Michelle Helliwell

Find your escape. Find your Happily Ever After...

Sunny Days, Sandy Beaches, & Writing workshops

Today is my last day of vacation and it's been a busy one - hosting some friends from the UK for a few days, popping over to PEI with my family for a bit of a camping weekend, then back again. It has been crazy hot for much of July and early August, but much of that has begun to subside (thankfully)!. I am thinking about people in British Columbia, Alberta and California however where the heat has driven deadly and destructive fires. 

Light House at Western Point, PEI...where the water was warm and jelly fish free!

Light House at Western Point, PEI...where the water was warm and jelly fish free!

I did a fair chunk of work while I was on vacation, wrestling with my work in progress. My laptop had died in the days before my vacation so thanks to Google Drive and my good old reliable scribbler, I got a new first chapter whipped up and edited a few more. 

I've also been busy on the author front. I was very pleased to be invited by Scott Manor House in Bedford to talk about my books and writing. It was a lovely evening, so a couple of familiar faces and plenty of new ones, and had some great questions about writing.

My name on a big old sign...gulp!

My name on a big old sign...gulp!

And this weekend, I was at one of my favourite spots, Prescott House, with one of my favourite people, Contemporary Romance author Donna Alward talk about story structure and finding a critique partner (which is pretty tough sometimes, but I've always been blessed with terrific ones). The room was filled with familiar and new faces, and great conversation. 

Beautiful Prescott House in the sun...it was raining the day we did our workshop but still lovely!

Beautiful Prescott House in the sun...it was raining the day we did our workshop but still lovely!

I've long struggled with story structure, and if you're a writer, there are terrific resources online (Structuring your Novel by KM Weiland is highly recommended). I've mashed up a few of these into my own personal worksheet that I use to help me, often in my editing phase, since I'm a pantser, to ensure my stories are as tightly written as I can make them. I've been asked to share it so I'm doing that HERE. Please use it for your personal use only, and for more indepth thinking on this, I will recommend the following:

Structuring Your Novel and Creating Stunning Character Arcs, K.M. Weiland, Helping Authors Become Writers

Save the Cat, Blake Synder

Goals, Motivation and Conflict by Debra Dixon - not really about structure, but if you are a character driven writer, you need to understand this to structure your book.

Hope you are enjoying your summer! I'm going back to the day job tomorrow and still (still) plugging away at book four, Nothing Magical About Midnight. Look for it this fall, and I'll be having a cover reveal for it soon, so stay tuned!

Tea and company

I say let the world go to hell, but I should always have my tea.
— Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Notes from Underground

I am not a collector of teapots, but I own eight or so - a couple of single cup ones, and those so big I save them for large family gatherings. I have lusted over far more, including a double-spouted one I saw at a craft sale in New Brunswick years ago and have never forgotten--it looked like something that belonged in Bilbo's kitchen. 

I also have a fair number of teacups--about 50 or so I think. (To put this in perspective, I think I own about six pairs of shoes--and that includes my sneakers). Some are sets, and some are one-offs. One of my favorites is a little Limoges cup I bought at a yard sale for a dollar. It's a dainty little thing, and I have yet to take a sip out of it - something that will have to be rectified very soon I think.

My 'looney' Limoges - a dollar find.

My 'looney' Limoges - a dollar find.

I have always dreamed of holding tea parties, but the truth of the matter is, I'm a very lazy entertainer. A proper tea party embodies a certain daintiness and exactness to detail that, while I adore as an ideal, isn't quite me. I've never had the opportunity to participate in one of those gorgeous tea ceremonies from Japan or China (I need to put that on a bucket list). Those aren't parties, but extremely meditative to watch. There are also, if you pardon the pun, steeped in ritual.

Everything involving tea, for me anyway, involves a certain level of ritual. I grew up on what I would call "east coast tea" (and by east coast, I'm thinking Atlantic Canada). Tea, boiled on the back of the stove most of the day, in a pyrex tea pot, into which more water, and maybe more teabags were added as it was poured out. By the end of the day I am reasonably certain you could walk on the stuff, it was so strong. Definitely not the stuff of dainty tea pots, nor the elegance of tea ceremonies, but a fixture none the less. 

Pyrex Flameware - a fixture in Maritime kitchens of my youth

Pyrex Flameware - a fixture in Maritime kitchens of my youth

But as much as I am not one for fuss, I do have all these lovely cups and teapots. And, as dainty as they are, I want them used. Otherwise they simply become a knickknack. For me, teacups are meant to be used, and I've used them in the spur of the moment even with my kids. My philosophy is pretty straightforward--if it breaks, it gives me the opportunity to hunt down another. So far though, they've all remained intact.

