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.)


30 Day Writing Challenge – Day Twenty One – Everybody (also, A Wednesday Wander)

It’s day twenty one of the 30 Day Writing Challenge, and today’s prompt is: Everybody.


The beach near my old house in Australia

It’s also Wednesday, which means I’ll be taking a wander. However, in line with the prompt, this wander will be slightly different in that I’ll be trying to answer a question that just about everybody asks me, once they hear I’ve moved back to England from Australia. And the question is: Why did I leave Australia to come back here?

The short answer is: because my husband’s work brought us over here. But there is more to it than that.

Melbourne and the Yarra River

Melbourne and the Yarra River

In the UK, Australia seems to be sold as a sort of dream destination, an island paradise with white beaches and blue water and a cruisy outdoor lifestyle, where wages are double or almost triple that for the same job in the UK. The people look the same, speak the same language, the cities are comfortably cosmopolitan and it’s just sun, sun, sun all year round. People cannot believe I would leave such a place to come to a small green island that, according to some, gets more than its fair share of rain.

A beach in Wales I used to visit as a child

A beach in Wales I used to visit as a child.

Don’t get me wrong – Australia is a fantastic place. I lived there for seventeen years. My husband is Australian. Our daughter was born there. I have a great deal of love for and fond memories of both Melbourne and Sydney, as well as all the other places I visited. It’s a beautiful country and a lot of people who I love live there.



Yet, there was always a part of me that longed for mist and green grass and ancient buildings. For cold Christmases and tiny villages, rain-soaked high streets and cool mountains. A part of me that never quite felt at home among the brilliant sunshine and blue water. I remember coming back for a visit to the UK just over nine years ago. We were flying over the coast heading towards London and I looked out of the airplane window. The sun was just rising and I could see the Thames like a silver ribbon, winding inland. My husband leaned over to look out as well, then said to me, ‘How does it feel, coming back here?’ I watched the green landscape unfold beneath us and said, ‘Like coming home.’

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 Eighteen – Warning

IMG_2263It’s day eighteen of the 30 Day Writing Challenge, and today’s prompt is: Warning. When I read the prompt it made me think of the weather and how quickly it can change – in Melbourne they say you can experience all four seasons in one day, and when I lived there I soon learned to carry a cardigan, umbrella and sunglasses at all times.

So my response to the prompt is a cascade poem, and here it is:

Rain Dancer

Without warning

The weather changed

As we ran for cover


There were rumbles

From the west; clouds gathering

Without warning


Rain pelting down

Dark spots on bright cotton

The weather changed


She danced, arms wide

Rain cool on sun-warmed skin

As we ran for cover.

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.

Wednesday Wander – Manyana Beach

manana-2My wander this week is to Manyana Beach, on the NSW coast south of Sydney, Australia.

I visited Manyana many years ago with my now-husband. I think I’ve mentioned before that he’s Australian, and likes to surf. On this particular trip we were driving north from Melbourne to Sydney, a drive that takes seven hours or so if you head straight up the Hume Highway inland, or one or two days, depending how often you stop, along the winding coast road.

At the time we were living in Sydney, and had been in Melbourne for Christmas with his family. We’d decided to drive back up to Sydney in time for New Year’s Eve so set off a couple of days before. For some reason, even though we knew it was high summer, school holidays and the magic week between Christmas and New Year that pretty much everyone has off work, we didn’t book any accommodation, confident that we’d be able to find somewhere in the many towns and hotels along the route.

Haha. We spent our first night on the road sleeping in our car, parked in a grocery story car park near the beach. It wasn’t the best night’s sleep I’ve ever had, especially when we were entertained by the local youth frolicking nearby, one girl squealing ‘I’m in a trolley!’ as they clattered past the car around 4am. Still, we were younger then so, after an early morning dip in the ocean, we hit the road once more, although with firm instructions (from me) that we were to find somewhere nice to stay that night.

And we did. The last remaining room in a small bed and breakfast, patio doors looking across a paddock lined with gum trees, curious horses wandering up to have their noses scratched over the wire fence. A place where the friendly owners told us about the time they swam with whales as they fed us an excellent home-cooked breakfast. To say it was a step up from the previous night’s accommodation would be an understatement.

