A Walk On Midsummer’s Day

This morning we set out, my faithful companion and I, to wander the woods on Midsummer Day. The paths were cool and shaded green, sun glimmering through the leaves to create patterns of light and dark. In short, it was a pretty magical way to start the day.

I have a long tradition of going to the woods on Midsummer. When I was small, my grandmother used to take me there to look for fairies – whether we found any or not I can’t say, but it always seemed a magical time to me. My grandmother knew the name of every flower and taught it to me, as well as phrases of her native Welsh. We would pick snowdrops in springtime, wandering through the village with our large basket overflowing with tiny white bells and green leaves, which we then parcelled into posies for gifts.

When I lived in Australia, the summer solstice occured just before Christmas, so it was a slightly different celebration. Still, I always tried to surround myself with green leaves, whether walking by the Yarra or driving through the Mornington Peninsula hinterland, where twisted pines reached for the sky and once, magically, kangaroos bounded across the road as dusk was falling, their fur grey as shadow.

Today, however, my canine companion and I took the winding streets and backways until we reached the Little Wood, as it’s called, a small patch of wilderness leading to a green and pleasant meadow, one of doggo’s favourite places to run and play.

The grass was tall, starred with dandelions and buttercups, deep blue speedwell and pink campion, butterflies fluttering here and there. The trees were bursting with green, as though decorated to celebrate the turning of nature’s wheel, the blue sky festooned with clouds.

I threw doggo’s ball for her and she chased it, disappearing into the long grass and emerging decorated with dandelion seeds, lying down to have a rest every once in a while. We saw one of her doggy friends from puppy training and they had a play, then we wandered back past the broken tree, while ravens danced in the high branches.

We left the meadow, taking the main road back home, entering the world of men once more. But I carried a little piece of forest magic with me…

Happy solstice, everyone – may your light shine bright 🙂


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.

Wednesday Wander – San Sebastian Beaches

It’s Wednesday and time for my weekly wander. This week we’re heading to Donostia San Sebastian, in the Basque country region of Spain. Donostia is the Basque name for the city, and is another way of saying San Sebastian – in honour of the dual heritage of the city, both names are used.

I visited earlier this year and fell under its spell straight away. The gorgeous old buildings and curving golden beaches were like a scene from a story – it was hard to believe people were lucky enough to live in such a place.

This is the iconic La Concha beach, the best known of the city’s beaches, voted the second best city beach in the world by Travel and Leisure magazine. A well- deserved award, I think. As you can see, it’s pretty popular – the clear green waves and golden sand make it a wonderful spot to lounge and take photographs during the day.

At night the beach changes, the deckchairs folded away, the entrance to the bay a perfect frame for glorious sunsets.

I sat for a half hour or so on the cool sand, watching the light change across the water, gold to red to violet, hardly able to take in such beauty.  Dark silhouettes danced at the water’s edge, the illuminated statue of Jesus on Monte Urgull seeming to watch over it all.

Day and night, the ornate promenade was full of people, families and couples and young people, all walking, laughing, enjoying the view. There are several small restaurants built into the seawall itself – one of them made excellent pizza, and was a fantastic place to watch the waves and people passing by.

Another city beach in San Sebastian is Zurriola, which is on the other side of Monte Urgull. This beach is wilder, the waves popular with surfers, although it is safe for swimming in parts, the Spanish lifeguards using a flag system similar to that we were used to in Australia. We visited La Zurriola most days – it was less crowded, yet easy to get to with ample parking nearby. I actually got dumped by a wave the first day there, scraping my knee – haven’t done that in years! Oh, and apparently, Zurriola is also somewhere you can hang ten in the buff, should you choose to – one of several beaches in Europe which allow nude surfing! Just remember to apply plenty of sunscreen 😉

When I began writing this Wander, I’d thought I would write a single post about San Sebastian. But, when I began writing about the beaches, they seemed to merit a post of their own. It seems certain that I’ll be wandering back to San Sebastian, both on this blog and (I hope) in real life too.

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.

