A day with Helen Stringer

Close your eyes.
Think of something you are truly afraid of.
Now, think of one, single thing you need to overcome your fear.
Do you know what it is? Yes? Good.
When you open your eyes again, that thing will be right in front of you.
But it will be nothing you have thought it would be!

This is not a beginning of a scary novel, don’t worry. It is actually something that had happened to me. But let me explain from the very beginning. What am I truly afraid of? Lots of things: dark, small rooms without doors, elevators, tight spaces that you cannot get out of… You guessed right. I’m a claustrophobic. And it is a real pain when you are a claustrophobic stuck at the airport in the middle of winter. It gets even worse when it’s dark and a blizzard is roaring outside. And you are just about to board the plane…

Spellbinder audiobook with the first cover, that Helen is not very found of 🙂

I was on my way home from the UK at the beginning of January 2011 and the plane has been delayed because of the bad weather. After an hour and a half of a nervous waiting, the flight attendant informed us that we finally received the permission to take off and we will be allowed to board the plane in 10 minutes. When the happy news was announced, most of my co passengers rushed to the check in counter. I went the other direction, frantically looking for a duty free store and a big bottle of booze. I planned to drink myself into stupor and to lose consciousness before the plane would hit the ground. I didn’t find the booze. I found Waterstone’s. And right before me, there was a book. I grabbed it, paid 6 pounds and returned as my name was called through megaphones. I started reading it seconds after finding my seat and fastening my belt. The next thing I remember was the captain asking me to leave. We reached our destination. But all I wanted to do was to keep on reading!

“The Midnight gate” audio book cover, much better than the last one!

“The Last ghost” (released in the US under the title “Spellbinder”) is a contemporary young adult book written by English author Helen Stringer. Belladonna, the 12 year old main character not only sees ghosts (a family talent she shares with her grandmother and aunt) but also lives with them. Her parents might be dead but they still occupy the same house, cook dinners, watch TV and read newspapers. Belladonna’s unusual home life suddenly ends when her parents disappear along with every other ghost in the world. Teamed up with her classmate, a bad-boy named Steve and Elsie – the last remaining ghost of an Edwardian-era girl killed in a freak accident, Belladonna sets on a adventure to save her parents and the whole mortal realm.

British cover of “The Last Ghost”

American cover with title changed to “Spellbinder”

The book is surprisingly dark yet extremely well written. A quick search online offers lots of enthusiastic reviews: from published authors, readers, book magazines and newspapers. Most Amazon clients gave the book 5 stars – the highest rating possible. But if somebody expects another “Harry Potter”, will be severely disappointed. Belladonna’s world is nothing like the universe created by JK Rowling. It is still fantasy: ghosts, wizards, sprites, magic and the Wild Hunt (you have to read book to learn more!) make a presence, but at the same time everything still feels normal. Familiar. Well-known. It could take place in your home town, just around the corner from you. Almost too real sometimes. There is humour in the book as well. Steve is a master of short, sarcastic remarks that make you laugh out loud. In short – “The last ghost” is a must have if you love literature with plot full of twists and turns, great characters and thrilling atmosphere that will make you forget about the time and the world around you.

Cover of the second book “The Midnight gate”. We are now awaiting book three!

“The Midnight gate” poster Enjoy!

But you may ask, why do we review a book here? To answer that, I must return to the said captain, who as I was leaving the plane with my suitcase and the book in my hand, said: “Tell the author that he just delayed a flight!”. I said that I would tell HER. Ten months later I have kept my promise. Personally. In November 2011, Helen Stringer arrived to The UK to promote the second instalment in Belladonna Johnson adventures entitled “The Midnight Gate”. By that time, I was a permanent West Midland resident and happily engaged (no need to fly anymore!). Thanks to my friend, Nicola Gilbert, the director of Westfield School in Leominster, who organized Helen’s visit to Hereford schools, I was given an opportunity to spend a truly magical day with a fantasy writer.

