Ironing, Oak Apples and Editing or, How I Survived A Writing Wobble

I had a bit of a writing wobble earlier this week.

I’ve just begun editing Under Stone, the fourth book in my Ambeth series. It recently returned from a professional edit, and so I was taking suggestions and beta read comments on board, polishing the final crevices and tidying up punctuation and prose, ready to go to the next stage.

At least, that’s what I was supposed to be doing.

But something wasn’t right. Even my groaning ironing basket held more allure than playing with words. Even though it’s what I love to do. I mean, editing isn’t my favourite part of the process but there is still something immensely satisfying in taking a book through the final stages before publication, seeing the changes from rough first draft to the end product. So I was ready, I thought.

But I just couldn’t find the thread. The story thread. The Ambeth thread. Whenever I step into that world the voices are clear, the images sharp. I know all of the characters intimately, their backstory, what drives them, where they are going. But, for some reason, they seemed a little… distant. As did the world of Ambeth – the gardens, the Palace, the sighing sea, all felt as though I were viewing them through the wrong end of a telescope.

And so I had a wobble.

After all, it’s been a while since my last Ambeth book, Hills and Valleys, came out. Since then, I’ve published A Thousand Rooms, my standalone women’s fiction novel, as well as almost finished the first draft of Silver and Black, another standalone work. I’ve also started a new job which is taking quite a bit of my time. So I was worried. What if the story, the wonderful story that started me writing, words pouring out of me, had decided to, well, get up and leave? I mean, I had been working on Ambeth – Under Stone was quite a complex book to write as so many threads from the first three books came together, many of them to be resolved in this book. So it was only a couple of months since I’d last visited. But still – it had been a while.

And I couldn’t find my way back into the story.

So instead I fell into a wormhole of sadness and despair. But, after a pep talk from a lovely writerly friend and a good night’s sleep, I decided to approach things from a different angle. Instead of editing, I decided simply to read the story again. And, it seemed to help. A piece of music I associate with the books started playing in my head, and carefully, slowly, I started to wander back into the woods. I’m not all the way there yet but, thanks to music and oak apples and reading and thought, I think I might get through the Gate again.

And that ironing basket isn’t looking so interesting any more…


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.

Wishing Everyone A Happy New Year!

This was the first dawn of 2016...

Photo taken on the first dawn of 2016…

It’s the last day of the year and so, as is tradition, I’m taking a look back at my blogging year. Oh, I won’t be sharing stats or anything like that – rather, just revisiting some popular posts and summing up my 2016 blogging experience.

For it has been an experience indeed! This year I’ve met some wonderful new bloggers, many of whom have chosen to follow Journey to Ambeth. Thank you to everyone who decided to take the journey with me – your comments and input are so very appreciated.

I also released two new books this year; Hills And Valleys, the third in my Ambeth series, and A Thousand Rooms, a standalone novel. I was amazed by the support of the blogging community, who shared, commented and reblogged, helping me to reach an even larger audience. Thank you so much!

In June I attended the second annual Bloggers Bash in London. I’d attended the original Bash in 2015, where we’d all bonded over lunch in Pizza Express before heading to a local pub. This year we had a room to ourselves in (another) rather nice pub, more than double the number of attendees than the previous year, and the charming Luca from WordPress giving a talk about blogging. I reconnected with old blogging friends and met new blogging friends, as well as being nominated for an award. (I didn’t win, but it was awesome just to be nominated!) Here’s to the the 2017 Bash – can’t wait!

In September I spent a magical weekend in the hills with Sue from The Daily Echo, then November saw an evening of laughter, magic and writing talk with the fabulous Suzie from Suzie Speaks, Lucy from Blondewritemore and Sacha Black. To say that blogging has changed my life would not be an exaggeration – I’ve made some truly wonderful friends and really enjoy being part of such a wonderful online community.

So, as the year winds to a close, here are the ten posts that seemed to resonate most with readers:

Memory Box – I wrote this post way back in January, about a chance discovery during a new year house clean.

Stuck Writing Your Author Bio? Try The (Totally Not Serious) Author Bio Generator – Probably my most popular post of the year, I wrote this as a bit of a piss-take after reading several rather, shall we say, overwrought author bios. However, turns out the Author Bio Generator actually works! Try it and see…

Thinking Aloud – this post was a close second to being most popular, and was written as a response to the idea that, as artists, we should be happy to work for free to gain ‘exposure.’

Hills and Valleys – New Release – self-explanatory, really. However, a very popular post, for which I’m extremely grateful.

