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.

Living La Vida Lockdown

(If the Ricky Martin song is now in your head, sorry for the earworm.)

It’s a funny old time, this lockdown. Bringing up lots of memories, days past relived, choices assessed, plans made for going forwards. Time has no meaning, any more – the days punctuated only by the alarm going off in the morning, the click of the letterbox when the post arrives, the occasional arrival of a van, delivering items to people on the street.

It’s no Vida Loca, that’s for sure. The biggest excitement is a trip to the supermarket, where people no longer seem to be bothering with social distancing, as though the past three months have been some awful and ridiculous dream, a figment of our collective imaginations, that we’re all now just waking from.

Lockdown is starting to ease here, though with different restrictions depending upon whether you’re in England, Scotland, Wales, or Northern Ireland. The revelations that a government advisor, at the height of the pandemic and while suffering from Covid himself, travelled 200 miles north to his parents’ house and then made a few daytrips while he was there, have helped to unravel the months of sacrifice and solitude, as have the misleading messages and constantly changing guidance. I think people are sick of it, too – the long queues outside shops when they opened on Monday perhaps an indication of how people just want to do something different.

But I hope we don’t rush back to the world that was.

Great change is happening, groundswells of movement. People continue to protest that Black Lives Matter (as they do, and should, and always have), and there has been a shift in understanding around the nature of work and what, really, is essential, and that the people who keep things running, who care and educate and deliver and feed us, should be paid a proper wage for the work they do. People are also discovering the communities in which they live, helping neighbours in need, supporting others. There is a chance here to continue, to forge a better world.

There has been bad behaviour, too, of course, like the aforementioned adviser and his lockdown trip (symbolic of a greater disarray among our government), or the people who trash our countrysides and beaches for some unfathomable reason. But hopefully the seeds of positive change have now been sown, and we won’t lose this momentum, reaping the harvest of better times in the future.

I’m still going on lots of walks, just as I always have, stories dancing in my head. The inability to focus which plagued me at the beginning of lockdown, perhaps linked to the adjustment of living in a strange new world, has long gone, and there are new stories brewing, new worlds to explore. We also, as a family, managed a trip to the beach. Not a long drive away, an hour or so, to a beach we knew would not be busy. We took everything we needed with us, and left nothing behind. There were other families there, but with enough space that we could all keep plenty of distance. It was good for the soul to be somewhere different, to breathe sea air, to see my daughter laugh as she danced in the waves. These are the small joys to be taken at such a time.

We’re also lucky that we still, as a family, have been able to work. Ineligible for any of the government support programs, we know we’re fortunate to have paid employment during this time. A lot of people are struggling, and the fallout from this will be felt for years to come. Another reason a better world, a more caring world, will be needed.

At the moment, though, I’m staying home. I’m a dedicated shopper, oh my goodness yes I am, but I have no plans to hit the stores anytime soon. This virus hasn’t gone away, just because lockdown is easing. So we will stay safe as best we can, and hope that the others we love can do the same.

So I guess this is a blog post about nothing much, really, because on the surface, that’s what I’ve been doing. But there have been seeds sown in both my personal and professional lives, and I’m hoping, just as I’m hoping to see in the wider world, for some positive results.

Hope you’re all staying safe and well x

Photos from a recent walk and our trip to the coast


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 Walk On Midsummer’s Day

This morning we set out, my faithful companion and I, to wander the woods on Midsummer Day. The paths were cool and shaded green, sun glimmering through the leaves to create patterns of light and dark. In short, it was a pretty magical way to start the day.

I have a long tradition of going to the woods on Midsummer. When I was small, my grandmother used to take me there to look for fairies – whether we found any or not I can’t say, but it always seemed a magical time to me. My grandmother knew the name of every flower and taught it to me, as well as phrases of her native Welsh. We would pick snowdrops in springtime, wandering through the village with our large basket overflowing with tiny white bells and green leaves, which we then parcelled into posies for gifts.

