Z is for Zoo – Singapore

I’ve visited Singapore times unnumbered, but last week’s visit to the zoo in that country was my first.

I recognise that the concept of a zoo doesn’t suit everyone and it doesn’t suit me either when the animals are caged in small enclosures. But here the animals move around freely.

We started the day with breakfast in the company of some orangutans. It’s hard to comprehend that without zoos such as this, orangutans may well disappear from the face of the earth as their natural habitat continues to be eroded.

My fictional cruise line will give its newest ship its maiden voyage in the Australia, New Zealand, and southern Asia routes. This quick trip to Singapore en route to our Dublin-Barcelona cruise, provided a refresher for things to do in that part of the world.


City of Asian delights:
shopping and zoo,
chili crab, Singapore sling!

Y is for Youghal

Youghal (pronounced Yawl) is a port city on the southern Irish coast only 50kms from Cork. We (husband and I) have visited both Cork and Youghal previously, but when our cruise pauses in Cork in a couple of weeks time, we hope to make a day trip across to reacquaint ourselves with this village. Its strategic location made it the target of many raiding forces. As a result, it has an interesting history and is worth reading about.

If it is as I remember it, I’m thinking of setting a proposal scene there!


Youghal, Ireland’s southern sea port –
Battles of hist’ry –
build cosmopolitan life.

X is for Xander and other less common names

When I’m writing a novel, often the characters’ names will suggest themselves to me without too much of an issue, but then, as I mentioned in the Jolene post, my critical friend will quickly let me know if they fit. She tells me if they’re dated or too weird. Thank goodness for friends like Kathy.

I tend to be drawn to unusual names. My name is unusual to many so I know what it is like to live with one that’s a bit different. But not everyone can relate to them, so I need to use them like a strong spice – very little and with care.

I often research the meaning of a name before I use it. The meanings often surprise me.

Xander is one name I’ve wanted to use for a while. It is a diminutive of Alexander and means defender or warrior. I’m thinking that would be a perfect fit for Donatella’s love interest when I come to write her cruise ship story. Donatella is a very strong character and needs a strong alpha to be her equal.


Personality defined,
simple moniker –
one’s label for a lifetime.


W is for wine and wineries

One can’t write novels involving an Italian restaurant without knowing a little about wines. But my knowledge was limited when it came to Italian varieties. For “Happy with the MIllionaire” , I undertook some internet research on wines from the Piedmont region of Italy and the wonderful barolo variety that is produced there. There was also work to do on the products from the Rutherglen wine region in northern Victoria.  This was done in person! It was here that I learned about the tokay/topaque name change and I was able to incorporate that into the story. One of my favourites from this region is the malbec.

In “Loving the Celebrity Chef”, Vincent and Angelique make a day trip from Sydney to the Hunter Valley Wine region about an hour and a half north of the city. It’s the first time they go off together and the first time they share a kiss.

They go to one of the winery restaurants for lunch and Vincent encounters his former TAFE teacher. For some reason, this scene didn’t make it into the finished book, so you can read the section here as an exclusive:

As they stood to leave the table, a plump woman wearing the signature black and white trousers of the chef came through the door from the kitchen. She carried a plate hooked against her body with her elbow and a black marker pen in her hand.

“Not so fast, Vinny, my boy! You need to sign this before you go. It’s for my gallery of plates signed by famous people who come here,” she said pointing up to a shelf a couple of hand-spans below the ceiling along the opposite wall.

“Hey Magda! I didn’t know you were working here.”

“Well, I am and you’ve just turned my wait staff and juniors into quivering masses of sexual excitement. It’s a wonder you even got a meal with all of those carryings on in the kitchen.” She fisted the hand with the pen on her hip and lifted one eyebrow at him.

Vincent laughed. It started as a chuckle and ended up as a full belly laugh.

“You never change, do you, you old witch? But I love you.” He leaned down and kissed her with a loud, mwah!

“Go on with you!” She flapped her hand to wave him back out of her space. “People will talk. What would my darling Rosie say?”

“Since you’ve been together thirty years or more, I don’t think it would bother her much.” Vincent chuckled again. “Where’s this gallery of plates? I want to see who my competition is.”

Magda looked nonplussed for a moment. “I’ve only been here a week. Give me a break! Sheesh! Everybody expects everything to be finished before it’s even started these days! You’re the first, Vinny, so make it good!” She thrust the pen and plate at him. The platter was white with the restaurant’s crest on one edge.

Vincent held the dish and narrowed his eyes at his former TAFE culinary teacher. “It’s my first too. I’ll have to think.”

He picked up the pen and scrawled across the face of the plate, “Best food ever!” and signed it, “Rosetti” with a V below his name that gave the appearance of a goatee.

“Yeah! That’ll do!” Magda beamed at him as he handed it back to her. “Now you’ll have to put it up there for me. Us vertically challenged older people don’t do heights too well.”

