Monday, 12 February 2018

Deux Grandes Aventures - in France!

Right now Trav and I are having two grand adventures: living in France while I’m busy writing a new book loosely based on my own travel experiences for HarperImpulse - the romance imprint of HarperCollins UK Publishers!

Great excitement - signing my Harper Impulse contract!

Until fairly recently these were both totally unexpected opportunities!

HarperImpulse offering me a book contract prompted us to decide that we needed to settle down somewhere - at least for the time it would take me to write the book - but where?

When you have no fixed abode then your only options are to stay in an affordable hotel or rent a house or an apartment within your budget OR to do some housesitting and live somewhere for free in exchange for looking after the homeowner’s property and perhaps their livestock or pets.

As we have never done any housesitting before I checked out some of the house-sitting websites. The more I read about it the more appeal the housesitting idea had for us. Some people only needed a house sitter for a couple of days or weeks but some needed house sitters for a few months.

We were actually in Vietnam at the time of doing this initial research into housesitting and we already had plans in place to travel to Kuala Lumpur, Macau, Hong Kong, and South Korea over the coming weeks – so we decided that after South Korea - we would be prepared to pay the airfare to travel onto somewhere/anywhere in the world where we could stay for three months or more without having to pay any rent.

So we applied for an assignment in France through the website called

The assignment was to live in and look after a beautiful chateau in South West France owned by a UK couple who needed caretakers/managers for up to six months. The house was in the French countryside, just outside the beautiful and historic city of Perigueux,  and the home of a cat called Monsieur Smudge. There were also a couple of gites (cottages) on the property that were rented out and a large garden and an outdoor swimming pool to maintain.

The beautiful countryside of SW France and the housesitting assignment caring for Mr Smudge

All these jobs at the house were easily within Trav’s remit (plus there was a ride on tractor to cut the grass!) and, although it wasn't an island in the tropics, it was certainly a wonderful and idyllic setting for me to actually get some serious writing done - and being South West France - it's not as if it would ever get really cold in the wintertime either.

You can imagine how delighted we were when after a few emails back and forth and a skype interview with the homeowners – we were offered the French Assignment - and Trav and I were going to live in France from the end of September to the end of March!

The perfect writing spot...

In order to get to France as cheaply as possible from Asia, we took four flights and two long train journeys and a bus across London.

First, we took the KTX bullet train in South Korea from Daegu to Seoul and then we flew from Seoul to Hong Kong. To save on a hotel we slept in the airport in Seoul as our flight was so early in the morning. From Hong Kong our flight was delayed. After a bit of stress, we managed to get to Kuala Lumpur just in time for our direct flight to London. In London, we had to get from Heathrow to Gatwick to meet with a flight to Bordeaux, after which we took a train to Perigueux - the capital of the Dordogne Region of France.

At Perigueux train station we were met by our lovely homeowners!

The first few days we slept lots (as you can imagine) in our super comfortable and gorgeous bedroom in the beautiful chateau and we ate lots of lovely French food. Our lovely homeowners kindly showed us around the area so that we would know where to find the local shops and markets and vineyards etc.

The lovely homeowners Piers and Fran gave us a tour of the area, the vineyards, and we stopped off for lunch in a cafe

This area has so many beautiful old buildings and cathedrals and vineyards and chateaux

It was the end of September when we arrived in France but it was still hot and sunny. After being so long in SE Asia it was especially thrilling to see so much wonderful food and cheese (I LOVE cheese!) and (as we were in wine-country) lots of wine (I LOVE wine!) and it is so very inexpensive here because wine isn’t taxed as the French consider it to be a food. What a civilised country!

I knew we were going to love France!

We don’t actually speak French but were certainly keen to learn – especially as in this part of middle France - most people (including our neighbours) don’t speak any English (and why would they?) 'Bonjour! Ca va? Et vous?'

We soon settled down to living and working at our new home in France
Things I love - markets where dogs round up ducks - Authur the donkey and our neighbour's piggies  - and cafes and wine

A week or so after arriving in France, we invited (with our homeowner’s approval) my Aunt Dawn and Uncle Ed, who were in Europe from Vancouver, Canada, to stay with us for a few days. We had stayed with them last year and we were keen to see them again. We had a lovely week with them here in France before they flew back to Vancouver and I have lots of photos to show you of our wonderful days out to vineyards and medieval towns and chateaux and the time we spent together.

