Snow Day

img_4919It snowed here on Friday. And Saturday too. Proper snow, like fat feathers falling from the sky, swirling around and settling on trees and pavements and rooftops. The schools didn’t close and life continued pretty much as usual, but it snowed.

I love snow. If you’ve ever watched the Gilmore Girls, you’ll know that Lorelei Gilmore can sense when the first snow is coming. She smiles in anticipation, hugging herself as she says ‘I can smell snow,’ like it’s some wonderful gift she’s about to be given. I feel the same way about it, though I don’t quite have the same snow sense as she does. Snow is soft and, when it falls, if the wind is just right, you can stand there and watch it float and dance around you like specks of magic. I don’t feel the same way about rain at all. You can’t make rain angels.

img_1020I lived in Ontario for many years and it only takes stepping on a frozen puddle and hearing it crack to take me back to the first winter we lived there, when the temperature dropped well below zero and snow was piled so high at the end of the driveway we dug into it and made a snow cave. I remember the novelty of heavy boots and all-in-one snowsuits, of ice skating on a frozen pond, tobogganing at night and putting on my cross country skis to ski around my neighbourhood. I remember sitting in the kitchen with my brother listening to the radio, waiting to hear whether school was closed and we had a snow day. I also remember being at work one day and coming out to find my car almost completely buried in snow, and another day where I’d left the window slightly open and ended up with a snowdrift on the back seat.

img_4910I met my husband at the snow. Both of us working at a ski resort, the violet lit slopes and winter cold a perfect backdrop to romance. And so when the clouds gather and the first flakes start to fall I’m taken back. To a time as a child when snow seemed to last forever, lit with fairy lights. To a time when my life changed in wonderful ways. Oh, I know snow gets dirty and slushy and tedious after a while, but there is wonder in the first fresh fall, the glitter of light and the unique beauty in each and every snowflake.

I hope it snows again soon.


If you enjoyed this post and want to read more, you can find me on Twitter @AuthorHelenJ,  Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest. Plus my latest book release, A Thousand Rooms, is now available on Amazon.

#writephoto – Swansong

birds-se-ilkley-2015-uffington-avebury-hackpen-worcester-3Sue Vincent’s weekly #writephoto challenge is one of my favourite writing prompts. Her photos are always evocative and inspire a wide range of responses, as though she’s captured a little piece of storytelling magic in each image. Perhaps she has…

Here is my response to this week’s photo:

Swansong

They call it a swansong

Our last brave moments

Like a song sung

on a dying breath, beautiful

Haunting notes across the water

A requiem

 

To me it is sadness

A lament for the end

A wish for things to stay

as they always were, golden

Sunlit glimmers on the water

Don’t leave me


If you enjoyed this post and want to read more, you can find me on Twitter @AuthorHelenJ,  Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest. Plus my latest book release, A Thousand Rooms, is now available on Amazon.

Thursday Doors – Aldwych, London

img_2429It’s Thursday, and time for Norm 2.0’s weekly Thursday Doors Challenge. This week I have a photo of a door I took last summer but forgot about – I found it while scrolling through my photo library looking for something else.

img_2430There were a few reasons I took a photo of this door. One is its size – you can’t really tell from the photo but it’s huge, well over two metres tall. I also liked the lion head door pulls. But I really liked the inscription over the door, and the way the word ‘North’ seems to have been added as an afterthought. It made me wonder about why that could have happened – was it because they built another, more easterly wing and had to rename this door? Or did they check the direction after the door was put in and realise it was wrong? Or does the interior of the building move independently of the door, so while it originally led into the East Wing, subsequent movements have now made it the entrance to the North East Wing. Hmmm.

There might even be a story in that…

This has been my response to Norm 2.0’s Thursday Doors Challenge. For more doors, or to add one of your own, visit Norm’s site and click the link.


If you enjoyed this post and want to read more, you can find me on Twitter @AuthorHelenJ,  Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest. Plus my latest book release, A Thousand Rooms, is now available on Amazon.

Wednesday Wander, Sacre Coeur, Paris

sacre-coeur-1It’s my birthday in a few weeks’ time, and I’m very excited about it. Not so much for the event itself – I mean, I still quite like birthdays, but they do seem to be adding up in recent years. The reason I’m so excited is that one of my best friends from Australia is coming for a visit, and she and I are going to Paris for the weekend. We’ve booked rooms in a charming small hotel where we’ve both stayed before, although not at the same time, we have seats on the Eurostar, and really, it’s going to be lovely.

