Saturday, 9 August 2014

Caribbean Island Update – one month on Utila…

We have now been on Utila, a tiny Caribbean island off mainland Honduras, for just over a month and in that time we have really settled into the laid-back pace of island life. I have to keep pinching myself to find out if I’m only dreaming of being in this tropical paradise. The thought of spending another two months here is a blissful thought - and we feel very lucky indeed!

At Coral Beach on Utila
We came here so that my lovely husband Trav could scuba-dive on the most amazing reef in the world, and where this month and next, he hopes to dive with Whale Sharks. Whale Sharks are the world's largest fish and the tropical island of Utila is known as the Whale Shark Capital of the Caribbean. Trav came here as a PADI Advanced Open Water Diver and he is now working as a Dive Master Trainee. He was recommended to Eco-marine Dive Centre in Utila and feels very happy indeed to be diving with such a fabulously friendly, fun, and totally professional bunch of people. He says he is learning so much and loving every day here.

Eco-Marine Dive Center Utila. Photo Copyright: Steve Dankewich
The island of Utila is known as The Whale Shark Capital of the Caribbean. Photo Copyright: Dave Thatcher

While Trav is out diving, I’m writing a new novel, it’s a romantic adventure set in the Caribbean. I’ve never written a novel in just three months before, and I’m finding it challenging to keep to my strict writing schedule when I have so many wonderful distractions around me!

And this month there have been many distractions, as it has been both Utila Carnival and the SunJam Music Festival. I posted lots of photos on my Facebook Page of the carnival, which was great fun. Trav and I hung out with the dive crew from Eco-Marine that day and we had a fantastic time, which concluded with far too many drinks at the infamous dive bar Skid Row - for me that is - as Trav is far too sensible and would never drink too much rum!

We had so much fun at Utila Carnival 2014!

So when do I write and how do I also manage to fit in some down time?
I begin working each morning early and I edit the previous days work. Then I try to write at least 2000 good words. I do take one full day a week off with Trav, usually a Thursday. This is the day when we go to the beach, do some snorkelling, have a lovely lazy lunch with drinks, and chill out. We always have lots to talk about and it’s great to have a whole day off in which to appreciate exactly where we are and what we are doing.

A lazy day on our favourite beach - and sometimes we have the whole place to ourselves

I’ve also taken the odd impromptu day off writing, like when I was asked if I’d like to join the team and have a day out on the dive boat, seeing the whole island from the sea and snorkeling on the reef. It was a fabulous day and we also stopped off at The Cays – a small chain of tiny islands off Utila. We had lunch at Pigeon Cay the only Cay with a restaurant. It was a day not to be missed and it was actually super research for my book. I just had to work harder on my writing the next day!

An amazing day out on the dive boat around the island and to Utila Cays

I do also take a half day off on a Wednesday, as I’ve started taking yoga classes. This is something I’ve always wanted to do and although I find it challenging (I often get myself completely tied up in yoga knots) it really is doing me good to stretch my aching writerly muscles and strengthen my back.

Most writing days I stop at around three pm, as I’m usually feeling pretty wiped out by then. I go for a swim in the sea and then I have a glass of wine. If we are eating in at our Little Yellow House, I’ll prepare something simple, usually involving a salad: the tomatoes and avocados here really are the most flavoursome I’ve ever tasted. We eat out every other night (and eating out here is really affordable) and we usually choose fish. We haven’t eaten meat here at all. The fish is amazing and of course it’s so fresh. I particularly love tuna and king fish.

Mmmm.... seared tuna at Neptunes Restaurant
Consequentially, with all the swimming and exercise and such a great diet, we are getting much fitter and slimmer here on Utila and it’s not so hard to do!

