Tag Archives: travel

What’s your story?

I hope you’ve had a great Easter break. I’ve been in Noosa – paddling, swimming, catching up with friends and doing some writing (I promise).

I’ve had some questions about my books over the holidays, so I thought it was a good chance to wrap up the story so far …

A QUICK SUMMARY

Books by Julie FisonI have written eleven books for children and young adults. My books include the Hazard River series (Shark Frenzy, Tiger Terror, Bat Attack, Snake Surprise, Toads’ Revenge and Blood Money.) for young adventure lovers, How to Get to Rio and The Call of the Wild (part of the Choose Your Own Ever After series) that let readers decide how the story goes. I’ve also written three books for young adults: Tall, Dark and Distant, Lust and Found and Counterfeit Love. The latest is about an ambitious young television reporter trying to make a name for herself in Hong Kong and was inspired by my own time in Asia.

WHERE DID YOU GROW UP?

IMG_7907I was born in Mackay, North Queensland and grew up in Brisbane. I loved swimming and nature. I spent a lot of time exploring my local creeks and poking around the rock pools on Moreton Bay’s many islands. I hoped one day to become a vet, but I realised somewhere along the way that I was too squeamish for that, so I studied Journalism at QUT and became a news reporter instead. I worked in Australia, Hong Kong and London, covering all sorts of stories and exploring the world, gathering ideas that would eventually turn into books.

HOW DID YOU GET STARTED WITH FICTION?

My first book was inspired by a family holiday on the Noosa River in Queensland. My two sons teamed up with friends and spent the summer dodging stingrays, exploring the bush and building secret camps. I had to write about it.

Hazard River series by JE Fison
The Hazard River series – for young adventure lovers.

I had no experience in writing fiction for children, but I had spent a decade working as a television news reporter in Australia, Hong Kong and London. I rather naively thought that this would see me through, but it turned out I had a lot to learn. My children, who were five and eight at the time, set me straight when my writing got too newsy!

By the end of the summer I had written a series of books about a gang of kids holidaying on Hazard River, coming up against rogue fishermen, smugglers and dodgy developers. The stories were full of fun and adventure, with a subtle message about threatened wildlife. My kids loved them. I just hoped that I could find a publisher who felt the same way.

A year or so later I met Ford Street Publishing’s Paul Collins at a book launch. I used the opportunity to subtly sidle up to Paul and pitch my books. (Paul tells a different version – apparently I was rather pushy!) A month later I had a four-book contract. Less than two years later Ford Street Publishing had released six books in the Hazard River series – Shark Frenzy, Tiger Terror, Bat Attack, Snake Surprise, Toads’ Revenge and Blood Money.

TELL US ABOUT YOUR LATEST BOOKS.

The Call of the Wild (Choose Your Own Ever After)My most recent books are for girls. I’ve written two stories for the Choose Your Own Ever After series – How to Get to Rio and The Call of the Wild. The books let the reader decide how the story goes – with girlfriend dramas, boy troubles, family fun and plenty of decisions along the way.

In How to Get to Rio – schoolgirl Kitty McLean has to decide whether to go camping with her old friends or spend the holidays at an exclusive beach resort with her new friend. The big decision for nature-loving Phoebe in The Call of the Wild is whether to go to a party with her besties or help out at the save-the-orangutan fundraiser. The emphasis is on fun, but the stories present realistic dilemmas for girls to consider. For every choice there’s a consequence. But unlike other Counterfeit Lovestories in the choose-your-own-adventure genre, no one dies in this series when they make a bad choice!

My latest book for young adults is Counterfeit Love. Lucy Yang is an ambitious young television news reporter trying to get to the bottom of a murky story. It was inspired by my years as a reporter in Hong Kong, but Lucy gets into more trouble than I ever did!

WHAT INSPIRES YOU?

