Wednesday Wander – Stonehenge and Solstice

It’s Midsummer today, or Litha in the old calendar, the point where the great wheel of the year turns towards winter once more, the nights gradually growing shorter until Yule, the great festival of Light. On a hot day such as this one the thought of winter is almost welcome, to be honest.

Today is also one of two points during the year when the sun’s rising is marked at Stonehenge, the famous stone monument in Wiltshire. On Midsummer morning the sunrise aligns perfectly with the Heel Stone, and crowds gather to watch the spectacle, one of the few times in the year that people are allowed within the ancient circle of stone.

I have yet to mark Midsummer or Midwinter at Stonehenge, but it is on my list to do so. There is something about the tumbled grey stones, still standing proud upon Salisbury Plain, that tugs at me. The mystery surrounding their use, the precision with which they mark the turning of the year and have done so for millennia, and the astonishing fact that many of the massive stones came from miles away in Wales, brought to the site using technology that still remains undefined, despite efforts to replicate the feat.

I visited Stonehenge most recently in March, on a cool sunny day. Once again the stones remained inscrutable, their message like a song almost heard, dancing on the edge of sound. The light changed the shapes and shadows, and up above a small plane swooped and wheeled, coming so low that concerned staff came out to monitor its progress, worried it might perhaps crash into the stones. But it disappeared after a while, buzzing away across the plains, above the old barrows and hidden earthworks to destinations unknown.

I also visited the brand new visitor centre, set back some way so it is not visible from the monument. It is a vast improvement on the old centre. Shuttle buses take visitors to a point closer to the stones, the road that used to run past them on one side now closed except to walkers, meaning we reached the stones on foot as was done originally. The new centre is very well done, with some excellent interactive exhibits and artifacts excavated at the site – it kept the gorgeous girl busy for quite some time! There were also some replica Bronze Age roundhouses outside, the plaster walls and thatched roofs against a blue sky somehow timeless, and as though they could have been anywhere in the world.

I have wandered to Stonehenge before, and no doubt will do so again – a place holding such magic is worth more than one visit. Thanks for coming on this Wednesday Wander with me – see you again next time!

PS I LOVE this! Nothing like a Spinal Tap reference to make the day complete 🙂


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.

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.

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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.

London

London

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 Seventeen – Early Morning

img_4673Earlier this week I shared this image on my Instagram account. It was taken one early morning as I walked past the park. Mist hung low beneath the trees, the light behind turning them to silhouettes and it seemed so serene to me, the mist like a blanket on the grass, that I had to stop and take a photo. It also reminded me a little of my first Ambeth book, Oak and Mist. Perhaps if I’d stepped between the trees I would have found myself… somewhere else.

I usually wake up early. I am a morning person – once I’m awake it’s very tough for me to go back to sleep again. However, I don’t like to feel rushed in the morning. I’d much prefer to wake a half hour earlier and breakfast leisurely, rather than running around in a panic to leave the house on time.

img_3684While away with The Silent Eye on a magical weekend, we watched the sun rise. It was bitterly cold but clear, ancient rock formations wreathed with mist like dragon’s breath, golden light turning small graven pools to mirrors. It was utterly beautiful. I do believe there is magic in the  turn from night to day, and day to night – they are moments of power, of possibility.

img_3702And so early morning, like early evening, is one of my favourite times of day.

This was my response to Day 17 of the 30 Day Writing Challenge – today’s prompt is: Early Morning


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.

Thirty Day Writing Challenge – Day 2 – Open Door

img_1622Today’s prompt is: Open Door

For this post I’ve pulled a short scene from Silver and Black, the vampire novel I’ve been working on this past while. It seemed to fit the prompt quite well…

Silver and Black (an excerpt)

‘Are you ready?’

I was. Despite not wanting to leave Kyle, despite the fact that this could go wrong in so many ways, I was ready. Excitement fluttered through me as I stood up, my hand trailing along Kyle’s cool skin. Then I let go and walked to the door.

‘I’m coming out.’ I waited until I heard the outer shutters slam before opening the door, sliding out through the smallest gap possible, not wanting to let any light in. But the room beyond was still dark. I closed the door, sliding the bolt home. And the shutters opened.

My hand went up involuntarily, my eyes dazzled. I had seen the sun rise, but this was different. This was the blazing light of morning, something I had never seen.

‘Here, you’ll need these.’ Something hard was thrust into my hand and I squinted to see a pair of glasses, the lenses tinted dark. I put them on and the relief was instant.

‘Thanks.’

Bev was regarding me curiously. ‘You never seen this before?’

I shook my head, careful not to dislodge the glasses. ‘No. I er, I live in the night.’

‘With him?’

‘Um, yeah.’ My head turned towards Kyle’s door and for a second I wanted to be back there in the darkness, the brilliant white light around me feeling as though it was laying me bare, that these people, kind as they were, could see to the heart of me. I could not let them know who I was. ‘He looks after me.’

Bev’s face crinkled up, and she laid a gentle hand on my arm. ‘Just be careful,’ she said. ‘If he tires of you, come here. Be safe.’

I licked my lips, frowning a little. ‘Um, yes, of course. Thank you.’

She stared at me a moment longer, then her face split into a grin. ‘So, Emily, you ready to go outside?’

I nodded. She went to the door, opening it, standing silhouetted in the frame. I could feel the light now, heat warmer than any candle, like standing in front of an open fire. The air was soft against my skin and smelt fresh, the slight breeze coming in through the open door redolent of green, of flowers. For the first time in my life, I couldn’t smell violets.

