The long night

A gorgeous post from Sue Vincent about the cycle of the seasons, and of life itself. Well worth a read!

The Silent Eye

The seasons turn as we approach the turning point, the Solstice… the longest night… just three short weeks away. And yet, the sky is beautiful this morning, a clear, deep blue graced with the lights of heaven. The world is still and silent, even the birds are hushed as dawn creeps over the horizon of a rain-washed world. The moon lights the village and touches the rooftops with silver. Branches are down in the lane and few are the leaves that still cling tenaciously to the trees, most stripped away by the vicious fingers of winter winds.

There is such strength in the grasp of leaf to twig, both so fragile they can be plucked and broken by a child, yet the bond of life so strong it can withstand the most inclement weather. Until it is time for them to fall.

Even when the leaves fall it is part…

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The Old Oak Tree

There’s an ancient oak tree not far from my house. Standing at the end of a residential street, bigger than a house and taking up a huge piece of land, it has watched over the hillside for at least three hundred years, if the size of it is anything to go by. It’s obviously been a tree of note for many years- the street on which is stands is called Oakdene Road and, further up the hill, are roads named Oak Street and Oak Close.

Within its spreading branches a world may be found, a microcosm of insect and plant life, of flocks of birds and darting squirrels, cawing crows nesting high in its branches. I visit it often, watching the branches change from barren winter to the lush green of summer, leaves dancing and twisting in the light and air. It is a tree of dreams, of winter nights and howling winds, of days when fields stretched beneath its branches, of confidences whispered and sweet beer drunk in its shade.

Sometimes, standing beneath the branches, I get a glimpse of those times. Of how it must have been before houses and streetlights blocked the view of the valley, a time when our town was a collection of small villages around a river. There’s a sense, too, of how fleeting human existence is when compared to such a being – the tree was alive long before I was born, and (I hope) will be around long after I’m gone.

There are times when the bark on the great trunk feels warm, despite the cold air, and other times when it crackles with energy, a sense of connectedness with the landscape around us. Sometimes it is streaked dark with rain, other times dusty with summer heat.

And sometimes, there is treasure left there; raven feathers or a crooked staff, pearlescent mushrooms, the silver trails of snails.

Most recently, it was an emerald-green nest in one of the low branches, soft with moss, festooned with berries and leaves.

To stand in the presence of such a being is to touch history, to connect with the ancient story of the land. The oak is said to be a tree of stories, each acorn holding possibility. I wonder what stories it will tell me, next time I visit…


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 or my website to see more.

First, catch your..? #cancer

A powerful reminder from Sue that, even though we are the midst of a pandemic, it is vitally important to speak to your doctor if you are concerned about your health…

Sue Vincent's Daily Echo

“… knowing you are going to die makes clearing out the cupboards so much easier!”

The sound of choked laughter came through the phone. “You should write that,” said my friend, once his calm was once more regained. The sentiment had, I think, taken him off guard, but it was a simple observation. Even in such circumstances, there are up-sides.

Like, I seem to have pretty much ‘retired’. At least, temporarily. I certainly won’t be back at work until the chemotherapy is done… and who knows after that? And all my worries, although they are exactly same as ever, are now definitely finite. Except, that has always been true, I just know now that they are. And that conscious knowledge is the only thing that separates me from any other person in the street.

We are all dying by degrees, as part of the natural lifecycle… but being aware of…

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The Joy Of Wandering… #travel

This morning, while eating breakfast, I read an article about hummus, and how the Israelis make it. I love hummus and often make my own, so this was an interesting article. But what I also loved about it was the descriptions of life in Jerusalem, glimpses into homes and kitchens and restaurants, to the idea of eating hummus for breakfast, a different way of life.

This is what travel offers us. The opportunity to see how other people on the planet live, what they consider part of their daily routines. We are all human, of course, and have needs that are universal (though not always available to everyone). Food, shelter, sleep, clothing. Work, friendship, family. Once those are in place, we diverge in how we conduct our daily routines. And that, to me, is one of the great joys of travelling. The opportunity to try new flavours, new ways of doing things. Different ideas on how to decorate homes, serve meals, shop and eat out. And also the history of a place and how it has shaped these ideas.

