.  Then we raced through the mammals and this really cool area that shows comparative sizes of animals like the Blue whale and elephants and so on…my favorite room in the whole place.   They have tons of rooms, with gemstones and earthquakes and volcanoes and so much it made me want to fall asleep immediately, but the kids loved it.  11-3 there. 
They no longer collect animal skins for taxidermy purposes, so some of these animals are worn and faded, but they are kept out for viewing anyway.  I love that they are using what they already have so as not to waste them, but aren't seeking any more, to protect the animals.  They had little notices about it in the mammals area, which had a large number of  animals like this one.
My FAVORITE room-- life-sized comparison of the blue whale with other whales and big land animals.
We spent probably 4 hours there—ate there, too—at the restaurant, which I don’t really recommend if you are on a time table.  The food was okay, but it was expensive as is to be expected in a museum and we found out later you could bring your own food and eat in an area in the lowest level.  Would have done that had we known.    Would have saved us some time.  But I did really enjoy my falafel plate.
At the Science Museum
Then one hour at the Science Museum next door, which was far less interesting to me, but my husband loved the full-sized lunar module model.  Then the sweet guy actually tried to get our girls interested in looking at the old computers on the top story.  The girls couldn’t care less.  And I was sitting every chance I could by this point.  But it was free, so it was worth a look.  No line at that point, either.  Home again to the hotel and ate at the famous Blackfriars pub, which was loud and had tons of well-dressed business people standing around outside drinking a pint or a glass of wine.  I was actually intimidated to go in there.  I think our girls were the only children in the entire place, but they did great.  Jonathan and I had the required fish and chips and the girls had, no kidding, nachos.  And I will tell you, Texas people, that the guacamole there was the best I've had since leaving Texas. The salsa, no.  It was more like sweet tomato sauce.  But the guacamole was a taste sensation that reminded me of home.  If I were to go back there, I’d get the nachos and tell them to just give me chips and guacamole, please.  And then I’d lick the plate.

FRIDAY
We walked along the Millennium Bridge, which has been repaired since the attack of the Death Eaters from Harry Potter.  J  We toured the Globe Theater (the reconstructed version—the original and the second version both burned down a long time ago) and it was AMAZING.  




Well worth the reasonable cost of admission and it was super educational.  We thought they didn't open until 10, but when we arrived early on accident (because I’m chronically early), the first tour was starting in 10 minutes at 9:30.  Sweet!  So we had a reasonable size tour group and had the theater all to ourselves for a bit and stood down by the stage and then sat up in the box seats and learned a lot.  Fabulous.   The exhibition was boring to me and the children, but my husband liked it and was included in the cost of our tour tickets.  The shop has some neat things, but we managed to get away unscathed there.

We had some free time and decided to go take a closer look at Buckingham Palace.  Buses can’t drive in front of it, so you sort of drive by the side of it in the tour.  So we got there just as the changing of the guard was happening.  TONS of people and we didn't realize that they actually march out like a marching band, playing music, over to the palace, and change the guards there. 

We had no idea what was happening.  They change guard every day at 11:30 in the summer and every other day at 11:30 in winter.  We got super lucky and stumbled across it.

LOTS of people.  Panoramic picture courtesy of my husband.


So while we didn’t see much of the actual guard change, because of the crowds, we saw the guards march right by us, to music and drums, which was excellent.  Then we ate the worst food we had the whole week at this little standing food cart place in the garden—waffles and hot dogs that were pretty yucky.  Not horribly expensive, but it frustrates me to have any food on a trip that is gross.  This was gross.  So don’t eat there.    

A black carriage with some gold on top.
So we left and went to the other biggest waste of time and money (specifically 23.45 lbs for all four of us, which my husband points out isn't atrocious, but still!  Why waste any money?!) which was the Royal Mews.  This is named such because there used to be royal falcons and those are kept in mews, but now there are just two horses kept in there.  And you can’t really see them.  What you are really paying to see are the royal carriages.  

A black carriage without gold on top.

Now, if you love the royal family and anything to do with them, you’ll enjoy this.  I don’t care much about that part of the London experience and find the whole love of royalty to be baffling, honestly, so we were disappointed.  We thought the girls would get to see more of the horses, which is the only reason we paid to get in and the two horses were both eating with their heads down in the stalls and you could sort of see the face of one through the crack by the door.  The carriages all pretty much looked alike to me—black with the crest on the door and various levels of overwrought gold along the top or edges.  Yawn.  Skip this unless you really love the royal family.

