I Can’t Pay My Mortgage with ‘Exposure’ – Why Creatives Should Be Paid For Their Work

I originally wrote this post back in 2016, but it seems that not much has changed when it comes to payment for working in the creative arts and the seeming value placed upon such work, so I thought I might share it again. While I write books, I also do freelance writing work, and I recently came across a job posting for a Michelin-starred restaurant in London, who were looking to emply freelance writers. I’ve written for restaurants before, so I clicked on the link, and was disappointed to see that the role was listed as paying £10-15/hour, and that the job description consisted of ‘Send us some poems and articles, and if we like them, you might be considered.’

This is a Michelin-starred restaurant in one of the most expensive cities in the world. They are asking for people to create content that represents them and their brand, work that requires skill and experience, yet they’re only willing to pay just above minimum wage for the privilege. And, as they only want freelance writers, anyone who got the job would have to pay their own taxes and expenses out of that £10-15/hour rate. For comparison’s sake, standard freelance rates for this type of work in London usually start at about £40/hour. Anyway, it frustrated me. I’m fortunate to be in a position where I’m working at the moment, and so is my husband. But these are desperate times for many people, and I could see that the job had had several hundred applicants already. However, it was still listed, so perhaps they haven’t found the right person yet – and I doubt they will, at those rates.
So here, in all its glory, is one of the few rants I have ever posted on this blog – enjoy!

IMGP0001_5I don’t usually post rants on this blog – it’s not really my thing. I actually wasn’t even going to publish this piece at all, but I had a short online conversation about it with Ali Isaac, and so here we are. And perhaps this isn’t so much a rant as a collection of thoughts. But I feel the need to talk about the idea of ‘free’, and the seeming value placed on writing these days.

I would like to be clear that I am not talking about choosing to list our own books for free, nor am I talking about writing guest posts for other blogs. This is because I believe that offering books for free can be a strategic marketing tool leading on to more sales, especially if you have several titles on offer – Nick Rossis recently featured an excellent guest post on the subject, well worth a read. Besides, offering our books for free is optional. As independent writers we can price our books however we like, and still remain in control. And guest posts are a great way to exchange information with other bloggers – more often than not, you get the same in return.

Rather, I am talking about the expectation that creative work be offered for free to other businesses, with no expectation of return other than that elusive beast, ‘exposure’. One obvious example would be Huffington Post, which has come under a lot of flack lately after the UK editor-in-chief, Steven Hull, stated that:

‘If I was paying someone to write something because I want it to get advertising, that’s not a real authentic way of presenting copy. When somebody writes something for us, we know it’s real, we know they want to write it. It’s not been forced or paid for. I think that’s something to be proud of.’

So. A multi-million dollar company basically saying that they made their money from people writing for free. And pushing the idea that we, as writers, should be happy to do so, because we ‘want to write.’ Well, I do ‘want to write’, but I also want to eat, and maybe pay the mortgage. And I’m afraid I don’t entirely buy into the concept of working for ‘exposure’ – apart from the creative arts, is there any other field where people are expected to do their job for free, in the hopes that they might impress someone enough to actually get paid? I doubt if my toilet broke, the plumber would be happy to repair it for me in return for a shout-out on Instagram.

Here’s what I think about ‘exposure.’ Maybe ten years ago, maybe even five years ago, when the blogosphere wasn’t saturated, when content wasn’t raining down at 73 tweets per second into our feeds, exposure might have meant something. But these days we are more likely to simply disappear into a digital forest of a billion trees or more, each with something different to say. And I know there will be those of you out there who say ‘but I posted a blog on HuffPo (or similar) and my stats went up and I sold x amount of books and it was AWESOME.’ To which I say, well done you. You beat the odds. Because it’s a gamble, at best. A gamble that people will find your post, will click on it, will read it, will follow through to your blog or website, then follow through again to your books and buy them. You might then say ‘Well, why are you blogging? You don’t get paid for it.’ True. I don’t. But I do get the benefits of being part of a blogging community, knowledge sharing and support for and from fellow writers, plus the chance to write whenever I want, about whatever I want. And, you know what – I’ve met new readers and sold books too. And I’ve done it on my terms.