But it'’s not all perfect here in paradise – as it is really hard to deal with the bugs and, being close to the beach, it’s the sandflies that bother us most. I honestly have hundreds of bites all over my body, constantly driving me mad with itchiness. I’ve tried every suggested spray, oil and remedy, in fighting them off, and although they have all helped to a certain degree, nothing is really effective. Local people say that after a few months your body becomes immune and it doesn’t react, so that the bites don’t bother you so much. I’m hoping that is true. Meanwhile I find the best relief from the itching is to float about in the sea every day, rinse off and then to use an antihistamine cream. Poor Trav is currently suffering with a heat rash too, but a cream from the pharmacy has hopefully got that under control.

Any other downsides to report…? I won’t dare complain about the incredible heat or the intense humidity, but I will have a wee whinge about the electricity supply, which has been off more than on and which makes for a very sweaty night’s sleep. We don’t have air-con, but the ceiling fans make a great draft when they are actually going. But hey, this is Honduras after all. I’m just glad I brought the solar powered torches and wind-up lanterns with me that I got off Amazon before we left.

I’ll post again here soon about life here on the island and how the book is progressing and I’ll also do another monthly round up at the end of August. You’ll also find me on Facebook and Twitter. Do come back soon and before you go please feel free to leave a comment - I so love to read them and promise to reply!

Love, Janice xx

Monday, 14 July 2014

Writing Update - and I’d really love your input ….

While I’m on the Caribbean island of Utila, I’m writing and researching a new romantic adventure novel set in the Caribbean.

I’ve been asked to provide a short synopsis of the novel by the end of this month to the lovely publicist who is organising it’s launch tour later this year.

I’m only on chapter three so far with this novel but I’ve already had to work in advance and decide on a title - ‘Castaway in the Caribbean’ - and have the cover designed.

I do love this cover...!

A ‘short synopsis’ is the story description ‘blurb’ you’d expect to read on the back cover of the book. It’s meant to entice you into wanting to read and buy the book and tell you what it’s all about without actually giving away any spoilers or telling you how the story ends.

All writers know how hard this is to do – especially for a book that’s not finished yet. So I’ve had a bash at writing one but before I email it off – if you are a reader or a writer I’d really appreciate your opinion and input.

Question: Do you think my ‘story blurb synopsis’ for Castaway in the Caribbean ticks all the right boxes or do you have anything to suggest from the outline below that I might do differently?

 Please feel free to leave a comment, message me on FB or Twitter or send an email


Love, Janice xx



UPDATE: Thank you for all the fabulous comments here and on Facebook and for your emails. This writing malarkey is so much easier with constructive feedback and team work! I'm thrilled to have your help and, taking account all of your suggestions, this is the final version that I have now sent off to Charlotte, my lovely publicist:

   Thanks so much!


Love, Janice xx

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Double booked and hanging out...

We have now been on Utila for four days and at last we have found somewhere to settle. You see, upon our arrival, we discovered that our pre-arranged rental apartment at Sandstone had been double-booked. We spend our first night on the island at ‘Rubi’s Rooms’ which was a clean but very basic room. The second and third nights we stayed at ‘Old Tom’s Apartments’ and, although we could have rented here for longer, it was right in the center of town and we found it too noisy at night.

Rubi's Rooms - clean and with a great view but very small and basic
 
We had this upper floor apartment for two nights but it is in town and it was too noisy at night for us

Then finally, with the help of real estate adviser Mike at Utila Apartment Finders, we found the perfect place with The Little Yellow House. It is just across the sandy track road from our original choice at Sandstone but we think it is much better. The Little Yellow House has two porches – front and back – and a great sea breeze blowing through the house all day, which is, believe me, absolutely essential, as the electricity here is so expensive (the second most expensive in the world apparently) that no one uses air-con. The heat and humidity here is pretty intense both day and night – and I have to admit to you that I’m drenched in sweat while typing this post!

The Little Yellow House and it's sea view from the front porch. Our home from home for the next three months!

