Wednesday Wander – 17 Mile Drive, Monterey

This week I’m wandering to sunny California, and to a stretch of road known as 17 Mile Drive. It runs along the coast of the Monterey Peninsula, a small outcrop of land first mapped by Spanish explorers in 1602.

The road was laid out by a consortium of railroad barons, who purchased the land in the late 1800s and built the Hotel Del Monte. The drive was intended for use by hotel guests, taking in the scenic coastline and clear waters of Monterey Bay. It passed by forest and beaches, past landmarks such as the Lone Cypress and Bird Rock, joining up with Highway 1 to head further south. That was the route we were taking, heading down to Cambria after spending a night in Monterey, on our way to a family wedding.

It was a glorious sunny day, and we stopped several times to look around, amused by the small creatures that looked like a cross between a gopher and a squirrel, perched on the rocks.

We passed some lovely houses, mostly built in variations of a grand Victorian style, all with large windows looking out to sea. Pebble Beach is an exclusive gated community and home to the world famous Pebble Beach golf course, so that affluence can be seen in the waterfront homes along the way. However, I didn’t take any photos of the houses, choosing to focus instead on the lovely views of Monterey Bay.

In the distance you could just see the tips of the kelp forests floating on the surface, home to sea otters and other marine wildlife. We kept stopping to get out, taking photos and foraging for beach finds in the clear blue rockpools. However, we had somewhere to be and couldn’t linger too long, so we left our shells where we found them and hit the road once more.

As 17 Mile Drive joined Highway 1 we picked up speed, heading south along the spectacular California Coast. But that’s another Wednesday Wander. Thanks for coming on this one with me, see you next time…


If you enjoyed this post and would like to read more, 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.

A Ramble In More Ways Than One

I missed my Wednesday Wander this week! Not because I didn’t have anywhere to write about, but because I’ve been deep into Ambeth these past two weeks, doing a fine toothcomb edit of Under Stone, the fourth instalment in the series. The story has taken me over again and I’ve been immersed fully into it, emerging only to eat, sleep, go to work and take care of my (slightly bemused) family. Oh, and watch Game of Thrones, of course, because DRACARYS – how good was the last episode? It took me a day to recover, I swear.

However, last night I edited the final word in the final chapter, and so this morning I decided to take a break and walk to work along the canal, something I’ve not had the chance to do for a few weeks. Not much had changed along there – it was still green, lush branches almost trailing in the still water in some places, creating archways over the slightly muddy path. There were more ripe blackberries than before, reminding me to bring a container next time I walk that way, their juicy goodness destined for my freezer and winter pies. But mostly, it was just the same.

And that was just what I needed. A reminder of the real world. Not so far removed from the green gardens and hidden pathways of Ambeth, but real enough. The grey heron was in his usual spot on the fallen tree at the widest part of the canal, preening his feathers in the sunshine. Canada geese, ducks and swans sailed past, silver fish jumped, canal boats reflected in the dark waters. As I walked I felt in some way as though I were waking up again, from a self-imposed slumber where all I did was dream of another land.

This afternoon after work I watched the gorgeous girl in a show, caught up with friends and had dinner with my family. Later, I might take my tea and sit in the garden as dusk falls, watching the sky change colour and listening to the rustle of birds as I cradle my cup close, enjoying the warmth. The nights are cool, even though it’s August, a hint of autumn around the corner, my favourite time of year. The Perseid meteor shower is happening now, with the peak expected this weekend. If I can, I’ll sit out and watch the stars fall – I did so years ago, driving out to the countryside and sitting in the darkness, light streaking across the sky above. I’ve never forgotten it.

And then it’s back to work. A final edit, some work on the cover design and a few other related items, as well as another story begging to be completed. There are blog posts to write, as well, people to visit in their online domains. But for tonight I think I’ll just sit and consider, taking a moment to breathe and remember who I am before I dive back in again.

Wishing you all a lovely weekend 🙂


If you enjoyed this post and would like to read more, 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 – Plas Newydd, Llangollen

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!


If you enjoyed this post and would like to read more, 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.

How Pinterest Boosted My Blogging Stats (with a little help from my friend)

Even though I’ve been blogging for three years now, I’m still finding my way around some of the other social media platforms. There are so many it can be difficult to find time to work across all of them, especially if you want to, you know, actually get some writing done.

