20 November 2010

Burnaby in the snow

We've had some snow on and off for the last few days, but I haven't woken up to a winter wonderland until this morning. Thankfully it's Saturday!

And I remember, once upon a time, living halfway up Silver Star Mountain ...

Back Yard (Burnaby)

Front Yard (New West)

14 November 2010


It's finally time give my new novel, Stalked, a little bit of promo love. So Montreal author Jill Murray, a fellow YA novelist, was kind enough to have a quick chat.

Read the whole interview over on her blog at: jillmurray.com.

11 October 2010

How to write at home

Wake up early on a Saturday, Sunday, or holiday morning. Not as early as you would on a work day; don't set your alarm. But don't sleep in either.

Make a cup of instant coffee. It'll taste awful, but you won't risk waking the rest of the house with the smell of a whole fresh pot. You need the caffeine, not the noise of everyone else getting up.

Sit down at your computer desk. Unplug the Ethernet cable from your tower or laptop. If you have a wireless network, disable it.

This is important: don't dawdle. Don't get up to look for something. Don't reorganize your local files. Don't look at photos from last Christmas or your summer vacation. Open your outline, notes file, or work in progress. For notes or an outline, re-read everything. For a work in progress, re-read your most recent chapter. Hit return under the last thing you typed, and start typing something new. Make notes, record ideas, or pick up your story.

If that doesn't work, find a sticky note or piece of scrap paper. Consult a calendar and find the next available Saturday, Sunday, or holiday. Write down the date. Post the note somewhere prominent on or near your desk. Remove the last date note and crumple it into your waste basket. Plug the Ethernet cable back into your computer and load Facebook. Now you're done.

11 September 2010

Have we reached the age of the introvert?

As a naturally shy writer who lives in her head whenever possible, I've found myself pondering this question more and more as the online world marches forward. After attending a webinar several days ago, I started to contemplate the question again.

I know it's a slippery slope. Preference for conducing all business and personal communication online starts to erode the interpersonal soft skills that are so important in our daily lives.

However, when I can record a reading and post it on my web site, contribute to a workshop through a conference call, or interact with other writers and readers via blogs and social media, I'm starting to wonder what will be expected of serious writers in years to come.

Having recently started a new full-time job, I'm not in a good position to visit libraries, schools, or book stores for readings. And unless you're already in demand, nobody will chase you to do it. Because my work as a novelist is important to me, I want to challenge myself to do the hard, nerve-wracking things that could help me go farther as a writer. But I also believe in working smarter, not harder.

I remember a time when citing online sources or conducting interviews via email was frowned upon. Some publications still have research and reporting restrictions. But the tide has certainly turned in favour of doing things online where there are no time zones and no long distance charges.

So I wonder, will electronic promotion and internet marketing soon take over as the method of choice for writers? Are we there already? Probably not, but I'll be keeping an eye on the situation nevertheless.

29 August 2010

Rescue, Reuse, Recycle

Earlier today I found myself window shopping in chilly weather, which turned into a casual hunt for some fall additions to my wardrobe. I walked in to a few second hand shops, as is my habit to do. I am now the proud owner of the following not-new items: a beige-grey leather bomber, a light long coat with embroidery and awesome Aum buttons, and two pairs of pointy pumps that actually fit my tiny feet.

I normally buy used clothing on principle, because I feel there's simply too much waste in the world. And I like to support independent clothing stores, especially when I do buy new. But sometimes I also buy designer brand names second hand; never because of the brand, but because I like the article of clothing.

Today, I bought the light long coat because I fell in love with it, not because of the designer label. But every time I buy a trendy brand second hand, I wonder if it's the same thing as wearing faux fur. Sure, it's not really the original, but you're still supporting the aesthetic.

I recently read a thought-provoking post in one of the Etsy forums. Although the theme of the post revolves more around the personal customer service independents can offer, it reminded me how strongly Etsy sellers (and buyers too) often feel about big brands.

