What’s In A Name?

You may have noticed a recent small change to my site. Well, more accurately, to my name.

For a number of reasons, some to do with searchability, and others to do with honouring family ties, I’ve decided to add my married name to my public author name.

I was never that bothered about changing my name when I got married. As far as I was concerned, I had a perfectly good name and there wasn’t much point in going through the paperwork of changing everything over. It also seemed a bit unfair, in the scheme of things, a throwback to a time when women lost their identity, their property and many of their rights upon getting married.

However, I’m not going to get into the whole patriarchy/changing names thing here – we are fortunate that nowadays it’s a personal decision and that we can do whatever makes us happy. I have many friends and family who have delighted in changing their names upon getting married, others who have double-barrelled with their spouse’s last name (as I’ve done here), and others still who go by a variety of names personally and professionally (which I will also be doing.)

Anyway, I suppose this is a long way of saying: I’ve changed my author name! There will be more changes to come as I set up a long overdue website, of which this blog will be part, and I’m also hoping to have some exciting publishing news to share soon.

Watch this space…

PS – And you can still find all my currently published books under my original author name – it’s a bit more complex to change things over on the various sites, but I’m working on 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.

 

Wednesday Wander Revisited – Donostia San Sebastian Beaches

This week I felt like taking a beach break (perhaps because I can’t actually take one in real life). So I’m revisiting the glorious beaches of Donostia San Sebastian, Spain. I still remember my first glimpse of La Concha Beach between two buildings – the blue-green water and glorious view – and how unreal it felt. It’s somewhere I’d really like to see again, one day…

It’s Wednesday and time for my weekly wander. This week we’re heading to Donostia San Sebastian, in the Basque country region of Spain. Donostia is the Basque name for the city, and is another way of saying San Sebastian – in honour of the dual heritage of the city, both names are used.

I visited earlier this year and fell under its spell straight away. The gorgeous old buildings and curving golden beaches were like a scene from a story – it was hard to believe people were lucky enough to live in such a place.

This is the iconic La Concha beach, the best known of the city’s beaches, voted the second best city beach in the world by Travel and Leisure magazine. A well- deserved award, I think. As you can see, it’s pretty popular – the clear green waves and golden sand make it a wonderful spot to lounge and take photographs during the day.

At night the beach changes, the deckchairs folded away, the entrance to the bay a perfect frame for glorious sunsets.

I sat for a half hour or so on the cool sand, watching the light change across the water, gold to red to violet, hardly able to take in such beauty.  Dark silhouettes danced at the water’s edge, the illuminated statue of Jesus on Monte Urgull seeming to watch over it all.

Day and night, the ornate promenade was full of people, families and couples and young people, all walking, laughing, enjoying the view. There are several small restaurants built into the seawall itself – one of them made excellent pizza, and was a fantastic place to watch the waves and people passing by.

Another city beach in San Sebastian is Zurriola, which is on the other side of Monte Urgull. This beach is wilder, the waves popular with surfers, although it is safe for swimming in parts, the Spanish lifeguards using a flag system similar to that we were used to in Australia. We visited La Zurriola most days – it was less crowded, yet easy to get to with ample parking nearby. I actually got dumped by a wave the first day there, scraping my knee – haven’t done that in years! Oh, and apparently, Zurriola is also somewhere you can hang ten in the buff, should you choose to – one of several beaches in Europe which allow nude surfing! Just remember to apply plenty of sunscreen 😉

When I began writing this Wander, I’d thought I would write a single post about San Sebastian. But, when I began writing about the beaches, they seemed to merit a post of their own. It seems certain that I’ll be wandering back to San Sebastian, both on this blog and (I hope) in real life too.

Thanks for coming on another Wednesday Wander with me! See you next time 🙂


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 – Darkness

A few weeks ago I participated in Sue’s #writephoto prompt, and a story came to me of a darkness that swallowed whole settlements. When I saw this image, the story came back to me, and I realised there was another part I needed to tell. So here it is…

This time, they were ready for the darkness.

The stories had come ahead of the storm, like crows bringing bad tidings on dark featered wings. Of whole settlements ravaged, men, women and children disappearing into a merciless blackness, hardened warriors swallowed up like smoke.

Stories to strike fear into the hearts of all who heard them, enough to make people flee their homes, heading for the one place they hoped would offer sanctuary.

And now they waited, the last ragtag group of stragglers safe behind closed gate and stone wall, the holy island ringed with wards, a circle of light and the hope that it would keep the darkness at bay.

