Kay: Quiz for Y’all–Which Cover Works Best?

The “calm” one

I’m sorry to plague you all with yet another cover query, but I’ve been looking at this thing for so long that I’m not sure what I’m seeing any more.

The new cover for Betting on Hope is essentially done. The copy has been tweaked since you saw it last, and the last thing to be decided is the color saturation. I have three variations, and they vary only slightly: One is the “calm” one, one is the “hot” one, and one is “the other one.”

The “hot” one

I’d like to know what you think: Which one is easiest to read? (I realize that if you’re looking at this post from a phone, none of them will be easy to read—it’s scarcely readable from my computer screen.) Does any of them appeal to you more than the others? What about the color on that back cover?

Any thoughts on these or other matters gratefully received.

The “other” one

Elizabeth: Creativity Challenged

In our new viral-normal, it can sometimes be challenging to give free reign to creativity.  I have found myself with much more free time in recent months (thanks to no work commute), but have little to show for it in terms of words on the page (though I did make 2 dozen face-masks and a quilt).

In her Getting Unstuck post last week, Kay gave some great suggestions for how to keep your story going when you’ve hit a wall, but what if the problem is not that you’ve reached a sticking point in your story, but that you’re stuck in reality.

Conveniently, I ran across a couple of posts in my news feed, as well as a list from work, that may be helpful.

First is a post from Janice Hardy’s Fiction University entitled Why You Can’t Concentrate Right Now. In a nutshell (you can read the article for the details) concentration can be challenging for folks right now because our brains are busy keeping an eye out for threats and maintaining a level of hyper alertness. If your brain is busy managing the Bodily Intruder Alert Command Center, it makes sense that there may be little bandwidth left over for creative pursuits.  So, I take that to mean that my lack of creativity is not because I’m lazy or that I’m too busy perfecting my pastry-making skills, but because my brain is busy making contingency plans to address potential death and economic collapse.

Makes sense to me. Continue reading

Kay: Getting Unstuck

To prevent the spread of the coronavirus, Father Tim Pelc of St Ambrose Church in Detroit, Michigan, blesses parishioners by shooting holy water into their car windows. He’s been a little concerned about how the Vatican might react if these photos reach the Pope, but so far, no word from the pontiff.

Things are tough all over, but I’ve been happy to see that the Catholic Church seems to be doing a good job at improvising during the pandemic.

In other news, the folks at NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) have nagged me relentlessly the last couple of weeks, begging, exhorting, cajoling, and threatening me to join JuNoWriMo, the summer version of Novel Writers Torture Month. I have easily resisted this call, because I tried the November version once.

But when I was thinking about what to post today, I bumped into the blog of author Sarah Wynde, who talks about participating in this event. I’m sure otherwise she is a sane person. I’ve seen her comment on Jenny’s blog, and she always strikes me as intelligent and thoughtful, as well as amusing and kind. Continue reading

Jilly: Fix It With Gold

Just when you think 2020 might be getting a little better, it gets a whole lot worse. Elizabeth captured the zeitgeist perfectly in her Wednesday post, Living the Conflict Box. That’s exactly how the world feels to me every time I check out the news.

I spent much of yesterday staring at my laptop, trying to decide what to talk about today. Eventually, for reasons I hope will become apparent, I settled on the ancient Japanese art of kintsugi.

According to that fount of all knowledge, Wikipedia:

Kintsugi (金継ぎ, “golden joinery”), also known as kinsukuroi (金繕い, “golden repair”), is the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery by mending the areas of breakage with lacquer dusted or mixed with powdered gold, silver, or platinum, a method similar to the maki-e technique. As a philosophy, it treats breakage and repair as part of the history of an object, rather than something to disguise.

I’m not Japanese and I’ve never been to Japan, so clearly I’m not the best person to talk about this (hi, Michaeline!), but I can broach the subject and invite you to learn more. I’ve been in love with the idea ever since it was featured on BBC Four’s 2017 season celebrating all things Japanese.

Click here for an article from the BBC series, including some stunning photographs.