And then we went to Manyana. I sat on the sand with my book and parasol, while hubby-to-be surfed the blue waves. It was idyllic, the beach almost deserted, the weather splendid. We left in the afternoon and headed north, arriving in Sydney that evening. I can still remember driving over the Harbour Bridge as the sun was setting, relieved to be almost home.

manana-1And now I sit in a different home, halfway across the world, writing my Wednesday Wanders. Thanks for coming with me – see you next time.

Wednesday Wander – Como House, Melbourne

Como House 1This week I’m wandering to a place in Melbourne that I knew quite well when we lived there. This is Como House, situated on a rise overlooking the Yarra River, just outside the city centre. Built in 1847 for Sir Edward Eyre Williams, it changed hands several times until 1864, when it was bought by the Armytage family. The family lived there until 1959, when it was sold to the National Trust of Australia. Now it’s open to visitors and available for wedding hire, as well as featuring in several TV series and films – if you watch Miss Fisher’s Mysteries, you’ll have seen it on there several times.

Como House 2When we first lived in Melbourne we had a flat not far from Como House, and each morning I would walk through the large park down to the river, then walk along the riverbank to the city, rowers going past and cockatoos shrieking in the gum trees around me. It was pretty wonderful. There was a set of swings at the top of the rise and on some days, if I felt like it and there was no one around, I’d have a swing, feeling as though I were flying above Melbourne, the river a lazy curve below, the city’s distant towers gleaming. When my daughter was small we used to visit the park together, then have a drink and a cake in the small cafe located in one of the former outbuildings.

Looking at these photos you’d think Como House was out in the country somewhere, yet it is located in a busy part of Melbourne, with a main road curving around the park and running up the hill alongside. But when you enter the gardens the air changes, the road noise replaced by the rustle of leaves and it’s easy to imagine a different time when the city was new. There are trees in the gardens that predate European settlement, the land still holding echoes of the past. It’s a lovely place to be.

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


Wednesday Wander – Federation Square, Melbourne


I lived in Melbourne for many years. I loved living there, walking along the Yarra River to work while rowers glided past and cockatoos swooped and shrieked in the eucalypts, the city a gleaming array of towers on the opposite side. It’s a beautiful city, usually ranked in the top five world’s most liveable. When I first moved there, the old Gas and Fuel Towers still stood at the entrance to the city, two huge brown sixties monoliths blocking the view in all directions, a misguided planning decision if ever there was one. This seemed to be a general consensus because, soon after I arrived, the towers were demolished, opening up the cityscape once more and leaving a large building site designated for a mixed-use public space.

Fed Square 3

A competition was held, designs submitted, and a winner chosen. Melbourne is a city that embraces modern architecture, sculptural cutting edge buildings standing next to crenellated Victorian masterpieces – just about every style of architecture since the 1850’s can be seen on its wide streets. What the city wanted was a new architectural icon, something to rival Sydney’s Opera House. So the new design, with its eco-friendly elements and exciting use of glass and metal, was seen as a clear favourite.

Fed Square 1

Except, when they started building it, people didn’t like it. We were living across the road from the site at the time and would routinely curse the builders. Pile driving started at 7am even on weekends, plus the constant clatter and scream of concrete cutting and metal assembly echoed off the buildings and along the brown winding river. The emerging buildings looked like tin sheds crumpled by some giant’s hand and then dropped haphazardly across the coveted riverside site. There were complaints that some of the elements would block views of the Cathedral, and so the plans had to be changed. Everyone wondered why it was costing so much and taking so long to build.

Fed Square 2

Then it was finished. And we went along to have a look. I still cannot say that I love the exterior, even though it features in some of my wedding photos. Yet the inside was a revelation. Soaring spaces, angles and glass, small windows framing snapshot views of the city and river. The buildings house museums, offices, galleries, shops and restaurants, while the sweeping plaza with warm stone cobbles and stepped layers is perfect for meeting, or just lazing with a cool drink on a hot Melbourne day.