This sort of exploitative behaviour isn’t limited to writing – Sainsbury’s in Camden recently ran an ad looking for an artist to decorate their company canteen. For free. Incentives included ‘doing what you love,’ and ‘a chance to leave your mark.’ All very noble, I’m sure, but you can’t exactly pay the bills with this sort of stuff. Sainsbury’s were ripped apart on social media, and rightly so – the ad was pulled and the company apologised, adding that the ad had been run by the store in question, rather than by the company itself.

As a writer, I work every hour I can – writing, honing ideas, editing, planning, marketing, designing, reading, studying craft books… well, you get the picture. And I’m sure I’m no different from the majority of writers out there. We all know that, for the most part, we’re doing it for the love of the craft, for the joy that writing brings us – with the average yearly writer earnings in the UK working out to an underwhelming £11,000, the vast majority of us are not in the game to get rich.

I’ve been fortunate, over the past ten years or so, to be paid to write for other people, bringing in a reasonable income. My books, however, are operating at a loss – the cost of a professional edit has not yet been offset by sales, although I’m close to breaking even. But once again it’s my choice to have an edit done because I wish to present the best, most professional product I can, and so I consider the expense to be worth it. I’m laying foundations too, eventually planning to have several titles available – therefore I’m starting as I mean to go on. Building a brand, so to speak. And all of this takes time and study and practice, as does gaining proficiency in any other type of job.

So why should I, or any other creative individual, be expected to work for free?


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.

#Writephoto – Darkness

A few weeks ago I participated in Sue’s #writephoto prompt, and a story came to me of a darkness that swallowed whole settlements. When I saw this image, the story came back to me, and I realised there was another part I needed to tell. So here it is…

This time, they were ready for the darkness.

The stories had come ahead of the storm, like crows bringing bad tidings on dark featered wings. Of whole settlements ravaged, men, women and children disappearing into a merciless blackness, hardened warriors swallowed up like smoke.

Stories to strike fear into the hearts of all who heard them, enough to make people flee their homes, heading for the one place they hoped would offer sanctuary.

And now they waited, the last ragtag group of stragglers safe behind closed gate and stone wall, the holy island ringed with wards, a circle of light and the hope that it would keep the darkness at bay.

At the heart of the keep, in the circle of ancient stones that formed part of its foundations, the Elders gathered. Despite their name, they weren’t all old. Men and women, some barely out of their teens. But all of them touched with Light. As the first grumble of thunder was heard on the horizon they joined hands and closed their eyes, focusing their wills on strengthening the light that guarded their borders.

There were others, too, waiting on the battlements. Warriors, some marked with a crescent moon, like the goddess, others with the hammer of the god. Sacred, chosen, joined together in a single cause. They watched the darkness gather and, as it drew near, like ink spreading across the landscape, they readied their swords, their spears and their arrows. In the courtyard below, families huddled together, parents clutching their children, strangers and friends coming together to ensure no one was left alone to endure what was to come.

Then the storm was upon them. The screams of the villagers changed to cries of wonder as each warrior on the wall became as a shaft of light, piercing the blackness, revealing the grasping claws and hungry mouths of those who rode the clouds. As the light of the warriors hit the monstrous creatures they dissolved into shreds of dark mist, the winds called up by those who chanted below taking them away as though they had never been.

The circle of light around the sanctuary held strong, the darkness dashing itself against it, again and again, to no avail. And, slowly, the clouds began to break apart, the thunder to lessen in its intensity, the light from the warriors increasing until it flared so bright no man could bear to gaze upon it. The barrier became wider and deeper and stronger, the love and light of all those who stood within the circle of stone reaching out across the landscape, scouring the shadows and dark places for any vestige of horror that might remain.

As dawn broke, painting the landscape with golden fingers, the villagers rejoiced that the long night was over, the storm passed. And all that remained was light.