Etsy Success Reading List and a Thought About Big Brands

Are big brands part of what's wrong with the world? Should we wear them at all, even once the purchase price doesn't go into the mega designer's corporate coffer? Is it enough to think about where our clothes come from as often as we think about our food?

18 August 2010

Switching gears to SEO

This post will be the first time in many months that I'm mentioning gears without talking about trashion or steampunk. What I am talking about is my recent day-job shift from the marketing and communications writing I've done in the past to an SEO and pro blogging focus. Just in case you haven't heard of it, I mean writing for Search Engine Optimization.

Marketing strategies are still relevant, so I've been catching up on my reading from trusted favourites like Copyblogger, FutureNow, and Marketing Sherpa - along with daily doses of Seth Godin and Mitch Joel. That's all been fun reading, but I'm on the steady hunt for SEO-specific pointers.

SEO expertise isn't hard to come by, but much of what I've found is full of spin, buzz, and lots of hype. I'm looking for concrete suggestions and useful answers without having someone try to sell me consulting services.

What kind of keyword density should I aim for in body copy? One term per paragraph? Per sentence? What is the threshold for your text to be considered keyword stuffing, especially in cases where you're working with a limited selection of keywords, but still need to generate a certain volume of text?

Do keyword phrases need to be duplicated exactly or can you shuffle them a bit for grammar or flow? Does it matter if Title and H1 copy use the same keywords or is the effort redundant? Is Boolean logic still relevant in understanding search algorithms?

If some of the jargon above doesn't make sense, you might not be ready to tackle SEO projects. However, many writers with some SEO experience are sitting where I am, with just enough knowledge to be dangerous.

Even though I definitely don't have all the answers, I thought I'd share some simple plain-language notes on what I've picked up. I'm hoping to spread the good karma to writers who, like me, aren't personally interested in hiring an SEO firm just to learn a few things.

Work keywords in where and when you can
  • SEO can be intimidating, but it's important to write naturally, regardless of the terms you need to weave in. Think of it like a wordsmithing game and you'll get a kick out of how many keywords you can use.

You're not going to get a rule book
  • Unless you work for a company with a style guide for the web, you'll find that you have to wing it a bit. Different search engines use different search algorithms and none of them are passing around pointers. Google isn't posting articles like, "How to be the top result for blue metal widgets" or "Great strategies for prioritizing keyword phrases", so you'll have to get a feel for what works through trial and error.

Work with an in-house SEO expert
  • Trial and error is a lot easier to deal with when you have guidance. Having someone on your team do the research on which keywords should be applied to your subject, service, or product is invaluable. Your SEO expert will also be able to recommend the select most important keywords to focus on and suggest revisions if traffic doesn't improve.

It's okay to be a writer first and a marketer second
  • Those of use who've been working in the marketing world for any length of time know how much clout gurus, experts, and visionaries can command. The SEO niche is no different. So I'll say it again, SEO can be intimidating. You might be tempted to pass the buck and not tackle the optimization of web copy because you were trained as a journalist or creative writer. But trust me, you've already mastered more difficult forms than SEO writing.

Tell a story with your SEO writing
  • Statistically, it's unlikely very many users will sit down to a fresh cup of coffee and read your SEO writing they way they would an article. Sure there will be exceptions, users that ready your work in full. But mostly, your copy will either be ignored or skimmed for nuggets of information. For SEO assignments, the primary purpose of what you write is to improve the volume of relevant traffic (getting more visitors, but those actually looking to buy blue widgets rather than just anyone). Still, you don't have to settle for creating boring bad writing. Tell a story - even for those select few - and you'll have more fun with your work.

EDIT: Since posting the notes above, I spent a bit more time digging around on Copyblogger and found a really helpful guide – for free!

