NoPlaceLikeYouI am super delighted today to be able to feature on my blog one of my very good friends, Marnie St. Clair. She has her first novel, No Place Like You, out with Escape. It’s a lovely rural romance set in country Australia, with characters that will truly touch your hear. I loved it and I know you will too.

But, before you rush off to buy it, let me introduce you to Marnie and let her tell you a little bit about herself and her new novel.

Hi Marnie. Thanks for being a guest on my blog. It’s really exciting to have you here for the first time to celebrate your new release with Escape, No Place Like You.

MSC: Thanks for having me, Leisl!

LL: Can you tell us a little bit about your new novel?

MSC: No Place Like You is a contemporary romance set in a fictional country town a couple of hours west of Sydney. It was somewhat inspired by my mother-in-law. Much to her horror—I don’t think she pictures herself as a romance heroine. She spent most of the year in Sydney’s North Shore (weirdly, she boarded at PLC even though she lived in the same suburb), but every summer her family migrated to their property somewhere in the vicinity of Bathurst. This is pretty much the backstory of my heroine Lily, and by default, my hero Josh—the station manager’s son, who lived on the property year-round. The book is a little about class differences and a lot about forgiveness.

LL: Is this a standalone novel or are you planning a little bit of a series?

MSC: A second book is in the works, featuring Kate and Saxon, who now have to deal with the aftermath of their delightful interlude in No Place Like You.

LL: Authors are always being told it’s best to diversify in this ever changing publishing environment. Do you write only contemporary romances with a rural flavour, or do you also write in other genres too?

MSC: I adore crime and tend to gravitate towards adding just a dash of something mysterious. Or sometimes a bucket-load. See next question…

LL: What are you working on currently?

MSC: I am currently polishing up a fast-paced and fun mystery romance Blue Illusion, which pits a street-wise femme fatale against a charming rake of a PI in the hunt for a long-lost sapphire necklace. It’s planned as the first in a series of five featuring the detectives at de Crespigny Investigations.

LL: Sounds intriguing. Actually, I’m being coy, I know it’s good as I’ve read the first one! Can you share with us your ‘Call’ story?

20150513_123240MSC: Picture this. We’re in the deep dark depths of the summer holidays. I’m just back from taking my girls to a chocolate festival at the Immigration Museum (a fabulous tasty cultural experience). There’s an email from Kate Cuthbert from Escape in my inbox, saying she loved No Place Like You and was interested in acquiring it. Already high on choc-related sugar and caffeine, I add copious quantities of adrenaline and Aussie bubbles. Leisl, you know I struggle for calm at the best of times…

LL: LOL. That doesn’t sound like you at all! How long have you been writing for and what led you to being published?

MSC: I started playing around with writing after the birth of my younger daughter in 2007. Quickly realised I needed help and joined the RWA in 2008. Found my lovely and amazing writing group in 2009. Finally decided I did actually want to finish something and get published around 2012. Pitched something woefully underbaked at the RWA conference in 2013. Spent another year redrafting my manuscript and finally felt it was ready to resubmit at the end of 2014. Voila, No Place Like You.

LL: What do you think is the best advice you could give to a new writer with an aspiration to being published?

MSC: Hmm, tough one. Something like, have faith and push through. Honestly, everyone thinks their first draft is shit—first drafts are shit—but just keep pushing through to the end. Don’t worry if you get there and it’s a mess—your story is in there somewhere. Have faith and revel in the torture of redrafting.

LL : What inspires you to keep writing? Where do your writing ideas come from?

MSC: Reading, I would say. When you read a book that elicits a full-body visceral reaction, whether it’s fear or gleeful anticipation, lust or love, I’m like, I want to do that. Also, although I don’t think of myself as overly nurturing, I have a strong desire to comfort. Books can hold your hand through difficult times, and I feel compelled to offer something like that.

Writing ideas? Who knows? To (mis)quote Keith Richards: they’re all up there—stick your antennae up and wait.

LL: What are Marnie St Clair’s pet peeves? What are your favourite things?

MSC: Pet peeves. You know, I really hate smug. I thought this must be universal, but talking to a friend the other day, she didn’t get the smug thing at all—she hates self-pitying whingers. Wow. I’m totally fine with self-pitying whingers. In fact, most of the time… Wait, was she trying to tell me something?

Favourite things. Fragrant flowers. Baltic linen. Winter boots. Sand and stars. Mongolia, for some inexplicable reason.