At the heart of the keep, in the circle of ancient stones that formed part of its foundations, the Elders gathered. Despite their name, they weren’t all old. Men and women, some barely out of their teens. But all of them touched with Light. As the first grumble of thunder was heard on the horizon they joined hands and closed their eyes, focusing their wills on strengthening the light that guarded their borders.

There were others, too, waiting on the battlements. Warriors, some marked with a crescent moon, like the goddess, others with the hammer of the god. Sacred, chosen, joined together in a single cause. They watched the darkness gather and, as it drew near, like ink spreading across the landscape, they readied their swords, their spears and their arrows. In the courtyard below, families huddled together, parents clutching their children, strangers and friends coming together to ensure no one was left alone to endure what was to come.

Then the storm was upon them. The screams of the villagers changed to cries of wonder as each warrior on the wall became as a shaft of light, piercing the blackness, revealing the grasping claws and hungry mouths of those who rode the clouds. As the light of the warriors hit the monstrous creatures they dissolved into shreds of dark mist, the winds called up by those who chanted below taking them away as though they had never been.

The circle of light around the sanctuary held strong, the darkness dashing itself against it, again and again, to no avail. And, slowly, the clouds began to break apart, the thunder to lessen in its intensity, the light from the warriors increasing until it flared so bright no man could bear to gaze upon it. The barrier became wider and deeper and stronger, the love and light of all those who stood within the circle of stone reaching out across the landscape, scouring the shadows and dark places for any vestige of horror that might remain.

As dawn broke, painting the landscape with golden fingers, the villagers rejoiced that the long night was over, the storm passed. And all that remained was light.


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.

 

 

 

Wednesday Wander Revisited – Graffiti in the Beauchamp Tower, London

This week I’m revisiting a place that’s quite close to where I live, yet where you can see almost two millennia of history. The Tower of London, in one form or another, has been dreaming by the Thames since Roman times. However, it has a dark history, of which the Beauchamp Tower is just one small part. I’ve written other posts about this storied place, which I will revisit at some point – for now, take a trip into a brutal part of our past…

This week I’m taking a closer look at a part of the Tower Of London. I’ve written about the Tower before, and looked at some of the many doors, but it is a place so rich in history and significant buildings that I could probably write another half dozen posts and not cover it.

This week I’m wandering into the Beauchamp Tower. It looks and sounds rather a romantic place, but its history, as with many of the Tower buildings, is a sad one. From the 1300s it was used to hold high-ranking prisoners, including the Earl of Warwick (after whom the tower is named), the Dudley brothers, and Lady Jane Grey. Many of the prisoners, being wealthy and well-educated, left their mark upon the walls – this graffiti has been preserved and is now a popular attraction at the Tower.

The Beauchamp Tower overlooks the green where high-ranking prisoners, including Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard, were executed. Lady Jane Grey watched from this window as her husband, Guildford Dudley, was beheaded, then was taken out and executed herself a short while later. The four Dudley brothers are commemorated within the tower in a piece of ornate carved graffiti, with roses for Ambrose, carnations for Guildford, oak leaves for Robert and honeysuckle for Henry.

Not all prisoners held in the tower were executed, but they must have seen their fair share of horrors through the leaded glass windows, and wondered whether they might be next. Despite the sunshine and the views, it was a cold place, not somewhere you would want to spend a lengthy amount of time. There are said to be ghosts in the Tower of London, and I wouldn’t be surprised if several of them were in the Beauchamp tower…

Thank you for coming on another Wednesday Wander with me – see you next time!


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.

Wednesday Wander Revisited – Ellis Island, New York

This week I’m revisiting Ellis Island, somewhere I visited as part of a trip to New York a couple of years ago. I’d always wanted to go to New York, yet even when I lived quite close to it (an hour’s flight), I never did. When I did finally get there, I fell in love. But also, the city felt strangely familiar – perhaps because it’s featured in so many films. But it seemed even deeper than that; I just knew where everything was, the streets feeling like home. I even got up early on our last morning and wandered through Manhattan for an hour by myself, entirely comfortable doing so. I so look forward to being able to go back there, one day…

There is something quite magical, even on a cold and snowy day, about sailing the narrow strip of water past the Statue of Liberty to Ellis Island, with Manhattan in all its glory to the right. It must have been an incredibly exciting, emotional sight for the more than twelve million immigrants who arrived in New York City between 1892 and 1954. However, their journey wasn’t quite over – they still had to pass through immigration which, in those days, meant stopping at nearby Ellis Island.

