Birthday Bug

I haven’t blogged for about a week, probably the longest break I’ve had since I started blogging just over three years ago. We’ve had a bit of a sickness bug in the house this past week, plus the gorgeous girl had a birthday with various celebrations to plan and enjoy, so it’s been a very busy time.

I even missed my Wednesday Wander last week – I had all good intentions of writing one, but the day just ran away with me. However, I have one planned for tomorrow so will be back to it again.

I haven’t even been able to get out for my usual walks – and I love this time of year. I love the way the sun slants low in the sky, the colours in the clouds and the trees, the last remnants of colour before the starkness of winter arrives. My apple tree still has a few forlorn apples left on it, and there are berries on the bushes – early Christmas decorations, perhaps?

I’ve also been flat out finishing some editing work – Ambeth is getting another instalment soon, as well as some different reading options, so watch this space (or sign up for my newsletter!) for more details.

Hoping to be back to a regular blogging schedule again soon. How is everyone out there? Wishing you all a good week 🙂

 

Wednesday Wander – Plas Newydd, Llangollen

This week I’m wandering to a rather wonderful place tucked away on the hillside above Llangollen. This is Plas Newydd, once home to the famous ‘Ladies of Llangollen.’

The two ladies in question were Sarah Ponsonby and Lady Eleanor Charlotte Butler, who came from Ireland in 1778 to live in Llangollen, North Wales. Their story is a fascinating one. Both born to noble families, they met at school in 1768 when Sarah was 13 and Eleanor 29. Sarah was an orphan and ward of Sir William and Lady Fownes, while Eleanor came from the Ormonde family and lived at Kilkenny Castle. Lady Fownes was friends with Eleanor’s mother, and Eleanor was asked to keep an eye on Sarah while she was at school. The two became close friends, corresponding for several years until, both unhappy in their home lives, they decided to run away together. Eleanor was under pressure to enter a convent, while Sarah was enduring the unwelcome attentions of Sir William, who had decided she would make a perfect second wife (even though his first wife was still alive!).

The two women first attempted to escape in March 1778. Dressed in men’s clothing and armed with a pistol, they made it as far as Waterford before being apprehended and brought back to their families. Despite further pressure, Eleanor managed to escape again, running to Sarah. Faced with such devotion, their families finally relented and they were allowed to leave Ireland in May 1778 to start a new life together.

Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons – Manfred Heyde (own work)

They moved into Pen Y Maes cottage, as it was known then, in 1780, renaming it Plas Newydd (welsh for New Hall). They extended and renovated the cottage, including the addition of stained glass windows and extraordinary wood carvings on the interior and exterior of the building, many of which were salvaged from old churches and furniture. You aren’t allowed to take photographs of the interior, but I did manage to find this image of one of the staircases, just to give you an idea of what it looks like inside. The details around the exterior doors are also extraordinary, and it must have been a magical place to live. The Ladies lived there for almost fifty years, in what they called ‘a life of sweet and delicious retirement’, until Eleanor passed away in 1829, Sarah dying just two years later.

During their lifetime the ladies were figures of curiosity, well-regarded and attracting many famous visitors, including Lord Byron, the Duke of Wellington, William Wordsworth (who composed a poem while staying with them) and Madame de Genlis. Their relationship was seen to embody romantic friendship, a high ideal much sought after at the time. The true nature of their relationship is still unclear – they shared a bedroom, sleeping together in the same bed, and referred to each other as ‘Beloved’. They also dressed in men’s clothing and powdered their hair, as can be seen in the few portraits that survive.

Whether The Ladies’ relationship was simply one of platonic love, or something more, doesn’t really matter. What’s important is that they were both strong enough to live their lives outside the conventions of the time – yes, they both came from privilege, but this was still a time when women were reduced to ‘wife of’ once they were married, no longer allowed to hold either property or their names. I love the story of the Ladies because it’s a story of love, of friendship, and the desire to live life as they pleased. The house in its in green gardens, ruined castle on the hill beyond, stands as a beautiful memorial to life, to the Ladies, and to love.

Thanks for coming on another Wednesday Wander with me – see you next time!


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.

#writephoto – To The Seven

Another lovely #writephoto prompt from Sue Vincent. If you’d like to participate, you have until Wednesday next week to respond to the prompt. Here is my response:

They say I had a glass casket. That I was surrounded by flowers, a wonder of the woods.