While we were waiting for Mike to get back to us yesterday with news of somewhere to rent, we waited patiently by hanging out at the beach. Coral Beach is a short (complimentary) boat taxi away and the beach there is idyllic. There are sun loungers, hammocks between the palm trees, and a fabulous restaurant and a bar called ‘Neptune’s’. We tried ‘Long Island Iced Teas’ (recipe below – and it doesn’t contain tea!). From the menu, Trav ordered skewered shrimp and I had jambalaya. It was amazing. While we were at Coral Beach we met a really lovely couple from San Pedro Sula who have invited us to stay with them at their home for a couple of days before we fly home. Trav and I have accepted their generous hospitality.

Hanging out at the beach while we waited for Mike at Utila Apartment Finders to find us a place to stay!

The recipe for Long Island Iced Tea:
Rum, gin, vodka, tequila, triple sec, lime & coke

Today was Trav’s first day at work. His new office is the Caribbean Sea. He is working as a Dive Master Intern at Ecomarine Dive Center and this is him at 7.30 this morning as I waved him off from the Little Yellow House front porch. He looks pretty excited to be doing something he has dreamed of doing for a long long time!

Scuba diver Trav's new office is the Caribbean Sea...
My jobs for today are to unpack our stuff, to wait in for the internet engineer to connect us, and then to go into town to get us a few provisions for the fridge. The cost of living here is very inexpensive and all the prices at the bars and restaurants (of which there are many) are wonderfully affordable. The currency here, in case you were wondering, is the Honduras Limpera.

Next time I post, I hope to have settled into the laid back island lifestyle and into a routine of writing my new novel ‘Castaway in the Caribbean’….



So come back soon...!

The planes kept getting smaller!

We flew to the island of Utila, the smaller of the Bay Islands just off the coast of Honduras, from London via Miami and via San Pedro Sula in Honduras with American Airlines. We started off on a huge long range triple seven aircraft and then we connected to a slightly smaller one to San Pedro Sula. From there we flew along the coastline in a twelve-seater airplane to a place called La Ceiba - and on this flight I sat right at the front and found I had no choice but to put my feet in the cockpit between the two pilots!

Our twelve-seater airplane to La Ceiba Honduras
We landed in La Ceiba and had to wait for half an hour for our connecting flight for the final leg of our long journey. We saw a couple of planes land and take off again - going to the Cayman Islands and other exotic sounding places - then a tiny little Cessna airplane approached. We thought it looked rather old and battered. In fact, Trav quipped that he ‘pitied the poor buggers who had to get in that plane’.


As it turned out, we were those poor buggers. I’ve been in a small plane once before, a sea plane flying over the Maldives, but never anything like this - as it didn’t even have seat belts. However, you can see by our smiling faces as we were boarding that we were feeling rather excited by the adventure of it all. We landed at the airstrip on Utila safely, having experienced an exhilarating flight and having seen the outstanding beauty of the island by air. It was all simply breathtaking!


My next post is coming soon and I have a lot to tell you about what happened once we arrived on the island!

Trains, planes, taxis - and rapid machine gun fire!

Scotland to London Heathrow
Our long journey to Honduras began at our local village of Sanquhar train station where we caught a train to Glasgow. From Glasgow we flew with British Airways on the hottest day Scotland had seen so far this year. It was lovely to see Scotland from the air, bathed in sunshine, as we left for our three month long venture to the small Caribbean island of Utila.

Waiting for the train to Glasgow at our local train station
BA flights are always good in my opinion mainly because the flight attendants are attentive and the in-flight bar service is complimentary. Trav and I celebrated the start of our much anticipated trip with a Jack and Coke and a Gin and Tonic while on our way down to London Heathrow.

We stayed overnight at an airport hotel at Heathrow and the next morning took a bus to terminal three to catch our flight to Miami with American Airlines. I had read on travel review forums that some say AA stands for Awful Airlines, with old aircraft, surly inattentive flight attendants, expensive drinks and inedible food. Well, I have to tell you that Trav and I had open minds and a hopeful hearts as we boarded our AA flight - but I have to report that it was in fact as awful as we feared except on one count – the aircraft was fairly new!

