Creative Flame – How Trying To Write To Market Made Me Lose My Way

I think I mentioned, when I came back to blogging, that I’d taken some time off to work on a book called The Last Raven. It’s one of the most complex stories I’ve ever written so I needed to focus on it, and also on my goal of getting a traditional publishing deal.

So how’s that going? Well, it turns out that The Last Raven, in its current state, is an ‘almost’ book. I’ve had several full manuscript requests, from both agents and publishers, but nothing has actually come of it. Lots of people have liked it, think it’s an original concept, and have given me advice and feedback. I’ve taken my story apart and put it back together again. But still, nothing.

Apparently, when you get to this point, when you’re getting feedback and requests and people are interested, you’re ‘thisclose’ to getting representation or a publishing deal. Which is somewhat heartening. But close, as they say, only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades. So, after yet another rejection, I felt it was time for me to revisit the manuscript and see what I could possibly do to it to take it over the line.

A recent re-read had revealed that there were some structural problems. However, these were as a direct result of my chopping and changing scenes around to try and fit the advice I’d been given in order to make the story ‘better.’ Still following that path, I continued chopping and changing things around until Wednesday night, when I stopped, utterly convinced I would never ever get to the heart of the story and I may as well give up on it. Not a great place to be.

I woke yesterday morning, still feeling discouraged. But then, when discussing the situation with some writer friends, I had the following revelation: I’d been so busy trying to make the story into what I thought other people wanted it to be, I’d forgotten what I wanted it to be.

This was profound, dear reader. It was as though a weight dropped from me (to use a cliché). As soon as the thought came into my head, I knew what I needed to do.

The dog needed a walk, so she and I headed out into the early morning, my head spinning with ideas. I knew I needed to revisit the original story as I’d first written it – yes, it was far from perfect, and there was a long saggy middle section that I’d been wise to remove. But there were some scenes in there that I’d chopped in the name of ‘pace’, which I now realised were integral to my main character’s progression. And there were some new scenes popping into my head that made my knees buckle and fleshed things out even further. I needed to go through the story, chapter by chapter, and piece it back together again. It would mean more work, but it was work on my terms, true to my creative vision. My heart full, I headed home.

The thing with this writing game is that it is incredibly competitive. There are SO MANY BOOKS out there. Which is a wonderful thing, if you love books like I do. However, when agents receive thousands of manuscripts a month yet only end up signing maybe five people over the course of a year, getting past the gatekeepers into the world of traditional publishing is a difficult quest, at best. Of course we can watch the market and write what we hope will be the next big thing, but what perhaps can be forgotten in such a pursuit (and certainly was in my case), is that writing is an expression of our creative selves, and we need to honour that creative flame and let it burn. There’s nothing wrong in writing to market – in fact, it’s a good way to make money in this business, so if you can do it I’d recommend it. However, in this instance, when I twisted and changed my story to try and fit an ideal, it lost some integral part of its soul in the process.

My original manuscript did need work – I do recognise that. And some of the chopping and changing did bring new threads and details to the surface which were necessary to the story. However, I went too far, and lost sight of what I’d started out to achieve. To use another metaphor, I was all at sea. I’d tried to make my story into something it wasn’t, or at least not what I’d intended it to be. And in doing so, I lost the creative flame that had sparked it into being. So now I’m heading out to buy a big whiteboard and a stack of sticky notes – strange tinder, I know, but I’m sure it will get the flame burning again.


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.

The Magnificent Art of Roman Mosaic

img_4502I’ve always loved mosaics. From jewellery set with tiny pieces of glass to sprawling floors, I’m fascinated by the alchemy of creating pictures from pieces of coloured stone. Years ago I even took several workshops on how to create my own mosaics, working in both the regular and reverse transfer processes. I ended up making my own mosaic table top, which has since been carted across the world with me in several moves. It currently sits in our shed and is in a sorry state of repair, so is a project for me this summer.

img_4503Near to where I live is the city of St Albans, once called Verulamium and one of the most important Roman towns in Britain. There was a lot of wealth in Verulamium, with many splendid villas being built there, as well as a baths, basilica and forum, all important fixtures in any decent Roman town. Now all that remains are a few fragments of the old city wall, and, beneath the parks and streets, wonderful mosaic floors, several of which have been removed and preserved in the excellent local museum.

img_4500As you can see the designs are amazingly modern, considering they were made almost two thousand years ago. I particularly like the semi-circular shell pattern – it predates Art Deco by almost two millennia, proving that really, there are no new ideas. And, if you go to the nearby park, you can see a mosaic floor still in situ.

img_1471Protected by a modern building, this beautiful floor was once part of a grand reception room. Complete with hypocaust underfloor heating, it comprises a series of panels with repeating designs. But I think the best thing about it is that it is where it has always been since it was laid, gleaming and new, all those centuries ago. I imagine how pleased the householder must have been, how proud that they had the funds to buy such a magnificent floor.

img_1473Now, perhaps, mosaic is something you have in your bathroom, or on the top of an outdoor table. But it must have been wonderful to live in a home where such beauty ran underfoot from room to room, full of stories and patterns and colour. What do you think?


