Facing Fear With The Silent Eye, Part 2 – Pestilence

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 two of my account, part one can be found here

‘Go and have a look around. We’ve got a bit of time yet before the others get here.’

I can’t move.

We were standing in a courtyard, once the stable yard of the nearby manor house. The buildings had been converted into shops and restaurants, jewellery, homewares, tea and scones all set out for visitors. It was a gorgeous place, sun shining on golden-grey stone, pretty tables, green trees.

I can’t move.

Waves were battering her from all sides, sorrow overwhelming. But they were toxic, polluted, like water disturbed in a stagnant pond. It was difficult to breathe.

I should have known when my body started to tingle as we crossed the boundary into the village. But this was… intense. I took a couple of photos but, even though Sue suggested once more that I have a look around, I still couldn’t move, feeling assailed on all sides. The air seemed filled with floating flecks of gold. It was a very, very strange place.

The rest of the group arrived, greetings and introductions breaking me out of my strange immobility. It was lovely to see familiar faces, and to meet a new face, too. Thus assembled, our group of six left the old stable yard and headed out into the village. We took a moment on the nearby green to talk about the history of the village, Sue and Stu filling the rest of the party in on the dark history of the place. Sue has written an excellent post about it – however, the short version is this:

In 1665, plague came to Eyam. It was already raging down south, and, when a local tailor ordered a bolt of cloth from London, it arrived teeming with harbingers of death. Infected fleas on the cloth were released when it was unfolded, with the tailor and his assistant the first victims. But, as plague moved through the village, the inhabitants made an extraordinary decision. Encouraged by their reverend, the charismatic Mompesson, they decided to quarantine themselves from the surrounding area – nothing, and no one, were to leave the village until the plague had burned itself out. Eventually it did so, but took as much as two thirds of the population with it, a horrifying toll in a place with a population of only a few hundred souls. Many people lost their entire extended family, and had to bury their own dead. Parents, children, siblings, spouses. Small wonder, then, that this was a place bound in sorrow and the fear of loss.

After the introduction we headed along a road that was chocolate-box perfect in its prettiness, past ancient stone cottages garlanded in roses, gleaming golden in the afternoon sun. Yet dark history hid behind the stone walls, as plaques in the gardens attested, telling us the names of those who lived there during the plague, and those who died. Eyam is a place that makes its living from death, the sad history of the place drawing tourism from far and wide. But is it healthy to constantly relive such an episode? Places hold the energy of events that happen there – such as the warmth experienced in a happy home, or the sombre cold at sites of torture and death. Despite all the doubtless peaceful years that Eyam experienced, both before and after the plague, it has allowed itself to be defined by the events of that awful time and, while of course it’s important to remember and honour the deeds of the villagers who sacrificed everything for the sake of the larger community, the relentless focus on that time makes it difficult for the energy surrounding it to dissipate. I took few photos, and none of the plaques in the gardens with their grisly records of death.

As we neared the old church I was finding it difficult to breathe, a weight on my chest. Another member of the group felt the same way – there seemed to be no explanation for it. I was struggling against surging emotion, like being at the centre of a storm, despite the bright sunshine.

‘Did you say you’ve never been here before?’

‘Yes.’

‘You sure about that?’

We entered the churchyard, sun gilding the deep green yew trees, the ancient stones. There is a Saxon cross in the churchyard, relic of an even older time, one side carved with angels, the other with serpents, coiled around themselves.

… she remembered a wedding, being a bride in a bright gown, garlanded in flowers, laughing with her lover on another sunny day, as though the village wanted to remind her of happier times…

Churchyards are home to memory, to loved ones lost, a community of spirit. We wandered among the gravestones for a little while before heading inside the church. It was still difficult to breathe, but I felt less inundated than before.

…give me space…

Inside, the church was charming. Very old, and similar to several I’d visited before with the group. Usually such places are filled with years of calm, that concentrated energy of a place given over to love and prayer. In this church, however, death danced overhead, the spectre of that terrible time seeming to permeate the place. It did not feel peaceful at all.

