Archive for May, 2011

As the bus sped through the narrow country roads, we glimpsed green hills and lush fields of yellow.

rapeseed England Day 2 Part 3: Oxford and the End of the First TourA field of rapeseed

Alan, our tour guide, later on explained that the beautiful yellow fields we were seeing were filled with flowers known as rapeseed—which is actually where canola oil is derived from.

I mused for a minute about how a beautiful flower could have such an ugly name.

I wanted so much to soak all the scenery in, but the consequences of not having slept for almost a whole day were beginning to show. I gave in and followed Maiko right into dreamland.

It was almost 3PM  by the time we got to the final stop of our tour. I struggled to wake myself up as we got off the bus. I was still groggy and definitely tired.

Tour guide Alan must have gotten a refreshing nap because he seemed more energetic than usual as he guided as through the streets of Oxford toward our first stop.

first building oxford modified England Day 2 Part 3: Oxford and the End of the First Tour

Christ Church College, Oxford

The sight of the beautiful building before us immediately woke me from my stupor. I got my camera out and snapped pictures while Alan told us about the building before us.

christ church college modified England Day 2 Part 3: Oxford and the End of the First TourChrist Church College, Oxford

Christ Church College, is one of the largest constituent college in Oxford University. Aside from having produced many notable graduates (13 British Prime Ministers according to my own research), the college is also known for its literary contributions.

The college is the setting for books such as Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited, and Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

Alan even pointed out the tree where Alice fell through when she followed the white rabbit. Alan also mentioned that the college has been used in the filming of many movies such as Philip Pullman’s Northern Lights (The Golden Compass) and J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter.

My ears perked up at the mention of Harry Potter, and the last dredges of fatigue completely left my brain.

Alan wasn’t big on Harry Potter info (having never read or watched the series), but as he led us into Christ Church College, I recognized many of the locations they used to shoot the movies.

The first of these spots was the courtyard:

howarts courtyard modified England Day 2 Part 3: Oxford and the End of the First Tour

Hogwarts Courtyard


christ church stair England Day 2 Part 3: Oxford and the End of the First TourCourtyard stairs

christ church arches England Day 2 Part 3: Oxford and the End of the First TourBeautiful arches

I also recognized the stairs that Harry Potter and his friends often used to go up to the various halls and rooms in Hogwarts.

hogwarts stairs9 modified England Day 2 Part 3: Oxford and the End of the First TourHogwarts Stairs

It was hard to get a decent picture by the stairs as there were always people climbing up and down it.

posing by hogwarts stairs modified England Day 2 Part 3: Oxford and the End of the First TourPosing by the Hogwarts Stairs

This was also the stairway we used to go up to the most famous location used in the Harry Potter movies: The Hogwarts Dining Hall.

Harry Potter dining hall 001 England Day 2 Part 3: Oxford and the End of the First TourHarry Potter Hogwarts Dining Hall

We followed a long queue of people into the dining hall. It was easy to spot fellow Harry Potter fans, as they were snapping the most pictures and posing beside every other dining hall chair.

hogwarts dining hall modified England Day 2 Part 3: Oxford and the End of the First Tour

Right as we entered we saw a picture of Charles Dodgson, a.k.a. Lewis Carroll, who wrote another favorite book: Alice in Wonderland

charles dogdson modified England Day 2 Part 3: Oxford and the End of the First TourA portrait of Charles Dodgson in the dining hall


Seeing where they filmed the Hogwarts Dining Hall scene was an awesome experience.

me in hogwarts dining hall modified England Day 2 Part 3: Oxford and the End of the First TourI’m in the Hogwarts Dining Hall!

We even got to see the table where Dumbledore and the other teachers sit during meal times.

headmasters table modified England Day 2 Part 3: Oxford and the End of the First TourHeadmaster’s and Teachers’ Table

I wish I could have had more time to compose better pictures of the dining hall, but we had to move on as there was still a long line of people waiting to get in before they closed the dining hall at 4pm, to prepare for the students’ dinner.

hogwarts dining hall table modified England Day 2 Part 3: Oxford and the End of the First TourAll set for dinner time

Maiko was so happy she got to see the “Hogwarts Dining Hall”, she practically bounced down the stairs.

maiko enjoying hogwarts stairs modified England Day 2 Part 3: Oxford and the End of the First TourMaiko enjoying the stairs

After seeing the dining hall, Alan ushered us out into the beautiful Oxford cathedral cloisters.

cloisters1 modified England Day 2 Part 3: Oxford and the End of the First TourCathedral Cloisters

cloisters modified England Day 2 Part 3: Oxford and the End of the First TourAnother view of the cloisters

We also went into the cathedral itself, and quietly snapped pictures.

oxford cathedral modified England Day 2 Part 3: Oxford and the End of the First TourInside the Oxford Christ Church Cathedral

The cathedral led down and out into a small souvenir/book shop. Naturally, they sold various Harry Potter books and items.

hp books sold in oxford modified England Day 2 Part 3: Oxford and the End of the First TourHarry Potter items sold in the Christ Church College shop

hedwig modified England Day 2 Part 3: Oxford and the End of the First TourHedwig!

After touring Christ Church College and the Cathedral, Alan led us through the town of Oxford. He explained that Oxford University, was in fact made up of many different self- governing colleges and halls.

another college modified England Day 2 Part 3: Oxford and the End of the First Touranother college

Alan said that Oxford is actually known as the “City of Dreaming Spires” in reference to the beautiful architecture that makes up the city. He pointed out various buildings of interest, though I can’t remember all their names.

bridge England Day 2 Part 3: Oxford and the End of the First TourA bridge between buildings

I do, however, remember the Bodleian Library.

bodleian2 England Day 2 Part 3: Oxford and the End of the First TourThe Bodleian Library

The Bodleian library is one of the oldest (and biggest) libraries in Europe, and is actually composed of several historic buildings such as the Divinity School, Convocation House and the Chancellor’s Court.

bodleian modified England Day 2 Part 3: Oxford and the End of the First TourThe Bodleian

divinity school modified England Day 2 Part 3: Oxford and the End of the First TourDivinity School

The library houses many rare books, manuscripts, archives, maps, music and a primary research collections. The Bodleian is one of the six libraries entitled to receive a copy of every book ever printed in the UK. According to my own research, the library is home to 7 million volumes, stored on over 110 miles of shelving.

bodleian 1 modified England Day 2 Part 3: Oxford and the End of the First TourLibrary courtyard

After letting us gawk at the many buildings comprising the library and its surrounding areas, Alan led us toward the center of the town to the martyr’s memorial.

martyrs memorial modified England Day 2 Part 3: Oxford and the End of the First Tour

He pointed to the Ashmolean museum a few yards from where we stood and informed us that that’s where the bus was going to pick us up. Maiko and I, and another tour member, did a little “restroom stop” at the Ashmolean.

ashmolean museum England Day 2 Part 3: Oxford and the End of the First TourThe Ashmolean Museum

We had 45 minutes left before the end of the tour, so we proceeded toward the more commercial part of town where various stores and many shoppers could be found.

shops modified England Day 2 Part 3: Oxford and the End of the First TourOxford shops

We saw a T-mobile store and remembered our little problem with our cellphones. We had brought our smartphones on the trip, in the hopes of using the data plan, but for some reason the web function wasn’t working correctly. We wanted to drop by the T-mobile store and ask for help but we had only 20 minutes left, and we didn’t want to get left behind.

A few minutes before 5:00pm, we headed to the spot where the bus was going to pick us up. A number of our tour group had already gathered there. When the bus came, we all boarded and Alan did a head count.

He realized that one person was missing from the tour. It was the Malaysian girl we had spoken with during lunch in the Cotswolds. She was also the same girl who had gone with us into the Ashmolean to look for the restroom.

Five minutes passed and Alan was beginning to worry. He called up the main office to ask for a contact number for the girl. Maiko turned to look through the back window and spotted her running toward the bus. We all clapped when she boarded and she thanked us for waiting.