When we were in Dubai about ten years ago, we visited to the museum in the old town. It was very well done, not just in terms of informing us of the history of the place, but also how the desert landscape and the ocean had shaped their customs and clothing styles and diet, even their palaces built of shells. It made me consider my own life, and how where I’ve lived has also shaped the person I am and the things I enjoy doing.

Whenever we go somewhere new, I make a point of doing some research before we go. Of interesting places to visit, restaurants to try, things to see, customs to observe. While I can certainly appreciate the idea of going on holiday simply to lie in the sun, I prefer to get out and about. Last year I went to Australia, Croatia and Denmark. This year, however, things are quite different.

A planned trip to Morocco in April was cancelled for obvious reasons, and there doesn’t look to be much travel outside this small island for the foreseeable future. However, while we may be physically confined in space, there are still opportunities to let our spirits roam free. Whether in the pages of a book, or a blog like this, through travel documentaries and magazines, or even by looking at photos of places you’ve already been. And may I introduce you to the wonders of Window Swap? The premise is simple – loops of window views from around the world, submitted by users. From rain in Bangalore to sun in Melbourne, Tyrolean meadows and skyscrapers in Seoul, you can travel across the globe at the click of a mouse. People’s pets show up in some of the loops, while others have sound, and it is utterly delightful (and quite easy to lose yourself in for a little while).

So I guess this post is more about my love of wandering, rather than being a wander in itself. I’ve been fortunate to visit lots of places, but there are plenty more I still want to see. The world may be on pause for now, but one day I know we’ll all be out there again. Until then, virtual wandering will have to do…


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 – Warwick Castle

This week, I’m wandering to a view that I’ve seen many times. It’s of an ancient castle, almost a thousand years old in parts – a place steeped in legend, where kings were made and battles fought, mysteries still hiding in its thick stone walls. This is Warwick Castle.

The original castle at Warwick was built in 1068 by William the Conqueror as part of his strategy to stamp his authority on the newly conquered country. It is situated along a bend of the storied River Avon and, until 1978, was still residence of the Earls of Warwick, the legendary Kingmakers.

Kings, Queens and assorted nobility have all stayed within its grey walls over the centuries, including Elizabeth I, Richard III and Queen Victoria. The castle has been painted by Canaletto, among others, and its collection of arms and armour is considered second only to that in the Tower of London. Hardly surprising, considered the many and varied wars fought on behalf of kings and queens by Warwicks over the years.

The castle is also home to one of the world’s largest working trebuchets, or siege engines. Eighteen metres tall and made of oak, it can fling projectiles as far as 300 metres. I have seen it in action and it is something to behold – it takes four men running in treadmills just to lift the counterweight!

Near to the castle is a lovely park I’ve often visited. It’s home to a funfair and mini golf, as well as lovely gardens and, down by the river, there is a place to picnic and fly kites. Water lilies float serene, as do the ducks and swans, and for a moment you could be anywhere, at any time.

On the edge of the park is a bridge across the river, where you can pause and take in the view to the castle. Set into the pavement is this plaque. I think I would have to agree. 🙂

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


Wednesday Wander Revisited – A Wet Day in New York City

Is it a wet day where you are? Or are you suffering with the heat, as so many of us are across the UK? We’re on the Devon coast at the moment, so it’s a bit cooler than inland, but there have been some spectacular thunderstorms. Still, we don’t let the weather stop us from exploring – as you can see in this Wander from a couple of years ago, when we were in New York. We arrived to brilliant sunshine, woke the next day to a snowstorm, then rain, rain, rain. Still a fabulous city, whatever the weather…Our second day in New York dawned a little warmer than the day before, but that just meant rain instead of snow, Manhattan Island still blanketed in cloud. However, it wasn’t going to stop us – we only had a few days in New York and didn’t want to waste any of them!

