Archive for the ‘Writing’ Category

My wonderful web designer-slash-good-friend and I have been working around the clock to revamp my new website, and we are down to the last finishing touches before she pressed that very important ‘Go Live’ button.

So, head on over to my new, very own website http://mariasmcdonald.com/. For those of you who have subscribed to receive email notification every time I post something, your subscription will automatically be transferred across to the new site. For those who follow simply via putting me on your ‘Reading list’ on WordPress, I invite you to come over to my new site and subscribe! The subscription form can be found on the bottom of the home page.

This is it, folks. This is the last post from mariasmcdonald.wordpress.com. See you on the other side!


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Today is the day! After about 9 months of planning, and waiting, and counting down, we are now down to the wire. In about 7 hours, we will leave our home for 3.5 weeks, and by new dawn tomorrow, we will fly across the Pacific Ocean to Singapore, and get a connecting flight to the Philippines.

My next post (whenever that would be!) will recount our experiences in the Philippines. I doubt it will be before Christmas, so to all of you, a very Merry Christmas! May it be filled with joy and laughter, spent with your family and those who are dearest to you.

And as Christmas is my favourite holiday season of the year, it’s only natural that all of my books to date have touched upon this subject. Here’s a little excerpt to bring you more Christmas cheer and joy, from Lizzy & Michael III.

“Ready?” He asked his companion, fingers intertwining with her slender ones, tugging her arm excitedly she had no choice but to trudge along the narrow footpath serving as some kind of an entrance, teeth tightly clamping her bottom lip upon witnessing Michael’s apparent glee.

“How big is this tree going to be?” Lizzy asked, envisioning the available space provided b the humongous living room of the Presidential Suite Michael had called home since May of this year; if he wanted to, he could order a nine-foot tree to fill up a corner, and more.

“Whatever tree that’s light enough for both of us to carry,” Michael replied, sensing the churning of Lizzy’s mind as to how to possibly transport an enormous tree.

Lizzy couldn’t help but chuckle; Michael had booked her diary for this evening as far back as two weeks ago, stating with apparent exuberance that in light of the fact that neither of them will be leaving the Big Apple this year, both wanting to fully experience the joy of Christmas in their own apartments for the first time, they would need to slightly modify their annual Christmas tradition instead of the usual venture to the Fenway Park fete.

“This one’s nice,” Lizzy commented, running her fingers lovingly through the short-spiked leaves of a slender Balsam fir tree the height of her chest.

It would be, Michael thought dryly, for your place. He looked over the tree somewhat dispassionately, believing that his majestic place would swallow the petite plant, making it look even smaller than it actually was.

Lizzy wrinkled her nose when Michael suggested as much, her eyes trailing up and down the length of the five-foot tree with no more enthusiasm than what Michael had displayed just moments earlier. Herself an agnostic, and growing up believing that Christmas was a less-than-special occasion compared to birthdays and Mother’s or Father’s day, the thought of having a lit-up, fancily decorated Christmas tree was foreign and unsettling.

“Let’s find your tree first,” Lizzy said at last. She concluded that should she decide to have a Christmas tree after all, a five-foot tree would be lighter and easier to drag along than a much larger one.

They combed through the well-known SoHo trees displayed on Armsterdam and 98th Street, schooling both their faces to nod and smile appreciatively at the salesman trying their hardest to sell the features of each tree they inspected and put a mild interest on, eyes rolling the whole three-hundred-and-sixty degree or making faces at one another as they walked away from what they believed to be half-dead trees it should already be sent to the chipper.

They emerged out of the lush evergreens some one-and-a-half hour later, both faces beaming and flushed, their hands busily balancing the five-foot tree that had first attracted Lizzy’s attention, Michael’s choice of a seven-foot Douglas fir bushy tree was being delivered this coming weekend, the docket of purchase was safely wedged inside his overcoat pocket; the occasion was made even more memorable as coming out of the display space, they felt small white drops of snow from the sky above, landing on their skins softly like balls of cotton wools.

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A year later, Sasha was surprisingly still with us. Her tumour had grown to twice its size, slowing her movements down somewhat.