Embedded in one of the walls was a stone cross, a cross of St Helen, and there was a beautiful window dedicated to her as well, but even the presence of my namesake saint didn’t do much to ease my discomfort. There was also an illustrated history of the church and the village, and another stained-glass window telling the story of the plague.

When we left the church even the sky felt spiked and heavy, vapour trails intersecting it like the slashes of a knife. And then, a rainbow, faintly coloured, a reminder that, even after the darkest storms, there is light and colour to be found again. It was fitting that it showed up as we prepared to leave the village, heading back past the cottages with their dark histories, past the manor and green.

As we reached the car park, I knew where we were going next. And I was concerned as to whether I’d be able to deal with it, after what I’d already experienced in Eyam. This weekend, however, was about facing our fears. And there was no turning back 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.

Thursday Doors – In The Pink

I spent this past weekend in Wales, my favourite place in the world, which is where I saw this lovely pink door. It belongs to a cottage high on a hill overlooking Swansea Bay on the Gower Peninsula, a picturesque part of South Wales.

It was a lovely weekend. We were with family, and visited several different beaches including one where, during the war, my grandparents had their honeymoon. The house where they stayed is now a hotel, but the views, and the hidden church in the trees, remain the same. The Wales National Air Show was also on in the area so, as we sat on the beach in the morning, we were treated to the sight (and sound) of the Red Arrows flying past.

The little road with the pink-doored cottage was a narrow one, with room for a only single car in some places – we had to flatten ourselves against the old stone walls several times coming back up! It was also very steep, but the views were spectacular – almost worth the thought of lugging your shopping all the way up if you lived there.

Whenever I see an interesting door I wonder about what it must be like to live in that house, about the stories inside its walls. I think I’d enjoy living in this little cottage with the pink door, looking out at sea and mountains.

Maybe one day…

This is my response to the Thursday Doors Challenge, courtesy of Norm 2.0. For more doors, or to add one of your own, head over to Norm’s site and click the link.


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.

Around The World and Back Again

Getting back into this blogging thing is easier said than done, I’m finding. And it probably hasn’t helped that I’ve been away for the past three weeks on the other side of the world. Apologies for being late getting back to comments, too!

So, where have I been?

Back to my husband’s native Australia, to see family and friends we’ve not visited for seven years. It’s a trip that was a long time coming, house renovations and life getting in the way of previous plans to visit.

I confess, I was a little bit nervous about going back. Australia is a wonderful place, and there are a lot of people I love living there. But it’s a VERY LONG flight, and I’m not the biggest fan of flying. Plus, I found that, despite all the work I’ve done sorting myself out over the past few years, it turned out there was a bit of emotion to unpack about the idea of heading back to the place where I lived for seventeen years. As I said to friends when we were there, I have three passports and a lot of issues.

People often comment to me that I’ve lived such an interesting life, moving around the world, travelling and seeing different places. And I agree – I’ve been so fortunate to have lived in some wonderful parts of the world. But that has come at the price of roots, of continuity, of having a place that feels so familiar that, no matter where you are in the world, it feels like home. All the moving around I’ve done (24 different addresses, six different cities, three continents) has left me with a deep desire for a place that is mine, that won’t change and doesn’t move, where I know everyone and they know me. Returning to live in the UK seven years ago was full circle for me, both physically and metaphorically, as it’s where I was born, and where I feel most at home. Living in Australia was wonderful, definitely, but it was also tough, as I was (literally) half a world away from many of the people I loved most. Going back there brought with it a whole host of emotions and I had to keep reminding myself that I wasn’t going to stay there, that I was coming back.

That sounds awful, doesn’t it? As though I hated the place so much I couldn’t bear to stay there. This is not the case at all. If you’ve been to Australia you’ll know how beautiful it is, how blue the water, how bright the sky. Some of my best friends in the world live there, as well as family. It’s a country I truly love.

