Friday, December 2, 2016

Walking in the City - The Christmas Lights of Mid-town Manhattan, NY

It's hard to believe that Christmas is almost upon us once again. This year I'm spending the holidays in England but wanted to fit at least one trip into New York City to see the lights before I leave. Yesterday's relatively mild weather offered the perfect opportunity for an evening stroll.

My first stop was the Lord & Taylor store on 5th Avenue at 39th Street. Famous for its elaborately staged Christmas windows it is a delight for children and adults alike.  This year the store is surrounded by scaffolding, but the designers didn't let that detract, turning the sidewalk into a grotto of lights and greenery.

How to conceal scaffolding.

The theme for this year is the Enchanted Forest with gorgeous animated settings depicting families of owls, foxes and geese in a winter wonderland. Instrumental music adds the finishing touch.

My next stop was Bryant Park between 5th and 6th Avenue. At this time of year the park becomes a Winter Village with an ice-rink, a holiday market and an outdoor bar.
The holiday market

the place to relax after all the shopping

skating amidst the skyscrapers
The Winter Village wouldn't be complete without a Christmas tree. While it doesn't quite match the size of the Rockefeller tree it is always beautifully decorated. I discovered I was a day early in terms of the lighting ceremony but even unlit it's pretty impressive!

Then it was onto 6th Avenue where the large forecourts of office buildings provide another venue for some out-sized decorations. 

Across the street is the iconic Radio City Music Hall. From mid November to early January it is home to The Christmas Spectacular with the Rockettes, an integral part of New York City's holiday festivities. 

Just around the corner is Rockefeller Plaza, the location of the city's official Christmas tree. 
This year the tree is 94 ft tall and decorated with 50,000 lights!  Despite heavy rain on the 1st December, thousands turned out to watch the show that precedes the switching on of the lights. 

 It's quite a sight but almost outdone by the light show on the front of the Saks building opposite. Set to booming music the crowd-stopping display runs at regular intervals.

But Saks doesn't just stop at the light show.  The windows have been exquisitely decorated with a Nutcracker theme. The detail that goes into each window is amazing, I can only assume it must take months of planning and preparation. 

In all, I spent about two hours taking in the various sights, but only covered a tiny section of the city.  New York is a fun city to walk around at any time of year, but in December it really does become magical - assuming, of course, that you don't mind the large crowds!

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Walking in the City - The New York Botanical Garden

With higher than normal temperatures for the time of the year, the last Sunday in October offered the perfect chance to get outside and enjoy the beauty of the New York Botanical Garden

In 1888 Botanists Nathaniel Lord Britton and Elizabeth Gertrude Britton visited the Royal Botanical Gardens in Kew, England and returned determined to create one of the world's great botanical gardens in New York. The 250-acre garden in the Bronx was founded in 1891 and is now not only one of the world's great botanical gardens but also an international center for plant research.

With 50 gardens and plant collections the gardens offer a constantly changing roster of visual delights for all ages.

The Everett Children's Adventure Garden gives children the chance to discover nature and explore plant science. Given the time of year the latest exhibit involved pumpkins. Lots of them!

so many shapes, sizes and colors

The largest pumpkin on display was the 2016 prize-winning pumpkin below. 2,252 lbs of pumpkin all the way from England. 
2016 prize-winning giant pumpkin.
That's a lot of pies!

A lookout over the lake provides an opportunity to spot the resident ducks, frogs and turtles. 

Unfortunately on our visit the only ones visible were the ducks:

Though we were rewarded with a pleasant view:

We weren't expecting to see many flowers at this time of year so the Rockefeller Rose Garden was a delightful treat. A collection of over 2,700 roses, it was certainly past its peak, but there were still plenty of blooms to admire.

The Bronx River runs through the gardens. The Goldman Stone Mill is a reminder of the industrial use of this part of the river. Built around 1840, it is the oldest existing tobacco manufacturing building in the United States, albeit now used for staff offices and a catering venue. 