One platform I’d been hearing a lot about, especially from other bloggers, was Pinterest. I’d heard of it years ago, via a designer friend, but hadn’t ever bothered to look into it. It wasn’t until my soon to be sister-in–law was pinning wedding ideas and invited me to take a look, that I decided to set up an account.

Once set up I pinned a few blog posts, set up a couple of boards, followed some people and left it at that. I didn’t really get any blog views from the site, and I just didn’t have any time to put into it. That was, until a few months ago, when I had a lovely catch up with some blogger friends, including Suzie from Suzie Speaks. Pinterest came up again and the exchange went something like this:

Suzie: ‘How’s your Pinterest page going?’

Me: ‘Well, let’s put it this way – I have three followers, and two of them are sitting on this couch.’

Needless to say, Suzie soon set me straight as to how important Pinterest could be to my blog (well, once she stopped laughing she did). I took her comments on board and started to spend a little more time there, sharing posts and making my images look more enticing (or at least, attempting to). But I still wasn’t really getting anywhere.

Suzie, in the meantime, had been very helpful with suggestions and, taking a look at her own successful Pinterest account, I wondered whether I might benefit from some more targeted assistance. As it turned out, Suzie offered a Pinterest management program where she would, for a monthly fee, work with me to update my Pinterest page. So I signed on.

Suzie and I discussed my likes and dislikes, and the sort of things I’d like to pin. I wandered around Pinterest, losing myself down the occasional wormhole of vintage fashion or travel. Suzie recommended the types of boards to create that would attract new followers, as well as other ways to maximise the account, and I began to make connections. With her help and expert eye my boards were optimised and organised, with shiny new pins created using the Canva app. Suzie also set me up with a group blogging board, as well as joining other blogging boards (something I didn’t even know I could do on Pinterest!).

And the proof, it seems, is in the numbers. We started in January, when my total blog Pinterest views for the month were zero. In February they went up to 75 views, in March 182, then in April 266. The trend continued upward – in May I had 378 views, June 422, and in July they hit an all-time high of 597 views from Pinterest alone!  My followers on Pinterest have gone from 3 to 721, which is pretty amazing, plus I’ve met some great new bloggers, which has been a nice bonus.

In summary, if you’re thinking of adding another social media account to your blogging arsenal, consider Pinterest. And if, like me, you’re not quite sure how to get started, look at getting some help. I’ve certainly found it to be worthwhile!

For more information about Suzie, her blogging tips and social media management options, head over to her blog at suzie81speaks.com. Make sure you say hi; she’s lovely!


If you enjoyed this post and would like to read more, 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.

New Week, New Writing Leaf

Last week I wrote about a writing wobble, and you were all so lovely, giving me encouragement and reminding me what it is I love so much about this blogging community – thank you all so much for your support.

This week I have a week off, the first in while, and I’m back where Ambeth began, the park where Alma disappears between the trees just a few minutes’ drive away. Today I’m heading further west to Wales, where her story continues, and I’m hoping that the combination of some free time and seeing these places again will immerse me fully into that world once more.

For now I am re-reading Under Stone, making small adjustments but not yet quite ready to don my editing hat. Which is kind of a problem, as I’m supposed to be doing Camp NaNo, and the edit is my project. Oh well. We can only do what we can do.

And perhaps, that is the lesson here. That you can’t force things. That, unless we’re lucky enough to be able to write full-time, life has to be addressed. The creative urge is a powerful one, for writers no less than any other, and it can be difficult, sometimes, to find that balance. I know for me that my blogging life is not as active as it once was, and I am woefully behind when it comes to reading, my TBR pile teetering, my Kindle stuffed with unread titles.

Still, it’s not the end of the world, is it? To be able to inhabit other worlds, whether as a writer or a reader, is a privilege. And I remain forever grateful.


If you enjoyed this post and would like to read more, 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 – Tower Of London

I could probably write about half a dozen posts about the famous Tower of London (and will definitely write at least one more). There are layers of history going right back to Roman times within the ancient walls, and the names of those who lived and died there are a rollcall of history.

