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.

 

Unpacking

I’m back 🙂

Been back a few days now, not quite a week. The suitcases are up in the loft, and I’m gradually emerging from under the approximately 7923 emails and 278 loads of washing (it’s amazing how much a family can fit into three medium sized suitcases).

It’s nice to be home, as it always is, the house welcoming, although I miss the sunny skies and sea of the Basque country – my home is too far from the ocean for my liking these days. I’ve travelled a bit in my life, as you may have noticed, and you would think, therefore, that I would be a dab hand at packing. The kind of person who can throw in a few key pieces and have enough outfits for three weeks and any occasion. Sadly, that’s not the case. Although I’m better at it than I was, I still somehow manage to pack several items I don’t need at all, while leaving other items I do need at home. Invariably I open my case at the other end and wonder what I was thinking when I packed, my carefully chosen outfits all seeming completely wrong, what seemed like a sensible amount of things at home somehow multiplying into far too much for the time I’m away.

However, I’m a dab hand at unpacking. Pull, sort and dispose of, either into the laundry basket or back into the cupboard. As for the rest of it, the memories of cliff bound beaches, misty coastlines and turreted houses, that will take a little longer to unpack. There are photos to download and definitely a few Wednesday Wanders to write. I did get to Dragonstone, visiting both locations used in Season Seven, and they were absolutely spectacular. I ate and drank and enjoyed time with family, danced in blue waves and wandered cobbled streets. It was fab.

So forgive me if I take a little while to get back into the swing of things again. It’s lovely to be home 🙂