A Tangled Path – Where Do We Go From Here?

As we move through these strange times, I suppose we each have our way of dealing with what’s going on. While we are linked on one level by the shared experience of lockdown, each of us has our own set of circumstances to deal with in how we find our way forward.

I found it difficult to focus the first few weeks of lockdown. Perhaps I was tapping into a larger, more generalised global anxiety, or simply finding the constant stream of news upsetting – or perhaps a mix of both. Whatever the case, I couldn’t do much writing, only able to sit for ten or fifteen minutes at a time. I concentrated on short stories, working on some I already had, improving them for competition entries. Otherwise, I busied myself around the house, doing laundry, cleaning, tidying, baking, working out how to get food for myself and my family, cooking, clearing out cupboards… you get the idea.

And walking. Each day, the dog and I would head out for our state-sponsored walk, and I’d try and let my mind go free as well, releasing anxiety. It helped, a little.

Then April began and, with it, a commitment I’d made to do Camp NanoWrimo with a group of likeminded writers. It wasn’t our first time in the cabin together, and it was a welcome change of focus. It also forced me to write. My goal was 20k words, a big chunk of the first draft of a new middle-grade novel I was working on.

And I did it. I reached my goal with days to spare, the satisfaction at seeing my word count creep up, day by day, sometimes by only a couple of hundred words, keeping me going. As did the group I was in. All of us had goals to achieve, and each of us, though we lived in different countries, were dealing with lockdown and the impact of the pandemic. It was nice to check in and see how they were doing, to congratulate each other with every badge achieved. And it got me writing again.

Now it’s May, and lockdown continues, though things are beginning to ease. I do think this will be the shape of things for a bit longer yet, though, until a vaccine is developed. What was strange has almost become normal, now – it’s interesting how quickly we adapt to changes in circumstances. It seems normal now to go to the supermarket and see hardly anyone in there, to see empty shelves, to wave hello at people from across the road but go no closer. Even though I live on the very edge of London, close to the busiest airport in the world and two major motorways, when I go out for my walks, most days, all I hear is birdsong. The skies are clear, the hedges filled with butterflies and buzzing bees as large as my thumb. There seem to be more flowers than I remember seeing, too.

I wonder what the world will be like when we come out of the other side? I wonder whether there will be lessons learned, not only about the way we treat the other creatures with whom we share the planet, and their habitats, but also the other lessons. About how people who actually keep the world going are often paid less than anyone else. About how much we pollute, simply by living our lives – the pictures of clear skies in India, of cities seeing the Himalayas for the first time in years, are proof of how quickly things can change when we change our behaviour. And what about corporate culture? Big expensive offices may become a thing of the past, as many companies have realised they can still run with people working from home. Why pay for someone to have a desk in an office when they can do the same work from the comfort of their home?

There will be divorces and babies and love stories and breakups. There will be people taking leaps, trying something new. There will be business failures, and success stories. In twenty years’ time, our children and grandchildren will be learning about The Great Pandemic in school. But what their world looks like depends on how we rebuild this one. Which path we choose.

Hope you’re all staying safe and well – let me know how things have been for you in this strange time xx

(Photos from a recent dog walk – thank goodness for the lovely weather we’ve been having!)


Enjoyed this post? Want to read more? Find me on Twitter @AuthorHelenJFacebook, Instagram and Pinterest. Plus my latest book release, Under Stone (Ambeth Chronicles #4), is now available on Amazon. Visit my Amazon Author Page to see more.

Choosing the future

Food for thought from the always wonderful Sue Vincent…

The Silent Eye

A few months ago, with what now appears to be an uncanny and uncomfortable prescience, we began a workshop in the Derbyshire village of Eyam. The village is one of those pretty places of old stone and cottage gardens… but it is best known for its response to the outbreak of bubonic plague in 1665.

The plague arrived in the village from London in a bale of flea-infested cloth and swiftly infected the tailor who had ordered it and his assistant, killing them both. This was at the time of the Great Plague of London… the last time bubonic plague reached epidemic proportions in England and during what is now known as the Second Pandemic. The pandemic had begun in China in 1331, with devastating global effects in the days before modern medicine, killing hundreds of millions over the centuries of its periodic resurgences. The Great Plague of London killed…

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Strange Days

It’s been a rather bizarre month, hasn’t it?

I know that’s a wild understatement, and that there are very many people out there struggling with awful things at this time, so I don’t in any way mean to make light of the situation in which we find ourselves.