As the bus made its way from Oxford toward London, Maiko and I napped–tired from the day’s walking.

When the bus neared London, Alan went around asking where everyone was staying so he could plot the drop off points.

Maiko and I wanted to do some grocery shopping so we could make our own lunch and breakfast for the next few days. We requested Alan to drop us off near a grocery store. We were the last ones off the bus, as Alan decided that Victoria was the best place for us to go. A Sainsbury’s grocery store was nearby, and right across it was the Victoria tube station, which would take us back to King’s Cross.

We shopped at Sainsbury’s for sandwich supplies, snacks, water and some fruits. It was a good thing I always carry around a foldable grocery bag as the water bottles were too heavy for plastic bags to carry.

For dinner, Maiko and I decided to try out Pret a Manger—an organic sandwich shop which we saw everywhere in London.  Apparently they don’t sell anything that hasn’t been made the same day.

We bought tasty sandwiches, and had half of the milk chocolate that we had bought at Sainsbury’s.

Lugging all our groceries, we crossed the street toward Victoria tube station. We sat in the underground train, tired but happy.

The long, exciting day of touring Warwick Castle, Stratford-Upon-Avon, the Cotswolds and Oxford was the perfect cure for jetlag.

I fell into a dreamless sleep as soon as my head hit the pillow.

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We arrived in Stratford-Upon-Avon at 11:45am, after a 15-minute ride from Warwick. Our tour guide Alan led us from a nearby parking lot toward the entrance to the main attraction of this part of our tour.

windsor street sign England Day 2 Part 2: Stratford Upon Avon and Lunch in the CotswoldsParking lot sign. Windsor Street!

Stratford-Upon-Avon was placed on the map by one man: William Shakespeare. Three million tourists visit the 800-year old town each year to see the place where the great bard, poet and playwright was born.

shakespeare entrance sign England Day 2 Part 2: Stratford Upon Avon and Lunch in the Cotswolds

I’m sure half of them were writers.

I know, because, I was shivering with excitement at finally getting to see the house where one of my writing heroes was born and raised.

Since the cottage could only accommodate so many visitors, Alan had asked us to pick whether we wanted to see the cottage first, or see the shop first. I made sure that we were part of the first group to see Shakespeare’s birthplace.

in front of shakespeare center outside England Day 2 Part 2: Stratford Upon Avon and Lunch in the CotswoldsAt the entrance to Shakespeare’s birthplace

in front of outside shakespeare England Day 2 Part 2: Stratford Upon Avon and Lunch in the CotswoldsA view of Shakespeare’s house from the outside

Maiko knew I was super excited and made sure that she took tons of pictures of me in front of Shakespeare’s cottage.

in front of shakspeare house England Day 2 Part 2: Stratford Upon Avon and Lunch in the CotswoldsShakespeare’s house behind me

me shakespeare sign England Day 2 Part 2: Stratford Upon Avon and Lunch in the CotswoldsSignpost to Shakespeare’s house

I stepped inside the cottage, my camera at the ready. An attendant was present nearby. He said we could take pictures in the entrance hall, but that we weren’t allowed to take pictures within the rooms of Shakespeare’s cottage, due to preservation issues.

So I snapped a photo of this fireplace in the entrance hall, and resolved to commit everything I saw to memory.

shakespeare house fireplace England Day 2 Part 2: Stratford Upon Avon and Lunch in the CotswoldsFireplace at the entrance hall

Shakespeare’s house was a two-storey cottage. William Shakespeare’s father was a glover, and on the ground floor we got to see John Shakespeare’s shop. I’m not sure if they preserved it or recreated it to look as it was back in the day, but the shop looked like an authentic glover’s shop. You could almost imagine John Shakespeare using the various tools on the table to craft beautiful gloves.

We climbed up the stairs and saw the many sleeping rooms that made up the next floor. To the left of the stairs was a hall. Pictures and words depicting the history of the house lined the walls of room. An attendant dressed as a typical medieval maiden was assigned to the room. She talked about the various rooms of the house and how the boys and girls’ rooms could be found on a higher level of this floor.

We also saw a part of the original window that was taken down and preserved as it contained many notable signatures. Apparently, even in the olden days, many famous writers such as Charles Dickens, Walter Scott and Thomas Carlyle made a pilgrimage to the great bard’s birthplace. They autographed the walls and windows. Many of the signatures still remain on the windowpanes around the house, though the signed walls have been long painted over.

Maiko and I glimpsed the other rooms, and waited for our turn to see the room where the great bard was born. Another attendant within the room pointed out various objects within such as the bed where Mary Arden gave birth to William Shakespeare, and the crib where Shakespeare lay when he was a baby.

The attendant also told the story of how William Shakespeare had bequeathed the second best bed to his wife Anne Hathaway, in his will. The attendant explained that despite the many speculations as to why he might have done this, in the Elizabethan custom, the best bed in the house was reserved for guests. So, the bed William bequeathed to Anne would have been their marital bed, and thus would have had romantic significance.

I wanted to stay longer in the room and savor the moment, but we had to give way to the other groups coming in—plus we didn’t have a whole lot of time to explore Stratford upon avon.

We made our way down the stairs and saw the  kitchen where Mary Arden made the meals, and dining hall where the family gathered to eat.

Outside, a group of schoolchildren where gathered in the garden, listening to a lady dressed in Elizabethan garb, as she sang them songs from that era.

maiden singing England Day 2 Part 2: Stratford Upon Avon and Lunch in the CotswoldsMaiden singing Elizabethan era songs

I took a quick snapshot of Shakespeare’s backyard garden, imagining how it might have looked long ago.

stratford garden England Day 2 Part 2: Stratford Upon Avon and Lunch in the CotswoldsGarden at the back of Shakespeare’s house

Maiko and I exited the house and made our way to the shop, where we bought various souvenirs for ourselves, and family members.

We didn’t have much time to look around the town since we had to leave for lunch at 1pm, so Maiko and I just walked down the street and took pictures of entertainers and shops we found interesting.

street musician England Day 2 Part 2: Stratford Upon Avon and Lunch in the Cotswolds

Street musician playing his violin

white performer England Day 2 Part 2: Stratford Upon Avon and Lunch in the Cotswolds

A living statue of Shakespeare

We found a magic shop near Shakespeare’s house and went inside. There was a magic museum on the shop’s top floor, which you could see for 5gbp. We didn’t go up due to lack of time.

magic shop England Day 2 Part 2: Stratford Upon Avon and Lunch in the CotswoldsA magic shop

inside magic shop England Day 2 Part 2: Stratford Upon Avon and Lunch in the CotswoldsInside the magic shop

maiko magic seat England Day 2 Part 2: Stratford Upon Avon and Lunch in the CotswoldsA small alcove inside the magic shop

owl post England Day 2 Part 2: Stratford Upon Avon and Lunch in the CotswoldsThe post office box outside the magic shop

The Creaky Cauldron was a quaint little coffee shop which offered butterbeer and various teas and coffees.

creaky cauldron England Day 2 Part 2: Stratford Upon Avon and Lunch in the CotswoldsThe Creaky Cauldron

We didn’t sit down for a drink, but we did take pictures inside. I found a garden gnome in the corner and I asked Maiko to take a picture. Gnomes figure greatly in my own book and I saw it as an auspicious sign.

gnome England Day 2 Part 2: Stratford Upon Avon and Lunch in the CotswoldsA gnome!