01 August 2010

Goodbye Victoria summer tour

I'm getting ready for a move to Vancouver and naturally I'm sad to leave Victoria. But rather than just wringing my hands over what I'll miss in my everyday life, I decided to make a point of getting around to visit spots I've never been to or places I haven't seen often enough.

Next time you get a chance to visit BC's capital, put some of these stops on your must-see list if you haven't already.

Bamberton Provincial Park
After visiting several Provincial campgrounds over the years, I must say, if you've seen one camp site, you've seen them all. But what makes Bamberton special as a park is the location. The park's secluded, warm, shallow beach has a great view of the peninsula across Saanich Inlet. This campground is also right next to a preserved mining site which is always cool.

Fresh groceries, excellent restaurants, funky boutiques and eclectic art characterize Canada's oldest Chinatown, just a block from the waterfront. (HDR image)

Christ Church Cathedral
A quiet, shady park on one side, and a charming brick labyrinth foot path on the other, this Quadra Street cathedral is a great place to take your lunch. (HDR image)

Hatley Castle
To have a wicked-awesome monument in your own city and not check it out is silly. But when it's a castle featured in X-Men movies, Smallville, and many other films and television shows, you're really dropping the ball if you don't visit. So I did - on my way out of town - but it still counts.

Johnson Street Bridge
Part of what makes Victoria such a great city is it's walkability. The Johnson Street Bridge is no exception, with a separate pedestrian path. A great spot to view the Inner Harbour.

Oak Bay Marina
A great place for seal spotting, the Marina also has a gourmet restaurant.

Ross Bay Cemetery
Located in Fairfield, this large seaside cemetery is filled with beautiful carvings. Lush lawns and ample trees make for a green setting year-round.

Royal London Wax Museum
As soon as I found out the Wax Museum was slated to close around mid-September, it popped onto my must-see-before-leaving list. And now I know why wax figures creep people out so much. About fifty per cent of them are so realistic that you can't look for long before it feels like the statue will say "boo" or lurch towards you. Also creepy was the layout that took you from the horror scenes directly to the Disney characters.

Silk Road
I've been a Silk Road customer since I discovered their tea back in 2005. Shortly afterwards, I realized they had a spa in the basement and I became an avid fan. For a quality spa, their prices are on the affordable side. But don't let that fool you. Silk Road has attentive, professional and skilled staff with excellent natural products.

Stadacona Park
I used to live around Oak Bay Junction as a student (three different apartments over the years) and hardly ever went to the park. I also didn't smell any roses anywhere in the city. But I've always remembered what a great space it is, so I went back for some quiet reading.

The Superior
I'm not one to play favourites, but I'll make an exception for The Superior. Where else can you get a fig, prosciutto and goat cheese flatbread with local gin, alongside live burlesque, blues, or jazz - all under a real life shoe tree? Nowhere. Well, nowhere I've ever been, but I'm working on that.

30 June 2010

Electrons in a low-pressure space

Vacuum or Electron Tubes are one of the most interesting pieces of recycled hardware incorporated into steampunk jewellery. As a supply item, they've eluded me for some time, as my only option was to purchase small overpriced quantities on eBay.

However, I came across a jackpot at a local swap meet recently (photo below) and I'm excited to start designing with them. I have a move coming up soon, so the workshop needs to stay packed for the foreseeable future. So it will take some time, but look for these fascinating bulbs to show up in my designs this fall.

Electron Tubes

In the meantime, anyone in or around Vancouver can check out some of my new steampunk creations at Flaming Angels' table at the VSteam Mini-Con next Saturday July 10th or any other time at their shop on Main Street.

14 May 2010

Steampunk coming to Victoria

I can't wait for the Victoria Steam Expo coming up on May 22nd and 23rd! Steampunk fans will be coming from far and wide to the delightfully elegant Empress Hotel.

And I'll be at there with partner in crime Rad Juli. I've been stockpiling like mad, creating pendants, earrings, and rings exclusively for this event. My inspirations have been, of course, steam-powered machinery, but also celestial imagery, robotics, and even fairytales.