LL: I’m with you on the flowers, winter boots and stars. Can take or leave the linen and sand. Mongolia – I think it would be fascinating.

Thank you so much for being a guest on my blog today, Marnie. It was fun finding out a little bit more about you and your writing.

NoPlaceLikeYouYou can buy Marnie’s novel, No Place Like You from:

Author bio:

I grew up in country NSW but now live in a lovely leafy suburb of Melbourne with my weather man husband and two gorgeous daughters. Apart from a deep and abiding love of all things romance, I have a wide array of unusual and embarrassing passions including playing Bridge, growing succulents, visiting deserts and getting down on the Zumba floor. No points for guessing which is the embarrassing one.

You can find out more about Marnie at:

Destiny Promo PhotoTonight I have Bernadette Rowley here to chat about her new novel, The Lord and the Mermaid, newly out with Momentum. She also chats about her love of fantasy and world building. So get yourself a hot drink (hot chocolate with honey is my favourite on a cold night), settle in and enjoy finding out more about Bernadette and her work.

Hi Bernadette. Thanks for being a guest on my blog. It’s really exciting to have you here once again to tell us about your new novel, The Lord and the Mermaid.

Hi Leisl, it’s great to be back!

Can you tell us a little bit about your new novel, The Lord and the Mermaid?

The Lord and the Mermaid is basically my retelling of The Little Mermaid. Mermaid Merielle flees her people, hoping for a better life. She is determined to find a human man and make him fall in love with her, believing his love will make her human in turn. The man she happens across is Lord Nikolas Cosara, a hunky ship’s captain, who has exiled himself after a past tragedy. He is the last person who would ever love a mermaid but they experience an instant attraction and the story flows from there.

It’s been quite the roller coaster ride for you in the last year or so since your last novel was released, The Lady’s Choice – something I’m experiencing a bit myself at the moment. Can you tell us about it?

Princess Avenger and The Lady’s Choice were published in 2012 and 2013 respectively. Being a new imprint when I started with them, it took a couple of years to find its way and they eventually decided to stop publishing fantasy as a genre. That left me unwilling to part with my series and needing to find a new publisher for The Lord and the Mermaid. I didn’t know if someone else would wish to take me up but didn’t want to go out on my own. I pitched my mermaid story to Momentum’s Haylee Nash at conference and she offered me a two book deal. I got the rights back for Princess Avenger and The Lady’s Choice and have self-published them. I now have the best of both worlds!

0315 The Lord and The Mermaid_v8The Lord and the Mermaid is a novel related to your Princess Avenger series – how is it related? Are any of the characters the same?

Princess Avenger is set in Brightcastle, a city about four days ride west of Wildecoast where The Lord and the Mermaid is set. Both cities are in my fantasy world of Thorius. Readers were introduced to Thorius in Princess Avenger and to Wildecoast in The Lady’s Choice. Some of the minor characters are the same. You could say that the books that have gone before are prequels to The Lord and the Mermaid.

Is it a standalone novel, or is it going to be a part of a larger series? – I love a good series.

You know me, Leisl. If I’m writing a book it’s part of a series, the longer the better. Having said that, The Lord and the Mermaid can be read on its own. Merielle and Nik’s story is the first in the Wildecoast Saga with Momentum.

Where did the idea for this series come from?

It was perfect timing, really, I had a story set in the same world but a different city with new elements (being the increasing threat from the dark elves) and Momentum wanted to start from scratch with this book. So we created The Wildecoast Saga.

Princess Avenger Ebook coverWhat inspires you to keep writing in this world?

I love this world that I’ve created. I can make whatever rules I wish for and my characters have amazing abilities. Why wouldn’t you want to keep writing new love stories that take the secondary themes, of intrigue and war, forward?

You have recently self-published your first two novels after getting the rights back from your previous publisher. Can you tell us a little bit about this process and how you’ve found it? What have you learned from it that’s helping you with your writing in general? Would you self-publish other works in the future again?

Self-publishing was daunting at first but I started with Smashwords and they made it easy. I enlisted a cover designer and she also did the formatting. I was so excited when I saw my very own covers and think they are rather beautiful. I have two more to reveal when I release book 2 and 3 of the Princess Avenger trilogy. I also worked with Tracey O’Hara in editing Princess Avenger and learned quite a lot from that. Don’t we all wish we could go back and fix some of the weaknesses in our first book? I think you learn a little each time you publish a book, no matter how you do it and I definitely will be doing so again. I’m hoping to have part two of my trilogy out this year.