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.

 

 

 

#writephoto – Vista

The path wasn’t much. Cut into the hillside, a pale ribbon of chalk against the green. But it represented everything.

The wide landscape stretched before them, fading into a green haze. Summer lay rich upon the land, bees buzzing in the flowers, butterflies dancing among the long grasses. In the fields the crops ripened, blue-green wheat dotted with red poppies, apples ripening on the trees, the deep green shade a pleasant place to sit awhile, perhaps share some bread and cheese.

But there was no stopping. No rest.

Not for them.

The scent of smoke still perfumed the tatters of their clothing, the tangle of their hair. Wafted from the pitifully small bundles of possessions, all they’d been able to gather in the few moments before everything had changed.

But they were here now. The day was bright, the land stretching clear before them.

Behind them was darkness, fire and loss.

Ahead lay hope. Freedom.

As long as they kept moving.

One by one they took the pathway, their gazes resolutely forward, puffs of chalk dust beneath their shuffling feet. They ignored the noises from behind, their focus on the bright horizon.

Ignored the crackling, the thuds. The crunching noises.

The screaming.

It wasn’t getting any louder.

Was it?

This is my response to Sue Vincent’s #writephoto prompt, one of my favourite bloggy writing prompts. I’d meant to write something quite positive, but it took a somewhat… morbid turn that I didn’t expect. I find stories tend to have a mind of their own, though, and sometimes you just need to go where they take you. I hope my shuffling band of escapees make it, for what it’s worth…


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.

A Tangled Path – Where Do We Go From Here?

As we move through these strange times, I suppose we each have our way of dealing with what’s going on. While we are linked on one level by the shared experience of lockdown, each of us has our own set of circumstances to deal with in how we find our way forward.

I found it difficult to focus the first few weeks of lockdown. Perhaps I was tapping into a larger, more generalised global anxiety, or simply finding the constant stream of news upsetting – or perhaps a mix of both. Whatever the case, I couldn’t do much writing, only able to sit for ten or fifteen minutes at a time. I concentrated on short stories, working on some I already had, improving them for competition entries. Otherwise, I busied myself around the house, doing laundry, cleaning, tidying, baking, working out how to get food for myself and my family, cooking, clearing out cupboards… you get the idea.

And walking. Each day, the dog and I would head out for our state-sponsored walk, and I’d try and let my mind go free as well, releasing anxiety. It helped, a little.

Then April began and, with it, a commitment I’d made to do Camp NanoWrimo with a group of likeminded writers. It wasn’t our first time in the cabin together, and it was a welcome change of focus. It also forced me to write. My goal was 20k words, a big chunk of the first draft of a new middle-grade novel I was working on.

And I did it. I reached my goal with days to spare, the satisfaction at seeing my word count creep up, day by day, sometimes by only a couple of hundred words, keeping me going. As did the group I was in. All of us had goals to achieve, and each of us, though we lived in different countries, were dealing with lockdown and the impact of the pandemic. It was nice to check in and see how they were doing, to congratulate each other with every badge achieved. And it got me writing again.

Now it’s May, and lockdown continues, though things are beginning to ease. I do think this will be the shape of things for a bit longer yet, though, until a vaccine is developed. What was strange has almost become normal, now – it’s interesting how quickly we adapt to changes in circumstances. It seems normal now to go to the supermarket and see hardly anyone in there, to see empty shelves, to wave hello at people from across the road but go no closer. Even though I live on the very edge of London, close to the busiest airport in the world and two major motorways, when I go out for my walks, most days, all I hear is birdsong. The skies are clear, the hedges filled with butterflies and buzzing bees as large as my thumb. There seem to be more flowers than I remember seeing, too.

