A Bookish Adventure

I started this blog to document an extended trip to the US and UK in 2012, introducing children to my Alice-Miranda series. It's hard to believe that it's just on four years since we launched the first Alice-Miranda title - and now there are nine books out in Australia with another five still to come. When I first came up with the idea of this precocious seven and a quarter year old, I had no clue that she would take me on such an amazing journey, not only in Australia but also across the world. I visited 37 schools while we were away in 2012 and gave over 80 talks - it was fantastic. In 2013 I've been on lots of new adventures in the UK - visiting schools from London to Southampton, Lancashire, Scotland, Newcastle and back to London again. After that I headed off to meet readers in Singapore. In Australia I've been to Melbourne, Perth, Albany, Alice Springs and Brisbane. There's a new series too - about a gorgeous little girl called Clementine Rose. She and Alice-Miranda don't know each other yet, but they will soon.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Happy Christmas and a fabulous 2013 to you all!

The past six weeks have been a little surreal.  I finished up my full time job at the end of October, although with another week of handover it was really the end of the first week of November and even then I have been back to school many times since; hosting an event, attending a special farewell, teaching in the Junior School, looking after the VIPs at Speech Day and hosting the Alice-Miranda Boarding Experience for ten very excited little girls.  It has been hard to say goodbye as Abbotsleigh was part of my life for such a long time.

It was probably a good thing that I launched straight into a Random House tour, visiting loads of schools and bookstores until a couple of weeks ago.  And in true crazy me style, I've also been working on two books - putting the finishing touches to Alice-Miranda In Paris (which is out in Australia 1 March 2013) and writing (and re-writing) the third Clementine Rose book, Clementine Rose and the Perfect Present (out 1 May 2013).  I love being busy and won't be slowing down anytime soon, with another Alice-Miranda and the fourth Clementine Rose due before the end of February.  I am loving every minute of this new life.  I'm starting to find a routine - getting up very early and replying to emails and publicity things then writing, usually to a self imposed word limit which some days has been a little scary.  Somewhere exercise needs to be factored in, and cleaning the house - but I'll get to that soon :).  Seriously Ian and I currently in danger of being swallowed by the mess - which I can't stand but have learned to ignore in the wake of other more important activities.  It's a good thing I've come to realise that I really don't want 'Was amazing at housework' on my gravestone.  Believe me, in my younger years that would have been a no brainer.

The support I've had from my family, friends - who write and those who don't, booksellers, readers, parents, grandparents, teachers, librarians and the amazing team at Random House in Australia, the US and UK has made the transition much easier than I had perhaps anticipated.  And even with all the work, there has already been more time for family and friends - YAY!!

So really what I wanted to say is thankyou - to everyone who has made this year incredible.  To my wonderful husband Ian who walks every step of this journey with me and to my family, friends, readers, booksellers, teachers, librarians, parents and grandparents and the incredible team at Random House.  None of this has come easily - there has been, and will continue to be, a great deal of hard work, but I am so grateful for all of it.  It is indeed a dream come true and I certainly don't intend to waste a minute - or die wondering for that matter.

So, whatever your beliefs, I hope you have a fabulous Christmas and may 2013 be an amazing year of dreams coming true.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

YABBA Dabba Doo and a cuddly KOALA

2012 Award Winners

The past week and a half has been a little on the surreal side.  Although my time at Abbotsleigh officially came to an end on Wednesday 31 October up until last Friday there were hand over and finishing up days (except on Thursday when Dot and I hit the road to Newcastle for two library and one bookstore events).  My farewells were extraordinary; particularly the High Tea for the whole Junior School and a large group of senior girls who came over as well.  There were lots of little girls dressed as Alice-Miranda and Clementine Rose and I felt quite overwhelmed by the speeches, cards and emails that I had from the girls.

This week is my first real experience of being a full time writer and speaker.  Yesterday we visited Parramatta East and Parramatta West Public Schools, where the kids were fantastic.  We had such a warm welcome - and I was really impressed with the staff too.  Today I spent time at the KOALA awards (Kids' Own Australian Literature Awards).  I've never been before and it was great to catch up with friends and meet lots of keen readers.  Alice-Miranda At School received an Honour Book award (runner up) in the Younger Readers Category, along with Andy Griffiths' Just Macbeth.  The winner was Tashi and the Golem by Anna Fienberg and Kim Gamble.  Last week, to my great surprise and delight Alice-Miranda At School won the YABBA (Young Australian's Best Book Awards) in the same category in Victoria. 

It's incredibly rewarding and humbling to know that children are reading Alice-Miranda's adventures.  Chris Morphew took out the YABBA and KOALA for his book The Phoenix Files: Arrival and summed up what perhaps a lot of us were thinking - 'but there are real writers here'.  It's hard not to feel like a fraud in this business.  I think because we spend so much time admiring others' work, it doesn't quite seem real to be talked about in the same sentence as many of your idols.