The hotel we’re staying in is not far from the Montmartre district and the imposing dome of Sacre Coeur. There is also a nearby street market where, last time I visited, oranges still with their leaves were piled high on tables, while the scent of fresh bread and raspberries filled the air.

sacre-coeur-2Construction on Sacre Coeur, or Sacred Heart, started in 1875 and was completed in 1914. Built as both penance and memorial for the 1871 defeat of French troops during the Franco-Prussian War, the basilica is located high on a hill overlooking Paris. It’s a beautiful building and the interior is spectacular, with four huge stone angels inside the large dome looking down at the worshippers – however, I wasn’t able to take any photographs. A perpetual adoration of the Blessed Sacrament has continued uninterrupted there since 1885, and so for that reason visitors are asked to dress appropriately, be as quiet as possible and take no interior photos, so as not to disturb the worshippers.

The view outside is also spectacular, and you can see Paris in all directions. My then four-year-old daughter took the photo below – I think the view impressed her too.

I’m really looking forward to seeing Paris again, and hope to visit a few other destinations this year. Of course, I’ll share them with you. Thanks for coming on this Wednesday Wander with me – see you next time!


If you enjoyed this post and want to read more, you can find me on Twitter @AuthorHelenJ,  Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest. Plus my latest book release, A Thousand Rooms, is now available on Amazon.

#BlogBattle – Resolved – The Shimmering Shoal

img_1682Rachael Ritchey’s Blog Battle is a weekly prompt where you’re given a word and a genre, then have to write a story. The stories must be posted on the Tuesday of the week in question, and then you can vote on your favourites.

This week’s prompt was Resolved, and the genre was Tall Tales. For some reason I thought it was supposed to be 1500 words, but apparently it’s only 1000, so unfortunately I think my story might be a bit long. But I still like it so I thought I’d share it anyway. And if you want to add a story of your own, there’s still time – head on over to Blog Battle and check out the prompts!

The Shimmering Shoal

‘Did I ever tell you how I got this scar, the one under my eye?’

Sara shook her head. ‘No, I don’t think I’ve heard that one.’

‘Well,’ he said, his voice a wispy quaver, ‘It’s a rather good one.’

‘Your stories do tend to be,’ she said, wiping a cloth across the small wooden table next to his bed. His gnarled hands were dark gold against the white sheets, his bald head spotted with age.

‘You see how it’s shaped like a star?’

‘Yes.’ She had noticed it, but had thought it a remnant of some youthful folly, like a faded blue tattoo almost lost in the folds of skin under his eye.

‘That’s because it’s from a kiss. A mermaid’s kiss.’

‘Oh now, come on,’ she said, moving over to the shelving unit. She started lifting each small ornament, wiping it carefully before putting it back. ‘There’s no such thing as mermaids, surely.’

‘There are,’ he said, ‘and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.’ He started coughing, deep rasp in his chest. Putting down her cloth she went to the trolley by the bed and poured him a glass of water from the jug, handing it to him.

‘Come on,’ she said. ‘You’re getting yourself all worked up. And you know what the doctor said-‘

His hand gripped her wrist, hard, shocking her into momentary silence. His eyes met hers, and for a moment they seemed filled with stars falling, with endless seas, and she caught a glimpse of the handsome young man he had once been. ‘Let me tell you,’ he whispered. ‘It’s the last one, I promise.’

She nodded, and he let go of her wrist. ‘I wore a younger man’s skin in those days,’ he began. ‘Everything where it should be, my hair dark as a raven’s wing.’ He huffed out a laugh. ‘And I loved the sea. Every day I would take the fishing boat out with the rest of the crew, every day. Catching a thousand fish, ten thousand fish, a hundred thousand fish or more, so the deck was awash with scales and the bow so low in the water it was a wonder we made it back to shore.’

This was more like it. He told her a story every week, each one more fantastical than the last. ‘That many fish?’

‘Indeed. The sea was alive with them, shimmering in the waves, so thick in parts we could walk on water if we were fast enough.’ He laughed again. ‘That’s what I was trying to do, the day I met her.’

‘Walk on water?’ She liked playing along with his ridiculous stories. ‘You must be joking.’