Vincent arranged the plate on the shelf as directed. Magda nodded her approval and bustled back the way she had come, calling over her shoulder and waving one arm in the air. “Come again, Vinny.”


Good food, good friends and romance –
life’s simple pleasures,
cost little but mean a lot.

U is for Utes!

Utes (short for utility vehicles) are the mainstay of tradesfolk, rural workers and others who have a need to transport themselves, others and equipment from one place to another. Deniliquin in New South Wales celebrates the humble ute with a muster each year. In “A Baby Denied”, the fan belt of Dee’s ute fails her at one point and Nash uses one of Dee’s stockings to jury-rig a replacement fan-belt to get her home. My brains trust (Jay, on this occasion) told me this was possible and my research confirmed it. Then I just needed to find out how to fit it and the internet coughed up that information too. Interesting trivia to have at the back of my mind.


Utes with patina of age
or shiny new skin
serve as humble workhorses.

T is for Travel

Travel is one of my favourite things to do – either in physical form or in my imagination across time and place. The forms have a symbiotic relationship. The experiences of one feed the dreams of the other.

To that end, I’m off on another (physical) adventure soon. I’ll fly with my husband to Singapore, Copenhagen, Warsaw and Dublin and cruise to Barcelona before heading back to Australia.

The cruise is already, in my mind, the basis for one of my cruise ship novels, so I’ll be taking lots of notes.

The trip to Copenhagen has been in the making for 50 years! When I was in Grade 5, my teacher returned from holidays to tell us that she had visited this city. The stories she wove fed my determination to visit one day. Finally, thanks to my husband’s careful planning, that’s about to happen. Any suggestions on the “Must-See” list of things to do there would be appreciated.


Travel in time, space and mind
quiets soul’s questing
striving always to know more.

S is for Swags

The swag is part of Australia’s iconography. A swagman or swaggie was a person who packed up their belongings, rolled up their bedroll and hit the road usually looking for work. The concept entered  Australian culture in the late 19th Century and continued into the 20th century especially during the Great Depression.

Not many of us aspire to the life, but all Australians identify with the swaggie in our favourite song, Waltzing Matilda, the lyrics of which were written as a poem by Banjo Paterson.

The swag made it into my research because Ngaire has to borrow someone else’s car to carry her swag out to a B & S Ball – usually translated as Bachelors and Spinsters, but a load of variations have developed over the years. A B&S is an important get-together for rural and regional young people. Their popularity, and ease of transport, means that city young people also find their way to them.

The reason for the car change for Ngaire  was because she drives a tiny car – one of those that people park sideways on the streets of Rome and Naples, and the modern swag just won’t fit into it. (No I’m not promoting the company in the link but they do present images for a wide range of equipment that is called a swag right now.)

The swag can be deployed on the ground or, more likely, where possible, in the tray of a ute or the back of a station wagon. Some of them require a two-person lift! They’re an all-in-one bed and tent and provide easy accommodation.


The “once a jolly swagman”…
would not recognise
the hybrid swags of today.


R is for Rome, Italy

Rome is one of those locations, like Naples, that will be a regular stopover for characters in the cruise line series.

I loved wandering around Rome, thinking about the ancient history of this place. The history lessons we learned were real life here.

As with Venice, the locals were more than happy to correct my fledgling attempts at using Italian, and they did it with a smile. I very occasionally confused French or Spanish with Italian but was soon put right.

Catching a train at Roma Termine was an experience in and of itself, demanding lots of patience and a preparedness to ask for help.

We meandered around Vatican City, too, attended a Papal Mass and took great delight in being able to see, first hand, the wondrous masterpieces of the Sistene and St Peter’s Chapels.


The weight of history here
does not bend the back
of this iconic city.

Q is for crew Quarters on board

I used two main strategies for researching on board living quarters. The first of these, logically, was using the internet for images,  videos etc. There appears to be quite a difference between crew and officer quarters in the videos I found. In both cases though, inhabitants personalise their space. People are generous in sharing their experiences on the net. :)

The second strategy was to participate in the shipboard tours variously labelled, “All Areas Access”, “Behind the fun” or similar. These tours provide a wealth of information about shipboard life – working, sleeping, eating etc.  Although access to cabins is not part of the tours, there is the odd door left open. One of the videos explained that’s because the internet  only works with the door ajar.

The guides for these tours are usually from the guest experience department, however it is labelled for different ships, and they answer even the most obtuse questions (not always mine) quite frankly.

Living on board is not all roses, but there is never a shortage of staff. So, there must be a draw of some kind for people to continue to work there – the lure of the seas, the buzz of exotic destinations, freedom from land-based commitments. It would be a personal choice.

In “On Board” (in progress), Tristan has a panic attack during a storm and braces her arms against opposing walls. She is tall, but I needed to know if reaching across the space was likely to be physically possible. It is. This is the scene that precipitates her uncovering of the Luc/Nico disguise and the questions and conflicts that arise as a result of that.


Crew quarters on board a ship:
Neat and compact space
Strictly necessities here.