I get my ideas from everywhere – my own misadventures, things that happen to my children, stories I read in the paper, conversations I overhear. Everything! Places that I’ve visited also feature heavily in my stories. Noosa is the setting for my first YA novel – Tall Dark and Distant. The magical ruined temples of Angkor, in Cambodia, is the backdrop of Lust and Found, while Counterfeit Love takes place in my old stomping ground – Hong Kong.

IMG_4180There’s a little bit of me in all of my stories and a lot of me in some of them! Phoebe from The Call of the Wild is a wildlife lover just like I was when I was a girl. I devoured everything I could find on African wildlife and hoped one day to work on a nature reserve. My life didn’t quite turn out that way, but I did go on a safari in Africa, which was amazing. I was also inspired by a visit to Borneo to see Orangutans. They are truly incredible but sadly they face a bleak future due to the destruction of their habitat.

WHAT IS YOUR WORK ENVIRONMENT LIKE?

IMG_4007I write best when I’m sitting at my desk. I don’t like distractions of any kind – which is very strange after working in a noisy, smoky newsroom. I also like to write when I’m on holidays on the Noosa River, where there is no internet!

WHAT DOES YOUR WRITING DAY LOOK LIKE?

Once I have an idea in my head I write quickly. I settle myself in front of my computer and pound away for as much of the day as I can. I forget to pick up the kids from school, I ignore requests for dinner and Molly, the dog, looks on forlornly waiting for some attention. When I need a break to recharge my ideas I dash around getting things done and take Molly for a walk. I find walking, bike riding and napping extremely useful for getting through any kind of block.

DO YOU PLAN YOUR STORIES?

The Call of the Wild (Choose Your Own Ever After)I always have an idea of where a story will start and finish before I begin writing. The details of the middle section get worked out as I go along. The Choose Your Own Ever After series was an exception. Each story has eight possible endings and various other choices along the way, so there were a lot of threads to tie in. I couldn’t just wing it with those stories, the plots had to be meticulously planned.

WHY DO YOU WRITE?

I write because I enjoy it. Also, it gives me an excuse to read a lot (to improve my writing), to travel (for inspiration) and to nap during the day (because it clears my head).

HAS ANYTHING SURPRISED YOU ABOUT WRITING?

Voices on the Coast 2016: The full line-up for Voices on the Coast 2016:  (Some didn't make the photo but I'll let you work out who was there and who wasn't!) Deborah Abela, Christine Bongers, Janeen Brian, Peter Carnavas, Gary Crew, Shelley Davidow, Gregg Dreise, Kirsty Eagar, Brain Falker, Fleur Ferris, Julie Fison, Serena Geddes, Leigh Hobbs, Dean Jacobs, Andrew King, Sarah Kinsella, Russell Fletcher, Jan Latta, Rebecca Lim, Lynette Noni, James Phelan, Darrell Pitt, Leila Rudge, Katryna Starks, Ellen van Neervan, Nova Weetman, Samantha Wheeler, Philip Wilcox, Lesley Williams, Tammy Williams and Kelly Dunham (Festival Coordinator).I don’t think I was prepared for how much work goes into a book after it is published. Marketing is a vital aspect of writing, and school visits are an essential part of the job if you write for children. Anyone with a flair for stand-up comedy has an advantage in front of a group of school kids!

HOW ABOUT AWARDS?

I’ve been shortlisted for the West Australian Young Readers’ Book Awards. That’s exciting! And I’m on the list of Australia’s Amazing Animal Attacks. (See section on Garfish.) That’s a list I didn’t want to be on!

Good luck with your projects!

Old haunts

Happy New Year!

Sorry I’m a bit slow off the mark. I’ve been travelling on the cold side of the world – reconnecting with friends, catching up with family, revisiting some familiar places and gathering ideas for my next project. I lived in England for 11 years, but there’s something very special about returning after a long break and visiting the old haunts with fresh eyes.