I wonder what the world will be like when we come out of the other side? I wonder whether there will be lessons learned, not only about the way we treat the other creatures with whom we share the planet, and their habitats, but also the other lessons. About how people who actually keep the world going are often paid less than anyone else. About how much we pollute, simply by living our lives – the pictures of clear skies in India, of cities seeing the Himalayas for the first time in years, are proof of how quickly things can change when we change our behaviour. And what about corporate culture? Big expensive offices may become a thing of the past, as many companies have realised they can still run with people working from home. Why pay for someone to have a desk in an office when they can do the same work from the comfort of their home?

There will be divorces and babies and love stories and breakups. There will be people taking leaps, trying something new. There will be business failures, and success stories. In twenty years’ time, our children and grandchildren will be learning about The Great Pandemic in school. But what their world looks like depends on how we rebuild this one. Which path we choose.

Hope you’re all staying safe and well – let me know how things have been for you in this strange time xx

(Photos from a recent dog walk – thank goodness for the lovely weather we’ve been having!)


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.

#writephoto – Beyond The Storm

Another lovely #writephoto prompt from Sue Vincent. Here’s my take on her image – and if you want to give the prompt a go, head over to her site and link your post to hers, or leave a link in the comments:

‘Storm’s a comin’’ Paras spat decisively before turning on his heel, leather boots scraping against rough stone.

‘Our defences will hold,’ Seren replied, hand on the sword belted at her hip, long red hair braided back from her face.

Paras paused, his cloak swirling in the rising wind. He looked back, glint of dark eye above dark beard. ‘They’d better.’

Seren, her gaze on the gathering darkness, nodded, more confident than she felt.

The first heavy drops of rain began to fall, marking her leather armour. And with them, a wrongness, the wind rising to a howl of song, the sky becoming so black she could barely see her hand in front of her. Behind the storm came a deeper dark, a clotted blackness that swarmed up walls and tore great chunks of stone free, swallowing up men, women and children without a sound.

It passed. Light sparked on what remained.

***

‘You ever wonder about what happened at these places?’ Callum, chewing a blade of glass, reclined on the picnic rug. He took another swig of his beer before continuing. ‘Y’know, like who lived here and all that?’

‘It’s on the board,’ said Sarah. She was sitting up, her arms wrapped around her bent knees, red hair whipping around her head as the wind rose. Her sandwich lay discarded beside her and her gaze was troubled as she watched the clouds gather. ‘Over there.’

A notice board with a faded drawing of the castle as it once was stood nearby, a brief history of the place. Archaeology hadn’t been able to establish why it had been abandoned, only that it had happened quickly.

‘Yeah, right,’ said Callum, but he didn’t sound as interested any more. He finished his beer and belched, rubbing his stomach. Sarah made a face, but her eyes were still on the roiling sky. Around them other picknickers were beginning to pack up, folding blankets and gathering children. There was no urgency, though.

Until the rain began to fall.


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.

#writephoto – Horizon

Gosh, I haven’t done a #writephoto in ages! Not for lack of inspiration – Sue has a knack for capturing stories in her images, which is why it’s one of my favourite writing prompts – rather, a lack of time and brainpower. However, the fog is lifting, and this week’s photo sent me a story. Here it is…

The horizon was empty. For now.

‘They’ll be here soon.’

The campfires were burning low, their pale flames outshone by the bright dawn painting the sky. Sinead, resplendent in leather and fur, nodded. ‘They will.’ Two swords were strapped to her back, the hilts rising above each shoulder. In battle she was a whirlwind, a twin-bladed legend. Songs were sung of her already.

‘If this is our last dawn,’ she continued, ‘then it is a splendid one.’

This was small comfort to Edric. He swallowed, clutching the pommel of the sword strapped to his waist. He was young, and this was to be his first taste of war. He hoped to see another dawn.

‘How do you do it?’ he asked, turning to her.

Sinead’s fine profile was gilded by light, the scar running down one side of her face accentuating her delicate bone structure, her wavy blonde hair scraped back into a topknot. ‘Do what?’ she said, eyes still on the brilliant sky.

‘This,’ said Edric. He moved his hand, a half-hearted gesture, taking in the bustling camp around them. Horses stamped and snorted, sharpened swords slid into scabbards, voices a low hum, the pad of feet as the lines formed, ready to face what was coming.