A path leads from the mill alongside a gorge to a small waterfall. 

Other walking trails cut through the Thain Forest, the largest remaining uncut woodland in New York City. 

Native American arrowheads and pottery over 1,000 years old have been found in these rock crevices

Our next stop was the Wild Wetland Trail where a boardwalk leads past swamp and marsh. Wetlands act as natural water filters removing debris from the water supply.  

Our final stop was at the Haupt Conservatory, a stunning glass house which displays the garden's collection of plants from around the world in a series of rain-forest and desert environments. 

Enid A. Haupt Conservatory

The desert enviornment
The museum and the conservatory feature changing exhibits and organize programs that fit with the current exhibition. On Sunday there was Taiko Drumming on the Conservatory Lawn and Saori Weaving on the Plaza to tie in with the Kiku: Art of the Japanese Garden exhibit in the Conservatory. 

Kiku - Japanese Chrysanthemum

Taiko Drumming


We spent several hours at the Botanical Garden and saw only a fraction of what was on offer. With areas dedicated to daffodils, Azalea, Cherry Blossom and Magnolia as well as a Ladies Border and Perennial Garden, spring and summer must offer an ever-changing palette of color. In Winter an annual Holiday Train Show features model trains passing 150 landmarks built from natural materials.

It's not the first time I've been to the Botanical Gardens, but it is the first time that I've fully appreciated all it has to offer over the changing seasons. It certainly won't be my last visit. 

Monday, October 3, 2016


On Saturday, October 8, 2016, libraries and local writing communities across North America will participate in  INDIE AUTHOR DAY, the first annual nationwide library celebration of independent writers.

I'm delighted to announce that I will be participating at Eastchester Public Library, NY, along with other members of Westchester Indie Authors: Rinku Battacharya, Susan Berliner, Kirsten Campbell, Julianna Dawson, David Deutsch, Carol DommermuthLinda Griffin, and NateLevin.

From 10 am to 2 pm, we'll be hosting a series of informative panels for Eastchester Library visitors. Topics covered will include Self-Publishing, Fiction, and Nonfiction. There will also be a Spice Demo and Poetry Readings.

The program will conclude with an hour-long digital gathering (2 pm – 3 pm EST) of all participating libraries for a national Q&A with writers, agents, and other industry leaders.

Light refreshments will be served and door prizes (books) will be awarded. During the event, books will be available for signing and purchase.

Eastchester Library is located at 11 Oak Ridge Place in Eastchester, NY 10709.

If you are in the area, please join us for what's sure to be a fun and informative event.
Too far away? Check out the list of other libraries participating here


Friday, September 30, 2016

The First Radio Interview

In my last blog post I wondered whether there was anything as nerve-wracking for a writer as waiting to hear the first readers' opinions on the latest manuscript.  Last week, I discovered there was.

I was invited to be a guest on Good Living with Michele Thomas on WGCH, a local radio station, to talk about my writing and self-publishing. I've never been on the radio before and the potential for disaster played vividly in my mind beforehand.

  • What if my mind went blank at the sight of the microphones or I could only utter one word answers?
  • What if I was long-winded or boring? Or both.
  • What if nobody could understand my north-eastern English accent? While I have been away from Newcastle-upon-Tyne far longer than I lived there, the accent still remains and I find I am constantly being asked to repeat what I've said. That would be rather embarrassing on a radio show!

Fortunately, Michele is a wonderful radio host and she quickly made me feel at ease. I soon forgot about the microphones and enjoyed the chance to talk about my writing process, books and characters for half an hour. Afterwards, everyone seemed pleased with how it went but I had to wait until I got a link to the broadcast before I could listen to the show.

The only time I've ever heard my voice is on our answering machine so  it was with some trepidation that I replayed the program.

Want to know how I did? You can listen in:  The link takes you to the program page, then click on the show dated 09/20/16.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

A Writing Update

Is there anything quite as nerve-wracking for a writer than awaiting the opinions of the first readers of your latest work-in-progress? What if they don't like it? What if they point out plot holes so large they're impossible to fill? All those months of work hang in the balance.

