Wednesday, April 16, 2014

A Walk Before Sunrise - love gets another chance

It seems stories do get better with age, and my 2014 recently re-released novel A Walk Before Sunrise is proof of that. The contemporary love story narrated through the eyes of the book's main character Neil Phillips, had the rare opportunity to be re-released for the North American market. While A Walk Before Sunrise is a stand alone tale of love and misfortune, it is also serves as a companion book to my other novels Last Wish of Summer and The Rag Doll Cafe, meaning that the bigger picture the three novels collectively paint, either begins or ends here. Depending on which book you read first.

I first wrote A Walk Before Sunrise back in 2007, in a year where my personal life was about to reflect the sea-change spirit of the characters in my book. A great deal of that time was spent meeting with fellow Australian Author Louise Cusack who mentored me through the process of writing my second novel shortly after the euphoria of self-publishing my debut novel had passed. While I almost became another success story in Louise's growing list of clients in Australia who have been accepted for publication. It was not to be. Despite having the manuscript in the hands of a leading Australia publisher who strongly considered signing me for almost a year, they regretfully passed. I self-published A Walk Before Sunrise through Trafford in 2009. And so began the long process of travelling between libraries, bookstores, arts & crafts markets, anywhere really that would allow a struggling writer to pedal his books to passers-by.

I went back to writing, deciding that I really needed to raise the bar. Last Wish of Summer was written as a prequel to A Walk Before Sunrise, simply because I adored the character Anton so much. It was later picked up by a publisher in the USA, with the request that I Americanize it and make the setting more generic. That I did, and the sequel The Rag Doll Cafe followed. After parting ways with my publisher and taking back control of my own work, I was faced with the problem of what to do with A Walk Before Sunrise. While each book was written to be enjoyed on their own, collectively these three novels form a bigger picture courtesy of Anton's uniquely interesting, yet adorable philosophy. But A Walk Before Sunrise was set in Australia, the other two books were not. So I spent 2013 and the early part of 2014 effectively re-writing the book. It was something that I had previously done with Last Wish of Summer, and something that I find more challenging than starting afresh on a new project.

A Walk Before Sunrise is a story I wrote for my wife, and being married for 21 years was something that I did not want to see disappear overnight when I also cut ties with the self-publishing label of the original book, (new eBook cover on the left, original paperback cover on the right). So I put everything into giving the book a second chance. Alchemy Book Covers designed the new cover, and while a completely new ending means much has changed, much still stays the same.

Readers of The Rag Doll Cafe will be delighted to return once more to Lighthouse Bay, and anyone picking up this book for the first time will be relieved to know that you don't need to read my other books first. Now, as a sister book to Last Wish and Rag Doll as I affectionately call them, Sunrise can justly take its place beside them. In keeping with the humorous misadventure theme of the other two books, Anton is once more waiting in the wings to give some quirky advice to a couple desperately wanting to give love another chance. Better days lay waiting just around the corner in this humorous contemporary romance, and I hope that the book that was a 2010 Amazon Breakthrough Novel official second round selection, gets a second chance at the success it rightfully deserves. Writing, much like love, doesn't happen overnight. You have to continually pour all of yourself into it.

A Walk Before Sunrise available from only $2.99 through the following retailers


Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Ngongotaha: New Zealand's Rotorua Branchline

Sometimes as a railway enthusiast you just get lucky, being in the right place at the right time to snap an amazing photo of a train, or stumbling across some rusting railway relic from a bygone era. On my visit to Rotorua in New Zealand however, I was more than just lucky to experience a railway adventure like no other.

Tarukenga Railcruising Station is where the paying public have their rail-cruisers turned around ready for the return journey to Mamaku, but mine was only beginning.

I've already covered my Railcruising adventure from Mamaku to Tarukenga from a tourist's perspective in my Railcruising in New Zealand post, but when owner and rail guide Neil Oppatt heard that an Aussie Railway Adventurer was headed his way, he had something extra in mind for me. That involved travelling the remaining portion of the former Rotorua Branchline, that is as yet unopened to the public, down through Ngongotaha to where the line ends at Lake Road. So after the rest of our virtual train, including my own family, are safely on their way back to Mamaku Station, Neil and I begin the downhill run to Ngongotaha.

