I don’t think of myself as a party animal, but writing is a sedentary job and I do need to get out of the chair for something other than a cuppa or a meal. I try to do some kind of exercise 3 times a week plus there’s walking the dogs but of those, only my online MS fitness class gives me a real workout.

Unless I’m some place where 70’s and 80’s soul and funk music is playing. It’s the equivalent of the doctor whacking me on the knee with a little rubber hammer – I just can’t keep still.

Cue a regular Friday night activity I’ve taken up during lockdown – an online disco. The one I attend is run by Haven’t Stopped Dancing Yet, a wonderful team of lunatics in London with partygoers from – well, pretty much anywhere in the world!

They feature various partygoers on their blog and this week, it’s me!

I encourage you to go take a look at their blog and find out some new stuff about me – and maybe get into the party mood with these guys yourselves. If you do, tell them who sent you!

Maybe see you in Nikki’s spotlight at a future Friday Night Boogie?

Helen x


It’s been a horrible year but things are starting to get a bit saner (for the rest of the world at least – for the UK I’m reserving judgement!)

I have revised Melor’s Tale so it’s not a spoiler (much) any more, and am making it permafree for download from my website. (Obviously I’m hoping you love it so much you’ll rush to buy my books, but it’s a sweet little stand-alone wintry story so just enjoy it guilt-free.)

Featuring:
* An ex-pirate
* A dying woman
* Soon-to-be-orphaned kids
* A good dog
* A man in black with a ledger

Melors Tale A Prequel Short Story 2nd Edition Nov2020

I’m happy for you to pass the link on to others, it doesn’t save any email addresses so none of you will get spammed.

Book 4 is making slow but steady progress but no publication date yet – sign up for updates and we can let you know.

Happy Reading and Stay Safe xxx


My game plan, as a writer, was to get the first three novels out in the first two years (done!), and have book 4 ready to go this year with books 5 and 6 not far behind (one’s a prequel, and the other is one of my sci-fi stories but still in the same universe.) By year 10 I’d have a MASSIVE following and 4 more books out, wouldn’t I?

What we’ve got is book 4 still in first draft, The ending of book 5 has only just come to me, book 6 is novella length and needs a darn good look at the science, while books 7 to 10 are sketchy at best.

The good news is I did get a prequel short story done last year. I’m still pleased to have got as far as I have, given I was also diagnosed with MS last year. (I feel that makes an excellent excuse for the syrupy brain and the general desire to flob, so expect me to use it.) The equally good news is the MS is holding steady at the moment, and since I’ve volunteered with the MS Society for more than 15 years I have a good support network around me, so fingers crossed that it keeps behaving.

With the Covid-19 lockdown on it’s hard to know whether this grand plan will pan out. Apart from the timeline moving out a bit for books 4-6, for now the direction of travel still looks much the same. I’ve no time, no places to go and no budget for marketing at the moment, just a burning urge to catch up on book 4 and a good opportunity to do so.

While you’re waiting for me to get my act together, you can get lots of free PDF taster chapters from the blogs or the book tabs on this website, or if you have coughed up to Amazon for Kindle Unlimited, don’t forget you can (re)read the lot there for free.

By Restoring the Light, Vel and Jez have been solidly thrown together and while they both complain about everything, you know they both kind of enjoy it.
When you picture these two huddled damply together on a bit of tarpaulin getting wetter and crosser with each other, you know this relationship is inevitable. Since Renia was busy pining for Kerin (oops, not a spoiler I hope?) and four of them had set off to Ilmaen, these two were always going to have to keep each other company. You knew there were sparks. You just weren’t sure if they were lighting a steady, warming log fire or the towering inferno. But then, neither were they.

The link below is to a short extract that’s typical of their relationship.

Extract from Restoring The Light Chapter 1 Enough was enough

Other highlights to watch out for:
Getting Jesral on the boat (Shadowless Chapter 12)
That awkward first kiss (Restoring the Light Chapter 9) and
First it’s off, then it’s most definitely on again (Restoring the Light Chapter 11).

If you enjoyed this extract, why not try another Vel and Jesral moment, this time from Shadowless.
Or check out the short story prequel to Shadowless, Melor’s Tale

Catch you later!