We had such a great time when my Uncle Ed and Aunt Dawn came to stay with us in France

Ed and Trav in old Perigueux France
Trav and I in beautiful old Perigueux France

Back at the house... Dawn and I enjoying a glass of wine and conversation by the pool...
The lazy hazy days of a French summer with Ed and Dawn and our lovely French neighbours Charles and Christelle
The autumnal courtyard through an open window

The weather stayed amazing for us all the way through October - warm enough to use the outdoor swimming pool a few times. We took a delivery of chopped wood for the winter courtesy of Fran and Piers – which we stacked into the woodshed while it was around 26 deg C. But, once November came around, the weather turned very cold.

In November it is Trav's birthday and this year he was delighted to receive a bottle of his favourite tipple (thank you Ben and Hayley) and something he'd enjoy whiling away any free French time - a drone. Happy Birthday Trav!

SHOCK! I could hardly believe it! In December it snowed and it was apparently the first time it had snowed in this part of France in FIVE years – and as we have lived in mostly hot and tropical places – it was the first time WE had experienced snow in around five years too!

We spent our French autumn evenings by the cosy log fire...

As we didn't actually have any cold weather clothes, we had to buy a couple of cold weather outfits to wear over the winter. Leggings and sweatshirts and socks. Our lovely homeowners did send a message to say we could use some of their knitwear from their wardrobes – which was very kind indeed – as we were reluctant to buy too much of anything that couldn’t go in our backpacks when we leave here in March.

I find this to be the most difficult thing about being a (woman) traveller. 

There is only a limited amount of stuff you can own and buy - as you have to be prepared to carry it around in your backpack with you - so less is always better.

We had a nice quiet Christmas – just the two of us and, of course, Mr Smudge – sitting by a lovely warm log fire with lots of wine and cheese. We didn’t have a Christmas tree but Trav found a string of lights to wrap around a tree in the courtyard outside. We did miss our family and friends but we did get to send and receive cards this year at least and to chat with most people on Messenger and Facetime and Skype.

Our lovely neighbours Charles and Christelle took us out for a pre-Christmas traditional French meal and also to a fabulous Christmas market in the nearby historic medieval town of Sarlat. This year’s market was on a British theme!

It was great fun and I took lots of photos!

And, except for these occasional outings, I was writing All The Time!

Harper Impulse had sent me a contract to sign and I was working to a tight end of January deadline. This meant I had just three months to write a full-length novel and to submit it on time. As an author, I’m often asked the question ‘how long does it take you to write a book?’

Well, my first book took me four years to write (I had three youngsters and two day-jobs back then) and the second one took two years. The third book, I recall, took three years. From then on, books usually took me about a year to write. So, I’ve never had to write a book quite as quickly as this before.

No pressure then!

To help, I made a spreadsheet and gave myself a set word count to achieve each week and a set time to work each day. I did try to include an hour of exercise each day too - walking in the beautiful countryside surrounding the house - as all the wine and the cheese I'm eating has piled on the weight. Consequentially, I’m a stone heavier than I was when I first arrived here. The countryside here is beautiful and reminds me very much of South West Scotland where we lived for many years.

But I'm now delighted to be able to tell you that the story is written and it's currently with my lovely editor. I do hope she loves it as much as I do. There will be of course be revisions to work on next. I expect to be working on them over the next couple of weeks. After which, the manuscript will go back to the publisher once again for line edits and then digital publication.

The title of this book – to be published as an ebook in Summer 2018 is:

‘The Backpacking Housewife’

I’m very excited about it I can tell you!

And I can hardly wait to see what the cover will look like and for it to be finally available on Amazon and on Kobo and Apple’s iBook stores. I'll be sending out a newsletter to my newsletter subscribers (see the top right sidebar of this page) when The Backpacking Housewife becomes available and also to alert you to any offers and competitions and prizes to be won around publication day.

So what’s next?

Well, we have some lovely friends from Scotland coming to stay with us for a few days soon and, if the weather allows, we’d love to take them out to a few vineyards and to explore some of the beautiful and historic local towns and to have lunch in some French cafes.