There were bookshops all over the street. Maiko and I went in one of the bigger ones. I found Usborne’s Stories from Shakespeare, which was a compilation of stories Shakespeare wrote, written in the kind of language children could understand and enjoy. After much deliberation, I bought the book.

me shakespeare bookstore England Day 2 Part 2: Stratford Upon Avon and Lunch in the CotswoldsIn front of the Shakespeare Bookshop

An ice cream shop caught Maiko’s attention. The weather was warm and perfect for ice cream and we had been wanting to get ourselves a cone since we got there. But it was only our first tour and we were conscious of our budget, so we decided not to get any.

maiko moo England Day 2 Part 2: Stratford Upon Avon and Lunch in the CotswoldsMoo-moo’s ice cream shop

After looking at various shops, we “fooled around” in front of the Fool’s statue in the middle of the town, and then headed for the parking lot.

me fool England Day 2 Part 2: Stratford Upon Avon and Lunch in the CotswoldsThe fool (I’m talking about the statue)

maiko fool England Day 2 Part 2: Stratford Upon Avon and Lunch in the CotswoldsFooling around!

We could have stayed a whole day in Stratford-Upon-Avon, but I’m kind of glad we didn’t. I would have bought way too many books and souvenirs.

stratford street England Day 2 Part 2: Stratford Upon Avon and Lunch in the CotswoldsStratford-Upon-Avon

Lunch was at the White Hart Tavern somewhere in the Cotswolds.

cotswolds thewhite hart England Day 2 Part 2: Stratford Upon Avon and Lunch in the Cotswolds

The White Hart

The food was okay, though Maiko thought 11gbp was a bit too much for lunch. I agreed with her and said that we should pack sandwiches for our next tours

having lunch at the cotswolds England Day 2 Part 2: Stratford Upon Avon and Lunch in the CotswoldsLunch at the White Hart

We chatted with two other girls on the tour. One was from the Philippines, grew up in Australia, but was currently living in London, and the other was a Malaysian girl. They were each traveling on their own.

After lunch, we all piled into the bus. We got to see a bit of the Cotswolds–a quaint region filled with rolling hills, verdant fields, old houses, and churches–

cotswolds a church England Day 2 Part 2: Stratford Upon Avon and Lunch in the CotswoldsA Church in the Cotswolds

As we headed for our final stop:

Oxford.

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England Day 2 Part 1: Warwick Castle

When we lay down to sleep at midight, Maiko and I expected to wake at six am, fully refreshed and ready for the tour that lay ahead. Of course that didn’t happen.

Jetlag and excitement  = the worst possible combination during a trip.

Instead, we pseudo-slept at 12MN, and woke up at 2AM. We started talking about the tour that lay ahead and how amazing it was that we were finally in London. At around 3AM, we decided that we should try to catch some zzz’s. We switched the lights off and closed our eyes.

Five minutes later, we were up again. We kept on trying to fall back asleep, but  we always ended up talking or surfing the net. Finally at around 5AM, we gave up and decided to get ready for the day.

We had some snacks left over from yesterday’s trip and had those for breakfast. The hotel provided us with an electric kettle, teacups, small plates, teabags, and sachets of instant coffee, creamer and sugar. After cleaning out the green gunk in the electric kettle, we made ourselves some tea and coffee.

The sun was already up by the time we stepped outside.

In front of the hotel England Day 2 Part 1: Warwick CastleOutside the hotel early in the morning

We looked around for some shop to buy water for the day. We were lucky enough to find a small grocery store open at 6AM.

grocery store stopover England Day 2 Part 1: Warwick CastleHurray, an open store!

We had an extra hour before the tour company picked us up at the Holiday Inn, King’s Cross. We had some time to look around the neighborhood.

touring at 6am England Day 2 Part 1: Warwick CastleGate to a public garden

We noticed a lot of people using these blue bikes to get to work. We found one of these bike stations nearby and studied it curiously.

barclays bikes England Day 2 Part 1: Warwick CastleBikes for Rent

Apparently for 1GBP a day, you can rent one of these bikes. You can pick them up at one bike station and then drop them off at a different location. Maiko wanted to try one, but she knew I wasn’t a very good biker and that I wasn’t used to biking on the left side of the road with all those cars behind me. I promised Maiko that we would do some biking in (less busy) Salisbury, for sure.

The Holiday Inn-King’s Cross hotel was about seven minutes walk from our hotel. We got there early at 6:50 AM. A Premium Tours bus was supposed to come and pick us up at 7:15am. We waited, trying to guess which way the bus would be coming from.

At 7:30am, a big white tour bus appeared and stopped on the other side of the road. Maiko and crossed the busy street and climbed on board. The tour guide asked for the name on our reservation, and I said “Windsor.” He looked at me curiously.

Being Asian, and having the same surname as the Queen of England apparently will get you raised eyebrows and curious looks—every time.

The bus driver gave us a big scare with the way he careened down the busy, narrow streets of London. In one instance, he decided to do a 3-point turn on a small road. By the time he  realized that the bus was too big to even fit diagonally on the street, it was already too late, and he had already hit a tree. While the bus driver checked if the bus’s rear end was okay, a tour guide hopped on the bus and joined us for the duration of the trip.

The bus had to pick up other people from different hotels. Most of the people on the list weren’t waiting outside like we were. The tour guide had to go into the hotel and ask the hotel if they could check the records if the people who were supposed to go on the tour were staying at the hotel.

At the end of the rounds, there were only about ten of us in the big bus, and we were all going on different tours. The tour guide asked us what tours we were on and gave us the gate numbers where we had to wait.

We arrived at the Victoria Coach Station at around 8am.

victoria coach station England Day 2 Part 1: Warwick CastleInside Victoria Coach Station

Maiko and I got off the bus and made our way to Gate 7, where our tour guide for the day was supposed to meet us.

gate 7 England Day 2 Part 1: Warwick CastleGate 7: Tour 5

Our tour guide soon appeared. He introduced himself as Alan and asked us to follow him to the medium sized coach that was waiting for us. He checked our names off the list. Smiling, he gave me that “you’re a Windsor?” look again. Alan told us to choose our seats, drop our bags and pop in to the loo for a “weewee” because we had a bit of a drive ahead of us.

Following his directions, Maiko and I made our way to the loo—or restroom, where we had to pay 30 pence to use the toilets.

A few minutes later, the coach was chugging out of the station, and Alan was doing Sean Connery impressions while telling us about the day ahead.

We were on way to our first stop: Warwick Castle.


Warwick Castle

warwick caslte modified England Day 2 Part 1: Warwick CastleOutside Warwick Castle

We arrived in the town of Warwick (pronounced War-rick) at around 10am. Alan led us through the castle entrance, and gave us an hour and a half to explore the grounds and meet back at the bus.

Being part of a tour group was great because we got to go into the castle before the grounds were open to the public.

me in front of warwick castle England Day 2 Part 1: Warwick CastleInside Warwick Castle Grounds

Maiko and I took pictures in different areas of the castle grounds, before heading inside the castle to check out the various rooms.

beautiful ramparts England Day 2 Part 1: Warwick CastleOne of the castle walls

the beautiful scenery behind the castle England Day 2 Part 1: Warwick CastleBeautiful view from a rampart behind the castle


castle catapult England Day 2 Part 1: Warwick CastleAn old catapult

We learned a lot about the castle’s history from Alan’s short history lesson on the bus, and from the various exhibits within the castle itself.

castle hall armor England Day 2 Part 1: Warwick Castleold armor and weapons

warwick cauldron modified England Day 2 Part 1: Warwick CastleDouble, double, toil and trouble. A cauldron used in kitchens of long ago.

warwick posing with henry and his wives modified England Day 2 Part 1: Warwick CastlePosing with Henry VIII and his six wives


maiko and the old toilet England Day 2 Part 1: Warwick CastleA toilet used in the early days of the castle

The most interesting exhibit we saw was the Kingmaker, which told the story of Richard Neville, who in the War of the Roses in the 1450’s supported the Yorkists. When the Yorkists won in 1461, King Henry VI bestowed the title of Earl of Warwick on Richard Neville. But when fortunes changed, Richard the Earl of Warwick went against Henry VI and took him prisoner at Warwick Castle.

wax figures in the kingmaker exhibit modified England Day 2 Part 1: Warwick CastleWax figures in the Kingmaker exhibit

The Kingmaker exhibit featured waxworks by Madame Tussaud along with music and snippets of dialogue that demonstrate the life of everyday castle inhabitants and preparations for battle.

