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.

Thank You

It’s evening. The time of day when I’m usually working (other than during the day, when I’m at work). Working, over the past few months, has been editing and formatting and writing, leaving not much time for blog posts or visiting around. I did write a short post the day before yesterday, with some updates on things I’ve been doing, and as soon as I did so comments appeared, people wishing me well, smiles from across the blogosphere travelling to my little space.

I love this blogging community, I honestly do. Blogging has, without exaggeration, changed my life. When I wrote my first post, about three and a half years ago, I had no idea of the journey I was beginning.

I called this blog Journey to Ambeth because it was going to be about writing. All about writing. About me writing books, about the things I learned about writing along the way. But, like so much in life, it has grown and changed into something more, encompassing travel and short stories and ideas and dreams, a space where I can express myself however I choose to do so.

But the biggest thing, the absolute best thing about blogging, has been the people I’ve met along the way. People from across the globe, many of whom I’ve now met in person. Others with whom I’ve had only virtual conversations, yet I know that, when I meet them, it will be like seeing an old friend. I’ve NaNo-d with them, celebrated new releases and publishing deals and life’s milestones, tramped hillsides and stone circles, blogged and bashed and learnt so much, experienced incredible generosity and kindness. I’ve made friends for life, friends I would probably never have met if it wasn’t for writing those first few words.

And I am grateful every day for it. So I just wanted to say thank you 🙂

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If you enjoyed this post and would like to read more, 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.

The Stable Bow

Beautiful girl with rose petalsJuly is almost over and, with it, another round of Camp NaNoWriMo. Don’t ask me why I signed up to do it a second time, but I did, and I’ve just hit my word count goal – yay!

Over two months of writing – April and July Camp – I’ve ended up with 50,000 words and the bones of a vampire novel, Silver and Black. It’s taken some interesting turns, and I think it might turn out to be a not so bad story. But now I need to let it rest for a few weeks, while I focus on other things. (sorry Sacha!)

For it is school holidays, and I have a gorgeous girl at home with me. She’s still young enough that she wants to hang out with me, but I’m under no illusion that these days of cosy companionship are numbered, so I’ll take them while I can get them. She’s already starting to spread her wings and I’m having to step back and let her fly, remembering the words of Kahlil Gibran:

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

I don’t doubt that we will always be close, but it is just that the level of closeness will change. All too soon she will want her own time, her own friends, her own way of doing things, and I just have to hope I’ve given her enough grounding that she can make sensible, capable decisions for herself.  I guess that’s what most parents would want.

When they are small and into everything, and you feel as though you will never ever get another moment to yourself, you look ahead to a time when they can do things for themselves, recalling vaguely how it felt to sit and read, or take a long shower uninterrupted, or go out whenever you feel like it. Yet now, as she approaches that independence, I find myself looking back to precious hours full of games and whispered confidences and small chubby hands, and I count my blessings that I was able to experience them with her.

I can have no more children – that’s just how it is for me. But I’ve been lucky to have one; many who want to are denied even that. So for now, I’m going to make the most of it.

And I remain the stable bow while she is the arrow that flies.

 

 

Tea, Updates and Vampire Stories

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I know there’s a weekly thing where bloggers catch up as though having coffee, a conversational get-together with updates from the past week. I’m more of a tea drinker, myself, so, if we were having tea, this is what I’d tell you:

So, this happened yesterday.

Yay! I reached my 30,000 word target with Silver and Black, the vampire novel I’ve been working on of late. It’s far from finished, of course, but I have a good framework in place, as well as the knowledge of where the story needs to go and what the characters have to achieve, so I’m pleased, overall. I’m still thinking about serialising the whole thing on my blog, as the response to the small snippets I’ve posted so far has been pretty good.

The weather here this week has been quite mad, one minute bright sunshine, then the next snow and ice falling from a clear blue sky. At one point last week we were walking through the park on the top of the hill where we live, and all around us, in almost a perfect circle, I could see vast towering grey and white clouds dumping rain and ice, while above us the sky was blue. A bit of Spring weather madness, I guess. But the tide seems to be turning, so to speak, with sunshine and warmer temperatures forecast for next week – with May Day just around the corner, this is welcome news.

And I’m also expecting, finally, to be able to publish Hills and Valleys, the third instalment of my Ambeth Chronicles. I knew I was cursing myself by putting a publishing date at the end of No Quarter, and so it came to pass that the whole thing has taken longer than planned. However, the plus side of that has been more time to finetune the book, including finding (and fixing) a small continuity error. Plus, my editor thinks this is the strongest instalment yet, so it’s been worth doing the extra work. Everything happens as it’s supposed to, I guess.

