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.

 

The Loss Of Touch In A Post-Covid World

I attended a funeral on Wednesday for a dear family friend, someone I’ve known my whole life. He didn’t die of Covid; rather, of old age and ill health and a broken heart. He did die alone, though, except for nursing staff, his friends and family unable to visit him in his final weeks. Still, we gathered to celebrate his life, one of colour and flamboyance and dancing to his own beat, unapologetic to the end.

In the UK we’re still under some restrictions due to the Covid outbreak (and I think they’ll increase again, sadly – we are not out of this yet). Therefore, only a dozen mourners were allowed at the funeral. His neighbours, though, lined the street as the hearse passed, and there was love aplenty to lift him to the next realm. When we reached the chapel, there were only a dozen chairs scattered around the large space, instead of the pews and crowds and whispered hum of a usual funeral. We each took a chair, pulling them into small family groups of two or three, all of us nodding and blowing kisses across the room. But there was no touching. No hugging or comforting or patting of arms. No shaking of hands or kissed cheeks. Afterwards, we sat in separate chairs in my parents’ back garden and toasted our lost friend, telling stories of his life as we ate from our own serving bowls, the food prepared using gloves and tongs and tiny dishes, rather than the usual free-for-all of big plates and togetherness.

It was very strange.

I couldn’t put my finger on what about it, exactly, was strange, until later in the day. And I realised it felt as though everyone was mad at me. There was no change in conversation, in how we talked and laughed and related to each other. But without the hugs and closeness and touches of everyday life, I felt, somehow, on the outer. And it made me realise not only how much the world has changed due to Covid, but also how important touch is as part of our human existence.

In ancient times, when humans lived in tribes, the community was how we protected ourselves, strength in numbers. To be exiled from the tribe was basically a death sentence. In medieval times, when prisoners were sent on the long journey to London and the tower, no one would talk to them or interact with them in any way, in case they be seen as sympathetic to their crimes. This is, in fact, the origin of the phrase ‘Sent to Coventry’, as Coventry was an important stop on the way to London. Closeness and acceptance within our own community is a sign that we’re part of something, that we’re included, not shunned. Yet now we cross the street to avoid getting too close to people, stand in the driveway and shout, rather than having close conversations. We have to do these things, of course, but I wonder what impact it is having on us as a society.

We communicate so many things through touch. The handshake, the hug, the pat on the back. The kiss on the cheek, on the hand, or the lips. Holding hands. Linking arms. The Maori hongi and the Inuit kunik, rubbing noses to express affection. We affirm our relationships, whether business or friendship or family or lover, through touch, and it is how we experience much of the world. So, as a species, to have touch taken away from us is a very strange thing.

I’ve been fortunate during this crisis to have both my husband and daughter at home with me. Hugs are not in short supply in our house. I can’t imagine how it must feel to be cut off, to be isolating alone, with no human touch at all. And I wonder at the long-term fallout of this, of the mental impact of going without such an important sense for so long. Even before Covid there was growing distance within our communities, people not knowing their neighbours, much of our lives lived online. Once we return to whatever normal will be when this is over, I wonder what will happen – whether we’ll continue to keep our distance, or perhaps make more of an effort to seek out human contact, rather than shut ourselves away.

I hope the latter is the case.


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.

Strange Days

It’s been a rather bizarre month, hasn’t it?

I know that’s a wild understatement, and that there are very many people out there struggling with awful things at this time, so I don’t in any way mean to make light of the situation in which we find ourselves.

I’m an anxious person, and also someone who picks up the emotion of those around me, so I’m finding it difficult to write at the moment. My husband and I are both self-employed, too – while we’re okay for now, it’s on my mind. I have a first draft of one book completed, plus a fully plotted second book, and a third book which is about half-written. They’re all waiting for me, and I can hear them calling, but when I sit down to write claws of uncertainty grab at me, taking my focus so I have to step away again, telling them I’m sorry. I know this will pass, and the words will come again, but for now I’m trying to be kind to myself. I’ve baked bread and caught up on the ironing and tidied out a cupboard that needed to be tidied out, and maybe I’ve watched a bit too much Star Trek, but we all have to find our own way to keep going.

Anyway, enough about that.

While I do write about books and writing-related stuff, this blog has always been about positivity and in finding the silver lining in things, even when things aren’t so great. So I’m working hard to find the positives in this, the things that I’m grateful for.

I know I’m fortunate to have a comfortable home in which to isolate, and the love and support of family. Fortunate that the weather is good and, when I go out to walk the dog, people still exchange greetings (from a distance, of course). Fortunate that we’re all staying well at the moment. Fortunate to have time to address all those little tasks that hang around and never seem to get done – no excuses, now!

