Thank You

It’s evening. The time of day when I’m usually working (other than during the day, when I’m at work). Working, over the past few months, has been editing and formatting and writing, leaving not much time for blog posts or visiting around. I did write a short post the day before yesterday, with some updates on things I’ve been doing, and as soon as I did so comments appeared, people wishing me well, smiles from across the blogosphere travelling to my little space.

I love this blogging community, I honestly do. Blogging has, without exaggeration, changed my life. When I wrote my first post, about three and a half years ago, I had no idea of the journey I was beginning.

I called this blog Journey to Ambeth because it was going to be about writing. All about writing. About me writing books, about the things I learned about writing along the way. But, like so much in life, it has grown and changed into something more, encompassing travel and short stories and ideas and dreams, a space where I can express myself however I choose to do so.

But the biggest thing, the absolute best thing about blogging, has been the people I’ve met along the way. People from across the globe, many of whom I’ve now met in person. Others with whom I’ve had only virtual conversations, yet I know that, when I meet them, it will be like seeing an old friend. I’ve NaNo-d with them, celebrated new releases and publishing deals and life’s milestones, tramped hillsides and stone circles, blogged and bashed and learnt so much, experienced incredible generosity and kindness. I’ve made friends for life, friends I would probably never have met if it wasn’t for writing those first few words.

And I am grateful every day for it. So I just wanted to say thank you 🙂

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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.

Telling Tales

It came to me a while ago that perhaps we, as humans, are built to be storytellers. That it’s in our DNA, some vital part of us that cannot be denied.

From the dawn of humanity when people gathered around campfires or in sacred spaces, taking their turns to add their voice to a tale, we have always shared stories. Before written word it was how we kept records of our ancestors, of our people, of the things that happened, weaving them into songs or epic poems or tales for the dark nights as winter drew in. We painted pictures on cavern walls, blew bright ochre onto rock faces, describing happenings and visitors and successful hunts, religion and family and daily life. Paintings became carvings, pictures became writing and we kept telling stories, about commerce and battles and dark fantasies from the past, using words to frighten people into submission or to uplift them to their best selves. Bards became a class of their own, keepers of the stories, each one adding their own pieces to the puzzle, carrying our ancestors’ deeds forward in time.

And now, in this modern age, it seems we still have stories to tell. Agents are inundated daily with manuscripts, writing clubs and online communities abound, and competition to be published is fiercer than ever. I cannot count the number of people who, when I tell them I’m a writer, say, ‘I’d like to write a book as well.’ Apparently in Iceland one in ten people will publish a book and most people will write one – an entire country of people with stories to tell.

So what is it that has caused this apparent upsurge in writers appearing, a generation of storytellers born anew? I wonder if social media has something to do with it, giving us all a voice, a chance to share our life with the world whenever we choose to do so. Every person has a story – now with Facebook and Instagram and Twitter and blogging all you need is a phone to share it with the whole world. We are encouraged to write every day, to post new statuses, update our stories as they happen, 140 characters to tell of each unfolding event. Small wonder then that this daily writing exercise may have inspired us to do more, awakening the urge to weave a bigger, better, more exciting tale and get it down on paper (so to speak).

For much of what we write these days is digital and it makes me wonder whether our words will be around to be deciphered a millennia from now, or if the ephemeral nature of electronic files means they will simply fade away, a forgotten crackle of energy. Personally, I still enjoy holding a real book in my hand and have published both my books in paperback as well as Kindle versions. And perhaps some scholar, centuries from now, will hold a copy of it in white gloved hands (or maybe it will hover, unsupported, above a pristine surface) to be read, my words analysed for whatever secrets of this present time they may hold.

Interesting to consider, isn’t it?

This post appeared in its original form back in November 2014, when I was participating in my first NaNoWriMo, and far fewer people came to visit my blog. Oh, and that NaNo book? I did finish it, though it took me almost two more years to do so – it became A Thousand Rooms.


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.