When I lived in Australia, the summer solstice occured just before Christmas, so it was a slightly different celebration. Still, I always tried to surround myself with green leaves, whether walking by the Yarra or driving through the Mornington Peninsula hinterland, where twisted pines reached for the sky and once, magically, kangaroos bounded across the road as dusk was falling, their fur grey as shadow.

Today, however, my canine companion and I took the winding streets and backways until we reached the Little Wood, as it’s called, a small patch of wilderness leading to a green and pleasant meadow, one of doggo’s favourite places to run and play.

The grass was tall, starred with dandelions and buttercups, deep blue speedwell and pink campion, butterflies fluttering here and there. The trees were bursting with green, as though decorated to celebrate the turning of nature’s wheel, the blue sky festooned with clouds.

I threw doggo’s ball for her and she chased it, disappearing into the long grass and emerging decorated with dandelion seeds, lying down to have a rest every once in a while. We saw one of her doggy friends from puppy training and they had a play, then we wandered back past the broken tree, while ravens danced in the high branches.

We left the meadow, taking the main road back home, entering the world of men once more. But I carried a little piece of forest magic with me…

Happy solstice, everyone – may your light shine bright 🙂


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.

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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Wednesday Wander – San Sebastian Old Town

It’s Wednesday again, and this week I’m wandering back to Donostia San Sebastian, the beautiful Spanish coastal town I visited this past summer.

Last time I wandered here, I visited the beaches, golden curves of sand deserving of their own blog post. This time, I’m venturing into the Old Town.

While there is evidence to suggest that San Sebastian was at one time part of a Roman territory, the first recorded history of the place is in 1014, when the monastery of San Sebastian was given to the Abbey of Leire. By 1181, the town was officially chartered, though was mostly destroyed by fire in 1489, then again by Napoleonic troops in 1808.

Therefore, most buildings in the Old Town date from the nineteenth century, including the Constitution Square, built in 1817.

The numbers above the windows are from the time when the square was used as a bullring – the numbers corresponded to private boxes from where bullfights could be watched. When a new bullring was built further out of town, the boxes were converted to housing, the numbers kept as a reminder of its past.

There is also an old harbour section, home to several excellent seafood restaurants (we ate at Igedo), as well as the aquarium. While the buildings here may look old, they were actually built in the early 20th century after a section of the old town wall was demolished. In the evening it’s a wonderful place, local teenagers doing somersaults into the clear green water in a bid to impress their friends, families and couples walking and talking, the restaurants buzzing with conversation and the scent of cooking in the air.

After dinner, we joined the crowds wandering along the harbour, stopping outside the aquarium to watch the sun set, colours changing in water and sky. It was completely beautiful, one of those places I’ll always remember visiting, and somewhere I hope to get back to 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.

A Nice Day For A Walk

I haven’t walked to work along the canal for the past couple of weeks. Early starts and unusual weather have meant I’ve not been able to do so. But this past Friday I managed to get myself organised and headed down the hill, backpack on, looking forward to the walk.

It takes me just over half an hour to get to the office when I walk, and it’s a time for me to think and clear my head. The canal, despite being close to a main road and crossed by a major trainline, is a quiet place. Birds sing, water laps, leaves rustle. It is green and lush at this time of year, the water still and smooth.

Cows were beneath the hawthorn trees, and the tiny cygnets I’d seen only weeks ago were now almost swans (although still very fluffy).

The old tree stump seat was almost overgrown with brambles and nettles, while the roses growing up the side of the old lock-keeper’s cottage had bloomed.

There were new boats moored along the way, some of them with bright potted gardens and unusual decorations.

I also found some fragments of pottery, blue and white. Probably over a hundred years old, little pieces of history tumbled among the flint and gravel, treasure to no one but me.

Along one stretch I walk on a narrow strip of land, the canal to one side of me and, hidden beyond a hedge, an angler’s lake to the other side. It’s an interesting feeling, almost like walking on water, even though I know the earth beneath me is solid.