Celestial Creations

Heavy-Duty Designs

Steampunk Characters

Industrial Rings

Pendant Multiples

I've also added an individual item gallery to my Baubles' Facebook page.

For those of you that can't make it into town, check out my Etsy store in the weeks following for a flood of new steampunk items.

I'm also re-sharing a few steam-powered pics from my 2009 visit to Manchester and MOSI.

MOSI: The Baby
Replica of a computer from 1948

MOSI: Rail
Steam engine

MOSI: Power Hall
Steam machine

29 April 2010

A new design to fiddle with

If you're a regular visitor reading this blog post, you've already noticed the change in scenery. If you're new to my blog, I should explain that I do this once every few years.

This morning, I started to fiddle with the style sheet for my old template. Sometimes it's like picking at a paint flake, driving the obsessive compulsive inside to make one more change, and another, and another, until you get out the sandpaper.

Changing your web site is a lot easier than repainting your apartment (well, depending on what your web site actually does). But my little corner of the web is pretty small, so I'm really just going through a can of paint and a few slip covers for a new look.

Okay, I'm done with the renovation analogy. If you have some thoughts on the new template or find any bugs, please do leave me a comment.

PS: I'm already aware that the image map I'm using for a header doesn't work properly in the blogger version of this template. I'd absolutely love any suggestions on how to remedy that.

29 March 2010

Chatting with Jill Murray

After joining the freshly redesigned Y-Eh! blog, I've just had the chance to grab a few moments with YA author Jill Murray and get her perspective on life, work, writing, and more.

Jill's new book, Rhythm and Blues is sometimes described as "a teen comedy of ambition, identity and Auto-Tune." Her characters, much like their author, are driven (that's a polite word for obsessed), sometimes right off the deep end.

Keep reading for our Q&A below!

C: Do you believe in finding a dream job, and if so, what is the uber-fantastic-ultimate-perfect career for you?

J: I believe in making a dream job. However, I think that "dream job" as a final destination is not achievable. The more you learn, the more you change, the more you change... oops! Now my dream's different! So right now I'm trying to figure out how to make my whole life good, so I can be as responsive to change as possible. The vision I have for my life at the moment includes being able to write as much as I want, work on web projects for good people just because I want to, not for money, and to be able to live in a tiny farmhouse somewhere pretty with good air, and grow my own vegetables. I guess I'm a hippie.

C: Everybody has a creative side, even if you don’t think of yourself as an artist. What or who inspires you?

J: Getting out and trying new things inspires me-- basically, everything I write about. Dancing, singing, being (hyper)active, meeting people who look at things differently. For Break On Through I was initially inspired by shebang! b-girl crew in Toronto. For Rhythm and Blues, I took singing lessons with Amanda Mabro. Recently I was doing research in Panama, and I was just amazed by these coffee farmers who spend their whole day in the sun, on the mountains, surrounded by coffee-- so full of joy and pride and satisfaction in what they do. That's the life I'm aiming for.

C: If you could do one single thing to improve your life or your family’s life, what would it be?

J: I would blink my eyes and make it so that the entire world ran on something more caring and fulfilling than money.

C: What is the most exciting thing you've ever dreamt of doing? Skydiving? Singing in public? Climbing to the top of a Mayan pyramid?

J: I can't think of anything more exciting than building a small simple life full of loved friends and family, satisfying work, and amazing food. And some days it seems like there's nothing harder to achieve either. In the summer, I'll go to Ethiopia to learn about coffee and build housing. That will give me temporary excitement for the summer. What I learn is almost guaranteed to last much longer. But I'd rather be fulfilled than excited.

C: If you could move to any city in the world, which one would it be and why?

