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Friday, September 6, 2013

Taking Tea with - Ebony McKenna

It is my great pleasure to welcome YA ("young adult") author, Ebony McKenna to my tea table today. It is a little known fact about Ebony, but she is the world's expert on the politics and history of the (fictional) kingdom of Brugel, a small country somewhere in Eastern Europe and famous mainly for its utter failure to achieve anything at the Eurovision song contest. 

I hope you all enjoy this chance to learn something about a hitherto little known corner of our world and perhaps add Brugel to your tourist destinations on your next trip to Europe?

Ebony I have recently returned from Russia where tea is the most popular beverage (not Vodka!)  and is made using huge samovars. Does Brugel have its own tea ceremonies?

A public samovar in downtown Venzelemma

Oh yes, the Brugelish love of tea goes foot-in-boot with Russia. Samovari (the Brugelish name for one who prepares tea from a samovar) are more popular than Baristas in downtown Venzelemma.

Tea has always been a favourite of Brugelers. Coffee did gain a small foothold, but during the communist years, when Brugel was part of the USSR, Coffee became incredibly hard to obtain. The neighbouring state of Craviç tried growing Chicory as a substitute. Vile stuff. People switched back to tea, as this was easy to obtain through trade routes with China.

In Brugel, tea is often taken with a slice of lemon, rather than milk. This leads to the local idiom - I’ll take it with a slice of lemon - meaning you don’t entirely believe them. The more popular western phrase, “I’ll take that with a grain of salt” makes no sense in Brugel, as tea with salt tastes horrid.

As you know, my interest is historical fiction and just recently we were discussing the hitherto little known history of Brugel (so insignificant that every major tyrant in history has bypassed it). Would you care to give us a potted version of Brugelese History?

Brugel has a marvellous and yet conveniently ignored history.

Settlement in the region can be traced back to nomadic goat herding tribes wandering through (on their way to better pastures) from at least 10,000 BC.

Historians are still vibrantly discussing the ensuing 12,000 years of Brugelese (or Brugelish, depending on which team you’re on) history. At a town called D’senterie, in the northernmost part of Brugel there is a historical marker dedicated to the place where Napoleon’s army rested for an afternoon. They picked Brugel Oak nuts and crushed them for a delicious sauce to dress the boiled chicken. This is also the first recorded outbreak of gastric upset in the Napoleonic Campaign.

Monument to the Russian occupation in central Venzelemma
Brugel has survived through many hardships, having been annexed into the Constantine, Austro-Hungarian, Prussian and Holy Roman empires at various – and mercifully short – times in history. In the 1950s Soviet tanks often rumbled through the main streets of Venzelemma – on their way to somewhere else.

It’s a little known fact that Brugel is the home of the sundial. This was more by tradition than design, from the days when sensible folk would abstain from drinking before the shadow of the castle tower cleared the main road.

Would you recommend visiting Brugel as a tourist? What would be highlights?

The latest campaign from the Brugel Tourism Board is, “The Weekend Starts on Wednesday.” BrugelAir has free one-way flights to Venzelemma from Prague, every Wednesday for the foreseeable future. Unfortunately, there are no return flights, but I hear the train journeys to Slaegal the following Tuesday evoke equal measures of nostalgia and sciatica.

There are so many wonderful highlights; it’s hard to know where to start. Probably the most beautiful part of Brugel is the beach. (Singular, Brugel only has one). This one-hundred-metre-long strip of waterfront at the Black Sea is a charming way to fill a half hour on a summer morning.

It’s best to head into Venzelemma for the rest of the day, as the fishing boats return with their catches around ten and are not refrigerated.

Hiking is a popular pastime, as Brugel has the most manageable hills in all of Europe. Mt Verka Seduchka is the highest point, at a mighty 200 metres above sea level. It is also home to the transmission tower for BTV. The tower’s crumbling foundations and acute lean make for some dramatic photographs.

What is it with ferrets?
Hamish the talking ferret...
a recent delegate at the RWA Conference

Ferrets are comedy gold, and are completely adorable. For the briefest of moments, when the idea for Ondine’s story first sprouted, Shambles was a rat. I screwed up my face and came up with a better idea because even I could see a rat would be a hard sell. A ferret on the other hand is full of life (in the two hours a day they're not asleep) and can double as a scarf when the weather turns chilly.

My toy ferret is lightweight and a charming travelling companion. He also doubles as a neck pillow on the plane.

I adore the Ondine series, even though they are strictly speaking, “Young Adult” (one can be young at heart!). SUMMER OF SHAMBLES and THE AUTUMN PALACE are up and out there and garnishing lovely reviews. When can we expect to see THE WINTER OF MAGIC and THE SPRING REVOLUTION?

Thank you so much! There really is no upper age limit on enjoying these books, and I've loaded them with plenty of jokes for parents as well as teenagers. The wait for the next books will be over soon. The trequel, THE WINTER OF MAGIC will be out in December - hooray  Then book four, THE SPRING REVOLUTION will complete the quartet in March, next year. These will both be worldwide releases, on multiple digital platforms.

Ebony McKenna lives in Melbourne, Australia with her family, living the slob-urban dream. She loves trivia nights, train sets and the Eurovision Song Contest. Despite having such a deep and abiding love for ferrets, her only pets are two RSPCA-rescue rabbits and the ring-tail possums that keep getting into the roof.

THE AUTUMN PALACE - Book 2 in the Ondine Stories

This second sassy adventure in the young adult series from author Ebony McKenna combines fairytale romance with magical fun. 
15-year-old Ondine is desperate to escape the confines of her family’s hectic hotel to be with her gorgeous new boyfriend Hamish.
When his talent for transforming into a ferret results in a dangerous new assignment from the Duke of Brugel - at his stunning autumn palace - Ondine seizes the opportunity to tag along.
To her annoyance, Ondine’s Great-Aunt Col insists on joining them as chaperone. Making matters worse is the ageing witch’s embarrassing habit of performing the wrong kind of magic at the worst possible time.
Upon entering the palace grounds they are confronted by a fierce tornado that awakens something dark and ominous. Unexplained phenomena begin intruding on everyday life at an alarming rate.
Surrounded by strange magic, Ondine and Hamish must expose a royal conspiracy, champion the palace’s downtrodden servants and solve a baffling mystery.
With so much at stake, will they ever find time to be together?

The Autumn Palace is the second novel in the wonderfully witty four-part ONDINE series. Fans of The Princess Bride will love this book. (Fans of the first book will love it too, obviously!)

Thank you for being my guest today, Ebony. I have read both the Summer of Shambles and The Autumn Palace and I can attest that these are not just books for youngsters. They had me laughing out loud  ... most undignified I know (and somewhat alarming for my husband) ... but there you go. Sometimes you just find something that tickles the funnybone!