Nostalgia has a way of colouring the past, but luckily all of my favourite places were even more impressive than I remembered (although the traffic is much worse and air travel is a complete nightmare). And my friends – they haven’t changed a bit!

 

Travel is so rewarding, but it also has a way of altering time. My month away felt more like a year. Cramming every day with   haunted hotels,  crazy drivers, snow-capped peaks, grand architecture, wonder and laughter sure makes life feel fuller and longer.

So, it’s out with the routine and in with life for 2017. There’s just one item on my New Year’s resolutions list:

  1. DO MORE

I hope 2017 brings you everything you’re aiming for. Have a good one.

Julie xx

 

 

 

 

 

 

Getting creative on the Scenic Rim

I’ve read the research: hanging out in nature reduces stress levels, enhances creativity,  improves intelligence and even makes you a nicer person. So after three days of stomping through muddy gullies, tramping up mountain tracks and following black cockatoos on Queensland’s spectacular Scenic Rim, my latest story should basically write itself.

As for the impact of all of that delicious food I consumed while enjoying nature – I’m still looking for appropriate research to support my theory, but I’d say: it’s got to be a bonus.

I’ll let you know!

Walking, eating and snapping the view at Spicers Peak Lodge, Scenic Rim.

 

Falling for Byron

As the old saying goes – If you want to walk fast, walk alone; if you want to walk far, go together. And if you want to eat well along the way, head for Byron Bay.

I’ve just arrived in the beautiful coastal town with a bunch of friends and I’m already feeling the Byron vibe at Bayleaf. The café in Marvell Street with its whitewashed walls, intricately decorated waiters, bearded baristas and dishes packed with kale, oozes hipster style. I’m told it also has Byron’s best coffee. But I’ve walked ten kilometres this morning so I choose an iced tea and a breakfast burrito. The breakfast greens are popular with my walking buddies.

Belongil beach, Byron Bay
Winter sun on Byron Bay

After lunch it’s back to the beach to burn off our lunch. The sun is hanging in a perfect winter sky over Mount Warning, just offshore dolphins are chasing a school of fish, and I don’t think I ever want to leave.

I have to admit that Byron and I have been through a rough patch these past few years. Every time I’ve been to visit it’s poured, the wind has howled and I’ve been left wondering why I didn’t go to Noosa.

Now I’m on a three-day walk organised by Girls Trekking Adventures and I realise what I’ve been missing.

Byron  Bay lighthouse
Byron Bay lighthouse

Our guides do a brilliant job of showing us the best of Byron – leading us on a trek along Tallow Beach, assembling an al fresco lunch at Broken Head, and nudging us through a pre-dawn walk to Byron’s iconic lighthouse to watch the first rays of sunlight peaking over the horizon. I may be a little bit grumpy about heading off in the darkness but the sunrise is totally worth the effort.

Our accommodation for the weekend is the lovely Byron Cove beach house. On our first night we stretch off our weary limbs in a yoga class, then slip into our onesies for a home-cooked meal. We’re celebrating a special milestone in our group, and I won’t give away details, but I will say the birthday girl is quintastic (yes, it’s actually a word).

On our second night we hit the town  for cocktails and tapas at St Elmo. The food is modern Spanish and delicious. My favourites are the Pato Confitado – crispy confit duck with jamon, shiitake and poached egg, and the lusciously refreshing Jalisco iced tea – a long cocktail with lychees and coriander.

Chocolate tart, Harvest Cafe, Newrybar
Chocolate tart, Harvest Cafe, Newrybar

For our final meal we head for the hinterland to Harvest Café in the tiny, foodie village of Newrybar. The restaurant is situated in a restored Federation house with wrap-around verandahs, a country chic feel and award winning food.

It’s the perfect place for a long lazy lunch and a beautiful way to end the weekend.

Countefeit Love - Julie FisonIn a spooky case of synchronicity (or perhaps just a random segway) Byron is the love interest in my new novel Counterfeit Love. You can find out all about that Byron here.