‘War?’ Sinead turned to him, now, her eyes, the colour of the sea, narrowing.

Edric nodded.

‘I do it because I have to. Because there is no other path for me. I have no family, so I fight to protect others.’

‘But… how?’

Her expression softened. ‘I got this in my very first battle,’ she said, touching the scar on her face. ‘I was lucky, though.’

‘Lucky?’

‘That I survived it. That I lived to fight another day. And I swore, then, that I would continue to fight for as long as the gods granted it.’

‘What do the gods care for the wars of men?’ The words were out before he could stop them, their taste bitter on his tongue. He braced himself for Sinead’s response. But she just laughed, her hand coming to rest, briefly, on his shoulder.

Emboldened, he pressed on. ‘I cannot see,’ he said, ‘how it matters to the gods that we battle over small patches of land. All the death. All the sorrow. Surely there’s another way.’

Sinead, laughter gone, tilted her head. ‘War is part of us, as is peace.’

‘Yet we use one to gain the other. How is it we are not satisfied with what we have?’

Sinead laughed, low. ‘That, young Edric, is a question for greater minds than ours. All we can do is what is asked of us.’

Edric was silent. In the heart of him he knew something wasn’t right, yet his mind, still half-fogged with sleep, couldn’t grasp it. He really really hoped he would make it through the day.

The horizon stayed empty. For now.


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.

Working On A Co-Author Project

January is almost over (I cannot believe it), and I’ve spent most of this month, as I did December, in the fog of a nasty virus. However, the mists are clearing and I’m finally raring to go with a new writing year.

While I’ve been working on my current WIP (which is now pretty much ready to submit), I’ve also been working on another writing project, co-authoring a middle-grade book. It’s been an interesting process as, while I’ve written for other people before, I’ve not written with someone. And there are some differences.

When writing for a client, you’re trying to write in their voice, not yours. The tone is set by the type of company, the content, and the branding message they’re trying to get across. Your job is to find the words to hook their target market, and to do so in their voice. The same goes for ghostwriting, where you are telling someone else’s story, not your own.

When co-writing a project with someone, you can allow your writer voice to shine through. Creatively, my co-author and I are in tune, sometimes suggesting the same scene at the same time! However, we’ve also set clear delineations as to who is completing which part of the project, making for a smooth and pleasant process.

So, if you’re thinking of setting up your own co-author project, here are a few things you might want to consider before starting:

Who is doing what?

Vitally important. You may choose to split the book on character lines, with one author writing one character and you writing the other, separated into chapters. Or, you may split the narrative between you, sending excerpts back and forth, both of you working on and editing them so the book is a mingling of both your voices. Or you may, as I’m doing, nominate one person to do the bulk of the writing, with the other person contributing ideas, scenes and characters as the story unfolds. There are as many ways to allocate the work as there are stories to be told, but the important part is to be clear about who is doing what beforehand, so there are no disagreements or instances where you’re duplicating work.

Assigning credit

Linked to my point above, decide how the book will be credited in terms of authorship. Will it be one author taking centre stage, with the other author mentioned in the credits? Will you both get equal billing? Again, there are several options and it’s really up to you. However, once again, defining this before the project starts will head off any disagreements (and of course, if the work arrangement between you changes, there can be a discussion at that point).

Finances

Once again, something to be agreed upon before work starts. If you’re getting paid to write the book, how will the fees be divided between you both? How will royalties, advances and rights be divided up? 50/50 is probably the easiest and most equitable way to do this – however, this needs to be defined and possibly set in writing before the project begins.

Finishing touches

Writing the story is only part of the process. Once the book is completed, you need to get it out in the world. If you have a traditional publishing deal, then editing, cover design etc will be taken care of, as will some of the promotion. However, if you’re publishing independently, consider the costs involved in hiring an editor, cover designer etc and work out how these will be split between you both. The same goes for promotion – work out an advertising budget, divide up social media scheduling, photography for various platforms, how you’ll brand and support the release, and who will handle any associated events.