Ngongotaha Railway Station with the Rotorua Rail Trust Park in the background.

Ngongotaha, on the shores of Lake Rotorua, is located 5 km's north of downtown Rotorua and is our first stop after we complete the descent down the Mamaku Range. A former railway town, it now boasts a 10 acre Rail Park that is home to the Ngongotaha Rotorua Rail Trust Miniature Railway. The Park is located on the former site of the Ngongotaha Railway Station, and is also the home of a growing collection of historic rollingstock awaiting restoration. Like any volunteer efforts, the sidings in the rail park appear to be nothing more than a graveyard for obsolete rollingstock in various states of distress, but once restored it will be home to an impressive slice of New Zealand railway history. For now, visitors are treated to miniature trains rides and a small railway museum and model railroad display. Fortunately, the facilities at the Ngongotaha Rail Park also provide a welcome toilet stop, and when I return, Neil instructs me to hold RC10 just shy of the Taui Street level crossing while he goes to get us some 'smoko' (that's morning tea for anyone outside of Australia and New Zealand), from the nearby bakery.

Crossing the Ngongotaha Stream, we follow the former Rotorua Branchline south.

After crossing Taui Street, the line passes one of the highlights of the final stretch of track into Rotorua, the Ngongotaha Stream, and we are whisked across the spindly steel and timber bridge at a height of above 5 metres or 15 feet. The line in this section is flanked on either side by trees and lush green bushes and we soon pass the Ngongotaha Domain, a open grassy area consisting of junior rugby fields. A short while later, we jolt across the Beaumont Road grade crossing and find ourselves perched high on a classic railway embankment that runs parallel between Caledonia and Parawai Roads. The sight of the little railcruiser trundling past suburban houses draws a procession of friendly waves from residents and passing cyclists, and soon it is just Parawai Road to our left. There isn't a bend in the line between Ngongotaha Stream and the outskirts of the suburb of Koutu and the line is also relatively flat. It is something that Neil explains above the clickety-clacking of our railcruiser that lends itself well to his next project, rail biking, where tourists will soon get the opportunity to pedal their own rail bike from Rotorua to Ngongotaha and return.

Nearing Kawaha Point, the line reaches what in my opinion is the most scenic part of the Ngongotaha-Rotorua section of the line. The roads and houses disappear, and suddenly we cross a small stream, just as the railcruiser is about to venture into the bushland that skirts the shores of Lake Rotorua. Sensing a photo opportunity, Neil brings the railcruiser to a halt and we pose RC10 on the small bridge.

That's me at the helm of RC10, as Neil had to trudge his way through the overgrowth to take this photo.

As we prepare to continue down the line, Neil gets a call over his two way radio. It appears we are holding up the track repair gang that have been waiting for their 'smoko'. It was time to highball it into Rotorua. We quickly reach Koutu, a suburb on the shores of Te Ruapeka Bay and the end of the Rotorua Branchline. The line once ran 2 km's further into the heart of Rotorua, but in 1989 the central city station and railway yard were closed and the line was removed. A temporary station operated out of the Koutu freight yard on the opposite side of Lake Road until 1995 when a new station was built at the site where the railway line now ends. The Rotorua Branchline was closed in 2001 when the Geyserland Express was withdrawn. Today the rails end abruptly where a new four lane section of road replaced the Lake Road over bridge. The former Koutu freight yard is now a business selling firewood, and all that remains of the 1995 railway station is the concrete foundations of the former platform. And two very hungry railway gangers!

This ripper contraption is actually a trackside weed sprayer. I met up with Collette and Neil's son Jessie who were waiting for us to reach Rotorua before continuing their work between Rotorua and Ngongotaha.