A professional picture of Helen taken by her agent, used in promotion of her books. Please visit her website: www.helenstringer.net

Another professional picture of Helen taken by Diana Brown

Helen turned out to be not only an amazing writer but also a very friendly and kind person. She was born and raised in Liverpool and later moved to US to study film. As a student, Helen received several awards for her works and was chosen to be a Directing Fellow at the American Film Institute Center for Advanced Filmand Television Studies. After working several years for the film industry, Helen decided to become a writer, strongly encouraged by her employers and colleagues. “The Last ghost” success allowed Helen to tour America and the UK. We met in the middle of her UK book tour that was tightly packed. In Herefordshire, Helen visited several schools including the prestigious Cathedral School and The Weobley High School (www.weobleyhigh.co.uk) located in the picturesque village of Weobley on the trail of black and white villages.

Helen and Dean Williams engaged in conversation. Picture by Rita Dabrowicz

Nicola and I arrived after the morning lessons just in time for the official meeting with Weobley school board and the teachers. Helen had a long discussion with Dean Williams the head teacher and I managed to take a picture of them both. For the rest of the day, I have followed Helen closely as a shadow, taking many shots during her lectures and book signings.

Helen during her lecture at Weobley High School, picture by Rita Dabrowicz

Another picture of Helen walking around the classroom, picture by Rita Dabrowicz

There were 4 lectures for the kids between 11 and 13 years old. To my surprise many students already read both books and they literally had hundreds of questions. Not only about what will happen next in the series, but also about living in the US, old cars, family run Beer Company, how to become a writer and even cats. Helen admitted that she owns several felines herself and that the local racoons developed a taste for cat food!

Helen and Jo Gilbert posing together. Picture by Rita Dabrowicz

The most exciting part of the day was the discussion about Helen’s future projects: MTV series based on “Spellbinder” and the new book that she is putting finishing touches to. The new book already has a title “Paradigm” and will be taking place in the post apocalyptic America. Helen is currently in talks with agents and publishers and should announce the publishing date very soon.

Helen in the front of a screen showing slides to her listeners.
You can see an alternative cover to “The Midnight Gate”. Picture by Rita Dabrowicz

Alternative cover for “The Midnight gate” By David Wyatt. Helen’s favourite.

On our way back to Hereford, Helen and Nicola had a very interesting discussion about music, creative writing and the typical English weather (it was raining very hard!). We had to stop three times: once to let a flock of sheep to reach other side of the country road, second because a huge spotted sow stopped in the middle of the street to take a look at the car (it was the biggest and fattest sow I have ever seen!) and third when a tractor driver lost his way and took an illegal U-turn. All the fun when you are living in the rural parts of the UK 😀

“The Midnight gate” sketches by the incredible David Wyatt. Please visit his site:
http://www.david.wyatt.btinternet.co.uk/

I need to mention that Helen was kind enough to present me with signed copies of her books and audio books for me and Mal. Thank you very much Helen. Hope to see you some time again! Also big thank you goes to Nicola who made the trip possible.

Several links you might find useful:

http://us.macmillan.com/author/helenstringer  – Helen’s UK Publisher
http://www.helenstringer.net  – Helen’s official site
http://us.macmillan.com/FeiwelAndFriends.aspx  – US Publisher

All right guys, check in soon, we are going to publish a report from our trip to the Forge World in Nottingham!

xxxxxx
Rita (alive and kicking Herefordian style)

*********

Edit 14/01/2013

This is very hard not to love Belladonna and her adventures. We have fantastic news for all those who can’t wait for the Book 3. Helen has prepared a novelette that gives us a glimpse into Bella`s (extra) ordinary life. This time the task is not to save the world, but to take care of one ancient ghost. But it wouldn’t be Spellbinder’s luck if Belladonna and her paladin Steve had to face something lesser than powerful magic and demons that not even the Queen of The Abyss heard of.

The Blood Binding takes place during Halloween and if you plan to pick up the story, prepare yourselves for some real treat. It is short but leaves you on the edge of the seat and you just can’t put it down. Helen, just like JK Rowling, created incredible environment and you want to re- read Belladonna’s adventures over and over again.

