#writephoto Sanctuary

Sue Vincent’s #writephoto is one of my favourite blog writing prompts. The photos she chooses are always so inspiring, and she gets such a variety of responses to the same image. I don’t always get a story but, when I do, they come immediately. This one appeared when I saw her image for this week:

‘So, this is the place?’

The man grinned, revealing chipped and blackened teeth, his hair blonde against the blood-spattered furs he wore. His similarly-attired companion shrugged.

‘It is.’

‘Some sanctuary. It doesn’t even have a door.’

‘Huh. C’mon. This is where she’ll be.’

They moved towards the small building, their boots crunching against the snow. More flakes swirled around them, catching in their long tangled hair, melting on the iron blades they carried.

***

She watched them approach, fear closing her throat. There was no one left to hear if she screamed, anyway. She closed her eyes, willing herself to stay still, pushing aside her grief. When she got through this, if she got through this, there would be time enough to mourn.

She could hear their breathing as they stepped between the pillars, the clank of their weapons.

They entered the sanctuary.

It seemed as though the forest itself held its breath.

‘What the-‘

From her hiding place she heard a clatter of metal on stone, then a thud. A tear escaped from under her closed eyelids. They had destroyed the offerings, from the sound of it. The bronze bowl she used for scrying now taken as a spoil of war, the stone pillar on which it had rested knocked over.

Anger curled in her stomach, combining with the fear. She felt sick. But there was nothing she could do except wait, and hope.

***

‘She’s gone.’

‘Bitch probably ran into the woods.’

‘Hehe, yeah. She won’t get far.’

‘Let’s go. If the wolves don’t get her, we will.’

They left the small temple, stopping in one final act of desecration to urinate across the threshold, laughing as their piss hit the snow. Then they disappeared among the trees, the crashing of their passage growing fainter until she could hear no more.

***

She took in a deep breath. Uncurled her cramped and cold fingers, shook the snow from her hair. She spoke a word of power, and the branches enclosing her opened, releasing her. She spoke another, and two grey wolves appeared, their soft fur brushing her hands as they circled her, awaiting her command. ‘Go,’ she said, and they bounded away, golden eyes sharp with the thrill of the hunt. She listened as the howling grew louder, thought she heard a distant scream. Then she stepped inside her temple and began the work of cleansing.

She hadn’t been able to save her village.

But she could still avenge them.


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Finding My Way Back #amwriting

I have a new desk.

For writers, this can be kind of a big deal.

I’m quite pleased with it. It’s a bit smaller than my other desk, which makes my tiny study feel bigger. There’s still room for my bits and pieces; trinket boxes, a set of vintage tins I use for pens, some interesting stones and feathers I’ve collected. However, I’ve had to clear out a load of papers, which is not a bad thing. I’ve found some treasure, like a list my daughter wrote a couple of years ago about her ‘Favourite times’. My favourite entry is ‘Being kept warm.’ Such a simple thing, yet to my small girl it was important enough to put on her list, and a reminder to me not to take such privilege for granted.

I also found a list of agents and publishers to whom I submitted Oak and Mist, when it was just a fledgling manuscript. It was in no way ready to be sent out, but I didn’t realise at the time, so I shoved it from its nest out into the big world. It came back to me thoroughly rejected, of course, although I did get a couple of requests for the full manuscript. It was a learning experience, if nothing else, and I suppose part of the process of being a writer.

There’s a lot to go through, and I’m still not quite finished. But I did discover one other thing, which I was very pleased to find. I found my way back. Back to writing again, to writing for my own pleasure as well as for others. This past year has been good for me – it’s challenged me and taken me out of my comfort zone. However, it’s come to an end and I’m happy to be back in my office once more.

In Stephen King’s On Writing (which I think is one of the best writing craft books I’ve read), he talks about returning to writing after his accident, and how he felt rusty at first, that his ‘tricks’ had deserted him. But he persevered, and soon found his way back to the page. In my own far less illustrious way, I feel the same. A little bit rusty, my writing mojo not quite back yet. But today, as I set up my desk, I felt the beginning. As though I were back on the path again.

And that was a great thing to find.


