A Monday Update

Despite the recent easing of lockdown rules in England, life is continuing much as it has been for me and my family. Hubby and I are still working at home and the gorgeous girl, who is in secondary school, is still not back in classes, and won’t be until September.

Still, there are things I miss. I miss my family, of course. It seems madness to me that I can go to a pub and interact with hundreds of strangers, but I can’t have more than two households meeting under my own roof at any one time. However, I’ve spent long stretches of time away from my family before and I suppose this is how I’ve been coping, by treating this as just one more enforced separation.

I also miss getting out and about, though one thing that lockdown has taught me is that I probably wasn’t doing as much of that as I thought I was. I am looking forward to venturing out and exploring this fascinating tiny island again – whether with family or with friends. I’m also looking forward to meetings closer to home, coffee or lunch with friends, big family barbeques, and the occasional ‘out-out’ evening.

I miss travelling, too. We were booked to visit Morocco in early April (and are still waiting for our flight refunds, coughRyanaircough!). I also had a trip to Wales at the end of March to attend a workshop, and another to Avebury in June to join the Silent Eye, but all have been cancelled. At the moment, the idea of getting on a plane is on about the same level for me as going to the pub, so I don’t imagine we’ll be going anywhere we can’t drive to anytime soon. Still, I know I’m fortunate to have been so many places – there will be chances to travel again and, in the meantime, I’ve been revisiting my old Wednesday Wander posts.

I don’t miss the noise, or the busyness of my old life. The feeling of having to be here and there and here again, of trying to fit things in, instead of the days stretching and moulding into a new, more relaxed routine. The hum of the motorway has returned, the buzz of traffic nearby, the rattle and hoot of trains in the valley. But there is still birdsong and buzzing bees whenever I venture out, still flowers and clear skies and long views – I know I’m lucky to have all this on my doorstep.

So I guess this is just an update, really. In some ways, I’m progressing with things, and in others, they stay the same. Writing-wise I’m moving forwards – there are new stories to tell, new worlds to explore. After having four full manuscript requests but no luck (so far) on my vampire novel, I’m shelving it for now and writing something new. My co-author project is picking up pace again, so hopefully I’ll have some news to share on that soon.

Until then, I hope you’re all keeping safe and well. How is lockdown life treating you?

xx

(All photos taken locally on recent walks)


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 Revisited – Rocher De La Vierge, Biarritz

Another Wednesday, another Wander post revisited. While we still can’t travel (or have to quarantine if we do), it’s nice to look back at places I’ve been, as well as consider places I’d like to go once things go back to whatever normal is going to be. This week I’m wandering to Biarritz, somewhere I visited a few years ago and absolutely loved – the colours of the sea and sky, the rocks and waves, the good food and friendly people. I’ll definitely go back there again, one day…

Last summer, I was fortunate enough to spend some time in Biarritz, located on the French coast. I absolutely loved it – the light, the water, the people, the food – it was just wonderful. I’ve written about it here and here, but for today’s Wander I’m going to go back to the town’s origins as a fishing village, before Napoleon III and Empress Eugenie made it such a fashionable place to be.

For centuries, the principal industry in Biarritz was whaling. It wasn’t until the 18th century that it became known as a town for bathing, and the 19th century when it became fashionable due to the patronage of the Empress.

Nowadays, there are splendid hotels and a casino along the water’s edge but, if you wander a little further along the beach, you come to the old fishing village and harbour, the water clear turquoise against curving ochre rocks.

The old harbour walls remain and are used today – we spent a few minutes there watching a group of men launching a boat into the water. In the mid 1800s, Napoleon III decided he would like to build a large anchor point and sea-wall, connecting a nearby rock to the coastline. A wooden walkway was built between the two, and a statue of the Virgin Mary was placed on top of the rock to watch over the whalers as they returned to harbour.

The sea can get ferocious in these parts, however, and in the 1880s the wooden walkway was replaced by a metal bridge attributed to Gustav Eiffel (known for a rather more famous metal structure bearing his name). Today you can walk out to the rock and take in the glorious views, past archways of stone over dark blue water, sea birds wheeling overhead.

The day we went was warm and hazy, the water calm, though we had heard that the waves can splash as high as the footbridge on more stormy days.  Also, I think I may have found my dream house…

The Rocher De La Vierge is easily accessed via the coastal walk that runs along the main beach at Biarritz, past the Casino and town centre and leading to the excellent Aquarium. The views looking back are beautiful, as are those beyond, and the walk itself is quite gentle – I highly recommend it.

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


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.

A Trip Into The Past – Den Gamle By, Denmark

In my previous post, I talked about a recent trip I took to Denmark. It was an impromptu trip, so there wasn’t much time to plan any activities. However, sometimes that’s a good thing, as you can ask for recommendations from locals when you get there as to the best places to go.