So, once I’d worked through all of that, I was able to face the flight with less stress and, when we finally touched down in Melbourne, I could enjoy the city for how wonderful it is. Our first day was a perfect Melbourne day – seeing family, walking through the Botanic Gardens to the National Gallery of Victoria to have lunch and see the Escher exhibition (quite a mind-blowing experience with jetlag), then dinner that evening with dear friends. And so the days unfolded, one beautiful experience after another, but each of them then tempered with goodbyes. And that, perhaps, is the key to my struggle. The endless round of goodbyes.

Well! This started out as a post to say hey, I’m back from my trip, but it’s turned into something quite different. As you can see from the photos, I had a fantastic trip in a wonderful part of the world. However, I’m glad to be back home again now (and I will be getting to comments, too!).

If you’re in the UK, here’s wishing you all a lovely holiday weekend. Also, May the Fourth be with you 😉 (Yeah, I said it.)

xx

Puppy Love

The past few months have been a busy time, working on my book and generally getting through life. However, we’ve also had a new addition to the household, a small ball of fluff and love and chaos – Cookie the cockapoo.

Cookie is now ten months old – we’ve had her since she was eight weeks and, it’s fair to say, there was a bit of an adjustment period at first. Someone once said, ‘It’s a good thing puppies are cute, or else you’d give them away,’ and, even though she is very cute, I won’t say I wasn’t tempted in the first few weeks of biting and pooping and piddles and mess – it was like having a new baby again and, as my gorgeous girl is almost a teenager, I’d thought those days were long behind me.

However, she has wiggled and waggled her way into all our hearts, despite chewing everything she can get her snout on, her propensity for stealing cloths and socks, and her desire to wipe her dirty face all over us. She is, as are most dogs, full of love, wanting nothing more than to curl up close to us whenever she can. She is small for a cockapoo, her fur still puppy soft, and sometimes her paws smell like popcorn. I am, in short, smitten.

She is taking puppy classes, sitting like a very good girl in a windy field as our ex-police dog trainer tells us what to do next. She’s not doing too badly either, despite her kangaroo jumps of excitement and need to play with every other dog in the class whenever possible. We take long walks along the canal and around our neighbourhood, exploring streets I’ve not walked down before, meeting squirrels and cats and birds and people, all of whom she greets with the same level of enthusiasm.

I realised I’d become quite insular once I’d gone back to writing full time, staying home most days to wander vampire halls and dream of darkness. Cookie has taken me out into the world again. Since having her, I’ve spoken to more new people than I have in years; a dog, it seems, is an instant ice-breaker. We even have our ‘regulars’, now – people who know her by name and look forward to seeing her come past, often giving her treats. She’s a jammy pup, that’s for sure!

While it may have been a slightly shaky start, Cookie has brought a great deal of love and joy into our family. Someone else once said, ‘You don’t get what you want, you get what you need.’ And I think we needed her as much as she needed us.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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.

Home Again…

Hello everyone!

I’m back from my adventure. The jetlag has worn off, the laundry is (mostly) done, and the holiday seems almost like a dream.

Yet it was real, and it was fantastic – I saw so much and have so much to write about I hardly know where to begin (there will be many blog posts!). New York was everything I’d imagined. I felt immediately at home there, perhaps because it’s a city that’s so pervasive in popular culture – yet it felt as though I knew it, as though I’d been before and was just being reminded of where everything was.

We wandered as much as we could in four days, including a walk through Central Park, where we took in the amazing skyline and I found the obelisk, partner to London’s Cleopatra’s Needle. We saw sights large and small, and didn’t let the weather, which included torrential rain and a snowstorm, stop us from getting outside and experiencing as much as we could.

The weather followed us, snow falling in Toronto on our first day there, Niagara Falls creating ice sculptures, the sun peering out from behind shifting clouds. Yet I basked in the warmth of family and old friends (and by old I mean fabulous), reforging connections and visiting familiar haunts, sad to leave when the time came.