I’m an anxious person, and also someone who picks up the emotion of those around me, so I’m finding it difficult to write at the moment. My husband and I are both self-employed, too – while we’re okay for now, it’s on my mind. I have a first draft of one book completed, plus a fully plotted second book, and a third book which is about half-written. They’re all waiting for me, and I can hear them calling, but when I sit down to write claws of uncertainty grab at me, taking my focus so I have to step away again, telling them I’m sorry. I know this will pass, and the words will come again, but for now I’m trying to be kind to myself. I’ve baked bread and caught up on the ironing and tidied out a cupboard that needed to be tidied out, and maybe I’ve watched a bit too much Star Trek, but we all have to find our own way to keep going.

Anyway, enough about that.

While I do write about books and writing-related stuff, this blog has always been about positivity and in finding the silver lining in things, even when things aren’t so great. So I’m working hard to find the positives in this, the things that I’m grateful for.

I know I’m fortunate to have a comfortable home in which to isolate, and the love and support of family. Fortunate that the weather is good and, when I go out to walk the dog, people still exchange greetings (from a distance, of course). Fortunate that we’re all staying well at the moment. Fortunate to have time to address all those little tasks that hang around and never seem to get done – no excuses, now!

It’s the small joys, too. The joy of sitting outside in the sun in the morning, drinking hot tea. Of new frogspawn in the garden pond (nothing grand, just a bucket set into the ground), and the red kites that ride the updrafts, reminder that life goes on. There are bluebells coming through, blue elf-spears poking out of the earth, and the fruit trees are starting to sprout, a promise of blossom and fruit to come.

I know there are many people who are not in comfortable situations, and many other people who are doing wonderful things to help out. This is an event unprecedented on a global scale, and so, in all the fear and worry, I try to find stories about people who are doing good, like the small boy who spent his pocket money on loo roll for his elderly neighbours, or the refugee family who left food on the porch of the self-isolating family who had sponsored them. These are the bright lights against the darkness, and a reminder of who we can be, if we choose to be our best selves. I’m trying to do my bit as well, and know there are many in my local community who are keeping an eye out for others who might need help, and that’s heartening.

To be honest, I wonder whether I’ve had the virus already. As you know, I’ve been ill since the beginning of December, and was finally starting to feel good mid-February. However, at the end of the month I had a sore throat, which developed into a cough (though it seemed a continuation of the one that had plagued me for months), and left me feeling very tired. Then my breath started to go and on March 3 I woke in the night burning up and unable to breathe to the point where I had to wake up my husband. I’ve had very bad pneumonia before, but I’ve never, ever felt like that, where my chest was so full and heavy I couldn’t take a full breath or stop coughing. Eventually I fell asleep, waking drenched in sweat. The fever abated but the breathing difficulties stayed with me for a couple of weeks, only really getting better in the last few days. I also lost my sense of smell and taste – once again that’s only just returning to normal.

I suppose I’ll never know, which is fine. We are still isolating, just like everyone else. But I’m still here. I hope you all are, too.

Stay safe and well, everyone – we’ll get through this together.

xx


Enjoyed this post? Want to read more? Find me on Twitter @AuthorHelenJFacebook, Instagram and Pinterest. Plus my latest book release, Under Stone (Ambeth Chronicles #4), is now available on Amazon. Visit my Amazon Author Page to see more.

 

 

 

Just Magic

The other day I visited the Magic Faraway Tree. It was deserted, which seemed strange for a portal to another world. But then perhaps that’s because it’s only a portal for my daughter and I.

She decided the tree was magic several years ago, when she was still young enough to need walking to school, to hold my hand on the way and count cats and pretend to be dragons, puffing out smoke in the frosty air.

The tree stands at the top of a hill, looking out across the valley and beyond, across rooftops that wouldn’t have been there when it was a sapling. Now it’s tall and stately, branches spreading to shade us during summer and create sky patterns during winter. It’s one of several trees we used to pass on our morning walk, yet the only one that became a Faraway Tree, home to fairies and dryads and dancing sprites, my daughter so enchanted by Enid Blyton’s stories that to this day she hasn’t finished the final book in the series.

We would often bring things to leave for the fairies, tucking them into the bark or among the roots. A patterned leaf or delicate flower, an interesting stone or shiny coin picked up on our journey. Once, an elderly gentleman offered us a piece of sea glass from his pocket, green and rubbed smooth by the waves. He’d carried it for a long time, he said with a smile, but thought that the fairies might like it. My daughter, thrilled and grateful, agreed, placing it in a special spot at the base of the trunk, cushioned by moss.