Due to the lack of time, there were many exhibits we didn’t get to see—such as Merlin: The Dragon Tower and the dungeon tour.

merlin tower England Day 2 Part 1: Warwick CastleEntrance to Merlin the Dragon Tower

Maiko and I made our way up the narrow stairs toward the ramparts and towers.

posing on a rampart England Day 2 Part 1: Warwick CastleI made it halfway up the tower

Halfway through, my acrophobia kicked in. I began to feel dizzy as I caught a glimpse of the ground from above one of the ramparts. I gave Maiko my nice camera and told her to go ahead and continue up the tour without me.

up the tower England Day 2 Part 1: Warwick CastleUp the tower

The stairs were actually one way only, but luckily, nobody was going up when I chickened out and decided to climb back down.

Maiko took pictures of the great view.

the view from the tower England Day 2 Part 1: Warwick CastleThe view from the tallest tower

She even snapped a picture of me waiting on the bench below.

waiting on the bench England Day 2 Part 1: Warwick CastleWaiting on the bench

We met up at the bench and Maiko told me that I made the right decision to pass on the tower climb. Her legs were shaking like jelly from fatigue after walking up 530 steps.  It was already 11:20 so we headed out of the castle.

Outside the castle entrance, an archer was showing off his skills:

warwick archer modified England Day 2 Part 1: Warwick CastleWarwick Castle archer


Maiko and I passed by an old stockade  left outside the castle and decided to have some photo fun before heading toward the parking lot.

posing as a castle prisoner me England Day 2 Part 1: Warwick Castle


maiko as a castle prisoner England Day 2 Part 1: Warwick Castle


We could have spent a whole day there, but we had to move on to our next stop: Stratford-Upon-Avon.


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England Day 1: Airport Blues and Welcome to London

Two weeks ago, I took a ten-day trip to jolly old England. It was not only my first real vacation (meaning one that took longer than three days, and one that took me out of the country), it was also research for the book I’ve been writing, and a pilgrimage to the place that inspired the book.

I’ve been dying to go to England since forever. My desire to see it intensified when I finished writing the final draft of my book.

I had based my story in Salisbury and Amesbury. They are towns close to Stonehenge, which plays a central part in the storyline. While writing the book, I had used pictures and maps gathered from the internet to visualize the place where my characters lived. I also used Google Earth so I could figure out how my characters could go from one place to another.

I wanted so badly to walk the path my characters walked. I wanted to see the houses I had picked as a model for their residences, and to explore the towns they lived in. This was a far off dream, as far as I was concerned—something that could happen but only in the far, far future.

But a stroke of good luck, and a little help from God/the Universe made it possible for this dream to come true much sooner than expected. My aunt JD had joined the Wheel of Fortune as a contestant, and actually won. She knew about my dream to go to the UK and to see Stonehenge up close. So when she got her prize money, she made sure to give me a part of it so I could go to the UK. Thanks to her, and to my best friend Maiko, I got to fulfill a dream.

Maiko was the only one patient enough to read my first draft from beginning to end. She gave me some really good suggestions and pointed out inconsistencies, which I worked on in my succeeding drafts. She’s also read my fifth draft. In short, Maiko is the only person who has ever read the entire book twice. She’s seen the changes the characters and the story has undergone.

And she professes to be my number one fan. Naturally, she had to come with me to my England trip. She loved my story as much as I did and she was very eager to join me in my quest to walk my characters’ paths.

Now that you know the story behind my trip, and have been introduced to my travel partner, let’s get to the juicy part—the Journey.

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Our awesome friend Lena was kind enough to leave work a little earlier so she could drop us off at the airport. She took a picture of Maiko and I before we went inside.

at lax before england England Day 1: Airport Blues and Welcome to London

At LAX, before the Trip

We had checked in hours before, so all we had to do was get our checked-in luggage weighed, scanned and loaded into the plane. I thought it would take us five minutes tops, but unfortunately, the couple ahead of us were taking up the sole attendant’s whole time as they frantically searched for the man’s missing ID card.

Another counter finally opened up and we managed to drop our bags off. We were headed for the security checkpoint toward the gates, when I remembered that we had brought a bottle of soda with us. I gave it away to one of the security guards, who took it after some hesitation.

The line at the security checkpoint wasn’t as long as I’d expected it to be. After getting my passport scanned and stamped, I got my first experience with the new body scanners.

I tried not to think of what my x-ray picture looked like as I stood there with my hands behind my head.

After we re-organized our clothes and our carry-on luggage, we headed for our take-off gate. We were two hours early, so we found a table near the coffee shop and parked ourselves there.

LAX coffee shop England Day 1: Airport Blues and Welcome to LondonHanging out at a coffee shop before the flight

While Maiko chatted with her mom on the phone, I bought some souvenirs for Frances (a former student I was going to meet up with in London), and exchanged my dollars for some British pounds. I had planned on exchanging just half of the money at LAX, and the rest of it in London, in case they had a better rate; but the lady insisted that LAX’s rate was better and they don’t charge commission. So I went for it.

exchange booth England Day 1: Airport Blues and Welcome to LondonCurrency Exchange

(I would learn later on that I should’ve followed my original plan. Oh well, lesson learned.)

Being cheap—er—budget-oriented and smart travelers, Maiko and I had packed our own dinner. I bought a large soda at Burger King (I felt bad that we were using their table without buying anything), and we gobbled up the rice balls and croquettes Maiko had prepared at home.

We still had an hour and a half before our 8:30PM flight so we spent it wisely. Maiko worked on her book translation while I read. We tried to ignore the obnoxious teenager behind us.  He was skyping (rather loudly) with someone on his laptop.  Of course, he had to be on the same flight as we were. Thankfully, his seat was far from ours.

Before long, we were on Virgin Atlantic Flight 24 and headed for England!

Although the seats were a tad small, I was pleasantly surprised at the amenities the airlines had. Each seat had its own small entertainment center. You could play tons of games or watch movies and TV shows for hours.

VA entertainment center England Day 1: Airport Blues and Welcome to London

They also gave away a complimentary pouch filled with a pair of socks, an eye mask, a toothbrush and some toothpaste.

freebies England Day 1: Airport Blues and Welcome to LondonFreebies

Blankets and earphones were provided, along with a decent dinner, snacks and breakfast.

dinner England Day 1: Airport Blues and Welcome to LondonDinner

drinks England Day 1: Airport Blues and Welcome to London

Cute soda cans

I also liked that they had a water station where you could fill up your water bottles.

Two movies, a few hours of sleep, and a relatively easy flight later, we were flying towards London Heathrow.

I saw many fields, hills and trees as the plane descended. England was a lot greener than California, and I could already feel my excitement building.

The excitement waned a little as we walked about two miles from the airport gate toward the main airport building. My excitement waned even further as we waited in line for an hour to get through the UK Customs Border.

The customs official asked what the purpose of our travel was, I told her it was for vacation, and also book research. She asked what my book was about and I said it was a middle grade fantasy book. She gave me a confused look so I said my book was like Harry Potter, only not as good. She laughed, stamped my passport and wished us a pleasant vacation.

We spent several minutes searching for the carousel that held our luggage. I finally spotted our bags yards away. The conveyer belt was moving fairly quickly so I had to make a mad dash for the bags.

After we’d gotten all our bags, Maiko and I purchased some UK Sim cards from a vending machine. We chose the T-Mobile brand, because we had heard that it had the best data plan and we wanted to use our smartphones. We plugged our UK sim cards into our cellphones, and were slightly disappointed when our data services didn’t work. We decided to just figure it out once we got to our hotel. At least we could make calls if we had to.

I had purchased an Oyster Card before we left for the trip so we used this to get ourselves on the tube.

oyster card England Day 1: Airport Blues and Welcome to LondonOyster Card – Lets you get on all the  underground trains and buses around London

We were happy to see that there was a line going straight from the airport to King’s Cross Station.