So the rest of the week holds more school visits and a lot of editing and re-writing for Alice-Miranda In Paris.  It still feels a little (ok, a lot) strange not to be going to work every day in the more conventional sense.  And I haven't yet really tasted the freedom that I hope this new path offers.  But I'm sure that it will come.  One thing's for sure, I don't plan to waste a minute.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

London and Singapore here we come!

It's hard to believe that in just a couple of weeks I will officially be a full time author (no longer trying to juggle two full time jobs and spending every weekend and leave period on my writing).  To say that I'm excited would be an understatement, tempered with some trepidation and a healthy dose of fear.  But now is the time.  I'm not getting any younger and I don't want to die wondering if I can make this a proper success.  And if I don't get out and do some excercise, I won't fit into any of my clothes!  So I'll be dusting off the golf clubs and getting back on course as soon as possible. 

From now until the end of the year I'll be doing lots of writing  - to catch up, as well as some touring in and around Sydney, Newcastle and the Central Coast.  I'll post details on the website as soon as the events are confirmed.

Part of the fun is planning new adventures.  January will see the launch of the second Clementine Rose book, Clementine Rose and the Pet Day Disaster, so I'll be out and about during the school holidays, visiting bookshops and libraries, in and around Sydney.

In February we'll be heading back to London to launch the third and fourth Alice-Miranda books, and in the process hoping to catch up with some of the fantastic people we met there this year.  We're also planning a visit to Singapore on the way home - I've never been there before but I know Alice-Miranda has a few readers in that part of the world so I'm hoping to visit some schools and work with bookshops too.

March will see lots of travel in Australia to lauch Alice-Miranda In Paris.  And after that who knows?  The US in October is the aim.  One thing's for sure.  I don't plan to waste a minute.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Talking about Alice-Miranda

Over the past year or so I've made several videos with the Random House team, which have generally been used to share the Alice-Miranda love through the marketing department with the various book buyers.  I hadn't see any of them but recently they were loaded to You Tube.  If you're interested to know more about the series, how I came to write the books or what they're about, take a look.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Meet Clementine Rose - my first ever book trailer!

This week the lovely team from Random House Australia sent me the book trailer for Clementine Rose.  I LOVE it - the music, which I know Sarana and the team spent ages selecting, is simply perfect and the trailer is adorable.  I love that Lavender does loops jumping on Clemmie's bed too and if you don't see if the first time, have a look at the portrait on the top of the stairs and what happens to Aunt Violet's glasses.

Clementine Rose and the Surprise Visitor has debuted this week in the Random House Australia top ten YA and Children's books at number six - a huge thrill and particularly when Alice-Miranda Shows the Way is in there at number four.  To have both my girls in the one list is amazing.

I also had a beautiful email from a woman who has just named her baby girl, Clementine Rose (before the series was launched, so just a lovely coincidence).  To top things off there was a great review for the first Clementine Rose book in Magpies magazine (which I'm always a little afraid of  as they can be tough!).

Anyway, this post has to be short and sweet as I've been a bit under the weather recently and am way behind on a deadline for Alice-Miranda In Paris.  Hope you enjoy the trailer!

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Two releases in one day and two months to go!

Today marks the release of two books for me.  In Australia, Clementine Rose and the Surprise Visitor is officially in stores.  I'm really excited about Clemmie's launch into the world and I hope that little girls love her as much as I adore writing her stories.  She's quirky and funny and has a tea cup pig - what's not to like a about a pet pig called Lavender!  I'm thrilled too that Clementine is on the Get Reading Program - which is a promotion that happens throughout September, encouraging Australians to do just that, and get reading.  It's wonderful to have that level of promotion, particularly for a new series.
In the UK, Alice-Miranda On Holiday is officially out today too (although today, means Friday 31 August).  I'm excited that the series is getting a foothold in the market there and Random House UK will release two more books simultaneously in February.  It's hard to know how things will go when you are across the other side of the world, but I will certainly tour the UK again sometime next year as I think being there and being able to talk to your potential audiences is so important.

I've got two months until I finish up at Abbotsleigh as Director of Development.  Yesterday we ran a new event for our parents and friends; a corporate sports lunch in the city at The Establishment.  I was really anxious about this one, but it was fantastic.  We were so fortunate to have Rebecca Wilson as the MC (she is wonderful - and was a brilliant MC) and Ellyse Perry, Rod Kafer, Jason Ball and Laurie Daley on the panel.  They were all engaging and professional and the feedback has been amazing.  Not to mention a whole table of Olympians including Dan Noonan from the men's rowing four who brought along his bronze medal too!  I know I'll miss the community of the school - there are so many things I love about being there, but Alice-Miranda and Clemmie need me and so, I am really looking forward to being able to give them my full attention.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Get Reading 2012

Yesterday the Get Reading Program was launched for 2012.  I am thrilled that the first book in my new series, Clementine Rose and the Surprise Visitor is featured on the list of '50 Books You Can't Put Down'.  It's a real honour to have been selected and I hope this will see Clemmie get into the hands of lots of readers - the book is officially in Australian stores as of next Saturday 1 September.  There are 49 other fabulous books on the list - and I'm pinching myself to be among such amazing company.  I've included some information about the program from the Get Reading website as well as the text from Clemmie's page.  You can click through to read the entire catalogue as well.

