Home Again…

Hello everyone!

I’m back from my adventure. The jetlag has worn off, the laundry is (mostly) done, and the holiday seems almost like a dream.

Yet it was real, and it was fantastic – I saw so much and have so much to write about I hardly know where to begin (there will be many blog posts!). New York was everything I’d imagined. I felt immediately at home there, perhaps because it’s a city that’s so pervasive in popular culture – yet it felt as though I knew it, as though I’d been before and was just being reminded of where everything was.

We wandered as much as we could in four days, including a walk through Central Park, where we took in the amazing skyline and I found the obelisk, partner to London’s Cleopatra’s Needle. We saw sights large and small, and didn’t let the weather, which included torrential rain and a snowstorm, stop us from getting outside and experiencing as much as we could.

The weather followed us, snow falling in Toronto on our first day there, Niagara Falls creating ice sculptures, the sun peering out from behind shifting clouds. Yet I basked in the warmth of family and old friends (and by old I mean fabulous), reforging connections and visiting familiar haunts, sad to leave when the time came.

But Boston, and the New England coast beckoned. We walked the Freedom trail, spent time in Salem, then followed the coast southwest through Plymouth, Newport, Mystic and Milford, finally ending up back in New York on a hot and sunny afternoon, ready to catch our overnight flight home.

And now it’s back to reality. The recent warm weather was a wonderful welcome home, and I’m away again this weekend, on a long-planned writing retreat with friends. Stories beckon….

It’s nice to be home x


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.

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Storycatcher

Inside me, stories wait.

I can plunge my hand in and stir them up, like brown leaves dancing in water.

But I cannot catch them, for if I try they grow wings like starlings and fly, scattering beyond my reach.

Instead I must wait, patient, like the fisherman.

Let my fingers tickle the water, rather than plunging in.

My heart open,

Hoping

That one will slide into my open hand

And decide to stay, for a while.


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 – Tower Of London

I could probably write about half a dozen posts about the famous Tower of London (and will definitely write at least one more). There are layers of history going right back to Roman times within the ancient walls, and the names of those who lived and died there are a rollcall of history.

The Tower, a World Heritage Site, sits on the banks of the River Thames as it has done for almost a thousand years. It was founded by William the Conqueror towards the end of 1066, the year he and his Norman forces conquered England. However, almost a thousand years earlier it was a Roman site, the nearby fragment of Roman wall and exposed Roman stonework within the tower grounds testament to that history. It is best known, however, as a prison, even though it was not originally intended as one.

The White Tower, from which the Tower takes its name, was the first major building on the site, started around 1078. Designed as a keep with lodgings fit for the new king, it has been described as the best preserved 11th century palace in Europe. Opposite the White Tower is the entrance to the Waterloo Block, where the famed Crown Jewels are held. We did go in to see them, but no photography was permitted, hence the lack of pictures here. Suffice it to say, it’s hard to believe they are real, such is the size and brilliance of the gems. I do recommend that, if you’re visiting the tower, you see the jewels as early as possible, as it does get busy later in the day. We went first thing and were able to move through the various antechambers quite quickly, as well as taking two passes on the moving walkways past the jewels themselves. Later, however, there were large queues stretching out the door.

The tower, of course, has a fearsome reputation as a prison and place of execution, where not even being royal would keep you from the axe. Three British queens lost their heads on Tower Green – Anne Boleyn, Catherine Howard and Lady Jane Grey – as well as various members of the nobility. Others languished for years inside the various towers, or were sent to the dungeons to be tortured – this is a place where, if the walls could talk, the tales they’d tell would be difficult to hear.

Something perhaps not so well known is that the fortress also housed a menagerie. Founded in in the early 1200s by King John, animals from all around the world given as gifts or imported as novelties were kept for the amusement of the court. Animals housed there included a polar bear and an elephant – today, life size sculptures of the creatures can be seen around the grounds. Nowadays, the most famous non-human inhabitants of the fortress are the Tower Ravens, their wings clipped so they cannot stray far from the Tower. They are huge, the biggest ravens I’ve ever seen, their calls deep and barking and quite unnerving. There is a legend that states if they ever leave the Tower, the monarchy will fall and Britain with it.

We spent hours at the Tower, climbing worn stone staircases into creaking chambers, and down into dark dungeons, yet we didn’t see half of everything there was to see. One thing we did see, however, was a reenactment of sorts, where we had to choose an army to back when invading the tower. Each choice was based upon a real attempt, but only one, led by a woman, was actually successful (and she was the one we backed, too!). The reenactment was great fun – the actors really got into it and there was lots of audience participation. Set against the ancient backdrop of the White Tower it was very effective, one of those things English Heritage does so well.

As I said at the start of this wander, I could write half a dozen posts about this place, and I know I’ve only scratched the surface of the many stories held within its walls. However, in the interest of brevity, I’ll sign off here… for now. 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 – In The Flames

flameI do enjoy Sue Vincent’s #writephoto prompts, and the variety of responses she gets for each image. I usually know, when I look at her photos, whether I have something. This is what came to me for this week’s prompt:

What do you see in the flames, little one?’

Her hair was burnished gold, little flickers around her rounded cheeks, small teeth like rice grains as she smiled. ‘I see stories, Nanna.’

‘Stories?’ I raised my eyebrows.

‘Yes,’ she said, reaching her small rounded arm towards the fire. I held out my hand, warning her back and she shook her head, curls bouncing.