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.

Pirates Ahoy! A Writer’s Frustration

Being a writer isn’t all lattes in coffee shops and glowing bursts of inspiration. There’s quite a bit of hard work involved too, as many of you know. Writing a novel and then getting it out into the world is a huge effort, especially for independent authors like myself. I work with a professional editor and cover designer, have a critique partner and several beta readers, not to mention the endless rewrites, edits and formatting to get it ready for the reading public. Basically, it’s a big job.

But I love to write and share my stories, which is why I do it. However, one of the big downsides, especially with the rise of e-books, is piracy on the web. I know my books are out there as free downloads or, even more irritatingly, to purchase, on various pirate sites. I tried Blasty for a while, but now just do the occasional search and destroy method, following tips from fellow authors or online trails. I’m resigned to the fact I’ll never get all of them, but finding and deleting a title every once in a while makes me feel as though I’m doing something at least.

I was recently alerted to Kiss Library (google them, I’m not going to do them the favour of sharing their link) and, when I went to their site, I found both Oak and Mist, the first book in my Ambeth series, and A Thousand Rooms, my standalone novel, available to purchase. Oak and Mist is exclusive to Amazon – I can’t even sell it from my own website – so it was galling to see both my books available for sale on some pirate site, with none of the proceeds coming my way.

Kiss Library purports to be fully compliant with copyright laws, and has a DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Form) link at the bottom of their site, which takes you to a simple form. You fill in a few details, add the link to your (pirated) books – there’s even a space to leave them a message if you so desire. It all seems very polite and above board. So I filled in the form, adding a few choice comments about them making money from my work, and pressed submit.

Within a few minutes of submitting the form, I received an email from them apologising and saying they were ‘very sorry about this situation – we’ve had an influx of copyright complaints recently which we haven’t seen before. Apparently someone has found a way to work around our copyright protection mechanism.’ A quick search of review forums found that this is a standard email they’ve been sending for at least a year, so I very much doubt this influx is ‘recent.’ They also said they would contact the parties involved and make sure I received any payments outstanding. Sure…

Several of the reviewers on the forums mentioned they’ve had their credit card/bank details stolen as well, so I don’t think I’ll be giving Kiss Library any further information, even if they do offer payment. And, in the meantime, if you’re an author, check the site to make sure your books aren’t on there. And if you’re a reader… buy your books from a reputable retailer. We authors really appreciate 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.

Thursday Doors – In The Pink

I spent this past weekend in Wales, my favourite place in the world, which is where I saw this lovely pink door. It belongs to a cottage high on a hill overlooking Swansea Bay on the Gower Peninsula, a picturesque part of South Wales.

It was a lovely weekend. We were with family, and visited several different beaches including one where, during the war, my grandparents had their honeymoon. The house where they stayed is now a hotel, but the views, and the hidden church in the trees, remain the same. The Wales National Air Show was also on in the area so, as we sat on the beach in the morning, we were treated to the sight (and sound) of the Red Arrows flying past.

The little road with the pink-doored cottage was a narrow one, with room for a only single car in some places – we had to flatten ourselves against the old stone walls several times coming back up! It was also very steep, but the views were spectacular – almost worth the thought of lugging your shopping all the way up if you lived there.

Whenever I see an interesting door I wonder about what it must be like to live in that house, about the stories inside its walls. I think I’d enjoy living in this little cottage with the pink door, looking out at sea and mountains.

Maybe one day…

This is my response to the Thursday Doors Challenge, courtesy of Norm 2.0. For more doors, or to add one of your own, head over to Norm’s site and click the link.


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.

Down By The Canal

It’s getting warmer here, summer finally on its way. Not quite as hot as the European mainland, sweltering in 40 degrees plus, but we are set to top 30 degrees on Saturday, which is quite warm for this little green isle.

I’ve lived in hotter places, but no longer have the benefit of a sea breeze to cool things down. So instead, I like to walk along the canal path, where willows dip over shaded water, and the air always feels a couple of degrees cooler.

Where an open gate leads to an old pub, and a cool drink on green grass. And where my canine companion can cool off her paws before the long walk back home.

Not a bad place to be, on a warm summer’s day.