The novelette

The novelette

You can find the novelette here:

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-blood-binding-helen-stringer/1113778556

or

http://www.amazon.com/The-Blood-Binding-Belladonna-Johnson/dp/1480195448

Go on, spoil yourself. It is completely worth it 🙂

Malicia

The Appointment

I didn’t have the foggiest notion of an idea what kind of man Dr Kaoume Truth personally was. One thing was certain however: As a practitioner he was equally loved and hated. His followers called him a genius, while others branded him as evil and insane. My instincts were telling me that if there was no room for balanced opinions, the person would usually incorporate both extremes. I was just about to find out anyway, having my appointment in 14 minutes and 37 seconds.

You must know it borders on the impossible to meet Dr. Truth. You have to by dying of an incredibly rare disease, be mutated beyond recognition or be other wisely unique in a medical sense of the word. You can’t just get in using connections or a social status. Dr. Truth never cared for riches, fame or anything so awfully material to keep him off his work. He voluntarily and wholeheartedly dedicated his efforts to research the curiosum of his time.

Study case # 1

Luckily for me, in my thirty three years, no doctor, shaman or charlatan (they are quite a recognized profession these days) was able to diagnose my ailment. No one was even close to form a hypothesis. That fact was instrumental for my lawyers to reach a deal with the doctors’ representatives to have my case shortlisted for further examination. It took seven hundred thirty two days and seven hours to be granted an appointment. Exceedingly fast considering the amount of work Dr. Truth was said to be involved in.

This morning when I took the bullet train to the Centre, I promised myself I would not get my hopes up. There was no guarantee that Dr. Truth would be able to tell me what my illness was. Most likely I was to age and die never knowing. No need for being over-emotional then. Truth was the last resort, but I felt that even if this attempt would fail, I did my utmost. So, I shouldn’t be expecting anything, but at the same time still be proud of going so far in my quest.

My time was approaching. The doors to the Office opened revealing a weeping female of unknown species. Her face was misshaped artistically. A nurse ran attentively beside her with a box of tissues. I could see she was wearing thick surgical gloves.

“We understand your discomfort, Madame Khan” – spoke the nurse softly – “But you must leave the Reactor for the time being. Your cancer is eating into your brain and further mutations are not advised”.

In response Madame Khan made a couple of inhuman growls.

Curious as it was to observe, I could not delay my own appointment. I entered the room. It was sterile and filled with all sorts of apparatus and computers from floor to ceiling. Dr. Truth was sitting in the corner and appeared to be organizing files on his hologra-screen. He was wearing old fashioned sunglasses, his greenish skin seemed to sparkle in the white light of his Office. 

Study case # 2

He turned to face me and smiled.

“Ah, finally the opportunity to meet you Miss M-add.” He pointed towards an empty chair next to his desk. “I was reading a lot about your case”.

I was told by the Staff  Nurse prior to the appointment that the Doctor studied each case extremely carefully before possibly accepting it. It was not uncommon that he had an answer before even seeing his patient. I remarked that I was grateful he took interest in me. All I ever wanted was to know the diagnosis.

He nodded; “I suspect that I may know what ails you, but even to me this is too revolutionary. It is – from medical point of view – a complete and unexpected case study. A miracle, indeed.”

I wanted to say something but Doctor silenced me as he continued.

“When I first heard about your case I was sceptical,” he continued, “how come no doctor could find a cause? Even with our advanced medicine and, so to say, the whole spectrum of diseases we deal with.”

“As you know, Miss M-add, last century offered two nuclear winters and everyone is suffering from something. Doctors, bio-engineers, scientists spent decades researching and studying new aliments that came to life with the use of chemical and nuclear weapons. We know many things but not everything. So in the beginning I was thinking you developed some new and undocumented disease. You may only think of the amount of work and tests we performed”.

I was listening, politely agreeing with his words. I knew very little about medical procedures. He must have realized my ignorance as he started to explain.

 “We have gathered over 50.000 items of classified data on you and your relatives. From all possible sources, even those less than legal. We ran detailed DNA and molecular tests on four generations from both sides of your family. You don’t seem to share any structural changes to your genome with any close relatives. No cancer, no mitochondrial mutations. Dead end.”

Before I could respond he raised his hand indicating he wasn’t done.