It was around 7PM when we finally arrived at King’s Cross Station, we had a bit of trouble orienting ourselves. We asked one of the station guards where Swinton Street was, but he sort of gave us the wrong direction. Finally, I asked one of the shopkeepers who pointed us in the right way.

We arrived at the Arriva Hotel and checked in. We lugged our bags through the narrow corridors, eager to relieve ourselves of the load.

arriva hotel England Day 1: Airport Blues and Welcome to LondonArriva Hotel

We had the surprise of our lives when we opened the door. It was the smallest hotel room we had ever been in. A step took us directly into the bathroom and three steps took us to the double bed that occupied most of the room.  There was a large cabinet with open shelves for our things, and a small fridge placed underneath a narrow table. The place was so small, you could literally open the fridge while sitting at the edge of the bed.

The story was the same in the bathroom. There was only enough room to stand and maybe turn around once in the shower stall. The shower stall doors slid sideways because there wasn’t enough space to place a door that opened outward. The sink and the toilet bowl, were both a step away from the shower stall.

It was a good thing we planned on being outside most of the time.

My mom had asked us to check on my stepfather’s aunt who lived in Islington. She’s 82 years old and lives by herself. So, after we got ourselves a little organized, we used the internet to get directions to where she lived. Luckily, it was a 15 minute walk from our hotel.

We headed toward Islington. Halfway up the street we passed by a Thai restaurant. We realized we were starving so we sat down and had our dinner there.

thai dinner England Day 1: Airport Blues and Welcome to LondonDinner at Thai Aubergine

In London, they ask you whether you want still or sparkling water. And the water always comes in a fancy glass bottle, which looks more like it should contain some alcoholic drink instead of water. Good I think I did my research. I asked for still water, and we ordered our food.

We worked on our cellphones while we waited for the food. We figured out that the 10 GBP that we had paid for only for the sim itself, and that we still had to “top off” our sim to get some calling credits.

After gobbling up our meal, we had a bit of trouble figuring out how much tip they expect from customers in England. Maiko finally got the courage to ask the waitress, who said it was 12%.

We paid for our meal and headed up King’s Cross Road towards Islington. On the way, we passed by a small grocery store with a cellphone Top Off sign. We decided to each purchase 10GBPs worth of cellphone credits there.

The top off receipt was easy enough to figure out. After topping off our cell, we headed for Aunt Helen’s house.

We thought we were lost, until I mentioned that Aunt Helen was supposed to live up in the 17th floor. Maiko started laughing and pointed to the only building in the area that could possibly hold 17 floors. We headed toward it.

It turns out Aunt Helen lives on the 22nd floor.  She looked confused when we opened the door. But she quickly let us in when I introduced myself. I pointed to a family picture in her living room and said that was me standing on the left side.

Aunt Helen was the nicest and fun-nest person to talk to. She had a few lapses in memory and kept asking us the same question every five minutes, but otherwise, her witty sense of humor was in tact.

autn helen England Day 1: Airport Blues and Welcome to LondonAunt Helen

After she asked us if we wanted tea for the fourth time, we finally agreed. She made us a pot of tea and even spent several minutes looking for her best china.

aunt helens tea England Day 1: Airport Blues and Welcome to LondonEnglish tea and biscuits

She served the tea with milk and sugar and a plate of jam-filled biscuits. I was so glad we finally agreed to have some tea, as it was the best I had tasted so far.

We bid her goodnight and at around 10:30PM, finally got back to our small (really small) hotel room. We showered, unpacked and prepared for the next day. Before we knew it, it was midnight and we needed to sleep.

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Join me this Friday for England Day 2: Warwick Castle, Stratford Upon Avon, Lunch at the Cotswolds, & Oxford


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Hunger Games Movie Final Cast

My next post was going to be tomorrow, and it was going to be about Day 1 of my England trip, but I couldn’t wait to share with your what I found out about one of the most anticipated movies being made.

When I first heard that one of my favorite series, the Hunger Games, was being turned into a movie, I immediately put together a list of my dream cast:

http://www.thewritingnut.com/ramblings/mockingjay-release-hunger-games-dream-cast-list/

This was last August.

And now, the cast for Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games movie version have been chosen.

Unfortunately, none of my picks made it. But the chosen actors and actresses look to be a promising powerhouse cast.

Katniss Everdeen: Jennifer Lawrence


Jennifer Lawrence The Hunger Games Hunger Games Movie Final Cast

Peeta Meelark: Josh Hutcherson

josh hutcherson Hunger Games Movie Final Cast


Gale Hawthorne: Liam Hemsworth

Liam Hemsworth 98353910 Hunger Games Movie Final Cast


Haymitch: Woody Harrelson

Woody Harrelson articleimage Hunger Games Movie Final Cast


Effie Trinket: Elizabeth Banks

elizabeth Banks 2 Hunger Games Movie Final Cast


Mrs. Everdeen: Paula Malcomson

paula malcolmson Hunger Games Movie Final Cast


Primrose Everdeen: Willow Shields

willow shields Hunger Games Movie Final Cast


Rue: Amandla Stenberg

amandla stenberg profile Hunger Games Movie Final Cast

Marvel: Jack Quaid

jack quaid profile Hunger Games Movie Final Cast


Glimmer: Leven Rambin

Leven rambin 00 6271 Hunger Games Movie Final Cast


Thresh: Dayo Okeniyi

dayo okeniyi Hunger Games Movie Final Cast


Seneca Crane: Wes Bentley

wes bentley 003 Hunger Games Movie Final Cast


Caesar Flickerman: Stanley Tucci

stanley tucci Hunger Games Movie Final Cast

And the most recent addition:


Cinna: Lenny Kravitz

lenny kravitz1 Hunger Games Movie Final Cast

Several minor characters such as District 4 tributes, and other district tributes have been cast. But the one major character that we’re all curious to know has yet to be announced.

Who will play President Snow?

Do you have any guesses?

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To find out more about the actors playing the roles, check out this article by the LA TIMES and Yahoo News

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IWOSC’s Agents Panel – May 2, 2011

I’m currently in the querying stage for my MG manuscript. All the books I’ve read on querying state how important it is to make a connection with the agent one is querying–whether it’s mentioning that you are a big fan of the author/book they represent, or that you read an interview/article they had on a blog, website or magazine.

But the best way to get the agent’s attention, is to mention that you’ve had the pleasure of meeting them in person.

Each year, the Independent Writers of Southern California (IWOSC), facilitates an Agent’s Update Panel. IWOSC  members can attend the panel for free, while non-members have to pay a $15.

So last May 2nd, even if I was leaving for a ten-day trip to the UK in two days, I made it a point to attend IWOSC Agent’s Panel. I thought the $15 was worth paying considering that I would get to meet at six agents in person.

And I’m so glad I attended.

Facilitated by award-winning book editor, ghostwriter and publishing consultant Robin Quinn, this year’s panel consisted of the following stellar names in the publishing industry (**Descriptions from IWOSC’s Agent’s Update 2011 Page):

Paul S. Levine — Paul S. Levine Literary Agency paul levine IWOSCs Agents Panel   May 2, 2011

The vast majority of Paul S. Levine’s clients come to him as new previously unpublished or self-published authors. For over 28 years, he has offered clients a unique combination of publishing industry knowledge and legal services. Paul will consider fiction, nonfiction, children’s and young adult manuscripts and proposals. Projects include Victoria Johnson’s Get Grant Money Now, David Seidman’s What If I Am an Atheist?; A Guide for Teenagers, Sheila Copeland’s Chocolate Star, and Steven Savile’s Guild Wars 2: Novel. Paul has taught at UCLA Extension Writers Program for over a decade.