But the truth is far simpler than that.

After all, they were woodsmen, miners, the seven who cared for me. Men short in stature and in funds. Where would they have found the glass to make it, the gold to bind me?

Instead they made me a bed from what they knew. Timber, gift from the forest that sheltered us, carved with their axes, shaped with love. And they laid me there, sheltered by branches, leaves my coverlet, flowers my crown.

I was a princess. My rescuer, a prince. But I’d been saved long before he came along, with his lips red as the apple that had laid me low.

And so my bed of wood remains, a memorial to love and friendship.

To the seven.


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.

Look For The Helpers

I’ve tried to write this post several times today.

Oh, not because I had no words. I had lots of them. Words of sorrow and fury and fear. Words of love and hope and pride. But none of them seemed big enough or strong enough or wise enough to encompass the despair I felt on hearing of yet another cowardly, senseless event.

So in the end, I turned to someone else’s words. Mr Rogers once said:

When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’

And, from the accounts trickling into the news feed, there were many, many helpers last night. And so it goes, when such things happen; love outweighs hate, the selfless acts of many shining as bright threads in the gathering dark.

May it always be so. For I think I speak for many of us when I say, whether a concert or a marketplace or a nightclub, a holiday resort or football match, we are sick and tired of this bullsh*t.

My heart goes out to all those affected by last night’s attack in Manchester. I cannot imagine your pain xx

 

 

#Monday Motivations – The Bench

Esther Newton does a great writing prompt series called Monday Motivations, and her latest prompt is this lovely photograph. When I saw it a little story came to me, and so here it is:

She remembered when he’d put the bench there. He’d been young then, and strong, muscles firm against his skin, his flesh sweet against hers in the night.

Together they would sit, gazing through the trees, dreaming into the darkness, her head on his shoulder. Sometimes they would bring the radio and dance, holding each other close and swaying like the treetops above. Other times they would talk, making plans of family and home and love so strong it still left her breathless at his loss.

She still went to sit there every day, leaving the house they had built together, her old knees creaking as she negotiated the steps from the back porch. Sometimes she would take a handful of nuts for the squirrels or seed for the birds, especially when winter held the land in an iron grip, her breath misting the air.

Through the seasons she sat, as leaves turned and the evergreens dropped green needles that turned slippery brown under foot. And she would talk to him. ‘Come back to me,’ she would say, tears cool on warm cheeks, or hot against frozen skin. She would tell him her plans, tell him of the family, of all that had passed since the dark day he had left. Eventually, she would stop talking, and lose herself in a dream of summer darkness, of his arm strong around her. She would return to the house and sleep well that night, as though all the hard years since his passing had never been.

There was joy still, in her life. She brought their first grandchild down to meet him, small hand waving from the warm bundle in her arms. Then the second, and the third, speaking their names so he would know them, and they him.

Her family had tried to get her to sell up, to move on. To a place further south where the sun shone all the time, where old joints could feel young again. But she couldn’t leave their special place and, in the end, they came to understand.

And so it was, on a night toward summer’s end, while fireflies danced and the air still held the warmth of the day, that she made her way down to the bench once more, her breath catching as she negotiated the slope. It was silent under the branches, twilight sweeping the sky like soft wings.

She sat down. ‘Come back to me,’ she said, half smiling at her fantasy, dreaming of his touch.

‘I have never left you,’ she heard him say. She looked up, tears in her eyes, to see him standing just a little way down the slope. All at once lights were strewn through the branches, as though the fireflies had been bottled and shaken out along the leaves, glimmers of gold lighting his face, his dark hair, as he smiled at her, holding out his hand.

She stood, and it was as though she shed her skin, all the things that had weighed her down leaving her, so she was light as a soap bubble, rising through the air. She half ran to him, not slipping on the dry needles, her footing sure. She took his hand. ‘Oh!’ Her exclamation was soft, a whisper in the night, as she felt his warm fingers around hers once more.

‘I have missed you,’ she said.

‘And I you,’ he replied. ‘Even though I could see you, and hear you, it wasn’t the same. But now…’

‘Now?’

He said nothing, just looked past her, back to the bench. She turned and, when she saw the slumped body there, like a pile of old clothes, discarded, she understood.