Are you planning any novels in the future that are set in a new fantasy world? Or have you got any aspirations to write in a different genre?

I have no new fantasy worlds planned but I do have the beginnings (first two books) of a space opera series. I also have two books in a junior fiction series written.

the-ladys-choice-cover-newYou’re a vet by day, as well as a mother. How do you find the time to write? Talk us through your process.

The first two days of the week are given over to vet work and then my five day writing week begins! I try to do some every day and when I’m writing draft I aim for one to two thousand words each day. All this year has been given over to editing but I’m currently working on a story that will be book three in the Wildecoast Saga.

I, of course have plenty of housework to take care of but usually write late morning and in the afternoon. I always try to be available to my sons who are 17, 19 and 21. They’ve been encouraged to follow their dreams no matter what.

What’s been the most surprising aspect of your writing career so far? What have you had the most difficulties with? What have you learned the most from?

I can’t believe how long the editing process is and that no matter how good your book is, there are always ways it can be improved. I’ve had the most difficulties with promoting my work – I’m not very good at talking about my books. I’ve learned heaps from each editor I’ve worked with and expect to continue to learn with each book.

Thank you so much for being a guest on my blog today, Bernadette. It was fun finding out a little bit more about you and your writing.

Bernadette has very generously decided to give away a copy of her new novel, The Lord and the Mermaid. All you have to do is comment on what fantasy characters you like reading about? Mermaids, Shifters, Vampires, Elves, Dragons, Fairies… Bernadette will pick the winner from these. So, comment away and share what your favourite fantasy characters are…

You can buy Bernadette’s novels from:

The Lord and the Mermaid:

Princess Avenger: FREE at

The Lady’s Choice:

World of Thorius Boxed Set:

Author bio:

Bernadette Rowley is an author of fantasy romance who grew up on rural properties on the Sunshine Coast, Queensland, Australia. Her teenage years were spent training her beloved horses, reading the fantasy stories of Tolkien, Brooks and Eddings and dreaming of becoming a vet.
She graduated as a vet in 1987 and now works part time, allowing her five days a week for her passion- writing. Bernadette lives in Townsville with her husband of 27 years, their sons and Slippers the cat. Her other interests are reading (fantasy and romance), singing (a capella), cricket and music.

You can find out more about Bernadette at:

Daniel-de-Lorne PhotoI’m really pleased to have Daniel DeLorne back to guest here today. After working with Dan on the RWA committee (he is my VP and one of our Hearts Talk Editors) I have come to call him SuperDan. He can pretty much do anything I throw at him and do it better than I expected. I’m not quite certain why I keep being surprised – maybe I just like to be surprised.

Anyway, Dan is here to talk to us today about his new novel, Burning Blood, the sequel to his dark and tortured (and amazing) first novel, Beckoning Blood. Take it away Dan.

Burning Blood, Sisters and Sequels.

Thanks for having me as a guest again, Leisl.

For those of you who haven’t read the first book in the series, Beckoning Blood is a gruesome romantic horror that focuses on the lives of gay twin vampires, Olivier and Thierry, as they slash and burn their way through the centuries.

The sequel, however, was my chance to explore the other side of the d’Arjou family. After people read Beckoning Blood, I heard them say they wanted to know about Aurelia as she played an important part in the plot of the first book, without getting much air-time.

I always knew she’d have a big role in the overall story arc but when I began writing Burning Blood, Burning-Blood-Cover-600I didn’t realise how much was going on with her.

Initially I was trying to wrap everything up in the second book but as my first and second attempt at this story broke beneath the enormity of what I was trying to do (this is a good advertisement for plotting over pantsing), I realised I had to give her the space to tell her story. And that’s what Burning Blood is.

The book goes through the same three timeframes that Olivier and Thierry went through in the first book, that is, Carcassonne in the Middle Ages, Saxony in the late 1700s, and the present day. While the brothers make brief appearances, this isn’t their book. This might be a relief for some readers who want a break from the blood and violence of Beckoning Blood.

We watch Aurelia’s struggle through the centuries, her battle with Henri, the head of the d’Arjou family. We see her trauma and experience her attempt to find some happiness while under extreme pressure. Thankfully, she has a friend in Hame, a red-haired oracle who helps relieve some of the burdens she has to bear…until Carn enters the scene.