Ashley Grayson & Carolyn Grayson — Grayson Literary Agency GraysonAgency 32 IWOSCs Agents Panel   May 2, 2011

For more than three decades, Ashley Grayson has run the Ashley Grayson Literary Agency here in Southern California as a full-service literary agencyrepresenting authors to publishers. He represents commercial fiction (urban fantasy, thrillers, young adult) and some nonfiction. Ashley discovered Christopher Pike, and represents best-selling authors including Bruce Coville, Barb and J.C. Hendee, Carrie Vaughn, and John Barnes. He is an active member of AAR (Association of Authors’ Representatives), and he blogs at GraysonAgency.com/blog.

Carolyn Grayson has been an active agent with the Ashley Grayson Literary Agency for more than 15 years. She represents fiction (including women’s fiction, romance, urban fantasy, young adult), and some nonfiction projects (self-help, true crime). The Agency is active in selling international rights and media rights. Carolyn is a member of AAR and the Romance Writers of America.

Taylor Martindale — Sandra Dijkstra Agency TaylorMartindale IWOSCs Agents Panel   May 2, 2011

Taylor is most interested in acquiring young adult fiction, specifically gritty contemporary, unique paranormal/urban fantasy, and any story with a captivating voice. She will also consider children’s picture books, commercial fiction, women’s fiction, and multicultural fiction. Taylor is looking for engaging and unforgettable characters and stories that stay with you long after you turn the final page. She recently sold a YA sci-fi thriller series for Debra Driza, which will come out from Katherine Tegen Books/Harper Collins in the fall of 2012.

Jennifer Rofé — Andrea Brown Literary Agency, Inc. jennifer rofe IWOSCs Agents Panel   May 2, 2011

Jennifer handles children’s fiction projects, from picture books to young adult. Middle grade is her soft spot; she’s open to all genres in this category, especially the tender or hilarious. For YA, Jennifer’s drawn to contemporary works; dramatic or funny romance; and urban fantasy/light sci-fi. For picture books, early readers, and chapter books, she’s interested in character-driven projects and smart, exceptional writing. Jennifer also enjoys how-to and sports-related nonfiction. Her clients include Laurie David, Cambria Gordon, Crystal Allen, and Barry Wolverton. Jennifer is co-author of the picture bookPiggies in the Pumpkin Patch.

Greg Gertmenian — Abbot Management

GregGertmenian AbbotManagement IWOSCs Agents Panel   May 2, 2011

Greg is General Manager of Abbot Management, a literary management company for writers of TV and film scripts.  Abbot Management strives to bring attention to developing talented writers by exposing work to accomplished producers and directors. At Abbot, Greg has overseen options and writing assignments, and he has associate produced. Experienced in writing, producing and directing sketch comedy, Greg also pursues his own projects. His film, Balrog: Behind the Glory, a mockumentary based on Street Fighter II, will screen at July’s EVO 2011. Abbot’s proprietary development software will roll out to production companies this summer.

Ivan Hoffman — Literary Attorney ivan hoffman IWOSCs Agents Panel   May 2, 2011

Proudly in his 38th year of practice, Ivan Hoffman has legal specialties that include publishing and writing law.

Ivan stays on the cutting-edge of the law, addressing developments through his articles, speaking appearances, interviews and award-winning website. Ivan is a graduate of UCLA Law School.

I made sure to show up at least an hour early. I knew the Panel was a popular one, and boy, was I right. By 7PM, all the seats had been filled and there were still some people coming in through the door.

The session started at 7:30pm with a few words and announcements from Flo Selman, IWOSC’s President and Gary Young, IWOSC’s Director of Professional Development.

panel with flo IWOSCs Agents Panel   May 2, 2011

After that, the floor was turned over to Moderator Robin Quinn, who began by asking the panelists to introduce themselves, and talk a little bit about what genres they represent, their submission requirements, and what projects they are currently working on.

Paul Levine said that he considers both fiction and non-fiction projects as well as children’s and young adult works. He is not interested, however, in representing fantasy, science fiction or horror.

Carolyn Grayson said she likes women’s fiction, dark mystery books, as well as middle grade and young adult fantasy. Ashley Grayson said he too considers fantasy, thrillers and young adult submissions. He considers science fiction submissions, particularly if submitted by authors with a science background—such as one who works in NASA, or so on.

Taylor Martindale is relatively new to the job, having been an agent at the Sandra Dijkstra Agency for over a year. She said that this makes her the best agent to query as she is eager and to build her client list. She loves YA urban fantasy and dystopian, as well as mysteries.

Jennifer Rofe reminded everyone that she only represents children’s books. She is particularly interested in middle grade novels, and books that are character-based and literary.

Greg Gertmenian took the opportunity to explain that Abbot Management was company that deals only with managing screenwriters for TV and film. Their company works to provide film and TV screenplays to established producers, agent, managers and directors.

Finally Ivan Hoffman enlightened the audience on the benefits of hiring literary/entertainment lawyers. He explained that entertainment lawyers like himself can be very helpful in going over publishing contracts and making sure writers don’t get trapped in contracts that do them more harm than good.

agents panel IWOSCs Agents Panel   May 2, 2011

The Panel’s topic that night was What You Need to Know to Be a Savvy Player in Today’s Publishing Game. After everyone had introduced themselves, the moderator proceeded with her questions. The Panel discussed everything including self-publishing, ebooks, copyright laws, the author’s publishing rights and platform-building for authors.

The also Panel discussed how to find the right representative, prompting a small debate on whether it would be better to get an agent or to go straight to an entertainment lawyer.

Attorney Ivan Hoffman said that lawyers charge by the hour and so for a one time fee, the author can get someone who knows the law to get a good, long look at the contract, to make sure that the author doesn’t sign bad deals.
Agent Jennifer Rofe said that it is important to note that literary agents not only take care of the author once they get a publishing contract, they are also in charge of actually finding the author a publisher, among other things.

Agent Ashley Grayson even told authors to “Stop being so damn grateful.” He said that authors spend years writing a wonderful story and they deserve to be able to retire on what they earn from their books. He said writers should be strong and they should not immediately agree to the first contract they are offered.

The great thing about the Panel was that everyone was very open to sharing the insider’s perspective on the publishing world. They not only gave great tips on how to find the right agent, they also reminded us writers that what we do is the most important thing in the publishing industry.

Everyone, agent and attorney alike, agreed that publishing contracts are changing and that writers should be made aware of what rights they hold as book authors. Whereas there only used to be print rights, foreign rights and translation rights, nowadays there are also ebook rights, app rights and so on.

The Panel ended at 9PM to thunderous applause. All of us gained so much insider knowledge and helpful information that night. Most of us stayed for the networking session that followed.

I made sure to approach the agents I was interested in (the ones who actually represent the kind of book I’ve written). I thanked them for their time and even asked if they would be interested in appearing as a speaker for the Torrance Children’s Book Writers. Most of them said they would be, and one agent even agreed to do an interview for my blog.

That night was a great success. It not only gave me a new perspective into the world of publishing, it also inspired me to begin querying in earnest.

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LA Times Festival of Books at USC

Last April 30th, I went with my two good friends Lena and Lissa to the LA Festival of Books. This year, due to contract issues, it was at USC instead of at UCLA.

USC grounds LA Times Festival of Books at USC

We made sure we got there early at 9:30 because we had heard that there were only so many parking spaces for the thousands of people who were expected to go that day. I asked Lena to be my official photographer for the day, in case I got to see some of my favorite authors. We carpooled together and by 10am, Lissa had joined us.

The three of us went around the grounds, checking out the various booths and all the while looking for the Simon & Schuster booth where one of my favorite authors was supposed to have a signing.

booths LA Times Festival of Books at USC

We tried to look up the booth’s location using the free festival newspaper guide they had given out, but the booth wasn’t even listed. We asked several people at the information booth—but nobody seemed to know where it was. We gave up and I resigned myself to the fact that I would have to wait for another DJ Machale book signing opportunity to appear in the future.