Study case # 3

“Then I thought that maybe I made an error in judgement. Perhaps it wasn’t a new illness at all, but an old one that was no longer considered.” He sounded very passionate about his work. “So I have arranged another series of tests in the old laboratory that we have here at the Center. Blood, urine, skins and allergy tests. I had to go through another 10.000 pieces of data to determine your body performance. Again I failed. You seem not to have even a common flu”.

I remembered my grandmother mentioning the flu at some point when she still could talk. Apparently a human seasonal virus from time to time would be fused with its animal counterpart and cause a deadly outbreak. It was however nothing that could affect my health at present, as flu was eliminated during second nuclear winter alongside with other bacteria.

My heart began to sink, could it be that even famous Doctor Truth was not going to deliver me from my fate?

The Doctor noticed my frown and quickly added:

“At this point, Miss M-add, I also became desperate. But let me continue. I approached the government and asked for permission to operate on one of your replicas that they keep for transplants. Things got a little messy as it fought back saying that it didn’t want to be killed. The results weren’t conclusive either. You simply have no signs of any illness in both, your body and mind”.

I haven’t expected to hear that.

“I am confused Doctor”, I admitted.

“It is only natural”, he replied with smile, “You see, all this time, as a medical man and a doctor I was looking for something I presumed existed. That was my mistake. Medicine is a wonderful thing, because you may also find something that does not exist”.

“I don’t think I understand…,” I said.

“I want to tell you Miss M-add,” Truth looked me in the eyes, “That you are perfectly healthy. You do not suffer from anything. You must be the only person of this sort I ever encountered, perhaps the only one in this world of illness”.

I left the Center not knowing what to think. On one hand I was relieved because after so many years I was finally diagnosed and that would put a lot of stress off my mothers back, since she grew a second head she tended to worry more than ever. On the other hand in the world where everyone was ill, I was now a freak of nature.

News spread quickly. Before I got to my parents’ place, I encountered at least a dozen journalists already camping outside. I had to talk to my family about the whole mess. I decided to concentrate on the good news first.  I would explain my new found celebrity status after the dinner. For now I was starving.

 

 

With love to Gary Numan,  for soundtrack and inspiration.
Story: Malicia Dabrowicz
Art: Rita Dabrowicz

 

Earth Garden Reminiscence: Mal and Rita’s Open-air Art store

Hello again!

It’s hard to believe but spring is already here and we are celebrating Easter! Last time Rita was writing a blog, it was winter and A New Year’s Day! Time goes fast and life yet again got in the way (Rita was looking for a new job) and three months later she discovered, she still hasn’t finished summarizing the Earth Garden events. Shame on her!
To wash away the disgrace, Rita promised to get back to work immediately and post regular updates.

Earth Garden 2011 logo.
Please visit their website: http://www.earthgarden.com.mt/

 If you’d like to read previous entries about Earth Garden 2011, please click on the following links:

https://cocamidemea.wordpress.com/2011/12/26/earth-garden-reminiscence-the-guestbook/
https://cocamidemea.wordpress.com/2011/12/28/earth-garden-reminiscence-the-art-square/
https://cocamidemea.wordpress.com/2012/01/11/earth-garden-reminiscence-holistic-and-ethnic-market/

Earth Garden, an annual celebration of ecology, music and art, took place on 4th and 5th June 2011 in Ta’ Qali National Park on Malta. It was our second visit to the festival and we had a great time. Not only could we exhibit our works under the clear blue sky, surrounded by trees and present them to the art-orientated crowd, but we had a rare chance to meet other artists and exchange our views on almost every topic. If you add, that we also raised awareness about water usage and convinced visitors to save it – you now have a full picture of our success.

The festival allowed the artist to sell their crafts and collect money for charity, individual or collective artistic projects. We set up our small open-air store very close to one of the stages and across the road from our Tree of Art. It was a perfect spot: we enjoyed great music hidden from the heat in the shade, had a splendid view (Mal could take many interesting pictures without the need of going far!) and we could talk freely with guests visiting us from both sides of the National Park.

