#writephoto – Vista

The path wasn’t much. Cut into the hillside, a pale ribbon of chalk against the green. But it represented everything.

The wide landscape stretched before them, fading into a green haze. Summer lay rich upon the land, bees buzzing in the flowers, butterflies dancing among the long grasses. In the fields the crops ripened, blue-green wheat dotted with red poppies, apples ripening on the trees, the deep green shade a pleasant place to sit awhile, perhaps share some bread and cheese.

But there was no stopping. No rest.

Not for them.

The scent of smoke still perfumed the tatters of their clothing, the tangle of their hair. Wafted from the pitifully small bundles of possessions, all they’d been able to gather in the few moments before everything had changed.

But they were here now. The day was bright, the land stretching clear before them.

Behind them was darkness, fire and loss.

Ahead lay hope. Freedom.

As long as they kept moving.

One by one they took the pathway, their gazes resolutely forward, puffs of chalk dust beneath their shuffling feet. They ignored the noises from behind, their focus on the bright horizon.

Ignored the crackling, the thuds. The crunching noises.

The screaming.

It wasn’t getting any louder.

Was it?

This is my response to Sue Vincent’s #writephoto prompt, one of my favourite bloggy writing prompts. I’d meant to write something quite positive, but it took a somewhat… morbid turn that I didn’t expect. I find stories tend to have a mind of their own, though, and sometimes you just need to go where they take you. I hope my shuffling band of escapees make it, for what it’s worth…


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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.

Walking Through Rivendell (Revisited)

I forgot. Again. Heat is melting my brain, I guess? I have over 100 Wednesday Wanders just waiting to be reposed, but I keep forgetting. So here we are, Thursday and wanderless. However, in honour of it being such a stinking hot day here (30 degrees and humid), I’ve decided to post, not exactly a wander, but instead a memory of a cool valley replete with green grass, snowy mountains and a waterfall. Oh, and apparently it was the original inspiration for Rivendell, Tolkien being inspired by its beauty when he visited over a century ago. Enjoy…
This was the view from where I stayed

This was the view from my chalet. Pretty nice, hey?

About twenty-five years ago, I went on a trip around Europe. I was living in Canada at the time and this was my first big holiday by myself, so it was a Big Deal. The trip brought its own set of challenges and experiences, most of them positive, as well as some marvellous memories.

One of the places I visited was the valley of Lauterbrunnen, Switzerland. I stayed there for a couple of nights, lulled to sleep by the sounds of the nearby waterfall and the gentle chime of cowbells. It was an extraordinarily beautiful place, and I felt the spectacular landscape had a fairy-tale quality quite unlike anywhere else I’d been before. While I was there, I also took the cog railway up to the top of the Jungfrau mountain, taking photographs of the scenery along the way.

Ascending the Jungfrau

Ascending the Jungfrau

What I didn’t know at the time was that J.R.R Tolkien had visited the same valley in 1911, and was so taken by its beauty that he used it as the basis for Rivendell, home to Elrond and the Elves. (Apparently, on the same trip, he also picked up an illustration that inspired his description of Gandalf.) If you look at Tolkien’s painting of Rivendell (which I don’t have permission to reproduce here, so here’s a link), you can see the similarities between his fantasy world and the real one.

The glacier on top of the Jungfrau - the original Pass of Carahdras?

The glacier on top of the Jungfrau – the original Pass of Carahdras?

I recently wrote a post about the landscape that had inspired my own book, Oak and Mist. Though not quite as striking as the Lauterbrunnen valley and its towering mountains, the park near my childhood home holds both beauty and memory for me, making it the perfect starting point for my story. And this is one of the things I love about writing fantasy – blending the real world with the one I create.

The valley seen from the lower slopes of the Jungfrau

The valley seen from the lower slopes of the Jungfrau – look familiar?

I know you can visit Hobbiton and some of the other locations for the LOTR movies in New Zealand, and that they are spectacular. However, to walk through the actual landscape that inspired Tolkien to create Middle-Earth is quite something as well (even if I didn’t realise it at the time) 🙂

So how about you? Has your work been inspired by real places you’ve visited or lived in? Or have you walked in the footsteps of your literary heroes?


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 Tangled Path – Where Do We Go From Here?

As we move through these strange times, I suppose we each have our way of dealing with what’s going on. While we are linked on one level by the shared experience of lockdown, each of us has our own set of circumstances to deal with in how we find our way forward.