We had an early lunch at 11am to beat the lunch crowd who were sure to appear around noon. And we were smart to do so. By the time we had finished lunch, a large line had formed for the different food stalls in the cafeteria.

inside cafeteria LA Times Festival of Books at USC

Our first panel session was at 12:30. We made our way to the Davidson Conference Center with the help of a USC student (who noticed we looked a bit lost). We waited in line for a few minutes, until they let us into the hall.

The panel was entitled Young Adult: Worlds Beyond Imagination. Moderated by Cindy Dobrez, it included great YA fantasy authors such as:

Jonathan Stroud, author of the Bartimaeus Trilogy

jonathan stroud LA Times Festival of Books at USC

Megan Whalen Turner, author of newberry winner The Thief and other books in the series.

megan whalen turner LA Times Festival of Books at USC

RickYancey, author of the Alfred Kropp and Monstrumologist series.

rick yancey LA Times Festival of Books at USC

I was particularly excited to listen to Jonathan Stroud, as the Bartimaeus Trilogy is one of my favorite series.

The panel was fabulous! The three authors, though they may have never met before then, had great chemistry and would ride on each other’s jokes. Moderator Cindy Dobrez was herself a funny gal, and added great one-liners. The authors’ answers to Cindy’s questions were very informative and interesting (particularly for someone like me, who writes fantasy novels). Lissa agreed that it was one of the best panels she’s ever been to.

ya fantasy panel LA Times Festival of Books at USC

The session ended all too soon. Lena and Lissa went ahead to save me a spot in our next panel session Young Adult: Bring Out the Story in History , while I dashed back into the Davidson building to buy a copy of the books I wanted signed.

I waited in line for 15 minutes, only to find out that they had run out of Jonathan Stroud’s and Megan Whalen Turner’s books. I was so disappointed, but I did learn a lesson—buy the books in advance!

It was 1:50PM. The session was supposed to start in ten minutes and I was still at the other end of the campus. I made a mad dash for the SAL 101 building.

I never made it to the panel. Halfway toward the SAL building, I saw the Mysterious Galaxy Booth and remembered that another one of my favorite authors was going to have a book signing session there at 2PM.

I bought a book and waited for him, all the while messaging Lena and Lissa. I received a message from them minutes later. They said not to bother coming as they were leaving the session. Apparently, they didn’t like the session and decided to just meet me where I was.

It was a good thing I didn’t go to the panel. I got to have my Sabriel books signed by Garth Nix, and Lissa and I (major bookworms) bought copies of Garth Nix’s new book with Sean Williams called Troubletwisters—and had them signed.

garth nix LA Times Festival of Books at USCGarth Nix, author of the Abhorsen Trilogy

garth nix and sean williams LA Times Festival of Books at USCGarth Nix and Sean Williams, authors of Troubletwisters

with garth nix LA Times Festival of Books at USCGarth Nix signing my Abhorsen books

The authors were friendly and encouraging when they found out I was also trying to get published. They even posed for pictures!

with troubletwister authors LA Times Festival of Books at USCWith Awesome Authors Sean Williams and Garth Nix

The three of us wandered around for a bit, checking out more booths. Around 3PM, we headed for the Seeley Mudd building for our final panel session Publishing in the 21st Century.

publishing panel LA Times Festival of Books at USC

Moderated by Sara Nelson, the panel featured folks from the publishing industry such as Cary Goldstein, Kim Robinson, Johnny Temple and Robert Weil.  They spoke about the future of books and ebooks. They all agreed that books—both hardcover and paperbacks—were not going to disappear anytime soon, despite the continued popularity of ebooks.

The session ended at 4:30PM, and the three of us headed back toward the cafeteria to get some snacks.

outside cafe 2 LA Times Festival of Books at USC

We sat outside talking about books, writing, publishing while the bright afternoon sun slowly sank behind us. Lissa, a rising superstar in the YA world, gave me so many great tips to improve my chances of getting published. Before we knew it, it was 6:30PM!

We said our goodbyes and promised to come back again next year for more adventures.

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A Special THANK YOU VERY MUCH to my best buddy Lena who patiently took pictures the whole day!

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Aura Imbarus Bio:
(from her website www.auraimbarus.com)

Aura Imbarus is an educator, professional speaker, and the author of the critically acclaimed  memoir, Out of the Transylvania Night: A Story of Tyranny, Freedom, Love and Identity, and a book for teens, 101 Great Ways to Make the World a Totally Awesome Place – By Teens For Teens, both fall 2010 releases.

Born and raised in Sibiu/Hermannstadt, Romania, or more precisely in “Dracula’s county Transylvania,” Ms. Imbarus attended Lucian Blaga University, earning an MA degree in American and British Studies and a Ph.D. in Philology with the distinction Cum Laude. From 1990 to 1997, she worked as a journalist for Radio Contact, The National Journal, and Gallup Poll in Sibiu, Romania.

In 1997, Aura immigrated to Los Angeles, where she continued her education at UCLA and began her teaching career both as a high school and college professor. She spends her mornings at West High School, a designated California Distinguished School in 1984, 1994, 1999, 2005, receiver of the Excellence in Education Award from the United States Department of Education in 1984, and nationally awarded Blue Ribbon School distinction in 1984, and her nights at LA Harbor College and El Camino College in South Bay.

Aura is actively involved in RAPN (Romanian American Professional Network) as well as Eurocircle, a professional networking organization with over 60,000 members of European origins. She is also a mentor for Blue Heron Foundation, a non-profit and professional organization whose mission is to help Romanian orphans in her native country with money and counseling in order to receive a higher education degree. Aura is also a member of MLA- Modern Language Association, NCTE- National Council of Teachers of English, NEA- National Education Association, and many others. Other interests include: reading, painting, skiing, ice-skating, hiking, beach volleyball, and traveling the world.

“I want to live life to the fullest,” says Aura, “and in the process, to help others along the way. I want to squeeze out each and every moment of life, and use to the maximum. Every day has the potential of a lifetime.

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Aura contacted me through the Torrance Children’s Book Writers website in January of this year. She was interested in speaking to our group about her book and about her journey to publication. Over the next few months we emailed back and forth constantly, trying to figure out the schedule and venue for the events.

We immediately scheduled the talk for April 23rd, but over the next couple of months, I had a difficult time finding a venue. Finally, two weeks before her talk, Catalina Coffee Company in Redondo Beach came to our rescue. And boy, did we strike gold with that venue! The venue was free of charge, provided we bought at least one drink. And who wouldn’t want to buy a drink—and food with all the wonderful aromas floating around in the building!

catalina coffee modified April 23, 2011 (10th meetup): Aura Imbarus Talks About Her Journey to Publication
The Catalina Coffee Company manager immediately made us feel welcome. He cleared a space for us in the Library—a part of the coffee house that looks like an actual library.

libraryjpg modified April 23, 2011 (10th meetup): Aura Imbarus Talks About Her Journey to Publication
Surrounded with loaded bookshelves and filled with comfortable couches and armchairs, the room is a haven for readers (and writers) who wish to relax in a comfy chair while sipping on their coffee. The manager told us that book clubs often hold meetings in the library during weekday nights.

Aura came bright and early that afternoon and I immediately felt a kinship with her as she introduced herself and said how excited she was for the talk. As we sat down with our food and drinks in the library, she told us about her day so far. Her warm and friendly—even bubbly personality shone through in the first few minutes of our conversation.

TCBW members found their way to our meeting place, and by the time all nine of us had settled down, Aura had already launched into her story.

book talk sign modified April 23, 2011 (10th meetup): Aura Imbarus Talks About Her Journey to Publication

Aura spoke a little about her childhood in Transylvania, and how she grew up with supportive, open-minded and encouraging parents amidst a tumultuous communist regime.She also spoke of her personal journey as an immigrant from Romania to the US. It was a scary leap for her—leaving her job as an assistant professor in a university and coming to America to start from scratch.  She started off with $400 in her pocket—not nearly enough money to start a new life in a foreign country, and not enough money to buy a plane ticket back to her homeland.