I also found inspiration on my walk, a couple of blog posts and some more plotlines coming to me. I’ve been missing my old freedom these past few months – while I’m enjoying my new job and all that comes with it, I miss the time I had in the past to just walk and think. So I’ll make sure to do the canal walk regularly from now on.———————————————————————————————-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.

 

Wonder Woman, Ladybirds and Girl Power

I just got back from taking my gorgeous girl to see Wonder Woman. She loved it, as did I – the messages overwhelmingly positive, the women on screen powerful characters with their own strength and agency, refreshing to see. As the action progressed every so often I would hear her say ‘awesome!’ and, on several occasions, ‘girl power!’ When Diana emailed Bruce Wayne, she leaned over to me and said ‘Bruce Wayne is Batman, right?’ I nodded. ‘So she’s emailing Batman.’ I nodded again and she grinned.

When the movie ended we walked out into the sunshine. As we headed home I asked her what she thought of the film. She said she loved it. I asked her why. Her answer was simple. ‘Girl power!’ And I was quietly glad. She went on to tell me that women can do what they want to do, be who they want to be, and I was grateful that she felt that way, knowing that if she’d been born in another place or another time, things would be quite different for her. I mentioned how far we’d come in the past 100 years and she agreed, saying that we can now vote, something she seemed very pleased about. Then she went on to say, ‘But I think women should be paid equally.’ This is something that’s concerned her for a while, since seeing a headline stating it would be 2069 before we saw pay parity – that is, the same pay for the same job (not long to wait now, ladies!). I agreed with her, and said that, even though we’ve come a long way, there was still a way to go before equality.

As we walked and she pulled silly faces and did acrobatics, watched bees buzz and kites dance, we talked about women and what equality means. About equal pay, equal rights, equal opportunities. We spoke of how the fim’s director, Patty Jenkins, was a woman, and how that was unusual. And that, even though we’d come a long way, there were still women around the world who were being held back by old rules and old ideas, restricted from working or driving or visiting a doctor without a male in tow. I couldn’t explain why there were those who still thought that way.

Towards the end of the walk she stopped me, reaching up to disentangle a ladybird from my hair. We both smiled, then. A ladybird, to us, is my grandmother, a force of nature and one of the strongest women I’ve known. A volunteer since she was a teenager during the war, she ran her own business, was a magistrate and a school governor, in a time when women didn’t usually do those things. She was also a fabulous singer, performing with big bands in her youth, and never missing an opportunity to entertain – at the end of my husband’s and my wedding, when everyone else was flagging, she was still going, playing piano in an impromptu performance for the guests as they left the venue.

So it seemed fitting, on a morning when my daughter and I had celebrated women, and discussed women and all they can do, to be reminded of her.

Btw, Wonder Woman was awesome – five stars!


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.

Reading, Writing, and Silver Fish Jumping

It’s been a little while since I’ve written an update kind of post, and so it seemed like today would be a good day.

A Thousand Rooms is currently available to read and review via NetGalley, and was recently in their Summer Reads newsletter. So far, so good. I’ve also been asked, via a NetGalley request, to take part in a blog tour for a new Random House/Penguin release, The Finding of Martha Lost. My review is due on May 24th – I’ve read the book already and can say it’s a lovely, whimsical read.

Writing-wise I’ve been forging ahead with Silver and Black, hoping to get a complete draft finished by the end of this month. I’ve been working on it, on and off, for over a year now, so it will be nice to get the structure sorted. There will be quite a bit of work after that, of course, adding in detail and finetuning things, so it’s a while away from being shared. However, the fourth Ambeth book, Under Stone, is now out for edit, and I’m sorting out the cover design with a view to publishing this summer. Then there’s The Grove, a story that’s coming to me in bits and pieces, and that I’m quite excited about. I foresee a lot of work ahead with that one…

Other than that, I’ve been looking at planning a few short trips over the coming months, so hopefully that will mean more material for my Wednesday Wanders (although I’m not close to running out yet!). Even though I’m not blogging quite as much as I usually do, I try not to miss posting those – it’s fun going back to places I’ve visited and I really enjoy hearing from everyone about places they’ve visited too. And does anyone else feel that Game of Thrones cannot return soon enough? I’m dying to find out what happens next, and think it quite mean that they’re making us wait so long. I also recently read The Handmaid’s Tale, and wish I could get the Hulu adaptation here – I hear it’s excellent.