Oak and Mist, the first book in The Ambeth Chronicles, is on sale for 99c/99p until January 31st! Get your copy here

And don’t forget to get your Bloggers Bash tickets – follow this link to join the fun 🙂

Woken By Words #amediting

I was woken this morning by words. Not by my neighbour, although the sound of her workmen banging and drilling at 8am was enough to send sleep away. I was up well before then, the story I’m working on poking and prodding at my brain. ‘Come on!’ it said. ‘Let’s go! We need to sort out this first chapter structure and I think I know how to do it.’

I tried to ignore it, rolling over with the covers around my ears, eyes closed tight. But it was insistent, worming its way into my dozing dreams, flickers of silver and black. ‘Wake up! It’ll be fun.’

Sure. Fun.

I’m not a huge fan of editing. I know it’s necessary, I know it needs to be done over and over eleventy bajillion times before I can send a book baby out into the world, but I much prefer the fire and flow of writing. That feeling when the story just comes out, so many words gushing forth it’s hard to get them on the page. I love that. But, as is accepted lore among writers, the first draft is usually crap. Upon re-reading, a host of errors will make themselves apparent and then it’s time to get out the red pen, usually with a sigh.

And that’s where I am now. I actually quite like this first draft. There’s a lot of good in it, and the story holds up well. However, there are scenes in the wrong order and a few repetitive events that need to be either combined or excised altogether, so my brain has been working overtime to reassemble the scattered pieces into something that still holds the spontaneity of the first draft, but won’t make the reader go ‘huh?’ when they get to see the finished product.

Have I sorted it? Hmmm. Not sure. What seemed so clear at 6:30am isn’t quite so obvious now, although I have made progress. Still, it’s a good sign. It seems this story is quite keen to get out into the world and so is pushing me. I’ll go with it, for now.

How about you? Do your stories yell at you to finish them? Gently prod you awake in the middle of the night to write plot points? The life of a writer is strange indeed…


Oak and Mist, the first book in my Ambeth series, is on sale now until the end of January! Get your copy here.

 

 

 

The Old Year Ends…

As the year draws to a close, I suppose it’s time to look back and consider how it was. For me, 2017 was a year of mixed blessings and a badly needed kickstart. I’d fallen into something of a rut, so being challenged and thrown out of my comfort zone, as I have been this year, has given me renewed energy for 2018.

In terms of blogging, 2017 was a quiet year for me. I didn’t post nearly as much as I had the year before, nor was I able to spend quite as much time visiting other blogs as I would have liked to. However, I did make it to the Bloggers Bash in London, and caught up in person with many lovely familiar faces, as well as meeting some new ones. I also spent a magical weekend in Scotland with the Silent Eye, discovering that we can be tested in many different ways.

When it came to blog posts a perennial favourite, Stuck Writing Your Author Bio, reigned supreme for the second year in a row, gaining more views than any other. The rest of my top ten consisted mostly of Wednesday Wanders, with Mykonos, Italy, Heidelberg, Stonehenge, Dragonstone and Bath ranking as the most popular destinations. (And my Wanders will be back in 2018, by the way – I haven’t run out of places yet, and have more travels planned). A post about a weekend in Paris with an old friend also made the top ten – looking at that list you wouldn’t think I started blogging about writing!

When it came to writing, this year was a busy one. I finished the first draft of Silver and Black, my vampire novel, as well as the final edit for Under Stone, the fourth Ambeth book. I managed to squeeze in a few short stories as well, and am looking forward to more writing and publishing in the coming year.

But for now the house is tidy, dinner is almost ready to eat and I’m looking forward to seeing in the New Year. Thank you to everyone who has visited, read, liked, commented and reblogged – you’re all wonderful. Wishing you joy and a prosperous 2018, wherever you are!

Happy New Year! x

The Wheel Turns, and a Cover Reveal!

Today was the shortest day, the moment when the wheel of the year turns towards light again. In the old ways it was called Yule, and marked a time of hope, when a spark of light would be lit both symbolically and literally to celebrate the turning of the year.

I love this time of year. I love the sparkling lights on the houses and in the trees, the clear high sunsets and cold nights, the shimmer of frost and the crack of ice. I especially love the idea of hope, of change, of finding the spark within.

It’s interesting that the past week has seen a turning of the wheel in my own life as well. I now have a new plan for the year ahead, and am excited to get back to writing once more. So, to celebrate both the solstice and my rejuvenated writing plan, here is the cover for my next release, Under Stone, the fourth in my Ambeth Chronicles series!