Summer on NZ’s Southern Scenic Route

Lake Wakatipu
Lake Wakatipu

A summer holiday on New Zealand’s Southern Scenic Route means stunning mountain scenery, rugged coastlines, great food, wildlife encounters and plenty of chances to get the adrenaline going. Pack a jumper (and a beanie and gloves) just in case summer turns out to be on the wintry side and enjoy!

We spent just over a week between Queenstown and Dunedin. Here are the highlights. 

Queenstown – 3 nights

Queenstown is the gateway to New Zealand’s ski fields. It’s also the adrenaline capital, and that means teenage heaven.

We kick things off with an afternoon of luging at the top of the Queenstown gondola. It’s a lot of fun, but even if you don’t see the point of hurtling down a concrete path on a sled, the view over Lake Wakatipu and across to the Remarkables is worth the visit.

Mountain biking is another big hit with my sons. Bikes and gear can be rented in town. The trails also run from the top of the gondola and are steep – very steep. Not for novices.

Rafting on the Shotover
Rafting on the Shotover

Probably the highlight of our visit is whitewater rafting on the Shotover. The thrills start with the van ride to the river – a hair-raising descent along a mountain-goat track into Skipper’s Canyon. Once at the bottom of the canyon we are assigned rafts and guides and equipped with paddles. For the next hour or so I have my heart in my mouth as we are propelled down the rapids, dodging rocks. I try hard to follow the paddling instructions from our guide, but all I want to do is curl up in the bottom of the boat and stay out of the way. I swear my heart stops for a second on the final rapid when I turn around to find my son has fallen out of the raft. He bobs to the surface moments later and is fine, but I take a bit longer to recover. This is not for the faint hearted!

There are plenty of options for dining in Queenstown. The lakefront is prime position on a warm evening and the food here all seems pretty good. We also love Bella Cucina for great pizzas and Italian fare. Fergburger is massively popular with backpackers and teens, but the queues are a bit of a killer. The bakery next door – is a better option for a quick bite – great pies and baguettes.

Our accommodation is at Peppers. The apartments are well set up with great views over the lake and are walking distance from the town centre.

Te Anau – 3 nights 

It’s a spectacular drive along Lake Wakatipu and through lush farmland to the town of Te Anau. This is the entry point to the Fiordland – Milford Sound and Dusky Sound. But we’re here for the trout fishing.

I’m not a fishing person at all, but I can recommend a day on the Waiau with a guide and a jet boat. (We used Fishjet). Our helpful guide is always on hand to change lures, untangle lines and unsnag hooks. He also offers expert commentary on the area and is a dab hand at the BBQ. He prepares a gorgeous lunch of crayfish and venison on a sandbank in the middle of the river. The trout, as it turns out, are a lot smarter than they look. We can see them, we even catch a few, but landing them proves very tricky. There’s extreme excitement when I finally land a mini monster. There are a few quick pics before he goes back into the river and we drag ourselves home.

Fishing on the Waiau River with Fishjet
Fishing on the Waiau River with Fishjet

We stay just out of town at the Blue Mountains Cottages. It’s a stunning setting and we’re impressed by our supply of home-made shortbread and fresh eggs. Our hosts make us feel very welcome as do the dogs! We take a late afternoon walk along a nearby section of the Keppler Track. Part of Lord of the Rings was filmed here. If hobbits were real, they would live here!

We also hire golf clubs and play a very average game of golf on a stunning course. The views are much better the standard of play.

Portobello (Otago Peninsula) – 2 nights 

It’s a two hour trip through farmland from Te Anau to Invercargill. Then we take a very, very long drive along the Southern Scenic Route to Dunedin. The route roughly follows the coastline, but to see the sites, diversions are necessary. We stop off at Waipapa Point – the site of New Zealand’s worst maritime disaster. Here we almost trip over a sea lion lounging in the sand dunes, and get chased by another one. Beware! We make several other stops where we are almost blown off the cliffs by the howling southerly.