As you can see, there’s a bit more planning involved than when you simply sit down and start writing a book by yourself. However, setting up a detailed plan beforehand, and making sure any agreements are in writing, should mean you’ll avoid any surprises or disagreements down the track.

Combining your creative voice with someone else can be a rewarding experience, challenging you to work outside your writing comfort zone, learning and benefitting from your co-writer’s experience. As the saying goes, sometimes two heads are better than one and you might be surprised by what you achieve. Just have a plan in place, then get to 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.

Dragons and A Brand New Year

Happy New Year, everyone!

I hope you all had a lovely holiday break 🙂

I know I’ve been a bit absent from the blogosphere this past month – I’ve had a terrible virus that stole my breath and sense of smell and taste, so Christmas wasn’t quite the eating festival I envisioned. However, I finally seem to be on the mend and so, I thought, it might be nice to write a post and say hello.

I’ve had dragons on my mind of late. Part of my virus seems to stem from the fact that I am a watery person, and there were times I longed for flames and heat to dislodge the permanent feeling of being underwater – a pet dragon would have been most helpful, though perhaps left me a bit singed around the edges 😉

Now that I’m feeling better, I’m excited about the new year and the promise it holds. I’ve been working on a collaborative project with someone which should come to fruition this year, and my vampire WIP has been ripped apart and reassembled, ready for a fresh round of submissions. I’m also going to be exploring some different fields of study, walking another path. I can feel my wings unfurling, ready to roar.

Finally, I’ve been thinking about this post I wrote, almost five years ago, right at the start of my blogging career. A portent? Perhaps. At the very least, it’s a cool cloud formation. What do you think?

IMG_1137

The other week I saw a dragon in the sky.

Outstretched wings, a long curving neck, all gleaming golden beauty.

‘Do I need to build a windlance?’ I thought.

And then, as I struggled with cold fingers to get my phone unlocked, the dragon drifted and changed, the sky taking him away.

But I think, perhaps, I caught him. No black arrow required.

Wishing you all a powerful 2020!


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.

 

Facing Fear With The Silent Eye, Part 9 – Heights

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 nine of my account, parts one, two, three, four, five, six, seven  and eight can be found here… I couldn’t get to sleep until very late Saturday night, despite being exhausted – for some reason I found it difficult to relax and, when I did, tapping noises ensued which kept me from sleeping. I finally called out ‘For god’s sake be quiet and let me get some sleep!’ The next thing I knew, my alarm was going off…

Sunday morning dawned grey and drizzly, the glorious weather having disappeared overnight. It wasn’t cold, though, and the rain, though not ideal, was more of a soft mist than anything else. Which was good, as the morning’s plans involved us being outside. We headed into the green once more, grey stone villages softened by rain, hillsides blurred by soft clouds.

We pulled into a carpark, alighted and, as a group, walked around a stone building to find ourselves at the start of a long winding valley. Ahead of us was a strange stone outcropping I’d noticed the previous day when we were driving around – Sue had warned us that we might find the site challenging, but my initial impression was one of beauty…

…The stone seemed wreathed in rainbow colours, which spilled out and along the valley floor, a river of energy beckoning them forward…

Peter’s Rock, a natural rock outcropping thought to have slid away from the adjacent hillside, is so named because it apparently resembles the Dome of St Peter’s in Rome. The valley approach holds several hermit caves and, beyond, leads to the ancient sites of Monsal Head and Finn Kop. The latter is thought to have been a sacred place of study, and there are plenty of indications that his has been an important landscape for a long time. (For more information about the landscape and its history, see Sue’s excellent post about it here).

As we approached the rock, we stopped at one of the hermit caves to discuss the history of the place, and also to open the circle. I couldn’t stop looking at the rock – I found it fascinating, something about it drawing me in. There were a few other walkers about, despite the weather, as well as some lovely dogs, and once again we took a moment to chat. I also managed to capture this shot, which I like to call ‘Modern Hermit.’ A meditation was shared, an idea discussed of what things might have been like in the valley in ages past, and what might have happened here. And then we moved forward once more.