Ellis Island, named for its eighteenth century owner, Samuel Ellis, was for 62 years the entry point for migrants coming across the Atlantic to the United States. After voyages that could, in some cases, take months, each weary traveller had to carry their possessions through the echoing halls, be examined and questioned and sorted before being allowed access to the tantalisingly close mainland. It must have been heartbreaking for those who had travelled all that distance, leaving all they loved behind, to be turned away almost at the gates, so to speak, the glittering city so close by denying them entry for whatever reason they deemed fair. Yet for all that, Ellis Island was not the haunted place I imagined it to be before I visited – rather, the story there seems to be one of success, of the countless migrants who chose to chase the American dream, many of them finding success and prosperity enough to send for their extended families.

The current buildings on Ellis Island were opened in 1900, after a fire destroyed the original timber buildings in 1897, only five years after they’d been built. Immigration records dating back to 1855 were also lost in the fire, and for several years, while the new buildings were being constructed, the Barge Office at nearby Battery Park was used as the processing station for new arrivals. Once the new buildings were in place, immigrants once again had to stop at the island before being allowed entry to the United States. New arrivals were asked 29 questions by officials, including their name, occupation, and how much money they had, as they were expected to have enough to support themselves. Anyone with visible illnesses or poor health was sent home or held in the nearby hospital, even if the rest of their family had been approved to enter the United States.

In the vaulted Great Hall, migrants were checked for a variety of conditions (including one harrowing check which involved scraping the eyeball with a metal hook!), then sorted into sections to be sent their separate ways. On the day we visited, the hall was almost deserted – it was hard to imagine how noisy it must have been when full, or how many different languages once echoed beneath its lofty ceiling.

In some ways, the Hall itself was a symbol of the American dream. Our guide told us that the beautiful tiles lining the ceiling and floors were made by a family who had passed through the hall themselves only a few years earlier, bringing their expertise in tilemaking from the old world to the new, and finding such success that their products were soon in demand across the country, making them millionaires.

Across the water from the arrivals hall are the hospital and quarantine buildings, which have not yet been restored. It is possible to tour them, though, arranged through prior booking and while wearing a hard hat. We chose not to do so, instead following our guide out to where a curving wall of steel bore the names of all those recorded as having passed through the island to a new life in America.

The city gleamed in the distance, Liberty holding her torch to guide weary travellers with her promise of freedom and justice for all. It was an extraordinary place, with stories enough to fill several libraries, I would imagine. I’m glad I got to see it.

Thank you for coming on another Wednesday Wander with me! See you all next time…


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 – Vista

The path wasn’t much. Cut into the hillside, a pale ribbon of chalk against the green. But it represented everything.

The wide landscape stretched before them, fading into a green haze. Summer lay rich upon the land, bees buzzing in the flowers, butterflies dancing among the long grasses. In the fields the crops ripened, blue-green wheat dotted with red poppies, apples ripening on the trees, the deep green shade a pleasant place to sit awhile, perhaps share some bread and cheese.

But there was no stopping. No rest.

Not for them.

The scent of smoke still perfumed the tatters of their clothing, the tangle of their hair. Wafted from the pitifully small bundles of possessions, all they’d been able to gather in the few moments before everything had changed.

But they were here now. The day was bright, the land stretching clear before them.

Behind them was darkness, fire and loss.

Ahead lay hope. Freedom.

As long as they kept moving.

One by one they took the pathway, their gazes resolutely forward, puffs of chalk dust beneath their shuffling feet. They ignored the noises from behind, their focus on the bright horizon.

Ignored the crackling, the thuds. The crunching noises.

The screaming.

It wasn’t getting any louder.

Was it?

This is my response to Sue Vincent’s #writephoto prompt, one of my favourite bloggy writing prompts. I’d meant to write something quite positive, but it took a somewhat… morbid turn that I didn’t expect. I find stories tend to have a mind of their own, though, and sometimes you just need to go where they take you. I hope my shuffling band of escapees make it, for what it’s worth…


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.

 

 

Wednesday Wander Revisited – Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao

Another week, and another Wander revisited. This time we’re heading to Spain, and to one of the most extraordinary buildings I’ve ever seen. I visited back in 2017, on a wonderful trip that took in two GOT filming locations, some spectacular beaches, beautiful coastal towns and a salad we enjoyed so much that we still make it at home (and call it Biarritz Salad). Perhaps I’ll share the recipe one day…

This week I’ve decided to wander to a place I visited recently – the spectacular Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain.

The first sight of the Museum is a moment of wonder, the kind you get when seeing iconic structures such as the Eiffel Tower or the Sydney Harbour Bridge for the first time. It’s an instant of disconnect, when you wonder whether what you’re seeing is real. Perched on the edge of the river running through Bilbao, the building seems almost to float upon the water, like a magical ship or giant sea creature, metallic scales reflecting the sky.