And now it’s the Bank Holiday weekend. Rain is forecast, as is expected, though at the moment we have brilliant sunshine. The gorgeous girl had an excellent school report this week so, as a reward, I’m taking her to one of her favourite places, a craft store where she can do a project in store. They provide the paint, glue, apron and workspace then, for a small fee, she can choose something from the shelves or pottery collection and create a masterpiece. We are also going to visit The Treasure Box, the magical store I wrote about in a previous blog post, where she will no doubt spend time rummaging through the ribbons and buttons, looking for treasure.

Other than that, we’re planning to let the weekend unfold as it will, plans subject to change, depending on the weather. Hope you all have a lovely weekend, and that the sun shines on you, wherever you are. 🙂

 

 

When The Forest Calls

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I’ve had one of those days today where I’ve done a little bit of lots of things, but not much of anything. There’s been laundry, as usual, plus some cooking – I made sweet chilli sauce that’s more chilli than sweet, some guacamole and some smoked almonds, so have been snacking most of the morning. I’ve looked at a few blog posts, catching up with bloggy friends I didn’t have time to visit during the week. I’ve done a bit of writing, updated my Camp NaNo total, and watched an episode and a half of Outlander – I read the books ages ago (they are listed on my Books I Love page), but am late to the party watching the series, and now of course I am hooked once more. I’ve also spent some time in the back garden, where my husband is excavating a large raised vegetable patch we inherited when we bought the house. It has no veggies in it anymore, and is where we’d like to put our new shed/garden room, so it has to go. So far he’s discovered steps leading nowhere (though I did wonder whether Gozer the Gozerian might be coming to visit our garden), lots of bricks and paving stones, and a whole lot of earth. No hidden drains or bodies, thank goodness, or treasure left there long ago (which would have been handy, actually).

But mostly I’ve been wandering around, feeling as though there’s something I really need to do, but I can’t quite remember what it is.

Though I think I might have a clue. Ambeth is calling me. I know I’ve been writing this vampire book for Camp NaNo, and so far it’s been going quite well, the story starting to take shape nicely. But my mind is filled with forests, new threads appearing. I saw some friends yesterday, and several of them asked me when the next book would be out. End of the month, hopefully, I said. Then one of them asked how many books there would be in total. Six, I replied. Which is what I have planned at the moment. But I have a feeling that Ambeth is one of those places which will call me back every so often, other stories coming through the Gates. I don’t know if it’s because it’s the first world I’ve created, or whether it’s just that there are more stories there than can be dealt with in this one series arc.

Whatever the case may be, I’m always happy to go back there.

How about you? Have stories you’ve written called you back for more?

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A Friday Update

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Spring is coming! (now that I’ve said that it will snow, right?)

The first week of school holidays is almost over – too bad the gorgeous girl and I have spent much of it housebound, struck down again by the bug that just won’t go away. However, modern medicine and good old-fashioned rest seem to be doing the trick, as we are both feeling better and actually ventured out today, for brunch and a movie with one of her schoolfriends and his mother. (We saw Zootropolis, which was actually really well done.)

I’ve also been writing. Silver and Black is flying along (so far), the story taking an intriguing shape, and I’m toying with the idea of serialising it on my blog once it’s ready to go. There are a couple of reasons for this: one is that the idea came to me via a series of blog challenges, so perhaps this is the right venue in which to share it, and two, I don’t usually write vampire stories, so it will be interesting to see what sort of feedback it gets.

I’m also looking at joining the Authors Lending and Copyright Society, a not-for-profit organisation based in the UK, run for and by writers. The ALCS is, in their own words, ‘dedicated to protecting and promoting authors’ rights’ and one of the ways they do so is by collecting secondary use royalties. These types of royalties can be levied when someone photocopies or digitally reproduces your work, or whenever your books are borrowed from a library. However, I will do a little more research before signing on, and will dedicate a blog post to exploring it more in depth.

Today I read this excellent interview with Hugh Howey via The Story Reading Ape. Hugh is an independent author extraordinaire and, I think I might love him a little. He’s such a passionate advocate for independent publishing, and has so much to say about the current state of the industry – it is well worth a read.

I’ve also been watching the latest Star Wars trailer, for Rogue One. I’ve been a Star Wars fangirl since the very beginning, ever since I was taken to see the first film in the cinema. This newest episode looks fantastic, and I have it down as one of my must-see movies for this year.