We decided to get a second, professional opinion. From the moment we stepped through the front door, we had a really good vibe we didn’t feel with the first vet. This vet told us that we could do a simple blood test first, ensuring that her heart could withstand the surgery (something that the first vet NEVER told us – but that was another rant). With that in mind, we booked our baby girl for surgery, waiting impatiently by the phone for every little updates.

One thing I have to say is that our fur kid was a real trooper. Groggy as she was from the anaesthetic, she made it through the surgery, her spirit was only slightly dampened by the fact that we had to put a cone around her head to prevent her from licking, or worse, shred open the stitches with her teeth. For a while, we nicknamed her ‘Little Miss Cone Head’.

'Mummy, get this thing off me!'

But once the stitches had been taken out, and the memory of the surgery was well behind her, the girl thought she was an equivalent to a ‘Supergirl’, the only thing missing was her red cape. She still strived to launch off the edge of the couch (to both my and my husband’s mortification), still do laps around the house as soon as we let her in. And even though her hearing has gone, it didn’t deter me from turning into a Mad Mother, screaming at her to stop running and save her energy.

I realised I’ve digressed considerably from my main point. With our overseas trip looming, we had been racking our brains as to what arrangement we would put in place for someone to look after Sasha for three-and-a-half weeks. We had a friend who lived just around the corner from us who was willing to come over each day and feed her. But still, we worry about her for several reasons. For one, we are leaving her during what would arguably be one of the hottest period in summer. Two, we have put PVC blinds to cover our whole patio, and the hot air would be trapped inside the patio, where my baby is. Three, well… the baby, in dog years, is actually 107 years old! More and more, she fills her present days strolling around the patio, trying to get our attention by sniffing so loudly near the door, and sleeping inside her dog house. And the last thing we want, if we could avoid it, is coming home to a dead dog 😦

So we had to think of an alternative. Last weekend, we brought her to my husband’s brother’s house and tested how she behaved with his brother’s dog. The last time Sasha and my husband’s brother’s dog laid eyes on each other, many moons ago (I’m talking about… 10 or so years), they growled and showed their fangs; the other dog nipped Sasha, so unexpectedly it scared the shit out of Sasha. All this, coming from a dog whom had been Sasha’s partner-in-crime for three years whilst Sasha was living at my husband’s brother’s house.

With Sasha’s hearing completely gone, and her strength almost non-existent, she couldn’t be bothered to retaliate. As the other dog growled and nipped her, Sasha strolled past without a care in the world; a factor, I think, that contributed greatly to the fact that the other dog gave up after about 30 minutes. And you know how, for Mothers out there, when you feel immense pride when your child does something ordinary? When s/he gets teased/provoked and they stand their ground without getting themselves into trouble? Well, I felt like that when Sasha casually strode past the other dog; a feeling of overwhelming pride of my cutest, most wonderful (not-so) little girl, who has learnt all the life’s lessons and realise that fighting back isn’t always the best course of action.

All's well in the world 🙂

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No, this is not a gushing post about my husband, despite me loving him so dearly. This time, my utmost affection is being solely directed to the other, most important creature in my life; my beautiful 15-year-old Jack Russell, Sasha.

Our poser Fur-Baby

To say she’s ‘mine’ was also not entirely correct (though my husband would beg to differ for the reason I’m about to disclose). He was the one who spotted and fell in love with her first, when he was working  in a mining town in another state, a few years before he met me. But from the moment I came into the picture, and caught her mid-air as she bounded and leapt to me, I was completely smitten with (back then) the precocious, cutest three-year-old puppy.

From that first, memorable meeting, a special ‘Mother-daughter’ bond was formed. I remember those days I didn’t have to go to University to attend lectures or meet up somewhere for group assignments; I would let my baby inside the house, and let her curl beside me whilst I read my textbooks, did my homework, or watched daytime soaps. Over time, she had extended this tradition by sitting on my lap, pressing the length of her little body either in-between my stretched-out legs or moulding the curve of her body perfectly to that my folded leg(s), her sigh indicating that all was well in her world.