Aura also told us how she had initially started writing a book about dating based on her experiences as a member of a matchmaking site. Her story about how she gets her publisher is both funny and amazing. (You can hear her story for yourselves in the video below). Enormous amounts of research, persistence and a little bit of luck help her land a meeting with an interested publisher.

Once she had a book deal, however, a call from Romania changed her life. She learned that her mother had liver cancer and had 3-6 months to live. The last thing on her mind was dating, but she was already on contract with the publisher. So Aura spoke to her publisher and explained her situation. Her publisher, being an author herself, and having gone through the same thing with her mother, understood Aura’s predicament. She encouraged Aura to write five pages on the last week Aura had spent in Romania, to which Aura replied that she could write five pages on the last five minutes she had spent in Romania, since there were so many things going on around her, and in her mind. She sent the pages to her publisher, who liked her writing and decided that they should do a memoir. And that’s how Aura’s Pulitzer-nominated, 5-Star Amazon-rated memoir came into existence.

auras books modified April 23, 2011 (10th meetup): Aura Imbarus Talks About Her Journey to Publication
Aura knew we were all writers interested in getting published, so most of the time, Aura spoke of her journey to publication. She answered all our questions and gave us valuable tips on writing, and self-promotion. One thing which stood out clearly in my mind, was when she said that writing is just 30% of the work. The other 70% is research, and another 100% was for self-promotion. Aura constantly stressed the value of constant self-promotion, especially after publication. She said that not a day goes by when she doesn’t do at least one type of self-promotion. She shared examples of how she would promote her own books, and even gave us tips on how we could start self-promoting, even before we get published.


To give us an example of how persistence and hard work pays off, she told the story of how she got the elusive book signing spot in Barnes & Nobles, the Grove. She was a journalist, so she wasn’t shy about approaching people. So she started calling the Barnes & Nobles manager every week, until finally, out of frustration or name recall the manager picks up and talks to her. She immediately tells him that she can bring in 100 people for the book-signing event. So when the publisher called the B&N manager the following week, and presents the three authors she had for the book signing, the manager chose Aura.


Of course, bringing in 100 people was not easy. But Aura tapped into her various social networks (twitter, facebook and other organizations she belonged to), and despite a rainy booksigning day and a sudden change in schedule, she managed to bring in the hundred people (and more) she had promised the bookstore manager.
Aura also spoke about the projects she’s currently working on, and the stories behind them. One is a book for teenagers, written through a school project, in collaboration with her students, and another one is a cultural cookbook. She says cooking isn’t something she’s an expert on, but with enough research, and a few new ideas, she’ll be able to pull it off.


The talk ended all too soon. We all bought copies of her book, which she signed for us. She made sure to talk to us individually, and even gave us business cards with the reminder to email her if we had any other writing-related questions.

group pix 1 modified April 23, 2011 (10th meetup): Aura Imbarus Talks About Her Journey to Publication
I’ll definitely make it a point to invite Aura over again as a speaker. All in all, Aura’s talk was funny, informative, and downright inspiring. We all left that day filled with hope, inspiration, and energized to get our own writing careers started.

with aura modified modified April 23, 2011 (10th meetup): Aura Imbarus Talks About Her Journey to Publication
***As an added bonus, if you have time, please feel free to watch the video below. It’s the first 20 minutes of Aura’s talk and you can hear all about her writing journey, as well as her other adventures,  and writing tips from her own lips.***

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I’m back!

I’m back!

Well, sort of.

My brain is still a bit jetlagged and I left a part of me in busy London and beautiful Salisbury.

IMG 28251 Im back!

My trip was AWESOME! Thanks for asking! I have so much to share about my ten-day affair with the UK, and I am just dying to tell you about all my adventures.

(Here’s another teaser picture for you:)

DSCF37301 Im back!

BUT before I do that—there are some posts I need to share with you. These posts are about writing events that happened before my England trip, but which I haven’t written about due to my participation in the A-Z Blogfest.

I know, I know. You’re all excited to hear about my fabulous trip. I promise you’ll get loads of wonderful information (and even some tips about traveling to England). I’m planning to do a whole series on it. But while I’m still processing the thousands of pictures I took, catching up with tons of paperwork, and still recovering from an amazing (and very tiring) trip, I think you’ll enjoy reading about the awesome writing-related events which I haven’t yet shared with you guys.

So watch out for my first post tomorrow, when I talk about our writing group’s special session with Pulitzer Prize nominated author Aura Imbarus.

Aura Im back!

April 23, 2011 (10th meetup): Aura Imbarus Talks About Her Journey to Publication

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A-Z Recap, An Award, A Winner and a Vacation

April has been a crazy month of nonstop blogging. The A-Z Blogfest has been a challenge indeed. I blogged everyday except for Sundays and visited 1,025 other blogs. There were 1283 challengers, which means I still have 258 blogs left to visit. (Don’t worry, I’ll get to you all eventually).

A few people never got started, while others dropped out within a few days of the challenge. But most of us slogged through. By the time we reached our Z post, we all felt a HUGE sense of achievement.

The A-Z Challenge was time-consuming and difficult at times. I know some bloggers who have been blogging everyday even before the challenge, and I really don’t know how they manage to do it everyday. (They might be humans with superpowers, or intelligent aliens from another blog- crazed planet). All my writing-related activities, (save for a couple of writing group activities and the SCBWI Writer’s Day) were at a standstill for the whole month. I didn’t get any kind of writing, revising or editing done, and I wasn’t able to send out anymore query letters or finish my synopsis.

But despite this, I’m glad that I joined the A-Z Challenge. I got to visit and follow really great blogs, meet fellow writers, convince some folks that my blog is worth following (I started out with 56 followers and ended up with 204) and make some new online friends.

I also picked up a couple of awards, along the way. I’ve thanked those who have given it to me, but  I haven’t had the chance to share due to the A-Z.  I’ll be sharing these awards sometime towards the end of this month.

Blog Val2 A Z Recap, An Award, A Winner and a Vacation

New Follower Award from N.R. Williams at N.R. Williams, Fantasy Author

LiebsterBlogAward2 A Z Recap, An Award, A Winner and a Vacation

Liebster Award from Maria Toth at Wub2Write.blogspot

creativeblogaward A Z Recap, An Award, A Winner and a Vacation From Deirdra Eden-Coppel, A Storybook World

Power blogger and awesome online friend Elizabeth Mueller also gave me, (and all those who participated in the A-Z), another wonderful award. It was the perfect way to end the challenge.

A Z Blogging challenge Award A Z Recap, An Award, A Winner and a Vacation

Congratulations to all of us who joined in the A-Z, we are all Winners for surviving the challenge!

And speaking of Winners–

Congratulations to Medeia Sharif, who won an autographed copy of Curse at Zala Manor (Monster Moon Book One) in last month’s Monster Moon Surprise Giveaway! Please email me (nutschell@yahoo.com) your home address so I can mail you the book before I leave for my two-week vacation.

That’s right! After surviving the A-Z challenge, I think I (and the rest of us bloggers) deserve a little break.

So I’ll be going to the UK for a little vacation. Well, mostly I’m going as part of my book research. I’ll be walking the streets my characters walked and taking tons of pictures of the town they supposedly live in. But I’m also taking the opportunity to have a look around London and other areas and do some touristy things.

While I’m off to London to visit the Queen (or at least the castles she’s been in), please feel free to have a look around my blog and re-visit my A-Z posts:

Again, congratulations to all of us who survived the Challenge, and thank you to the hosts of the A-Z.

A big Thank You goes out to all of you who have discovered my blog through the A-Z, and have decided stick around and follow me through my writing journey.  If I haven’t yet responded to the comments you’ve left on my blog, I apologize. I’ll try get to you and leave a message on your blog, before I leave for my trip—and if I can’t, I’ll definitely drop by when I get back.  icon smile A Z Recap, An Award, A Winner and a Vacation

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