A museum of modern and contemporary art, the Guggenheim was designed by the architect Frank Gehry, known for his unique vision. When you come into Bilbao from the east, as we did, the Museum is one of the first things you see, a tumbled cluster of gleaming shapes on the curving edge of the river.

The museum was inaugurated almost exactly twenty years ago, on October 18th 1997. Prior to that, the riverbank was an industrial area, home to piles of curving steel and machinery, said to have partly influenced Gehry’s design. The architect said that ‘the randomness of the curves are designed to catch the light’ and they certainly do so, reflecting light and water and shade so that the angles constantly change, each step as you move around the building revealing a different viewpoint.

I particularly liked how the walkway and reflecting pool are positioned to look, from some angles, as though the river runs up to the edge of the building. I also like the red archway that sits astride the road into Bilbao, bringing you immediately into the design.

When we visited, there was a huge dog sculpture covered in real flowers at the front of the building, which we all loved. It is called ‘Puppy’, and was designed by Jeff Koons, and the flowers change with the seasons. It’s been guarding the entrance to the Guggenheim since 1997, but prior to that it lived at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney, Australia.

The spider sculpture, visible at the bottom right of my photo, is permanent and seems to be a popular image associated with the museum, if the tourist trinkets for sale nearby were any indication. Personally, I’m not a fan of spiders, especially huge ones like that!

This is not my first Gehry – I visited the EMP in Seattle a couple of years ago, and also saw El Peix, a fish-shaped canopy on the beachfront in Barcelona. Like most of Gehry’s works, the Guggenheim is impressive, extraordinary in its complexity. We spent ages just walking around the outside, taking in the shapes, wondering at the mind that could create such wonders.

Gehry’s style of architecture has been described as ‘desconstructivism’ though Gehry himself says he does not associate with that movement. Post-modern it certainly is, form without any other function than to catch the light and beguile the eye. Clad in titanium, at times it appears silver, and at others gold. Extraordinarily for a building of this type, the Guggenheim was completed on time and on budget.

Overall, it was a spectacular building to see and experience. I took loads of photos, as you can imagine, and these are some of the ones I liked the most. Thanks for coming on another Wednesday Wander with me! See you next time.


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.

A Monday Update

Despite the recent easing of lockdown rules in England, life is continuing much as it has been for me and my family. Hubby and I are still working at home and the gorgeous girl, who is in secondary school, is still not back in classes, and won’t be until September.

Still, there are things I miss. I miss my family, of course. It seems madness to me that I can go to a pub and interact with hundreds of strangers, but I can’t have more than two households meeting under my own roof at any one time. However, I’ve spent long stretches of time away from my family before and I suppose this is how I’ve been coping, by treating this as just one more enforced separation.

I also miss getting out and about, though one thing that lockdown has taught me is that I probably wasn’t doing as much of that as I thought I was. I am looking forward to venturing out and exploring this fascinating tiny island again – whether with family or with friends. I’m also looking forward to meetings closer to home, coffee or lunch with friends, big family barbeques, and the occasional ‘out-out’ evening.

I miss travelling, too. We were booked to visit Morocco in early April (and are still waiting for our flight refunds, coughRyanaircough!). I also had a trip to Wales at the end of March to attend a workshop, and another to Avebury in June to join the Silent Eye, but all have been cancelled. At the moment, the idea of getting on a plane is on about the same level for me as going to the pub, so I don’t imagine we’ll be going anywhere we can’t drive to anytime soon. Still, I know I’m fortunate to have been so many places – there will be chances to travel again and, in the meantime, I’ve been revisiting my old Wednesday Wander posts.

I don’t miss the noise, or the busyness of my old life. The feeling of having to be here and there and here again, of trying to fit things in, instead of the days stretching and moulding into a new, more relaxed routine. The hum of the motorway has returned, the buzz of traffic nearby, the rattle and hoot of trains in the valley. But there is still birdsong and buzzing bees whenever I venture out, still flowers and clear skies and long views – I know I’m lucky to have all this on my doorstep.

So I guess this is just an update, really. In some ways, I’m progressing with things, and in others, they stay the same. Writing-wise I’m moving forwards – there are new stories to tell, new worlds to explore. After having four full manuscript requests but no luck (so far) on my vampire novel, I’m shelving it for now and writing something new. My co-author project is picking up pace again, so hopefully I’ll have some news to share on that soon.

Until then, I hope you’re all keeping safe and well. How is lockdown life treating you?

xx

(All photos taken locally on recent walks)


You can find me on Twitter @AuthorHelenJFacebook, Instagram and Pinterest. Plus my latest book release, A Thousand Rooms, is now available on Amazon. Visit my Amazon Author Page to see more.