It was a habit she carried on in the frequent occasions we let her sleep with us on our queen-, and later on king-sized bed. You’d think that she’d appreciate the space, happy to choose a corner spot, and sprawl herself silly? Apparently not! To our furkid, the most ideal sleeping arrangement was to press her back right up against one of our legs. There were many times that she had ‘kicked’ me inadvertently with her paws to stretch. And there were equally many times that both my husband and I ‘retaliated’ and bumped her purposely with our legs, or pushed her to where there was an abundant of space (mind you to no avail – the cheeky girl would always shuffle back to press herself against one of us).

Just like any other baby, the furkid grew up. Whereas in her prime, she loved to dig her way out of the backyard fence, happy to galavant and see the world far beyond what she witnessed when we took her on walks, as the years went by, she gradually lost interest in the outside world (thank goodness). Whereas before, she could last a whole day chasing after the much-worn out, much-loved tennis ball, the ageing doggie gradually lost the strength to run up and jump up on the bed. The times of playfully trying to devour other furkid’s head – something that at first horrified me – is now deemed as too much of an effort.

Slowly but surely, her hearing disappeared, and the opaque that affected her right eye grew larger. Shortly after her 13th birthday last year, she developed some kind of a breast tumour, which expanded the size of one of her nipples to… well, let’s just say unnaturally enormous. We went to one vet, who told us that given her age, putting her through surgery might mean she might never ever wake up again, and perhaps it would be best if we just make the rest of her short life as comfortably as we possibly could.

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Oh the weather outside is frightful,
But the fire is so delightful,
And since we’ve no place to go,
Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!

It doesn’t show signs of stopping,
And I’ve bought some corn for popping,
The lights are turned way down low,
Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!

I do wish I could tell you that one of my Christmas traditions involve sitting by the fireplace, roasting corn/marshmallows, watching the snow fall down steadily from the Heavens. But I have gone through a few Christmas traditions in my time, both with the family I originated from, and the one I created ever since I married my husband.

One Christmas Tradition that never dies...

My earliest memory of a Christmas tradition, back in Jakarta, included a night-time Mass that ended right at the stroke of midnight (or just slightly after). Because our parish serviced about 4 massive areas, the Church was packed up to the carpark area, and if you wanted to get a seat to brace the over 1-hour Mass, you had to be at the Church around 8 at night for a 10PM mass.  Growing up, I had very much looked forward to this even if cramming yourself into a room during a windless, humid night meant you also had to fan yourself vigorously for two straight hours); it was a chance to meet with my friends outside school setting, a chance to wish them a ‘Merry Christmas’ right there on the spot instead of waiting until New Year, when the school resumed.

On Christmas day, all of us went on a family outing. Being a Muslim-oriented country, the shops in Jakarta remained open, despite Christmas day being officially declared as a public holiday. It was the one day that we put aside all our differences as a family,  traipsed around the many levels of the shopping centre of choice, and had a wonderful, peaceful Christmas lunch. I would have loved to be able to say that afterwards, I happily checked out the Christmas/after-Christmas sales, but being small, with no money whatsoever, I had to satisfy myself with following my Mother around whilst she checked out the sales, trying out whatever clothes she deemed appropriate for me to have. Failing that, I retreated to the bookstore and devoured new release books until the moment my parents declared that family outing time was finished and we headed home.

Imagine my bafflement therefore when I migrated to Australia and experienced my first Christmas here. I grew up watching American shows, where the weather cooled right down to freezing nearing Christmas. Every Christmas movie I watched showed people rugging up from head to toe, protecting them from snow and blizzard. Based on this, and the experience I have had in Jakarta, I was thoroughly disappointed to find that on Christmas day in Australia:
1. The temperature could reach early 40 degree Celcius, making it difficult for ANY kind of make-up to stay on your face for long.
2. The shops are closed for the whole day. Even the cinemas at one stage were closed.
I know, I know, it was a time for family to get-together and enjoy each other’s company. But seriously, the first Christmas I spent in Australia, it was only my Mum and I (unlike a flock of birds, when we migrated to Australia, we had staggered migration – with me and my Mum travelling first, and the rest of the family coming in much much later – but that’s a whole other post!). We were living in a unit, we didn’t know anyone, and we weren’t prepared for the quietness that ensued following the morning Mass. Everyone else in the apartment building had gone to their respective families to celebrate Christmas; the thought of bracing the journey to town in public transport, only to be greeted by closed doors were equally unappealing. It was, by far, the dullest Christmas I’ve ever experienced, a far-cry from all those warm, fuzzy feeling I’ve watched on TV, and I got so disheartened by Christmas that particular year I actually cried!

