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?

#Writephoto – Silver and Black (an excerpt)

Sue's Sunset

Sue has such a wonderful knack for choosing images that inspire stories. Her photo prompt this week does not disappoint and, once again, it seems to tie in with part of my own WIP. Not Ambeth – this time I’m heading back to the world of vampires, Silver and Black. And so here is my excerpt:

At daybreak, the shutters fall. All over the house, metal doors obscuring even the slightest hint of light. I often sleep during the day – after all, there’s not much else to do. But sometimes, when the guards are changing over, there’s a place I go that is mine alone.

And this morning I need to be alone, just for a moment. No-one to hear me or wonder what I’m doing. How can I sleep after last night, anyway?

I push open my door, looking up and down the hallway. Good. No one there. The shutters are sliding down, early golden light from outside being snuffed out – it’s a dangerous time for vampires. But for me, it’s a chance to be free.

I step out of my room and turn right, following the corridor a short way to a door. It’s different than the others lining the hallway, smaller, and made of thick wood studded with nails. I open it. Stairs curve up and away from me, the small window cut deep into the stone already almost closed off. I flick on my small torch then start to climb the tower, my hand trailing along the wall for balance, stone rough under my fingers. The air smells of cool and damp.

This stairway isn’t really used, because it doesn’t really go anywhere. Except outside. I come to another door, and feel in my pocket for the key. Iron cold, heavy in my hand, I put it in the lock and turn it. Then I step through.

Light falls all around me.

It is glorious. Gold and red and orange and turquoise, the sun a ball of fire just above the horizon. Mist is on the trees below, the landscape spread out below me like a half-remembered dream, green and beckoning. I can see the dark mass of forest on our boundary, stretching beyond for miles towards the faint shimmer of the Safe Zone. Sometimes, on the clearest days, I can see the sea.

The air is like velvet, cool and soft on my skin, and I can hear birds chirping. I have no idea what kind – I only know from old films and books that they live in the trees, nesting and flying during the day, then resting at night.

As I stand at the crenelated edge, looking out at the world, my eyes fill with tears. It never fails to move me, whether sunrise or sunset, the turning of the world an endless wonder. And a power only I, among everyone in the house, possess. The power to meet the sun.

I stand there, my vision blurred with tears, as light fills the world and I am free.


You have until June 8th to add your own entry for this photo, and there have already been some great responses. So head on over to Sue’s to check them out, or add one of your own.

Walking Through Rivendell

This was the view from where I stayed

This was the view from my chalet. Pretty nice, hey?

About twenty-five years ago, I went on a trip around Europe. I was living in Canada at the time and this was my first big holiday by myself, so it was a Big Deal. The trip brought its own set of challenges and experiences, most of them positive, as well as some marvellous memories.

One of the places I visited was the valley of Lauterbrunnen, Switzerland. I stayed there for a couple of nights, lulled to sleep by the sounds of the nearby waterfall and the gentle chime of cowbells. It was an extraordinarily beautiful place, and I felt the spectacular landscape had a fairy-tale quality quite unlike anywhere else I’d been before. While I was there, I also took the cog railway up to the top of the Jungfrau mountain, taking photographs of the scenery along the way.

Ascending the Jungfrau

Ascending the Jungfrau

What I didn’t know at the time was that J.R.R Tolkien had visited the same valley in 1911, and was so taken by its beauty that he used it as the basis for Rivendell, home to Elrond and the Elves. (Apparently, on the same trip, he also picked up an illustration that inspired his description of Gandalf.) If you look at Tolkien’s painting of Rivendell (which I don’t have permission to reproduce here, so here’s a link), you can see the similarities between his fantasy world and the real one.

The glacier on top of the Jungfrau - the original Pass of Carahdras?

The glacier on top of the Jungfrau – the original Pass of Carahdras?