Melor had given the inn boy a coin to stop his sheep getting out.
He’d said nothing about stopping anything getting in…

The tale of the day a sheep farmer found a dying woman, and made a life-changing decision.
Download the PDF below:
Melors Tale A Prequel Short Story
Photo by Andreas Weiland on Unsplash

Jez running in fear of Renia’s ability is a response Renia’s used to. While it may seem extreme and close-minded to us, these people are living in a future plagued by memories of The Catastrophe – and it is truly a memory, not just a piece of history.
About half of humanity have been born remembering The Catastrophe, able to sense the billions of lives snuffed out in one incident four hundred and fifty years before. Like a nightmare where the feeling doesn’t wear off on waking, they cannot shake off the horror.
The reason they can remember is because they have some of the ability that’s blamed for causing The Catastrophe. So perhaps what they fear now is being blamed themselves, and they are looking for someone else to carry the blame.
Jez is not the kind of person to walk away from what makes her scared, but everyone has their limits…

Extract from Shadowless Ch10 Normal people don’t do that

 

When Renia developed childhood epilepsy, she had no inkling of the way it was going to change her life. She wasn’t seeing fairies: she was seeing Fate.

One in five of us in the UK is thought to live with some form of disability, and less than half of those are over working age. A fictional lead character living with a disability, particularly one that opened up an amazing ability, was a natural outcome for me.

Neurological disabilities have long been a feature of my world, from cousins with a talent for sustaining head injuries (all of them blokes, which may or may not be significant) to a mum with MS and a daughter with POTS. However when I started writing this series I wasn’t fully aware of how dangerous epilepsy can be; in a future with limited medical help, it would be even more so. While I didn’t want a character that would dwell on her mortality or let herself be defined by her disability, I did want to convey at least some of her experiences, and how she coped with them.

There are currently thought to be around forty types of epilepsy, so it manifests in many different ways. Sometimes people have an experience, often described as an aura, warning them that an episode may be coming. Renia experiences one example, a sensation of seeing stars. People have reported smells, pains, sounds – all part of the electrical signals starting to misfire. Some don’t have a warning at all beforehand; others don’t know whether they have them or not, as an episode leaves them with memory gaps.

In my stories, Renia’s is a relatively unusual form of epilepsy in that she has vivid, almost intrusive recall, but it’s not of her current surroundings. Focal seizures affect part and not all of the brain and for her, the misfiring has the effect of releasing ‘locked’ sections of the mind, revealing an ability to link to the thoughts of others similarly empowered, even if they are far away. She’s a very smart girl, so with her knowledge of how others with this skill are thinking, she can extrapolate a likely set of events and so see the future. All it needs is for some of the others who are empowered to be part of the events unfolding – as Kerin’s brother Jastur is.

Read the extract from Chapter 6,- Far-seeing

 


I managed to timetable a research trip with a family holiday a couple of years ago. (Luckily: I think the accountant would have raised both eyebrows if I’d tried to put it through the books, and it would have given me sleepless nights to try it anyway.) But as time has gone by, and the main characters are all over the place when we meet them again in An Empty Fade, location research is getting less practical.

So, what are the options as a writer?

1. Stick to tried and trusted locations you’ve already used
This is a bonus for the reader, since they can imagine the place without a lot of superfluous description to get through. It’s a bonus for the writer too; these locations will evoke certain responses in the characters. A place could make them feel comfortable enough to be open, or vulnerable enough to help build tension.

2. If a place has got to be specific in some aspects, let it be vague in others
Aravey doesn’t exist, though I can see it very clearly in my mind’s eye and was inspired by real places elsewhere. So its physical location, like Mylos, is deliberately vague – somewhere south of Lestar where the landscape holds rivers and hills and marshy ground and waterfalls.
Annoyingly, the key battle location I have in my head for An Empty Fade has very specific topography, and I’m not mentally ready to throw it out and try (4.) yet. The search for a matching location and a reason they have to fight just there goes on…

3. Set it all in an imaginary world
A bit of backstory and some consistent world-building, and you’re away. Yeah, like it’s that easy… some authors just nail this though, like CJ Cherryh, Tolkien, Gaiman and Pratchett. Read the ones that work for you and suss out the bits that made it work for you if you’re world-building from scratch.

4. Don’t be afraid to change big stuff
For a long time, An Empty Fade was going to open in a costal town in Naunt or Jiraund – an ocean coast anyway, beaten by big cold winds and with lots of sand dunes around. I had thoughts of seafaring pirates entering the plot. Only I couldn’t get a good feel for the place and couldn’t see the way forward with the story. Then on the aforementioned research trip, I came across what was to become the town of Set on the Mediterranean coast of Toaz – a town with very swish but also rather run-down areas; and sand, lots of sand. And all of a sudden, the plot was rolling out and the characters were coming to life. Now that I’m writing it in earnest it’s still not a complete pushover, but that ‘using landscape to anchor the story’ I’ve spoken about in previous blogs is helping.

