Facing Fear with The Silent Eye, Part 1 – Arrival

I recently attended a workshop, with The Silent Eye, about Facing Our Fears, an extraordinary weekend spent among the hills and grey stone villages of the Peak District. It’s taken me a little while, as it usually does, to process everything that happened. Once again there was history and mystery, good company and tasty food, old friends greeted and new friends made. And, as always, revelations.This is part one of my account…

My journey began on Friday 13th, amid the hustle and bustle of St Pancras station, my train waiting beneath the great arcing span of glass. Perhaps it was the day – I’d given myself plenty of time to get there, yet still found myself rushing at the last moment, a wrong turn taken meaning I had to run the length of the station to get to my platform. But I made it on board and settled in for a pleasant journey through London and out into the green, past the dreaming spires of St Albans and further north, buildings of golden brick changing to red, then to grey stone.

This weekend was to be given over to fear, so I reflected on what that could mean as we headed north. I don’t particularly care for spiders, but I wasn’t sure the weekend would involve me facing countless arachnids. Heights? Maybe – we were going to be wandering the moors and high places, so I wondered whether that would be part of the challenge. Then I went deeper, to more primal fears. The loss of family, of home. Of life itself. One thing I knew – to expect the unexpected. These weekends tend to work in mysterious ways, and it was probably best if I just accepted that and went along with things, knowing that I was among friends and in full control as to what, if anything, I chose to experience.

The train discharged me at Sheffield, where I had a 15-minute wait for the local train bearing me into the hills. Once on board, we entered a long tunnel, a strange transition through darkness. On one side the industrial town; on the other, small villages and green hillsides, quaint stations with names like Grindleford and Hathersage. I had only a short journey to Hope, where I’d arranged to be picked up and taken to Tideswell, where I’d be staying for the weekend.

Tideswell is a beautiful village, all grey stone and pointed roofs, mullioned windows winking in the sunshine. It was a glorious day – the sun shining, sky blue, warm enough for a light jacket, even in the hills. Once dropped off, I made my way into the pub where I was staying, being shown to a room with a four-poster bed, of all things, before enjoying an excellent lunch in the small dining room, bounded by ancient oak beams and flagstone floors.

Then it was time to go. Sue and Stu had offered to pick me up and, at the allotted time, I went outside to be greeted with hugs and smiles. Then we hit the road, heading for the village of Eyam. I was excited to be going there, having enjoyed reading Geraldine Brooks’ Year of Wonders, a fictionalised version of the events that took place in the mid 1600s when plague came to Eyam. I’d also watched a fascinating documentary about the descendants of the survivors of that terrible time, all of whom still carried antibodies for the plague which also, apparently, rendered them immune to HIV, as both viruses work in a similar manner. (I’m in no way an expert on this – I’m just stating what was reported in the documentary – apparently these antibodies are being studied in the hopes of developing more effective HIV treatment). Eyam, quite simply, was a place with a story. And I love stories.

But I was not prepared for Eyam…


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Another Adventure…

It’s wonderfully sunny today, one of those glorious days you get in September, a last burst of summer warmth before the chill of autumn descends. It’s my favourite time of year – I love the harvest, Halloween, the build up to Christmas, all darkness and fairy lights – so I’m excited to be heading away for the weekend with The Silent Eye.

I’m not a student of the school, but I try to attend one of their workshops each year. Together, we’ve wandered the mountains of the Peak District, the granite moorland near Aberdeen, and explored ancient hillforts down south. We’ve visited stone circles large and small, climbed a chalk giant, examined Pictish sites, and listened to poetry in the shadow of a Neolithic wall. Each wweekend I’ve shared with them has been wonderful.

The groups are always friendly, and each site is wonderfully well-researched by our guides, so I get to explore the history, as well as the mystery, of these places. There’s never any pressure to participate – instead, simply good conversation and excellent pub meals, and, if we’re lucky, some nice weather too (Scottish stone circles notwithstanding!)

This is the fourth such workshop I’ve attended – to read about my earlier adventures, click here for the Peak District, here for Inverurie and here for Dorset. This time, we’re heading back to the Peak District, to explore the villages around Tideswell as well as the surrounding countryside. We’ll also be exploring our internal landscapes… wonder what I’ll find?

As always, I’ll be writing up my adventures and taking many, many photographs. Look forward to sharing them with you!

Until next week…


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.

 

 

How To Cope With Negative Reviews #writinglife

When you’re a writer, reviews are part of life. However, for some reason, even if we have twenty-seven five-star reviews, we tend to focus on the single two-star review among them, like obsessing over a rotten apple among a basket of perfect rosy fruit, rather than chucking it out and making a lovely pie with the remainder.