In hindsight, my vow never to experience such a Christmas again led me to the next Christmas tradition. I started travelling; instead of staying in Australia for Christmas, I think over the next two years, I went back home to Jakarta during Christmas-New Year. I reacquainted myself with friends I have made from teaching a local Sunday school in my parish. I met, and made new friends with the prayer group I used to attend before I migrated to Australia. I went on a Religious end-of-year retreat.

The tradition of travelling more or less continued when I met my (then) future husband. Granted, he also took me to his family’s Christmas dinner celebration, and I rediscovered the true meaning of Christmas – of it being the time to share the love and joy with those you hold dear. But, as the years went by, and my then boyfriend, then fiancée, then husband and I wanted to cement our own, unique Christmas tradition, travelling during Christmas had become a regular occurrence for us. In the course of 7 years of marriage, we’ve travelled back to Jakarta 3 times; we went to Sydney and Melbourne; and this year, we are about to embark on yet another overseas trip, to Philippines, flying just a few days before Christmas.

So, apart from exchanging presents on Christmas day, what are some of the Christmas traditions you have upheld? Both in the family you’ve grown up in, and the family you’ve created since?

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Today, I was given a golden opportunity to do a fifteen-minute presentation on my favourite subject to some of my fellow colleagues – my passion for writing.

To start of with, silly me, thinking that I was all prepared, forgot one simple fact; that Macbook Air didn’t have a direct connection like PC-based laptops do to a data projector, and arriving at the venue on-time, I had no time to source this little device connecting my Macbook to the data projector from anywhere else.

No matter – I have a back-up plan. Out came another device I have armed myself with; my trusty iPad. So I started showing my website on the iPad and asked my colleagues to pass this around whilst someone kindly sourced another laptop for me. Connected that up to the data projector, got visual, sweet! Opened Safari… only to be greeted with that (damn!) ‘Page cannot be found’ and ‘There is a problem in connecting to your Internet connection’ messages. No, no, no, NO, NO!!!!!

What is it they say in show business? ‘The show must go on’? Well then… I ‘ignored’ the technological problem and dived into telling the fellow Secretaries what started my love affair with my scribbling pen to paper, what I’ve accomplished in the past five years since, and what prompted me to delve more wholeheartedly into creating and maintaining social media presence, being unpublished notwithstanding.

You know, I considered myself being not as bad as I used to be in public speaking. I used to always have to type up my speech, memorised it days (if not weeks) prior to the big day, and refer to it from time to time during my presentation. These days, bullet points outlining the main topics were all I needed.

Still, having known the topic of my speech SO well, I could feel a nervous sweat broke out within the first few minutes of standing in front of about 25 of my colleagues; some of it culminating just below my eyes, blurring my glasses I was compelled to take them off and wiped the moisture away.

But I did get through it, and had tremendous fun doing it, even if:
1. At times, I spoke a little too softly for people to hear. It has always been something I need to consciously work on.
2. Whilst I explained to them the dream that started Eleanor I, and read an excerpt from said book, I didn’t think to explain the premise of Eleanor I and/or II (though perhaps, the excerpt would hopefully shed a light on that? Entice the audience to want to know more about the book? You know, the whole ‘not giving too much away’ point of view and all that?).

It is something I need to work on and improve between now and Monday, when I’m reprising this presentation to another bunch of my colleagues. To my very first group of audience today, from the bottom of my heart, thank you for your time, and I hope I have managed to captivate/entertain you in some capacity.

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As writers, we all tend to mull over each word, each sentence, each paragraph, making sure that one flows from the next; that the adjective we’ve chosen aptly reflect the mood of the character or the atmosphere of the situation. We consult our trusty Thesaurus over our word choices; sometimes, we even (gasp!) select a whole section we’ve deemed unworthy and press the ‘Delete’ button, or rip pages of handwriting we simply believe are made of utter crap.