‘I swear it, on my sainted mother’s grave,’ he said. ‘So there I was, lowering myself over the side of the boat, the fish churning and splashing like a great rippling silver carpet. I had my net in hand and my sturdiest boots on, and I stood on the back of the great shoal and felt the power of their mass rolling through the soles of my feet. I dipped my net once, throwing the fish on board, then again, then a third time. But the net grew so heavy I couldn’t lift it, dragging me down through the shoal and into the deep blue waters below.’ He coughed again as though reliving the moment, taking a sip of water before continuing.

‘Why didn’t you let go?’ She’d finished the ornaments and was wiping along the slats of the blind, each one rattling faintly against the glass.

‘Oh no, I couldn’t let go. That net had been woven by seven maids from their own hair, each one more fine and delicate than the last, yet together stronger than steel. It was a great treasure, it was.’

‘So what happened?’

‘Down I went, my lungs feeling as though they were about to pop. Then I saw her.’

He paused, and Sara realised he was waiting for her response. ‘Who?’

‘The mermaid. First her face, pale ivory in the gloom. I thought it a mask at first, a dead man’s caul, some witchery come to take me. She smiled, and her teeth gleamed like pearls. She had the net in her hands, smooth slender fingers curved through the knots. It was she who had pulled me down. “Let it go” I said, but she shook her head, laughing all the while, hair greenish brown around her.’

‘But how-‘

‘Could I speak? I used the last of my air, words forming in bubbles above my head before fading away. We floated there together, staring at each other. Then she put her hand on my arm and, all at once, I could breathe. I could hear her in my mind. “I like your net,’’ she said. ‘’And I wish to keep it.’’ ‘’But it’s mine,’’ I said. At this she frowned. ‘’Every day you take what is mine. So why should I not get something in return?”

Sara raised her eyebrows. Sliding the cloth along the last of the slats, she pulled the blind up, letting in pale sunshine. ‘What did she mean?’

‘Well, it was the fish, of course. Turns out she was some sort of sea shepherdess, the shoal of fish her flock. Each day she’d bring them to our part of the ocean, and we’d come with our boat and take part of it away. Of course we hadn’t realised what we were doing.’ He huffed out another laugh, the bed creaking as he moved. Sara went over to help him, plumping up the pillows behind him.

‘So how did you escape? And why did she kiss you?’

‘Well…’ His voice trailed off and he winked at Sara. ‘Why do you think?’

‘Oh, don’t tell me you charmed your way out of it.’

‘I was a charming fellow in those days. You don’t get a net made from the hair of seven maids for nothing, you know.’

‘So, what did you do?’

‘I pulled the net closer, meaning to trap her in it, but she was too fast for me. With a flick of her green tail she had me trussed up like a caterpillar, then she towed me away, the shoal around us all slithering scales, like a great cloud. I could see the hull of our boat getting smaller and smaller, and I thought I was done for, truly I did.’

Sara shook her head. ‘Well I never.’

‘She took me to a little island, a rocky outcrop way out in the sea. We all steered clear of it on account of the rocks below the surface like sharks teeth, ready to tear the hull of your boat. She pulled me onto a little bit of sand, towering rocks all around us, the murmur of the sea in our ears. Then she unwrapped me.’

‘Unwrapped you?’

‘Completely, if you get my drift.’

‘Ooh, you be careful!’ Sara laughed, moving over to one of the pictures on the wall and wiping the glass.

‘Oh, there was nothing careful about it. She was about to have her wicked way with me when there was a shout from the ocean, and there I saw the head and shoulders of a noble looking fellow, all silvery hair and beard, holding some sort of trident, bobbing in the waves. When she heard the shout she flinched, pulling back. Our eyes met, and she leaned in and kissed me. I think she meant to get my mouth but I turned my head and she got me just below the eye. Turns out mermaids are venomous, y’see.’

‘Oh, now I know you’re having me on.’ Sara realised she’d been cleaning the same picture frame for far too long and went on to the next one.

‘I swear on my blessed father’s grave I’m not,’ he said, a twinkle in his eye. ‘Before she slipped between the waves, leaving me half-unconscious, she put a shell in my hand to remember her by. Blue and pearl it was, green as the sea. And I resolved that I’d see her again, one day, and finish what we started, but I never did.’

‘Oh, you and your tall tales,’ said Sara. ‘Right, I’d better get on, I’ve plenty of other rooms to clean. See you tomorrow.’

The next morning Sara knocked on his door. But when it opened the room was empty, the bed made up. Someone came up behind her and she turned to see one of the night nurses. ‘Where’s he gone?’