And there was lightness all through her and around her, a thousand fireflies in the night, as she danced with her love once more.


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

#writephoto – Swansong

birds-se-ilkley-2015-uffington-avebury-hackpen-worcester-3Sue Vincent’s weekly #writephoto challenge is one of my favourite writing prompts. Her photos are always evocative and inspire a wide range of responses, as though she’s captured a little piece of storytelling magic in each image. Perhaps she has…

Here is my response to this week’s photo:

Swansong

They call it a swansong

Our last brave moments

Like a song sung

on a dying breath, beautiful

Haunting notes across the water

A requiem

 

To me it is sadness

A lament for the end

A wish for things to stay

as they always were, golden

Sunlit glimmers on the water

Don’t leave me


If you enjoyed this post and want to read more, 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 – Resolved – The Shimmering Shoal

img_1682Rachael Ritchey’s Blog Battle is a weekly prompt where you’re given a word and a genre, then have to write a story. The stories must be posted on the Tuesday of the week in question, and then you can vote on your favourites.

This week’s prompt was Resolved, and the genre was Tall Tales. For some reason I thought it was supposed to be 1500 words, but apparently it’s only 1000, so unfortunately I think my story might be a bit long. But I still like it so I thought I’d share it anyway. And if you want to add a story of your own, there’s still time – head on over to Blog Battle and check out the prompts!

The Shimmering Shoal

‘Did I ever tell you how I got this scar, the one under my eye?’

Sara shook her head. ‘No, I don’t think I’ve heard that one.’

‘Well,’ he said, his voice a wispy quaver, ‘It’s a rather good one.’

‘Your stories do tend to be,’ she said, wiping a cloth across the small wooden table next to his bed. His gnarled hands were dark gold against the white sheets, his bald head spotted with age.

‘You see how it’s shaped like a star?’

‘Yes.’ She had noticed it, but had thought it a remnant of some youthful folly, like a faded blue tattoo almost lost in the folds of skin under his eye.

‘That’s because it’s from a kiss. A mermaid’s kiss.’

‘Oh now, come on,’ she said, moving over to the shelving unit. She started lifting each small ornament, wiping it carefully before putting it back. ‘There’s no such thing as mermaids, surely.’

‘There are,’ he said, ‘and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.’ He started coughing, deep rasp in his chest. Putting down her cloth she went to the trolley by the bed and poured him a glass of water from the jug, handing it to him.

‘Come on,’ she said. ‘You’re getting yourself all worked up. And you know what the doctor said-‘

His hand gripped her wrist, hard, shocking her into momentary silence. His eyes met hers, and for a moment they seemed filled with stars falling, with endless seas, and she caught a glimpse of the handsome young man he had once been. ‘Let me tell you,’ he whispered. ‘It’s the last one, I promise.’

She nodded, and he let go of her wrist. ‘I wore a younger man’s skin in those days,’ he began. ‘Everything where it should be, my hair dark as a raven’s wing.’ He huffed out a laugh. ‘And I loved the sea. Every day I would take the fishing boat out with the rest of the crew, every day. Catching a thousand fish, ten thousand fish, a hundred thousand fish or more, so the deck was awash with scales and the bow so low in the water it was a wonder we made it back to shore.’

This was more like it. He told her a story every week, each one more fantastical than the last. ‘That many fish?’

‘Indeed. The sea was alive with them, shimmering in the waves, so thick in parts we could walk on water if we were fast enough.’ He laughed again. ‘That’s what I was trying to do, the day I met her.’

‘Walk on water?’ She liked playing along with his ridiculous stories. ‘You must be joking.’

‘I swear it, on my sainted mother’s grave,’ he said. ‘So there I was, lowering myself over the side of the boat, the fish churning and splashing like a great rippling silver carpet. I had my net in hand and my sturdiest boots on, and I stood on the back of the great shoal and felt the power of their mass rolling through the soles of my feet. I dipped my net once, throwing the fish on board, then again, then a third time. But the net grew so heavy I couldn’t lift it, dragging me down through the shoal and into the deep blue waters below.’ He coughed again as though reliving the moment, taking a sip of water before continuing.

‘Why didn’t you let go?’ She’d finished the ornaments and was wiping along the slats of the blind, each one rattling faintly against the glass.