I don’t want to give too much a way but readers can expect an epic story where what we want and what we get aren’t always the same thing, and how family traumas leave deep scars. But as always, there’s hope for a better life.

To celebrate the launch of Burning Blood, Im running a giveaway where you can win a Wild Wood Tarot Deck and both of my books. Just visit my website to enter.

Beckoning Blood Cover 1000Burning Blood (Bonds of Blood: Book 2)

No one gets to choose who they spend eternity with.

Aurelia d’Arjou has vampires for brothers, but it is as a witch that she comes into her own power, keeping balance and control, using her strength to mitigate the death and pain that her brothers bring. When she is forced to take on the centuries long task of keeping the world safe from the brutal demon that wore her father’s skin, duty dominates her life. But rare happiness comes in the form of a beguiling, flame-haired oracle who makes the perfect companion…but for one thing.

Hame doesn’t want to be an oracle, but when a demon destroys the closest thing to a father he has, he has little choice but to aid Aurelia with his visions. Unable to love her as she would wish, their centuries-old friendship comes under attack when a handsome Welsh witch enters his life – and his heart.

As treachery and betrayal push Hame to choose between his closest friend and his lover, it becomes clear that when it comes to war, love doesn’t always conquer all, and happy endings are never guaranteed.

Read an excerpt or order now from Amazon | iBooks | Kobo | Nook | GooglePlay.

Daniel de Lorne writes dark tales of ruin, romance and redemption. His debut novel, Beckoning Blood, came out in May 2014. You can find out more about him on his website (you can also get a free short story), Facebook and Twitter.

20150312_124815We woke up on our third day to mist over the Howqua and the air clearer than it had been for days. It hadn’t been as cold during the night as it was up near Craig’s Hut and we’d actually managed to get a reasonable night’s sleep. The back burning smoke had blown over to the other side of the mountains and there was a light blue sky above. We were in for another lovely day.

After another hearty breakfast with hot water poured out of billy cans set over the fire for tea or instant coffee, we packed up our tent, fed and brushed the horses, saddled them and after walking them around to warm up their backs, we set off.

P1020758The riding over the last few days had been hard with lots of steep hills, but today we were promised mostly flats – so we thought that we were in for an easy day of it. How wrong we were. We were riding on an old cattle trail looking down at the Howqua. It was narrow and the ground rose on our left too steep to ride up, and fell away on our right down to the river. It wasn’t quite a cliff, but steep enough that if you and your horse went down, you wouldn’t be stopped by anything but the trees and bracken growing out of the rocky side of the mountain. It was beautiful country, but I found I really had to keep my wits about me and really had to work as a team with my horse, Chelsea.

Some of the path had been softened a lot by recent rain, and our trail leader, Shelley, was rather annoyed at how damaged portions of it were. They’d been assured, after having had an accident along that trail where one of their helpers had slipped off the trail with her horse and slid down the hillside a few months before (nobody was hurt, luckily), that the Parks had been through the trail and done work on it to make it safe for riders. There were sections that were decidedly not safe and we stopped a few times so she could take photos of various sections. Unfortunately, we couldn’t turn around, because the path was too narrow, so we just had to keep going forward.


Our reaction to the trail

Our reaction to the trail

All of us rode carefully and with very little talking as the concentration levels were high. All you could hear was the sound of hooves on the dusty trail, the sound of the Howqua burbling away below us and the sound of birds in the trees, occasionally cut off by the distant sound of an electric saw in the distance as the back burning continued and the call that went down the line as we warned each other of dangerous sections of track.

About half an hour from the stockman’s hut we were heading toward for our first break of the day, we passed a very sandy section of track where the edge had broken away. We all went high on the track to try to avoid breaking away any more of the track, calling back to tell everyone to do the same. Then just as we all thought we were safely through that section, Uncle Richard’s call went from the usual volume to a loud shout as we heard the sound of scrabbling hooves and a desperate cry and then a kind of rumbling, snapping sound.

“Man down. Man down,” Uncle Richard cried out.

We stopped, hearts in our mouths, and heard more snapping, rumbling sounds and then “Oh fuck! Why me?” come from the back of the line.