J: I'm a Montrealer at heart, and for a long time when I lived away from it, I pined to be back. I've been to a few places that were fascinating, welcoming and special. So far the only other city I've visited that made me want to send for my things and install myself permanently was San Francisco. But maybe I'd even like to move away from the city. (Of course, one could do far worse than the temperate, fertile area around San Fran... hmm... food for thought!)

Thanks so much for having me on your blog to answer these big questions, Christine!

Jill Murray

Rhythm & Blues

Break On Through



24 March 2010

Visiting Vernon

They say you can never go home again. A long time ago I discovered that 'they' were right and that when and if you return to your home town, you'll never find things as you left them.

When you go home outside the holiday season, you're the only one doing so at that particular time. Your friends are grown and gone, shops and restaurants have changed, leaving you slightly unfulfilled in terms of nostalgia and social connection.

Nevertheless, I love going home for visits because fortunately, some things never change - or take a really, really long time to. I do cheesy stuff like walk on my favourite beaches and drive around to viewpoints in the valley.

And sometimes friends move back. I'm now at the age where people come full circle, returning home to raise their own kids. I'm not there yet, but it's interesting to watch these changes unfolding and accepting that life only moves in one direction.

01 March 2010

Themes for Baubles in 2010

Since starting an Etsy store in January 2009, I've learned a lot about how to make sturdier, more interesting jewellery. It's been a great ride learning about what works and what doesn't.

So far in 2010, I've been experimenting more than ever and giving my Etsy store some much needed love. I've really enjoyed putting together a couple of themed collections inspired by my trip to Kenya and the early spring here in Victoria.

Without droning on too much, here are the pics:

If you haven't had a chance to visit, my Baubles now have their own Facebook page. I'm also hoping to add a new album for recent and upcoming Steampunk designs as well as a "Feeling Blue" theme. Check back soon!

16 February 2010

Are computer parts safe to wear?

It's a good question and I've been fielding it verbally for a few months now, so I thought I'd address it online as well.

What most of us are generally aware of is that technological waste is becoming a problem in India, China, Africa, and other places we've shipped waste to in the past. What's not as well known is exactly what computer parts are harmful.

Most of the harmful chemicals found in computers are in older monitors, but some chemicals can be found in chips fixed to older motherboards, sound cards, and video cards. Recycling those components for the trace metals of value can release many harmful chemicals in the process.

More details at: www.greencitizen.com/toxics_inside.php

As I'm aware of this, the parts I use in my jewellery are drawn from newer computers. Sadly, we're going through more upgrades more often as technology marches forward, creating a constant surplus of components like hard drives and DVD ROMs.

The hard disk drive arms I use are usually solid aluminum but for the odd bit of copper and plastic. My motor windings are made mostly with copper and steel, sometimes including magnets on the larger components.

So my components are generally green aside from the fact that they're being discarded too frequently. I don't break up any chips or treat anything with heat.

Bottom line, yes, all my jewellery is safe - including the computer part pieces.

If you have a question about computer parts or any other recycled materials used in my jewellery and accessories, please shout it out. If I don't have the answer on hand, I'll be sure to track it down.

11 February 2010

The Sunshine Blog Award

This past Wednesday, I received the Sunshine Award for inspiring blogs from Joylene Nowell Butler.

Thanks Joylene, I'm flattered and I enjoy your posts too! So, in keeping with the spirit of the gesture, I'm passing it on to another group of bloggers who all inspire me in different ways.

It took me a few days to organize my list, but here are my nominations:

Akane Designs

Canadian Freelance Writing Jobs

Endangered Ugly Things

Handmade Marketer

Indie Biz Chicks

Izile's Oddities

Jill Murray

Moonlight, Lace and Mayhem


Sam's Sideshow


The Random Canadian

To accept the Sunshine Award:

- Put the logo on your blog or within your post
- Pass the award onto 12 bloggers
- Link the nominees within your post
- Let the nominees know they have received this award by commenting on their blog
- Share the love and link to the person from whom you received this award

25 January 2010

Writing for the web

It's simple, but it's not. This isn't a subject I tackle very often here on my blog, because many, many, many other bloggers cover this subject daily. In fact, I read about copywriting much more than I actually write about it.

