A Tale Of Two Birthdays

I’ve just had a birthday. It was a quiet one, of course – the day spent at home, gifts arriving via post and email, birthday messages virtual for the most part. I was lucky, nonetheless, to hear from so many people, and to have immediate family with whom to spend it. It was very different, though, to how things were a year ago. I had a big number birthday last year, and celebrated via a pub lunch with extended family in a crowded restaurant, then by watching Supergrass at the Alexandra Palace that evening. My parents stayed over for the weekend and, the following evening, we all went to the Royal Albert Hall to watch my daughter dancing in the Schools Spectacular. A wonderful, yet fairly normal weekend… then. Now? Unthinkable.

A lot of people were happy to see the end of 2020, and I understand that. For me, however, the turning of the year was tinged with sadness, as 2020 was the last year of the old days, when things were as they used to be. Our world wasn’t perfect – the fact that pollution decreased so dramatically in the first few months of lockdown was an indication that we really needed to stop moving – but it seemed bright, compared to the narrowness of our current existence.

The first lockdown, coming only a week or so after my big birthday weekend, was a shock to the system. Spring was already making an appearance, the weather turning. April and May were glorious with blossom and sunshine, there were rainbows in every house window, and more bees and butterflies than I remember seeing for years. But it was a frightening time as well, none of us sure what would happen next. I was paralysed creatively for the first few weeks, unable to unlock my writing until I joined a virtual Camp NaNo cabin. Yeast took up residence on the back of my hands thanks to the sourdough I tried to ferment, and I confess I did worry a bit about loo roll. I still remember my first trip to the supermarket a few weeks after lockdown (we’d managed to get deliveries until then). I stepped out of the car and it was like a new world, as though I’d never been outside before; the sky gold and purple, the trees heavy with white blossom, the car park almost empty.

Now we are a year into rolling lockdowns. Over 120,000 people in the UK have lost their lives to Covid, and over 2 million people world-wide. It has been an extraordinary year of grief and loss and scientific discovery, a year that will be written into the history books, and that our grandchildren will ask us about. The UK has been working hard to roll out vaccines, and there is hope that all restrictions will be lifted by the summer.

And, the day after my birthday, I received a text inviting me to book my own vaccination appointment. I’m booked in for next Tuesday, for the first of two doses.

Last year, my birthday was a flash of light, a last gasp of the old world. This year it is the first light of hope, of us moving forward towards a brighter future, of life and love and seeing family and friends once more. That’s a pretty great gift, I think.

————————————————————————————————————–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.

The Threads Of Life

I spoke to my mother on the phone yesterday. It’s a fairly regular thing we do, especially as we’re not able to visit each other at the moment. We try to speak at least once a week, catching up on what little news there is to share, and talking of this and that.

This week we spoke about how it’s been almost a year since all the family were together. It was at my birthday celebrations, the week before the first UK lockdown started. We’ve been lucky, though, we agreed, having been able to see family on the few occasions it was allowed, though visits have been few and far between in the past year.

It got me thinking about the threads that bind us together. The threads of blood and family and love and friendship, of the little things we do, the cups of tea and meals shared, the gifts and days out, the people who leave us, and the new ones who arrive. Our lives are tapestries woven of moments – we each thread our own path, linking with others to create a pattern unique to us alone.

Yet this past year for so many of us the threads have been loosened, the pattern drifting. Some threads have broken altogether; lives lost, relationships ending, career paths coming to an abrupt stop. And the smaller weavings; the chance meetings in the street, the nights out with friends, the ‘I’ll just pop round’ visits, the hobbies and workouts and classes taken with others – all of them absent in the pattern of this past year. I worry for those who may be drifting, unanchored, the things that bound them to this world taken away.

And yet we have also adapted, as humans do. New patterns have arisen, new ways of doing things as we go forward. A morning show segment the other day had a reporter asking people in the street if they think things will go back to ‘normal’ once all this is over. And only one person thought they would. The rest all said that they thought it would be different, which is understandable, considering this past year has been an unprecedented global event. But what was interesting was how they thought it would be different. All of them cited positive changes as a result of lockdown, things they hoped to see continued once it was over. An increased focus on fitness, and on going outside. An appreciation of the joy of being able to meet up with friends and family. An increased sense of community, of people helping others, and getting to know their neighbours. A better work/life balance.

So, even though the patterns may have changed, it seems as though the threads are still there, waiting for us to take them up once more. I hope that, as things begin to ease, we are able to pull them tight again, and catch those who may need more help getting back onto the loom.

May the weavings of this year be bright.


Enjoyed this post? Want to read more? Find me on Twitter @AuthorHelenJFacebook, Instagram and Pinterest. Plus my latest book release, Under Stone (Ambeth Chronicles #4), is now available on Amazon. Visit my Amazon Author Page or my website to see more.

The Sue Vincent Rodeo Classic – Saddle Up!