Not so long ago, I came across the concept of Freewriting, written by Sue Healy. She describes a writing exercise in which you put whatever that first comes into your mind onto the screen, dismissing grammar and structure. It’s a warm-up exercise; a chance to stretch and flex those muscles inside your head; a great way to ignore those voices criticising your every literary move and just… write.

So here is my debut effort of it, dedicating three whole minutes writing whatever it is that comes into my mind. In 3… 2… 1…!

Sitting in front of my computer, with no sound other than the whirring of the air-cond above me, my husband snoring in the bedroom, it suddenly dawned on me that it’s nearing Christmas. And there is something magical as December approaches. While Christmas carols have been playing in big department stores since October (something I don’t quite get), nearing December, I can’t help but get swept up in the whole festivities. I love seeing the Christmas decorations each department store puts up, the baubles hanging from the Christmas tree branches, the bows on the displayed gifts under it. Nearing December, I always put on my personal Christmas compilation, imagining myself standing in the middle of snow-covered ground, wearing one of those thick, fur-lined red suit, watching the snow falls from the sky.

I must say that writing this was somewhat therapeutic. And I can definitely use that, almost as is, for a passage in one of my books. Go on – I dare you – if you haven’t tried this before… give it a go!

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From the moment I began writing the ‘Lizzy & Michael’ saga, I knew I wanted to cover at least ten years of their lives. For the longest time, I was adamant that there was only to be one giant book of ‘Lizzy & Michael’, divided into four main groups; high school, college, growing up and now (now being the last 2 years of the ten-year span covered). That was until I reached page 1284 and Microsoft Word kept crashing on me, and I was somewhat forced to split Lizzy and Michael into four books.

Tonight, history has repeated itself. Just like every new novel I started, I was adamant that there would be one book, and one book only. My current work-in-progress, Evelyn, currently unfinished, has already clocked up over 175,000 words. As research has told me that agents and publishers wouldn’t even consider anything that’s beyond 120,000 words (unless, of course, your name is Diana Gabaldon!), I had had to re-strategise.

I was trying to do something different with this novel; picking up a leaf from several of Jodi Picoult’s novels, I was going to do a ‘Now’ and ‘Then’, in which Evelyn was constantly having ‘flash backs’. The story would focus on her choice of profession as a CIA agent, a drastic career change she had made from being a music teacher. She would then recall her dark, haunted past, which include being raped by a guy two years her senior in high school and surviving a home invasion by criminals who had been put in jail by her then policeman boyfriend.

Just like my previous books, the main male character had an equal first place as each of the female protagonist I’ve created. In this case, it was Nicholas, a fellow CIA analyst whom Evelyn met at the Agency’s Christmas party. So far, his most prominent story revolved around the fact that his Father passed away when Nicholas was sixteen, after battling pancreatic cancer for a number of years (a back story that would become very relevant towards the end of the book).

With all these going on, going back and forth between past and present just became a bit too complicated, and if I started getting confused, I guess I’d have no hope in convincing the readers that this was the right way to go for my novel.

So there was a moment of meltdown tonight, thinking that perhaps, I would have to discard the whole novel and start from scratch again; a prospect that invited a look of utter horror from my husband and a lot of angst from myself. But then, I had a bright, light bulb moment to discard the concept of writing the whole book switching between past and present. I decided to stick with the same way I’ve been writing, and split the massive 175,000-plus book into smaller ones.

(Someone help me!) Evelyn is now three books; Evelyn I concentrates on how she would overcome the traumatic experience from being raped in high school and from the home invasion, making her rethink whether being a music teacher was the correct career path in terms of being able to protect and defend oneself. Evelyn II focuses on her experiences as a CIA agent, and meeting Nicholas Walker; a man whom has managed to chase her haunted dreams away. Evelyn III looks at how she deals with the latest blow life has to offer her; one that no amount of counselling and unconditional love can cure.

Am I happy with my decision? You bet I am! And as soon as I thought of it, I wondered why I’ve spent days fussing over this; why I spent so much time contemplating to start the whole story from scratch. And it also means that there are a lot more thorough, detailed developments to be written without breaking the word-limit, which is something I am extremely excited about and looking forward to.