As for our onward travel plans, we do already have plans in place to leave France in mid-March. Our plan is to fly back to Asia initially, as we will be attending our son and daughter-in-law’s wedding in South Korea at the beginning of April. So, we will fly from Bordeaux to London, and then directly to Singapore. We’ll spend a couple of weeks in Malaysia (exact plans not yet decided on) before we fly over to Korea to meet up with family.

After our week in South Korea, we will fly directly from Seoul to San Francisco USA. I’ve always wanted to go to San Francisco – and I'm super excited about it so we have planned a three-day stopover there - I’ve already pre-booked our tickets to go over to see Alcatraz!

From the USA we will fly to Honduras and then onto the beautiful Caribbean island of Utila.  If you've followed this blog for a while, you'll know that Utila - the smallest of the Bay Islands - is our favourite island in the Caribbean and, although we have stayed on this beautiful island many times, it will have been two and a half years since we were last there.

I’m really looking forward to going back to Utila, hopefully, we'll stay for the whole summer, and to seeing all our island friends again. Trav, as a PADI Staff Instructor, is also looking forward to diving in the sea every day again as I know he’s really missed being in the water.

So lots of posts and lots more adventures to come in 2018.

Thanks for reading and visiting my blog. Please do pop back soon for more writing and travel news and please do consider signing up for my newsletter - I hardly ever send one out - only when I have news - so promise not to spam you.

Until next time
Love, Janice xx

Friday, 2 February 2018

Back to South Korea to visit the Horton/Kang family!

After spending two fun nights in Macau (the Las Vegas of Asia!) and taking a ferry over to explore Hong Kong for a few days - which you can read about in my two previous posts – we flew onto Seoul in South Korea.

This is our fifth visit to South Korea where our son, James, lives with our daughter in law, Sujeong, and our grandson, Aaron.

Our sweet grandson, Aaron Horton

Being based in Asia over the past couple of years (Malaysia and Thailand mostly) has been great for us as it has been strategically conducive to not missing out too much on our young grandson growing from a baby into a toddler.

During the past few trips, we have also managed not to get lost taking the high-speed KTX train from Seoul to Daegu. We have actually mastered the subway around the city - and we have even managed to do some unchaperoned shopping at the mall or the market too – utilising a few handy Korean phrases!

During this visit, we would get to meet the new addition to our family – Zoey the Beagle – who is an adorable puppy and new best friend for our grandson.

In early to mid-September, the weather is still warm (South Korea has very hot summers and incredibly cold winters) so we were able to take our grandson out to the play park and for lots of walks and even for a day out to Daegu Theme Park - which was great fun - so please excuse proud Jamma and Papa overload! (Aaron's names for us.)

Also, during this visit, we were able to discuss the BIG WEDDING PLANS for April 2018. Our son and his wife have been legally married for a few years but they have never actually had a traditional Korean wedding party for family and friends to attend. So, in April 2018, they will be getting married again with friends and family. The style of the wedding will be traditional, with Korean wedding clothes for the bridal party (white traditional gown and groom in a suit) and also a change into Korean traditional 'hanbok' for the reception and dinner.

It’s also a tradition in South Korea to have the formal wedding photos done in a photographic studio well ahead of the wedding date - and so these few I’m showing you have been recently taken – and don’t they look romantic!

While we were in Korea this time, I went with Sujeong and her mum and her sister to get measured for my traditional Korean ‘mother of the groom hanbok’ – handmade and in colours I have chosen for myself – complete with shoes and handbag to match. The photo on the bottom left shows the fabric I've chosen - and top right are my shoes! The middle photo shows Sujeong trying on a hanbok in the shop.

I’ll feel so privileged to be wearing this traditional outfit at our son’s wedding ceremony alongside Sujeong’s mother, who will be wearing her ‘mother of the bride hanbok’ for the ceremony when we next visit in April 2018.

My daughter-in-law's family - the Kang family - are so lovely and generous and hospitable and we enjoy going out for some meals together - Korean Barbeque food is amazing! On every visit, they have always managed to find somewhere interesting and cultural to take us. On this occasion, to appreciate the leaves starting to turn colour, we went on the Palgongsan Mountain Cable Car. The views over the forest were spectacular. There are two different cable car venues in Daegu – the other is the Aspen Cable Car – which we did on a previous visit and for the high panoramic views of Daegu it is an absolute must see.