Get Reading!, formerly known as Books Alive, is Australia’s largest annual celebration of books and reading, which encourages all Australians to pick up a book, put up their feet and get reading!
50 Books You Can’t Put Down Get Reading! is primarily a month-long, nationwide campaign focused on inspiring more Australians to discover or rediscover the pleasure of reading. Central to this campaign is the FREE 50 Books You Can’t Put Down Guide which includes 50 of the year’s top reads. During the month of September hundreds of thousands of the FREE guide are distributed nationally via bookstores, libraries, events, and festivals located around the country.
Clementine Rose and the Surprise Visitor

Jacqueline Harvey
Clementine Rose lives in Penberthy Floss in a large,
ramshackle house with her mother, Lady Clarissa, butler
Digby Pertwhistle and a very sweet little teacup pig called
Lavender. When her scary Aunt Violet arrives unexpectedly,
the household is thrown into disarray. What is it that Aunt
Violet really wants and what is she carrying in her mysterious
black bag? If you loved Enid Blyton when you were growing
up, your little girl will love Clementine Rose.
Recommended for children age 5+

Saturday, August 18, 2012


After much soul searching and endless discussions with Ian, a few weeks ago I decided that I would resign from my full time job as Director of Development at Abbotsleigh School for Girls in Sydney.  I know that there are many things I will miss - mostly the people and the stimulation of doing such a broad range of tasks, but the time is now to try my hand at writing and speaking full time.  I'm excited about the future and a little nervous too - it's impossible to know how things will go.  I do know though, that while I was on tour, I realised that I missed working with children in the classroom.  I think I was born to be a teacher and a writer and I need to work in a way that caters for both.  I am not leaving until the end of October so the school can find the right person to replace me, but come 1 November I'm looking forward to being able to say 'yes' to opportunities that come my way.  I'll also be looking for speaking and teaching opportunities so if you'd like to talk to me about that, please email!

This past week we had our Literary Festival at Abbotsleigh with so many talented Australian authors and illustrators.  Sally Murphy, Hazel Edwards, Kate Forsyth, Gabrielle Wang, Morris Gleitzman, John Marsden, Colin Thompson, Anthony Eaton, Aleesah Darlison, Tobhy Riddle, Ursula Dubosarsky, Sarah Davis, Aaron Blabey, Geoffrey McSkimming, John Larkin, Chris Morphew and Barry Heard to name a few - sorry if I've left anyone off! 

Well Done, Those MenIt's fantastic to have so many like minded people in the one place and my only regret was that I didn't have a lot of time to sit and chat, being part of the organising committee and conducting sessions, while also keeping up my other job.  I did have the pleasure of collecting Barry Heard and Anthony Eaton from the airport on Wednesday evening.  Anthony was flying in an hour after Barry, so Barry and I sat and had a cuppa while we waited for the flight.  Barry Heard is without doubt an extraordinary man.  I must confess that I didn't know much about him until then - a Vietnam veteran who had written a couple of books was about all I had learned.  That was underselling him something shocking.  He's a survivor, a dad, a husband, a mate and an incredible story teller who has a quiet passion for history.  I wanted Anthony's flight to be late so I could keep talking to Barry (sorry Anthony) - and I was upset that I couldn't see him speak on Thursday as I had my own sessions to do.  I will be buying every one of his books and reading them in a quiet place, with plenty of tissues on hand.  He made such an impact on our girls at school that several of them told me afterwards that he was 'amazing'; 'I just wanted to give him a hug'; 'he was incredible' and so on.  I can believe that's exactly how they felt.  I am so pleased that I had the opportunity to meet him - and I do hope that our paths will again cross in the future.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Paris - a post script

A couple of days ago I was at work and received an email from a colleague who I have done some videoconferencing with.  We have never met in person.  Lynette wrote the following:

'I wanted to tell you I was recently holidaying in Paris, and I visited the famous Shakespeare & Co Bookshop in the Latin Corner. I was perusing the children’s book area, and low-and-behold, there you were…two books signed by yourself.

I was excited for you to have TWO books in this globally well-known library/bookstore, and wanted to send my congratulations!'

Never for a moment when Ian and I left those 7 signed books in the store, did I imagine that someone from Australia - who knew me - would see them.  And if there were only 2 I hope that means Shakespeare & Co have sold the other 5.

So while my experience of leaving the books there was not quite the lovely moment I had imagined it to be, this email from Lynette made me realise that it was indeed a great thing to do - and once again the world really is a small place!

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Hong Kong - the final leg of an incredible journey

Walking out of Hong Kong airport was something akin to wading into a bowl of warm soup.  Sticky, warm soup.  At 32 degrees and 95% humidity, it was certainly a shock to the system after the cool temperatures we’d experienced in the UK and Paris.