I’ve been blogging on WordPress for quite a few years ago, and along the way have made wonderful friends, some of whom I’ve had the pleasure of meeting in the flesh (yes, we do come out from behind our keyboards periodically). One of those friends is Sue Vincent. Warm, kind and generous is only a starting point when it comes to describing the wonderful Sue. She is a also a teacher, a guide, and someone who works deeply with the land, walking the ancient ways. I’ve been fortunate to travel with her, from time to time, and have written about my experiences on this blog.

However, Sue is now on a different, and rather challenging path. Last year she was diagnosed with advanced small cell lung cancer, with a rather discouraging prognosis. You can read more about what she’s been going through on her blog, along with her stories of mythology and ancient ruins, magical landscapes and the power within. She also runs one of my favourite blogging prompts, #writephoto, and is tirelessly generous in promoting her fellow bloggers.

So now it’s time for us to give back to her. Charli Mills, over at The Carrot Ranch, has put together a… well, I’ll let Charli explain:

Let’s bring the Rodeo into Sue’s house through her computer, and let’s come together with hearts full of joy. Join us for the Sue Vincent Rodeo Classic at the Carrot Ranch – a contest, parade, and celebration all in one!

There are many ways to participate. One is to visit the prompt image, “Hidden”, at the Carrot Ranch. The prompt image and entry form will go live on Monday, February 1st, 2021. Enter a flash or a poem by Friday, February 19th, 2021, and you could win either $100 or a copy of one of Sue’s books. The form will allow you to give a small donation for Sue and her family, and a link can be found on the contest page. The winning entries will be announced at the Carrot Ranch on March 22nd, 2021.

If you’re not ready to rodeo, there’s always the “Parade”. Reblog one of Sue’s posts from any of her sites (Daily Echo or France and Vincent) with a comment about why you found it special. Follow her blogs. Read one of her books, then leave reviews where you can. Several people are already gearing up for the parade – so feel free to check out other people’s blogs for suggestions.

Also, go ahead and reblog, tweet, Facebook, or somehow otherwise share the contest! 99 word literary art is a fantastic way to celebrate a blogging hero and very deserving person.

Saddle up, everyone! It’s time for a Carrot Ranch Rodeo like none ever held before. The Sue Vincent Rodeo Classic begins on Monday, February 1st, and it’ll be a TUFF prompt to fit within 99 words. 
See you at the Ranch, buckaroos!

And there you have it – a great competition for a wonderful cause! Get your best writing boots on and head on over – I’ll see you there!

#writephoto – Guarded

I’m beyond thrilled that the lovely Sue Vincent has revived her #writephoto prompt.

Sue has a knack for taking photographs that contain stories, so it’s lovely that she feels able to share them once again. This week, her prompt is this atmospheric shot of a boulder guarding a pathway. I’ve been on a few journeys through the landscape with Sue, and I can already feel the voices whispering from this particular shot. Here’s what they told me…

‘You shall not pass!’

He boomed the words, his staff banging down onto the muddy path. Then his freckled face split with a grin, childish laughter ringing across the bracken, carried by the wind to wreath around and through the crevices of the ancient boulder that guarded the way.

‘Give over,’ I said, giving him a little shove as I went past, his stick clattering to the ground. He grinned again, picking it up and running ahead as boys do, swiping at leaves and imaginary foes, his blonde hair catching the pale light.

Ahead, the hillside was crowned with ridges and rocks, like the bones of an ancient dragon curled around its mound of treasure. There were stories here, but then there always were, in the old places. Perhaps the ridges were ancient walls, or perhaps the glaciers had left them there, when they retreated in a creak of ice and snow from the land.

A breath blew, cold on my neck, as I passed the stone. All was still, and I realised I could no longer hear the boy, or anything, other than a single heart beat, like a drum in the distance. A spear point dug into my chest, the metal gleaming dull bronze. The ridges on the hilltop rearranged themselves with a noise like teeth grinding, first into castle walls, then a dragon’s tail, flicking back and forth so that boulders tumbled.

‘You shall not pass.’ The words were whispered, this time. Another heartbeat, butterfly wings in my chest.

And, from down the trail, I heard laughter once more.

***

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.

A New Year

I realise we’re already over three weeks in to the new year, so I’m a bit late to the party. But what a year it’s been already, hey? (wild understatement, I know)

However, I don’t wish to dwell on the darkness that currently surrounds us. There are threads of hope carried in this year, and I hope they flare to full brightness before it ends. Each day is a little bit longer, a little bit lighter, as the wheel of the year turns towards summer, towards bare legs and cool drinks, long lilac evenings and warm breezes, the trees rustling green. And, hopefully, the chance for us to finally start living our lives again.

While this is the time of year when, traditionally, we look ahead to what we’d like to achieve, I’m not sure how I feel about the idea of setting goals. On one hand, I see their usefulness as something to aim towards, concrete markers of achievements met. But also, perhaps, weights pulling you in one direction only, closing the path to other directions, other ideas. If the past year has taught us anything, it’s that we need to leave room for flexibility, for adaptation, in our lives.