We stopped off for lunch at a countryside restaurant. The Kang family had pre-booked this (we had no idea) and we had a private room for us all to enjoy a fabulous and huge traditional meal (with lots of kimchi of course!) with us all sitting on cushions at a low table.

Heading back into Daegu, on the outskirts of the city, we stopped off to walk through a beautiful flower field in the warm sunshine. It made for a fabulous and colourful photo opportunity!

We had a wonderful visit and we are now looking forward to April 2018!

Next on the blog an unexpected twist to our travel adventures!

After applying online for a housesitting assignment for the winter months in South West France - from October 2017 to March 2018 - we got it! This meant flying from Seoul via Kuala Lumpur and via London to Bordeaux France to be the guardians of a 500-year-old French country chateau close to the city of Perigueux in exchange for looking after the house and the resident pussy-cat while the homeowners were back in the UK. 

What a fantastic opportunity and a wonderful place to live!

Our beautiful new home for the winter in SW France
The housesitting assignment is perfect in many ways because we really needed somewhere to settle down for a while as I had just signed a publishing contract with Harper Impulse – the romance imprint of Harper Collins publishers UK - for a book I had yet to write scheduled to be published Summer of 2018.

I needed to be somewhere to focus on my writing so that I could meet my tight end of January 2018 deadline. The new novel is to be called The Backpacking Housewife – a novel based on my own travel experiences.

You can read my author acquisition announcement on the Harper Impulse website HERE.

My husband, Trav, was also very happy about living in France for a while too because he knew he would be kept busy while I was writing. He would be responsible for maintaining the beautiful gardens and the swimming pool and any issues with the rented gites in the grounds of our ch√Ęteau home over the wintertime.

So please join me here on the blog next time – when I’ll be in France!

Love, Janice

Saturday, 30 December 2017

Our Adventures in Hong Kong!

During the first few days of September this year, we were in Macau – the Vegas of Asia – and you can read all about that fabulous trip in my previous post. From Macau, we took a Turbojet High-Speed Ferry over to Hong Kong. We were there in the wake of a terrible typhoon and although the weather was sometimes cloudy and a little wet - as you'll see in the photos - that didn't stop us from having the most fabulous few days there.

Hong Kong has long been a fascination to us. We were thrilled to be there at last and determined to make the most of every minute of our visit. We had a lot planned but found it actually impossible to do and see everything that Hong Kong has to offer in the time we allowed.

The first thing we did after checking into our hotel – the Holiday Inn - was to put on comfortable shoes for a long sightseeing walk. This is of course the best way to see the sights and attractions and to browse the shops and markets and street food stalls – of which there are thousands!

We must have walked along the street and the entire length of Hong Kong and Victoria Harbour. Feeling pretty tired afterwards, we hopped onto a traditional tram all the way back to our hotel. The transport system around the city is really good and there are a constant stream of buses and trams and trains and subway trains and taxis and boats to take you quickly and easily and cheaply (not sure about the taxis as we never used one) to wherever you want to go.

On the corner from our hotel was a restaurant called Dim Sum Square and this was where we ate on two occasions because they had the best dim sum we have ever tasted. As you might expect, the best dim sum is in Hong Kong!

We also ate at several other small restaurants – not the fancy western ones or hotel linked ones – but in the side streets where the locals ate and we found the food delicious and reasonably priced. I did see various unusual and strange bugs and insects and sea creatures and parts of animals being cooked and eaten in Hong Kong and, although I'm normally quite adventurous with food, I have to admit that I stuck to what we consider to be normal Asian foods, like fried rice and shrimp and chicken and duck etc.

One thing that fascinated and also appalled me in equal measure in Hong Kong was the amount of traditional medicine shops that are selling very strange things as tonics and remedies. I won’t go into the details.

The next thing we did was to take the famous and charming Star Ferry boat across Victoria Harbour to Kowloon. This is the most inexpensive way to see the famous city skyline and to experience a beloved icon and traditional mode of transport that has been in operation since 1888.

We spent some time in Kowloon, exploring once again on foot, until we eventually ended up at the famous Temple Street Market – the last remaining example of a traditional market in Hong Kong. This is a famous market in its own right for shopping and souvenirs and street food but also the star of many a movie – as it is every movie makers ideal China Town.