I’d never been to Hong Kong before.  Ian had, many times but in the 80s and 90s when he was frequently there for work.  We found the right taxi to get us to Kowloon – there’s a red taxi and a green taxi and I think the other was yellow and they all go to different areas.  I was amazed by the expressways and the incredible bridges.  And the container ships – there were masses of them.
On the way into the city, the heavens opened and we experienced a proper tropical rainstorm.  The streets were awash and it was almost impossible to see out of the windscreen.
We stayed at the Hyatt Tsim Sha Tsiu, apparently almost brand new and in a very central location in Kowloon.  We had a fantastic room on the 20th floor with views of the harbor and over to Hong Kong.  Ian certainly saved the best bathroom for last – it was incredible.  With a wet room, shower/bath and enormous vanity, I was in love. 
We were keen to see if it was still possible to get some custom tailoring in five days.  We made some enquiries with the concierge and were given a few options.  Of course we could also have gone with one of the many touts on the street, ‘you wanna cheap suit sir, tailor made, copy bags, copy watch’.  'NO!' These guys were incessant.  I just smiled and said nothing and found that was the best approach by far. 

We decided to visit a lady called Linda Chow.  Okay, so she’s definitely not the cheapest tailor going around – and she will tell you that straight up, but I’m quite sure she could be the funniest.  She was happy to give us a price and there was absolutely no pressure whatsoever to go through with having the garment made.  But I did.  I’ve had a Cue jacket for about ten years that I love.  But the lining is worn out and it’s a little past its prime so I had Linda make me a replica jacket in slightly different fabric.  Ian decided to get a suit too.  Linda had a wall of celebrity clients including Arnold Schwarzenegger, Hilary Clinton, Jamie Lee Curtis and our very own Deborah Hutton.
I found walking around outside somewhat of a challenge, not being at all acclimatized.  The many shopping centres along the harbour held a certain appeal (mainly for their airconditioning), although once inside I was fairly keen to get back to the hotel – they are so expensive.  I was amazed by the number of high end boutiques – seriously who can afford to buy Chanel and Prada and Valentino when they pop out to what is the equivalent of the local Westfields?  Apparently not many of the locals, as the shopping bags were few and far between. 
I had to laugh (and take photos) in one section of the mall where there was a row of high end children’s stores including Dior Baby, Fendi Kids, Chanel Kids, Polo Kids etc etc.  They went on and on.  So that’s where Suri Cruise buys all her clothes.  Even in New York and London we never saw such a proliferation of obscenely expensive kidswear stores in the one place.
We had a fun morning in the Ladies Markets and I learned that my husband is a superstar haggler.  I, on the other hand just kept my mouth closed.  We walked away with some great bargains.    

Our main reason for stopping in Hong Kong was to meet David Parrish from Random House UK, who we spent a day with, touring various bookstores and learning about the local book business.  We met Christa who runs the Blooming Club for Commercial Press.  She made us feel so welcome and took us for a fabulous lunch too.  The Commercial Press Shop in the Miramar Shopping Centre on Nathan Road is absolutely beautiful, as is their specialist children’s shop at the Olympian Centre.
We also met the irrepressible Shonee, who with her sister owns a fabulous chain of stores called Bookazine.  They are very clever young women with loads of added extras instore to attract children back time and again.  I certainly look forward to returning to Hong Kong next year for some events in schools and working with both ladies.
David took us to see some of the Page One stores as well, which are huge and very well stocked.  Dymocks is a big chain in Hong Kong too.
We travelled with David on the MTR which is clean and efficient.  You cannot eat or drink on the train or in the station and what a difference that makes to the level of cleanliness.  We had a short walk around the Hong Kong side of the city and then caught the Star Ferry back across to Kowloon.

That night we went to dinner at a fabulous restaurant on the 31st floor of a relatively new building called iSquare.  It was our last night of the tour so there was much to celebrate.
On Wednesday morning we had a final fitting with Linda Chow.  We were both pleased with our purchases and they arrived pressed and packaged at the hotel half an hour before our departure for the airport.  I love the fact that in Hong Kong, as soon as we checked in they asked what time our flight was and then extended our check out until 3pm so we could go straight to the airport from the hotel.
I am really looking forward to returning to Hong Kong (probably at a cooler time of year).  It was the perfect end to our incredible journey, as I spent quite a lot of time in the air-conditioned comfort of the hotel, working on Alice-Miranda’s Parisian adventure but there was just enough sightseeing to give me a taste of the city and most importantly, we met David and got some insights into the book industry as well as making some great contacts for the future.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Paris in Summer

Paris in the summer is a beautiful place.  I love the architecture, the food, the fashion.  Parisians are chic.  They know the meaning of understated elegance and even the young girls, the teenagers and women in their early 20s seem to be blessed with an innate knowledge that ‘less is more’.  By that though, I don’t mean less clothing as many of our Australian girls seem to interpret the notion, but ‘less flesh on display’.  I was surprised by the number of young girls and women wearing hosiery and generally covering up – not in a prudish way, far from it.  Perhaps we should have compulsory studies of Parisian style! 

