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.

Wednesday Wander – El Peix, Barcelona

I’ve been to Barcelona twice, and both times I visited the beach. Yet, before I visited, I’d never thought of Barcelona as a ‘beach’ city. To me it was a place of dance and food and architecture, home to Gaudi, one of my favourite architects. I knew it was on the coast, but Barceloneta beach was an unexpected delight.

On my second visit we spent half a day or so there, hubby and the gorgeous girl in and out of the water as we looked for shells and soaked up the sunshine, eating fresh paella at one of the many seafront cafes before returning to our hotel sandy and happy. We also took a walk along the wooden boardwalk, heading towards an unusual structure we could see gleaming golden  in the distance.

It turned out to be El Peix, a golden fish sculpture created by renowned Canadian architect Frank O. Gehry for the 1992 Olympics. Built as a canopy to link a hotel, casino and restaurants, it’s now one of Barcelona’s most well-known landmarks.

It’s not the only Gehry we’ve seen – in Seattle we spent a wonderful day at the EMP, marvelling at the colours and curves of the extraordinary building. It seemed fitting to see another piece of his work in Barcelona – Gehry, like Gaudi a century earlier, twists shape and form to challenge what can be done architecturally, creating structures like no other. We’re heading to Bilbao this summer and I’m very much looking forward to seeing the Guggenheim there, another of his famous works.

But for now I’ll leave you with Barcelona beach palms against a brilliant blue sky, a memory of a golden day. 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.



Wednesday Wander – Throwback, Hollywood Style

This week, I’m wandering back in time as well as through space, to my first trip to California. It was 1985 – denim was faded, colours were bright, earrings were big and so was hair.

hollywood-bowlAnd here we are. My brother and I at the famed Hollywood Bowl, just sitting casually in front of the band shell. Well, at least I am. My brother looks, oddly enough, as though he’s playing air guitar. Odd, because he went on to become a professional musician, and now plays guitar all around the world. Not sure if he’s played at the Hollywood Bowl though – I’ll have to ask him.

Built in 1929, the Art Deco influence is obvious in the concentric arches of the band shell. The Bowl has hosted famous musicians almost beyond count – I remember my mum being very excited to be there. I believe The Beatles were mentioned several times. The large white spheres over the stage were designed by architect Frank Gehry, and were added during the 1980s to improve the sound system – apparently the deterioration of the acoustics were part of the reason this shell was demolished and replaced in 2004.

This trip was a fab trip – we drove from Los Angeles all the way along the coast road to San Francisco, a trip I repeated in part with my own family last year. The memories of the 1980’s trip are like a dream in some respects, all golden sun and green hills and blue ocean, like some fabled landscape in a story. I’m sure I’ll be back there again one day.

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

Music and Dreams


Tower House in London. Home to Jimmy Page, another fine musician…

Music is in my family.

My grandmother was a wonderful singer, my brother is a professional musician, and my cousin works in music management. Music has been around me since I can remember, dancing to Leo Sayer and Queen on my dad’s stereo, lying awake on warm nights listening to ELO and the Moody Blues drift upstairs to my childhood room, sweet melodies in the golden darkness. Later I formed my own tastes, posters on my walls, teenage screams at concerts past, Walkman almost permanently on. I was even, and this is the absolute truth, at the concert where Duran Duran filmed ‘The Reflex’ video. I still remember Simon LeBon announcing ‘We’re going to make a video’ and the whole place losing its collective mind, myself included.

I like a fairly broad range of music and still love going to live shows – the last one I went to, and enjoyed immensely, was the Ginger Wildheart 50th Birthday Bash. We took our daughter to her first live concert when she was five. It was Slash, and she got to go backstage and then onstage (courtesy of her uncle playing in the opening band). She and I danced together as Slash played his iconic guitar riff from ‘Sweet Child Of Mine’ just metres away from us, my own sweet child clinging to me. That was an experience that will always stay with me, one perfect moment in time.

There is a piece of music I particularly love to listen to while I’m writing. In fact, I’m listening to it now. Sure, I usually have Itunes on in the background, often on shuffle. But sometimes I play this piece, over and over, on repeat. It’s the second movement of Beethoven’s 7th Symphony – if you’ve seen The King’s Speech (and if you haven’t, you should – it’s an amazing film) you’ll recognise it as the music playing while the King reads his famous speech.

They say that in times past, classical composers were the rock stars of their day. And this piece of music makes me imagine how it would have been, sitting in a darkened theatre centuries ago. The gleam of silk and jewels, gold trim on the boxes, candle wax scent in the perfumed air. Or perhaps listening to it played in a private salon, the home of someone wealthy enough to command a performance for friends. It is music to dream to, bittersweet longing woven into the notes.

That’s my interpretation, of course. And that’s the great thing about music. There are some bands and genres that I’m never going to like, whereas other people might look at my own musical tastes and shake their heads. But while it appeals to each of us in a different way, music is something common to the human experience as a whole. Its origins lie somewhere entwined with our own, an ever-changing soundtrack to our history.

Great music moves us – to dance, to scream, to tears. So what moves you? What songs form the soundtrack to your own life?