Old Meets New, With Bonus Orb – this is one of those posts that just keeps on going. I think I had someone like it just the other day. It was written after a trip to London with a friend, where we were struck by the juxtaposition of architecture in the oldest part of the city. More fun than it sounds, I promise!

What Happens Next? – This post was inspired by a comment Craig Boyack made on one of my Thursday Door posts. He started a story based on my photograph, I wrote a short response, he kept going, then we decided to open it up to everyone. The resulting story was published, in all its glory, in the follow-up post The Crypt – Completed.

Circles Beyond Time – Arrival. This was the first post in my series about a weekend away in the Peak District with the Silent Eye. It was an extraordinary weekend for many reasons…

When The Forest Calls – this was a rambling, stream-of-consciousness sort of post. I’d had a day of doing this and that, but was trying to decide what to write about. And the forest was calling…

Published! A Thousand Rooms – one of the most popular posts for the year, and I’m so grateful to everyone who shared it around.

Under The Moon – this was one of Sue Vincent’s #writephoto prompts, and I wrote a piece of prose about a woman and her dream under a full moon. Or was it a dream…?

Wishing each and every one of you a healthy, happy and bright new year – may 2017 bring us all that we wish for! Looking forward to seeing you all in blogland and beyond…  xx


If you enjoyed this post, you can find me on Twitter @AuthorHelenJ,  Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest. Plus my latest book release, A Thousand Rooms, is now available on Amazon.

 

 

30 Day Writing Challenge – Day Fifteen – Witness

IMG_1084It’s day fifteen, half way through the 30 Day Writing Challenge, and today’s prompt is: Witness

I’d had a little flicker of an Ambeth story running through my mind and it seemed to work with this prompt, the idea of the trees as silent witnesses being quite insistent. If you’ve read the books, you may recognise the incident described here – it was mentioned at the start of book three, though without much detail. But I felt it an important part of the story, nonetheless. Even though I’ve written Ambeth in third person, this story came to me in first person, as though Alma wanted me to tell it through her voice.

Tangled Woods

Walking through the park I pulled my scarf closer around my neck, hunching my shoulders against the cold. The wind flicked at my hair, red strands dancing in front of my eyes. I blinked, putting my head down as I kept going, the cold of the path coming through the soles of my sneakers.

My backpack was light but I felt it like a weight upon my back, similar to the one in my chest, an ever-present mass of loss and guilt and sorrow. As I passed two oak trees I flinched, moving further away and almost treading on a small dog who had somehow managed to get underfoot. ‘Sorry,’ I mumbled, stepping over it as it danced and leapt at my legs, paws sliding on my jeans.

Taking another path I headed through the centre of the park past a small café built of grey stone, a few hardy customers still sitting outside at the tables despite the chill in the air. The light was fading, the trees stretching leafless to a sullen purpling sky. It suited me, this weather. There was no light left in me anymore, warm days in sunlit woods and on golden beaches now distant memories too painful to revisit.

At the other side of the park a tall hedge bounded tangled woodland, beyond which the road ran. There were big houses hidden among the trees further along, but this little piece of wild wood was still part of the park. Not many people went in, choosing instead to stick to the well-marked paths and ornamental gardens, or the wide green expanses of grass. But I knew it well, my friends and I playing there when we were younger, emerging dusted with sweet-smelling hawthorn in spring, muddy and damp in autumn. But I was not there to play today.

At a gap in the hedge I turned, taking a muddy path into the woods. Pushing through branches I stepped over brambles, thorns catching at my jacket and hands, leaving faint red marks. I pushed away the memory of when I’d last been in a wood, choking down the terror that accompanied it. There was nothing that could harm me here except my own thoughts. Eventually the path ended in a small natural clearing sheltered by a beech tree. I knelt down, not caring about the mud, and unslung my pack from my back. Then I started digging.

My hands scraped through leaf mulch and soil, the damp grit of it catching beneath my nails as I scrabbled at the cold earth. Finally the hole was big enough. I sat back, wiping my hands on my jeans and leaving muddy streaks. My breath was starting to hitch in my chest, my vision to blur, but I had to do this. Unzipping my pack I took out a small bundle of cream coloured paper, rough edged, and another smaller silk bundle that jangled faintly in the darkening wood. I held them for a moment, then put them into the hole, dark crumbs of soil staining the cream paper, clotting on the coloured silk. All at once I became angry, red fury in me as I pushed and smashed at the dirt, wanting to cover the bundles beyond all finding. Then they were gone. I sobbed, my throat raw, tears dropping hot onto the cold leaves and tumbled earth as I rubbed at my wrist with my other hand, a small patch of red roughened skin a permanent reminder of all that I’d lost.