I’m thrilled with the finished product, and think it goes very well with the others. Under Stone will be released very soon, and pre-release copies are available for review – please contact me if you’d like one.

Wishing you all a happy solstice!

A Coventry Win, And A Guardian Article – Happy Weekend!

If you’ve read my Author Bio, or my About page, you’ll know that I grew up in Coventry, England. My family have deep ties to the City and most of them still live there, so I visit often. When I returned to the UK in 2012, I spent my first six months back in the country living there again, only moving away due to my husband’s work. It’s a place that holds a lot of happy memories for me.

Coventry is also the real-world setting for my Ambeth books. Alma lives on my old street, and the Gate of Oak is in the Memorial Park, a place that has always held magic for me. It is telling that, when I sat down to write my first book, Coventry was the inspiration and starting point. It is a city I still hold close to my heart.

So, when Coventry was named 2021 UK City of Culture this past week, I was thrilled! I tweeted out my congratulations, adding that I thought it a well-deserved win. Less than an hour later, through the strange workings of Twitter, The Guardian newspaper had contacted me. Would I like to write a piece about the city and why I love it, they asked. Would I? I jumped at the chance, even though they needed it done that afternoon and I was at work – there was no way I was missing this opportunity.

I was given 700 words and a short brief – truly, I could have written double that amount – and feel I only touched on the many layers of history and culture the city holds. The article was approved, and is now live on the Guardian site, less than 24 hours after my original tweet. (If you’d like to read it, click here)

And that’s it! A wonderful, and quite unexpected, start to my weekend 🙂 Wishing you all a great weekend wherever you are and, #happywriting.

xx

A Matter Of Punctuation

Earlier this year, as part of a flurry of competition entries, I entered A Thousand Rooms, my standalone women’s fiction novel, in the 25th Annual Writer’s Digest Self-Published Book Awards.

It was a long shot. I knew that. One of the most respected independent book competitions around, the contest attracts thousands of entries from around the world. However, you can’t win the lottery if you don’t have a ticket, so I thought it might be worth a try. Another attraction was the fact that I would get, as part of my entry fee, feedback from the judge assigned to my title.

Well, I didn’t make the final shortlist. Oh well. However, I recently received my promised feedback and was very pleased. Feedback scores are ranked from 1 to 5, with 1 being ‘needs improvement’ and 5 being ‘outstanding.’

My scores were as follows:

Structure, Organization, and Pacing: 4

Spelling, Punctuation, and Grammar: 4

Production Quality and Cover Design: 5

Plot and Story Appeal: 5

Character Appeal and Development: 4

Voice and Writing Style: 5

Furthermore, the judge offered the following comments:

I was really very excited when I discovered that the author has a fantastic writing style and a voice that is perfectly suited for the genre. This is a good book… I love this type of plot line and it certainly kept me entertained and turning the pages. The author has done a great job with strong, fast pacing that doesn’t lag. And an equally great job of realistic dialogue that also presents with a nix (sic) mix of dialogue and narrative. I wish that more authors would focus on this element when it comes to fiction writing. A nice, satisfying ending left me with a smile on my face. This was just simply a solid entry… Best of luck with this book and I hope to read more from this author.

I was very pleased with this feedback, as you can imagine.

However, I haven’t written this post just to sing my own praises 🙂 One of the things I lost marks on was spelling, punctuation and grammar. Now, I had this book professionally edited, so I doubt that spelling was an issue, unless the American judge didn’t like my use of colour, favour, etc. While they didn’t specify spelling as an issue, they did point out one specific issue they saw – my use of single quotation marks throughout the book, which they described as ‘incorrect and an unnecessary distraction.’

Incorrect? Not in this country. In fact, I’m currently reading The Essex Serpent, a British bestseller from last year, and the quotation marks throughout? Single.

Perhaps, had the judge realised I was a UK-based author, they may have been more lenient. However, it was a lesson to me, as a writer who sells books around the world, that I might want to reconsider my use of quotation marks. It’s a small thing, but it may have made the difference to my entry. (Or not, more than likely – I really don’t know).

So, not the end of the world. I received excellent feedback, and I learned a lesson. Not bad for a competition entry. And I thought I might share it with you.


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.