Valerie Astill, Travel Writer


Books

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From Coconuts to Condors Temples and Tacos Rice, Rats and Rickshaws Paintings

How I became a travel writer

My husband, David, and I have always enjoyed exploring new places, whether in Britain or abroad, and I usually keep a photographic record of each trip. Once we had paid off our mortgage, we were able to venture further afield for our annual holidays and I began to keep a detailed diary to supplement the photographs.

After we had been on a particularly eventful holiday to Brazil, Peru and Bolivia with an organisation called Explore Worldwide Ltd, we told our friends and family about all the things that had happened to us. Several people said to me, "You ought to write a book" and once I had retired and had more time to spare, I thought, "Why not give it a try?"

Signing Day at Waterstones

As I began to word process the book, I found that the diary and photographs brought back more memories that were not recorded. After I had completed the manuscript to my satisfaction, I attended a creative writing class where others in the group gave constructive criticism. I found this a devastating process but, as a result, completely rewrote the book and then included some of my photographs.

I e-mailed the first couple of chapters to Pneuma Springs Publishing, whose details I had found on the internet, on the off-chance that they may be interested. They asked to see the rest of the book and much to my amazement, accepted it for publication. This first book, entitled 'From Coconuts to Condors', was released in 2009. I was fortunate enough to be able to arrange signing days at the local branches of Waterstones and Borders, the latter sadly since having gone into liquidation. The photograph shows David and me at one of these signing days.

Once I found that people wanted to read my book, this gave me more confidence and in 2010, I wrote a second book, this time about a holiday in Mexico, Guatemala and Belize, again with Explore Worldwide Ltd. Pneuma Springs also accepted this manuscript for publishing and 'Temples and Tacos' was released in 2011.

I decided to self-publish my third book, 'Rice, Rats and Rickshaws', in order to have the photographs printed in colour. This book describes a journey through China from Hong Kong to Beijing, another Explore adventure. As well as the photographs, it includes maps of the Provinces through which we travelled and became available as a paperback at the end of August 2013. If you would like to purchase the paperback version, please contact me direct.

As more and more people now seem to be choosing to do their reading on portable electronic screens, all these books can be purchased as e-books through Amazon Kindle.

If you would like to find out more about Explore holidays, please visit their website at:

www.explore.co.uk

How I became an artist

I had always wished that I could paint but had been convinced since my unsuccessful efforts as a schoolgirl that I had no talent. Shortly after David and I were married, I tried copying prints of 1612 John Spede maps of Derbyshire and Cumbria on to large sheets of card. I was really pleased with the finished results and had them framed. I then tried to teach myself to draw and paint pictures from "How to Paint" books. Although the results were better than I expected, the pictures were not anything I would want to live with and I soon lost interest.

However, when I had nearly completed my fourth book, my computer crashed and I lost everything. I thought I had back-up on a memory stick but found that only the titles had been saved. Faced with starting work on the book all over again, I lost enthusiasm for writing and decided to have another attempt at painting.

I read more books on the subject and chose oil as a medium because it dries more slowly than acrylic and it is possible to rectify mistakes by painting them over. I chose two of my photographs and attempted to copy them. I then attempted a self-portrait with comic results. I knew my neighbour attended art classes and having asked her for details, I started going to these myself in January 2014. I had discovered that some art teachers expect all their students to paint the same subject in the same medium. However, in these classes, people were painting and drawing whatever interested them in whatever medium they chose. Rather than telling us what to do, the tutor, Mary Byrne, was brilliant at giving encouragement and making suggestions, while making class members think for themselves about what they were trying to achieve. As a result, when I exhibited five of my paintings at the group's annual exhibition in October 2014, I actually sold three of them.

I am still attending the art classes and think that my work is gradually improving, although I still need Mary's guidance. After three and a half years of attending classes, I have now sold ten paintings and I have been given permission to exhibit my work at the Gallery of the Little Theatre on Dover Street, Leicester from 23rd April 2018 until 2nd June 2018. If you are interested in purchasing any of my paintings, you can view and buy them there or at the art group's annual exhibition at the Woodhouse Eaves Village Hall on the last weekend in October.



Creating this Website

Several people who bought my first book asked if I had a website and my publisher suggested that it would be a good idea to publicise my books in this way. I searched the internet and found that many ready-made templates were available but decided that I would prefer to try designing my own website from scratch. As a complete novice, I owe a debt of gratitude to Peter Richards who provided me with a basic HTML tutorial on his website:
www.trenoweth.co.uk


Peter explains how to construct a website in such a straightforward way that even a beginner like myself could follow the instructions (although I did need some extra help to go 'live'). Additional thanks go to Robert Darrell who also provided a very useful tutorial, including a colour chart and colour coding for HTML. His website can be found on:
www.ironspider.ca



If you would like to contact me, my e-mail address is:

v.astill@talktalk.net