I count myself fortunate to have family and friends, and for us all (touch wood) to be well at the moment. A family member did contract Covid over the holiday season, but, thankfully, has pulled through. So, perhaps if I do set any goals this year, they’ll be more in the vein of ‘count your blessings,’ ‘enjoy your loved ones,’ ‘look out for others’ and, ‘find joy in small things.’ Anything else I achieve will be a bonus.

Wishing you all a bright new year xx

The Year That Was

As the year winds to a close, it’s customary to look back at all we’ve achieved in the past 365 days.

In a normal year, I suppose, that would be the case.

However, as we all know, this has been anything but a normal year. And so, while I’ve certainly achieved a few *things* this year (51 blog posts, 4 books including a co-author project, 2 short stories published, manuscript requests and rejections, a new website, plus turning the big 5-0) I feel that the story of this year is something much bigger than can be defined by mere numbers.

For this was a year of discoveries, not all of them pleasant. The discovery that teachers should be paid approximately £2546756756 per year, for starters. The discovery that people we like or love can get sucked down conspiracy wormholes, and that the ugliness of human nature is never far from the surface. But it was also a year when we were shown what the world could look like if we just stopped for a moment, the skies clearing, record bird and insect numbers, the wilderness rebounding from years of human pressure. A year when we were challenged in myriad ways, when we were forced to adapt again and again. A year of staying home, rather than going out. It was a year of change, of trying different roles or learning something new, of baking bread, or even just painting that wall in the lounge room yellow. A year when neighbours and friends and families and strangers all stepped up and worked together, a million small acts of kindness mending fractured communities. It was also a year of anxiety and stress and sorrow for so many people, for loss experienced through a screen, for watching years of work and investment crumble away within a few small months. It was a year when the idea of what is important began to shift.

It was a year to count blessings, rather than accomplishments

And so I will say simply this:

Whatever you did or didn’t do this year, if you’ve got through it, that’s enough.

And as we stand together on the cusp of 2021, and the promise of the next 365 days, remember – it may be dark at the moment, but every day brings us closer to the light.

Wishing you a safe, healthy and joyous 2021!

xx

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.

Blood Sport – A Vampire Anthology for Charity #amwriting

Another little piece of publishing news to share with you all! I’m thrilled to have had a story chosen for inclusion in Blood Sport, an upcoming vampire anthology, with all proceeds going to the International Red Cross.

Hungry for some blood-curdling action and adventure? Maybe even a little romance? This clan of talented authors is dying to bring you eleven vampy stories you can really sink your teeth into!

One-click today for more vampy tales than you can shake a stake at!

All proceeds from this anthology will benefit The International Red Cross.

Regular readers of this blog will know that I’ve been immersed in a vampiric world for the past couple of years, writing a YA novel that is now out on submission. Somewhat unexpectedly, I might add, as it all stemmed from a Halloween writing prompt on Ali Isaac’s blog, some years past.

The short story in Blood Sport was originally something I wrote for a competition that didn’t go anywhere. However, I loved the story and so, when I heard about the submission window for this anthology, I dusted it off, expanded and rewrote sections, and sent it in. It just goes to show that stories may not always end up where we expect them to, but they will, eventually, find a home.

‘Heads or tails?’

A lucky coin. A question. And a meeting in the red-black depths of a St Petersburg nightclub that will change Nikolai’s life forever. But immortality, it turns out, isn’t that much fun. Especially when you have to spend it alone…

The anthology is up for pre-order now – you can get your copy here – and is scheduled to be published on November 30, 2020. Watch this space (and my social media) for giveaway details, ARC copies and publishing updates!


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.

Living The Lockdown Life… Again #lockdownuk

As the nights draw in, the days getting colder, it seems natural to retreat into our own spaces, to keep warm and dry, cosy socks and slippers the order of the day.

And so it is now, as autumn gives way to winter, the last vestiges of red-gold still clinging to the trees. We’ve had frost here already, the mild panic when you realise it’s time to leave for the school run but the car is still iced over, the crunch of leaves underfoot, lines of glitter scoring the rooftops and windows.

And we’re also in lockdown again. The second one of the year, as Covid infections rise once more after our summer of relative freedom.

Things haven’t changed too much in our house, to be honest. My husband has been working from home since the first lockdown in March, and I’ve been working at home for a few years now. Schools are still open so the kiddo is out of the house, and the dog still needs to be taken for her daily walk, greetings still exchanged in the cool fields and pathways.

It’s been a bit of an eye-opener, to be honest. In many ways, I’m very fortunate that my life hasn’t been curtailed too badly by the current global circumstances. However, it’s also made me realise that, when this is all over, I would like to go out more, do more, see more people in person, rather than just participate online. I had plans to see people this month, but they’ve all been postponed – while the current lockdown is only supposed to be until December 2nd, I feel as though it’s more likely to run until Christmas, at which point I hope we’ll be allowed to mix in small groups, at least.

So for now, I’ll get out when I can with the dog, breathe in woodsmoke-scented air, look across the distant hills and dream of a day when we can all meet up again.

Stay safe and well, everyone xx

PS. I realise there is big news, and a big change, coming from the US. Let’s hope this will lead to brighter days going forwards…