We had a great time exploring Aarhus in the few days we had, but hands down my favourite place we visited was Den Gamle By, a ‘village’ created from historic buildings brought from all over Denmark to create a living museum.

One of Denmark’s top tourist attractions, Den Gamle By was opened in 1914 and, at the time, was the first open-air museum of its kind anywhere in the world. Consisting of 75 buildings brought from all over Denmark, some dating back to the 1500s, the museum is laid out like a town, with streets and a town square around a canal.

There are three distinct zones, each covering a different period of history; the 1840s, the 1920s and the 1970s, and there are actors in each zone, enacting scenes of everyday life.

The complex also houses a museum, running beneath the modern section, with examples of European art and Scandinavian craft and design. There are also a couple of gift shops, a bakery selling traditional pastries, a bookshop and several food stalls, all designed to fit into whichever era they are part of.

Each building has a blue plaque on it, detailing its history and where it came from, and I really enjoyed details such as the cobbled streets in the old section, which really added to the overall feel of stepping into the past.

Other than the occasional glimpse of a crane or modern building, it really felt like being in another world, in the best way possible, and a reminder of what many European cities and towns used to look like, before war and development changed their faces forever.

I really enjoyed visiting Den Gamle By, and will happily go again whenever I return to Aarhus – it would be lovely to see in the summertime! As a writer, I can never resist a place that makes me feel as though I’m stepping through a portal into another world, and the old buildings felt as though they were full of stories, just waiting to be told…


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.

 

An Impromptu Mini-Break … In Denmark

Earlier this month I was lucky enough to have an impromptu mini-break. My husband had to visit Denmark for work and the stars aligned in terms of child- and dog-care to allow me to go with him for a long weekend away, something we’ve not done together since before the gorgeous girl was born.

And our destination? Aarhus, Denmark.

Aarhus, on the Jutland Peninsula, is Denmark’s second-largest city, and also one of its oldest. Historical records and archaeological evidence show that there were people living in the area since the 8th century, and there are some wonderful old buildings, including the medieval cathedral, that bear witness to the age of the place.

I’d never been to Denmark before, so was excited to go. The flight was surprisingly easy, only an hour and twenty minutes, and we landed at the tiny Aarhus airport in early evening. The city is about a half-hour drive from the airport, our taxi speeding us through darkness past pine forests and rolling fields, darker shapes against the night sky.

Our accommodation was lovely – in the heart of the city, it was a French-style boutique hotel housed in an old building, our room overlooking a cobbled courtyard lit with fairy lights. Inside, it was all painted wood and cosy feather quilts, but I was keen to go out and explore, so we set off into the city centre to find dinner and see what was happening.

As it turned out, we’d picked a good night to arrive. It was a traditional holiday, celebrating the release of a specially brewed beer for the festive season. The beer wasn’t available to buy until 9pm, but the celebration meant the bars and restaurants were full, the shops open late and the streets full of people and light.

The town centre is a mix of old and modern buildings, cobbled streets lined with tiny shops and large open pedestrian areas, while the canal that runs through the city is lined with restaurants, all with outdoor seating areas (which were packed, despite the cold temperatures). The cathedral, the largest in Denmark, stands out above the old buildings – built in the 1200s, it has been a city landmark for centuries.

There’s also a large harbour area, with a fantastic futuristic library building, and ferries taking passengers to Copenhagen and beyond. I was also particularly enchanted with the crossing lights – instead of the green and red man we’re used to, they had little Vikings, complete with helmet and shield.

The weather wasn’t great, to be honest, but what can you expect when visiting Scandinavia during winter? It didn’t stop us from heading out and looking around, spending Saturday exploring the city centre, including a visit to the excellent art gallery.

From wonderful landscape paintings by Scandinavian artists to the surreal sculptures of Ron Mueck, the gallery was the perfect place to spend a rainy morning.

At the very top of the building is a circle of rainbow coloured glass – this is the rainbow walk, a rather splendid way to view the city and surrounds. Even on a grey misty day, the coloured glass shone.

Mid-afternoon we returned to the hotel, snacks in hand, to read and watch tv and lounge around on feathery pillows, having to remind ourselves that we didn’t have to look after the child or the dog or anything else (now that’s a holiday!)

On Sunday we decided to visit Der Gamle By, one of Denmark’s top tourist attractions. Ancient buildings from across the country were brought to the site, on the edge of the city centre, over the past century, to preserve them from demolition or decay. It was extraordinary, like stepping back in time, and really deserves a blog post of its own (which it will get). Suffice it to say, I highly recommend it as a destination if you’re ever in the area.