There had been some discussion about climbing the rock. Apparently, there were rough steps running up a natural cleft in the centre, the top wide and flat enough to accommodate us, should we be so inclined. Now, I’m not a fan of heights but something, perhaps the healing I’d experienced the day before, made me feel as though this was something I could do. As the valley curved, a path split off from it, moving up and along the side of the hill towards the rock. We took the path…

… and there was a weight on her chest again, like the weight she’d felt in Eyam, making it difficult to breathe. But up ahead, the stag waited. For her…

We continued along the pathway, the rock looming above us. Several of us were feeling the weight now, something pressing down on us…

…the stag waited at a point higher on the path, horns held high. Her chest heavy, breath coming hard, she stopped to kneel to him. When she rose he came to her, rubbing his velvet snout against her cheek, his antlers around her like a blessing. Her heart lighter, she moved forward.

When the pathway ended, we were almost at the base of the rock, which seemed a lot larger (and higher) than it had from afar. Once again I wondered whether I’d be able to climb it, after all…

…Two hooded figures waited, perched high above the valley. A third, a guide, came to her and took her hand, asking a question. She answered, and was led higher along the ridge, the land dropping away steeply to the side of her. But despite her usual fear of high places, here she felt as sure-footed as a deer, the hand that guided her a formality only, as though she floated above the rocky ground.

The first figure raised a lantern, presenting her with a gift. She took it, bowing, then moved along the ridge once more to where the second figure waited, cloaked in velvet. Another question, another gift, and then she was left to sit and contemplate it all, turning her closed eyes towards the grey skies. And it was as though sun shone down on her, warmth on her face, bright light coming through her closed lids, and another lesson came to her.

You need to embrace your truth to move forward

And when she opened her eyes the skies were as grey as they had always been. But light shone within her, and the rainbow energy of the rock seemed to be everywhere in the landscape, all the colours hiding among the green…

I stood at the base of the rock, looking up. Well, if this weekend was about facing fears, then I should at least try to climb it, I told myself. Four of us elected to do so, in the end, and we ascended via the split in the rock where, as promised, a very rough set of ‘stairs’ awaited. When I got to the top my legs were a bit wobbly, so I sat on the wide grassy space to the back of the stone, while the other stood on the higher, ‘domed’ section. I was feeling pretty pleased with myself for getting up there, though, and the views were lovely.

…and as the shaman’s rattle echoed from the hillsides, soft rain falling on her upturned face, she felt the light inside her as a small flame, a warmth and a beginning of a new path…

We descended and joined the rest of the group, when it was decided to visit a very unusual pub nearby. The weekend’s activities were now over, and I had a train to catch in a couple of hours, the rest of the group also having places to go. But there was time, still, to sit together and enjoy hot cherry pie with cream, conversation and reflection. Inside, the pub seemed unchanged for centuries, massive blackened beams over the ancient fireplace, all of us perched on handmade wooden stools or creaking benches, and the figure of a mummified cat in a case in the corner, apparently found hidden in the chimney as a charm against evil spirits. It was a fitting end to a remarkable weekend.

It’s always a bit sad when the weekend workshops are over, yet there is also a sense of peace and accomplishment, and the joy of having explored new places with like-minded people. This weekend particularly resonated with me, and I was grateful for having experienced it. Fears had been faced and truths revealed, and I had a lot to think about. As my train rolled through the Hope Valley, bearing me towards Sheffield and reality, the rain that had been threatening all day began to fall in earnest, obscuring the hills and their mysteries with a veil. Ravens flew overhead, their ways parting, as did mine with my fellow companions.

I was going home.

Thank you to everyone who’s been reading along and commenting – I know it’s been a lot of posts, considering it was only a weekend! Regular blogging now resumes (well, as regular as I can make it, anyway 😉 )…


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.