We ate at another fast food place by the same company that does Itsu…the parent company, in fact, called Pret A Manger.  Imagine a Jason’s Deli where you walk up and pick your food out of a shelf on the wall and they reheat it for you.  Sort of like that.  Organic, healthy kind of choices.  I had a tasty but spicy falafel roll.  Girls had a ham and cheese and tomato soup.  Much more affordable than a pub or restaurant, and fast.  Several locations throughout the city.

GOING HOME
Then we were off to the airport.  We had left our bags at the hotel both upon arrival before check-in and after check-out until we picked up the bags with our ticket stubs.  We did have a bit of an adventure getting to the proper stop for the train to the Stansted Airport,  because one of the tube lines had a problem, and we had to do some walking and hopping off and of several trains, but we got there with plenty of time.  They have a huge duty-free shopping zone, so be warned.  Again with the super hot water in the bathrooms-- watch young ones, because it really can hurt if you aren't careful.  Also, they have you wait in this big food court until the last minute.  Also, make sure they check your passport at baggage check in, even if you don’t have bags to check.  They do have a place further inside to check your passport with your printed out boarding pass, but they will scold you a bit for it.  Don’t ask me how I know that. 

So we flew home, got picked up immediately by the hotel people along with another family, dropped off in the parking lot in the pitch blackness, then realized we weren't sure where our Garmin/GPS is…which is a big deal, since this is out in the boonies.  But we found it along with our keys (know where you put these things, people!  You’ll forget in a week unless you are purposeful about it) and drove the hour and a half back home.  The kids fell asleep immediately, and slept a long time, for which we are thankful.

Thanks for reading!  I hope some of this is helpful to any of you planning a trip to London!  The one thing we wished we had one more day for was Stonehinge, but given the other expenditures on the trip, we decided to maybe try to go back on a later trip for an English countryside visit next year and visit Stonehinge then.  We LOVED London and were very pleased with the pacing of our trip and what all we accomplished.






Monday, March 23, 2015

Cynsations: Guest Post: Author-Librarian Amy Bearce on Knowing Your Audience

I'm SO EXCITED to be a guest at Cynsations!



Cynsations: Guest Post: Author-Librarian Amy Bearce on Knowing...: By Amy Bearce for Cynthia Leitich Smith 's Cynsations One thing I learned while earning my Masters of Library Science and my school l...

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

SCBWI GERMANY + AUSTRIA: Interview and Giveaway with Debut Author Amy Bearce

I had a great time visiting with Patti for this interview!  Check it out!  Thanks, Patti!



SCBWI GERMANY + AUSTRIA: Interview and Giveaway with Debut Author Amy Bearc...: Today we welcome debut author and new Germany & Austria SCBWI member, Amy Bearce to the blog! Her book FAIRY KEEPER (Curiosity Quills P...

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Happy Birthday to FAIRY KEEPER! Out Today!

It's release day for my book!  It's strange, because I'm sitting here in Germany, without any copies of my book, but it's officially out there now.  Some of my friends have already gotten the emails saying their digital copy is ready to download.  My parents have gotten their paperbacks.  It's out there in the world now.  Remember that it's an upper middle grade fantasy, which means it's going to best suit those ages 11-14. But I hope it's a book that others can enjoy, too!

Here's the synopsis and the links:

Synopsis:

Forget cute fairies in pretty dresses. 

In the world of Aluvia, most fairies are more like irritable, moody insects, and almost everyone views the fairy keeper mark as a gift. But not fourteen-year-old Sierra. She hates being a fairy keeper, but the birthmark is right there on the back of her neck. It shows everyone she was born with the natural ability to communicate, attract, and even control the tiny fairies whose nectar is amazingly powerful. 

Fairy nectar can heal people, but it is also a key ingredient in synthesizing Flight, an illegal elixir that produces dreaminess, apathy and hallucinations. She’s forced to care for a whole hive of the bee-like beasties by her Flight-dealing, dark alchemist father. 

Then one day, Sierra discovers the fairies of her hatch are mysteriously dead. The fairy queen is missing. Her father’s Flight operation is halted, and he plans to make up for the lost income by trading her little sister to be an elixir runner for another dark alchemist, a dangerous thug. Desperate to protect her sister, Sierra convinces her father she can retrieve the lost queen and get his operation up and running. 