Wednesday Wander Revisited – Plas Newydd, Llangollen

Here is the next in my series of revisiting Wednesday Wanders. I’ve been to Llangollen many times in my life; I have family near there, and a lot of history tied up in the little town, nestled among the ancient hills. But my first visit to Plas Newydd was only three years ago – a fascinating place, with a wonderful story of love, friendship, and living life…

This week I’m wandering to a rather wonderful place tucked away on the hillside above Llangollen. This is Plas Newydd, once home to the famous ‘Ladies of Llangollen.’

The two ladies in question were Sarah Ponsonby and Lady Eleanor Charlotte Butler, who came from Ireland in 1778 to live in Llangollen, North Wales. Their story is a fascinating one. Both born to noble families, they met at school in 1768 when Sarah was 13 and Eleanor 29. Sarah was an orphan and ward of Sir William and Lady Fownes, while Eleanor came from the Ormonde family and lived at Kilkenny Castle. Lady Fownes was friends with Eleanor’s mother, and Eleanor was asked to keep an eye on Sarah while she was at school. The two became close friends, corresponding for several years until, both unhappy in their home lives, they decided to run away together. Eleanor was under pressure to enter a convent, while Sarah was enduring the unwelcome attentions of Sir William, who had decided she would make a perfect second wife (even though his first wife was still alive!).

The two women first attempted to escape in March 1778. Dressed in men’s clothing and armed with a pistol, they made it as far as Waterford before being apprehended and brought back to their families. Despite further pressure, Eleanor managed to escape again, running to Sarah. Faced with such devotion, their families finally relented and they were allowed to leave Ireland in May 1778 to start a new life together.

Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons – Manfred Heyde (own work)

They moved into Pen Y Maes cottage, as it was known then, in 1780, renaming it Plas Newydd (welsh for New Hall). They extended and renovated the cottage, including the addition of stained glass windows and extraordinary wood carvings on the interior and exterior of the building, many of which were salvaged from old churches and furniture. You aren’t allowed to take photographs of the interior, but I did manage to find this image of one of the staircases, just to give you an idea of what it looks like inside. The details around the exterior doors are also extraordinary, and it must have been a magical place to live. The Ladies lived there for almost fifty years, in what they called ‘a life of sweet and delicious retirement’, until Eleanor passed away in 1829, Sarah dying just two years later.

During their lifetime the ladies were figures of curiosity, well-regarded and attracting many famous visitors, including Lord Byron, the Duke of Wellington, William Wordsworth (who composed a poem while staying with them) and Madame de Genlis. Their relationship was seen to embody romantic friendship, a high ideal much sought after at the time. The true nature of their relationship is still unclear – they shared a bedroom, sleeping together in the same bed, and referred to each other as ‘Beloved’. They also dressed in men’s clothing and powdered their hair, as can be seen in the few portraits that survive.

Whether The Ladies’ relationship was simply one of platonic love, or something more, doesn’t really matter. What’s important is that they were both strong enough to live their lives outside the conventions of the time – yes, they both came from privilege, but this was still a time when women were reduced to ‘wife of’ once they were married, no longer allowed to hold either property or their names. I love the story of the Ladies because it’s a story of love, of friendship, and the desire to live life as they pleased. The house in its in green gardens, ruined castle on the hill beyond, stands as a beautiful memorial to life, to the Ladies, and to love.

Thanks for coming on another Wednesday Wander with me – see you next time!

———————————————————————————————————

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.

Quiet #writephoto

For a moment, the world was quiet,

like a breath inhaled.

There was no hum of traffic, no roar of planes, no rumble of trains

in the valley below. Instead there was birdsong, the buzzing of bees, and

the breeze making music through the branches and long grasses.

Water rippled, silver, clear for the first time in years, like

the sky, no longer gasping with dust and smog and exhaust,

and the world was quiet.

We trod lightly, for the most part, as our ancestors once did, when

The land was our home and we respected it as such. Before

the darkness came, the spreading stain of factory and mill and

blackened tower and we forgot what it was to smell fresh leaves and

sweet flowers and to feel the breeze hum against our skin, the way

water rippled like silver snakes, the sky clear above us.

But now, perhaps, we remember again. We turn away from black tower and

rumbling traffic and clogged skies and we’re reminded

of how it used to be, when the water rippled silver, and the birds sang,

and the world was quiet, once more.

This is my response to Sue Vincent’s weekly #writephoto challenge. Sue’s photo this week helped me to articulate something I’d been thinking about for a little while. We’ve been given a chance to see what the world looks like when we slow down – what will we do with that information going forward?

———————————————————————————————————

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.