I found it difficult to focus the first few weeks of lockdown. Perhaps I was tapping into a larger, more generalised global anxiety, or simply finding the constant stream of news upsetting – or perhaps a mix of both. Whatever the case, I couldn’t do much writing, only able to sit for ten or fifteen minutes at a time. I concentrated on short stories, working on some I already had, improving them for competition entries. Otherwise, I busied myself around the house, doing laundry, cleaning, tidying, baking, working out how to get food for myself and my family, cooking, clearing out cupboards… you get the idea.

And walking. Each day, the dog and I would head out for our state-sponsored walk, and I’d try and let my mind go free as well, releasing anxiety. It helped, a little.

Then April began and, with it, a commitment I’d made to do Camp NanoWrimo with a group of likeminded writers. It wasn’t our first time in the cabin together, and it was a welcome change of focus. It also forced me to write. My goal was 20k words, a big chunk of the first draft of a new middle-grade novel I was working on.

And I did it. I reached my goal with days to spare, the satisfaction at seeing my word count creep up, day by day, sometimes by only a couple of hundred words, keeping me going. As did the group I was in. All of us had goals to achieve, and each of us, though we lived in different countries, were dealing with lockdown and the impact of the pandemic. It was nice to check in and see how they were doing, to congratulate each other with every badge achieved. And it got me writing again.

Now it’s May, and lockdown continues, though things are beginning to ease. I do think this will be the shape of things for a bit longer yet, though, until a vaccine is developed. What was strange has almost become normal, now – it’s interesting how quickly we adapt to changes in circumstances. It seems normal now to go to the supermarket and see hardly anyone in there, to see empty shelves, to wave hello at people from across the road but go no closer. Even though I live on the very edge of London, close to the busiest airport in the world and two major motorways, when I go out for my walks, most days, all I hear is birdsong. The skies are clear, the hedges filled with butterflies and buzzing bees as large as my thumb. There seem to be more flowers than I remember seeing, too.

I wonder what the world will be like when we come out of the other side? I wonder whether there will be lessons learned, not only about the way we treat the other creatures with whom we share the planet, and their habitats, but also the other lessons. About how people who actually keep the world going are often paid less than anyone else. About how much we pollute, simply by living our lives – the pictures of clear skies in India, of cities seeing the Himalayas for the first time in years, are proof of how quickly things can change when we change our behaviour. And what about corporate culture? Big expensive offices may become a thing of the past, as many companies have realised they can still run with people working from home. Why pay for someone to have a desk in an office when they can do the same work from the comfort of their home?

There will be divorces and babies and love stories and breakups. There will be people taking leaps, trying something new. There will be business failures, and success stories. In twenty years’ time, our children and grandchildren will be learning about The Great Pandemic in school. But what their world looks like depends on how we rebuild this one. Which path we choose.

Hope you’re all staying safe and well – let me know how things have been for you in this strange time xx

(Photos from a recent dog walk – thank goodness for the lovely weather we’ve been having!)


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.

#writephoto – Beyond The Storm

Another lovely #writephoto prompt from Sue Vincent. Here’s my take on her image – and if you want to give the prompt a go, head over to her site and link your post to hers, or leave a link in the comments:

‘Storm’s a comin’’ Paras spat decisively before turning on his heel, leather boots scraping against rough stone.

‘Our defences will hold,’ Seren replied, hand on the sword belted at her hip, long red hair braided back from her face.

Paras paused, his cloak swirling in the rising wind. He looked back, glint of dark eye above dark beard. ‘They’d better.’

Seren, her gaze on the gathering darkness, nodded, more confident than she felt.

The first heavy drops of rain began to fall, marking her leather armour. And with them, a wrongness, the wind rising to a howl of song, the sky becoming so black she could barely see her hand in front of her. Behind the storm came a deeper dark, a clotted blackness that swarmed up walls and tore great chunks of stone free, swallowing up men, women and children without a sound.

It passed. Light sparked on what remained.

***

‘You ever wonder about what happened at these places?’ Callum, chewing a blade of glass, reclined on the picnic rug. He took another swig of his beer before continuing. ‘Y’know, like who lived here and all that?’

‘It’s on the board,’ said Sarah. She was sitting up, her arms wrapped around her bent knees, red hair whipping around her head as the wind rose. Her sandwich lay discarded beside her and her gaze was troubled as she watched the clouds gather. ‘Over there.’

A notice board with a faded drawing of the castle as it once was stood nearby, a brief history of the place. Archaeology hadn’t been able to establish why it had been abandoned, only that it had happened quickly.

‘Yeah, right,’ said Callum, but he didn’t sound as interested any more. He finished his beer and belched, rubbing his stomach. Sarah made a face, but her eyes were still on the roiling sky. Around them other picknickers were beginning to pack up, folding blankets and gathering children. There was no urgency, though.

Until the rain began to fall.


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.