It was so shocking, it was funny, and we all laughed, relieved that if Karen (who was the ‘man’ who’d gone down the side of the hill with her horse) was able to swear and say something in such a disgruntled, pissed off tone, it meant she was reasonably okay. P1020760

Shelley was amazing. She kept absolutely cool, slipped off her horse, got my sister to hold the reins and then scrambled back along the path to the back of the line. Uncle Richard said later when telling the story of what happened, that Karen’s horse – a newer, young acquisition that didn’t have enough trail sense not to try to prance along the dangerous track – had slipped on the soft, broken away bit of trail, it’s back legs going down. He’d heard Karen try to urge the horse forward and up, but the edge was too soft and they both went down. Thankfully, the bracken was so thick, it caught them and didn’t let them slip too far down. By the time Uncle Richard had managed to hop down and get behind his horse, it was to see Karen’s horse come back up over the edge, a little scratched and shaken, but incredibly nothing more. Uncle Richard managed to grab its reins and keep it calm and then Shelley arrived to see what had happened.

Safe on open ground at another stockman's hut

Safe on open ground at another stockman’s hut

In trying to get off the horse, Karen had gone a little further down. Shelley edged her way down to her and together, they managed, using the trees and plants, to pull themselves back over the side. Karen was a little scratched and bruised, swearing a blue streak and laughing that it was her again – she’d been the one who’d gone down on that other ride too, both times because she was the last in the line and the ground had been softened too much by the horses that had gone through before her. She was okay. IMG_0346

She didn’t want to get back on her horse though and not because she was ‘gun shy’. They couldn’t check out the horse properly and didn’t know if there was a more serious injury until we got on more stable ground, so she led her horse over the last section.

My admiration for her rose even higher at this point. The ground was rough and there were steep rises that were tough on the horses, but even tougher on a person on 2 legs. But she just kept going, her concern for her horse apparent.

Then we entered a clearing and all of us breathed a sigh of relief as we saw the stockman’s shack. We hopped off our horses, checked that Karen was truly okay, with her and Uncle Richard enjoying the retelling of the story while Shelley and Karen made sure her horse was okay. We rested for about twenty minutes, had a much needed snack (apples and snakes) and then headed off.

20150314_153338The next section of riding was much easier. We were now right on the Howqua and were riding a curling path that led us over it and back a dozen times. We were able to canter for small sections and got a little wet in others – which given the warm day, was quite welcome. We had lunch at a lovely spot and stopped for an afternoon break at another stockman’s hut – they are scattered throughout the mountains and all cut along similar lines, usually in a lovely clearing near water of some kind. Some of them are privately owned, some are kept up by Parks Victoria and all of them are still used in one way or another. And the isolation of every single one of them made me marvel at how tough and stubborn those early settlers and stockman must have been to ride the mountains and high plains like they did and building these huts in the middle of nowhere.

We had some fun in late afternoon cantering through a section of the river, true Man from Snowy River style and then cantered along the final section of flats to our camp – a quiet section of the river where someone has built a simple house overlooking the river just near Sheep Yard Flats. The man whose house it was came down to greet us as we set up camp, happy for the company. He had a gorgeous sheepdog, called Melbourne, who had speaking eyes and loved the attention he got from all of us. P1020764

IMG_0349When the horses were washed down, fed and settled in for the night, my sister and I set up our tent, I had another shower – glorious to get rid of the day’s trail dust – and we settled in for the night around the campfire, telling stories (well, we mostly listened to Uncle Richard tell his stories – he’s got lots and is really entertaining and had us all laughing), shared the story of Karen’s fall with the others who weren’t on the trail with us, laughed over her ‘Oh Fuck! Why me?’ comment and had another wonderful, home cooked meal from Kay.

Uncle Richard managed to talk me into singing for everyone and so I agreed to one song which ended up turning into half a dozen when they kept asking me for another – I was tired and struggling to remember the words of songs I normally know off by heart. Then we all turned in for the night, having had a very exciting, hard day of riding and feeling a little sad that the next day was going to be the last of this wonderful adventure.

Starting the day at Craig's Hut

Starting the day at Craig’s Hut

So, I left off at the end of day 1 last time, so I’ll pick up from there… On with the story…

We stayed the first night just below Craig’s Hut. It was really cold – the first true cold we’d experienced all year. I’d taken my son’s new sleeping bag, but hadn’t realised how narrow it was and underneath the swag’s canvas, with thermals on under my flannelette pyjamas, I found I could barely turn over, but it was better than freezing! (I did vow to get a larger sleeping bag for myself though the next time I had to go somewhere I needed a sleeping bag).