A chart of the swings of my emotions between thinking the work is good and that it is awful would probably resemble a printout from an electrocardiogram. The moment the reader tells me "I've finished the book" is as stressful as getting exam results. Does the story pass or fail? And if it's a pass, does the writing get a good grade?

Of course, there is always the option of a complete rewrite, but when you've worked to make the story as good as you can before you let anyone else read it, that's akin to being faced with having to do all the revision again in order to resit an exam, a rather daunting thought.

Some writers let people read their work as they produce it or even present it to critique groups, but I prefer to wait until I have finished the first draft before seeking anyone's opinion. I like to let the characters in my head have free rein without outside influence until I've got their story down.

Today, I am glad to say, the first readers' opinions have been positive and so the book will move on to the next stage, a full edit.

Still a way to go before publication, including deciding on a title and the cover design, but in celebration of getting to this point I'm running a promotion on Ulterior Motives. From now until 19th September the ebook is only $0.99/£0.99. (It is also available on Kindle Unlimited.)


Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Charming Small Towns - Nyack, NY

The visitors' website for Nyack, NY, a riverside town on the  west bank of the Hudson River twenty-seven miles north of mid-town Manhattan, declares "One visit will capture your heart." so I decided this was one small town I should check out.

Nyack takes its name from the Native Americans who originally occupied the area until it was settled by Europeans in 1675.

Its location on a hilly bank ensures that glimpses of the river can be seen from most of the side streets off Broadway which, together with Main Street, makes up the central hub of town.


My exploration started on the tree-lined Main Street, with its low-rise buildings containing quirky shops and a plethora of restaurants encompassing just about every type of cuisine. Most offer outdoor dining, adding to the vibrant atmosphere on a sunny day.

As a writer and avid reader, I find myself drawn to libraries and bookstores wherever I go and Nyack is home to two gems.

Nyack Library

The original library, built with a grant from Andrew Carnegie and opened in 1904, has been retained and now provides the main entrance and several quiet reading rooms leading to a much larger, modern facility.

Nyack Library Foyer

Nyack Library Reading Room
Nyack Library Reading Room

 When you walk in, there is a sense of stepping back in time. Certainly one of the most beautiful small town libraries I've come across.

Pickwick Books, Nyack

Nyack is also home to an independent bookstore, Pickwick Books, a reader's dream with every inch of wallspace stacked with books. It's the kind of place you could disappear into for hours. Sadly, I had to make do with a quick browse, but next time....

Nyack has a reputation for its art and culture, with opportunities to enjoy live music at local bars and restaurants or at the Carnegie Concerts held at the library. In the summer there are regular, well-attended free concerts in the park.

Edward Hopper's birthplace

The town was birthplace to artist Edward Hopper, His old home was saved from demolition after his death and is now a not-for-profit art center.

Edward Hopper House

Other famous residents include actress Helen Hayes - the local youth theater is named after her - and Carson McCullers, author of The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, whose home is now a historic landmark.

Memorial at Memorial Park

A short walk down from the town center brings you to Memorial Park. Upgraded over the last few years, the park now includes a memorial to the World Wars, a skate park, children's playground, courts for tennis, basketball and baseball, and a fishing/viewing pier.

Memorial Park Skate Park

Memorial Park Fishing Pier

 There are plenty of places to sit and enjoy the river views of the Tappan Zee Bridge, the Westchester County coastline or the mansions nestled in the nearby hills.


Nyack's stone barge

Or this strange derelict structure just off shore, the identity of which taxed even local residents until a local librarian decided to dig through the records. A concrete barge? I find it hard to get my head around the idea that anyone would have thought that was a bright idea!

Verdict: Nyack certainly captured my heart. It manages to combine small town living with a lively vibe. Given it's only a thirty minute drive from my home, I will definitely be visiting again.