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How do you calm your inner being in preparation to the night-time slumber? I’ve read of a fictional character once whom religiously brush her thick golden locks to the count of one-hundred (and not another brush stroke less!). I’ve known some who need to have a mandatory glass of warm milk, tea, or even wine. Others rub lotions to the cracked skins of their hands/feet. I myself have, from time to time, prop myself up with a good book (which can backfire when you want to finish just one chapter… and another… and the next…)

Soon after the first draft of Eleanor I was finished, and I was so excited to show it off to anyone who cared to read it, my husband invented a new bedtime ritual for us. Not an avid reader himself, he thought it’d be a good idea for me to read Eleanor I to him. And so began my days (or should I say nights) of story-telling, reading him my very own story. To say I was highly self-conscious would be an understatement. I was extremely nervous, which hindered the flow and clarity of the story.

At least it kept him from doing this...!

It was during such a night that my husband, being so absorbed with the story (now that I have been able to successfully adopt the tone of an articulate BBC news presenter ;)), suggested that I wrote Eleanor II. See, initially, Eleanor I was supposed to be a stand-alone novel; it was supposed to only be titled ‘Eleanor’, with an epilogue that gives the reader a glimpse of her life a little under two decades later. But my husband remarked, “you do know that the story doesn’t have to end there?”

I might leave that sentence hanging so that I don’t give away the biggest spoiler. For a while though, every time he brought this up, I was simply shaking my head vigorously, adamant that Eleanor I would be a stand-alone book. That I was only going to write this one book, and nothing else.

But it was a voice unwilling to be ignored, and the more I denied it, the more sparks of new ideas burst inside my head, urging me to pick up that pen and put words down on paper once more. What I thought was to be of permanent vacation from writing became a short break of less than a week, to both my dismay and amazement.

So here is the opening section of Eleanor II. I don’t think that this was the very first section I’ve written of Eleanor II, but it was one I wrote when the stars were aligned; where inspirations were bursting at the seams of my mind, and words came to me easily.

The waves of memories hit her as soon as she swings the door open. She took one step forward into the house, standing in the middle of her dining room, watching her younger self, perhaps around eight, serving her Father dinner for the first time. He had wrinkled his nose slightly upon seeing the charcoal-burnt chicken and over-steamed vegetables, but cut and chomped through the tough meat nonetheless, smiling at her as if it was the most delicious meal he had ever eaten.

She ran her fingers lightly along the length of the table, watching passively at her dust-smeared fingers.

“A little dust wouldn’t harm either of us, you know,” her Father had said.

“But it might smear the beige shawl I’m knitting for Jane,” Eleanor had argued as she vigorously wiped the table after dinner one night. “Anyway, isn’t it time for you to go to the pub?” she had asked.

“What if I don’t want to go to the pub?” He had challenged her, his brow rising comically.

“I could always push you out the door again,” she had replied, putting her hands on her waist, winking at him slightly.

“Any other Father could have beaten his child for being so disrespectful,” he had retorted, jokingly rolling his eyes.

Eleanor had thrown the cloth carelessly on the table and approached him, wrapping her arms around his neck and giving him a gentle peck. “I’m glad you’re not like any other Father,” she had whispered in his ear, moments before she nudged him gently, pushing him out the door and closing it behind him. She had walked to the kitchen, giggling as she watched her Father disappeared down the hill before she went to her room and took out the emerald-green gloves she had been knitting for him.

Eleanor carelessly rubbed her dust-smeared fingers on her black gown, belatedly realising it would leave a slight smudge. She smiled as she imagined the look of helplessness the servants would give her once she returned to the Palace. Slowly, she paced to the kitchen, turning around slightly to see her at twelve, fifteen, and again at eighteen, sitting opposite her Father, frowning as she studied the chessboard, thinking of her next move. Gradually, her image began to disappear, replaced by a slightly taller man bearing the same expression, with her standing in the kitchen, observing her Father and Patrick playing chess as unobtrusively as she could whilst occasionally stirring the mutton soup. She had emitted a little shriek as she misjudged where the ladle was and burned the tip of several fingers on the boiling hot cauldron instead, breaking both her Father’s and Patrick’s concentration as both of them looked up abruptly from the chessboard, frowning, and later on mocking her clumsiness.

She opened the back door and descended down the three steps of stairs, looking away from the empty clothes line to find the illusion of her Father standing at the second stairs, his eyes twinkling with both mischief and excitement.