Eventually I stood, wiping my face, running hands through my hair. I was covered with mud but didn’t care. I just wanted to go home, to leave the trees that stood as silent witness to my pain. There were too many memories, still, in the woods. I wanted no more of them.

Pushing through the trees once more I found the path and started for home. Though my pack was now lighter, the weight was still the same. Perhaps it always would be.


If you enjoyed this post, you can find me on Twitter @AuthorHelenJ,  Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest. Plus my latest book release, A Thousand Rooms, is now available on Amazon.

#BlogBattle – Coconut – Blast From The Past

IMG_2039It’s that time of week again, when bloggers across the web post their response to Rachael Ritchey’s Blog Battle. This week, the prompt is ‘coconut’, and I had grand dreams and a wisp of a story about being at the beach, with the song ‘She’s Got a Lovely Bunch of Coconuts’ floating around in my head. However, a snot monster has also taken up residence in my head, leaving me down for the count when it comes to anything imaginative, so the story has come to nothing as yet. But I didn’t want to let another week go by without at least trying to participate, so here’s a passage from my latest book, Hills And Valleys, which in some ways is similar to what I was trying to come up with.

The story so far: Our heroine, Alma, after a tragedy in the otherworld of Ambeth, has come to her grandmother’s house in Wales for the summer, hoping to recuperate and forget all about Ambeth. But Ambeth, it seems, has not forgotten about her, a display at her local library holding an unwelcome surprise…

She shook her head, running her finger across the row of plastic-covered book spines, scanning the titles. Selecting a couple that looked interesting, she tucked them under her arm and moved around to the other side of the shelf, squinting a little in the bright sunlight coming through the long glass window. There wasn’t much there – just some large print books and a selection of encyclopaedias. Oh, well. As she wandered across to the other shelves, her attention was caught by a display on a concertina-style board in the middle of the room. The heading announced ‘150 years of Entertainment’, while underneath in smaller letters it read ‘Courtesy of the Historical Society.’ Intrigued, she stopped to have a look.

Black and white photographs and old concert programs were pinned on the board, along with informative captions typed on small pieces of paper. Alma tilted her head to read the faded playbills, amused by the variety of shows on offer. She was particularly taken by a poster for a visiting circus complete with elephant and the accompanying photo of the animal on the beach with a crowd gathered around, the castle looming high in the background. She moved along to a set of street scenes, amazed to see how similar the town looked then to how it was now. The shingled beach was the same, too, though fashions had changed in the intervening years. Alma shook her head, wondering how anyone could swim in knee-length knickerbockers and a long-sleeved top. On the beach were vendors and sideshows, young men trying to knock coconuts off precarious looking stands and young women lined up for beauty contests, smiling, their eyes creased against the bright sun. There were also photos of the old theatre, the stage hung with velvet curtains, women in corseted gowns and men in striped blazers caught mid-song – Alma could almost hear their voices coming through the years. Walking around to the other side of the board, Alma was taken by a series of photographs showing dances held at the Town Hall. She admired the dresses, the men in their suits. Then she blinked, feeling as though she were going to black out.

For there, smiling in black and white, was Gwenene. The photo showed her arm in arm with a dark-haired man, looking into the camera. Her dark hair was pinned up and she was dressed in a knee-length beaded dress, but nonetheless it was her. Alma would never forget her beautiful face, or the way the Dark Elder had threatened her in the Great Hall. Her vision blurred and she started to shake. Rubbing her eyes, she leaned in to read the small paper tag under the picture. ‘Prof. Llewellyn Davies and friend at the Christmas Social, 1927’ the legend read. Alma gasped. So this was the professor – Caleb had been right about Gwenene as well. Her eyes filled with tears. She dashed them away, studying the picture. Davies was smiling widely, looking at Gwenene as though he couldn’t believe his luck. Alma felt sick. No matter where she turned, no matter what she did, it seemed Ambeth was calling her. First her father, now this. Swallowing hard, she shook so much that she dropped the books tucked under her arm, the thud as they hit the floor jolting her back to reality. As she gathered them up, she looked around and saw the librarian looking at her disapprovingly. She mouthed ‘Sorry,’ before putting them carefully on a nearby table. Then, on legs that were barely holding her upright, she left the library and its photos behind, her mind frantic with the shock of what she had just seen.