However, since I had several conversations about writing "copy" rather than fiction today, I thought I'd put a few of my own ideas out there.

My first and most important thought on writing for web pages and blog posts is that it's still writing; you have to be engaging and informative. Like an article, you have to provide information. Like a novel, you have to move forward. If I visit a web site that bores or confuses me, I'm gone - fast.

After you take care of entertainment value, writing for the web needs to weave in keywords, for SEO or Search Engine Optimization purposes. This has to be subtle, but effective without creating awkward and unreadable text.

Have you ever found a web site that seemed like it wasn't authored by an actual person? You may have been reading the work of someone overly excited about Google's Keyword tool.

As Internet users, we all know we experience the web differently than we do a magazine or novel. But how do we read it differently?

We scan web pages for the one nugget we're interested in, click, then do the same thing again and again, hoping to read as little as required to: find a fact, make a purchase, get a location, obtain a contact, etc.

Web writers also have to structure their text differently. Use shorter sentences, more fragments, and often convert those fragments into even shorter bullets.

So I'll take my own advice and keep it brief. But if you write for the web and you're reading this post, please do leave a comment and let me know what you think, where I've gone wrong, or what I'm missing.

12 January 2010

Two and 1/2 weeks in Kenya

It's taken me almost two weeks after coming back to Victoria to put this blog post together. Granted, it took me several days to recover from jetlag and I'm still waking up before 5 am every day and I'm racing towards a rather crucial deadline.

Regardless, I think this journey to and through Kenya might have been the most influential trip in my life to-date. Not only did I travel halfway around the world, I did so to meet and work with an amazing group of writers. It's been a very long time since I've been around that many writers (for a sustained period of time) and it was wonderful.

So where do I start? The trip itself had three significant legs, so I think it's best to break it up that way.

Week 1: Nairobi (view pictures)

A long flight from Vancouver via Seattle and Amsterdam finally ended at Jomo Kenyatta airport on December 11, 2009 and I experienced my first taste of Africa, Kenya specifically. (Slightly distracted by sharing all my flights with TV's Clark Kent - but I digress.) Walking through the slightly humid airport, I saw kiosks, gift shops, prayer rooms, and not surprisingly, people going about the business of domestic and international travel.

However, unlike most other trips I've taken, I was unprepared for Kenya. Work, books, jewellery - life in general - seemed to have overtaken me in the weeks before, so I found myself scrambling for shillings at an ATM, with only the vague idea that I needed to purchase a visa and look for someone holding an SLS sign.

As soon as the bureaucracy of officially "getting into" Kenya was over, I collected my bags, found the sign and a travel guide behind it, and was on my way to the Kivi Milimani Hotel.

Only a couple of sleepless nights passed before I was in the rhythm of compound-style life in Nairobi. The term "Nairobbery" quickly surfaced as our safety was advised on, but we didn't have any problems and saw a fair amount of the city.

We toured the downtown area, Ngong Hills, and the Rift Valley. We attended the musical Mo Faya and a Storymoja reading. We sampled local cuisine and nightlife. And during the day, we workshopped fiction and attended lectures about what it means to be a writer in Kenya - the latter, I still can't pretend to understand the reality of. It was an amazing week, but the trip had only just started.

Safari: Maasi Mara (view pictures)

After an uncomfortably early start the morning of Friday, December 18th, a Dash 8 took me to Keekorok air strip in the Maasi Mara National Park Reserve. It was very much like a movie. I retrieved my bags from underneath the plane and hauled my oversized suitcase (embarrassingly slowly) across the gravel and red clay over to a cluster of vehicles, wondering if anyone was waiting for me. Fortunately, a large man was relieved that I was, in fact, Christine Hart, and he brought my bags into his safari van.

