#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…


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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.

Facing Fear With The Silent Eye, Part 6 – Release

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 six of my account, parts one, two, three, four and five can be found here… As you pass between the gateposts leading onto Stanton Moor, there is a feeling of entering another world. Perhaps it’s the Cork Stone, a great stone guardian whose sphinx-like profile has monitored the path for millennia, or the old quarry marks, now overgrown. Or perhaps it’s the many cairns hidden amongst the heather, silent indicators that this is a land of the dead.

Humans have been using this place for thousands of years, which is why Stanton Moor is a place of national importance and, as such, is protected.  Prominent signage advises visitors to leave no rubbish, make no marks and, something that became important as we journeyed further into the landscape, keep their dogs on a lead at all times.

The weather was still holding and the place was crowded, people all along the path…

…and another crowd assailed her, many voices calling, the feeling of being surrounded. But this was not the stagnant waves of Eyam. Rather, it was the voices of those who had shaped this land so many moons ago. And they were curious.

But there were too many to answer, and she could make no sense of what they wanted to know…

We spent a little bit of time at the Cork Stone. Once again, there was a tradition of ascending the stone, but someone had, in time past, cut helpful footholds into the rock. Still, none of us felt quite up to the challenge. Besides, we had somewhere to see. We continued along the path, the heather giving way to trees and ferns, fairy toadstools like tiny flames among the undergrowth…

… ‘I can’t understand when you all speak at once.’

A figure detached themselves from the throng. An older man, robed, long of beard and hair. He held out his arm as they proceeded along the path, a gesture of welcome, but also of guidance.

‘Why do you visit?’

She thought about her answer, wanting to get it right. ‘We come to learn from you, of the old ways. And with respect for those who walked here before.’

He nodded once. ‘Then you are welcome. There is–‘

There was a thundering noise from behind and we turned to see what at first I thought were two large dogs, racing along. But, as they ran past me, I realised that it was in fact one large dog, chasing a young and terrified sheep. There was no sign of any owner and, as they sped towards the stone circle ahead of us, a woman there called out accusingly ‘Whose dog is that?’ while looking our way. We hastily denied any involvement and watched, helplessly, as the dog continued to torment its prey. They disappeared down another path but then, a minute or so later, the dog reappeared, securely leashed, their slightly shamefaced but otherwise unapologetic owner making a quick retreat from the clearing. The poor sheep, meanwhile, wandered back among the trees, calling for its mother, a plaintive cry that made us all feel quite sad. As a dog owner myself, I try to be responsible – I keep my dog leashed when I need to, clean up after her and attend regular training so it infuriates me, to be honest, when people ignore simple guidelines such as ‘Keep your dog on a leash.’ It was a strange and somewhat unsettling introduction to our next destination, the Nine Ladies.

One of four stone circles in the area, Nine Ladies is the easiest to find and, therefore, a popular walking destination. Taking its name from an old legend of nine girls dancing on the Sabbath and being turned to stone, there are, in fact, ten stones at the circle, as well as a King Stone nearby, remnant of a ring cairn. It was busy at the circle, people sitting on the stones, camping nearby, children running about. As we drew closer I heard a man, sitting on the grass, say that he would never sit on the stones. I agree with his viewpoint – this is an ancient site of worship, a sacred site, and I would no more sit in the middle of it and eat my lunch than I would by the altar of a church. But I suppose, to many people, such places are not seen that way anymore.

We waited a while, hoping the crowd might disperse, as we wished to pay our own respects. Eventually the circle cleared enough, except for one young woman who was dancing in and out of the stones.

…as the six stepped between the stones, each taking their own path to reach the centre, there was a feeling of power building. And, as the circle of light ignited, that power grew, strong as the flame that burned at the centre of it all…

We stood there a little longer, and it was at that point I turned to one of my fellow group members. A shaman, she had taken me aside the previous evening and indicated I had something with which she would help me, if I wanted. I’d thought about it, and now seemed a good time to ask. So I did.