The horses, despite their exertions of the day, were a bit argumentative during the night and we heard them thumping around their enclosure, having a bit of horsey fisty-cuffs with each other. But even with this disturbing our sleep, my sister and I didn’t mind and woke up the next morning feeling surprisingly good. I was certain I wasn’t going to be able to move – I mean, it had been so long since I’d been on a horse and even longer since I’d been on a horse for that long, and it had been hard riding, not to mention that I’ve had a back problem for a few years now that I was worried might play up, especially as I’d had to see the physio before I went away and get some dry needling done (OUCH!) because I’d had spasms in the muscle, but the movement of the horse was quite soothing on the back muscles and my back felt better than it had for some time. As for my other muscles, they were sore, but nothing that would stop me from enjoying a day in the saddle. My sister was the same.

Breakfast's Up!

Breakfast’s Up!

We got dressed in the frosty air in our tent and opened the flap to find that the smoke from the back-burning had cleared a little, and our camp bosses were up and about getting breakfast ready and feeding the horses. One of the horses – Ned, who was a sweat boy who didn’t trust many people but for some reason decided I was all right and came to me for pats and to be bridled – had received a nasty kick where his saddle would go, so our trail leader had to ride another horse, which wasn’t a problem seeing we’d taken along a spare horse. The loose horses were amazing – once past a certain point, they pretty much just follow the rest, and could be let off the leads. We just had to be careful at certain points where there was a split in the trail to make sure they didn’t take the shorter option and head home – they really knew where they were.

Morning Cuppa

Morning Cuppa

We had eggs and bacon and toast for breakfast and I’ve really not tasted anything better sitting around the campfire in the clear, cold mountain air, the smell of gum trees and horses and burn off smoke tinging the air. It was so peaceful and wonderful and I felt relaxed and exhillarated in a way I don’t feel except for when we go skiing every year. Also, my sinuses were pretty clear and I didn’t have to take any medication for the terrible hayfever which has become a bane of my existence over the last few years – which was fantastic!

We helped feed and saddle our horses and then headed up to Craig’s Hut to see if we could see any more of the view. While the smoke had cleared a little from where we were, it was still thick enough across the mountains that we couldn’t see any more of the view than we had the day before, but it was nice to see the hut again and say goodbye to the Stirling side of the mountains, because we were about to ride down the other side from which we’d come up the day before and down into the Howqua Valley.

Steep Hills

Steep Hills

I thought riding up had been tough, but riding down was just as tough – possibly even tougher on the horses. We were riding down rocky roads that had been carved up by heavy rains and four wheel drive vehicles and it was slow going. My Uncle Richard took photos of us in front of him trying to get the perspective of just how steep it was, but the photos don’t do it justice. It was Man From Snowy River country and we were riding down the kinds of hills he rode down – except we were doing it slowly and allowing our horses to take the path they thought best for them, so nowhere near as dangerous or awe-inspiring, but still pretty difficult for us.

Just when I thought my bum knee (old skiing accident) was going to snap in half from the stress of pushing down into my stirrups to keep my weight off the saddle – which was the only thing I could do to help my brilliant horse, Chelsea, on the steep terrain – we came out onto a wide road where our 4WDs were waiting for us. Along with a gleaming firetruck.

20150313_114856We thought the firetruck might be there for the back-burning, but it wasn’t simply gleaming red in the sun just because they’d washed it, but because it was brand new and they’d brought it out for a photoshoot. We had a much needed break and walk around, chatted with the fireys and then headed off. We kept riding downhill for the rest of the morning and up until lunch, although most of it was along fairly gentle sloping winding roads. In comparison to the riding we’d been doing, it was pretty staid, but it gave us a different view of the mountains again and was the only way to get to where we were going – Pikes Flat on the banks of the Howqua river.

Steep Hills

More steep hills

We stopped off to look at some lovely falls (for the life of me, I can’t remember what they were called, but they were very pretty) and had a late lunch at a camping spot that many four wheel drive enthusiasts camp at, but was empty of anyone that day. The day had heated up and it was really pleasant sitting in the sun eating sandwiches and drinking cold drinks with the horses in the background and the river tinkling away beside us. We were only about an hour or so from our camp site, which we were all relieved to hear, but discovered that the hard riding of the day before was about to be repeated, because we had to ride up a small mountain and back down the other side to get down to Pikes Flat. It was worth it though, because we went through some really lovely bush that you wouldn’t see any other way. It was with relief though when we sited the flats and headed down to our camp site.