One of my very favourite things to do in Hong Kong was our visit to The Peak on The Peak Tram. Not only will the tram take you to the top of Victoria Peak – to the Sky Terrace and a 360 degree fabulous view over the whole of Hong Kong and its skyscrapers, the harbour and all the surrounding islands - but you get there on the world steepest funicular railway. It was an amazing experience and the views – oh my goodness – they are truly breath-taking.

The night before we left Hong Kong we did something so memorable and so iconic that I will forever hold it dear to my heart. We took an old junk boat - an old traditional boat with its billowing red sails - out into the harbour after dark to watch the spectacular nightly light show from the best vantage point possible.

The Symphony of Lights – a light show set to music and colourful lasers and spotlights and LED screens flashing and streaking across all the tall shiny glass and steel buildings around both sides of the harbour is now recognised as a signature icon for Hong Kong – and was simply stunning.

I will forever hold Hong Kong in my heart as a wonderful, romantic, happy and exciting and memorable place. But we were ready to leave simply because our flight the next morning was to take us to Seoul in South Korea – where for the next ten days we would be visiting our family there – our son James and his wife Sujeong and our beautiful two-and-a-half-year-old grandson Aaron and our in-laws, the lovely Kang Family.

So next time here on the blog, I’ll be in South Korea. Join me soon!

Love Janice xx

Wednesday, 20 December 2017

Our fabulous weekend in Macau – the Las Vegas of Asia!

At the very start of September this year, we were looking forward to spending a couple of days in Macau – the Las Vegas of Asia!

It’s a place that has long been on my bucket list and I was keen to see for myself how its fun attractions and cosmopolitan hotels and casino resorts really compared to those we enjoyed in Las Vegas USA.

Macau has its own international airport although it is just an hour away on a fast ferry from Hong Kong. So, we planned to fly from Kuala Lumpur into Macau and spend two nights there and then three nights in Hong Kong to make the most of our time in these two iconic cities. But, right up to the last minute, we really didn’t know if our trip was going to happen at all because just a few days earlier a terrible and devastating category typhoon had hit Macau and Hong Kong.

I contacted our airline for an update and we were told our flight was unaffected and leaving as scheduled. I contacted the Parisian Hotel, where we had tickets for the final night of the Michael Jackson tribute show ‘Thriller’, and we were told the show was going ahead as planned too.

We were concerned and also sensitive to the loss of life and the destruction that Macau and its people had suffered, but it was made clear to us that the city was recovering quickly from the terrible storm, and that it was business as usual. We decided to go ahead but to keep away from the old historic town that had been worst hit by the typhoon. We certainly didn’t want to add to the burden and pressures of the recovery effort, and so decided to confine our stay to the Cotai area, and to The Strip.

The weather was not so good after the typhoon – it was wet and stormy - but that hardly mattered at all when almost all attractions are undercover and there are walkways between them. We stayed right on the Strip by all the big hotels that both Macau and Las Vegas are known for – like The Wynn, The Venetian, The Mandarin Oriental, The Ritz Carlton, The St Regis, The Conrad, The Sheraton, The Holiday Inn, and others - and still in Macau - the famous Sands Hotel and Resorts.

It was sad, however, when we were able to venture outside, to see some of the evidence of damage and what was left of the palm trees in the area. They just looked like broken stumps.

We did manage to have a fun ride in the gondolas at The Wynn and we had a fabulous lunch there too at the famous buffet – which we had enjoyed in Vegas too - and can report that they are both equally as good!

We had a good walk around the resort hotels, and in the Venetian Hotel particularly, I wouldn’t have known that I wasn’t in the one in Vegas as it was exactly the same and as equally impressive with its canals and operatic singing gondola drivers and exclusive shops and fabulous skydome interior.

Perhaps the highlight of our trip was attending the Thriller Live Show at the Parisian Hotel. It was the final performance in Macau and this show had started in the West End in London and has travelled throughout the world.
It was truly fabulous and everyone was up dancing!

After a truly amazing couple of days, we were really excited to be leaving Macao knowing that we had not only done it proud but we were going on to Hong Kong next by TurboJet High Speed Ferry.

Join me next time here on the blog when we explore Hong Kong – the iconic city and the colourful harbour with its famous skyline, the mouth-watering food and the history and the culture, our trip by tram up to Victoria Peak and our Star Ferry trip over to the island of Kowloon with its famed Temple Street Market.

Love, Janice xx