At London Heathrow

Heathrow to Miami
Trav and I have been to Florida on a few occasions, flying into either Orlando or to Sanford, so transferring through Miami, the biggest and busiest airport in the world, seemed very exciting to us. As it turned out, it was a bit of an ordeal, with long queues at passport control and incredibly strict security procedures. It was the third of July, the day before American Independence Day, so we had expected it to be busy. What we hadn’t expected was having to collect and lug our luggage through the airport and re-check it through security again and then once again for our departure - even through our tickets clearly stated we were simply transferring to another flight. We were then subjected to a rigorous interview by a US Customs official (as was everyone else). We were asked the most probing of questions and by the time we reached the departure lounge where we could wait a couple of hours for our flight to Honduras, we needed a stiff drink. I told Trav to make it a double!

Double rum and coke at Miami International

Miami to San Pedro Sula, Honduras
To be honest with you, our arrival at San Pedro Sula Honduras was always the most concerning part of the trip to me, but I’m a level-headed person and so had prepared well. San Pedro Sula is reputedly ‘the most dangerous place in the world’ (outside a war zone) and is associated with drug wars, gang warfare and murder. The British Government advises visitors to exercise extreme caution. So, you may wonder why on earth we would travel to such a place or decide to spend the night there? Firstly, I don’t think I would have actually chosen to go there if we hadn’t needed to in order to reach our destination of Utila. You see, our AA flight landed after dark and flights don’t leave for Utila at night - as there are no lights on the airstrip on the island. Secondly, we could have traveled via Mexico or Belize or the larger Bay Island of Roatan, but this route turned out to be the most cost effective when we looked at a combination of flight schedules and journey plans. Thirdly, Trav and I do want to travel and meet people from different countries, cultures and backgrounds, and we believe that the danger has to be kept in perspective. After all, there are good people and bad people everywhere.


That said, the notoriety of San Pedro Sula could not be ignored or underestimated and so I did pre-book a hotel that I’d fully researched and I had emailed them in advance of our arrival asking for them to send a taxi to meet with us at the airport. This worked perfectly and a lovely smiling and enthusiastic driver was there holding up a sign with our name on it when we emerged from baggage collection. I had also made sure Trav and I had our cash and plastic safely tucked away in our ‘traveler's companion underwear’ – knickers and boxer briefs with cleverly hidden pockets in them!

Our AA flight to San Pedro Sula Honduras

As it was completely dark, we didn’t really see much of San Pedro Sula as we sped in our taxi towards our hotel for the night. Although, from our blacked out windows, it looked to me just like any other inner city. Our hotel was comfortable and secure and we were grateful for a refreshing shower after all our travelling. As we’d eaten on the plane, we just went straight off to sleep and planned to have a good breakfast in the morning, before starting what would be the final leg of the journey.

I woke after a good night's sleep and before I could properly come to full consciousness, I thought I heard the sound of woodpeckers being competitive in the trees outside our window. I mentioned this to Trav and he pointed out that there were no trees outside and probably no woodpeckers as after all we were in San Pedro Sula. It was, we heard, the sound of rapid machine gun fire coming from down the street. Gulp! After a good breakfast of orange juice, coffee, cereal and toast, we headed back to the airport in a taxi while rubber-necking every street corner that we passed!

In my next post, we fly from the mainland of Honduras to the Bay Island of Utila and I’ll have some fab photos to show you as the excitement really hots up…!

Monday, 30 June 2014

All packed and ready to go…!

Last week, when I started to think about what to pack for our three month long trip to Utila, I was thinking minimal and feeling smug. Today, I will admit it was a bit of a struggle to come in under the 23Kg luggage allowance for American Airlines. And, despite my best intentions, by the time I had stuffed in all the last minute ‘essentials’ my suitcase was overweight and I had to start unpacking and making decisions about what I really needed to take and what I should leave behind.