Setting up camp

Setting up camp

Pikes Flat was lovely and we soon had the horses unsaddled, washed and fed, our tent up, swags made up and – most amazing of all – were able to have a shower. Paul had a pump and hose that pulled water up from the river and had a gas water heater he’d built onto one of the trailers. He put up tarps and a shower head and voila! A hot shower in the middle of the Snowy Mountains. It was amazing having a shower and looking up at the trees and sky above and to feel clean after a sweaty, dusty day of hard riding was a real treat.

A well-earned drink

A well-earned drink

We were treated to a delicious meal again, cooked by Kay, our camp cook, and sat around the camp fire as we had the night before as Uncle Richard held court telling stories of his adventures and making everyone laugh. You really need an Uncle Richard type personality around a camp fire – we were all thoroughly entertained. Even my sister and I, who had heard a lot of his stories before, were laughing with everyone else and adding our own bits.

IMG_0337Sunset is amazing in the mountains – the soft pinks and purple of twilight seeming to last forever, and then suddenly it’s pitch black, with only the light of the moon and stars and the campfire to light the surrounds. It was all so peaceful as well, because there is no signal up there and so nobody was able to be on their phones and while we could charge our phones to take photos the next day, nobody was listening to music or anything. It was just the sounds of the mountains, the horses and us.

Sunset over Pikes Flat

Sunset over Pikes Flat

We would have thought we were all alone there, except for the fact we knew there was another group camping at the other end of Pikes Flat, so far away, we couldn’t see them or hear them. The only reason we knew they were there was because every now and then one of them would troop over to use the pit toilet that was near us rather than dig their own. We were kind of bemused by this, because it was a long way for them to troop just to use a pit toilet, but then one of our group was over there when one of them came across and we found out why they were making the trek. Kay had put a scented candle in there and wet wipes and it was really quite pleasant, even with the spiders. So pleasant that the other campers decided that it wasn’t too far to tramp over there to go to the loo! The simple things really do make a difference. 😉

That brings me to the end of the second day. I will about the excitement of our third day on the trail next time.

RichardKizandMeLast year, my sister came to me with an idea to do something a bit different and challenging every year together. Part of the reason for this was because we practically used to live in each other’s pockets (terrible sibling rivalry when we were growing up was transformed into a true friendship when she came to work with me in the theatre restaurant I owned and ran back in my twenties), but life and obligations to children, spouses and work means we don’t see each other as often we used to (although, we still see each other every week – some would say that’s enough, but we really are good friends!) Red sunThe other reason is because there are things she wants to do that she can’t do with her hubby, partly because he has an injury which stops him from doing a lot of things, but also because he’s not inclined to do things to get your blood rushing in that way. She also wanted to show our children that you can do whatever you want when you put your mind to it.

I thought it was a great idea, so, last year, we went on our first special outing together – a face first abseil down a 6 story building. We did it 3 times that day, each time just as scary but better than the last. Without meaning to sound like I’m tooting our horn, the man who ran it said we were the best at doing it he’d seen for a while. Not bad for 2 forty-year old mums!

So, what to do next?

P1020719When I was 14 I went on a 5 day horse riding trek with my Uncle Richard (who is a horse enthusiast too – the only one in my family at the time) starting from Omeo and riding through the Bogong High Plains, camping out near old stockmans’ cottages every night. We rode up and down mountains, through the plains near the top of Fall’s Creak and down through the riverlands. It was an amazing experience we still talk about today.

At the time, my younger sister wasn’t really interested in horse riding and showed no interest in coming with us. Cut to 30 years later, six years of holiday horse riding camps down near Anglesea when we were at school and a few other rides besides, a damaged knee (me), a dislocated shoulder (her), marriage and children (both of us) and bodies showing the wear and tear of age and an active and sometimes reckless approach to our sports, and she suddenly decided a trek like I went on when I was 14 was just the thing, complete with Uncle Richard – who had given up city life years ago to live in the country and still horserides. So we approached him with the idea. Of course he was really keen to do it.

And we were off.