How Does Your NaNo Grow?

img_0016It’s the first week of November and, for many of you out there, it’s also the first week of this year’s NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month. (For those of you who don’t know, November is the month when writers around the world challenge themselves to write 50,000 words, or the best part of a novel,  in thirty days). I tackled the NaNo monster in 2014 – I had an idea, a little bit of time, and it seemed a good way to get started. I’d just begun blogging, so only wrote a couple of posts about the process (at the time I posted once a week). So I thought I’d take a look back and see how it went…

From A Month Without Ambeth, published November 8, 2014:

This month I’ve had to focus on a new book. It is November, National Novel Writing Month and I, along with millions of other writers around the world, am taking the challenge to write 50,000 words in one month. I must say I wasn’t sure, when I signed up, that I would be able to do it. 50,000 words seemed like an awful lot to complete in thirty days. I wondered whether they had to actually be in any sort of order, whether just typing out 50,000 unconnected words would count, you know, if I came down with a massive case of writer’s block and was unable to think of anything. I had visions of my family peering wide-eyed around the study door at me as I hacked away, wild haired and red eyed, desperate to finish. But so far, touch wood, it’s been pretty smooth sailing. I’m about 20,000 words into my novel, working up an idea I’ve had for a little while, and I’m really enjoying the story.

I wrote this at the start of the month, when I was still a bit starry eyed about the process – believe me, the sailing became less smooth towards the end of the month. However, I did reach the 50k target – then I closed the manuscript down, as I couldn’t bear to look at it any longer. I wrote a follow up post about the experience, and I do still think it rings true…

From Into The Woods Once More, published December 5, 2014

I hit my 50,000 words with a few days to spare and managed to write a few blogs as well. My family were kept clothed and fed, my house (reasonably) tidy and I even did a few small client pieces. At the time it really didn’t seem strange to sit down and bang out 2,000 words a day, images and conversations from my story coming to me so quickly it became a race to get them on the page.

But now I can’t look at it at all. It’s not that I don’t love the story I wrote – I do, and I believe once it’s finished it will be a fairly decent piece of writing. But it was as though when I hit the 50,000 word mark, whatever was feeding me the story switched off in my brain, and I didn’t want to know about it any more. I did print out some pages from it in a half-hearted effort to start an edit, but I put them down after a few minutes. I guess what I’m saying is that NaNo was a more profound experience than I’d considered it to be at the time, and I’m being shown I need time to step back and recover before I revisit the story again…

…NaNo forces us to be writers, meaning that during the challenge we have to find the time to write every day whether we want to or not. But on further reflection I think it can also mean that NaNo forces our brains to think like writers. Personally, in the last month I feel as though I’ve made huge progress in my comprehension of what works on the page. … It was as though writing so quickly and intensely for a month had changed the way I see my work for the better. It reminded me of a time many years ago when I was training for my black belt. I was at the dojo six days a week doing teaching hours and extra classes (all around my university work). After a while of training at this intensity the movements become second nature, fights slowing down so you can see the next move, everything crystal clear. It seems to me that NaNo works in a similar way – that the act of writing a huge amount of copy every day is like intensity training for the mind, leading us towards a place of effortless effort where the story becomes clear.

As it turned out, that story did lead somewhere. It became my latest book,       A Thousand Rooms. It took me another two years to iron out the creases, replace placeholder sentences with actual scenes, have it beta read, edited, then go through the whole publishing process. And it’s a story I’m quite pleased with, if I’m allowed to say that about my own work.

img_3731So, why am I sharing this? I guess it’s because I always think about NaNo at this time of year and, having just published the proceeds of my first attempt, it seems appropriate to look back at the process. So if you’re out there battling the monster, just keep writing. Even if you reach the end of the month short of the 50k target, you’ll still have words written down. And you never know, it could be the start of something magical.

Wednesday Wander – Venice, Italy

Venice 2I recently wrote a piece of flash fiction for one of Sacha Black’s Writespirations, and it seemed to take place in Venice. This took me back to a visit I made there many years ago, and so I thought I’d make Venice this week’s Wednesday Wander destination.

Venice 4I could write loads about Venice. But I won’t. All I’ll say is that it is a place of roses and magic, that Canaletto was right about the light, that it floats like a mirage on the lagoon. That you can meet a man who traces his Venetian lineage back eight hundred years, and another who sings country music, and sells the sweetest strawberries you’ve ever tasted. That the nights are lantern lit, that the roads are made of water and the pavements of whitest stone. That it’s no wonder there were sighs on the Bridge of that name, as the convicted took their last look at this immortal city of wonders.

Venice 1I quite liked it there, obviously 😀

Venice 3Thank you for coming on another Wednesday Wander with me – see you next time!