“Guess what has just arrived for you?” he had teased her, making her blush in embarrassment as she carefully hung the sheets. She had never replied to his mockery; had simply stared at him and raised one half-exasperated brow until her Father gave in and waved the letters bearing Patrick’s Royal seal; the letters Patrick had written to her from Norway.

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 Towards the conclusion of Eleanor II (there will be a separate post on how Eleanor II was conceived), I had another vivid dream. Like Eleanor I, it was only a snippet, flashing in my mind’s eye amongst fragments of other incoherent dreams, like a ball of laundry.

The dream was simple. A girl was standing near the entrance of what was unmistakably a mansion-like house, about to push the floor-to-ceiling door open when her male friend called out, standing on the third or fourth step of a spiralling marble staircase behind her.

“Come to the dance with me.”

It was all the guy said. But there was so much in what he didn’t say that gave me a bundle of information. Like the tender way he had stared at the girl, indicating that they had been friends for a long time. A flint of yearning and hope in his eyes suggesting that perhaps, this wasn’t the first time he had asked her out; and that the girl had, for whatever reason, rejected his offer in the past.

I mulled over this dream for far longer than I did with Eleanor I, because back then, I was still finishing the first draft of Eleanor II, and I thought that working on two novels simultaneously, on top of full-time work, would be the fastest way to kill myself. I have read how some authors actually thrive on working on multiple projects simultaneously; how they could actually feed off those numerous projects and prevent writer’s block, but most of those authors’ main job is writing.

So I persevered with working on one novel at a time. I had a little (I’m pretty sure it lasted about 3 days) break in-between in which I didn’t pick up that pen and piece of paper before Elizabeth Hartley (Lizzy) and Michael Bradford were born. And even though by the time I finished writing about them in its entirety, there were four books recounting the ten-year span of their lives and friendship, and this scene ended up being in book III, this was the section that started it all.

“Tall, white chocolate mocha with cream and nutmeg sprinkle on top,” he confirmed, handing her the slim Starbucks foam cup. She tore her gaze away from the tree in front of her, looking up from the bench she was sitting on, her earlier thought dispersing somewhere into thin air. He reached into his jeans pocket once she took the cup away from his hand, opening the lid at the same time he produced a sachet of sugar and handed her the spoon before sitting down next to her.

She raised the cup to her lips, sipping her daily addiction as she refocused her attention back to the tree, studying it intently as the soft breeze blew over, rustling the leaves and swaying the thin, dry branches back and forth, the whole tree dancing against the pitch-black, starry sky. Beside her, Michael slouched lazily, resting one arm along the shoulder of the bench, his fingers lightly, absent-mindedly tapping against the solid dark wood, almost touching her back, but not quite.

“So…, what’s coming up in the Bradford’s social calendar?” she asked at last, breaking the somewhat deafening silence that had hung between them.

“We’re having a benefit dance for Cancer Research three weeks from now,” he replied quickly, smiling as he remembered the countless times she had asked him the same question; at least once a week, since they were both old enough to attend such a prestigious occasion.

“Black tie?” she guessed, turning her head around to meet his gaze.

“What else?” he challenged her back, rolling his eyes helplessly. She chuckled slightly before burying her face in her cup once more, tilting the cup, and her head backwards, to drain the last few remnants of her hot drink. Slowly, he straightened himself up, resting both elbows on his thighs, scrutinising her feature; from her long, curled up, dark brown eyelashes, her pair of small, attentive, piercing Oriental hazel eyes, to her soft, light beige skin. He hesitated a moment, pondering, averting his glance down, watching his hands interlink together before he looked at her again.

“Will you come with me?” he blurted out before he had a chance to change his mind. Startled, her head jerked up, turning around and regarding him uncertainly.

“Michael James Bradford, are you asking me out on a date?” she teased lightly, her lips twitching in slight amusement as she tried to hide her nerves, her heart pounding loudly.

“I’m asking my best friend to be my plus one for a social function. If by the end of the night, we end up kissing…” He trailed off, meeting her gaze as she regarded him through slightly widened eyes, daring him to finish his sentence. “It wouldn’t be the worst thing that could ever happen.”

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