After turning RC10 for the 19 km journey back to Mamaku, we take a moment to enjoy a ganger's 'smoko' break and swap some trans-Tasman train stories over muffins and a thermos of coffee. I hear about their grand plans to eventually relocate their Railcruising headquarters to the Lake Road site in Rotorua. Neil explains the huge amount of work required in constructing parking for the many cars and buses that will bring future visitors back to Rotorua's rails once more. Although, from what I've sampled on my journey to New Zealand, I'm certain he is already onto a winner with the Railcruising venture he has running between Mamaku and Tarukenga. Moments later it is time to say goodbye to the track crew and retrace our steps back up the Mamaku Ranges. As we reach the Dansey Scenic Reserve however, Neil once more brings RC10 to a stop on the line. It seems he has one more surprise in store for me.

Deep beneath the embankment that spans the Dansey Scenic Reserve, Neil leads me on a walk through a hidden culvert he re-discovered when preparing to re-open the Rotorua Railway line as a tourist venture.

After almost sliding more than 40 feet down the side of a railway embankment through dense rainforest, Neil leads me to a secret location that only Railcruising employees are aware of. While clearing the line ahead of reopening it to the public as a tourist venture, Neil and his crew stumbled upon this hidden culvert one day after heavy rainfalls. Thinking they might have discovered a waterfall that could be incorporated as part of their Railcruising experience, they found that the water was actually being funneled through this 5 foot high culvert. Returning when it was dry, they discovered you could actually walk through the 80 metre long 'tunnel'. When it exits, there is a 15 metre drop into the valley below. There are obvious safety concerns about the idea of leading tour groups through such a dangerous place. So the crew has decided to keep it's location a secret and leave the culvert to do what it was intended to do, which is keep the embankment from being washed out.

Bidding farewell to a new friend, and one absolutely amazing railway adventure, it is time for me to say goodbye to Neil Oppatt and head off looking for a new adventure somewhere down the line.

After the steep climb back to where we'd left RC10 parked on the mainline, we make the short run into Mamaku Station in plenty of time before the next Railcruising tour is expected. With my wife and kids waiting in the car after their excursion to a nearby blueberry farm, it was time to leave Rotorua behind. With a promise to come and work for Neil if his plans to open a similar venture in Australia come to fruition, I have a good feeling that Neil and I will cross paths again someday. Somewhere down the line.

See also; Railcruising in New Zealand

Friday, February 28, 2014

The Long Way Home - same book, new look

What a difference a cover makes! The idea of people actually judging a book by its cover can be an appalling thought to a writer. However, after years of writing, editing and enduring the hard slog of promoting and selling as many copies of what was my first novel, the realization finally dawned on me. Yes, people do judge a book by its cover. No matter how defiant they are in trying to convince you otherwise.

The proof of this flaw in our thinking, lies with the recent success of my 2007 release, The Long Way Home. Six years after the self-published release of my debut novel, sales figures had reached the point where it had simply stopped selling. Despite the fact I was still touring up and down the east coast of Australia with it, and my two more recent releases. Sure my latest novel had a catchier cover, but The Long Way Home was still, in my opinion, a very good book. So what could I do about this?

It just so happened at the time, that I was shifting my platform as a writer from being a mainly print published author, to focusing solely on eBooks for my future releases. The Long Way Home had never, up to this point, been available in eBook format. So rather than press ahead with an eBook release using the same cover, I sought out a professional cover designer to give the book a much needed face lift, resulting in a completely different cover designed by Laura Gordon. The new cover I felt was more polished and to the point in seeking to capture the 2 second attention span afforded to most shoppers perusing page after page of eBook cover thumbnails. If they thought it looked like the kind of book they would normally like to read, they would surely stop, read the blurb and decide that $1.99 was not a lot of money to risk on buying a book by an author they were yet to read. So did they? Yes, and in droves.


The eBook (new eBook cover on the left, original paperback cover on the right) notched up five times the downloads in its first month of release than sales that the paperback had accumulated over the course of six years! On eBook store Kobo, The Long Way Home reached as high as number #3 on the Religious Fiction Bestsellers list. Sure a lot of things including timing, price and availability on eBook for the first time may have contributed to its surge in success, but it does go to show one thing. People really do judge a book by its cover. No matter how defiant they are in trying to convince you otherwise.

The Long Way Home available from only $2.99 through the following retailers