I have had people over for tea before, but they have been irregular happenings. This year, I've started inviting a few writing friends over on the odd Sunday afternoon for tea, brainstorming, and company. The tea cups come out, I bake something simple, and we sip and laugh for a few hours while sharing frustrations over plot holes, book cover art, and the regular ups and downs of confidence that I think most writers face.

Teapots, notebooks and chocolate. Photo courtesy of @tarynblackthorne

Teapots, notebooks and chocolate. Photo courtesy of @tarynblackthorne

My goal is to make this something of a monthly thing. In the winter, when it's cold, damp and dark so much of the time, I find alot of comfort in these simple little rituals that involve, at it's core, hot water, dried tea leaves, and a little bit of company. What I love about it is what I love about fairy tales, myths, and even romance - they weave their way through time, surface in different cultures, and bind us all.

These days--perhaps especially these days--I take a great deal of comfort in that. 

Lights for the cozy season

It is better to light a candle than curse the darkness.
— Eleanor Roosevelt

The Christmas Village packed in it's boxes and away for another year. The Christmas tree is in the back yard, some of it's branches used to make mulch and a winter home for birds. It snowed last night, and it's getting to be squeaky-snow-under-your-boots cold tonight.

And it's dark. It's not the cold, so much, that makes winter icky for me--I say that because I have the blessing of a roof over my head that is comfortable in the winter (even if we are miserly with the heat). I adore the feeling of being outside in the winter, properly bundled up, listening to the quiet of the air when it's storming. Even better, I like coming in and getting cozy afterwards - tea and fuzzy socks and blankets (lots of those). One of my cats, a fuzzy tuxedo-type cat name Horatio, hates the winter but enjoys sleeping on my feet, so it works out for both of us. I dream big dreams about all the gardening I'm going to do (that never quite comes to fruition, but whatever - dreaming is about possibility), play video games and read books. There is no other season quite made for cuddling as winter.

There are, however, two things about winter I despise: driving (because it can be horribly dangerous, even with a good set of tires), and the dark. The darkness is the hardest for me.

A light in the darkness...and a wooden alligator

A light in the darkness...and a wooden alligator

I think it's not a coincidence that there are so many festivals/religious observances that celebrate light at this time of year. We celebrate Christmas, and while by no means do we have a "Griswold" scale light display, every room in the downstairs of the house is lit for the season, as well as the outside of the house. When it all comes down, the candles come out. I've got two lit now. 

I also trade in the red/green/white combo of lights outside for just white. Most of the them come down, but I leave up my wreath and a spray of white lights in branches near my front door. They stay up until mid-winter, or a little while after, when the days are starting to get tolerably long again. The church next door has a Christmas tree lit in the front too, and that stays lit for a good chunk of the winter after the holiday and it makes me so happy to see it, especially towards the beginning of February, when winter starts to be a slog.

This is the time - this stretch from now until almost Valentine's Day, is when I need those lights most. Nothing glaring, nor even the frantic holly jolly displays of the Christmas season (which I love, from the sedate to the wildly overboard). The world is awash in light pollution, and I'm an avid sky watcher, so I savour a dark sky to watch the wonders of the heavens. Rather, I'm thinking of something softer--a little warmth on an otherwise cold winter night. A friendly bit of light bouncing magically off the snow, and a reminder of brighter days to come.

Until those brighter days, I'm here, under a wool blanket with Horatio sleeping on my feet, enjoying a little candle light. I hope you find your own brand of cozy this winter. 

Notes on a New Year

I hope that in this year to come, you make mistakes.

Because if you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing yourself, changing your world. You’re doing things you’ve never done before, and more importantly, you’re Doing Something.
— Neil Gaiman

I would like to say I'm very early, but actually I'm very (very) late. The Christmas cards I bought in mid-December didn't make it out of the box, nevermind into the mailbox. I used to pride myself of getting Christmas cards written and in the mail by the first week of December at the latest, but the last few years have made this seem like a far daunting task than it used to be. Besides, with Facebook and email, it's so easy to share - instantly - pictures of Christmas trees, decorations and whatnot that it's very easy to wonder what the point is of the Christmas card.

I like Christmas cards. I like letters. I rarely receive them anymore, and I also rarely write them. I used to be a very good letter writer, got tremendous joy out of writing them. Correspondence is connection of a sort. That is not to say a handwritten letter is better than an email, or a message. But I'm a bit of a romantic and I like the weight of paper, the ink, the stamped envelopes, so physical notes have a particular place in my heart.