We left London on Sunday morning having spent two days at the Hyatt Andaz in Liverpool Street.  It’s a fabulous hotel which I would highly recommend.  It wasn’t cheap but compared to many overpriced London hotels it was reasonable and beautiful with excellent service.  It was also really close to the uber trendy East End and the Spitalfields markets, where I spent a morning wandering while Ian caught up on his Rugby fix at the local pub. 
We travelled on the Eurostar to Gare Du Nord.  It was easy.  The trains are efficient, on time and very comfortable.  St Pancras station in London is also easy to navigate in terms of checking in, getting through security and immigration and at the other end, I recommend that you avoid the touts looking for ‘private cab’ business and head straight to the taxi line or a connecting train.

I had been to Paris once before in the depths of winter about 6 years ago.  So I was looking forward to seeing the city at a different time of year.  We had originally planned to spend five days in the city and then a couple of weeks touring the countryside.  But deadlines were looming (actually past) and I had to write so we decided quite a few weeks beforehand that it would be better to stay in one place in the UK and then head to Paris for five days of research.  The French countryside would have to wait until the next visit.
We caught a taxi to our hotel in St Germain, a far more central location in the Fifth Arrondissment than our previous stay in the Fifteenth.  But it wasn’t a completely unfamiliar area as we had done quite a lot of walking there on the last visit.  The hotel had recently been refurbished and I was pleasantly surprised by the size of the room and the bathroom.  At least we weren’t going to trip over our bags for the next few days!

I’d been working pretty much nonstop on Alice-Miranda In Paris (her 7th adventure) while we were staying in Oswestry over near the Welsh borders and had managed to click over 30,000 words but our time in Paris was all about the details and making sure that the things I was writing were indeed accurate.  This would necessitate visits to several tourist locations including Notre Dame, Place Vendome, Sacre Coeur and not least, the Palace of Versailles, which we hadn’t visited previously.  Of course I was keen to soak up the general atmosphere too and the food!
The weather was cool and sunny, but still quite a lot warmer than the UK.  I was beginning to worry that I had a suitcase full of winterish clothes and our next destination was Hong Kong, so a little bit of shopping needed to be done too.  We visited the Galleries Lafayette but to tell the truth I found it all completely overwhelming.  The store is beautiful, quite possibly the most beautiful department store in the world (by their own reckoning and mine) but there was just too much choice and in the end I found myself desperate to get out.  Perhaps if there had been no language barrier, I might have found it easier but I wasn’t up for this big a challenge (and I didn’t feel like torturing Ian for hours either!).  So instead we found a taxi and headed to Sacre Coeur on top of Montmarte.  The view from the top is fantastic and shows just what a low rise city Paris is, except for a few small pockets of high rise in areas like La Defense.