The problem? Sierra’s queen wasn't the only queen to disappear. They’re all gone, every single one, and getting them back will be deadly dangerous. 


Sierra journeys with her best friend and her worst enemy—assigned by her father to dog her every step—to find the missing queens. Along the way, they learn that more than just her sister’s life is at stake if they fail. 

There are secrets in the Skyclad Mountains where the last wild fairies were seen. The magic Sierra finds there has the power to transform their world, but only if she can first embrace her calling as a fairy keeper.


Links:



Bio:

Amy writes stories for tweens and teens. She is a former reading teacher who now has her Masters in Library Science. As an Army kid, she moved eight times before she was eighteen, so she feels especially fortunate to be married to her high school sweetheart. Together they’re raising two daughters and are currently living in Germany. A perfect day for Amy involves rain pattering on the windows, popcorn, and every member of her family curled up in one cozy room reading a good book.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Think Stew--Not Soup--for your Story

I have a confession to make.  I really don’t like soup.  It’s okay as an appetizer, if you are fancy enough at your house to actually serve your meals in courses.  I’m lucky to get one thing made for dinner, but when we eat out here in Germany, often you get a little cup of soup and a little salad before the meal and that’s fine and lovely. It’s delicious, for the ten bites it take to finish it.  It whets your appetite.  But you know what that little bowl of soup does not do?  It doesn't satisfy your hunger.

Now, let’s be clear.  Some soups might as well be called stews and I’m not lambasting those.  Pasta e fagioli, for example, is at its best when it’s thick and rich, with so many noodles and chunky goodness of veggies in there that you can stick a cracker in that sucker and it’ll stand up straight.  Chowders, chilis, stews:  All good.  Of all the liquid-based dishes, those work wonderfully.

I’m talking about soups.  Thin, runny, often all one thing.  Like split pea soup.  Why is that ever a good idea?

Free image from MorgueFile: by Max Staeten

Some stories are like that soup.  They do one thing really, really well.  They are super green and healthy  perhaps.  Or maybe they are like chicken broth—nice and nourishing when you’re sick, but without anything much in it.  And a little of that is fine.  But if someone puts a tureen the size of your head in front of you, filled to the brim with split-pea soup, I think you might turn green yourself. 

No,  what is better is STEW.  Broth, yes.  But also vegetables.  Maybe bits of chicken if you’re not a vegetarian.  Beans. Some pasta swimming around in there, too.  Maybe even some crusty bread to dip into it.  A stew has all sorts of things going on, offering a variety of flavors and textures to keep you engaged with your meal, and full for hours afterward.

A good story does the same thing.  It has strong characters, but also an enticing plot.  Some spice sprinkled in with dialogue or perhaps luscious world-building.  The meat of the stew is something you can sink your teeth into and it warms you on a cold day.  And it’s the kind of food that you happily remember the exact taste of even hours later, when your belly is still gurgling happily from your meal.

Write stew, not soup.

--Amy

Monday, March 2, 2015

Goodreads Giveaway for FAIRY KEEPER!

Sign up this month to possibly win a free copy of FAIRY KEEPER! Whoohoo!

Goodreads Giveaway:


There will be more giveaways in the future, but this is the very first!  Go sign up and tell your friends!

Fairy Keeper by Amy Bearce


Amy


Tuesday, January 20, 2015

FAIRY KEEPER's Cover Revealed at Long Last!

Such exciting news!  Now that we are within sight of the actual release day--March 5th!!-- it's time to unveil the gorgeous cover for FAIRY KEEPER, created by the talented artist Amalia Chitulescu.  I couldn't be happier.  Curiosity Quills Press has taken such good care of me!  Take a look!




I love the use of lights and dark and think the fairies look beautiful.  She hand-drew the fairy keeper mark, too, based on the book's description.  Thank you, Amalia and Curiosity Quills, for such a fabulous cover!

Some of you have asked about pre-ordering my book. Yes, you can pre-order FAIRY KEEPER if you want a digital copy.   Amazon will deliver it to your device the day of the book's release, which is March 5th.  If you are interested in a paperback, those are available on and after March 5th.  Feel free to whatever works best for you.  I'm just happy to have you with me on this journey!