Next week the gorgeous girl and I have a few things planned, so hopefully we’ll both be back to full health and ready to go. I’ll still be writing away in Camp NaNo as and when I can, plus looking ahead to marketing and promotional opportunities for Oak and Mist. Hills and Valleys, the third Ambeth book, is now in the final editing stage, so I’m hoping to be able to publish by the end of this month – watch this space for cover reveals and more info.

Wishing you all a good weekend!

Three Days Three Quote Challenge – Day 1

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I was recently tagged by Meredith of Mezzalilly’s Teen Book Reviews to participate in the Three Days Three Quotes Challenge. I have done this challenge before, but there are so many wonderful quotes in the world I’m very happy to participate again. My first quote is from Tolkien, the master of Middle Earth, and it’s from Aragorn’s Riddle, All That is Gold Does Not Glitter.

‘Not all those who wander are lost’

I love these words. In the poem they refer to the Rangers, of which Aragorn was one, long lived guardians of the forests who protected the people of Middle Earth, yet who were looked upon with scorn by those who did not understand their purpose.

In my own life, I think they refer to the sort of wandering existence I’ve had, working different jobs and living in different countries, on a quest to discover what it is that makes me happy. While there have been times in my life where I have felt a little lost, I’ve never been too far from the path and have been fortunate to have events or people come into my life and steer me the right way again.

The box in the photograph was given to me by one such person, who is a very dear friend. At a time when life was dark she was a light – she knows it, because I told her so.

Now the rules of the Challenge indicate that I’m to nominate three more bloggers, but anyone who knows me knows I don’t always go by the rules. So, as I’ve done this Challenge before and did nominate three bloggers previously, I’m going to leave it open this time around. If you’d like to participate, please do.

And, a Camp NaNo update – Silver and Black is starting to take shape. I’m about three thousand words in and fingers crossed will keep going with it until the end of the month.

 

Getting Ready for Camp NaNo

If you go down in the woods today...

If you go down in the woods today…

I was going to write ‘It’s Monday.’ Then I realised that it’s Tuesday. The Bank Holiday has thrown me off a little, the week already starting without me realising.

It’s only a few days till I head to my virtual cabin for Camp NaNoWriMo. We have a full cabin, twelve writers in all, and our cabin name is The Wordcount Slayers. Some of the writers I already know, the rest I’m sure I’ll get to know over the next month of writing and commiserating as we slog towards our word count targets.

Camp NaNoWriMo is slightly different to November NaNoWriMo in that you can set your own word count target. Mine is 30,000 words and I’m planning on seeing how far I can get with Silver and Black, my vampire story that’s been arriving in bits and pieces. I have a bit of an outline now and I can feel the characters gearing up, ready to tell their tale. Kyle in particular has been pacing around, impatient to be unleashed upon the page.

Now that may sound quite odd, but I’ve had a few comment conversations recently about the fact that I am a Pantser. Stories come to me with characters, I’m given a few key events and then away we go, the characters pulling me along with them as a sort of scribe, or perhaps a director in that I give them some ideas of what I want from the scene, then they go with it. Or not, as is often the case. I feel quite strongly about my characters as well, wanting to tell their stories as best I’m able, that their voices be heard. After all, they decided to come to me, so it’s only fair I do my best to accommodate them.

So, April will be a month of vampires for me although, and I don’t think I’m giving too much away, these vampires are perhaps a little different than the accepted mythology. At least, I think they are. And my blogging schedule may suffer a little, depending on how the word count and school holidays pan out, so please do bear with me. Scheduled programming will resume, as they say, in May.

See you on the other side!

#BlogBattle – One Year Anniversary Edition

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I’m fairly new to Rachael Ritchey’s Blog Battle, but am really enjoying the challenges so far. And, guess what, I won one! My entry Behind The Mask, for the theme word ‘Hair,’ was voted last week’s winner, so thank you very much to everyone who read and voted for the story.

This week’s theme is a little different. As it’s the one year anniversary of BlogBattle, Rachael has asked us to re-post one of our entries from the past year. As mentioned, I haven’t been doing this too long so don’t have a massive back catalogue of stories to choose from. However, I’ve decided to re-post the first one I wrote, which was for the theme word ‘Forest.’

It’s a vampire story, which now seems to be growing into a full length novel – in fact, I’ll be heading into the virtual woods at Camp NaNoWriMo next month in the hopes of writing a good chunk of it. I only shared this story a few weeks ago, so apologies to those of you who’ve read it already – however, for those of you who haven’t, I hope you enjoy it.

Silver And Black

‘C’mon.’