Prior to the ill-fated shopping expedition we had breakfasted in a café quite close to The Louvre, then walked to Place Vendome, home of The Ritz Hotel among many other high end luxury boutiques.  We wanted to look in the foyer at The Ritz so, like any other hotel I’ve ever been to, we simply walked in.  I was wishing that I’d traded my jeans that morning for something a little less tell-tale tourist as we were ‘greeted’ by a rather disarming chap who clearly knew that we weren’t about to check in.  When he asked if he could help us, I said that I wanted to look at the restaurant menu.  But having already checked that out online, I knew it would be a quick scan as we couldn’t afford to eat there either, not if we wanted to eat and have a bed for the remaining week and a half of the trip.  But I really needed to see this place as Alice-Miranda and her school group are going there in the story – just for a quick visit, certainly not to stay.  Anyway, the brusque fellow at the door was quite helpful in terms of character development, as was the lovely doorman.
Last time we were in Paris I remember there were a couple of pet shops along the Seine quite close to The Louvre.  Clearly trade has been booming as there are now more than ten of them.  The shop assistants all wear lab coats and the places are very clean and professional.  The dogs and cats cost a small fortune too.  Which brings me to one little (and sometimes not so little) thing that I wish would change in Paris.  I simply do not understand why Parisians don’t pick up after their animals.  There is dog poop everywhere.  The first time we were there I don’t remember it being anywhere near as bad as this time.  I was shocked to see people allowing their dogs to go anywhere and everywhere, and not a plastic poop bag in sight.  We did see some poetic justice though one afternoon when we had stopped for coffee.  We were enjoying the sunshine sitting outside (which brings me to my second little thing – have the French heard about lung cancer?  It’s caused from smoking – which every second person seems to do).  Anyway, I digress.  While sitting at the café we watched a fellow walking his dog.  It was a cute little thing but decided to take a poop right outside the café on the footpath.  The man walked on ahead (leads seem to be optional too).  The dog poo was avoided by numerous passers by, until the man returned and stepped right in the middle of it.  Ian and I couldn’t help but smile. 
We visited the Jardins Du Luxembourg, which are beautiful gardens in the heart of the city and a gorgeous palace too.  It was a sunny afternoon and there were people everywhere, enjoying the outdoors.  It sort of felt like the Parisian version of Central Park – although the gardens themselves are far more formal in their design and of course not nearly as big.  There is a large pond in the centre where children were sailing model boats.
We visited the Palace of Versailles on Tuesday.  They say it’s not the best day to go as many tourists head there at the start of the week (the palace is closed on Mondays) but it looked like the best day in terms of the weather and we were willing to take our chances.  We negotiated the Metro, which wasn’t difficult at all, getting on the train at Notre Dame.  The trains are relatively clean and efficient and it took about 45 minutes to get there.
I was stunned by how many people were heading to the Palace but we were lured into the local tourism office where we could purchase our entrance tickets for two euros more, hence avoiding the ridiculously long lines at the ticket office within the palace grounds.  Our ticket lady also told us to head to the gardens and the rest of the estate first and go back to the Palace later in the afternoon.  This proved to be an excellent tip as we headed straight into the gardens – and the queue for the palace snaked around for miles.
I can now understand why the peasants in France hated the aristocracy.  We’d seen some beautiful castles and stately homes in the UK but nothing quite prepared me for the opulence of Versailles.  To think there were millions starving to death and the king and queen and their entourage lived in such luxury is almost unimaginable.  But I’m glad they didn’t burn it down as it truly has to be seen to be believed.
The gardens are superb and by far my most favourite part of the estate was the Petit Palace – essentially the holiday house at the bottom of the garden and Marie Antoinette’s estate.  The palace itself was so over the top I just couldn’t imagine people living there.The estate is dotted with cafes and restaurants and completely overrun with school groups.  Every child in France must have to visit, like our Year 6 children in Australia go to Canberra on the compulsory excursion because everywhere you turned there were groups of students, some as young as preschool.  I was imagining the possibilities of losing children in the labyrinth of gardens.  I think though they were more likely safer outside though than in the palace where even late in the afternoon when we didn’t have to wait in line, the crowds inside were crushing. 

A visit to Versailles is a must for any trip to Paris and I would happily go back again to explore more of the Marie Antoinette estate.

My second attempt at shopping happened on the Boulevard St Germain where Ian and I walked for hours one morning.  And while I couldn’t afford to do any more than window shop for much of the avenue, I did find one boutique that was reasonable priced and had the most wonderful sales assistant.  She ran around finding me numerous dresses to try on and was very honest in her assessment.  Her English was about as good as my French but we had fun and I walked away with two lovely dresses.  That day ended up at the Eiffel Tower and then a boat cruise up and back on the Seine.  Paris from the river is lovely too.
Quite close to where we were staying is the Shakespeare and Co bookshop.  It’s an icon of Paris that was run for 60 years by a man called George Whitman, an American who found himself in Paris after the war.  It’s an amazing place with loads of books from all over the world.  There are also odd little ‘rooms’ where travellers who land there can sleep.  The quote on their website says, ‘Be not inhospitable to strangers, lest they be angels in disguise’.  We were both so taken with the shop that we decided that I should leave all of the Alice-Miranda books that had travelled with us across the US and the UK with them so hopefully she would find her way into the hearts of some children in Paris.  So the next morning (our last in the city) I wrote a personalized message in each book (7 in total) about the journey the books had taken and why they were now in Paris and we walked down to the shop to hand them over.  Unfortunately, our experience didn’t quite play out the way I had hoped it would.  There were two young girls manning the front room.  One was busy serving customers and the other was a little more hidden off to the side.  We were looking to see if she might be the right person to talk to when a young man, an American, with a backpack came into the shop, ostensibly to say goodbye.  The girl in question leapt from her chair and the two had a very jolly farewell in which he told her that he would be back in Paris again soon.  I didn’t get the feeling that theirs was a romantic connection but rather that he was an aspiring writer and had perhaps even stayed at the shop.
So we left them to their effusive farewells and then waited for her to return to her desk.  Then I walked over and told her that I had just been on a book tour in the US and UK for almost three months and I wanted to leave my books with them.  Mind you, all in pretty good condition; a full set of Australian series and the first two US books in hardback.  To say that her response was underwhelming would be putting it mildly.  I was under no illusion that she would have any idea what the books were or who I was, but a simple thank you would have been nice.  She took the books and set them on the counter and looked at me.  Now I would at this point have been thinking that perhaps she was French and didn’t speak English, except that when she was saying good bye to the young man, she was clearly American too and spoke perfect English.  Ian and I both sort of stood there for a second and I said a little more about having been away and spoken to over 6500 children.  She just looked at me, and then continued with her work.  Honestly I felt like taking the books back and walking out onto the street to hand them to children myself.  But I didn’t.  Because I wouldn’t have been that rude!  So, while I still love the shop, that particular shop assistant, perhaps not so much. 