The Tower, a World Heritage Site, sits on the banks of the River Thames as it has done for almost a thousand years. It was founded by William the Conqueror towards the end of 1066, the year he and his Norman forces conquered England. However, almost a thousand years earlier it was a Roman site, the nearby fragment of Roman wall and exposed Roman stonework within the tower grounds testament to that history. It is best known, however, as a prison, even though it was not originally intended as one.

The White Tower, from which the Tower takes its name, was the first major building on the site, started around 1078. Designed as a keep with lodgings fit for the new king, it has been described as the best preserved 11th century palace in Europe. Opposite the White Tower is the entrance to the Waterloo Block, where the famed Crown Jewels are held. We did go in to see them, but no photography was permitted, hence the lack of pictures here. Suffice it to say, it’s hard to believe they are real, such is the size and brilliance of the gems. I do recommend that, if you’re visiting the tower, you see the jewels as early as possible, as it does get busy later in the day. We went first thing and were able to move through the various antechambers quite quickly, as well as taking two passes on the moving walkways past the jewels themselves. Later, however, there were large queues stretching out the door.

The tower, of course, has a fearsome reputation as a prison and place of execution, where not even being royal would keep you from the axe. Three British queens lost their heads on Tower Green – Anne Boleyn, Catherine Howard and Lady Jane Grey – as well as various members of the nobility. Others languished for years inside the various towers, or were sent to the dungeons to be tortured – this is a place where, if the walls could talk, the tales they’d tell would be difficult to hear.

Something perhaps not so well known is that the fortress also housed a menagerie. Founded in in the early 1200s by King John, animals from all around the world given as gifts or imported as novelties were kept for the amusement of the court. Animals housed there included a polar bear and an elephant – today, life size sculptures of the creatures can be seen around the grounds. Nowadays, the most famous non-human inhabitants of the fortress are the Tower Ravens, their wings clipped so they cannot stray far from the Tower. They are huge, the biggest ravens I’ve ever seen, their calls deep and barking and quite unnerving. There is a legend that states if they ever leave the Tower, the monarchy will fall and Britain with it.

We spent hours at the Tower, climbing worn stone staircases into creaking chambers, and down into dark dungeons, yet we didn’t see half of everything there was to see. One thing we did see, however, was a reenactment of sorts, where we had to choose an army to back when invading the tower. Each choice was based upon a real attempt, but only one, led by a woman, was actually successful (and she was the one we backed, too!). The reenactment was great fun – the actors really got into it and there was lots of audience participation. Set against the ancient backdrop of the White Tower it was very effective, one of those things English Heritage does so well.

As I said at the start of this wander, I could write half a dozen posts about this place, and I know I’ve only scratched the surface of the many stories held within its walls. However, in the interest of brevity, I’ll sign off here… for now. Thanks for coming on another Wednesday Wander with me – see you next time!


If you enjoyed this post and would like to read more, 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.

#writephoto – Fire Dance

‘‘A firedance through the night.’ What d’you suppose they meant by that?’

‘Who?’

‘That band, you know the ones, all floppy hair and white teeth. You know, catchy melodies. They had fancy lyrics, too.’

‘Oh, yeah. I dunno.’

‘You dunno the band, or you dunno what they meant?’

“Both. It was a while ago, wasn’t it?’

They continued along the dark road, footsteps echoing in the cold night air.

‘Maybe they were talking about those fire dancers, you know, the ones you see on the beach, twirling their fire sticks. Remember that holiday we went on?’

‘Yeah. Nice, that.’

***

On the hillside beyond, fire bloomed, like an exotic red gold flower opening, throwing smoke into the velvet sky.

***

‘It was a catchy tune. One of my favourites, back in the day.’

‘Oh well. That’s nice. Cold tonight, isn’t it?’

‘Lovely and clear though. Look at them stars.’

‘Won’t mind getting in though. A nice cup of tea, I think.’

‘Sounds good.’

***

Above them, drumming rang in the high places. Figures masked and cloaked moved between the fires, casting long shadows. Their dance was older than history, older than the hills. It had been sung and written about many times, ribbons of memory woven into pictures anew.

But they did not concern themselves with the world. All they needed was the dance.

This was my response to Sue Vincent’s #writephoto prompt for this week.


If you enjoyed this post and would like to read more, 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.