‘Oh, don’t worry, Nanna. I know I’m not to touch, Mama said so. I just like to watch the pictures.’

I went still. A curl of excitement started in my stomach. It had been so long I’d almost given up hope. Our tribe had given up, too. I reached to smooth my hand over her soft hair, the fire casting spidery shadows from her long eyelashes as she watched the fire dance.

‘And so what sort of pictures do you see, my precious?’ I waited, half-holding my breath.

‘I see things that have been, and things to come.’ Her voice was deeper for a moment, her childish tones more grown up and I let out the breath. So here it was, here under my very nose. I closed my eyes, knowing that the path before her was long and hard, but that she was the only one who could walk it.

‘I saw the man, the man that came the other week? With the beads and the furs?’ She was all childish excitement again, grabbing at my hand. ‘I saw him ages ago, that’s why I knew what I wanted when he came.’

‘Did you now? Well, that is a fine thing.’ I laughed with her, remembering how she had chosen the small wooden boat, its prow carved like a dragon, like the ones the invaders rode on so long ago. ‘And why did you choose a boat?’

She turned to me, her little face all at once serious. ‘Because I saw them too, Nanna, in the fire. It told me the boats are coming. They’ll be here soon.’


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.

Thursday Doors – Silves, Portugal

img_0370This lovely little door is set into a wall on an ancient street, directly across from a twelfth century cathedral that may have even earlier origins, in the town of Silves, Portugal.

The street is sloping, as you can see from the line of the cobbles, and there is a view across red-tiled roofs to green hills beyond, the scent of blossom in the air. This little door has a history and age to it, but its story remains a secret for now. I wonder who holds the key?

This is my entry for the Thursday Doors Challenge, courtesy of Norm 2.0. For more doors, or to add one of your own, visit Norm’s site and click the link.

A Journey Through Ambeth, Part II

Almost a year ago, I wrote a post about the real landscapes that had inspired Oak and Mist, my first Ambeth book. With the release of Hills And Valleys, the third book in the series, that landscape has now expanded somewhat. So, with the past week being what it was, I thought I might take a wander through my fantasy world, and share it with you 🙂

I hope this isn’t too much like Toto pulling back the wizard’s curtain in Oz – I just wanted to share the landscapes I had in mind when I wrote the Chronicles. For Alma’s adventures in the human world, I used real locations – places I’d lived in or visited many times that had left an impression on me. However, when I created Ambeth, I didn’t have specific places in mind, wanting instead to write the world I could see in my mind’s eye. Later, when I looked back, I could see where the influences had come from.

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Hearst Castle, California

‘From out of an immense structure of white stone came towers topped with tiles that gleamed like mother of pearl… It shone so brightly in the sun that Alma blinked, shading her eyes.’  Oak and Mist

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Criccieth Castle, Wales

‘My heart rejoices at the thought that our old castle will guard my secret, high on its mound behind its twin-towered gate.’ Hills and Valleys

Notre Dame Doors
Doors to Notre Dame, Paris

‘The large wooden doors… were wondrously crafted, with hinges made from intricately shaped and figured metal that curved across the… wood like living things.’ Oak and Mist

Criccieth, Wales
Criccieth, Wales

‘Alma sat with Merewyn on a low wall near the jetty, looking along the curving beach to the mountains beyond.’ Hills And Valleys

Inspiration comes to us from many places. I recently walked past a grove of trees in my neighbourhood and immediately had another book idea. An unusual outside light on a neighbour’s house inspired a short story. So how about my fellow writers out there? Do you write from the real world, or gather influences to shape a new landscape? And where have you been that has inspired you?

When The Forest Calls

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I’ve had one of those days today where I’ve done a little bit of lots of things, but not much of anything. There’s been laundry, as usual, plus some cooking – I made sweet chilli sauce that’s more chilli than sweet, some guacamole and some smoked almonds, so have been snacking most of the morning. I’ve looked at a few blog posts, catching up with bloggy friends I didn’t have time to visit during the week. I’ve done a bit of writing, updated my Camp NaNo total, and watched an episode and a half of Outlander – I read the books ages ago (they are listed on my Books I Love page), but am late to the party watching the series, and now of course I am hooked once more. I’ve also spent some time in the back garden, where my husband is excavating a large raised vegetable patch we inherited when we bought the house. It has no veggies in it anymore, and is where we’d like to put our new shed/garden room, so it has to go. So far he’s discovered steps leading nowhere (though I did wonder whether Gozer the Gozerian might be coming to visit our garden), lots of bricks and paving stones, and a whole lot of earth. No hidden drains or bodies, thank goodness, or treasure left there long ago (which would have been handy, actually).

But mostly I’ve been wandering around, feeling as though there’s something I really need to do, but I can’t quite remember what it is.

Though I think I might have a clue. Ambeth is calling me. I know I’ve been writing this vampire book for Camp NaNo, and so far it’s been going quite well, the story starting to take shape nicely. But my mind is filled with forests, new threads appearing. I saw some friends yesterday, and several of them asked me when the next book would be out. End of the month, hopefully, I said. Then one of them asked how many books there would be in total. Six, I replied. Which is what I have planned at the moment. But I have a feeling that Ambeth is one of those places which will call me back every so often, other stories coming through the Gates. I don’t know if it’s because it’s the first world I’ve created, or whether it’s just that there are more stories there than can be dealt with in this one series arc.

Whatever the case may be, I’m always happy to go back there.

How about you? Have stories you’ve written called you back for more?

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