Then we wandered along the canal back into the city centre, heading back to the warmth of the hotel before heading out for a last-night dinner. The next morning was a busy one, my husband heading to his meeting, leaving me to check out and arrange transport to collect him later on the way to the airport. However, this was all arranged by the wonderful staff at the hotel, and I spent my last hour or so in Aarhus sitting on the comfortable sofa in the foyer lounge, reading my book.

Later that afternoon we headed back to London and home. I loved visiting Denmark, and am sure I’ll be heading back there again one day – although I might try and choose a time when the weather is a bit better!


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.

 

Facing Fear with The Silent Eye, Part 1 – Arrival

I recently attended a workshop, with The Silent Eye, about Facing Our Fears, an extraordinary weekend spent among the hills and grey stone villages of the Peak District. It’s taken me a little while, as it usually does, to process everything that happened. Once again there was history and mystery, good company and tasty food, old friends greeted and new friends made. And, as always, revelations.This is part one of my account…

My journey began on Friday 13th, amid the hustle and bustle of St Pancras station, my train waiting beneath the great arcing span of glass. Perhaps it was the day – I’d given myself plenty of time to get there, yet still found myself rushing at the last moment, a wrong turn taken meaning I had to run the length of the station to get to my platform. But I made it on board and settled in for a pleasant journey through London and out into the green, past the dreaming spires of St Albans and further north, buildings of golden brick changing to red, then to grey stone.

This weekend was to be given over to fear, so I reflected on what that could mean as we headed north. I don’t particularly care for spiders, but I wasn’t sure the weekend would involve me facing countless arachnids. Heights? Maybe – we were going to be wandering the moors and high places, so I wondered whether that would be part of the challenge. Then I went deeper, to more primal fears. The loss of family, of home. Of life itself. One thing I knew – to expect the unexpected. These weekends tend to work in mysterious ways, and it was probably best if I just accepted that and went along with things, knowing that I was among friends and in full control as to what, if anything, I chose to experience.

The train discharged me at Sheffield, where I had a 15-minute wait for the local train bearing me into the hills. Once on board, we entered a long tunnel, a strange transition through darkness. On one side the industrial town; on the other, small villages and green hillsides, quaint stations with names like Grindleford and Hathersage. I had only a short journey to Hope, where I’d arranged to be picked up and taken to Tideswell, where I’d be staying for the weekend.

Tideswell is a beautiful village, all grey stone and pointed roofs, mullioned windows winking in the sunshine. It was a glorious day – the sun shining, sky blue, warm enough for a light jacket, even in the hills. Once dropped off, I made my way into the pub where I was staying, being shown to a room with a four-poster bed, of all things, before enjoying an excellent lunch in the small dining room, bounded by ancient oak beams and flagstone floors.

Then it was time to go. Sue and Stu had offered to pick me up and, at the allotted time, I went outside to be greeted with hugs and smiles. Then we hit the road, heading for the village of Eyam. I was excited to be going there, having enjoyed reading Geraldine Brooks’ Year of Wonders, a fictionalised version of the events that took place in the mid 1600s when plague came to Eyam. I’d also watched a fascinating documentary about the descendants of the survivors of that terrible time, all of whom still carried antibodies for the plague which also, apparently, rendered them immune to HIV, as both viruses work in a similar manner. (I’m in no way an expert on this – I’m just stating what was reported in the documentary – apparently these antibodies are being studied in the hopes of developing more effective HIV treatment). Eyam, quite simply, was a place with a story. And I love stories.

But I was not prepared for Eyam…


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.

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.)

xx

Wednesday Wander – Casa Batllo, Barcelona

I know, I know. You thought I was going to continue with my epic trip from last month. And, I am, definitely. There’s still so much to see in New York, from Rockefeller Plaza to the Chrysler building, Central Park to the Art Deco architecture of Fifth Avenue. Plus all the other places we visited…

But this week my mind has wandered to Barcelona, and an architectural masterpiece by one of my favourite architects, Antoni Gaudi.

I was last in Barcelona a couple of years ago. The weather was lovely while we were there, not too hot and perfect for walking around the city, which we did every day. I made sure to go and see as much of Gaudi’s work as I could, as I’d missed some on my previous visit, so we took the train up to Parc Guell, marvelled at the twisted spires of Sagrada Familia, and pondered the construction complexities of Casa Mila.

Not far from Casa Mila, on the Passeig de Gracia, is Casa Batllo or, as the locals call it, Casa Del Ossos, the house of bones. Looking at the extraordinarily intricate facade, one can see why – vaguely skeletal pillars hold curving window frames, while balconies look like the skulls of some strange sea creature, dried out in the sun.

Gaudi worked with colour and fantastical form, and I think this house is probably one of the best examples of his particular genius. The humped roof with scaled tiles was designed to evoke the idea of a dragon, with scaled tiles and a knobbly spine. There is a theory that the turret signifies the lance of St George, the patron saint of Catalonia, plunged into the back of the dragon.