But Boston, and the New England coast beckoned. We walked the Freedom trail, spent time in Salem, then followed the coast southwest through Plymouth, Newport, Mystic and Milford, finally ending up back in New York on a hot and sunny afternoon, ready to catch our overnight flight home.

And now it’s back to reality. The recent warm weather was a wonderful welcome home, and I’m away again this weekend, on a long-planned writing retreat with friends. Stories beckon….

It’s nice to be home x


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.

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A Blogging Blip and an Anniversary

Yesterday, as I usually do on a Wednesday, I put together my latest Wednesday Wander post and hit Publish.

But a funny thing happened. While my dashboard assured me that the post was, in fact, published, when I clicked the link to view it all I got was:

Oops, this page doesn’t seem to be here.

Strange, I thought. I went back into the dashboard, thinking perhaps I’d left the page too quickly, negating something mysterious in the process of click to publication. But my post was there, still insisting it was, in fact, published. I could update it if I wanted to, but it was definitely out there.

Except it wasn’t.

After trying a few more times I gave up. Perhaps the Happiness Engineers were tinkering with something, or perhaps it just wasn’t meant to be. I went to bed, planning on looking at it again this morning.

But when I woke up, there it was. My shiny new post, published as promised. Whichever gremlin had been holding it had released it from their claws. So that’s one less thing I need to do today.

There is plenty to do around the house this morning, but I plan on taking a moment of reflection. For today is an anniversary. Six years ago I returned to the UK, my family in tow, arriving on a snowy dark day to the land of my birth. I sometimes wonder what would have happened had we stayed in Australia. I’m not sure if I’d be writing the books I’m writing. I’m quite sure there are several wonderful friends I would never have met. But, as Aslan says, we are never meant to know ‘What if.’

I’m happy that we’re here, even though there are dear friends and family I miss in Australia. That is the lot of a wanderer, I suppose. And so today I will pause, to reflect on the past and celebrate the present.

Hope your day is wonderful, wherever you are 🙂


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.

And don’t forget to get your Bloggers Bash tickets – follow this link to join the fun 🙂

The Old Year Ends…

As the year draws to a close, I suppose it’s time to look back and consider how it was. For me, 2017 was a year of mixed blessings and a badly needed kickstart. I’d fallen into something of a rut, so being challenged and thrown out of my comfort zone, as I have been this year, has given me renewed energy for 2018.

In terms of blogging, 2017 was a quiet year for me. I didn’t post nearly as much as I had the year before, nor was I able to spend quite as much time visiting other blogs as I would have liked to. However, I did make it to the Bloggers Bash in London, and caught up in person with many lovely familiar faces, as well as meeting some new ones. I also spent a magical weekend in Scotland with the Silent Eye, discovering that we can be tested in many different ways.

When it came to blog posts a perennial favourite, Stuck Writing Your Author Bio, reigned supreme for the second year in a row, gaining more views than any other. The rest of my top ten consisted mostly of Wednesday Wanders, with Mykonos, Italy, Heidelberg, Stonehenge, Dragonstone and Bath ranking as the most popular destinations. (And my Wanders will be back in 2018, by the way – I haven’t run out of places yet, and have more travels planned). A post about a weekend in Paris with an old friend also made the top ten – looking at that list you wouldn’t think I started blogging about writing!

When it came to writing, this year was a busy one. I finished the first draft of Silver and Black, my vampire novel, as well as the final edit for Under Stone, the fourth Ambeth book. I managed to squeeze in a few short stories as well, and am looking forward to more writing and publishing in the coming year.

But for now the house is tidy, dinner is almost ready to eat and I’m looking forward to seeing in the New Year. Thank you to everyone who has visited, read, liked, commented and reblogged – you’re all wonderful. Wishing you joy and a prosperous 2018, wherever you are!

Happy New Year! x