And, th-th-th that’s all for now, folks! Thanks for reading x

 

A Journey Through Ambeth, Part II

Almost a year ago, I wrote a post about the real landscapes that had inspired Oak and Mist, my first Ambeth book. With the release of Hills And Valleys, the third book in the series, that landscape has now expanded somewhat. So, with the past week being what it was, I thought I might take a wander through my fantasy world, and share it with you 🙂

I hope this isn’t too much like Toto pulling back the wizard’s curtain in Oz – I just wanted to share the landscapes I had in mind when I wrote the Chronicles. For Alma’s adventures in the human world, I used real locations – places I’d lived in or visited many times that had left an impression on me. However, when I created Ambeth, I didn’t have specific places in mind, wanting instead to write the world I could see in my mind’s eye. Later, when I looked back, I could see where the influences had come from.

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Hearst Castle, California

‘From out of an immense structure of white stone came towers topped with tiles that gleamed like mother of pearl… It shone so brightly in the sun that Alma blinked, shading her eyes.’  Oak and Mist

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Criccieth Castle, Wales

‘My heart rejoices at the thought that our old castle will guard my secret, high on its mound behind its twin-towered gate.’ Hills and Valleys

Notre Dame Doors

Doors to Notre Dame, Paris

‘The large wooden doors… were wondrously crafted, with hinges made from intricately shaped and figured metal that curved across the… wood like living things.’ Oak and Mist

Criccieth, Wales

Criccieth, Wales

‘Alma sat with Merewyn on a low wall near the jetty, looking along the curving beach to the mountains beyond.’ Hills And Valleys

Inspiration comes to us from many places. I recently walked past a grove of trees in my neighbourhood and immediately had another book idea. An unusual outside light on a neighbour’s house inspired a short story. So how about my fellow writers out there? Do you write from the real world, or gather influences to shape a new landscape? And where have you been that has inspired you?

Meandering Monday Musings

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The past few weeks have been quite busy, as I mentioned in a previous post, mainly because I’ve been working through the final edit and finicky formatting of my latest book, Hills and Valleys. Once that was released, my body then decided to go into meltdown with a nasty head cold, just in time for the Bank Holiday weekend. The head cold has now moved to my chest, and yesterday I had one of those days when I wasn’t even sure what day it was, when time seemed elastic, as though I could travel back and forth through the years by simply by thinking about it. No hard drugs, I swear. 😉

I’ve been this way, on and off, for a while now. I had pretty major surgery last summer (don’t ask 🙂 ), and I think maybe this is still part of the healing process. I was pretty ill when I went in for surgery, and I think the recovery, both from the op and the preceding ill health, has taken it out of me.

Still, I’m all right. There are plenty of people worse off than I am. It’s just getting a bit frustrating, that’s all. I said to my husband the other night that I can vaguely remember a time when I felt really well, but I couldn’t tell him how long ago that was. So I’m going to take a look around and see what I can do to make a difference. Kick my health back into shape (no martial arts puns intended). I’m pretty active – walking every day, karate twice a week, Pilates, zumba. I like to keep moving. And I eat pretty well, most of the time. So these endless head colds and coughs and chesty things and blocked ears and general malaise are starting to get me a bit down.

Having been so busy with the book this past little while, I’m a bit behind on keeping up with everyone’s blogs, only having time to dip in and out. I’ve also had a few new followers recently, and I just want to say ‘Hello!’ Thank you for choosing to follow my blog – you’re very much appreciated.

And, last but definitely not least, I’d like to say a huge thank you to everyone who’s supported the release of Hills and Valleys on WordPress, Twitter and Facebook – I’ve been really thrilled by the number of tweets, reblogs and posts, as well as all the lovely comments. Setting a new book free can be a challenging time, so all your support has made it so much easier – thank you!

And that’s about all for my Monday Musings – wishing you all a good week! Time to go and find the cough medicine again, I think…

 

New Release – Hills And Valleys (Ambeth Chronicles #3)

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Yay! I’ve been a bit busy these past few weeks working on the final edit and formatting for Hills and Valleys, the third book in my Ambeth series. And now I can happily say…. drum roll… it’s published!

Available on Amazon and part of KDP Select (so you can read for free as a Kindle Unlimited member), Hills And Valleys continues Alma’s story:

‘Sometimes things call to us until we can no longer ignore them. And Ambeth is calling you, Alma.’

After the events of the Harvest Fair, Alma is finished with Ambeth – they can find the missing Cup and Crown without her. But Ambeth is not finished with her. First the mystery of her dead father comes back to haunt her, then the Dark reach out, hoping to trap her once more.

And then there’s the strange power she seems to have…

If you’ve been reading along already, you know why she might be finished with Ambeth. If you haven’t? Well, it’s a long weekend, so head over to Amazon and check out the series 😉

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