The gorgeous girl, who, like most kids at the moment, is caught up in the squishy craze, wanted to visit Chinatown. We decided, despite the rain, to walk from Soho through Greenwich Village, taking in Little Italy before reaching Chinatown. Soho was filled with lovely boutiques and restaurants, (and I may have stopped in a few of them en route), while Greenwich had lovely old homes and interesting shops, including one which sold only puppies (!) with a puppy play area where you could play with them *squee*

We planned a route via Washington Square Park, with its famous white marble archway built to commemorate the anniversary of the inauguration of George Washington. Constructed in 1892, the arch replaced an earlier wooden one. The park itself was once marshland, but was acquired by the city in 1797, as a place to hold public executions. Later it became a military parade ground, then a park for the wealthy inhabitants of the nineteenth century mansions still lining one side of the park. In the twentieth century it became a haven for protestors and performers, including the beatniks of the 40s and 50s, and the folk musicians of the sixties. Nowadays it’s a community park which holds regular events – they were setting up for one while we were there, as you can see from my photo.

Not far from Washington Square is the Electric Lady studios, which my husband was keen to see. In 1968, Jimi Hendrix and his manager bought the premises, which had been a nightclub, and turned it into a professional recording studio. It has hosted many famous musicians including Hendrix, The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, Stevie Wonder and David Bowie, and, in more recent years, Adele, Lana Del Rey, The Kills and Daft Punk. It’s now the oldest operating recording studio in New York City.

As you can see, the weather hadn’t improved much, but we pressed on. I was fascinated by the zig-zagging fire escapes on the old apartment buildingsas we wound our way through Manhattan to Little Italy. The streets smelled of garlic and cooking and sweets, and were still decorated for Easter.

The interesting thing about Little Italy and Chinatown is that they exist right next to each other, so you can walk down one street lined with Italian cafes and market stalls, yet when you turn the corner you’re surrounded by the spicy smells of Chinese food, bright neon on the buildings. I really enjoyed it, and wished the weather had been better. As it was, we were keen to get inside, eating lunch at a Chinese restaurant and then spending a little bit of time searching for squishies, which was a success! The gorgeous girl got quite a haul, so was very pleased with her day out.

As we headed back up to midtown, the rain finally started to ease, giving us hope the next day might be a bit brighter. I snapped this last image of a wonderful Art Deco building (of which there are so many in New York). I loved the shapes it made, the lines and shadows like an ancient ziggurat.

And then it was back to our hotel for dinner and a rest. We had another big day planned for tomorrow…

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.

Wednesday Wander Revisited – Panathenaic Olympic Stadium, Greece

I originally posted this Wander almost exactly four years ago, when the Olympics were in full swing in Rio, the world celebrating together as it usually does. However, although the 2020 Olympics were scheduled to take place this month, things are much different. The Tokyo Olympics have been postponed until next year, but even that hasn’t been confirmed, as we live in such uncertain times. It’s such a shame, and I really feel for the athletes who have been working towards this for so long. I’m not much of a watcher of sport, but there is something about the Olympic Games that captures my imagination, and I find myself caught up in the atmosphere and excitement of it all. Therefore, as we have no Olympics to celebrate this year, I thought I might revisit a Wander that takes us to where the modern Olympics began…

Olympic Stadium 2I thought it might be fun this week to wander to Greece, where the Olympics began. Now, this is obviously not a stadium built for the 2004 Athens Olympics – rather, this is the Panathenaic Stadium, where the first modern Olympics were held in 1896.

The stadium, interestingly, was built on the site of an actual ancient Greek stadium, thought to have been constructed in around 330BC, for use at the Panathenaic Games (hence the name). This was a religious and athletic festival held every four years in honour of the goddess Athena, the patron goddess of Athens. The stadium was used for several centuries before being abandoned, then rediscovered and excavated in 1869, before being refurbished for the modern Olympic Games.

Olympic Stadium 1

Here are some of my travelling companions, attempting to start a race… or something.