I hope that Alice-Miranda will find herself in the hands of a child or children who pass through Paris looking for an adventure!  I’ve still got more of her Parisian adventure to write, but having been there makes such a difference.  It’s the little things, the quirks, the smells and the tastes that I hope make the writing all the more authentic.

We left Paris that afternoon enroute for Zurich and then Hong Kong.  Our flight was delayed an hour or so due to a huge thunderstorm, but no matter.  We got there safe and sound and our transfer through Zurich was smooth – the Swiss are nothing if not highly efficient.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Guest Blog for Random Acts of Reading In the USA

I was thrilled that during our time in the US I was asked to write a summary of our US experience for the Random Acts of Reading Blog, which is run by 9 of the sales reps for Random House in the US.  The post appeared a couple of days ago and I've linked it here.  http://randomactsofreading.wordpress.com/2012/06/25/an-author-joins-us-meet-jacqueline-harvey-and-alice-miranda/

Friday, June 22, 2012

The best (and not so much) of the US and UK

It’s been great to have some time to reflect on the trip lately.  While we  were staying in Oswestry, near the Welsh borders and I was working away on Alice-Miranda’s 7th adventure, Alice-Miranda In Paris, Ian and I had some wonderful discussions about the best and not so best bits of the US and UK.  Things that make us want to be there forever and things that make us miss Australia.
So we decided to compile some lists.  Of course it’s just our experience but if you’re planning a visit to the US or UK anytime soon, some of our tips for young players might come in handy.
Best of the US
·         The people.  Once you get through immigration, where I advise you keep a straight face and do your best not to make any jokes, the people are fantastic.  Although, this time, after I had berated Ian and told him to be sensible and not make any wise cracks, the San Francisco immigration official turned out to be lovely.  And funny too.  Most unexpected after my first visit to the US where I felt like a criminal.  The UK immigration official was horrible, but I’ll get to him later.

·         Cost of living.  While the Australian dollar is around parity with the US dollar, make the most of it fellow Aussies.  Generally the US is affordable.  Clothes are cheap, food is cheap and in many places (New York excluded) the cost of hotels is not too bad either.

·         Food.  There is an extraordinary range of food in the US and it’s affordable.  Portion sizes are ridiculously huge so you can go out for lunch and get a doggy bag which will also do you for dinner too.  Steak in the US is great and the steakhouses in New York (although not so much in the affordable range) are brilliant.

·         iPad menus in restaurants – fantastic!

·         Drivers in the US are generally very considerate, which is excellent particularly if you are from Australia or the UK where the steering wheel is on the right hand side and we drive on the left hand side of the road.

·         New York – there is no place like it on earth.

·         The ‘open all hours’ mentality in New York city (but in other places too like San Francisco and Chicago)

·         Central Park – the lungs of the city and my favourite place in New York.

·         Frozen Hot Chocolate from Serendipity 3 – every bit as good as it sounds (and no wonder Alice-Miranda loved it). Sorry about picture on the side - for whatever reason I can't get it to rotate!

·         Extraordinary range of things you can buy in the shops – who knew that you could buy beer on tap in the pharmacy but Duane Read is in a league all of its own when it comes to chemist products!

·         Subways – highly efficient, and long distance trains that are clean and run on time.

·         Taxis in New York City – easy to get (except in the no man’s land changeover period around 3-5pm when getting a taxi is impossible).

·         Southern American accents – I could listen to them all day.

·         Salt water taffy – it’s delicious.

·         Friends – new and old – we met so many fabulous people in the US, who I have no doubt will remain friends for a long time to come.

Best restaurants

o   Boulevard in San Francisco – stunning food, beautiful décor and an all-round excellent experience.

o   My friend Diane’s house in South Carolina – her pulled pork was fabulous and while I’m still not convinced about grits, hers were delicious.

o   Cracker-barrel– now I know it’s a chain restaurant but for Aussies wanting a Southern experience, it was lots of fun and I loved my chicken fried chicken!

o   Viand – another chain in New York but the BEST GRILLED CHEESE sandwich I have ever eaten (so we went there at least five times while we were staying on the Upper West Side).

o   Philippe Chow – stunning Chinese in mid-town New York City.

o   DB Bistro Moderne – fantastic fusion food in mid-town New York City (the best burger I have ever eaten!).

o   Gallery Café at Pebble Beach – the best breakfast I had in the US.

Best hotels
o   Omni San Francisco – great room, best bed in the US, fantastic service and the friendliest hotel staff ever (and the most sensational chocolate brownie dessert which made me fall off the 'no sugar' wagon completely!)
o   The Lodge at Pebble Beach – stunning!

o   Hyatt Hotel Morristown New Jersey – a really lovely room and a pretty town too.

Ok, so I’ve detailed the best, now for some of the things we didn’t love quite so much
·         Coffee – it was horrible.  Percolated sludge with milk froth is not a cappuccino!  There were two places we found good coffee, Urban Table in Morristown (I could have hugged the girl who made it!) and Joe’s on the Upper West side in Manhattan.