We drove the rural roads to Keekorok Lodge and I thought I really had been whisked into a movie. The open-air lobby, to me, looked lavish and opulent. Another man, this one dressed as a Maasi warrior, brought me a glass of juice and checked me in. I looked around the lobby at the artwork, particularly the cheetah carved into the front desk, and remembered (briefly) that everything during this trip (behind and ahead of me) all cost hard earned money which I would need to start replacing immediately when I got back to Victoria.

I suppressed financial worries and another staff member helped me get my bags back to my room. It was a lovely room, nicer than I'd had in Nairobi, but I was a bit sad to be there by myself. My own scheduling error had wedged my safari into the middle of my stay in Kenya instead of at the end, with everyone else in the program.

I took a minute to get oriented, then grabbed my camera bag and purse. I planned to have a drink at the lodge to kill time before the afternoon game drive I'd been informed was on my schedule.

Then I saw them trotting across the lawn. Monkeys! I did double take. Were those ... monkeys? Yes, they were, I thought as I'd paused mid step to examine them. They'd noticed me too, but unlike me, didn't stop to assess the situation. In a second, two of the three animals were on me, one on each leg, scratching, clawing, biting, grappling my calves as I tried to alternately shake them loose.

It was really happening! I was really being attacked by two cat-sized monkeys. And they were doing damage. I started to panic. Then I got angry. I dropped my purse and started to beat them off with my camera bag, yelling "shoo" as I finally shook them loose. A Maasi lion-clubbing stick flew overhead and sent the monkeys running.

Within minutes, I had received medical treatment consisting of a large bandage, at tetanus shot, and a 5-day course of ciprofloxacin. I went back to my room, had a good cry, then had my drink before going on the afternoon's game drive.

It was all worth it. The Maasi plains were like the geographic embodiment of peace. The air smelled like fresh rain and I wanted to stay there forever, driving back and forth, looking at the mountains and clouds and umbrella trees. After another three game drives over the weekend, I'd seen everything. Lions, elephants, cheetahs, leopards, all the prey animals - even a black rhino, which I was told is rare.

Week 2: Lamu Island (view pictures)

Two short days later, I was dragging my luggage across another dusty remote air strip. This one, however, was the most humid air that I'd ever come into contact with. At first, I told myself it was just like being back in the Okanagan. After thirty seconds of hauling bags in that heat, I was dripping with sweat and it was nothing like back home. From the air strip, we braved the sun and dragged our bags to a wooden ferry that took us from Manda island over to Lamu.

The boat docked and we scrambled up the worn stone steps to an intense group of would-be bag carriers, boat captains, donkey masters, and city guides. Following our SLS-approved guide, we navigated narrow dirt streets, walled in by rustic plaster buildings. Donkey shit was everywhere and the smell was overpowering, but then the scents of burning wood, fresh jasmine, and barbecued meat all traded places as we walked.

"Jambo! Karibu Lamu! Polle, polle sister ... sawa sawa, asante sana." Swahili phrases greeted and chased us. (That also constitutes most of the Swahili I remember, so that will probably be all you'll get.)

Everywhere we went we were offered dhow boat trips and 'company' such as it was. In a group of mostly women, we soon picked up on the presence of male prostitution as it was rampant on the island.

We all had shirts and dresses made for mere dollars. We talked lazily about fiction in the morning and drank malt Tuskers in the afternoon. We took boat rides, swam in the bath-warm ocean, and ate crab at shacks on the waterfront at night. I don't think there is anywhere like Lamu in the world.

Not to worry, I took loads of photos along with all the other SLS students. In the era of Facebook (and book deadlines), I've got links to albums for each leg of the trip, rather than reformatting and reposting them here.

With a sunburn turned tan, mendi on my arm, healing monkey wounds, and faded hair dye, I do feel fully transformed. The marks of Kenya are written on my body and I'm completely delighted that travel still has the capacity to make an impression on me.