The Buckle Up Crew - Kay, Geoff, Karen, Paul and Shelley

The Buckle Up Crew – Kay, Geoff, Karen, Paul and Shelley

My sister found a place called Buckle Up Bushrides near Merijig who were able to do a 4 day ride at a time that suited us all. We booked in, bought new riding boots and jodhpurs and were off. We met Uncle Richard in Merijig the night before the ride and had a great country meal at the Merijig Inn and were sleeping in bunk rooms that reminded me of staying up at the snow. The next day we got up to a red sun and the smell of smoke – they were back burning up in the mountains – and headed to the Buckle Up Bushrides farm.

It has been 18 years since I rode a horse and since I’ve truly been around horses like that, but the moment I got out of the car, I felt like I was home. The scent of horses and paddocks, the dust and smoke in the air, the sound of whickers and hooves pounding the earth in the distance, were all sounds and scents I’d experienced many times before and made me feel instantly relaxed.

Me and ChelseaWe had met the trail bosses the night before at the pub – Paul and Shelley, a really lovely couple – and then met the rest of the crew, Paul’s mum, Kay who was the camp cook, and Geoff who was Paul’s hand and camp supervisor. We met one of the others riders – the other wasn’t arriving until lunch and would be brought in by Paul in the 4WD), packed our gear into their trucks and then set off up the mountains in the 4WDs.

The horses had been trucked part way up Mt Stirling which was our start off point and where we met the other trail supervisor, Karen. We met our horses, and because all of us had a lot of previous experience riding, mounted up and headed off. I can’t tell you how fantastic it felt to be on a horse again. My sister and I were quite worried about sore muscles, and even though we did have them, it wasn’t anywhere near as bad as we thought it was going to be. It was like the old riding a bike cliche. I remembered everything right away and my horse, Chelsea, was lovely, and after testing me to start off with, caught on that I was experienced and wasn’t going to let her get away with the kind of stuff she might try on a less experienced writer, and we settled down into a partnership right away.

DSCN0870That’s what this kind of horse riding is all about – a partnership between rider and horse. If you don’t respect each other, the ride is not nearly as enjoyable. Chelsea was doing a lot of the hard work – that first day was a lot of riding up steep hills – but it was my job to get up off the saddle on the steep parts and trust her ability to take the best path for her and me, looking after her so she could look after me, and it was her job to take my instruction when necessary. The first few hours were spent figuring each other out and after that, it was pretty smooth riding. She was a really good horse.

Me and my sis on Mt Stirling

Me and my sis on Mt Stirling

We rode through really rugged country up to the top of Mt Stirling on that first day. Very unfortunately, the backburning meant that there was smoke obscurring the view that would normally be fabulous, but we had a lot of laughs as we peered through it, trying to make out the village on Mt Buller (only just) and the other mountains surrounding there. I had never been up Mt Stirling before, but had viewed it many times skiing on Mt Buller – so it was kind of cool to see the view (what we could see) from the other highest point in the area.

Riding uphill is a lot of hard work on rider and horse and riding downhill is the same. By the time we got to just below

Cantering outside Craig's Hut

Cantering outside Craig’s Hut

Craig’s Hut late that afternoon, everyone was tired and happy to see our camp crew had set up the basics of the camp – although, before we settled down, we rode up to Craig’s Hut, had a canter in front of it like The Man From Snowy River did in the movie, and had a look around

Craig's Hut

Craig’s Hut

Craig’s Hut which was built there for the movie – although, the one that’s there now is just a replica as the original was burnt down a number of years ago in bushfires.

We all got back to camp, looked after the horses first as any good horseperson will do, and then my sister and I set up a tent for ourselves, rolled out our swags – first time I’ve ever slept in a swag – and settled down around the camp fire, swapping stories, having a good meal and just taking in the relaxing atmosphere that I only ever really find in the mountains. I think I must be a mountain girl at heart.

Our tent

Our tent

Given I’ve got so much to say on this amazing adventure, I’m going to split this blog into 2 parts. So, this is enough for now. Next week I’ll cover the rest of the trip – but I will say this now. If you are thinking of going on a horseriding trek in the mountains, the crew at Buckle Up Bushrides are fantastic. They love their horses and what they do and are incredibly friendly and helpful. DSCN0901They are a relatively new company up there, but they have been working with some of the biggest trail rides up there (Kay is a Lovick – one of the big cattle families in the region and the family made famous for their work on The Man from Snowy River) and really know the mountains. I want to do this again with my family some time in the future and I will most definitely be doing it with them.

Enough said for now – next week I’ll be talking about the challenging trails we did on day 2 and 3 and the excitement when one of the trail bosses had a spill off a very narrow, high track above the Howqua river.