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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.

 

Circles Beyond Time – Dawn

img_3662This is the continued account of my weekend away with The Silent Eye. Click here for parts one, two, three, four and five.

5:11am.

Ugh. I hadn’t slept well, and my alarm jolted me out of a dream. Yet, once I’d woken fully, I was excited. This morning we were heading up into the hills to chase the sunrise. I wouldn’t have missed it, no matter how tired I was. I showered and dressed quickly, managing to gulp a few mouthfuls of tea before heading down to the deserted hotel lobby. There was a small moment of panic when I thought I was locked in, but I emerged eventually onto the still-dark street, a pale glow of light in the sky heralding the coming dawn.

We were to meet the rest of the group in the Fox House car park – my companion and I were the first ones there, so I wandered off to take some photos of the view, trees silhouetted against the pastel-hued sky. The air was cool and still, and I was glad of my extra sweatshirt and wool hat against the pre-dawn chill.

img_3671Then we were off, taking the winding road higher and higher until we reached a small parking area. Leaving the cars we climbed higher still, up stone stairs to where an ancient hillfort crowned the peak, views in every direction. The stones were large, in some cases huge, carved and shaped and most definitely placed there. But by whom, exactly, is lost in time.

img_3674We gathered as a group to watch the sun make its appearance over the far ridge, golden light moving across the valley floor, pushing mist ahead of it. The group chose to greet the sun in their own way – I stood to one side, for some reason feeling the need to be alone.

…it seemed that her path lay through solitude. Companions there would be, but in the end, she had to choose her own way, be true to her own self. So she faced the dawn apart, but not alone, sending a greeting from a place deep within…

img_3684Once the sun was above the ridge we were free to explore, wandering along sandy pathways studded with tiny pieces of white crystal. I walked among the stones, listening to the morning sing and watching mist rise like dragon’s breath from distant Carl Wark, where the weekend’s journey had begun.

…as she walked the peak to the sunrise, all at once it was as though she stood on a pathway of stars, the heavens above reflected below, and she a dancing figure poised in between. The feel of something older, something beyond…

img_3699As the light grew brighter, I amused myself by taking shots of my shadow against the golden-lit rocks. We weren’t the only ones up there, a few photographers taking advantage of the clear morning and glorious views.

 

img_3681I took several photos of the small depressions carved into many of the rocks, their reflections like a path of stepping stones towards the sun. One particularly large rock formation had taken my attention and I turned to Sue.

img_3693‘Those stones…’ I began.

‘Oh yes,’ she said, smiling.

…a piled stone figure, lion messenger of the people who were once here. It reminded her of ancient doorways an ocean away, of stone figures left on mountainous shores, marks of the peoples who lived there. It was both welcome and warning, that here she stood on ancient land…

img_3694We continued to wander the hilltop a while longer, but it was getting cold and breakfast was beckoning. The decision was made to descend, arrangements made to meet up later for our final trip to the stone circle at Arbor Low. The golden sunrise promised a fine day ahead…

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#Writephoto – Silver and Black (an excerpt)

Sue's Sunset

Sue has such a wonderful knack for choosing images that inspire stories. Her photo prompt this week does not disappoint and, once again, it seems to tie in with part of my own WIP. Not Ambeth – this time I’m heading back to the world of vampires, Silver and Black. And so here is my excerpt:

At daybreak, the shutters fall. All over the house, metal doors obscuring even the slightest hint of light. I often sleep during the day – after all, there’s not much else to do. But sometimes, when the guards are changing over, there’s a place I go that is mine alone.

And this morning I need to be alone, just for a moment. No-one to hear me or wonder what I’m doing. How can I sleep after last night, anyway?

I push open my door, looking up and down the hallway. Good. No one there. The shutters are sliding down, early golden light from outside being snuffed out – it’s a dangerous time for vampires. But for me, it’s a chance to be free.

I step out of my room and turn right, following the corridor a short way to a door. It’s different than the others lining the hallway, smaller, and made of thick wood studded with nails. I open it. Stairs curve up and away from me, the small window cut deep into the stone already almost closed off. I flick on my small torch then start to climb the tower, my hand trailing along the wall for balance, stone rough under my fingers. The air smells of cool and damp.

This stairway isn’t really used, because it doesn’t really go anywhere. Except outside. I come to another door, and feel in my pocket for the key. Iron cold, heavy in my hand, I put it in the lock and turn it. Then I step through.

Light falls all around me.

It is glorious. Gold and red and orange and turquoise, the sun a ball of fire just above the horizon. Mist is on the trees below, the landscape spread out below me like a half-remembered dream, green and beckoning. I can see the dark mass of forest on our boundary, stretching beyond for miles towards the faint shimmer of the Safe Zone. Sometimes, on the clearest days, I can see the sea.

The air is like velvet, cool and soft on my skin, and I can hear birds chirping. I have no idea what kind – I only know from old films and books that they live in the trees, nesting and flying during the day, then resting at night.

As I stand at the crenelated edge, looking out at the world, my eyes fill with tears. It never fails to move me, whether sunrise or sunset, the turning of the world an endless wonder. And a power only I, among everyone in the house, possess. The power to meet the sun.

I stand there, my vision blurred with tears, as light fills the world and I am free.


You have until June 8th to add your own entry for this photo, and there have already been some great responses. So head on over to Sue’s to check them out, or add one of your own.

Feeling Light

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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.

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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.

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