And I’m still walking, enjoying the trees and canal and wild creatures, using the time to work out plots and ideas. Yesterday I saw herons, two swans building a nest, countless ducks and silver fish jumping, and was scattered with sweet scented hawthorn blossom as I wandered past water so smooth and still it seemed an extension of the path I walked.

Last night the gorgeous girl and I watched Eurovision together, as we usually do. We had snacks and supplies, plus I was tweeting with #BigUpYour Eurovision, which was hilarious fun. None of us, gorgeous girl included, were completely thrilled with the song that won – however, huge congratulations to Portugal on their first Eurovision win ever. Here’s to Lisbon 2018!

Happy weekend, everyone, and Happy Mother’s Day to those who are celebrating xx

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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.

Thursday Doors – Hippies on the Canal

As you may be aware from some of my earlier posts, in January I started a new job. I’m very lucky in that it’s close enough to walk to if I choose, and I can walk most of the way along a stretch of the Grand Union Canal, the longest canal in England.

It’s a lovely walk, and one replete with photo opportunities. From golden green vistas

To blossom caught on the water’s surface at an old lock gate

And unique touches on some of the canal boats, like this wonderful knotted mermaid.

It’s also home to some interesting little doors, like this one I photographed earlier in the week. I’ve seen the owner of this boat before on my walks, a friendly fellow with a dog, always ready to say good morning. From the sign I’d say he might have a sense of humour, too.

This is my entry to 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.

And if you like my photos, follow me on Instagram!


If you enjoyed this post and want 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.

Out For A Walk

img_1249Today I decided to walk to work. It’s a reasonably long walk, about forty minutes, but the morning was bright and I had the time. It’s a nice walk, along a main residential road, past fields and under a railway bridge, along a reservoir and, finally, crossing a sylvan canal basin and heading up past what is reputed to be the site of a king’s hunting lodge. Nothing remains now except a fragment of red brick wall with a Tudor rose on it, incorporated into the more modern (but still a couple of centuries old) house now on the site.

It’s been a while since I’ve had a really long walk. And today I realised how much I’d missed it. I still do the school walks each morning and afternoon, but my days being what they are at the moment I don’t usually have the time to wander further. However, today’s walk made me determined to find the time.

Apart from the exercise, I find walking to be a wonderful time to think. I’ve worked out countless plot points, untangled knotty problems and generally put my life into some sort of order. For some reason it works for me. However, I do need a destination – I can’t just walk aimlessly.

Apparently Lin-Manuel Miranda wrote the lyrics to his wildly popular Hamilton while on his afternoon walks, while William Blake, Wordsworth and JK Rowling are just a few of the many other writers who found inspiration while out for a wander. Recent studies have found that, when we walk, our brain activity increases, as does connectivity between important brain circuits, boosting our mood.

Today I managed to sort out some time management stuff, as well as reconcile a couple of character threads in my current WIP. I also got some exercise and fresh air, arriving at work on time. I realise I’m fortunate to be able to walk to work – however, even when I had to take public transport to previous jobs I always managed to fit in a walk of some kind, whether it was by getting off several stops early or heading out during my lunch break.

So it was nice to rediscover the joy of walking today, and to feel the familiar story telling wheels begin to turn once more in my mind. Looking forward to seeing where the walk takes me next week…

‘Me thinks that the moment my legs begin to move, my thoughts begin to flow.’  Henry David Thoreau


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.