I’d love to own a piece of kintsugi, but it would have to be something that has personal significance for me. If I ever break a cherished vase or bowl, say a wedding present, maybe something that was bought for my husband and me by my parents (who aren’t around anymore), I’m going to see if I can find somebody who can fix it with gold.

The reason I like kintsugi so much is that it doesn’t seek to hide a fracture, or even multiple fractures. There’s no attempt to mend something that’s seriously broken by fixing the damage so that it’s invisible to the naked eye. Quite the reverse. The idea is that the breakage is an important part of the pot’s history and should not be hidden or forgotten. But if it gets fixed with care, and love, and valuable materials, the pot not only becomes usable again, it becomes differently beautiful—a celebration, a reminder, even a triumph.

I love the idea so much that I incorporated a version of it into one of the stories I’m currently writing—a novella about sibling rivalry and family fractures and reconciliation.

And I hope it doesn’t sound naïve or pretentious to say that it’s what I wish for our world. The sooner the better.

Take care, be kind, and see you next Sunday.

Jilly: A True Story, Brilliantly Told

Have you ever watched a great musician play? Wondered at the way they seem to be one with their instrument, physically and emotionally?

If you wanted to express the intensity of that connection through the medium of dance, wouldn’t it be inspired to use two dancers, one for the musician and one for the instrument? That’s what choreographer Cathy Marston did in her recent one-hour modern ballet The Cello, based on the life of renowned cellist Jacqueline du Pré.

The role of the cellist was created for British ballerina Lauren Cuthbertson; the role of her cello was created for Portuguese dancer Marcelino Sambé, and the way they move together, almost becoming the music, is breathtaking.

The storytelling is inspired. Everything centers around the cello. The instrument is the emotional link between the cellist and her husband, the celebrated conductor and pianist Daniel Barenboim. Then it becomes the means to express the loss and heartbreak they suffer as du Pré develops the multiple sclerosis that cut short her career, and then her life. She died twelve years ago, aged 42.

Even if you’re not a dance fan, you might enjoy this four-minute discussion between the choreographer, the cellist who accompanies the piece, and the dancers who play du Pré, the cello, and Barenboim. They discuss the process of creating the story, including working from a selection of word prompts. Click here to watch on YouTube.

If that whetted your appetite for more, click here for a New York Times review of the ballet.

Best of all, if you’d like to watch The Cello, you can. It’s free to watch on the Royal Ballet’s Youtube channel for another 12 days. Have tissues to hand. Click here.

Sigh. Have a lovely weekend.

Take care, stay safe, and see you next week.

Jilly: Hay Festival Digital–Free Brain Candy

Another Sunday, another silver lining. I wrote a few weeks ago about free lockdown streaming from London’s National Theatre. Now summer’s approaching in the UK and we’re heading into festival season. For the great and the good of the arts scene that means the Hay Festival of Literature & Arts, usually just called the Hay Festival. I’d say it’s our most famous literature festival. Apparently in 2001 Bill Clinton described it as “The Woodstock of the Mind.”

Normally the festival would take over the beautiful town of Hay-on-Wye, Wales. This year the event is virtual, and it’s all free. Hay Festival Digital runs until next Sunday, 31 May. The tagline is free live broadcasts and interactive Q&As from the world’s greatest writers and thinkers.

You can register to watch any of the sessions, and if you join live you can chat with fellow audience members and send questions to the presenter, just as you could if you attended the festival in person. If you’re in another time zone and the live stream isn’t convenient for you, the recorded sessions will be available for a further 24 hours.

I watched an interview yesterday morning called Dead Famous: An Unexpected History of Celebrity from Bronze Age to Silver Screen, by author and historian Greg Jenner, who also has a fabulous, quirky history podcast called You’re Dead To Me. The discussion was great fun and the technology worked well. I saw people from the US, Nigeria, and a number of European countries as well as the UK, chatting away and having a great time.

I’m definitely planning to catch another session or two. Continue reading

Jilly: Getting Away From It All

It’s a holiday weekend here. The sun is shining, the birds are singing, and we’re in limbo, waiting for the corona-crisis to be resolved or at least assimilated into our post-pandemic daily lives. Wherever you are, I hope you’re safe and well.