I won’t go into detail here, as some things are private, but suffice it to say, as we left the circle and headed into the cairn-field, away from the crowds, I became quite emotional. Two of our group had decided to leave, and Sue and Stu were walking ahead, which left the two of us alone on the path…

…and so, in the ancient cairn-field, among the dead in the high places, a healing took place. Something she had carried for many many years was released, and she felt light as the birds circling overhead…

We rejoined Sue and Stu, who had been sitting enjoying the view. I think they knew that something had taken place, but they didn’t ask. Instead, they led us on and out of the moor, across a wheat field towards where a very large stone waited among brambles and rhododendrons. I was still recovering, in some ways, and the shaman was walking with me, ensuring my path was clear. But there was still some distance to go until the healing was complete…


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Facing Fear With The Silent Eye, Part 5 – Failure

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 five of my account, parts one, two, three and four can be found here…

We left Tideswell and headed into the hills. The sun was shining, the temperature warm enough for just a light jacket – not exactly the kind of weather one associates with fear. However, so far we had faced pestilence, death, and the idea of losing everyone you hold dear to be left alone in a changed world. Quite intense for the first afternoon! I started to get the inkling that this weekend would be about challenging myself internally, as well as externally…

Fear is something that is both universal, and specific to the individual. There are fears that hearken back to our ancestral roots – the fear of being vulnerable, cast out, or killed by some predator. Then there are fears that are more personal – some people suffer from claustrophobia, whereas others dislike large open spaces. Some people are scared of heights, others of spiders – it really depends on the individual. There are modern fears – nuclear war, gender-based violence, terrorism – and age-old ones such as poverty, bankruptcy, homelessness. Fear is unique to each individual, and yet is something we all share. Our next destination was a place where people were tested against an ancient fear, yet where the same tradition is still observed to this day.

We arrived at a very busy car park with people everywhere, a coach disgorging even more walkers near the entrance. While it was a pleasure to be out in the Peak district in such glorious weather, rather than in the rain I’d experienced last time I was there, it did mean it was a bit more crowded than usual. There also seemed to be some sort of event on, with officials seated a tables, people wearing numbers and carrying water bottles. Still, it was a wide and glorious space and there was plenty of room for everyone, plus it made for a more social walk, with lots of lovely dogs to be petted and conversations to be had. Nothing to be scared of here, unless you don’t like dogs or conversation.

After a short conversation our group split, with some of us taking the path running along the cliff edge, while others took the more gentle path among the heather and cairns. For this was a land of the dead – an ancestral burial ground, with scrying bowls carved into stones, small piles of rock dotting the landscape. It didn’t bother me, though – the dead are at peace in such places. So I took in the view, and we remarked how it felt as though the wind was scouring us clean, blowing away the last vestiges of the strangeness we’d experienced the day before.

As the path turned a large stone, standing alone among the cairns, became visible. This is the Eagle Stone, so named because, from one angle, it looks like an eagle at rest. Carved by the elements into fantastic shapes, it has been used since time immemorial as a testing ground for young men to show that they are ready to be wed. Before they were allowed to marry, the young man at first needed to climb the stone to the top, a test of manhood to prove their worth.

While it may seem a simple task, closer inspection revealed there is no easy way to the top. A couple of our group tried, but even to get a short way up was far more difficult than it looked. This would have been a test of both strength and ingenuity, an indication to the tribe that the young man in question was a suitable candidate to marry and pass on their skills to their children.

So the fear to be faced here is the fear of failure, both on a personal level, and of the tribe. If no young men were able to climb the rock, then the tribe was doomed to weaken and die out. And for the young men in question, they would lose both respect and the chance to marry the one they loved. Interestingly, the custom persists, as young men from the village below still climb the rock before they get married, often with the help of friends, and with a veil tied around their waists. As Sue put it so eloquently, ‘perhaps ‘manhood’ is not only defined by the ability to face fears and overcome hurdles, but by the ability to cooperate and help each other.’

As I stood in the shadow of the rock I considered how, perhaps, ancient traditions designed to propagate the strength and fertility of the tribes have become twisted over the centuries, so the idea of fighting for a woman’s favour, of not giving up until it’s bestowed, the idea that it is somehow owed in return for making an effort, has gained traction with some segments of society. And that there is a different kind of fear attached to such behaviour today.

But, as we laughed and joked and made friends with yet another lovely dog, I felt a world apart from such things. It had been a lovely peaceful morning, especially after the strange events of the previous afternoon, and it was nice to sit in the sunshine and enjoy the fresh air. However, I had no idea what the rest of the day had in store…


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.