When the Games returned to Greece in 2004, the old stadium once again came to life, hosting several events. It’s also the place where the Olympic Flame is handed over to the host country, so holds a very special place in Olympic history. As Rio draws to a close, it’s nice to wander back to where it all began in the modern era – thanks for coming along with me.


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.

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.

 

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.

When The Moon Is Full #SummerSolstice

I wrote this story a few years ago, for a #BlogBattle competition. But Midsummer is upon us, the forests dancing with life, the land burgeoning with green, and it felt appropriate to share it again. This is my favourite time, when the wheel of the year turns towards autumn harvests and cold winter nights. Happy Summer Solstice, everyone!

When The Moon Is Full

Once upon a time, when the world was younger, there lived a boy. Tall and lean he was, his skin nut brown over strong muscles, his clothes as tattered as the leaves among which he lived.

No darkness came to stain his days – he was warm and well-fed, the forest providing all that he needed. He roamed along paths he knew like he knew the feel of his skin, or the sound of his breath as he lay alone at night. And as he roamed he hunted, gathering his crop.

But no nuts cracked between his strong white teeth, no berries stained his lips, no blood flowed across his long fingers. Instead, he gathered memories. Bubble light, floating untethered around sleeping travellers taking their rest beneath tangled branches. They would wake unaware that anything had been taken, only a mild headache marring their day as they travelled on to the road beyond the trees.

And so the boy leapt and ran, graceful as any stag, through glowing leaves and past ancient stones, the precious memories tethered to him, dancing like fireflies in the dark of night. When he reached the tree he called home he would sink down among the roots and close his eyes, savouring the sounds and thoughts as they washed over him, nourishing his soul.

But one night, something changed. The moon was full, a golden globe sailing above the treetops, shining through the branches to pick out white flowers like stars dotted along the path. Around him the forest was lush and green with spring, the scent of flower and foliage strong enough to send a man mad. But he drank it in, the wildness of the night running through his veins. Then he saw her.

Dressed in velvet green as the leaves on which she lay, curled at the edge of a small pond. Her long hair was the dark brown of tree bark, her skin golden as his own. He stopped, entranced by her curves, by the rise and fall of her breast as she slept, one slender hand outflung. A bubble of memory appeared, fragile and feather light, floating around her head.

He reached out to take it, all at once desperate to have one small piece of her beauty. But when he touched the bubble her eyes came open and she stared at him. Green, her eyes were, iridescent in the moonlight like dragonfly wings, the pupils night dark. He heard her voice in his head.

‘You have taken something that belongs to me.’

He said nothing, frozen in place, the bubble floating around him like guilt.

‘It’s not right to steal, you know.’

Still he said nothing. He did not know what to do.

‘What’s your name?’ She stared up at him, lips dark crimson.

He found his voice. ‘I don’t know.’ He did not.

She frowned, her head tilting to one side. ‘Do you remember nothing?’

The boy thought for a moment. “I have no memories except for those I steal.’

‘Then let me remind you.’

She stood, like a snake uncoiling, and reached for the bubble tethered to the boy, taking it back. As the tether broke he gasped. And he remembered.

He had been sent here, not so long ago. A gift from another realm. But it was not memories he was supposed to steal. It was pain, easing the path of the weary travellers as they passed through the woods. But in his youth and haste he had forgotten, taking memories instead.

‘Do you see?’ Her voice was the whisper of wind through branches, her perfume apple blossom, earthy and sweet.

He nodded, tears in his eyes. ‘I – I am sorry.’

‘Hush,’ she said, coming close to lay one finger gently on his lips. ‘You were young, and you did not know any better. I should have helped you before.’

‘Who are you?’ he whispered.

She smiled, her face close to his. ‘I am the forest,’ she replied. ‘And you are mine.’

***

It is said that the woods bordering the two lands, where the road passes between the trees, is a place of wonder and beauty, where a man might find rest in the most difficult times. It is also said that a spirit lives among the trees, as beautiful as Spring itself, her companion tall and strong.

And sometimes, on a night when the moon is full, they can be seen dancing in the glades, as close together as two vines twisting, their sighs echoing until dawn.

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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.