This year--I'm writing this 22 hours in to 2017--I decided I would write a few 'welcome to 2017' letters. They're all short, nothing fancy (though I did decide it was a good time to try different colour pens and snazz up the envelopes) - but just a way to kick off the new year with a task I actually enjoy. I am tempted, in fact, to make it a new tradition!

Tomorrow, I start back on story writing in earnest. I took some time over the holiday to look at the plot of my work in progress (Book 3 in my Not Your Average Fairy Tale Series) and so I think I can fire up the engines to get this story back on track and to my editor in a couple month's time. 

Happy New Year!


August creates as she slumbers, replete and satisfied.
— Joseph Wood Krutch
Thistle and Goldenrod - August's calling card.

Thistle and Goldenrod - August's calling card.

August has arrived. In one sense, it means our all too short summer is half over. If the calendar wasn't enough of a reminder, I was in a store the other day looking for one of those long handled lighters you use for lighting camp stoves. They were being pushed aside to make way for autumn wreathes (which, despite my love for that season, made me grumpy). 

However, I am also of the belief that with August comes the beginning of The Glorious Season in my part of the world. The gardens are getting lush (after a dismal start), all the leaves are out, it is honest to goodness hot (at least, Nova Scotia hot), and with the notable exception of the odd tropical storm that may come our way, the weather is spectacular. Blue skies, green leaves which will start changing hues in another month. If our winters can be a cold, slushy, snowy mess, and springs are a slightly less slushy mess, then the reward we get for our patience is this time of year. August-October is our glorious time. 

I was out picking blueberries today with one of my kids, then popped into a nearby lake for a quick dip in the clothes we had on our backs. The water was warm, there was a stiff breeze out of the south, and I couldn't help but feel, for today anyway, that all was right with the world. 

No Prince Charming is set in this time of year, purely, I will admit, for some very pragmatic plot reasons. And while the weather in the Lake District of England (where this book is largely set) is not identical to where I am, it is nice as a writer to experience a season as I'm writing it. Season and weather always looms large in my mind when I'm writing, because I think as a person, the impact these elements have on my daily routine, what I eat, what I wear, how I organize myself and my mood cannot be underestimated. Seasons impact on my characters' lives as well, especially in the days before central heating, indoor plumbing, and food supply chains. 

What's your favourite time of the year...or do you have one? Can you find glory in anytime of year?


Strawberries and Summer Afternoons

Summer afternoon, summer afternoon; to me those have always been the two most beautiful words in the English language.
— Henry James

Summer was late arriving to Nova Scotia. I think it more or less arrived with July, and given the winter we just had, I'm not about to complain about it. It's been a glorious couple of weeks so far. It's light in the mornings, when I'm usually up writing, so I tend to be sitting outside on the deck. Between 5:30 and 7:00 am you'll generally find me on my deck in my pj's with my dog, my cats, a cup of coffee, and the 2nd draft of NO PRINCE CHARMING. The combination of fresh air and birdsong is enough to get me in the writing mood. My books tend to have alot of scenes set out-of-doors because I prefer to be outdoors, unless it's too hot or cold. 

                                              Four quarts of luscious strawberries.

                                              Four quarts of luscious strawberries.

The local strawberry harvest this year has been an excellent one. The berries are huge, sweet and run-down-the-side-of-your-hand juicy. For me, strawberries (and rhubarb) mark the beginning of the local fresh eating season. I make it a personal goal to eat as many strawberries as I can before the season is over. 

Summer afternoons are a thing to be savoured. Last weekend I was lying down on a swing in my yard, reading. For about two minutes I was sort of restless, thinking about other things I should be doing (like housework - ugh). But beautiful summer afternoons are rare. We only get two months of them, and most of mine are spent in a windowless office working (not that I mind my day job - I enjoy alot of it). Taking a moment - to sit and eat a luscious strawberry, to read a book, draw, listen to birds - whatever it is that gives you joy, is exactly what summer should be about.  So I sat and read, and that thirty minutes or so felt like a little vacation because I was no where else but in that moment. I have to remind myself to do that more often.

What do you savour about summer? How to do you get yourself in the moment? I'd love to know.

About Musings

I've been "blogging" on pen and paper since I was in my very early teens - journal entries or little essays I've composed (probably, I am sorry to say, when I was bored in a class). On "Musings" you'll find a bit of this and that - news, recipes and general bits of random that has no place in one of my books, is too long for facebook, or just seems to be a good fit here.