I recently wrote a post about the landscape that had inspired my own book, Oak and Mist. Though not quite as striking as the Lauterbrunnen valley and its towering mountains, the park near my childhood home holds both beauty and memory for me, making it the perfect starting point for my story. And this is one of the things I love about writing fantasy – blending the real world with the one I create.

The valley seen from the lower slopes of the Jungfrau

The valley seen from the lower slopes of the Jungfrau – look familiar?

I know you can visit Hobbiton and some of the other locations for the LOTR movies in New Zealand, and that they are spectacular. However, to walk through the actual landscape that inspired Tolkien to create Middle-Earth is quite something as well (even if I didn’t realise it at the time) 🙂

So how about you? Has your work been inspired by real places you’ve visited or lived in? Or have you walked in the footsteps of your literary heroes?


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.

 

Night Scribbles

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I woke last night with a half formed idea for a blog in my head. Something about rejection and happy thoughts and yet acknowledging it was tough yada yada.

I tossed and turned and mumbled about it, then went back to sleep, a smile on my lips, certain I had a nice post for this morning. But when I woke up the idea that had seemed so good at whatever-o-clock in the night now felt kind of silly. And the thoughts that had held it together and made it seem workable were breaking apart, like tatters of silk in the wind.

A friend once said to me ‘Go to sleep on a question, wake with an answer.’ This is actually a pretty good way to address things sometimes – it’s certainly worked for me with several character issues I’ve had. One character, who I had written as quite awful, had been whispering in my ear, insisting he wasn’t that bad, that he had reasons to be the way he was. And he was right.

But then how could I justify him doing ‘the very bad thing’ he  needed to do in order for the plot to turn out the way it did? For there was no way around that – I’d thought on it for weeks and there was no other option. So I went to sleep, keeping the idea in my head, and when I woke the answer was there. I suppose you could say this is a form of mindfulness, of targeted thinking with a desired result, and so that’s why it worked.

The tatters and rag-tag ends of ideas that come to us, unbidden, in the night are quite different. Some of them are excellent and worth keeping, while others, like my post, are not. I have on occasion woke with fully formed sentences wanting to be written down, or characters insisting to speak. But for the most part they are things like this classic Tumblr post, which always makes me laugh.

So how about you? Have you had an amazing idea for a story arrive in the middle of the night? I do confess I keep a notebook next to my bed, just in case inspiration strikes. But for the most part it is rag-ends and bobtails, disappearing like mist as the sun rises.

A Journey Through Ambeth

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‘Together they walked to the Gate, the sun waning as the day began to end, a cool breeze blowing through the glowing green woodland.’

Over the weekend I visited a park I’ve known for years. I used to go there as a child, and my mother and grandmother also played there as children, so it’s somewhere very dear to me. It holds magic, as well – the magic of living close to somewhere so wonderful, exploring hidden pathways and sunken gardens, of watching my own daughter play where three generations of her family played before her.

'The War Memorial loomed like a golden tower'

‘The War Memorial loomed like a golden tower’

It’s also the inspiration for my Ambeth Chronicles. In the books it’s the park near to Alma’s house, the place she goes when she needs time to think. It’s also where she is attacked and pushed through the tree gate into Ambeth, emerging on the other side into a different world. So it was wonderful to walk the familiar pathways and see them through my character’s eyes, another layer of magic added to an already special place.

'past the tennis courts and playground and the small cafe'

‘past the tennis courts and playground and the small cafe’

I took photos as I walked, wanting to capture some of the places on film. The park features all the way through the series of books, and so I considered words already written and twists yet to come, drawing more inspiration from the leafy green.

'she wandered through the Gardens with Caleb... Hedges rose around them like a maze and every corner revealed something new...'

‘she wandered through the Gardens with Caleb… Hedges rose around them like a maze and every corner revealed something new…’

And then I thought I’d share them with you 🙂

'Alma saw she was near to a gap between two oak trees, beyond which she knew was a track that would take her to the end of the park and home.'

‘Alma saw she was near to a gap between two oak trees, beyond which she knew was a track that would take her to the end of the park and home.’