‘Oh no, I couldn’t let go. That net had been woven by seven maids from their own hair, each one more fine and delicate than the last, yet together stronger than steel. It was a great treasure, it was.’

‘So what happened?’

‘Down I went, my lungs feeling as though they were about to pop. Then I saw her.’

He paused, and Sara realised he was waiting for her response. ‘Who?’

‘The mermaid. First her face, pale ivory in the gloom. I thought it a mask at first, a dead man’s caul, some witchery come to take me. She smiled, and her teeth gleamed like pearls. She had the net in her hands, smooth slender fingers curved through the knots. It was she who had pulled me down. “Let it go” I said, but she shook her head, laughing all the while, hair greenish brown around her.’

‘But how-‘

‘Could I speak? I used the last of my air, words forming in bubbles above my head before fading away. We floated there together, staring at each other. Then she put her hand on my arm and, all at once, I could breathe. I could hear her in my mind. “I like your net,’’ she said. ‘’And I wish to keep it.’’ ‘’But it’s mine,’’ I said. At this she frowned. ‘’Every day you take what is mine. So why should I not get something in return?”

Sara raised her eyebrows. Sliding the cloth along the last of the slats, she pulled the blind up, letting in pale sunshine. ‘What did she mean?’

‘Well, it was the fish, of course. Turns out she was some sort of sea shepherdess, the shoal of fish her flock. Each day she’d bring them to our part of the ocean, and we’d come with our boat and take part of it away. Of course we hadn’t realised what we were doing.’ He huffed out another laugh, the bed creaking as he moved. Sara went over to help him, plumping up the pillows behind him.

‘So how did you escape? And why did she kiss you?’

‘Well…’ His voice trailed off and he winked at Sara. ‘Why do you think?’

‘Oh, don’t tell me you charmed your way out of it.’

‘I was a charming fellow in those days. You don’t get a net made from the hair of seven maids for nothing, you know.’

‘So, what did you do?’

‘I pulled the net closer, meaning to trap her in it, but she was too fast for me. With a flick of her green tail she had me trussed up like a caterpillar, then she towed me away, the shoal around us all slithering scales, like a great cloud. I could see the hull of our boat getting smaller and smaller, and I thought I was done for, truly I did.’

Sara shook her head. ‘Well I never.’

‘She took me to a little island, a rocky outcrop way out in the sea. We all steered clear of it on account of the rocks below the surface like sharks teeth, ready to tear the hull of your boat. She pulled me onto a little bit of sand, towering rocks all around us, the murmur of the sea in our ears. Then she unwrapped me.’

‘Unwrapped you?’

‘Completely, if you get my drift.’

‘Ooh, you be careful!’ Sara laughed, moving over to one of the pictures on the wall and wiping the glass.

‘Oh, there was nothing careful about it. She was about to have her wicked way with me when there was a shout from the ocean, and there I saw the head and shoulders of a noble looking fellow, all silvery hair and beard, holding some sort of trident, bobbing in the waves. When she heard the shout she flinched, pulling back. Our eyes met, and she leaned in and kissed me. I think she meant to get my mouth but I turned my head and she got me just below the eye. Turns out mermaids are venomous, y’see.’

‘Oh, now I know you’re having me on.’ Sara realised she’d been cleaning the same picture frame for far too long and went on to the next one.

‘I swear on my blessed father’s grave I’m not,’ he said, a twinkle in his eye. ‘Before she slipped between the waves, leaving me half-unconscious, she put a shell in my hand to remember her by. Blue and pearl it was, green as the sea. And I resolved that I’d see her again, one day, and finish what we started, but I never did.’

‘Oh, you and your tall tales,’ said Sara. ‘Right, I’d better get on, I’ve plenty of other rooms to clean. See you tomorrow.’

The next morning Sara knocked on his door. But when it opened the room was empty, the bed made up. Someone came up behind her and she turned to see one of the night nurses. ‘Where’s he gone?’

‘Died in the night, he did. Funny, though.’

‘What was funny?’

‘Well, when I went in to check on him, there was a smell everywhere, like the sea, you know? And he gave me this, said it was for you. The next thing we knew he’d gone.’

She dug in the breast pocket of her tunic and pulled something out. ‘Here.’

Stunned, Sara held out her hand. The nurse dropped something in it.

It was a shell, blue and pearl, green as the sea.


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.