·         Intersections with 4 stop signs – a little hard to get used to.

·         The sheer number of fast food outlets.  I don’t know how they survive but I do know why there are obesity issues in the US.

·         Bureaucracy at Yankee Stadium – ‘yes ma’am you can take your iPhone in but not your iPad’.  When I pointed out that they did the same thing, I was told to check my bag at the sports bar a mile down the road.

·         The exorbitant cost of hotels in New York City.

·         Added taxes – just when you thought you knew the cost of something there are a whole bunch of extra taxes laid on.

Best of the UK
·         The people – we met so many wonderful people – some of whom I had ‘met’ on the Internet and others we met while there; great teachers, children, booksellers and people we ran into in various locations – and it was lovely to meet Anna and Philip who came up from Littlehampton to the Queen’s Park Book Festival to say hello.  Anna has been an Alice-Miranda fan since her grandmother in Australia started sending the books to her – the fact that they made the effort to come up was just wonderful and I adored meeting them both.  It was great to catch with old friends too!
·          The countryside – rolling hills, stone walls, picture postcard villages – simply gorgeous.

·         Playing golf in the countryside and being able to look for a lost ball without fear of running into a snake; also watching rabbits frolicking, pheasants stalking about and squirrels darting this way and that.   It felt like being in a Beatrix Potter story.  I had hoped to see a badger but alas the only one we spotted was in not such good condition on the edge of the road.  Apparently moles are quite prolific too – although I would have been expecting them to wear glasses and a waistcoat so potentially disappointing!  Friends told us they were like giant rats so perhaps I’m glad we didn’t meet one.

·         The Tube system in London – once you get used to changing trains it’s a very efficient way to get around – the Oyster card system works well too.

·         The history is wonderful – there is so much to see.

·         Castles and historic homes – beautiful and completely fascinating.

·         Finding Caledonia Manor (real name Brogyntyn) – what were the odds? (see earlier posts for details).

·         Patriotism and love of the Queen – we were there during the Diamond Jubilee and the English do love a good street party and a reason to celebrate.

·         Stoic English spirit – we were invited to a Jubilee party in a field.  It was freezing and wet and yet the hundred or so people in attendance seemed to have a great time without a bother about the weather.

·         The Children’s Book Team at Random House UK – what a fantastic group – felt part of the family and the ‘Random Moment’ is a wonderful way to make authors feel welcome.

·         The wide variation in accents – so much to practice!

·         Sunny days are like gold dust – to be treasured.

·         Closeness of cities – and convenience of larger stores etc even when you are on the other side of the country miles from London.

·         M&S Simply Food – why can’t we have something like this at home – stunning range of food and well-priced too.

·         Real custard tarts – delicious (although my waistline will be glad that I left the UK).

·         Narrow boats and canals – what a great way to get around.

·         Better newspapers with a wide variety of stories (not just tabloid rubbish) – sounds hard to believe given the press we get about the UK papers.

·         Spitalfields Markets in the East End.

·         London cabbies who know exactly where they’re going and if faced with a detour, know exactly how to get around it.

·         The Eurostar to Paris – easy and comfortable too.

Best restaurants (from the limited number that we tried

·         The Wollesley in London – a bit of an icon and great for breakfast

·         Sebastians in Oswestry

·         The Boat Pub in Erbistock

·         The Corn Mill in Llangollen

Favourite towns

·         Richmond Upon Thames (I could live there in a heartbeat but the bank manager might have something to say about that)
·         Salisbury – beautiful and historic

·         Chester – gorgeous

·         Bakewell and the Peak District

·         Shropshire – Oswestry and surrounding villages

·         Llangollen in Wales

Best accommodation

·         Lion Quays in Oswestry – fantastic staff, service, rooms, great bed, canal view and plenty to keep you occupied – also great value for money.

·         Andaz Hyatt Liverpool Street London – fantastic modern hotel with interesting quirks and touches including iPad check in and personalized greeting and room tour – also a good location – and free mini bar.
Now for some of the things we didn’t love quite so much 
·         The weather – it will come as no surprise to most people but out of 6 weeks we saw about 9 days  of sushine and 6 days that resembled summer temperatures.
·         Freeway traffic – insane and crazy parking the wrong way on the street - can be a little offputting!
·         Proliferation of powerlines over the countryside
·         Some crazy drivers (and sorry folks, not nearly as considerate as the US nor as they used to be)
·         Rubbish television coverage, particularly the news
·         Warm beer
·         Cost of living in cities particularly
·         Coffee – not as awful as the US but still not consistently good.  Had great coffee at lovely bookshop called Booka in Oswestry but not many other memorable cups
·         English immigration official – rude, rude, rude!  With an attitude like that, it makes visitors wonder why they came (fortunately the people from thereon in were wonderful)
Overall, the best hotel we stayed in on the trip was the first one; The Omni San Francisco for being the complete package including the best bed (and we have slept in 26 different beds so far with one still to go in Hong Kong!)