It’s the small joys, too. The joy of sitting outside in the sun in the morning, drinking hot tea. Of new frogspawn in the garden pond (nothing grand, just a bucket set into the ground), and the red kites that ride the updrafts, reminder that life goes on. There are bluebells coming through, blue elf-spears poking out of the earth, and the fruit trees are starting to sprout, a promise of blossom and fruit to come.

I know there are many people who are not in comfortable situations, and many other people who are doing wonderful things to help out. This is an event unprecedented on a global scale, and so, in all the fear and worry, I try to find stories about people who are doing good, like the small boy who spent his pocket money on loo roll for his elderly neighbours, or the refugee family who left food on the porch of the self-isolating family who had sponsored them. These are the bright lights against the darkness, and a reminder of who we can be, if we choose to be our best selves. I’m trying to do my bit as well, and know there are many in my local community who are keeping an eye out for others who might need help, and that’s heartening.

To be honest, I wonder whether I’ve had the virus already. As you know, I’ve been ill since the beginning of December, and was finally starting to feel good mid-February. However, at the end of the month I had a sore throat, which developed into a cough (though it seemed a continuation of the one that had plagued me for months), and left me feeling very tired. Then my breath started to go and on March 3 I woke in the night burning up and unable to breathe to the point where I had to wake up my husband. I’ve had very bad pneumonia before, but I’ve never, ever felt like that, where my chest was so full and heavy I couldn’t take a full breath or stop coughing. Eventually I fell asleep, waking drenched in sweat. The fever abated but the breathing difficulties stayed with me for a couple of weeks, only really getting better in the last few days. I also lost my sense of smell and taste – once again that’s only just returning to normal.

I suppose I’ll never know, which is fine. We are still isolating, just like everyone else. But I’m still here. I hope you all are, too.

Stay safe and well, everyone – we’ll get through this together.

xx


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 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.

Back From A Break

Hey everyone!

It’s been a few months. Well, almost nine months to the day, to be exact, since I went on my break. I’ve missed you all and, I must say, it’s nice to be back. However, I think things will be slightly different this time. One of the things that caused me to take a blogging break was the pressure of having a weekly commitment – my Wednesday Wander. While I loved writing and researching the posts, and they’ve been very popular, coming up with one every week as well as sorting and editing photos started to feel like a chore. So, while I’m still travelling and seeing new places, I won’t be posting about them every Wednesday, just every once in a while. However, I’ll still be doing all my other usual rambling, as well as sharing writing stuff and whatever else comes to mind 🙂

But the main reason I took a break was that I’ve been working on another book. Several books, if I’m honest. You may already be familiar with my Ambeth YA series or A Thousand Rooms, my standalone women’s contemporary fiction novel. These have all been independently published – I’ve worked with beta readers and editors and cover designers to make them as professional and high quality as possible, and the feedback I’ve received seems to show I’m hitting the mark. However, as much as I enjoy being an indie and the creative control that comes with it, I’ve also been pursuing a dream to be traditionally published alongside my indie works.

To that end, I decided to devote several months to a book I completed last year, called The Last Raven. It’s a book about vampires, so perhaps not so red-hot in the market at the moment. Nonetheless, I had some interest last year from two publishers, as well as a couple of near-misses with agents. Both publishers initially declined but have invited me to re-submit with changes, offering valuable feedback regarding structure, as well as letting me know what they liked about the story (a lot, as it turns out).

So I took my story and pulled it apart, turned it inside out, chopped and changed the structure, increasing the level of detail and building pace. To be fair, it needed it. The story was already good, but spending three months restructuring has taken it to the next level. It’s been a fantastic learning process for me as a writer, and I’m looking forward to sharing some of the insights I’ve learned on the blog. I also had a very promising meeting with an agent earlier this year – I’d initially approached her to assess my submission package, something you can do through the Bloomsbury Writers & Artists website. I wanted to know whether it was worth my going through the submission process again with the revised version of Last Raven, and whether there would be a market for it. As it turned out, she loved what she read and requested the full manuscript! It was a thrilling and enjoyable meeting for a lot of reasons – now I’m just waiting to hear what she thinks (and trying not to refresh my email every five minutes!)

As for the other books I’m working on, I have another YA series taking shape, as well as a non-fiction book about a health issue I encountered several years ago. Basically, after a season of editing, I’m back writing again. And so it seems as good a time as any to get back to blogging, too. After all, I don’t think I’d be the writer I am without this blog and all you lovely people out there.

When I started this blog back in 2014, it was originally going to be about my journey in writing, and what I learned along the way. Since then it’s grown and developed to become much more than that, chronicling my journey through the world. But my writing journey is still ongoing, and I’m looking forward to sharing it with you again.

xx


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.

Taking A Break

Hello, lovely fellow bloggers!

I know Wednesday is usually when I take a Wander, but instead I’ve decided to take a break.

I’ve been blogging for the past four years, written over 700 posts, and made some wonderful friends along the way. However, I have a few things I need to focus on at the moment, which mean I’ve not been able to be as present in the blogging world as I’d like to be.