It’s early evening by the time we arrive on the Otago Peninsula. This is the home of seal colonies, more sea lions, an albatross colony and several types of penguins. The harbor side of the Peninsula faces Dunedin (not the world’s loveliest city) but the seaside of the Peninsula is wild and spectacular.

Sandfly Beach, Otago
Sandfly Beach, Otago

The albatross centre at the end of the Peninsula is worth a visit – even just to take in the view and see the wheeling gulls. We only spot two albatross when we are there. Sadly bird numbers are being hit by long line fishing.

Eating options on the Peninsula are limited, but the Portobello Hotel serves good meals. Our accommodation is not far away in a very comfortable house, that overlooks the harbour. That was rented that through Porterfields Lodge.

For my sons, the highlight of the holiday is Queenstown. They love the adventure activities. My hubbie is also a big fan of the place. But for me, it’s the wild side of the Otago Peninsula – trekking down to Sandfly Beach, where we find a seal colony, a lazy sea lion, a lonely yellow-eyed penguin and two brave surfers. If you love wildlife – you’ll love it too.

Also see – Welcome to the mothers-of-boys tribe

Cycling the Riesling Trail

It’s a glorious sunny morning in Clare, two hours north west of Adelaide as my husband and I set off on bikes to explore Riesling country. We’re taking a path along an old railway line that cuts through the length of the Clare Valley.

Riesling trail
The Riesling Trail, South Australia

The Riesling Trail, as it’s known, runs for 36 km, but we’ve got our sights set on Auburn, 25 km away. Just as train travel offers an intimate view of life along the railway line, so does the trail. At various times it borders bush land, vineyards and farms.

We cycle past cellar doors, kangaroos, chook runs, duck ponds, through eucalypt avenues and along hedges of lavender and pine – the perfect country scene. But it is only after we stop for lunch in Auburn and begin the journey home that I realize that my bottom isn’t going to make the 25 km back to Clare. And when I dismount to push my bike I realize that virtually the entire return journey will be uphill and that my legs aren’t going to make it either.

I push and pedal as far as O’Leary Walker Wines, some eight kilometres up the track. There, I admit defeat and do the only reasonable thing.

While the weather closes in and my husband presses on to finish the ride, I head for the cellar door. I find a comfortable sofa, a magazine, a glass of wine, and I wait for my husband to return with the car.

Of course, it’s not as rewarding as cycling uphill in the rain, but sometimes sacrifices have to be made!

Skillogalee winery and restaurant
Skillogalee winery and restaurant

The following day the rain has set in, so we head, by car, for the Skillogalee Winery. I wonder if we are the only people crazy enough to be out in this winter weather. But when we enter the quaint old farmhouse that doubles as a restaurant and cellar door and ask for a table for lunch, we are met with a surprising response from a member of staff.

‘You have a reservation.’

It’s not even a question. The restaurant, which seats eighty – between its cosy interior and picturesque verandah, is fully booked.

Anyone who knows to visit Skillogalee for lunch knows to book in advance (apart from us, it seems).

Skillogalee is a South Australian institution and weekends at the family-owned boutique winery are busy no matter how wet it gets outside. As luck would have it, the restaurant can seat us for an early lunch, which gives us ample time to admire the view over the cottage garden and the misty vineyards, enjoy a beautiful regional meal and taste a selection of Skillogalee’s wines. A fire is roaring inside, and even on the verandah we are well protected from the weather. Heaters are warming the slate floor and just in case we get chilly – there are knee rugs on offer.

By the time we finish lunch, it’s still wet outside and our Tour de Vallé Clare has been completely washed out. My husband is disappointed. I’d also love to see the sun shining on the Clare Valley, but I’m quietly relieved. Cycling is magical, but how comfortable is it to tour the wineries by car!