 


All the scuba diving gear is essential of course and I decided that I could not part with any of my toiletries, as it was going to be impossible to get three months supply of shampoo, creams, sun lotions, potions etc, except perhaps at really steep prices - so they all had to stay. Ditto the bug sprays, the torches, the tea bags. I soon realised had to start economising on clothes. Booooo-hoooo…!


Oh well, now that we are teetering just under our luggage allowance, our lovely neighbour is taking us to the village station. From there we will travel to Glasgow by train and then onto the airport by bus. From Glasgow we will fly to London – where we are staying overnight before flying to Miami. From Miami we will connect to a flight to mainland Honduras. We are staying overnight in the notorious town of San Pedro Sula and then catching a small plane over to the island of Utila the next day.

Where is Utila you may ask…? Well, Utila is the smaller of what is known as The Bay Islands off the coast of Honduras. It is located on the mesoamerica coral reef – reputedly the second best coral reef in the world after the Great Barrier Reef off Australia. It is a truly unique island destination and a scuba divers paradise. It is also a hub for whale shark viewing, which as a diver, is what most appeals to Trav. It appeals to me because it is said to be ‘the Caribbean as it used to be’. It has a quaint central town that is said to be ‘the Key West of twenty years ago’ and I like the sound of all that laid back unspoilt charm. You can find out more about Utila at: http://utilaguide.com/



Trav and I have rented a beach apartment and from there he will go out diving each day while I write. The first of my works-in-progress ‘Castaway in the Caribbean’ is planned for release in November this year and is a romantic adventure novel. Where better to be inspired than on a tiny and remote Caribbean island..?


So that’s all for now my lovely peeps.
My next update will be from the Caribbean island of Utila!

Friday, 20 June 2014

Hit Lit Pro...

Hit Lit Pro is an exciting and innovative new venture with just ten carefully selected authors on its exclusive list.  I’m thrilled and excited to tell you that I am one of the authors being represented by Hit Lit Pro and this venture coincides with the month that I celebrate my tenth year as a published novelist!

 

   https://www.facebook.com/HitLitPro

Hit Lit Pro has contracted the prestigious book promotion company Candlelit Author Services to champion its authors with an exciting year long promotional campaign.


 Hit Lit Pro will be posting HERE about:

* How to become a no. 1 fan and we'll put YOU in the spotlight
*Competitions to win free ecopies of some great books
* How to join in and send us your reviews to air on our new FB page
* 'Ask the author' will allow you to discover more about the stories you will read and love and MUCH more to come!

If you can't wait and want to get involved in supporting our fabulous authors, then email Suzanne Carlisle at hitlitpro@gmail.com.

We'll be sending out Tweets and posts to keep you up to date and make sure you don't miss a thing!


Hit Lit Pro has a new Facebook Page and a Twitter Profile

Hit Lit Pro has been teasing everyone with its posts on social media and attracting an enthusiastic following:


“We have ten author places - whose faces do you think might be smiling back at you on launch day? Beginning on 20 June 2014 we will be revealing two faces from our line-up of authors each day. Tick tock, tick tock ...”



“Welcome to all our fabulous new followers - it's great to 'meet' you! We will be having a five day launch, so look out for some exciting posts on 20, 23, 24, 25 and 26 June 2014! We will be revealing two authors each day as we kick off our exciting, year-long project. There will be competitions and chances for readers to get involved ... and there will be prizes! Can coolers with our fab logo, mugs and ... lots of books!”



 You can pop over to host Book Blogger Lost in Chick Lit to read my own special Hit Lit Pro launch day interview HERE

You can enter fabulous Rafflecopter prize draws at the CandleLit Launch Tour Page

including

Get Yourself Sketched As Your Favourite Book Character By Harry Potter Illustrator! 
and
Win A Complete Set Of Author Services from CandleLit Author Services

 
  
You are invited to join the launch party at Hit Lit Pro where the other nine selected authors will be revealed on 20, 23, 24, 25 and 26 June 2014! HERE

See you over there!
Janice xx