The moss is still there, velvet soft and deep green, but our gifts are gone. I hope the fairies liked them. There is magic still there, too. The magic of memory. The magic of joy.

Just magic.


Enjoyed this post? Want to read more? Find me on Twitter @AuthorHelenJFacebook, Instagram and Pinterest. Plus my latest book release, Under Stone (Ambeth Chronicles #4), is now available on Amazon. Visit my Amazon Author Page to see more.

#writephoto – Beyond The Storm

Another lovely #writephoto prompt from Sue Vincent. Here’s my take on her image – and if you want to give the prompt a go, head over to her site and link your post to hers, or leave a link in the comments:

‘Storm’s a comin’’ Paras spat decisively before turning on his heel, leather boots scraping against rough stone.

‘Our defences will hold,’ Seren replied, hand on the sword belted at her hip, long red hair braided back from her face.

Paras paused, his cloak swirling in the rising wind. He looked back, glint of dark eye above dark beard. ‘They’d better.’

Seren, her gaze on the gathering darkness, nodded, more confident than she felt.

The first heavy drops of rain began to fall, marking her leather armour. And with them, a wrongness, the wind rising to a howl of song, the sky becoming so black she could barely see her hand in front of her. Behind the storm came a deeper dark, a clotted blackness that swarmed up walls and tore great chunks of stone free, swallowing up men, women and children without a sound.

It passed. Light sparked on what remained.

***

‘You ever wonder about what happened at these places?’ Callum, chewing a blade of glass, reclined on the picnic rug. He took another swig of his beer before continuing. ‘Y’know, like who lived here and all that?’

‘It’s on the board,’ said Sarah. She was sitting up, her arms wrapped around her bent knees, red hair whipping around her head as the wind rose. Her sandwich lay discarded beside her and her gaze was troubled as she watched the clouds gather. ‘Over there.’

A notice board with a faded drawing of the castle as it once was stood nearby, a brief history of the place. Archaeology hadn’t been able to establish why it had been abandoned, only that it had happened quickly.

‘Yeah, right,’ said Callum, but he didn’t sound as interested any more. He finished his beer and belched, rubbing his stomach. Sarah made a face, but her eyes were still on the roiling sky. Around them other picknickers were beginning to pack up, folding blankets and gathering children. There was no urgency, though.

Until the rain began to fall.


Enjoyed this post? Want to read more? Find me on Twitter @AuthorHelenJFacebook, Instagram and Pinterest. Plus my latest book release, Under Stone (Ambeth Chronicles #4), is now available on Amazon. Visit my Amazon Author Page to see more.

#writephoto – Horizon

Gosh, I haven’t done a #writephoto in ages! Not for lack of inspiration – Sue has a knack for capturing stories in her images, which is why it’s one of my favourite writing prompts – rather, a lack of time and brainpower. However, the fog is lifting, and this week’s photo sent me a story. Here it is…

The horizon was empty. For now.

‘They’ll be here soon.’

The campfires were burning low, their pale flames outshone by the bright dawn painting the sky. Sinead, resplendent in leather and fur, nodded. ‘They will.’ Two swords were strapped to her back, the hilts rising above each shoulder. In battle she was a whirlwind, a twin-bladed legend. Songs were sung of her already.

‘If this is our last dawn,’ she continued, ‘then it is a splendid one.’

This was small comfort to Edric. He swallowed, clutching the pommel of the sword strapped to his waist. He was young, and this was to be his first taste of war. He hoped to see another dawn.

‘How do you do it?’ he asked, turning to her.

Sinead’s fine profile was gilded by light, the scar running down one side of her face accentuating her delicate bone structure, her wavy blonde hair scraped back into a topknot. ‘Do what?’ she said, eyes still on the brilliant sky.

‘This,’ said Edric. He moved his hand, a half-hearted gesture, taking in the bustling camp around them. Horses stamped and snorted, sharpened swords slid into scabbards, voices a low hum, the pad of feet as the lines formed, ready to face what was coming.

‘War?’ Sinead turned to him, now, her eyes, the colour of the sea, narrowing.

Edric nodded.

‘I do it because I have to. Because there is no other path for me. I have no family, so I fight to protect others.’

‘But… how?’

Her expression softened. ‘I got this in my very first battle,’ she said, touching the scar on her face. ‘I was lucky, though.’

‘Lucky?’

‘That I survived it. That I lived to fight another day. And I swore, then, that I would continue to fight for as long as the gods granted it.’