Fed Square 4Federation Square is now almost fifteen years old and, while I don’t think it compares to Utzon’s Opera House for sheer visual impact, I do think it has a charm that is not immediately apparent. And that, perhaps, is what makes it quintessentially Melbourne. Unlike Sydney, where harbour and bridge and scenery hit you straight away, Melbourne is a city of layers. Of hidden laneways and after hours clubs, leafy homes and rambling parks. And so perhaps this design was the most appropriate, after all.


Thank you for joining me on another Wednesday Wander – if you’d like to know more about Federation Square, clicFed Square 6k here. See you next week!

Wednesday Wander – A Galaxy Far, Far Away

Or Melbourne. Which is also far, far away from where I’m sitting, and where this (slightly embarassing) photo was taken, several years ago.

Stormtrooper Image

To be honest, it’s not the best photo of me, but then I never really like myself in photos. It is, however, testament to the fact that, even though the prequels were eye-bleedingly bad, my love for the original three Star Wars films never died. I saw them all in the cinema when I was a child, and can still remember the excitement and wonder of each new film.

The photo was taken at Melbourne Fantasy & Sci-Fi Con, the one and only time I’ve ever been to one of these events (though I think I’ll go again one day). It was a great day out, minor stars of film and TV wandering about, signing photos and giving talks. Twilight was big at the time, and there was a Volturi and a werewolf present, if I remember right. My friend and I wandered among the stalls, giggled our way through part of a Superman vs Batman cartoon (before realising that, to many people there, it was deadly serious) and took photos, including the one above.

IMG_0763So in the spirit of my Wednesday Wander, here is a photo of Melbourne as well, just along the river from where the Convention took place. But we will leave Melbourne for now. Leave its eucalypt-scented river walks, Victorian buildings, modern art and excellent coffee.

For today I am going to see The Force Awakens, and I have a cinema to get to, and a childhood fantasy to relive.

See you on the other side 🙂

Cast Of Characters

Como House, Melbourne

Como House, Melbourne

I’ve been watching Miss Fisher’s mysteries for a little while now. I used to live in Melbourne, so it’s nice to see the familiar streets and buildings such as Rippon Lea, The Manchester Building, Como House and Melbourne Town Hall. And the fashion! If I could have anyone’s television wardrobe it would be Miss Fisher’s – in fact, it’s become so celebrated that Vanity Fair wrote an interesting piece devoted to the secrets of her wardrobe – you can read it here.

The other thing I love about the show is seeing the characters come to life. I first discovered Kerry Greenwood’s Phryne Fisher books about fifteen years ago and was instantly hooked. I loved Greenwood’s stories of 1920’s Melbourne, of wealthy Phryne and her devil-may-care attitude as she solved mysteries and set the world to rights. When I heard it was going to be made into a series, I was thrilled. And, so far, it has not disappointed (other than the fact that the divine Lin Chung was relegated to a one-episode lover). Essie Davis is perfect casting as the elegant Phryne, as is Ashleigh Cummings as Dot, Hugo Johnstone-Burt as Constable Collins, and Nathan Page as Inspector Robinson.

Luna Park, Melbourne. The iconic park is in St Kilda, home to the fictional Phryne Fisher

Luna Park, Melbourne. The iconic park is in St Kilda, home to the fictional Phryne Fisher

I had a recent conversation in the comments section on one of my posts with Kristin, from Pursuit Of A New Adventure. Kristin has read both Oak and Mist and No Quarter (thanks Kristin!), and she was talking about how she pictured the characters in her head, naming one celebrity in particular as her image of Deryck. This was interesting and really, really cool. I loved hearing what she thought, as I have a clear picture in my own mind of each character and how they look. And of course I have considered the idea that one day, if my books ever took off, they could be televised or made into a movie. In fact, if I’m being really honest, I might have even spent a bit of time googling images of different actors, assembling my fantasy cast should it ever come to pass.

Well, that’s not embarrassing at all, sharing that with you 😀

But it’s true, and I bet I’m not the only one out there. I didn’t base any of my Ambeth characters on real people (except for one, who looks like a friend of mine). But as they’ve come to life in my mind it’s been an interesting process to try and marry their physical appearance with someone in the real world. For reference purposes, you understand 😉 And while I’ve not yet ‘cast’ every character, I have a pretty good idea of who I’d like to play most of them.