Our stand at Earth Garden. Picture by Malicia Dabrowicz

Before arriving to Ta’ Qali, we agreed that our stand had to be simple. We wanted people to concentrate on Rita’s art only and not on the stand itself. Mal came with a straightforward yet a funny design: a small table was decorated with a colorful cloth and an old suitcase was turned into a display cabinet. The artworks were placed together creating a unique collage of colors and shapes. The biggest and heaviest framed artwork was placed on a chair to protect it against damage and to show the guests even the smallest details.

Another full view of the open-air store. Picture by Malicia Dabrowicz

The nearby trees were also used. Mal attached several artworks to their trunks and branches trying to form a mirror image of the Tree of Art from the other side of the road. She succeeded – many visitors immediately recognized not only our style but also the concept. Some of them thought that the Tree of Art and our stand were connected and considered them the two halves of the same whole – especially if each half were „guarded” by a twin sister! Artworks displayed on this picture include:

On top: „The rain machine” 
(https://cocamidemea.files.wordpress.com/2011/06/rain_machine_small.jpg)  
Bottom: „My dark place”

Art attached to the tree. Picture by Malicia Dabrowicz

Another idea quickly recognized by the people was the „war of colors”. Mal placed artworks painted with cold shades (blue, green) next to the works painted with the warm ones (yellow, gold, red) ending up with a bright, almost glowing spectacle of opposites. The same rule was applied to hues and shapes – small bright artworks were contrasted against bigger, darker images. The final result was sticking and hard to miss!

Left: „Broken” (http://realmofzaterra.deviantart.com/art/Broken-166340479)
Right: „Boo” (http://realmofzaterra.deviantart.com/art/Boo-193219550)

Red vs Blue in art. Picture by Malicia Dabrowicz

Some artworks were hanged apart form the others as they had distinguished geometrical shapes and could not fit anywhere else. „Melora” – an electric blue-golden cat was one of them. You can see the scan here: https://cocamidemea.files.wordpress.com/2011/06/melora.jpg

Geometrical cat named Melora. Picture by Malicia Dabrowicz

Cats were the main theme on our stand. We called our little shop „The cat corner” as Rita prepared a special collection of colorful and abstract cat images entitled „The M-cats”. If you’d like to see the high resolution scans of each cat artwork, please visit our blog from 2011, where we described each painting in detail: 
https://cocamidemea.wordpress.com/2011/06/04/the-road-to-earth-garden/

Cats on display. Picture by Malicia Dabrowicz

Mal has taken an extra shoot of the whole table to show you how the whole layout has been designed. Several artworks you can see here have been sold at the festival and now are in private collections. Artworks displayed from the left:

The upper row:

„The Other & Two” (http://realmofzaterra.deviantart.com/art/The-Other-and-Two-212427198)
„Michael” (http://realmofzaterra.deviantart.com/art/Michael-180252714)
„Salem” (http://realmofzaterra.deviantart.com/art/Salem-180254212 )

The Middle Row:

„Light and Dark” (http://realmofzaterra.deviantart.com/art/Light-and-Dark-180325653)
„Summer hide-a-way” (http://realmofzaterra.deviantart.com/art/Summer-hide-a-way-180326094)
„Malice” (https://cocamidemea.files.wordpress.com/2011/06/malice_small.jpg)
„Moloko” (http://realmofzaterra.deviantart.com/art/Moloko-the-disco-cat-215973707)
„Science of mind”(http://realmofzaterra.deviantart.com/gallery/7529850?offset=48#/d2tmtpu)
„Mella” (https://cocamidemea.files.wordpress.com/2011/06/mella.jpg)

The Bottom row:

„Makara” (http://realmofzaterra.deviantart.com/art/Makara-the-clay-cat-213966842)
„Marina” (http://realmofzaterra.deviantart.com/art/Marina-171940141)
„Karu” (http://realmofzaterra.deviantart.com/art/Karu-166337690)

Even more cats on display! Picture by Malicia Dabrowicz

One of the most popular artwork displayed at the festival was entitled simply “4 cats”. It was a composition of four smaller pictures representing the four season of the year. Alfie, the golden cat was the Summer, Tru – a fiery red kitten symbolized the Autumn, Eevie impersonated the Spring and Rowena the white   was the symbol of Winter. You can see the each of the smaller pictures by clicking on the links below:

Alfiehttp://realmofzaterra.deviantart.com/art/Alfie-196171112
Truhttp://realmofzaterra.deviantart.com/art/Tru-196702889
Eeviehttp://realmofzaterra.deviantart.com/art/Eevie-195393548
Rowenahttp://realmofzaterra.deviantart.com/art/Rowena-195020327

Four cats and four seasons. Picture by Malicia Dabrowicz

Full, framed pictured has been photographed by Mal and can be viewed here:
http://realmofzaterra.deviantart.com/art/4-cats-197255670

It was bought on Saturday morning and we hope the new owner is as much pleased with it as we were (and still are)!

All right folks, that’s all from the Earth Garden 2011. We will definitely be back this year too as well as theEarthGardenis something more than just yet another summer festival.
Watch this space for any EG 2012 announcements as they might appear shortly!

Have a great Easter,
Lots of love and chocolate eggs,

xxxxxxxxxxxxxx
Rita and Mal

Office goodbyes and crowd control in photography

Dear folks,

Sixteen of March was one of those days. I had a MRI scan in the morning, then the vet was coming to see the cat and in the afternoon we had a goodbye meet-up at the office for one of our colleagues – Anita. Add unruly bus drivers, traffic jams and packed public transport to the mix. I had left the house at 8 am, came back at 14:00 for an hour and was out again until 18:00 pm. When I came back I was hungry, tired and incredibly stressed.

Me and Anita - photo by Sunny

But two weeks have passed and I hardly remember the bad moments. What I do remember is the fantastic good-bye we held for our Fraud Manager and one of the most kind-hearted persons we had a pleasure to work with.

Anita and Zsuzi - photo by Mal

Few days before the meet-up, I have found a wonderful card in a confectionary. It was huge, had a big “Sorry you are leaving” sign and a big white box that was shaped like an envelope to match it. I have brought it to the office and went from department to department so people could sign it. Usually it is tough to get a card signed, less alone A2 format, but believe me this time around the card was nearly filled up in an hour.  Let this fact alone serve as an explanation how praised and liked Anita was among our staff.

Anita, our Fraud Manager - test photo by Malicia

Anita wasn’t just switching jobs. She was leaving the island for good. I have asked her what she wanted for a good bye gift and she remarked that she wanted a photo with the people she worked for over 2 years. So here’s a tip for you photographers out there. It’s relatively easy to command a large group of camera shy people who use computers and other office equipment to hide from you. You simply do not inform them that you will be taking photos.

Anita and Sunny - photo by Malicia

I like to call it a Rambo tactic. You enter the room and shout “May I have your attention please” or “Parish announcements” (that always works for me) and everybody looks up at you. You put the camera in the air and continue “Pictures people. In 5 minutes in X spot”. If somebody tries to run away, you point a finger at them and say “You too”.

Everybody say `cheese` - photo by Malicia

As you can see from uploaded photos crowd control is easy. Once they are grouped you may want to remind them not to do silly faces as it is extremely hard to remove in Photoshop 😉 And then you just press the shutter.

I am looking at the photos now and I see a group of people who try their best at detecting fraud in all shapes and sizes. In the middle of them is Anita, who always was there to answer even most peculiar questions and who knew this business inside out. A certain era has ended with hers and Delphine`s departure. I know nothing last forever but … It is funny how you come day after day for 8-9 hours and you take the people for granted, like they will be always there to work with you. But they are not.

I don’t know about you folks, but I always had troubles with saying good byes. I’m too sentimental.

The crowd under control - photo by Mal

Anyway, there are always the good memories and the photos will remind me of tons of great days I have spent working with some really amazing people like Anita, Delphine and many others. I guess I need to bring my heavy Canon to the office more frequently.

Hey Anita, if you read this, have a great time back home and kick some asses for us. You are missed, but you know that already.