‘What do the gods care for the wars of men?’ The words were out before he could stop them, their taste bitter on his tongue. He braced himself for Sinead’s response. But she just laughed, her hand coming to rest, briefly, on his shoulder.

Emboldened, he pressed on. ‘I cannot see,’ he said, ‘how it matters to the gods that we battle over small patches of land. All the death. All the sorrow. Surely there’s another way.’

Sinead, laughter gone, tilted her head. ‘War is part of us, as is peace.’

‘Yet we use one to gain the other. How is it we are not satisfied with what we have?’

Sinead laughed, low. ‘That, young Edric, is a question for greater minds than ours. All we can do is what is asked of us.’

Edric was silent. In the heart of him he knew something wasn’t right, yet his mind, still half-fogged with sleep, couldn’t grasp it. He really really hoped he would make it through the day.

The horizon stayed empty. For now.


Enjoyed this post? Want to read more? Find me on Twitter @AuthorHelenJFacebook, Instagram and Pinterest. Plus my latest book release, Under Stone (Ambeth Chronicles #4), is now available on Amazon. Visit my Amazon Author Page to see more.

Working On A Co-Author Project

January is almost over (I cannot believe it), and I’ve spent most of this month, as I did December, in the fog of a nasty virus. However, the mists are clearing and I’m finally raring to go with a new writing year.

While I’ve been working on my current WIP (which is now pretty much ready to submit), I’ve also been working on another writing project, co-authoring a middle-grade book. It’s been an interesting process as, while I’ve written for other people before, I’ve not written with someone. And there are some differences.

When writing for a client, you’re trying to write in their voice, not yours. The tone is set by the type of company, the content, and the branding message they’re trying to get across. Your job is to find the words to hook their target market, and to do so in their voice. The same goes for ghostwriting, where you are telling someone else’s story, not your own.

When co-writing a project with someone, you can allow your writer voice to shine through. Creatively, my co-author and I are in tune, sometimes suggesting the same scene at the same time! However, we’ve also set clear delineations as to who is completing which part of the project, making for a smooth and pleasant process.

So, if you’re thinking of setting up your own co-author project, here are a few things you might want to consider before starting:

Who is doing what?

Vitally important. You may choose to split the book on character lines, with one author writing one character and you writing the other, separated into chapters. Or, you may split the narrative between you, sending excerpts back and forth, both of you working on and editing them so the book is a mingling of both your voices. Or you may, as I’m doing, nominate one person to do the bulk of the writing, with the other person contributing ideas, scenes and characters as the story unfolds. There are as many ways to allocate the work as there are stories to be told, but the important part is to be clear about who is doing what beforehand, so there are no disagreements or instances where you’re duplicating work.

Assigning credit

Linked to my point above, decide how the book will be credited in terms of authorship. Will it be one author taking centre stage, with the other author mentioned in the credits? Will you both get equal billing? Again, there are several options and it’s really up to you. However, once again, defining this before the project starts will head off any disagreements (and of course, if the work arrangement between you changes, there can be a discussion at that point).

Finances

Once again, something to be agreed upon before work starts. If you’re getting paid to write the book, how will the fees be divided between you both? How will royalties, advances and rights be divided up? 50/50 is probably the easiest and most equitable way to do this – however, this needs to be defined and possibly set in writing before the project begins.

Finishing touches

Writing the story is only part of the process. Once the book is completed, you need to get it out in the world. If you have a traditional publishing deal, then editing, cover design etc will be taken care of, as will some of the promotion. However, if you’re publishing independently, consider the costs involved in hiring an editor, cover designer etc and work out how these will be split between you both. The same goes for promotion – work out an advertising budget, divide up social media scheduling, photography for various platforms, how you’ll brand and support the release, and who will handle any associated events.

As you can see, there’s a bit more planning involved than when you simply sit down and start writing a book by yourself. However, setting up a detailed plan beforehand, and making sure any agreements are in writing, should mean you’ll avoid any surprises or disagreements down the track.

Combining your creative voice with someone else can be a rewarding experience, challenging you to work outside your writing comfort zone, learning and benefitting from your co-writer’s experience. As the saying goes, sometimes two heads are better than one and you might be surprised by what you achieve. Just have a plan in place, then get to it!


Enjoyed this post? Want to read more? Find me on Twitter @AuthorHelenJFacebook, Instagram and Pinterest. Plus my latest book release, Under Stone (Ambeth Chronicles #4), is now available on Amazon. Visit my Amazon Author Page to see more.