Usually around now people in the UK get the first inkling that summer is around the corner. That promises vacation, relaxation, maybe a change of scenery, perhaps a beach read or two. Except this year relaxation is not an option, and the scenery is depressingly familiar. Mr. W and I had tickets to visit San Francisco at the end of July for RWA Nationals. We expected to meet up with California-based friends and to enjoy a civilized meander down the coast with Kay. Clearly none of that will happen. We’ll be lucky if we’re allowed to hop on a train and visit friends and family outside London.

Many of my friends have reported increased cabin fever lately, and I wonder if at least some of it is down to the loss of that holiday promise, the anticipation of a treat or just the idea, the possibility of something new. Chez Jilly we’d have shared days and weeks’ worth of fun planning our road trip, investigating possibilities online, talking to Kay about places to stay, discussing landmarks to visit, imagining food and wine we might sample. Planning a vacay is like a free holiday-before-the-holiday, with only the good bits—no budget constraints, no sunburn, and no jet lag. I think being robbed of that fantasy is almost as bad as missing out on the trip itself. Continue reading

Jilly: Traditional treats, surprising skills

Another week, another Sunday. I’d swear the days are dragging, yet blink! and here we are again. I hope you’re still keeping safe and well as we inch toward the new normal, whatever that may be.

An unexpected upside of the current crisis has been a surge in demand for various niche businesses. Amid the general gloom and depression, it’s been lovely to see artisanal flour producers, needlepoint tutors, hen-keepers and the like enjoy an unexpected moment in the sunlight.

I’m sure I’ve mentioned here before that I’m a huge jigsaw puzzle fan. Jigsaws are traditionally regarded as a staid older-person’s form of distraction, but apparently in these stressful days of lockdown confinement they have seen a huge resurgence. Yay! Long may it last!

I always have a jigsaw on the go when I’m plotting a book. When I get stuck trying to figure out character arcs, world-building, turning points and plot holes, I take a time out with the puzzle and the challenge of identifying colors, patterns, and shapes seems to re-set my brain. According to the interwebs, this is because jigsaw puzzles Continue reading

Jilly: Silver Linings Sunday–Watch This!

Another Sunday, another week closer to the new normal, whatever that may be. I hope you and yours are safe and well, and coping with whatever the corona-challenge throws at you.

Kay asked on Thursday Watcha Watchin’? and reminded us all about the upcoming eight-part Netflix series based on Julia Quinn’s Bridgerton novels. I bet that will be a gorgeous, feelgood watch. Imagine the settings and the costumes, let alone the stories.

While you’re waiting, what about a different kind of eye and brain candy?

I’ve written before about National Theatre Live, the live-broadcast arm of London’s world-class National Theatre. Right now the theatre is closed, but they’re offering free (free!) streaming via YouTube of some awesome past productions that were originally filmed as part of the National Theatre Live service. The lockdown offering is called National Theatre Home. Continue reading

Michaeline: What We Really Need Right Now

The Universe from von Bingen's Scivias showing a vulvular universe full of stars and surrounded by fire

The Universe from von Bingen’s Scivias, showing the feminine nature of the universe. There are stars and moon and divine fire. (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

In times of trouble, I find looking at Maslow’s hierarchy of needs to be a useful filter. Essentially, it ranks human needs and wants into a pyramid. The theory used to be that if the needs at the bottom of the pyramid aren’t fulfilled (for example, one doesn’t have enough water or can’t breathe), the higher needs and wants can’t be realized (cooperation with others, for example, or creative pursuits).

Current theory, according to Wikipedia, allows that these needs and wants may be overlapping. I think, also, there’s a gray area. You can achieve top-level goals like creativity without fully enjoying the needs and desires of the lower levels. Of course, you need food and water, but you don’t need brownies and milk. You may need a degree of safety, but your mind can trick you into thinking you are in imminent danger – in return, you can double-trick your mind into thinking Continue reading