So I’m going to take a break.

I’ll still pop in and out when I can, just to see you all, but won’t be writing posts on a regular basis (if at all). It’s (probably) not forever, just for now.

Thank you all for being so lovely!

See you…

xx

 

Growing Up

In the excellent miniseries, Big Little Lies, there’s a scene where Reese Witherspoon’s character is talking to her teenage daughter. She says (and I may be paraphrasing slightly) ‘they don’t tell you, but you lose your children. The little girl whose hair I used to braid is gone.’ This line, and the way she delivers it, really hit home. I’m emotional now just thinking about it.

For my gorgeous girl is growing up. She starts secondary school in September, which I find hard to believe. It doesn’t seem that long ago we were counting cats on the way to school, pretending to be dragons puffing ‘smoke’ in the frosty air. When my dancing didn’t make her cringe, and the only phone she had was plastic and sparkly with a puzzle on the front. The gorgeous chubby cheeks I love to kiss are melting away, smooth cheekbones emerging, the legs and arms that once looked as though they had elastic bands around them now long and lean.

I’m excited, of course, for this next stage in her life, seeing her grow into the marvellous young woman she’s already showing signs of becoming. Every part of this process has been a joy. But oh, I get it now, when people shake their heads and say with a smile, ‘It goes so quickly.’ For it does, it does, and the change, when it comes, is sudden, a realisation that childhood days are gone.

For a variety of reasons, she is the only baby I’ll ever get to have, and I count my blessings every day. I’m so glad I got to dance, pick roses, blow bubbles and sing silly songs with her when she was small. Those moments are immeasurably precious, and always will be. I realise the teenage years will have their own set of challenges, and I can only hope I’ve given her a strong enough grounding that she can make good decisions for herself.

So now I must get past my tears, and look forward. For I am the stable bow, and it is time for me to help her fly.

‘You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth… Let your bending in the Archer’s hand be for gladness; for even as He loves the arrow that flies, so He loves also the bow that is stable.’  Kahlil Gibran


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.

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Home Again…

Hello everyone!

I’m back from my adventure. The jetlag has worn off, the laundry is (mostly) done, and the holiday seems almost like a dream.

Yet it was real, and it was fantastic – I saw so much and have so much to write about I hardly know where to begin (there will be many blog posts!). New York was everything I’d imagined. I felt immediately at home there, perhaps because it’s a city that’s so pervasive in popular culture – yet it felt as though I knew it, as though I’d been before and was just being reminded of where everything was.

We wandered as much as we could in four days, including a walk through Central Park, where we took in the amazing skyline and I found the obelisk, partner to London’s Cleopatra’s Needle. We saw sights large and small, and didn’t let the weather, which included torrential rain and a snowstorm, stop us from getting outside and experiencing as much as we could.

The weather followed us, snow falling in Toronto on our first day there, Niagara Falls creating ice sculptures, the sun peering out from behind shifting clouds. Yet I basked in the warmth of family and old friends (and by old I mean fabulous), reforging connections and visiting familiar haunts, sad to leave when the time came.

But Boston, and the New England coast beckoned. We walked the Freedom trail, spent time in Salem, then followed the coast southwest through Plymouth, Newport, Mystic and Milford, finally ending up back in New York on a hot and sunny afternoon, ready to catch our overnight flight home.

And now it’s back to reality. The recent warm weather was a wonderful welcome home, and I’m away again this weekend, on a long-planned writing retreat with friends. Stories beckon….

It’s nice to be home x


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.

And don’t forget to get your Bloggers Bash tickets – follow this link to join the fun 🙂

An Adventure…

Hello, everyone!

I know, I know – it’s been a little while between posts. I’ve been focusing on a massive editing job, a final push to get The Last Raven out to my editor by the end of this month… and I managed to finish yesterday!

Just in time, too, as tomorrow I’m heading off on an adventure – a trip to New York, then Toronto, then Boston, with a side trip to Salem and a drive along the New England coast. Oh, and I’m doing it all in two weeks.

Mad, right?

I’m really looking forward to it, though. Not just because I’ll get some more material for my Wednesday Wanders, but also because I’ve never been to New York, Boston, Salem or any of New England, and I love seeing new places. I plan on seeking out the partner to Cleopatra’s needle in Central Park, and have a tour of the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island booked, just for starters. I’m also looking forward to finding out more about the sad story of the Salem ‘witches’, as well as seeing the New England coast.

I can’t wait to see Toronto again – I went to high school and university in that part of the world, and will be catching up with family and old friends, as well as being a bit of a tourist – well, it’s been a few years (decades) since I’ve been there.

And when I return, I’ll be back to it. There are more books to write and blog posts to share, plus the Bash will be less than a month away…

See you soon!

xx