Julie Fison’s travel stories are featured in the Australian Good Food & Travel Guide

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History in the park – Singapore

It is early on a Sunday morning that I find myself in the historic heart of Singapore, a hilltop that has, at various times over the past seven centuries, been home to Malay Kings, British colonial governors, and several armies. Fort Canning Park is just coming to life, with Tai Chi enthusiasts gracefully going through their morning ritual and a fencing class occupying another prime piece of parkland, but it is the sound coming from one of the Park’s most important landmarks that has me intrigued. Inside the Fort Gate someone is singing opera.

Fort Canning
A performance at Fort Canning Park

When I go to investigate, I find an elderly Chinese man passionately throwing himself into La Traviata, like Violetta herself is dying of consumption on a bench beside him. Alfonso isn’t busking or seeking an audience, he’s just singing for himself. And the stone monument, it seems, is providing just the right acoustics for his rendition of Verdi.

The Fort Gate was once part of Singapore’s fortifications, built in the 1860s by the British, to protect the colony from attack and to offer European residents a refuge in case the local population revolted. For the next hundred years Fort Canning was used by the military. In 1936 the British built an underground command centre for operations in the Far East. The Battle Box, as it became known, was the nerve centre for the defence of Singapore in the Second World War. And it was in this bunker that Lieutenant General Percival made the decision to surrender to the Japanese. The site was then taken over by the Japanese military. It returned to the British Malay Command after the war and was later occupied by Singapore’s armed forces. Now, the 28-room Battle Box is a museum, that recreates the fall of Singapore on the morning of February 15th 1942.  The bunker is part of a sprawling green history lesson – right slap, bang in the middle of the city.

The historic precinct is the site for music festivals, open-air theatre, weddings and parties. And that’s why I’m in the park. I am helping to clean up after a wedding party for my brother and new sister-in-law, the previous night – wearing a rubber glove on one hand and carrying a plastic bag in the other. I take a break from my chores to get a better look at the opera singer. But as soon as I slip through the archway of Fort Gate, I disturb Alfonso. He stops mid song, assesses my rubber glove and bag and launches into a lengthy oratory on the most efficient tools for rubbish collection. In his view I would be significantly better off if I invested in some long handled tongs. I am tempted to explain that I am not about to enter the business professionally, and that I’m just helping out for the morning, but by then he has returned to La Traviata. Singaporeans certainly use their parks in some surprising ways.

The country has long taken its green space seriously. The founding Prime Minister, Lee Kuan Yew, envisaged Singapore as a Garden City.  Now the government is set on a more ambitious course, transforming the island state into a City in a Garden. The country boasts 300 parks. The most impressive of all has just opened – a 101 hectare green space that features enormous flower domes and a towering artificial woodland. If anything is going to tempt tourists out of Singapore’s five star hotels and air-conditioned shopping malls it will be this ultra-modern Garden by the Bay.

But for visitors with an interest in the past, Fort Canning Park is a peaceful  diversion from the crowds on Orchard Road and a timeline of Singapore’s history.  Archeologists have uncovered thousands of artifacts from the 14th century Malay royal palace that once occupied the site. A gold armlet was among the treasures and is now in the National Museum of Singapore, which backs onto Fort Canning Park. The main excavation site has also been preserved for visitors.

When the Malay rulers abandoned the hilltop at Fort Canning, the palace was reclaimed by the jungle, and it wasn’t until British statesman, Sir Stamford Raffles arrived in 1819, that the forbidden hill, as the Malays called it, was settled once again. Raffles, impressed by the view from the hilltop, built his bungalow here and established Singapore’s first botanical garden. Fort Canning’s Spice Garden is a tribute to Raffles’ original garden, which featured nutmeg and cloves – the staples of the spice trade.

The gardens, the towering rain trees, epiphytes and colonial monuments of Fort Canning Park will never compete with the likes of the Garden by the Bay, but in a city that is always looking to the future, Fort Canning is a beautifully preserved reminder of the past.