So many stars to choose from ;-)

So many stars to choose from 😉

It would be fascinating to see my work interpreted by somebody else, which is why I so enjoyed Kristin’s comments. I wonder how Kerry Greenwood feels, seeing her creation on the small screen. I also wonder if the cast match her original vision of the characters as she saw them.

So how do you feel about the idea of seeing your characters onscreen? And do you have a fantasy cast list already? (go on, you can tell me)


Feeling Light


I love the way the light falls at this time of year.

There is a golden richness to it, one that invites you to sit outside for a while with hot tea or cold cider, savouring the last sweetness of summer before the long dark of winter sets in. It feels melancholy to me as well – the bittersweet turning of the year seen in the way that the sun sets earlier each night, sending long furls of colour across the sky.

This may sound like a whole lot of waffle – however, light is something that has always fascinated me. I’ve travelled to quite a few places and each had their own light, caught in the feel of the sky and the way the sun hits the land. The high wide skies of Canada, speedwell blue reaching north. The blinding white hot of a Sydney beach at midday, when to be without sunglasses would render you almost blind. The pearl grey light of the Irish coast, mist from the sea softening the sky. The silver-blue-grey of a Melbourne winter, dark nights and frost on the gum trees. The shimmer of Venice, light reflecting from the water onto ancient pastel palazzos, crumbling into the dreaming lagoon.


I saw the northern lights once. It was in the mountains north of Vancouver, the sky full of stars as there were no man-made lights to obscure their show. I woke in the night to see a slowly expanding starburst of light above me, floating above the dark pine-clad peaks. While it wasn’t the rainbow shimmer of Scandinavia, it was still awe-inspiring to see – one day I hope to go further north and see the curtains of colour ripple across the sky.

I also like the way light behaves at different times of day, and often use it in my descriptions when writing. I think it’s a nice way to convey to the reader what time of day it is, as well as adding mood when necessary. My favourite time of day is sunset, though I do enjoy the early light of dawn as well – there is something about the transition between day and night that I find to be full of potential, stories lying in the shadows between light and dark.



An Observation – Part 6 – Heart Shaped Garden

Heide I - Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons - Nick Carson

Heide I – Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons – Nick Carson

Miss Three and I were at the Heide Museum of Modern Art in Melbourne, spending the day there with my mother-in-law, her sister and two other friends. Madam had already charmed everyone at lunch in the cafe, pretending to take our ‘orders’ at the table, charging us all exorbitant prices:

‘Really? A hundred dollars for coffee and cake? It must be good.’

After lunch she wandered with us through the concrete cool of the mid century modernist house called Heide II, once home to artists John and Sunday Reed, lolling on the couches where they had once sat and looking with a child’s eye at the paintings on the rough textured walls, bright arcs of colour and light.

Then we went to the original timber clad farmhouse, Heide I. The rooms were filled with paintings and photographs documenting that golden time when Heide was a hotbed of art and love and friendship, legendary names reclined in sunny group shots, laughing on the green lawns.

Miss Three became tired of it all, not being able to touch anything. She wanted to go outside and I obliged – after all, she had been so very good all day. So out we went, leaving our group behind as we stepped into the walled garden surrounding the house to find ourselves alone. Miss Three chased after butterflies then became entranced by the heart shaped flowerbed on the lawn, created by Sunday after the end of her love affair with Sidney Nolan. I watched as Miss Three danced around the heart, pink skirts blowing, small arms stretched out.

All at once it was as if time slowed and shifted, and it was as though Sunday stood near me, her presence as strong as the scent of roses tumbling over the high brick wall. I could feel her pleasure at seeing my daughter enjoying her garden, and hardly dared move or breathe, not wanting to break the spell sitting like a golden bell over us all.

Then a woman came through the arched opening in the wall, her expression disapproving as she looked at Miss Three who was stopped on the path, smelling a flower. ‘Excuse me,’ she said, moving abruptly past us before we really had a chance to step out of the way. And just like that, the spell was broken, the magic gone.

All except the memory. That remains.