He held out his hand, a darker silhouette against trees silvered by the moon. I knew his eyes were a similar shade, but I couldn’t see them. I couldn’t see a damn thing, really, other than faint lines of pale branches against a clotted blackness.

‘You know I can’t-‘

‘Can’t?’ The silhouette tilted his head. I knew he was smiling, could hear it in his voice. But I couldn’t hear as well as he could. Another thing that pissed me off.

And I had to be so careful how I moved, what expression showed on my face. I smoothed down my skirt with damp hands. This was stupid. I should just go home.

All at once he was in front of me, and I glimpsed a faint gleam in his silvery eyes before he bent his head to kiss me, sharp teeth grazing my lips, hot/cold breath turning my insides to honey. Okay, maybe I could do this, I thought as I clung to him, my hands sliding inside his jacket.

Then he was gone, just as fast, leaving me alone in the clearing. I froze.

‘Kyle?’

No answer. I tried to control my breathing, but I was starting to panic. Was this a trap? I strained my ears, listening, eyes wide against the darkness under the trees. Was something moving there?

Okay. Screw this.

I kept my face smooth, just in case he was somewhere, watching me. The branches creaked, eerie in the cold night. I unzipped the pocket of my leather jacket, pulling out my phone. My mouth twisted a bit then, I couldn’t help it. But I had no choice. I had to call my mother.

The screen came to life under my fingers and I scrolled through. Not that there were many contacts on my phone. But before I could make the call arms came around me, and I felt teeth grazing my ear.

I jerked involuntarily and the arms softened, letting go. Then Kyle was in front of me, one hand coming up to touch my cheek, smoothing away a tear that had snuck out, despite my best efforts.

‘Hey,’ he said. His voice was soft, all the teasing gone. ‘I’m sorry. I forget.’

I couldn’t say anything for a moment, mingled relief and anger choking me. I shook my head, tucking my phone back in my pocket then swallowed, clearing my throat. ‘I want to go home,’ I said, my voice higher than normal.

‘No.’ He breathed the word, his arms coming around my waist, his body close to mine. ‘I really am sorry. Will you stay with me, a while longer? There’s somewhere I’d like to show you. And then I’ll take you home, I promise.’

I purposely didn’t look at him. I didn’t need him trying to glamour me. Did I want to stay with him? My body was screaming, yes, Ohmygod, are you crazy, staystaystay. Then my mind joined in. Damn.

‘Fine,’ I said. Possibly a little ungracious but then, hey, he was the one who’d left me out here alone. ‘But,’ I went on, looking at him. ‘Don’t leave me again, or I am going.’

‘I promise,’ he said, taking my hand and bringing it to his mouth. I tensed. He smiled, his tongue flicking out against my fingers before he kissed them and let go. I took in a shaking breath.

‘So, where are we going?’

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And that’s all, folks! Visit Rachael’s page to vote, read more entries or even add your own.

Heading To Camp NaNoWriMo

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I’ve only been to camp once in my life. It was during Grade Eight, a class trip to the Canadian woods where we got to stay at a summer camp complete with dormitories and a washhouse and dining hall. There were crafts and toasted marshmallows and the vague threat of putting someone’s hand in a glass of water while they were sleeping, apparently guaranteed to make someone wet the bed. There were crushes and cute older counsellors, plus a ghost story about someone coming in through a window, then somebody actually CAME IN THROUGH THE WINDOW and we all screamed and moved about three feet to the right in a single terrified leap.

So it was pretty fun.

And now I’m about to head off to camp again. This time, however, it’s a virtual camp. I won’t need my sleeping bag, and the only people threatening to put my hand in water while I’m sleeping will be my family (and it will be pretty weird if they do that). There will, however, be stories.

I’m going to Camp NaNoWriMo this April, and am in a cabin with several other lovely authors, all of whom I hope like virtual toasted marshmallows. For you see, I have this vampire story just begging to be told, and several of you out there who are keen to see it written. So, in a moment of madness I signed on, with a goal of 50,000 words for the month. Then I remembered that school holidays run from April 1st to 18th, and so I adjusted my word count goal down to 30,000.

Hmmm.

Well, I won’t deny I’m excited. I did NaNoWriMo in 2014 and ended up with a book, which is currently doing the rounds. So it would be great if I can achieve the same again, or at least get part way through. I have the same feeling I had when I did NaNo, of the story just waiting to be told, the world building inside my head. I can see how it all goes together, though a few plot points are still unclear. But they will come.

And if they don’t, I’ll go for a walk in the woods. Perhaps do a little craft. And then return to the cabin for another go.