Malicia

Horse-jumping competition

Hey

Posing after the race - photo by Malicia

Sometimes my Canon camera takes me to places I would never go otherwise. Back in June 2011 my then colleague and boss Delphine proposed that she would take me to a horse jumping competition. I am not a big fan of being around horses. Don’t get me wrong, I love horses but from a safe distance of few yards (sad reminder of childhood asthma) so I don’t sneeze, choke and look like a fountain at the same time. Delphine told me that another colleague of mine – Amelie – would be taking part and a photographer was needed. So, although camera – lens doesn’t protect you from possible allergy attack I have decided to go and shoot anyway.

The race track - photo by Malicia

 

I counted for few hours on the ground at maximum, but I have spent the whole day at the race-track, not only taking photos but also setting up the obstacles and generally helping around.

Horse races are extremely popular in Malta. During the season (from April to October) at least a dozen different, internationally recognized competitions take place: single races, cart races, jumping etc, etc. Malta has a modern race track located in Marsa and every Sunday many locals and tourists alike storm the premises to enjoy the games.

Competitor - photo by Malicia

Delphine and Amelie train under a local instructor Lucy, and go to the Darmanin Stables on a daily basis. Feeding, cleaning and taking care of the horse are as important as riding and making sure that your horse is in a good condition. I know it is stating the obvious as you need to care for any pet you have but believe me it is not easy to overcome a pet that weights around 600 kg. It’s not a sofa cat and you have to travel a distance to the stables too! That day I have seen both Amelie and Delphine working in the stables around the horses and it is heavy manual work. Cleaning the horse alone lasts for an hour, not to mentioning feeding or cleaning the cabin. As I have not been accustomed to working in the stables on this part of the day I was delegated to petting the stable cats and making sure they weren’t kicked or stamped by the horses.

Heat of the moment - photo by Malicia

Kick off - photo by Malicia

But back to the competition. As soon as we arrived on the race track, we have been assigned to setting up the obstacles. Each of us (and the group of like 20 people were involved) was carrying huge wooden blocks and barriers from a hangar and we were putting them together. Every angle, every inch, every degree counts. The obstacles have to be perfectly positioned to assure the safety for horses and riders and to meet strict regulations of the competition. It was like playing with oversized Lego and I loved this to pieces.

Lucy shares a laugh with the referee - photo by Malicia

I wanna ride too! - photo by Malicia

Once the course was set, riders began to change into traditional jockey attires and warmed up on a small side plaza where each of them could perform few jumps and rounds before their ride.

Lucy finishing the run - photo by Malicia

Riders has their own age category (younger competitors do not jump through all the obstacles, the barriers are lowered) and they can only compete against their own peers. After each category obstacles have to be raised or rearranged. Each rider can make two mistakes during the jumps (or fall from the horse), if your horse will refuse to perform a jump twice, you are disqualified.

Young rider - photo by Malicia

I have seen a very young rider fall from her horse during her time and she quickly climbed back and resumed the course with a determination. She didn’t complain once even if the fall looked pretty scary.

Another rider in the competition - photo by Malicia

Amelie also had a tough run, as her horse refused to jump twice and she had to be disqualified. She was very disappointed but vowed to comeback and train harder. You really have to admire the spirit of the riders; they simply refuse to accept defeat.

Amelie during her ride - photo by Malicia

Amelie about to start - photo by Malicia

I had troubles on my own. Dust, fast running horses, blinding sun, not a good lense…I ran like a headless chicken from one side of the track to the other trying not to get to close as the shutter clicks actually scare horses…The photos that illustrate this entry are not that clear due to the dust from the racetrack and the distance I had to maintain but I believe they are decent for the first time. I’m actually extremely happy with them. It was an amazing experience even if I had three minor attacks and after the whole day I have slept for 15 hours straight.

On the run - photo by Malicia

Few more obstacles to go - photo by Malicia

Once the racing season starts for good I may show up again. But this time I’m gonna wear a dust -mask. I don’t care if I will be looking like a mad scientist. Taking good photos requires sacrifices 😉

Nearly there - photo by Malicia

Hope you enjoyed this entry. I am working on many others because believe me or not I have been shooting in some really incredible conditions. Fire training in full protective gear? You bet, but I will tell you this tale next time around.

Laters,

Malicia