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 Visit To Kings Landing #GameOfThrones

(Warning: This post contains spoilers for Season 8 of Game Of Thrones, so if you’re not all caught up, read further at your own peril. Again, spoilers spoilers spoilers)

A couple of years ago, I shared two posts about visiting Dragonstone, the Targaryen island fortress from Game of Thrones. Of course, I didn’t really visit a fictional location – rather, I visited the two spectacular filming locations in Spain, Itzurun Beach and San Juan de Gaztelugatxe.

A couple of weeks ago, I went on a writing holiday with three fabulous friends to my third Game Of Thrones location, the beautiful medieval walled city of Dubrovnik, which stood in for Kings Landing in the show. All of us being GOT fans, we decided to book a two hour guided tour taking in many of the famous locations from the show.

Of course Dubrovnik, a World Heritage site, was a tourist draw long before the Lannisters came to town and, according to our fabulous tour guide, Eva, the hugely popular HBO show hasn’t really done much to change visitor numbers to Dubrovnik. As she put it, ‘the city was already at capacity.’

Eva was uniquely qualified to be our guide, having worked as the stand-in for Cersei, Danaerys and several other of the main female characters on the show, as well as being a Production Assistant to the showrunners, Dan and David. She’d been part of the show since the very beginning, and so was the perfect person to take us around the fictional Kings Landing.

We visited key locations such as Fort Lovrijenac, which was used for several key scenes, including one in the Red Keep courtyard when Cersei uttered her famous line, ‘Power is power.’

We also saw Blackwater Bay, and the long quay where Sansa, Bran and Arya bid Jon farewell in the final series episode.

We stood on the Shame steps, looking up to where the fictional Sept of Baelor stands in the show, and listened to bells ring out across the city from the towers used in the show to signal the Lannisters’ (ultimately futile) surrender.

The tour was two hours long, which, at the end of a very hot day, was enough. We’d done plenty of exploring already, walking the city walls (location for the House of the Undying as well as plenty of other scenes in the show), and taken in the extraordinary romantic views of islands and blue water.We’d sat in the shade of a curving stone tower watching people swim as we chatted and rested our tired feet, and had snuffly wet kisses from a small black pug dog.

We’d wandered along the stone quays, marvelling at the amount of fish in the crystal-clear waters. Swallows darted above, their constant chirping part of the city soundscape, as were the bells from the many towers, striking the hours.

And, as we wandered the streets in subsequent days, along lantern-lit alleyways and curving flights of stairs, through sun-drenched courtyards filled with orange trees, I realised what Eva was telling us.

Game of Thrones has created a mythology around Dubrovnik, that of a city peopled with characters from fantasy. But Dubrovnik was already a place of wonder and magic, a city full of stories – Game of Thrones is just one of many. I’m sure it won’t be the last.


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 Walk On Midsummer’s Day

This morning we set out, my faithful companion and I, to wander the woods on Midsummer Day. The paths were cool and shaded green, sun glimmering through the leaves to create patterns of light and dark. In short, it was a pretty magical way to start the day.

I have a long tradition of going to the woods on Midsummer. When I was small, my grandmother used to take me there to look for fairies – whether we found any or not I can’t say, but it always seemed a magical time to me. My grandmother knew the name of every flower and taught it to me, as well as phrases of her native Welsh. We would pick snowdrops in springtime, wandering through the village with our large basket overflowing with tiny white bells and green leaves, which we then parcelled into posies for gifts.

When I lived in Australia, the summer solstice occured just before Christmas, so it was a slightly different celebration. Still, I always tried to surround myself with green leaves, whether walking by the Yarra or driving through the Mornington Peninsula hinterland, where twisted pines reached for the sky and once, magically, kangaroos bounded across the road as dusk was falling, their fur grey as shadow.

Today, however, my canine companion and I took the winding streets and backways until we reached the Little Wood, as it’s called, a small patch of wilderness leading to a green and pleasant meadow, one of doggo’s favourite places to run and play.

The grass was tall, starred with dandelions and buttercups, deep blue speedwell and pink campion, butterflies fluttering here and there. The trees were bursting with green, as though decorated to celebrate the turning of nature’s wheel, the blue sky festooned with clouds.

I threw doggo’s ball for her and she chased it, disappearing into the long grass and emerging decorated with dandelion seeds, lying down to have a rest every once in a while. We saw one of her doggy friends from puppy training and they had a play, then we wandered back past the broken tree, while ravens danced in the high branches.

We left the meadow, taking the main road back home, entering the world of men once more. But I carried a little piece of forest magic with me…

Happy solstice, everyone – may your light shine bright 🙂


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.