I also build an image library for each book of copyright-free or Creative Commons images that inspire me, and keep them in Pinterest. I’m assured I should lob such things into Instagram too, but there’s only one of me to go round and the book won’t write itself. Maybe a future blog, if I get round to doing both?

(Honestly, this is not just a way to justify why I spend so much time talking to myself.)

It’s important that key characters in any story can throw the reader the occasional curve ball.

It’s vital is that you, the writer, were expecting that curve ball, and know what it’s leading to.

It sounds like it ought to be easy – you’re the writer, of course you know what’s coming next! – but it can be all too easy to write problem characters who are boringly predictable or annoyingly erratic.
The key is to realize that all your characters have three parts to their back stories: the parts their companions know about, the parts they don’t, and the parts that even the character has forgotten about or doesn’t understand.

As an amateur writer for 30 years, I had the time to flounder about to build full back stories for my problem characters, but if you want to write seriously, you must speed that process up.

One of the best ways is to have repeated imaginary conversations, either with your problem character, or with other characters that know them well. The three types of conversations are:

– Down the pub
– ‘I don’t know why I’m telling you/doing this…’
– Where did that come from?

Down the pub…
This is straightforward enough: it’s how the character talks to someone they’ve just met, don’t know well, or don’t trust. It’s about what they do and don’t choose to reveal. What do they want people to know about them? Why is that important? Are they being themselves or putting on a façade? How wary or open they are can tell you a lot about where they’ve come from, and how they are going to develop.

‘I don’t know why…’
This is where the curve balls emerge. The character may even surprise themselves by saying or doing something unexpected – but what, and to who, has to be relevant to the story.

At this point you, as a writer, have to check if, maybe, your words are just wrong for that character. If they are, save yourself a lot of grief and take them out now! Alternatively, if it’s plot critical, see if you can move them to another, more suitable character.

If it is something that everything hinges on later, and it HAS to be this character who says or does it, that’s when you have to spend more time working through it.

This approach also helps when you have the basic plot from start to finish, but aren’t sure how your characters get there.

Where did that come from?
Sometimes it’s worth letting the character become self-aware and work out why they did something unexpected, unreasonable or unwise. Sometimes you need to look for the answer from someone else in the story who knows the character well – perhaps someone from their past. Think, family, friends, enemies, teachers, students, colleagues. They may not even appear in the final story; that may not matter.

Noting down all these thoughts as extra words can seem a waste, but it rarely is. For a start, if you’re doing a series those notes can save you from plot slip-ups later, and get you back into the character quickly if you’ve been working on something else. Those notes may even go on to form an integral part of the story later (think J K Rowling and her brilliant plot device, the pensieve).

Meanwhile, I have to put these words into action this weekend, working on Book 4 of the Ilmaen Quartet, so I’ll leave it at that and wish you all happy writing.

The key to understanding the languages of the Ilmaen Quartet is understanding which populations have gone, and which survived.
Most nations had organised the migration of their people into cities as the most effective and efficient way to meet everyone’s needs. Inevitably there were countries too poor to plan such massive change; and others where people who simply couldn’t countenance such a life found a way to get off the grid and survive.
With the complete destruction of the cities, it fell to these people at the extremes of society – poorest and the most privileged – to rebuild. With the heartlands of wealthy western Europe emptied, people were drawn there from all directions.

The Ilmaenese language is made up of a future version of Finnish along with a scattering of neighbouring languages, as survivors from those countries also joined the Suomi migration south. Many others came north from Africa, and from near Asia, Central Europe and the Middle East, bringing their languages with them.

Suomi (Finnish) words
Eivarjoa – (lit. Shadowless One) – a witch
Englanninkieli – English (language), pre Catastrophe
Ilmaen (a corruption of ilmainen, lit. free) – the Free Lands
Tamāāni (a corruption of the current Suomi word ystävä) – friend
Tamanī (lit. more than just a friend) – lover
Piru – Devil

Maci – (a corruption of the Tor-Milano/Italian word mago) – magician’s brew (a drug that puts someone to sleep, particularly those in pain)
Modig (Norwegian originally) – brave

Arabic words
Ilmaenese is peppered with words from Middle East and African languages, but only a few come up in Books 1 to 3.
Al Karithah – Catastrophe
Ifritah – she-devil
Jasoor (f. Jasoorah)– Bold one (military leader)