‘Died in the night, he did. Funny, though.’

‘What was funny?’

‘Well, when I went in to check on him, there was a smell everywhere, like the sea, you know? And he gave me this, said it was for you. The next thing we knew he’d gone.’

She dug in the breast pocket of her tunic and pulled something out. ‘Here.’

Stunned, Sara held out her hand. The nurse dropped something in it.

It was a shell, blue and pearl, green as the sea.


If you enjoyed this post, you can find me on Twitter @AuthorHelenJ,  Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest. Plus my latest book release, A Thousand Rooms, is now available on Amazon.

Walking A Tangled Path

img_2083I’ve been a bit quiet on the blog front of late. Partly because I think I’m still recovering from the Thirty Day Writing Challenge, partly because I’ve actually been recovering from a nasty lingering cold that’s been running rampant around here (even the Queen had it), and partly because I’ve been trying to untangle the structure of Under Stone, the fourth book in my Ambeth series.

I wrote the first draft of Under Stone more than three years ago. Since then it’s undergone quite a few edits and rewrites, then was sidelined for a while as I worked on other projects. Now that A Thousand Rooms is out I’m free to roam the forests once more, but the path to this story is still quite tangled.

As the fourth book in the series, Under Stone pulls together a lot of the plot lines set out in books one to three, so I’ve had to do a quick re-read of those books and make sure that I’ve covered everything. Even though Ambeth, the characters, their motivations and their plot lines all live in my head, there are small details I’ve added here and there that I need to keep track of. So far, so good. However, the story itself also needed re-ordering, so I’ve been shuffling scenes around and, in some cases, deleting them.

Making this slightly more complex is the fact that Ambeth deals with multiple character viewpoints. I know, right? A six book series told from the point of view of multiple characters. *shakes head* Also there’s a time twisting element, which sometimes is useful and sometimes really annoying (for the writer), as I have to keep track of what is happening when in two different worlds. But oh, I love it. I love the stories and the characters, and I love it when it all comes together and I can feel the flow. I guess that’s part of the reason I write, for that feeling – it’s a little bit like joy.

I think I’m pretty close to being done now. In fact, I’m hoping I might even be able to get it out to beta readers by the end of this month. So I’ll continue to slash and burn, moving branches and reshuffling scenes, forging a new path through the tangles in the hope I reach my destination soon.

How about you? When you write a story, do you then play around with the order of events to get the best flow? And, if you’ve written a series, how do you keep track of everything? (Notes. It’s notes, isn’t it? I really ought to make more notes when I’m writing.)


If you enjoyed this post, you can find me on Twitter @AuthorHelenJ,  Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest. Plus my latest book release, A Thousand Rooms, is now available on Amazon.

 

#writephoto – Gold – The Third Time We Choose

golden-dawnSue Vincent has chosen yet another gorgeous photo for her #writephoto prompt this week, and here is my response:

The Third Time We Choose

She was scared.

Terrified, if she was being honest. But she’d known she couldn’t take another minute stuck in that place. It had felt so good walking into her manager’s office, seeing the surprise on his sweaty hated face when she’d told him she was leaving.

Good luck to him. Or not. She really hadn’t cared at the time, the bubble of euphoria in her chest lasting until she’d got home and put the key in the door and remembered ‘he’ was there. No doubt half asleep on the sofa as usual, half-empty beer cradled in his slack hands. He’d been handsome, once, she remembered. Taking her breath away. But now all he took was what was left of her spirit.

Enough.

Before she’d been able think about it, before he’d heard her at the door, she’d pulled the key out and turned back to the car. Getting in, she’d put it into gear and driven off, not looking back. Again with that bubble in her chest, like champagne bursts of potential, of what could be.

But once again it had dissipated and now here she was, driving along a country lane going who knows where. She should just pull over, she thought. Take a moment to figure out what she was going to do. Maybe even turn around and go home. After all, it wasn’t so bad, was it?

She started to slow the car, the bubble in her chest replaced by the leaden grey of reality. Then, as the road ahead of her curved, golden light, like champagne, like flames, like the promise of a life yet to live, shone through the tunnel of trees, a beacon leading her on.

It felt like freedom. Speeding up again, she drove towards the light, making her choice for the third time.

For herself.


If you enjoyed this post, you can find me on Twitter @AuthorHelenJ,  Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest. Plus my latest book release, A Thousand Rooms, is now available on Amazon.