The house was created in 1904 for the Batllo family, who commissioned Gaudi to design and build a new home for them. However, Gaudi convinced them that the existing building on the site, built in 1877, could simply be renovated instead. The Batllo family lived there until the 1950s, when the house was purchased by an insurance company and used as offices. It has since been renovated and restored, and is now open to the public (through ticket purchase) for tours and private event hire.

It was a thrill for me to see the house – what a joy it must have been to live there, in this wonderful ornate city where even the pavements are etched with flowers. Barcelona is one of my favourite places, and the art and architecture are a big part of the reason why.

Thanks for coming on another Wednesday Wander with me – see you next week, when we head back to America again…


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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An Adventure…

Hello, everyone!

I know, I know – it’s been a little while between posts. I’ve been focusing on a massive editing job, a final push to get The Last Raven out to my editor by the end of this month… and I managed to finish yesterday!

Just in time, too, as tomorrow I’m heading off on an adventure – a trip to New York, then Toronto, then Boston, with a side trip to Salem and a drive along the New England coast. Oh, and I’m doing it all in two weeks.

Mad, right?

I’m really looking forward to it, though. Not just because I’ll get some more material for my Wednesday Wanders, but also because I’ve never been to New York, Boston, Salem or any of New England, and I love seeing new places. I plan on seeking out the partner to Cleopatra’s needle in Central Park, and have a tour of the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island booked, just for starters. I’m also looking forward to finding out more about the sad story of the Salem ‘witches’, as well as seeing the New England coast.

I can’t wait to see Toronto again – I went to high school and university in that part of the world, and will be catching up with family and old friends, as well as being a bit of a tourist – well, it’s been a few years (decades) since I’ve been there.

And when I return, I’ll be back to it. There are more books to write and blog posts to share, plus the Bash will be less than a month away…

See you soon!

xx

 

Wednesday Wander – California Dreaming

It’s a short Wednesday Wander this week. The sickness bug has returned and taken over the entire household, all of us wandering around miserably, wishing it would go away. We live inland now, quite far from the ocean, and I do notice the difference in that things seem to linger, no fresh breezes or salt air sweeping through to clear away the sickness miasma.

And so my mind has wandered. To a place where the air is balmy, fresh with salt and Pacific breezes sweeping off a blue ocean. Where palm trees dance and seafood is served crisp and hot, fresh from the boats.

These shots were all taken the day we arrived in San Francisco just over two years ago, after a week spent in Vancouver and Seattle. We were about to start the next leg of our journey, heading down the California coast for my brother’s wedding.

We’d arrived, weary after a whirwind week, but excited to meet up with the rest of the family, who were flying in later that day. We checked into our hotel, then went to find food, a local restaurant offering excellent coconut prawns and a water view the perfect antidote to the bustle of airports and luggage and taxis, setting the scene for a wonderful week to come.

And it was my favourite time of day, as well. Sunset, the sky and sea reflections of each other, colours blending above and below. As we strolled back along the water to our hotel, I remember the feeling of warmth, within and without, and of happiness to be somewhere so wonderful with my favourite people in the world.

So, as I feel so rotten this week, I’ve decided to wander back there again. 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 – Watchet, Somerset

This little harbour town in Somerset is has neither the fame of San Francisco nor the glamour of Biarritz, yet it is where I’m wandering this week.

Watchet is a charming place with an ancient history, situated at the mouth of the River Severn. An Iron age hill-fort nearby, later re-fortified by Alfred the Great, is said to be the origin of the settlement, with the harbour originally named Gow Coed by the Celts, meaning ‘under the wood’. Across the water lie the misty hills of Wales and it is from the harbour, looking at the view, that Coleridge is said to have been inspired to write The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. A statue marks the spot, the Ancient Mariner and his albatross together for eternity.

We stayed in a pink-painted cottage with a view of the sea, walking the cobbled streets to the local pub or fish and chip shop, wandering the bric-a-brac and antique stores (where I scored an excellent pair of vintage boots).

A trip to the nearby beach produced further treasure in the shape of fossils – ammonites and oyster shells frozen in time for millions of years, tumbled among the stones that lined the shore.

As we walked back from the beach we took a bramble-lined path running between the trainline and the sea. In the 19th century, Watchet was a centre of the industrialised paper industry, its products travelling country-wide. Now the tracks are used by commuters and sightseers, and it was a rather special day. The famous Flying Scotsman steam train was in town, taking people on journeys through the beautiful green countryside. People lined the tracks to watch it pass, and so did we.

We had only a couple of days in Watchet, yet it made an impression that lingers, of hidden houses down curving streets, distant hills and fossil beaches, and water that changes with the sky and tides. I hope to go back there one 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.