This is because bad reviews hurt. Of course they do. Someone has taken our book baby and said mean things about it, about all the months and years of hard work and pouring our innermost selves onto the page. But it is a reader’s right to do so. And, if you look at it, the occasional bad review isn’t always a negative thing. How can you think that, you shriek, brandishing the offending text. Well, here’s why:

Somebody cared enough to write a review I know, I know – it would be nice if everyone who enjoyed your book left a review. However, the point of art is that it moves people. And if someone felt strongly enough about your book that they needed to leave a review, whether negative or positive, then it means you’ve succeeded in that respect.

They add credibility to your listing We all know that author. The one with ninety-seven reviews, none of which are below four stars. But out of all the people who read their book, is it really believable that the percentage who left reviews (usually 5-10% of total readers), all absolutely loved it? I mean, maybe they did. Maybe that person was just lucky, or wrote a truly exceptional book. However, art usually doesn’t work that way. There are always going to be people who don’t like what you do, for whatever reason. As the saying goes, you can please some of the people all of the time, or all of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time. I’ve known reviewers who tell me they look for the two and three star reviews when buying a new book, as they feel they help to create a more honest and balanced picture of the novel.

Free feedback Okay, this might hurt a bit. However, if you’re getting the same specific element in your work flagged over and over in your reviews, or the negative reviews outweigh the positives, then you might need to consider that there’s an issue with your manuscript. If you’re an indie, you can choose to revise the edition. Or, simply take it on board as a learning experience for your next book.

(Of course, there are exceptions to every rule. Reviews that troll, or personally attack the author, are a different thing altogether, and should be addressed by the platform. This happened to an author friend of mine, who was getting pretty good reviews for her first novel. However, one day she received a one-star review that attacked her personally, as an author and a person, rather than focusing on what the reader didn’t like about her book. She put in a complaint to Amazon who, after looking at the review, agreed it contravened their policy and took it down.)

However, none of this changes the fact that a bad review can hurt. Therefore, here are a few coping techniques that may alleviate the sting:

A praise journal. Someone said something nice about your writing? Messaged you personally? Sent out a tweet? Wrote a particularly fab review? Gave you some flattering feedback? Gather all these lovely morsels of goodness together into one document and create your very own praise journal. And, when you get hit with some not-so-great feedback, open your praise journal and read a few soothing excerpts. Focus on the positive, rather than the negative.

Put it into perspective. Think of a book you absolutely love, a five-stars-all-the-way, howcanyounotlikeitareyoucrazy read. Then go and check the reviews. I can guarantee you that, if it’s a bestseller, there will be hundreds, if not thousands, of negative reviews. But how can that be, you might ask. This book changed my life/rocked my world/inspired me to new levels of creativity. How can anyone not LOVE it? Well, see my point above about art and take this as a reminder that your book, while undoubtedly excellent, isn’t going to appeal to everyone. If your fave writer in the world gets bad reviews, yet is still a success, the same also applies to you.

Remind yourself that you are a writer, and it’s part of the process. Like piles of rejection letters, or editorial comments about how your story is good but not quite good enough, bad reviews are simply more thorns among the roses of a writing life. Someone (not me) once said, to be a writer, you need a thick skin. We do – but only at this stage in the process. To write good stories, stories filled with emotion and drama and love and loss, our skins need to be parchment-thin, allowing all the glorious words to seep out onto the page. We only need to put our armour back on when it comes to sending it out into the world. So strap on your armour and count it as another war wound, another scar to prove your writerly worth.

Create something new. Isn’t that why we keep doing this, after all? The rush of a new creation coming to life, of words and worlds appearing on the page. Move forward, take what you’ve learned, and keep creating. Just because someone doesn’t like your work, doesn’t mean it’s not good or doesn’t have merit. Take inspiration from the words of the late great David Bowie: ‘Never play to the gallery. Never work for other people in what you do.’ Just keep writing. It’s good for the soul.

In case you’re wondering, I didn’t write this post to make myself feel better about getting a couple of not-so-great reviews, or as an invitation to give me a bad review. I’ve been writing for fifteen years, and have had (several!) bad reviews already, as well as many many rejections. Instead, this is about sharing my methods for coping and moving forward, for focusing on the positive, rather than the negative. As writers we’re all out here battling – for visibility, to get that deal, to finish the story, to get a new story idea, to catch a break, to find new readers, to make a living in an increasingly crowded and low-paying marketplace. But we do so because we love it, because we have a fantastic writing community around us, and because we can’t not do it. So, let’s share the love and remind ourselves, we are not alone.

Happy writing!


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.

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.